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A Weak Messianic PowerFigures of a Time to Come in Benjamin, Derrida, and Celan$
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Michael G. Levine

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780823255108

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823255108.001.0001

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On the Stroke of Circumcision I

On the Stroke of Circumcision I

Derrida, Celan, and the Covenant of the Word

(p.63) Four On the Stroke of Circumcision I
A Weak Messianic Power

Michael G. Levine

Fordham University Press

The chapter examines Derrida’s discussion of passwords and border crossings in Shibboleth: For Paul Celan. As his title suggests, Derrida is concerned with Celan’s relation to – and precarious situation at -- the frontiers of language. That the negotiation of these carefully patrolled frontiers requires a certain kind of linguistic performance is indicated by his title’s reference to Judges 12 in which those seeking passage across the river Jordan must not only know the difference between shibboleth and sibboleth but be able linguistically to perform it, At stake is not just the linguistic cultivation of the body, the shaping of its organs around the language(s) it has learned to speak, but the sometimes fatal inability of such organs to perform the differences they know and, in doing so, to move beyond a traditional conception of savoir toward a more bodily and culturally conditioned notion of savoir faire. Because it is a question in Celan of a poetic saying that is a doing and, moreover, a doing that, in the Freudian sense of “acting out,” does more than it means or know how to say, the linguistic borders the poet seeks to negotiate are also those between conscious and unconscious speech acts.

Keywords:   Circumcision, Traumatic Repetition, Dates, Words and Bodies, Poetry and Survival, Passwords, Shibboleth, Border Crossings, Derrida, Jew’s Body

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