Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality and Midrash

Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality and Midrash


Norman Simms

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781936235391 (hardcover)
Pages: 336 pp.
Publication Date: December 2011

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This groundbreaking book focuses on Alfred Dreyfus the man, with emphasis placed on his own writings, including his recently published prison workbooks and his letters to his wife Lucie. Through close reading of these documents, a much more sensitive, intellectual, and Jewish man is revealed than was previously suspected. He and Lucie, through their family connections and mutual loyalty, were interested in and supported the artistic, scientific, philosophical and historical movements that formed their Parisian milieu. But as an Alsatian Jew, Alfred was also critical of many aspects of technological and ideological developments, making his mentality one of skepticism as well as idealism. Norman Simms addresses the way Dreyfus perceived the world, challenged many of its assumptions and contextualized it in the style of a rabbinical midrash, a process that created what Alfred called a “phantasmagoria” of the Affair that bears his name, and also interprets the man, his milieu and his mentality in the style of a midrash, a creative, transformative reading.

Norman Simms (PhD Washington University) is associate professor in the Department of HUmanities and English at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. He is the author of Festivals of Laughter: Blood and Justice in Biblical and Classical Literature (2007), Marranos on the Moradas: Secret Jews and Penitentes in the Southwestern United States from 1590-1890 (2009), and Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality, and Midrash (2011).

Prof. Simms’s forte is, of course, the manner in which he “midrashes” Dreyfus’s notebooks from Devil’s Island. Drawing from the rabbinical technique of analysis, Simms connects it with the kind of hallucination, or phantasmagoria (those were the years of Georges Melies), that was experienced by Dreyfus, while he also notes, after Gabriel Tarde, what an “interpsychic” experience the Affair was since both sides imitated each other in utter confusion….Simms tries, in this first volume of a series of three, to recapture the man as he emerged from the Affair. He does so considerately and effectively.
— Prof. Norbert Col Universite de Bretagne-Sud France
This is a remarkable book and sheds light on a Dreyfus that I and certainly many others did not know.
— Dr Murray Kaplan Florida

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction
Part 1: Diffraction of Light Rays
Part 2: The Dreyfus Texts
Part 3: The Myth of the Unthinkable and the Impossible
Chapter 2: Bodies of Evidence
Part 1: An Orchestrated Litany of Lies
Part 2: Alfred and Lucie’s Love Letters
Part 3: Internal Pains and External Brains
Chapter 3: The Phantasmagoria of a Secular Midrash
Part 1: Midrashing the Cahiers
Part 2: More Essays and Excursions