My writings seek to deconstruct the narration of current affairs as distributed to the public. By taking a linguistic hermeneutic path I attempt to reveal the rhetorical devices grounded within the techno-scientific calculative culture that is characteristic of liberal democracies. I relate particularly to the self-contradictions in the Zionist discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its mutual interaction with world politics.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dr. Ariella Atzmon

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Athens OR Jerusalem: the story of Cain and Abel revisited

Ariella Atzmon ©

"I know that everything essential and great originated from the fact that the human being had a homeland and was rooted in tradition"
Martin Heidegger

"For me Heidegger is the greatest philosopher of the century, perhaps one of the very great philosophers of the millennium: but I am very pained by that because I can never forget what he was in 1933. He has a very great sense for every thing that is part of a landscape; not the artistic landscape, but the place in which man is enrooted. It is absolutely not a philosophy of the émigré! I would even say that it is not the philosophy of the emigrant. To me, being a migrant is not being a nomad. Nothing is more enrooted than the nomad. But he or she that emigrates is fully human: the migration of man does not destroy does not demolish the meaning of being"[1][i]
Emanuel Levinas

In his famous essay 'Jerusalem and Athens': some preliminary reflections'[ii] Leo Strauss refers to western civilization as oscillating between two poles of wisdom: Athens, the polis, the birthplace of democracy, where under the reign of reason philosophy art and science were venerated; and Jerusalem - the city of God where it is God's LAW that supplies truths above reason. The western man, according to Leo Strauss, is constructed complementarily by both biblical faith and Greek thought. I would argue that all attempts to reconcile the Jewish imperative of "first act and then listen" with the Greek urge for understanding above all else, are doomed to failure. It is not Athens and Jerusalem but rather, Athens or Jerusalem. To refute the common view that traces the clash between Athens and Jerusalem back to the Maccabean war, where Jewish monotheism won the battle against Hellenic paganism, I argue that the disparity between Athens and Jerusalem is ingrained in the primordial split between the tiller of the soil and the wandering shepherd. It is the biblical rivalry between Cain the dweller, signified by the craving for rootedness, against Abel the wanderer.

The myth of autochthony associates Athens with rootedness (Bodenstandigkeit) as disparate from 'Jerusalem' marked by wandering and rootlessness. The Old Testament (the voice of Jerusalem) tells us that God prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's offering "And in process of time…, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstling of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and his offering; But unto Cain and his offering he had not respect." It is evidently clear that the bible consistently leaned to the side of the wanderer. Therefore, to a certain extent, the bible should be seen as a subtext for understanding Jewish history, where the narrative of wandering and exile is already present. Oddly this implicit concurrence between Jewish repetitive history of wandering and exile as anticipated by biblical narration is blurred and disregarded. When Biblical scholars are asked: why there is no one hint that might give a clue to God's arbitrary preference of Abel over Cain, they insist on providing this story as an example of God's inexplicable conduct. One does not need to be a Biblical scholar to discover that the Cain and Abel story is only a sinister prologue for other biblical stories that are to follow.

The myth of autochthony[iii] (where autos refers to what is one's own) and chthonos (denotes the root of the earth), should be employed as a Rosetta stone for an alternative reading of western antagonistic history between Hebraism and Hellenism. The myth which constructed the people of Athens as the children of the earth, opposes the biblical master narrative, where under God's command Abraham was compelled to leave 'his country, his kindred, his father's house unto the land of Canaan.' Abraham's lament: "I am a stranger and a sojourner" stamps 3000 years of Jewish history. With the revival of the Greek legacy, volkisch ideologies (later over-shadowed by nationalism), restored the concept of autochthony. Hence, the battle between Judaism and Hellenism goes beyond paganism versus monotheism, to the perception of the gods of earth and heaven, who are near you, in you, with you - as contrasted with the Jewish absent transcendental god.[iv] To the question: "what does he live for?" Anaxagoras answers "to contemplate the sun the moon and the sky". In his lectures on Earth and Heaven, Heidegger tells us how the old Holderlin dwelled on the authentic essence of the Greeks as the proper element of the occidental. For Holderlin Greece meant 'tenderness', the glance of reflection of the 'athletic eye'. This conjunction of Earth and Heaven, and beauty as truth comes through the place in which the poet dwells. "sweet it is then to dwell, under the high shade of trees and hills". In the Greek way, the wanderer comes to rest only by traveling poetically. Jerusalem on the other hand, means dwelling poetically and never ending one's traveling. It is the poetic craving for Zion from the rivers of Babylon, followed by the failure to grasp in Palestine the sweetness of dwelling.

Heidegger highlights the myth of autochthony through Holderlin's poetry. He binds landscape and rootedness with the primordial affinity to the Greeks. For the Volkisch ideologists the kinship with the Greeks functioned as an aesthetic religion, for an authentic German homecoming; a path that was meant to rescue the Germans from enlightenment and modernity.

A homeland for Heidegger was not a region demarcated by the boundaries of political enclosure measured by the science of cartography. The ownership of a land is a pre-legal, pre-economic entity, possessed by dwelling; in contrast to the Jerusalem way which reduced the Promised Land into a mere real estate marketplace, where prices are climbing or plummeting according to seismographic vibrations of anti-Semitism.

For Holderlin the church steeple with its metal roof, "is a source of happiness for those who walk on a secured path with its nearness". For Holderlin the regional silhouette of the church steeple embraces earth and heaven within the realm of belongingness to the native landscape. In Israel where rural life is dying out, there is no skyline silhouette that contours the landscape between earth and heaven.

Jerusalem is where the sacred is buried under a cluster of asphalt urbanity, where Jews are estranged in a promised land without a promise, where the synagogue founded as a gathering place for dispersed people to preserve their observance from getting loose, is marked by blind belief and non-belongingness. It is the Jerusalem tradition of wandering and rootlessness that prevails.

