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The Conceptual Jew: Reflections on Arendt and Adorno's Post-Holocaust Theories of Anti-Semitism

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Published on Jul 10, 2012

A lecture by Jonathan Judaken, Rhodes College
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Professor Judaken reconstructed the very different theoretical paradigms of the interactionist and the socio-psychoanalytic that Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno developed to understand anti-Semitism.

Despite their differences, Arendt and Adorno shared a common problem that riddled their respective understandings. Both depended upon elevating what he calls the conceptual Jew to the centerpiece of their paradigms.

The conceptual Jew provided at once the critical energy for Arendt and Adorno's theoretical reflections on anti-Semitism, but also resulted in each of them reiterating stereotypical constructions of Jews and Judaism. In each case, these typologies of Jews prove quite similar.

The hypothesized and essentialized conception of Jews that wends its way into their theorizing resulted in both cases in their insights as well as their blindnesses when it came to their respective analyses of what Adorno preferred to call "the anti-Semitic question."

Jonathan Judaken is the newly appointed Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities at Rhodes College. He recently served as the Dunavant Professor of Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History at the University of Memphis. His research focuses on the patterns that underpin prejudice and the underlying assumptions that animate tolerance, values about the nation, race, gender, epistemology, and colonization.

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