You’ve likely encountered the thought-provoking works of Gil Anidjar and George Levine during your literary studies. As prominent voices in the realms of philosophy, history, and cultural criticism, their writings challenge us to rethink canonical texts and reexamine the construction of cultural, religious, and national identities. In this review, we’ll dive deeper into two of Anidjar’s notable books, Semites and The Jew, the Arab, as well as Levine’s study The Realistic Imagination. Delving into their complex ideas around Jewish identity, the effects of Enlightenment humanism, and the evolution of realist fiction, we’ll highlight their most compelling arguments.
Introducing Gil Anidjar and Philip Levine
- Gil Anidjar is a professor of Religion and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He has published books on political theology, the history of Christianity, Zionism, and post-colonial theory. His work focuses on the relationship between religion, nationalism, and power. Some of his notable books include The Jew, The Arab: A History of the Enemy (2003) and Blood: A Critique of Christianity (2014).
- Philip Levine was an American poet best known for his poems about working-class Detroit. He served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2011 to 2012. Levine’s poetry often explores the lives of the working poor and the middle class.
Key Themes in Anidjar’s Work
Gil Anidjar is a professor of religion at Columbia University known for his critical studies on Christianity, Islam, and Jewish thought. Several key themes run through Anidjar’s writings:
The entanglement of religious and political spheres
Anidjar argues that the distinction between “religion” and “politics” is an artificial one imposed by modern secular thought. For much of history, religious and political authority were deeply intertwined. Anidjar examines how major world religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have shaped politics and vice versa.
The construction of religious and ethnic identities
Anidjar explores how religious and ethnic identities are created and defined in opposition to an “other”. For example, he analyzes how European Christians defined themselves against Jews and Muslims. He argues these identities are fluid and historically contingent, not fixed essences.
The relationship between Western and non-Western cultures
Much of Anidjar’s work focuses on the connections and tensions between Western nations like Christian Europe and non-Western cultures like the Islamic world. He challenges the notion that these spheres were isolated, showing how they influenced each other through conflict, cultural exchange, and trade networks like the silk road.
The role of language in constructing meaning
Anidjar pays close attention to the role of language, metaphor, and rhetoric in shaping thought. He examines how certain words, phrases or metaphors come to represent entire religious, ethnic or cultural groups. The spread of these linguistic tropes, he argues, helps construct the meanings we attach to identities and shape attitudes toward groups like Muslims, Jews and others.
Anidjar brings a critical, interdisciplinary perspective to religious studies. His work provides insight into how major world religions developed in relation to each other, and how they continue to shape thought in the modern world. His writings encourage us to question familiar categories and see global connections across time and space. For anyone interested in religion, philosophy, history, and critical theory, Anidjar’s books offer a challenging but rewarding read.
Philip Levine’s Greatest Poems
Philip Levine was one of America’s greatest contemporary poets. Over his 50-year career, Levine published over 20 collections of poetry, most depicting life in industrial Detroit. Some of his most powerful poems highlight the dignity of the working class through vivid imagery and accessible language.
‘They Feed They Lion’
One of Levine’s most well-known poems, ‘They Feed They Lion’ uses the metaphor of a lion to represent the pent-up angers and frustrations of the oppressed. The repetitive refrain “They feed they lion” builds a sense of rage ready to explode at any moment. Levine paints a bleak picture of “the dark veins / of the city” where “the bones of the factories / … darken and decay.” Yet there is a glimmer of hope in the final stanza, suggesting that poetry and art can overcome even the darkest of days.
‘What Work Is’
‘What Work Is’ depicts the dreariness of waiting in a long line for a chance at a job. Levine zooms in on the smallest details, like “the sad refusal of the sky” and “feet that want to stamp their way through the day.” Yet there is beauty even here, as laughter erupts and strangers make fleeting connections. The poem suggests that meaning and purpose can be found even in life’s more tedious moments.
What is their legacy and influence?
Anidjar and Levine have both made substantial contributions to their fields that continue to shape scholarly debates today. Their pioneering books and essays have influenced subsequent generations of critics, historians, and theorists. Although coming from distinct perspectives, Anidjar and Levine’s writings reflect a shared spirit of intellectual curiosity and a commitment to the life of the mind.
Ultimately, Anidjar and Levine offer compelling perspectives on the relationship between religion and the secular that deserve close consideration. While their approaches differ, both challenge assumptions in thoughtful ways. As you reflect on their arguments, think critically about your own views. Be open to having long-held beliefs questioned, for it is only through continuously reexamining our ideas that we can arrive at deeper truths. Whether you find their theses convincing or not, let their unconventional ideas spur you to contemplate familiar topics from new vantage points. When we sincerely try to understand divergent worldviews, we come closer to grasping the complexity of issues that have bearing on society. Our comprehension expands, as does our capacity for empathy.