Like Spengler, Heidegger saw metropolitan urbanity as marked by rootlessness. That by adhering to the cosmopolitan values of modernity, the westerners lost their roots, their vivid power of thought and became deracinated beings. It is 'The spread of asphalt intellectualism' that characterize those who abandoned the permanence of the soil for the fluidity of a capital and so they are doomed'. Heidegger charged the German as a volk with a spiritual mission to move the West out of its technological-imperial sphere. Yorck pointed to the Jews as a tribe "…. which lack a feeling for the soil"[v]. What marks the Jews as a danger in Heidegger's eyes is their rootless urban identity. The Jews as urban people proved to be very successful in the mid 19th century in filling the ranks of the professional classes. In the new liberal capitalist period of the industrial revolution, the Jews more than other ethnic groups, were great survivors in the marketplace, uniquely ready for urban life. They were literate and experienced middlemen, they were mobile, ready to pack up and move, chasing new opportunities and economic niches. In the language of the Heimat, he describes the Jews as marked by Diaspora and exodus - they resist the principle of autochthony. Heidegger's lucid analysis identifying the division between the ultimate wanderer and the tiller of the soil, is not anti-Semitism, it is the story of Cain and Abel re-told. Similarly, Heidegger's statement "Bolshevism is in fact Jewish"[vi] is a revelation regarding the wanderers as the inventors of internationalism and cosmopolitanism.

Heidegger was the philosopher that unveiled the latent threat enclosed within the attempt to reconcile Jerusalem with Athens.

An academic atmosphere dominated by those who define themselves as Jewish scholars ends with an intellectual paralysis caused by an ethical double bind. Just by adding the prefix Jewish to their title (a Jewish philosopher, a Jewish writer, a Jewish sociologist) these thinkers announce their belonging to a tribal racial blood community while simultaneously they keep propagating the ideas of cosmopolitanism, universalism and internationalism.

We should remember the links of some Jews in the Bush administration to those who started out as Trotskyites and ended up as devoted Neo-cons. Chaim Weitzman's statement that there are no English Jews but rather Jews who live in England confirms Heidegger's assertion. Heidegger is neither an anti-Semite nor a racist. On the contrary, he rejects any kind of biological racism. Oddly enough, it is actually the Jews that perpetuated themselves as a racial 'blood community'. The Jewish Israeli lobby's success in the Bush administration verifies it as such. This is just one example.

I argue that the political correctness vicious apparatus spreads smoke in our eyes, blinding us from seeing the devastating impacts of these ethical oxymorons created by the endless preaching about ethics. In other words, all attempts to pacify Athens and Jerusalem emerge from the sinister holes set by political correctness. The gap between Jerusalem and Athens should be portrayed also by differentiating between national identity defined as a volk and marked by autochthony vs. a blood community which never grows roots in a homeland (or anywhere else) and thus became the symbol for Diaspora, migration and exodus.

For Heidegger a volk identity is constituted through history. He interprets the Athens and Jerusalem hostility not in religious terms but as an ontological split where attachment to the soil can not accept the uncommitted wanderer.

Since the beginning of time, human beings were destined (as individuals, groups or tribes) to wander from one vicinity to the other. But we should not substitute the urge for survival with the desire for dwelling. Wandering and emigration should be seen as an inevitable means for striking roots in a new dwelling, it is never an aim in itself. Heidegger and other thinkers of his time strived to portray a geo-political mind-set of German rootedness and Bodenstandigkeit (the eternity of the soil). What sounds like autochthonous supremacy can be interpreted as the link of the volk to its homeland. For Volkisch ideologists a homeland is a mythical space that has its roots in the soil of the native earth, as a place for the historical unfolding of the volk[vii]. For these neo-Hellenist thinkers Greek autochthony was inseparable from the origins of philosophy.[viii] Setting the foundations of the Graeco-German affinity left its powerful mark upon German academic life and on intellectual elite in the early 20th century till the outbreak of WW2.

This intellectual enterprise was banned in the aftermath of the war as it was deemed to legitimize the Nazis brutal acts in the name of political exclusion.

After 1933 Heidegger became preoccupied with the idea that 'the true revolution' had to come from the university. He described the university as a bureaucratic vortex that turned into an institutional centre for professional research and teaching. He sought to restore the essence of the German university and bring it back to its original spirit, which had been lost. Only by returning to its origin in archaic Greek thinking could the crisis of the West be resolved. He was close to saving academic thought from its paralyzed condition and would have done so, if only the Nazis had not diverted it away for many years afterward.

The more we engage with Heidegger's thought the more the discrepancies between him and Jewish philosophers come into view. Ernest Bloch the German Marxist philosopher (1885-1977) conceived Heidegger's philosophy to be a dismissal of the 1789 ideas of rationality, individual liberty and the 'universal role of the law'. Bloch, who himself came from a wealthy Jewish family, mocked Heidegger's and Holderlin's poetic thinking regarding the secret Germany of the soil and the chthonic subterranean forces of rootedness as being irrationalist provincial love. While Heidegger celebrated the volkisch dream of the 'vaterland', Bloch insisted on a European international ideal for Germany. While the German elite was pre-occupied with the question "who are we?" the Jerusalemite moralized the Germans 'to cover up their identity' and to shadow their German essential Dasein. Like Heidegger Bloch found in antiquity the sources for the German future. But while Heidegger followed Hegel, Holderlin and Fichte in privileging the Greek arche, Bloch nominated his Hebrew ancestral origins as a more proper model for fostering the democratic values of a new Germany. Bloch's utopian ideal for Germany, was a cosmopolitan international 'community of the spirit'. While Bloch repudiated the German Sonderweg in the name of Marxism, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) who described himself as Heidegger's intellectual brother, in his famous book The Star of Redemption[ix], denounced the preliminary assumptions of Hellenic autochthony regarding land, territory, earth, soil, roots and 'indigenous home' as treacherous and deceitful. Like Bloch he pointed to the Jewish origins as the real arche. Rosenzweig who asserted that the uniqueness of the Jewish people is founded upon their blood bonds: "only blood gives present warrant to the hope for the future" calls into question the Heideggerian geo-philosophical discourse regarding the soil as the basis of a political community. By referring to ancient Jewish history of estrangement, wandering and Diaspora, Rosenzweig denounced Hellenism which ruled the whole of western philosophy as evil. Levinas as a recent prominent voice of Jerusalem claims that the commitment to rootedness is dangerous. Like Rosenzweig who asserted that "being a people means something besides being rooted in a land" Levinas argued that "the chosen home is the very opposite of a root. It indicates disengagement, and wandering"[x] .

