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approaching the bareness of his existence by the end of the novel.

Before he achieves such “traumatic awakenings,”


he still has to

work through the fatal seduction of the redemptive promises which

are part and parcel of the discourses of both Jewish exceptionalism

and American exceptionalism.

The problem with these two discourses of exceptionalism is

that they subscribe to, and then put into practice, an exclusionary

logic that merges the old traditions of land entitlement with the age-

old idea of a chosen people, whether Jewish, of the Church, or

American, into a hybridized discourse that justifies the means


use of law or violence to exclude those deemed to endanger the

integrity of the national body and its identity project

with the


the establishment and sustaining security of the state. The

discourse of Jewish exceptionalism, as analyzed by Shaid Alam, “has

taken three principal forms” (2010: 6): Jewish doctrine of chosen-

ness, the spectacular achievements of Jews for human civilization,

and, finally, the long history of Jewish suffering. All three forms of

Jewish exceptionalism, even though they are indispensable for

Zionists in their efforts to forge a sense of nationalism, need to be

supplemented by, and supported with, biblical prophecy: that of the

arrival of a Messiah to return the Jews to their Promised Land. It is

this prophecy about the Messiah’s ushering in a Zionist state that

becomes the burden of the Jewish exceptionalism Mendel has to

bear, thereby rendering his creaturely life and death a testimony to

the biopolitical imperatives informing the Zionist exceptionalists’

power to let live and let die.

Landsman, despite his cynicism, still invests his confidence in

the US; after all, the US has offered Jews assistance twice. Why can’t

he, or other Jews, expect the US to perform a miracle and naturalize

all of them? In the novel, Americans have indeed come up with


I am here making reference to Cathy Caruth’s notion that the awakening to a

traumatic experience is itself traumatic, but such an awakening, traumatic as it is,

involves the ethics of witnessing that which is otherwise unclaimed and

unremembered. See Caruth (1996).