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The figure of the Jewish pariah has permeated Western cultural imagination, as demonstrated, for example, by the re-emergence of the medieval myth of Ahasverus, the Wandering Jew, in modern anti-Semitism. In Western European states the figure (and fantasy) of the Jewish pariah helped to consolidate national identity in the modern period at the cost of exclusion and violence against Europe’s others. This article focuses, first, on the cultural and political genealogy of the tradition of the ‘conscious pariah’, which emerged in Jewish thought in the nineteenth century, as a formation of the subject who asserts, rather than rejects or evades, her/his status as an outcast. Second, the article situates the Jewish tradition of conscious pariahdom vis-à-vis the work of Holocaust philosopher Jean Améry in order to critically analyse his alleged advocacy of the victim-oriented politics of memory and historical redress. The argument is that in contrast to the dominant interpretations of Améry’s thought as invested in the subject’s own suffering, his negative constructions of Jewishness engender a philosophical gesture beyond the lachrymose readings of Jewish history and pariahdom. Améry’s conception of the conscious pariah is an attempt to inscribe ‘hyperbolic’ ethical content into the experience of deracination and estrangement.


Institute for Social Justice

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Journal Article

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