Hence in the battle between Athens and Jerusalem, the present day presents us with a definite victory of Jerusalem. We can realize how in the realm of philosophy and cultural studies 'volkisch' aspects as distinct from nationalism are overwhelmingly violently dismissed. Their stress on the affinity with the Greeks as bound to the spiritual aversion to Jerusalem is eliminated from the academic discourse. In fact cosmopolitanism and internationalism as promoted by Jerusalem philosophers from left to right (Marxist, Neo-Marxists, Frankfurt School and critical studies, to Husserelian Phenomenology and constructivism, up to Leo Strauss universal monism echoed by American and British Neo-Cons), are triumphant beyond any doubt. Secular Jewish intellectuals are outsiders looking in not only as Jews among non-Jews, but also as people alienated from their own Jewish culture. This explains their success in portraying modern alienation and initiating radical paradigms of post-modernity, constructivism, and critical studies. After inventing internationalism they are the advocates of globalization cosmopolitanism and a boundless free economy.

In their panic to assimilate into the German society by converting to Christianity, many German Jewish intellectuals failed to notice that some of the leading German minds were ecstatically abandoning their Christian faith in favor of Hellenist neo-paganism. So the more the Jews tried to fit in, the more they generated hatred and antagonism. What started as volkisch ideology ended with excessive nationalism, aggression and militarism. It may be suggested that the Nazis shift toward radical militarism blocked the final, most constructive chance for saving the west from its decay.

After 1938 the disillusioned Heidegger could see how national-socialism was trapped in nihilism and imperial domination as those who he repudiated so long before. From 1946 (Letter to humanism) Heidegger stressed the affinity of Greek and German in order to revive European culture. "It is our choice, today…to preserve European culture by cultivating its spiritual elements - or let it be destroyed by the greediness of globalization and by being blurred by empty cosmopolitanism." By 1955 Heidegger shifted his terminology by pointing to the dangers of 'calculative thinking", and the way the legal took over ethics and morality.

While Heidegger does not discuss the subject of ethics overtly, Levinas adds some more pages to Heidegger's treatise in a way that devastates the whole Heideggerian enterprise. While all that Heidegger can say about ethics keeps within the aura of 'aboutness', Levinas leads us around in circles, filling up the gap of what is missing in Heidegger's text. He makes us sweat in the effort to understand 'otherness'. But if lecturing ethics is an ethical act then God save us from this sort of ethics! Levinas is not alone in this obsession about otherness. It was Buber before and Derrida afterwards that tried, each in his way, to moralize us with the same theme. Rhetorically, I would ask why people who conceive their distinctness in terms of blood bonds, so fixated with preaching about ethics and otherness? Heidegger was not a modest philosopher, but when he got close to the notion of ethics his silence signals a vigilant response-ability.

We can see how the Greeks' myth of autochthony paved the way to an exclusionary xenophobic politics. But it is the task of cultural studies to take the courageous path and diagnose and analyze the maladies of our culture: to bring back to light the whole generation of 'Athens' philosophers that had foreseen the degeneration of the West 100 years ago. How did it happen that academic curriculums substitute the profundity of Heiddeger's philosophy with the compulsive study of his subversive disciples? This victory of Jerusalem confirms Heidegger's fears of the judification of western culture.

Much has been written and discussed about Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazis but despite the fact that he is considered one of the most profound philosophers of western culture (even Levin's admits he is the greatest), his volkisch geo-political ideas are ignored and his treatise is taught as a unique philosophical poesies. Is it for reasons of political correctness that we can not admit openly that Heidegger was not affiliated to the Nazi party; but rather, it is the other way round: The Party that it was originally is the party that went too far![xi]
The disillusioned Heidegger in 1938 identifies Hitler's political ambition of targeting the whole of Europe by force as an expression of a Cartesian will for domination. With his attunement to the poetic arche of the Greek he asserted in 1942 that: "the essence of power is foreign to the polis"

To conclude, Levinas' idealization of the curse of wandering, turning migration into a virtue, is already foretold in the expulsion from Eden story. It is the Jewish God who says to Adam : "Cursed is the ground for thy sake…. In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of your life" This is how the odyssey of wandering, cosmopolitanism, internationalism the free market and the globalized economy starts. The questions that should be posed are: How did it happen that the intellectual world is totally dominated by the philosophers of Jerusalem whilst the voice of Athens is silenced? Is it the fear of Fascism that causes a forgetfulness of being? Are the blind spots of Political Correctness taking us onto a treacherous trail of darkness? I shall argue that since Marx was never blamed for Stalin's genocides, why should Heidegger be the scapegoat for Hitler's crimes?
[i] Levinas. E., (1998), Entre Nous: On thinking-of-the-other (N.Y. Columbia) p. 117
[ii]Strauss, Leo,(1997) Jewish philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, Athens and Jerusalem; some preliminary reflections', (Albany(State university of N.Y. Press) pp 377-405
[iii] The term autochthony is mentioned by Homer. see: Homer, The Illiad (Chicago University Press, 1961) book 2, lines 546-7. It is the myth about the Greeks as autochthonous human being.
[iv] What Jung concluded as: 2000 years of Christian Judified civilization that masked the true natural Aryan God within.
[v] Paul Yorck von Warteburg "Katharsis" in Die Philosphiedes Grafen (Gottingen:Vandenhoeckh & Ruprecht, 19700 P. 174-5
[vi] see in: Karl Jaspers, (1984) Philosophische Autobiographie, (Munich: Piper), p. 101
[vii] Bambach charles p. Heidegger roots p. 157
[viii] Fichte for instance deployed the myth of autochthony to exclude the non-Germans from the originary people. By referring to the non-Germans as Barbarians he differentiated between the native, the Urvolk and the foreigner the autochthonous and the allochthonous.
"the German remained in their original dwelling places of the ancestral stock while the others emigrated elsewhere; the German preserves the original language of the ancestral stock while the other adopted foreign language"
[ix] on the subject of 'blood and spirit' see: Rosenzweig, F., ( 2005 ), The star of redemption (Madison; university of Wisconsin press ) p. 299
[x] Levinas. E., (1969) Totality and infinity, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press) p. 172
[xi] On this subject and Heidegger's geo-political philosophy see; Bambach Charles, ( )Heidegger's Roots: Nietzsche, national socialism, and the Greeks. (Ithaca: N.y, and Cornell University press).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Exiled writers -The Joy of Translation

