Kofman, Sarah

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KOFMAN, Sarah

Nationality: French. Born: 14 September 1934. Education: Sorbonne University, Paris. Career: Professor of philosophy, Saint-Sernin College, Toulouse, 1960-63, and Claude-Monet College, Paris, 1963-70; lecturer and professor, Sorbonne University, Paris, 1971-90. Died: Suicide, 15 October 1994.

Publications

Memoir

Paroles suffoquées. 1987; as Stifled Words, 1998.

Rue Ordener, Rue Labat. 1994; translated as Rue Ordener, Rue Labat, 1996.

Other (philosophy)

L'Enfance de l'art: Une Interprétation de l'esthétique freudienne. 1970; as The Childhood of Art: An Interpretation of Freud's Aesthetics, 1988.

Nietzsche et la métaphore. 1972; as Nietzsche and Metaphor, 1993.

Camera obscura, de l'idéologie. 1973; as Camera Obscura of Ideology, 1998.

Quatre romans analytiques. 1974; as Freud and Fiction, 1990.

Aberrations: Le Devenir-femme d'Auguste Comte. 1978.

Nietzsche et la scéne philosophique. 1979.

L'Énigme de la femme: La Femme dans les textes de Freud. 1980; as The Enigma of Woman: Woman in Freud's Writings, 1985.

Un Métier impossible: Lecture de "constructions en analyse." 1983.

Mélancolie de l'art. 1985.

Pourquoi rit-on?: Freud et le mot d'esprit. 1986.

Socrate(s). 1989; as Socrates: Fictions of a Philosopher, 1998.

Séductions: De Sartre á Héraclite. 1990.

"Il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte": Freud et la spéculation. 1991.

Explosion. 1992.

De l'Ecce homo de Nietzsche. 1992; as Explosion I, 1999.

Explosion II: Les enfants de Nietzsche. 1993.

Le Mépris des juifs: Nietzsche, les juifs, l'antisémitisme. 1994.

L'Imposture de la beauté et autres textes. 1995.

Other (literary criticism)

Autobiogriffures. 1976; as Autobiogriffures: Du chat Murr d'Hoffmann, 1984.

Nerval: Le Charme de la répétition: Lecture de Sylvie. 1979.

Le Respect des femmes: (Kant et Rousseau). 1981.

Comment s'en sortir? 1983.

Lectures de Derrida. 1984.

Conversions: Le Marchand de Venise sous le signe de Saturne. 1987.

Don Juan, ou, le refus de la dette, with Jean-Yves Masson. 1991.

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Bibliography:

"Sarah Kofman: Bibliography, 1963-1998," in Enigmas: Essays on Sarah Kofman, edited by Penelope Deutscher and Kelly Oliver, 1999.

Critical Studies:

"Sarah Kofman" by Janice Orion, in Shifting Scenes: Interviews on Women, Writing, and Politics in Post-68 France, edited by Alice A. Jardine and Anne M. Menke, 1991; "Response to Sarah Kofman" by Judith Butler, in Compar(a)ison (Switzerland), 1(1), 1993, pp. 27-32; "Double Whaam! Sarah Kofman on Ecce Homo " by Duncan Large, in German Life and Letters (England), 48(4), 1995, pp. 441-62; "Sarah Kofman's Paroles suffoquees: Autobiography, History, and Writing after Auschwitz" by Madeline Dobie, in French Forum, 22(3), September 1997, pp. 319-41; Sarah Kofman by Françoise Collin and Françoise Proust, 1997; Enigmas: Essays on Sarah Kofman, edited by Penelope Deutscher and Kelly Oliver, 1999; "Pardon? Sarah Kofman and Jacques Derrida (On Mourning, Debt, and Seven Friendships)" by Penelope Deutscher, in Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, 31(1), 2000, pp. 21-35; "Of Footnotes and Fathers: Reading Irigaray with Kofman" by Ranita Chatteriee, in Psychoanalyses/Feminisms, edited by Peter L. Rudnytsky and Andrew M. Gordon, 2000; "Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener, Rue Labat and Autobiography" by Caroline Sheaffer-Jones in Australian Journal of French Studies, 37(1), January/April 2000, pp. 91-104; "Conversion and Oral Assimilation in Sarah Kofman" by Nicole Fermon, in College Literature, 28(1), Winter 2001, p. 155.

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Sarah Kofman is most celebrated as a philosopher in the European tradition. A professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, she was of a standing with thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe and was one of the first commentators on deconstruction and on the French intellectual phenomenological heritage. Her work, philosophically inspired most clearly by Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, covered a range of issues and thinkers but perhaps was most focused on issues of gender and thought and on art and on the relationship between literature and philosophy. For example, her book Socrates: Fictions of a Philosopher looks at the way Plato, SØren Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche created a "fictional" character for Socrates as a central part of their philosophical work.

Kofman's own philosophical work seems to avoid discussion of the war and the Holocaust. In part this avoidance can be put down to the more general reluctance of survivors to speak about the Holocaust and to her own experiences of French anti-Semitism and postwar resettlement, which are detailed in her memoir. She writes in Rue Ordener, Rue Labat, however, that all of her works—more than 20 books on philosophical, theoretical, and psychoanalytic subjects—may have been the "detours required to bring me to write about 'that,"' the "that" being the effect of the Nazis on her own life, specifically the deportation and murder of her father. With this in mind, it is possible to see her work—about the silence of women in Freud or about the stories philosophers tell to fill gaps in knowledge—as being concerned centrally with detours, gaps, and avoidances. It is as if it were, in fact, all about "that," her founding prephilosophical experience of the Holocaust.

Of Kofman's works that more directly discuss the Holocaust there are two autobiographical fragments ("Damned Food" and "Nightmare: At the Margins of Medieval Studies"), a meditation titled Paroles suffoquées (Stifled Words ), and a full memoir, Rue Ordener, Rue Labat. The last two of these works were inspired by the experience of the loss of her father, a Parisian rabbi deported to Drancy and then Auschwitz in July 1942. They were also inspired by her need to continue to go over, to speak about and bear witness to, the Holocaust without end. It was for her a subject that could never be exhausted.

Kofman, along with many other major figures in French philosophy, Jewish (Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Alain Finkielkraut) and non-Jewish (Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Francois Lyotard), was greatly influenced both directly and indirectly by the thought of Martin Heidegger. Before the war Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party and after the war made no direct comment on the Holocaust. Yet, as Elaine Marks writes of these French thinkers in Auschwitz and After, "it is those texts … where Heidegger's thought and poetic style are most recognisable, which, through metaphoric indirection, produce an effect of horror and silence acceptable, to my expectations, at least, of writing 'after Auschwitz."' The style of thought opened by Heidegger and transformed by Derrida, Levinas, Kofman, and others seems to have offered a rich vein of reflection on the Holocaust.

—Robert Eaglestone

See the essays on Rue Ordener, Rue Labat and Stifled Words.