A Blood Libel Against the Christian West: Gil Anidjar’s “Blood”

Lore Waldvogel

Blood: A Critique of Christianity
Gil Anidjar
Columbia University Press, 2014

Trained in comparative literature, religious studies and Jewish thought, Gil Anidjar is a professor at the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His courses include Vampires, God and Freud and Derrida — a concatenation that immediately informs us that this will be a post-modern excursion, filled with startling juxtapositions. These juxtapositions also inform his meandering thoughts in Blood. A Critique of Christianity, published by Columbia University Press in 2014. The Table of Contents:

At the heart of the book lies “the Christian question.” Anidjar explicitly acknowledges Karl Marx as a source of inspiration, but it is worth mentioning that he would seem to be Jewish given his surname, and his work fits well into the common pattern of Jewish involvement in the culture of critique. Exploring the “theologico-political” foundations of Western modernity, Anidjar focuses on the (alleged) relevance of blood in Christianity, the “Eucharistic matrix”. From his point of view, blood is the element and the mark of Christianity which has been strangely overlooked by everyone else:

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. (Blood 11)

Like with much of Marxist, Derrida-infested, post-colonial academic prose, however, it is next to impossible to trace a clear line of argument, let alone learn anything valuable about the Eucharist or the meaning of wounds and blood in medieval Christian theology. Instead, we encounter a string of household names such as Carl Schmitt, Giorgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Derrida, which are loosely woven into his admittedly creative interpretations of history. Adding generous doses of “Political Theology,” Anidjar cooks up a toxic, anti-Western broth to be fed to the children of Western Christian civilization who are paying for his chair. It feels a bit as if Anidjar had used his research grants for harvesting quotes from world literature and philosophy related to the semantic field of “blood” (including “veins”, “killing”, “murder”, and other expressions of violence), which he then reassembled in this artsy-academic bricolage published by an elite university press.

Despite his complicated, intellectual pirouettes to distract us from the fact that his discourse is sprinkled with half-truths and falsehoods, the argument does build up into a message that is easily accessible even to dimwits, not because it is well argued or historically accurate, but because we have heard it so many times before: We are the cancer of the earth. Our civilization is nothing but a trail of blood. Our allegedly blood-based exclusion of the “other” has led to genocides, oppression and imperialism, and hence the Christian West is the embodiment of evil. This is a familiar narrative that has been circulating at least since Edward Said’s propagandistic but highly influential book Orientalism (1979) — a book that has significantly contributed to the poisoning of relations between East and West. One of the founding texts of the fairly young discipline of post-colonial Studies, Orientalism infused an entire generation of educated elites from “the East” (including Japan) with hostility and desire for vengeance towards “the West” (including Germany). Read more »

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