Ariella Atzmon©
In every one’s life there are moments when the need for translation is inevitable. Translation has to do with the complexities of understanding, interpretation and mainly with explaining ourselves to ourselves and to others. In this paper I shall limit the discussion to ‘text’ translations, where one undertakes the role of being his (her) own translator.
From the various nuances given to the word ‘translation’ I choose to concentrate on the aspect of translation as a challenge for increasing the extent of addressees exposed to a written text. Although the word text refers to everything articulated by any specific language, (such as a film, a folklore story or an item in the news), I shall deal with translated written materials only.
The act of self-translating can be seen as a vital urge for being heard and understood. It is a manifestation of the human desire for recognition (Kojeve). The subtleties of translation weave together intricacies of interpretation, hermeneutics and semiology. As such, translation detects the most enigmatic problem where self-referential messages are addressed between two systems of linguistic signs. If translation is an endless journey within the maze of language, where diverse signifiers are striving to tackle an elusive signified, then self-translation is an even tougher mission.
In her inspiring book ‘Lost in Translation’ Eva Hoffman describes ‘translation’ as a project of “explaining my self to myself…back to the beginning, and from the beginning onward.” The moment the signified seems to be captured, it turns into another signifier. But despite all that, the act of translation should not be seen as an agony, but rather as a gratifying activity of the human scene. The journey of translation is not an affliction but a creative transfiguration of becoming. The translation of my own writing into another language is where pleasure and pain are ecstatically intermingled. If Jouissance occurs when pleasure and pain are twisted, then the character of jouissance is revealed with joy, as my own (translated) written text becomes a source of pleasure.
This text deals with the issue of writers in self-imposed exile, those who choose to shift their writing to a host language. I shall not venture beyond this subject to deal with theoretical attitudes to literary translations. But between the view that regards the translator as a competent mediator who attempts to match two signifiers to arrive at an equivalent signified, and the theory of the translator as an inventor of signifieds in a move, I shall opt for the second stance. This is predicated on the view that literary translation is not merely a mediation between cultures represented in texts, but rather an hermeneutic act of ‘thinking the between’. In line with this view, the translator is a hermeneutic messenger between cultures rather than a passive agent between source and target texts. Choosing a word is an intentional act that produces the content. Thus, the translator of his own written text is privileged to modify his own translated messages. Just as Hermes, as the Gods’ messenger interpreted any message according to its addressees, so the translator is allowed to play the part of Hermes. Hence, revision of the signifier/signified interrelation, while crisscrossing the boundaries of two languages, is fully justified.
In keeping with the Heideggerian idea of ‘Language as the home of Being’, language defines what the human subject is able to know about the world and about himself. As human beings we are shaped by language. That’s what Wittgenstein means by a ‘Language Game.’. According to Wittgenstein “an interpretation is something that is given in signs,” so that no interpretation can be understood without a rider. Our native sign systems keep the rider in control. The rider navigates our ‘free associations.’, so that the crosscutting between cultures becomes restricted by principle.
Right from the beginning our capability to interact with others and to exchange ideas depends on an acquired linguistic competence. Hence, the more we are acquainted with our mother tongue the more we are able to carnivalize language subversively. The reality of being exiled or displaced from a primary bonding confronts people with the inability to juggle metaphors adroitly. It is where the sense of estrangement, of being muted, intermingles with loss of identity and nostalgia. In Kojeve articulation “it is only by being ‘recognized’ by another, by many others, or - in the extreme – by all others, that a human being is really human, for himself, as well as for others… For only in this case can one reveal a reality in speech…” The nightmare of not being heard and understood, is a fundamental threat to the self as ‘the discourse of the other’ (Lacan). Being displaced from a native tongue is a dreadful threat to one’s human existentiality. In Eva Hoffman words: it is that the signifier has become severed from the signified. The words I learn now do not stand for things in the same unquestioned way they did in my native tongue. Hence, the worst is the loss of an inner language, the lack of interior images, where the path to assimilate the external world is blurred. But the metaphor of ‘getting lost’ in translation might be misleading. Being the translator of my own writings is a route for turning the necessity for translation into a virtue, turning the torture of moving between languages into a gratifying enterprise. It is a moment when from the strong comes the forth sweetness. The more we internalize the idea that all interpretations are games, shaped by the meanings in use, the more the gateway to other languages is widened. The flexibility of translation is dependent upon feeling at home with our native language, which is bound to the basic condition of human existence, namely: recognition. Lack of recognition means despair. The radical disjoining between word and thing “is a desiccating alchemy.” It is the loss of a living connection. Therefore, the topic of ‘being my own translator’ takes us beyond language into the realms of nostalgia, loss of identity, rootlessness, floating and being unseen.
Although each of these topics needs further elaboration, I shall concentrate upon those aspects of translation where translation operates as a talking cure. When the writer’s urge to be heard and understood by an audience in a new location manifests nonstop attempts to transform distant meanings into genuine inner expressions; it becomes an endless endeavor to bridge the word that lies on the tip of the tongue with a deferred foreign meaning. This heuristic progression is where panic, stress and desire become entwined into a joyful scene. At the moment the intangible insight flickers into view there is joyful relief. As if the writer reaches his own Eden, where words are shaped in new collages, created as a patchwork quilt by overlapping different realities, one upon the other. In a mysterious indefinable way, the seeds of these vigorous, insightful expressions infiltrate the host language. Signs are transfigured into hybridized meanings. Thus languages evolve in an evolutionary process of change. The profound contribution of exiled writers to their host language has always been greater than acknowledged. Assuming that the center is defined by its margins, it is marginality that re-constructs its canonic textualities.
Evolution and change are carried out by a tendency for preservation (Epigenesis) and mutation (leaping, inconsistent skipping). Preservation functions to duplicate what is in existence, that which ‘remembers itself.’ Preservation and repetition are nailed in a contract of shared meaning that can be seen as constructive negations, a driving force for new mutation. The mutation is created not via the replacement of something with something else but rather via overcoming the given for what does not yet exist (Kojeve). Writers and poets are creative generators of linguistic mutations. The minutes of silence trigger a plunge into the abyss of the inexpressible, namely - the kingdom of the aesthetic act, the origins of new mutations.
