Volume 11, Issue 1, 2014
The Morality Meme: Nietzsche and A Serious Man
Pairing together the Coen brothers film A Serious Man (2009) with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, this paper looks at questions about morality, illusion, and the influence of Jewish thought on contemporary ethics. Beginning with a reading of Nietzsche that locates his discussion of the Jews within its proper
historical context, it traces the beginnings of the “morality meme,” the notion of a universal moral reward that, Nietzsche argues, arises during the Deuteronomist
period of Jewish history. The second part of the paper looks at how A Serious Man also engages in an interrogation of this moralistic overcoding of the universe, with a particular emphasis on how these questions upset Larry Gopnik’s views of both science and religion. The essay then concludes with a look at the poisonous effects of the “morality meme,” showing in particular how it has influenced the psychology of anti-Semitism. Rather than a rejection of Jewishness, the paper concludes that in A Serious Man the Coen brothers engage in a careful but loving criticism of their own culture that requires them to distance themselves from the problematic effects of its religious morality.