Jay Geller ’75 is the author of The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity (Fordham University Press). Geller considers how modernizing German-speaking cultures, undergoing their own processes of identification, responded to the narcissistic threat posed by the continued persistence of Judentum (Judaism, Jewry, Jewishness) by representing “the Jew”’s body—or rather parts of that body and the techniques performed upon them. Such fetish-producing practices reveal the question of German-identified modernity to be inseparable from the Jewish Question.
Jewish-identified individuals, immersed in the phantasmagoria of such figurations—in the gutter and garret salon, medical treatise and dirty joke, tabloid caricature and literary depiction, church façade and bric-a-brac souvenir—had their own question, another Jewish Question. They also had other answers, for these physiognomic fragments not only identified “the Jew” but also became for some Jewish-identified individuals the building blocks for working through their particular situations and relaying their diverse responses.
The Other Jewish Question maps the dissemination of and interrelationships among these corporeal signifiers in Germanophone cultures between the Enlightenment and the Shoah. It portrays how Jewish-identified individuals moved beyond introjection and disavowal to appropriate and transform this epidemic of signification to make sense of their worlds and our modernity.
Jay Geller is associate professor of modern Jewish culture in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. He also is the author of On Freud’s Jewish Body: Mitigating Circumcisions.