The concept of the Double Bind may assist in understanding the paradoxical oscillation between consonance governed by repetition and dissonance created by unpredictable singular mutation. The DB is an essential condition of human beings, which are doomed to oscillate between preservation and mutation. Poets and writers are mostly immersed in an immanent yearning for an authentic voice while submitting to the communal, public linguistic diktat. The inescapable DB oscillation that constructs realities through the invention of words elevates human being to the heights of the sublime. Exiled writers’ fiction transforms particular primordial experiences, located in time and space, into allegories and abstract symbols of deconstructed existence (Ramdin 1977).
For the exiled writer transplanted into a new language, the burden of the DB is doubled. The self-translator/writer constructs a new reality by deconstructing both source and target language, celebrating archaisms and jargon. Thus, the DB swings from singularity towards abstractness, all the while getting closer to its peak. The exiled writer is blessed by the phantasy of starting to dream in a foreign language. Some things get lost in the passage between the source and the targeted language and this lack of precision takes the writer into the realm of the inexpressible…. where new metaphors are generated in pursuit of the inner voice. It is in translation that the DB oscillation is revealed in its full intensive sway, when one’s own writing becomes subversive, not because of the rule, but in spite the rule.
Our generation has produced more refugees, migrants and displaced people than ever before. A huge mass of people is confronted with a loss of identity. Attaining a hybrid identity is a shocking experience, which only very few are able to transform into a constructive process. Edward Said describes this floating in the abyss between languages as a crossing of boundaries, where life means telling my stories of the past in an estranged foreign language. There is no chance of help coming from the new surroundings. In Eva Hoffman’s words: “you have to invent yourself every day by your own means… Nobody knows your past so you have to convince people who you are, and you want them to believe you….it is a re-imaging the self every new day…”
However, working between languages the exiled writer can not escape the need for negotiation. To clarify this point I shall use Homi Bhabha’s concept of hybridization (Bhabha: 1983), whereby two cultures retain their distinct characteristics and yet form something new. From a psychoanalytic aspect, Bahbha introduces the role of anxiety as a sign of danger. But danger can also indicate that something new is emerging, viewing translation as gratifying joy rather than misery.
Being bi-cultural does not mean to feel at home in two cultures. Quite the contrary, it implies rootlessness, where rootlessness alludes to the joy of being released from the metaphor that likens human beings to trees. It is the nationalist biblical metaphor of viewing human beings as rooted plants that sends so many of us to search for their roots. When one imagines oneself as a singing bird, self-translation can be seen as an enchanting glide, crossing boundaries in a ceaseless game between metaphors and metonymies. The translator gets engaged in the navigation process which, is in itself a work of art, where the pleasure of self-translation is amplified.
Another aspect of the DB, refers to the fundamental categories of continuity and discontinuity. Languages are digital systems of symbolic signs, where the gaps are significant as the organizing syntax of those systems. The combination of the discrete digits, is a whole termed analog. The analog is always extended beyond the sum of the single parts as it includes the editing code. There is always an excess of meaning created despite the rigid syntactic rules.
Oscillation between the analogue perception and its privatized, digitalized articulation is a DB issue. We swing to and fro between the inexpressible analogue perception of dreams, and the necessity to communicate by contractual digital signs. If we imagine metaphorically the signifiers which are available for expression as flashes of light appearing in our consciousness, and the gaps as areas of darkness, then each particular signification gives an illusory sense of a continuum enlightened screen namely, reality. Actually, each discourse lights up and leaves behind dark spaces. Thus, every language is distinguished by the wealth of certain words, and the poverty or shortage of others. The implications are that what is left dim are those parts of experience which are repressed, censored or forgotten. These darkened spaces confront us with the inexpressible. Writers and poets are those who dive into the dark recesses of language, illuminating those hidden gray zones by metaphorical substitutions and allegorical devices. All writing is imposed by silence, the listening to our inner voice. ‘Minding the gaps’ of language means awareness of the twilight zone, which cannot be expressed within linguistic signs. The art of translation that has to mind two systems of gaps, is the DB in its extremity. Self-translation is a work of art where the writer is projected beyond the void of thinking ‘the between’ within the boundaries of his native language, into the abyss of a foreign un-promised land. But the pain of translation rewards those who are courageous enough to face the glare of language.
I shall conclude by pointing to writers in self-imposed exile, who shift their writings into a more widely spoken language in protest against their own people. Writers who refuse to share their ideas with the majority of people in their homeland. It is the shift to another language, which is essentially part of the protest.
It is when exile stops being conceived as a dead end of nostalgia and regression, when rage is substituted by a constructive creativity. For the exiled writer there is nothing like a ‘promised land’, what remains clear is the promise of rootlessness.
I shall end this paper with the odyssey of the Hebrew as both target and source language, wandering from the Diaspora to Palestine and back to Exile, questioning whether Hebrew is a Jewish or an Israeli language.
The renaissance of Hebrew from a formerly holy tongue into a lively, spoken language was an enchanting process accompanied by the frenzied invention of neologisms. The pioneer writers of the 19th century, who translated themselves from European languages into Hebrew, had to deal with a rich but archaic language that was definitely Jewish. The act of translation was a fascinating enterprise of originality and creativity accomplished by inventive minds that carried in their cultural baggage the plenitude of the languages they were born into. Zionism, proclaiming Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, hijacked Hebrew, making it into the Israeli national language. Hebrew became the hallmark of the Israeli collective identity, it turned into a symbol of unification replacing the ancient Jewish religious tradition.
Oddly enough, as a fluent spoken language, Hebrew has lost its primary multiversity and turned into a poor vernacular loaded with slang and vulgar jargons. In the course of secularization, the hermeneutic nature of Hebrew was inverted into a signalized speech censored by a ‘language police’, i.e. ‘The Hebrew Academy of Language’. Thus, the distinguished richness of the grammatical conjugation (that compensate for the poverty of synonyms) is forgotten. In an attempt to adopt European modes of idiomatic speech, the kaleidoscopic nature of the Hebrew linguistic sign had gone astray. The Jewish secular young generation are no more familiar with the ‘study of the Torah’, where the sign is bounded to a variety of hermeneutic interpretations.
Alas, under the circumstances of an estranged and impoverished Hebrew invaded by a blend of tasteless vulgar slang, in which the language gets out of control, there is no other choice left for an attentive Israeli non-Zionist writer, but to become a self- imposed exiled writer. That is why we trace these days a route of Jewish writers but this time it is away from Palestine into Exile.
Gershon Sohlem, who very much opposed Hebrew’s revival into a daily spoken language anticipated that people who attempt to communicate in God’s holy language will be marked by arrogance and the assumption of omnipotence. He was right!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Homeland as the Gift of Destiny: Homecoming, between dwelling and settling.

