« I am the end of Judaism »i.
Jacques Derrida wrote this sentence in his 1981 Notebooks.
The context? Starting from a question asked by Saint Augustine: « Quid ergo amo, cum Deum meum amo? », Derrida adapted it in his own way: « What do I love, who do I love, whom do I love above all? I am the end of Judaism. »ii
« What God do I love? « asks Derrida, fifteen centuries after Augustine.
Answer: He loves a « unique » God, – unique as birth, unique as death, unique as circumcision (because it only happens once).
What does Derrida like most of all? Answer: Judaism.
Who does he love above all? His mother, who is dying, and who no longer recognizes him.
His mother represents « the end of a Judaism, » adds Derrida (« la fin d’un judaïsme »).
As for him, he says he is « the end of Judaism » (« la fin du judaïsme »), of that Judaism that his mother embodied, to which his mother gave her face, and which he will not transmit.
The maternal face has now disappeared, although indelible.
« It’s over. »
His own face, disfigured by a viral facial paralysis, affects him, and opens up an unpredictable future for him.
Derrida claims that he is the end of this Judaism, that of his mother. But why does he generalize by saying: « I am the end of Judaism« ?
What allows him to make this assertion, this prophecy? His name Elijah?
After the end of this Judaism, Jacques Derrida wanted to found another one. He says that he will start a new Judaism, a « Judaism out of religion, inherited from his people but detached from them »iii.
He wants to found another religion, and even, through his philosophy, « to rebuild all religions »iv.
Colossal project, amazing idea. Questions quickly come to mind. Is there any analogy between Derrida’s new religion and Christianity?
Hadn’t Christianity already been a kind of first ‘exit’ from Judaism, and perhaps was it not even a project to « re-found » religion?
No and no. Derrida is categorical: « Christianity has abandoned the letter and circumcision ».
Is it worth starting a dispute? In Christian services, the letter is read. The Bible is a reference. The letter is there, literally. As for circumcision, it has not really been abandoned, either. Of course, it is not the foreskin (« orla », עָרְלָה), but rather the heart, eyes and ears that are recommended to be circumcised.
Derrida says he is faithful to the letter and circumcision. But since he wants to found another religion, which would be an « other Judaism » after the « end of Judaism », how will he go about innovating?
Let’s consult his program.
He says we must « re-found religions by playing with them, reinvent circumcision, re-circumcise what is uncircumcising, thwart the re-appropriation of languages by a God-Unity »v.
These formulas call for some comments.
« Re-founding religions by playing with them ».
The metaphor of « play » is curious, even surprising, in this charged context. « Playing » with religion is a dangerous game. Nowadays, a mortal one.
Moreover, where there is only one game, how can we judge what is at stake? What can be based on a game? When a foundation stone « plays », the temple trembles, religion falters.
« Reinventing circumcision. »
In what way is this idea new compared to what the Judeo-Christian Paul already said about circumcision, not of the foreskin, but of the heart?
What more can we invent to circumcise after the sex, the soul, the heart, the eyes, the ears? The fruits of the trees? Atoms? The stars? DNA? Eschatology? Or Judaism itself?
« Re-circumcise what is being uncircumcised. »
Derrida says that circumcision is a unique act, a founding event. How would flesh foreskins « uncircumcise »? Or would « uncircumcision » be only a metaphor, applying not to the flesh but to the spirit? But then isn’t this just Paul of Tarsus’ proposal?
« To defeat the re-appropriation of languages by a One God ».
Again a metaphor of a game. It is no longer a question of playing, however, but of « thwarting God ». Babel’s confusion had indicated a lead. The God « One » had then shown himself hostile to the idea of a « one » language among men.
Why would God – who once allowed the confusion of languages – have « re-appropriated » languages and unified them in the process?
What does Derrida want to thwart in God? Words, language? He plays them, he plays with them, he thwarts them. He is a poet of the word who opens, and who provokes.
« I am the last of the Jews. »vi
Here is Pierre Delain’s comment on the Derridex website: « This sentence, « I am the last of the Jews », Jacques Derrida signs it, and at the same time he mocks it (UTD p101). It must be put in quotation marks. It is the ironic sentence of the one who listens to himself speak, a stereotype, an outrageous statement. By quoting and reciting it, he staged the mockery, he laughed and cried too. From a certain angle where writing is put in abyss, it can be taken seriously. »
The philosopher Derrida wants to have the last word. This is his last card in the big game. The last one was a stunt. « Religious is a fighting sport (especially not for journalists!) ».vii
He is the last thinker, the thinker of eschatology.viii
« The most advanced is the one that keeps the future open. « Always open, even at the last minute…
« I am the last » means, really: « I am the one who opens, again, always. »
iv Cf. Circonfession, p.206
vihttp://www.idixa.net/Pixa/pagixa-0506190802.html « Cette formulation de Jacques Derrida, « Je suis le dernier des Juifs » [avec une majuscule], est reprise des carnets de 1976, non publiés mais cités dans Circonfession (1990). En septembre 1991, elle est rappelée dans une interview donnée à Elisabeth Weber, et enfin reprise le 3 décembre 2000 à l’occasion du colloque Judéités, qui s’est tenu au Centre communautaire de Paris. Elle est donc constamment réaffirmée sur plusieurs décennies. (…) dernier des Juifs, c’est aussi celui qui habite ce qui reste du judaïsme. Le dernier des eschatologistes maintient l’avenir ouvert. S’il annonce la fin du judaïsme, c’est pour en fonder un autre, qui ne serait plus le même. Tout se passe « comme si » le moins pouvait le plus (il insiste sur le « comme si ») : moins tu te montreras juif, plus tu le seras (c’est la formule du marrane). Le dernier des juifs peut être le pire des juifs, mais aussi celui qui garantit la série. Exclu-inclu, dehors-dedans, il n’appartient pas de fait à la culture juive, il est au bord de la série et la débordant. »
viiihttp://www.idixa.net/Pixa/pagixa-0506190808.html « Il n’est pas seulement le dernier des eschatologistes, il est aussi le plus avancé (p91) : « ils n’ont m’ont jamais pardonné d’être l’eschatologiste le plus avancé, la dernière avant-garde qui compte ». Le plus avancé, c’est celui qui maintient l’avenir ouvert, sans horizon. »