Bestiarium JudaicumUnnatural Histories of the Jews

Bestiarium JudaicumUnnatural Histories of the Jews

Jay Geller

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780823275595

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

Given the vast inventory of verbal and visual images of nonhuman animals (pigs, dogs, vermin, rodents, apes, etc.) disseminated for millennia to debase and bestialize Jews (the Bestiarium Judaicum), this work asks: What is at play when Jewish-identified writers employ such figures in their narratives and poems? Bringing together Jewish cultural studies (examining how Jews have negotiated Jew-Gentile difference) and critical animal studies (analyzing the functions served by asserting human-animal difference), this monograph focuses on the writings of primarily Germanophone authors, including Sigmund Freud, Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka, Gertrud Kolmar, H. Leivick, Felix Salten, and Curt Siodmak. It ferrets out of their nonhuman-animal constructions their responses to the bestial answers upon which the Jewish and animal questions converged and by which varieties of the species “Jew” were depicted. Along with close textual analysis, it examines both personal and social contexts of each work. It explores how several writers attempted to subvert the identification of the Jew-animal by rendering indeterminable the human-animal “Great Divide” being played out on actual Jewish bodies and in Jewish-Gentile relations as well as how others endeavored to work-through identifications with those bestial figures differently: e.g., Salten’s Bambi novels posed the question of “whether a doe is sometimes just a female deer,” while Freud, in his case studies, manifestly disaggregated Jews and animals even as he, perhaps, animalized the human. This work also critically engages new-historical (M. Schmidt), postcolonial (J. Butler and J. Hanssen), and continental philosophic (G. Agamben) appropriations of the conjunction of Jew and animal.