By Ariella Atzmon

Inspired by Heidegger's 'Elucidations of Holderlin's Poetry'[1], the question to be asked is: What is meant by homecoming? How do people transform a place into something they call a home? By possessing a land and settling, or by ”coming to rest” through dwelling?
Arriving in one's homeland, meeting with the countrymen there, those who are dwelling on the same native soil, should be handled with ”care”. Heidegger insisted on a proximity between the poetic notion of the word “dwelling” and the word "care" as referred to the 'care of homecoming’. Heidegger affirmed that dwelling and building are not the same! ”Letting-dwell” means getting closer to the nature of something, with respect to the nature of the word HOME. The existence of human beings subsists in the nature of dwelling. To dwell does not mean to occupy a house or a lodge. Dwelling implies the mortality of human beings living temporally in the world to reveal the immortality of sky and earth. A life that dwells means to one that builds in keeping with a kind attentive modesty to the breath of past traditions, taking care for an approaching future.
The notion of homecoming as a refuge, a shelter as an urge for letting-dwell, is completely negated by the notion of the word “settling”. Mastering a land by erecting settlements that are not intended for cultivating and growing things, but only for the sake of declaring a Jewish presence and ownership of the land, stands in contradiction to what is meant by LETTING DWELL. Right from the beginning, Zionist settling was marked by 'tower and stockade'[2] as the manifestation of an accomplished fact. The Zionist call for the REDEMPTION of the lands of Palestine was an aggressive abuse of a HOMECOMING. Lands belong to those who dwell there, therefore the use of the word REDEMPTION was vicious from the beginning. Redemption from what? From whom? Under the slogan of ”making the desert bloom” Zionism defined the place as a desert and thus completely ignored the villages, towns and the people already living there. The joy of return can not be accomplished simply by the arrival on the shores of one's tribal birth. A genuine homecoming should be echoed by the immeasurable shifts that the place had experienced. In his poem "Homecoming/to Kindred Ones" Holderlin reflects upon the burden of homecoming: "What you seek, it is near, already comes to meet you" but….one's returning home has not yet been reached merely by arriving there. If a place is inhabited by one's beloved people it is still hard to win…. Things get more complicated when what is "sought does not come to meet" when the inhabitants are differentiated by their past, present and future expectations, which do not conform with those of the one that arrives. But the minute those who arrive proclaim "to redeem" the land, and settle in their ”promised possession” the place is destined to a disastrous, irresolvable, endless clash.
This phenomenon is not new. The whole history of humankind is crammed with colonial conquests, genocides, atrocities and violence perpetrated against natives of invaded lands. Our planet has always been full of homeless people, exiled refugees, and ”asylum seekers”. So relating to the words Diaspora, exile and homelessness there is a need to make a distinction between the Jews and all other people that are dispersed from their homeland. What distinguishes the Jewish Diaspora from other dispersed groups, is that while the latter were expelled from a homeland where they were dwelling, the Jews by their rootless nature were never really familiar with the experience of dwelling. Hence by being blind to what is meant by dwelling, the wandering Jews' search for a refuge, or what they call a ”national shelter”, is accomplished by mere settling. Jewish Zionists defend their colonization of Palestine by pointing at those dark chapters of other nations' history. They remind us of the atrocities against the American Indians, or the wrongs done to the Australian Aborigines. True, to colonize a land, killing and shunning its indigenous inhabitants is evil, but to return to what is claimed as one's homeland lacking the ”care of homecoming” is a unique historical heartless and shameless phenomenon. Approaching one's homeland with disrespect is worse than a malicious conduct, it is inhuman.
It is the one and only case in the whole of history that a tribe’s ”homecoming” is followed by such an obsessive drive for the devastation of the whole texture of what is claimed to be its own native soil. It is not merely the oddity of the singular historical event, what is at stake is the despicable irreversible damage that the region and the world experience. In their fanatical enthusiasm to build a European spot in the heart of the Middle East they were determined to vandalize the landscape bringing into reality the apocalyptic verse: "the rugged shall be made level".
For two thousand years "sat the Jews, by the rivers of Babylon, where they wept remembering Zion", but it took them only 50 years to turn Zion into a polluted place, where the rivers are poisoned with industrial filth and the seashores are contaminated by sewage. A land where the old Holy city of Jerusalem is a wretched place deprived of municipal services and the new city is crowded with beggars, messianic lunatics, and poor ultra-orthodox living on charity, as if the old European ghetto had been transported to the heart of the Judea's mountains. When the first pioneers the 'HALUTZIM' disembarked on the seashores of Jaffa they zealously compared their homeland to a beloved woman whom they promise to clothe with a dress of asphalt concrete and mortar. This drive to bury the Terra Sancta under a coat of concrete, to bulldoze and crack its mountains, to construct separation walls and to offend their next-door neighbors, manifests gross insensitivity regarding a homeland as a 'gift' that should be treated with com-passion. A belongingness to a homeland denotes responsibility and commitment to its history, and not the other way round. People who are oblivious to the idea that a homeland is a gift of destiny do not deserve the gift. The Jewish occupation of Palestine is distinguished from all other White Man colonization, since apart from indifference to the place and its inhabitants, it epitomizes an oblivious attitude to their own History. (excellent)
Just after the 1995 Oslo agreement, on the very day the Israeli Army evacuated Ramallah, handing it over to the full control of the Palestinians, the town was in a carnival mood, and the long-forbidden Palestinian flag was hoisted everywhere. In his impressive book 'Strangers in the House'[3] the disillusioned Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh describes how in the same evening on his walking way home he saw "…in the distant hills to the west, just below the line of the glimmering lights of the coast, a single red light." Wondering what it could be, he wrote, "A new house built on the vacant hills? But it was too remote an area …. A solo picnicker celebrating the liberation of Ramallah?" But then he realizes that the light is moving… that it is the rear light of a car driving through the 'liberated zone'…. And this was the end of the carnival… Shehadeh realizes "…that it was a new bypass road being built to serve the settlers of Dolev and Beit-El, to connect them through an alternative road to Jerusalem." and this was the burial of the Oslo agreement! "The hills where he used to go for walks and enjoy the changes brought by the different seasons to the land would become unsafe with armed settlers and soldiers traveling the new road." (this is a very moving segment. Seeing it from the eye of a single person with a name, very nice touch)
