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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Dynamic Repetition

History and Messianism in Modern Jewish Thought

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Dynamic Repetition

History and Messianism in Modern Jewish Thought

A fine example of the best scholarship that lies at the intersection of philosophy, religion, and history.
Dynamic Repetition proposes a new understanding of modern Jewish theories of messianism across the disciplines of history, theology, and philosophy. The book explores how ideals of repetition, return, and the cyclical occasioned a new messianic impulse across an important swath of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German Jewish thought. To grasp the complexities of Jewish messianism in modernity, the book focuses on diverse notions of “dynamic repetition” in the works of Franz Rosenzweig, Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, and Sigmund Freud, and their interrelations with basic trajectories of twentieth-century philosophy and critical thought.

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“The slightest gap separates the repetition of the same and repetition with a difference, but through that opening messianic redemption may somehow find its way. Or so suggested four of the most powerful Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, Rosenzweig, Kafka, Benjamin, and Freud, according to Gilad Sharvit’s arresting new reading of their legacy. Analytically rigorous, boldly imaginative, and lucidly written, Dynamic Repetition demonstrates how that most improbable of hopes is itself a revenant that refuses to die.”

Martin Jay, author of Genesis and Validity: The Theory and Practice of Intellectual History

“Many have pondered the peculiar form of messianism characteristic of early 20th century German Jewish thought, but Sharvit’s elegant hypothesis is a winner. According to Sharvit, the messianic drive of Rosenzweig, Kafka, Benjamin, and Freud is neither the Hegelian progressive thrust, which strives towards the completion of history, nor the apocalyptic death-wish, which hopes for the abrupt end of the world: it is based on a dynamic repetition, conceived not as a compulsion to repeat and stabilize, but rather as an impulse to reach forward into the future and innovate. Pace the popular opinion which perceives Weimar Jewish messianism as radical and uncompromising, Sharvit proposes a more moderate view which may be summed up by the talmudic equivalent of Søren Kierkegaard, Rabbi Tarphon: ‘You are not required to complete the work, but neither you are free to desist from it.’”

Agata Bielik-Robson, University of Nottingham

Table of Contents

Introduction: Scenarios of Repetition
I. Preliminaries, 1. From Eternal Return to Modern Repetition
2. Tradition and Repetition in German Jewish Modernity
II. Repetition and Its Others
3. “Weltliche Unlebendigkeit”: Eternity and Repetition in Rosenzweig
4. Repetition and Alterity: Rosenzweig’s Translations of Yehuda Halevi, Intermezzo: Abrahamic Variations in Kafka and Kierkegaard
III. The Breaking History
5. To Know No History: Benjamin’s Eternal Return
6. Revelatory Discovery: On Benjamin’s “Repetition of Opposites”
7. Freud on Moses: The Return of the Repressed and the End of Essence

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