To: Hum-Semmers

From: Kathleen & Kim

Re: Questions for Unit 1

Date: 9/10/98


Below are some questions designed to help catalyze thinking for our discussion tomorrow. We know that you will have your own questions and concerns; these are meant only to help jumpstart conversation, which can start and lead anywhere we wish.

From KW:

1. Historical Sense: Foucault opposes Nietzsche’s "genealogy" as "wirkliche Historie" (translated as "effective" history) to traditional history. "Effective" history because it is written by someone who has a "true historical sense" shows that "the way history really works" is not by "destiny" or by "regulative mechanisms" but by "chance." It dissolves the kind of continuity that traditional history aims for. ("Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," pp. 154-55)

Truthful "effective history"/genealogy depends on a "true historical sense." How are we to understand "historical sense" here (and in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals)? What makes historical sense "true"? Can it be "false" or can it only be "absent"? How are we to begin to "feel" that what we "tend to feel is without history" requires instead "genealogy" ? (Foucault, p. 39) Is a "historical sense" simply "given" like sight (except to philosophers) or does it have its own genealogy? Appeals to "moral sense" (or to our "moral intuitions") are ways of forgetting the genealogy of morals. How can the appeal to a "true historical sense" escape being a way of forgetting?

2. Normative Inversion and Counter-Memory: Cultural or collective memory plays two roles. As "memory of conversion" it produces and reproduces cultural identity by disowning the past. As "deconstructive memory" it subverts hierarchical binary oppositions such as "Israel in truth" and "Egypt in error." Deconstructive memory, we are told, is a "counter-memory" because it "counters" memory as conversion in order to deconstruct the Mosaic distinction. The question I have is whether the principle of "normative inversion" which Assmann uses to describe the struggle between canonical cultural memories (Moses the Hebrew) and subversive counter-memories (Moses the Egyptian) can lead to "intercultural translation"(and Enlightenment) such as preceded the Mosiac distinction. Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s uses of normative inversion clearly do not lead us in this direction. [Here we might remember the perspectivally unique way in which for post-Holocaust Germans such as Habermas and Assmann, the Enlightenment remains "an unfinished project."]

3. "Traditional" positivistic history: has it a role? Foucault says no; Assmann says yes. But can mnemohistory just be a branch of history?

From KB:

4. Assmann & Freud: • Both Moses the Egyptian and Moses & Monotheism distinguish between history and its commemoration (narrativization; mythification; repression), though possibly in different ways and to different ends. In what sense is the proposition that (in Assmann's words) "[t]he mythical qualities of history have nothing to do with its truth values" (p.14) a productive guide to the moments, methods, and meanings of anamnesis that form the core of traditions engaged by Assmann and Freud? What are the functions of memory in the material histories (personal and social) that it variously distorts, displaces, restores, and claims to repeat?

•Assmann's title foregrounds the seemingly oxymoronic identity of "Moses" and "Egypt" while making Judaism's (re)production of monotheism the target of his mnemo-historical critique; Freud perhaps reverses this relation of emphasis between title and topic in the course of writing what he first termed "an historical novel." Does this chiasmal relation between Assmann's and Freud's texts bespeak an affinity or division between their procedures and aims? Are they telling the same "story," as Assmann seems to claim in his chapter on Freud, and is that story imagined by its author(s) to be revisionary, revolutionary, and/or recuperative in respect of the traditions they survey? In their shared terms, of what possible agenda are Assmann's and Freud's efforts to refigure the central tropes of "Egypt" and "monotheism" the "traces" or "symptoms"?

5. Traditio(n)--Bequest/Betrayal: •Assmann's reading of monotheism's putatively anti-ritual impulse sets it against "tradition," evacuating it of 'theological' import and grounding it, instead, as a wholly 'iconoclastic' gesture. What implications for defining "tradition" are 'encrypted' in this image of monotheism as rebellion, resistance, or reaction-formation? [Sidebar: Does Walzer's reading of the "Exodus tradition" confirm and/or challenge the relation described by Assmann between 'religious' and 'insurrectionist' inspirations?]

•What does it mean for Freud, as a Jew (a "godless Jew," in his own description), to undertake the project of 'deconstructive' memory in the sphere of "Exodus experience," to write a "counterhistory" from within the "tradition" whose origins it purports to expose? (Cf. Assmann's citation of Funkenstein on counterhistory's "aim [of] distort[ing] the adversary's self-image"--p.33)

•If (a) "tradition" is described as a misprision of its own founding tropes and narratives, a "distorted memory" of its origination in an unspeakable but covertly articulate drama, in what terms should we describe its claims to (re)imagine and (re)produce, preserve and transmit, meaning for its adherents and inheritors?

And are all its fantasmatic (mis)constructions serving or employing 'memory' in similar ways?--e.g.: how does "Egypt," in its multiple figurations and in its relation to other 'memories' of cultural 'origin,' circulate through the evolving Imaginary of western self-portraiture?

•Hayden White once remarked that his family was too poor to have a tradition--hence his apostasy vis. disciplinary 'fathers'; Harold Bloom retorted that he was too poor not to have a tradition--hence his identical vocational stance! What do our texts suggest about the "economy of tradition"--is it something one can lack, acquire, earn, avoid, or discard? How can we remember to forget it--whadya mean "we"?!--or for-get (seize ahead of [our] time?) its reminiscences (cf. Benjamin?)?

6. Exodus and Eucharist: •Assmann seeks--heroically? insidiously? quixotically?--to render Exodus "just another version" (p.40) of the "Jews'" expulsion from Egypt under Mosaic guidance. The ramifications of this demystification for Assmann's own (messianic?!) project of restoration and fulfillment are in themselves worth consideration. At the same time, there are perhaps some reasons to wonder how it is that Exodus has become something other than one version among many in the unfolding story of Western consciousness? What, for example, does the Biblical text itself suggest about the relation of historical experience, testimonial recollection, and commemorative observance? I.E., does Exodus already suggest a perspective upon, a (counter)reading of, those archeological, narrative, historiographic, and political assumptions that drive Assmann's and Freud's disruptive interventions?

•In different but historically and exegetically related ways, Exodus and the Eucharistic anamnesis posit modes of remembering that reconfigure customary relations of memory and event, intention and temporality, understanding and historicity. What consequences for personal and collective identity are embedded in these texts' structures of sense-making and pedagogies of remembrance? How, in turn, might we place Nietzsche and Benjamin alongside these scriptural performances of, and demands for, re-presentation and re-collection?

•Freud suggests that behind every recollection is an act of repression--trauma, we might say, is not merely memory's lapse or diaspora but its secret sharer or constitutive condition. Does this co-implication of negation and presence provide a model for cultural hermeneutics--e.g., taking the relation between Exodus and Eucharist, or (to follow Freud once more) Moses and Paul, as our example, must we account for the establishment of cultural value as the superimposition of one memorial style/substance upon another? Are cultural values necessarily not just familiar touchstones but uncanny demands, calls to repeat something earlier than their instructional apologies can portray? (E.G., these texts, in their various quests to de- and re-construct myths of memory, and in their dissatisfactions with received explanations, seem perplexed by such basic questions as, Why do we accept laws and prohibitions? Whence conscience? What are the costs of membership, however much it may have its privileges? Are answers to these questions bound to some enigmatic dialectic of remembering and forgetting?)