Seven years later the number of Jewish settlers doubled, "…their new houses are built on our flattened hills. They drive on straight wide roads that burrow through hills that have been cut in half. The scramble for land is ruining this afflicted landscape… while Israel prospers, our towns and villages continue to be squeezed." The whole enterprise of Israeli settlers' expansion is planned to disrupt the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians. What a shameful homecoming!
Recalling that it is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, let us be reminded that in Hebrew the word dwelling is LISHKON from the word MISHKAN that has the etymological link to SHAKHEN which means neighborhood. And thus, dwelling and 'thinking of your neighbor are entwined.
People live in the place they dwell, people who build their houses in one place and go to work in another place, leaving their houses in the morning and coming back at night using bypass roads and avoiding their neighbors are not dwelling.
Dwelling is cultivating the land, sharing its natural resources, water and the opening landscape with the neighbors. "Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build…” It is placing a house on the wind sheltered mountain slope facing the right direction. It is adjusting the building to the regional weather conditions, for a long winter place a overhanging shingle roof whose proper slope bears up under the burden of snow, and an arched building for living in a desert[4]. Ecology is not about dwelling. Building should be letting-dwell. Being a ”friend of the earth” is not just protesting against pollution or trying to save nature by the conservation of ”fauna and flora”. Being a 'friend of the earth' means an awareness of our being a temporal stance in time and space, an episode in history of a place, a singular strand in the weaving of collective group memories. The ecological aspect is only a narrow facet of the wide theme concerning the man and earth relationship. Ecology and green politics is a materialistic, scientific, and calculative mindset about quantification of pollution and global warming forecasting the end of this planet. Ecology ignores homelands, history and traditions and it is blind to joy and grief of people as it calculates only the damage done to earth.
Palestine is the piece of earth where tribes from the desert met with men from the sea, where the wandering merchant and the nomad shepherd exchanged goods with the rural native, where prophets preached and denounced kings, where tribes were clashed in imperial conquests. Peace and prosperity were rare episodes in the history of Palestine. We can trace it in the biblical Jewish prayer for peace and tranquility "God who makes peace in heaven, may he make peace for us and for all Israel, and say Amen"[5]. But then we shall realize that this blessing is directed solely for the benefit of the children of Israel…. Hence, no wonder that the biblical promise of dwelling "to sit under one's vine and fig-tree" is interpreted by the Israelis as bestowed to their own settlements. While they pray for peace under their fig trees they go for raids, bulldozing, burning and uprooting Palestinian olive plantations that are thousands of years old. The question to be asked is: how can homecoming be materialized by such a destructive drive for uprooting trees, destroying the habitat of people that dwelt in the region for so long? Only a people afflicted by detachment can be so inattentive to another people's authentic wish to dwell. The problem with the Jews is that they refer to God's covenant regarding the Promised Land in legalistic terms. Jews (secular as well as orthodox) refer to the Bible as a document of legal rights to the lands of Palestine. However law and justice can never be equated, but when a pseudo-legal attitude takes over, it is even worse, since it obstructs people from thinking and acting in an ethical way. This is why in the case of the Jews the prospect of dwelling is cancelled beforehand. To understand what history grants us is a virtue given only to those who have the ability to dwell. Right from the beginning the Zionist homecoming carelessness of the homeland's own special nature, of its thrilling past was evident. There was a failure to grasp the homeland as a gift of destiny.
The mutual covenant between God and his chosen people never included 'strangers', since Gentiles were always considered by the Jews as non-beings. It is clearly declared in the 1967 victorious song of praise "Jerusalem of Gold":
"Jerusalem of Gold, and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin for all your songs
How the cisterns have dried
The market place is empty
And no one frequents the Temple Mount
In the Old City
And in the caves in the mountain winds are howling
And no one descends to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho"
As if all the years before the Jews occupied the area, the people that were living there were non-entities. As if under the Jordanian rule the place was deserted. I would say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just a struggle over the same piece of land, it is a bitter battle between people that dwell and those who attempt to settle.
"Dwelling means that prior to being ”at home” there is the need to keep it preserved in its essence. Granting this feeling of ”being at home” is the essence of a homeland."[6] Homecoming should be founded on a thoughtful reflection of what being ”at home” means. One needs a prior knowledge of what the home is like. What is its nature, what is the best in it. To romanticize the Homeland by repeating a myth is not enough. Idealizing the Homeland as the place of ”milk and honey” is good for prayers but not as a guideline for erecting a state. The Zionists imagined Zion as a place where they will feel ”at home” and thereby fulfill their destiny. They thought of cultivating it and turning it back into the land of Milk and Honey, but at the same time they lacked any knowledge about the place and its inhabitants. Right from the beginning, there was no intention of dwelling.
A homeland is not a geographic site we approach via the jargon of tourism or by folkloristic tales. Homeland is not nature in itself, not fauna and flora for itself, homeland means to dwell poetically. Thinking of homecoming poetically is to accept that: what comes near is still remote and concealed and that the nearness to the origin is something quite mysterious[7]. Dwelling in a Homeland should not be maintained by military power, street marches, parades of tanks and cannons. It should not be exhibited by F16 formation flights, or military jets causing supersonic blasts that shatter the windows of the neighbors in Damascus. Dwelling is not dominating the sky and earth but rather staying in peace with nature where sky and earth are facing each other.
Homecoming is a modest attempt to dwell as near as possible to the hearth of the homeland, and to get nearest to its origin. In the faithfulness to its origin neighborhood is grounded. By poetically dwelling, Heidegger means that without remembering the past of the homeland the poems are empty and shallow.
To dwell means to stay in a place. The thousands and thousands of Israeli Jews queuing at the doors of the Polish, Estonian and the Lithuanian Embassies begging for an EU passport, do they have the intention to dwell?
We may conclude that the aspiration of ”Homecoming” does not stop people from being steeped in homelessness. The old role of the Wandering Jew being dispersed among the gentiles is still being played out awaiting those who do not dwell. By reading Heidegger we acknowledge that not every attempt to find a refuge, a shelter or a home is aimed at dwelling. Building a separation wall, concrete barricades, bypass roads, and settlements surrounded by barbed wire fence is an appalling example of how to survive in a land as long as you can without dwelling in it.

