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Le personnage du Juif dans l’œuvre d’Erckmann-Chatrian. Méditations sur l’iconoclasme

Irving Massey
p. 497-509


The essay begins by citing some objections to representative art by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and René Girard. Lacoue-Labarthe happens to mention Alfred Rosenberg, who, as one of the Fascist “Aestheticians” of the xxth century (cf. Ferdinand Céline), argued that Jews were a menace to the arts. Themselves incapable of true creation, they were competent only to peddle other people’s culture, and the objects that passed through their hands were degraded in the process. The Alsatian historical novelists Erckmann-Chatrian wrote many stories containing Jewish characters. The best-known is probably Le Juif polonais dramatized, in a version made immensely popular, by the British actor Henry Irving under the title The Bells. After many years of collaboration, Chatrian accused Erckmann of Germanophilia in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war, and their friendship ended disastrously. The treatment of Jews in the stories by these two authors is generally favorable. What is more to the point, despite their apparent superficiality, the tales sometimes raise questions of startling seriousness concerning the nature of Judaism and the very nature of art. In Le Sacrifice d’Abraham, a Jewish art dealer, Jonas (a recurrent type in these stories) dies trying to steal or, perhaps, recover a painting of that name from its author, Rembrandt. Implicit is the assumption that, because of its subject, it really belongs, or should belong, to Jonas. With Rembrandt, we have a striking case of ‘cultural appropriation’ avant la lettre. In L’Œil invisible, the question of representation is central. A witch drives people to suicide by confronting them with their double. An artist eventually does the same to her, and she falls victim to her own device. We cannot endure being brought face to face with an exact representation of ourselves. This story, however, contains a third party, a detached witness of this mortal struggle, another Jewish art dealer, Toubac, who buys and sells works of art which contain the record of others’ battles over representation. The Jew exists on the border between the transcendental and the material worlds, going back and forth, trading with both. What he will not do is participate in the tragic exchanges precipitated by the act of representation. Neither sorcerer nor artist, he refuses to descend into the arena of representation to wage war with the phantom images that populate it. The piece ends with the famous lines from Henri Michaux about Christ in the role of salesman, or intermediary between two worlds, as a vendor of tickets for the Beyond.

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Estratto del testo

Questo documento sarà pubblicato online con testo integrale in dicembre 2018.


Contre l’image
Qui sont-ils?
“Le Juif polonais”
“Le Combat de coqs”
“Le Sacrifice d’Abraham”
“L’Œil invisible”
Narcissisme et représentation
Le Juif comme colporteur des arts
Conditio Judaica

Anteprima del testo

Contre l’image

Selon Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe dans La Fiction du politique, le sujet de la représentation ou de l’imitation, celui qui imite, se désiste, c’est-à-dire, s’anéantit, dans le moment où il cherche à représenter l’objet de sa perception. Le sujet ainsi déconstitué, ou déconstruit par lui-même, a le choix entre deux procédés pour réaffirmer son existence, pour se reconstituer. Ou bien il peut se soumettre à l’objet de l’imitation, c’est-à-dire, se soumettre à la nature, et dans ce cas il devient lui-même la voix de la nature, un supplément, une voix qui répond à la nature et lui permet de se réaliser, à la manière de Schelling ou de Hölderlin («Wörter, wie Blumen, entstehen»). L’autre possibilité, c’est de s’imposer à la nature, l’ayant trouvée insuffisante, et de se déclarer maître, originaire; ensuite, d’accorder une indépendance arbitraire à son imitation, qui à ce moment se présente comme création plutôt que comme représentation. Dans ce cas, l’on rejette l’objet lui-mê...

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Notizia bibliografica

Irving Massey, « Le personnage du Juif dans l’œuvre d’Erckmann-Chatrian. Méditations sur l’iconoclasme », Studi Francesi, 183 | 2017, 497-509.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Irving Massey, « Le personnage du Juif dans l’œuvre d’Erckmann-Chatrian. Méditations sur l’iconoclasme », Studi Francesi [Online], 183 | 2017, online dal 01 dicembre 2018, consultato il 23 marzo 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/studifrancesi.10122

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Irving Massey

State University of New York, Buffalo

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