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The Breakdown of Discourse: Post-Holocaust Jewish Identity and the Scholem-Arendt Exchange

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This article examines the significance of the private-public exchange of letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt in the wake of the Eichmann trial. Using rhetorical analysis, it considers the respective arguments concerning Jewish responsibility, the incompatible political-moral frameworks offered to underpin such judgments, and the extreme identities the correspondents construct for each other. In doing so, it identifies the ultimate significance of the exchange with the total breakdown of discourse it symbolically resulted in—in other words, with the consensus pertaining to the Holocaust leading to a complete incommensurability of the respective political-moral positions. Such a state of affairs is finally accounted for, paradoxically, in terms of the far-reaching agreement between Arendt and Scholem, reaching beyond politics and even identity: the total inescapability of Jewishness.


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