Blood: The Element of Christianity. A Forum on Gil Anidjar’s Blood

MRB March 2, 2015 0

A Forum edited by Nina Caputo

Blood Cover

Gil Anidjar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity, Columbia University Press, 2014, 464pp., $40

“Is there such a thing as ‘the Christian Question?'” Gil Anidjar’s Blood: A Critique of Christianity opens.

“The reading I offer, the argument I ultimately propose, is that between presence and absence, blood is the element of Christianity, its voluminous mark (citation, context). It is the way in which and upon which Christianity made its mark. More broadly, a consideration of what blood reflects, produces, and sustains, what it engenders, must take — as one adopts — the form of a critique of Christianity.”

MRB editor Nina Caputo has organized this forum on Anidjar’s provocative new book from Columbia University Press. Contributors include Amy Hollywood, Pamela Klassen, Ana Schwartz, and Jonathan Sheehan, with a response from Gil Anidjar.

 

Amy Hollywood, Inescapable Christianity

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Christianity is not only this putatively secular legacy, but it is certainly at least that. Anidjar is right to insist that secularism as it emerges in the modern West flows from Christianity. Put another way, Christianity is the unconscious of the modern West, one whose symptoms, whose secrets, lie in plain sight. Like the purloined letter of Poe’s story, which is hidden precisely by being left in plain sight, the Christianity of secularism is, paradoxically, invisible, because it is there available for all who enter the room to see.

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Pamela Klassen, Fertile Blood

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Repeatedly “leaving aside the question of what is (or rather: what is not) transmitted between mother and child,” Anidjar’s genealogical and even “embryological” approach to blood largely avoids thinking through the significance of natality, fertility, and the cyclical bloodiness of women’s embodiment. This is somewhat curious both in “real” terms of embodiment and in “theological” terms of incarnation and ritual prohibitions associated with menstruation and childbirth. Christianity — based not only on the crucifixion but also on the incarnation — is a complex social imaginary whose power depends on the combined control and celebration of the maternal body. Reading blood — conceptual or otherwise — through death without also reading it through birth has profound political consequences that reassert and even revitalize the violent innocence of Christianity that Anidjar seeks to critique. At the very least, continuing a long tradition of reading (even if critiquing) Christianity so that patrilineal or patricidal blood relations blot out the subjectivities and bodiliness of women re-enacts a story that still has destructive consequences today.

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Ana Schwartz, Another Orphan

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Anidjar concludes his own epic text by turning to Moby Dick, a work of literature that responds powerfully to the way that blood’s circulation has defined modernity and continues to qualify community in religious, political, and economic terms. The last chapter of Blood, along with Anidjar’s writing elsewhere on survival, helps to unpack the unresolved conflict at work in that self-identification. His last chapter here, though, the one with the most concentrated focus on reading a text, is most exciting in its prompt to attend to the literary qualities of blood. Reading blood through literary form shows how Christianity persists not only in laws and money, but how it also continues to flow through practices of reading, writing, remembering, and interpreting, and how these practices distribute and pass on the empathetic feelings of kinship and community.

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Jonathan Sheehan, Christianity, As It Were

Sheehan Web Image

Loosely speaking, Blood does historical work. It asks the question: how did we get here? It answers the question by tracing the historical distinctiveness of Christianity. The story begins with St. Paul, who makes possible the transition from the “flesh and bone” community of the Old Testament to a “flesh and blood” community of the New. What happens between Paul and the eleventh century is less clear (a time, it is worth noting, when at least one major form of Christian community, the monasteries, organized themselves around things besides blood). But in the later middle ages, Anidjar argues, the so-called “papal revolution” generated an “empire of blood,” in which a new Church-State centered in Rome declared open season on those of non-Christian blood. The resultant distinction between blood that must be preserved (Christian) and blood that may be shed (the rest) became, in this view, the foundational principle of “Western, that is to say Christian, politics, and the establishment of the vampire state.”

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Gil Anidjar, The Christian Question: A Response to the Blood Forum

Gil Anidjar

Speaking of lineage. When I started writing the section of Blood that became the introduction, namely, “Why I am Such a Good Christian,” I considered two options (aside from the obvious Nietzschean reference and other pseudo-plagiarisms). One was to engage with Derrida in a direct manner, the other was to deploy an autobiographical tone.

My debt to Derrida is incalculable and it is working itself through in Blood as well (Amy Hollywood rightly refers to the significance of this debt). Yet, I refrained from a treatment of blood in Derrida, on which there is nonetheless quite a bit to say. The reason for this has something to do with the second thing, though I cannot quite formulate it with more precision than Hollywood has, who, commenting on Derrida (and Bataille), wrote in Sensible Ecstasies, that “there are reasons to distrust the transparency of these autobiographical gestures and to read them as strategic”.

Let us say that mine is a proximate expression of reticence toward the (auto)biographical. Derrida adds somewhere that the names of authors are neither identities nor causes; they are indices of problems or questions. The question of blood is not a matter of authorship; it is a matter (above and beyond the material but not, for all that, disembodied) of Christianity. And that is “why I am such a good Christian.”

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