[1] Heidegger, M., (1996), Holderline's Poetry, (Humanity Books: NY)
[2] The system of building Jewish settlements in Mandatory Palestine".
[3] Shehadeh Raja (2002 ), Strangers in the House, (Profile books)
[4] Heidegger, M., (2001), Building ,Ddwelling,Tthinking, in: Poetry, language, Thought, (Perennial
classics) p. 158
[5] The last verse in the Jewish mourning prayer to the dead which appears in Job 25:12. Since the 67 war this verse became the Hymn of the peace movement in Israel.
[6] Heidegger 1996, p.36
[7] ibid 41

Submitted to IMISE conference in Rome (Summer 2006)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Detachment and Alienation: From freedom of choice to the promise of being chosen

By Ariella Atzmon ©

In the beginning was the WORD, God speaking, to be followed later by the prohibition of the figurative, and the children of Israel were left aloof in a world of words without things. Freud's diagnosis proposes this condition of aloofness as
obsessional neurosis, and Lyotard adopts the hypothesis of psychosis[1]. Hence, in order to evaluate the distinctiveness of Judaism we need to first be liberated from the bonds of political correctness.
An analysis of the two synonymous words ALIENATION and DETACHMENT epitomizes a gap between the view that refers to human beings as celebrating freedom of choice, and the Judaic self-conviction of being chosen. To be Jewish means that in response to being bound to a mutual covenant with God in which the utterance of his name is prohibited, Jews are rewarded with the promise of "choseness." Taking a psychoanalytical line might be helpful in specifying typical Jewish political conduct as being afflicted with symptoms of detachment. I argue that the Mosaic prohibition of the iconic figure is much more significant than what the inventors of the expression 'Judeo-Christian tradition' are prepared to concede, and try to sweep under the carpet.
Re-examining the birth of the expression Judeo-Christian tradition philosophically reveals a Jewish attempt to become oblivious to the bottomless divergence between Judaism and Christianity. This expression, coined in 1964 in the USA by 120 Rabbis, was a deliberate plot to exclude Islam and to give the impression that Judaism and Christianity are kindred European monotheistic religions that worship the same God, share the same sacred texts and the same ethical standards. It was forged to create a religious consensus that the embracing of Judaism would ward off anti-Semitism. Thus before using Judeo-Christian terminology for the demarcation of European culture from other traditions, it would be advisable to underscore the kinship between Judaism and Islam, rather than its claimed closeness to Christianity. As a political invention it covers up the fact that there are no compatible principles shared by Judaism with Christianity. The two religions hold quite opposing ethical values and contrasting conceptions of God and of human beings. And thus all western history can be narrated with reference to the enduring clash that split the two religions from each other.
Since the symptoms of detachment are attributed to Jewish identity we need to define what detachment means as distinct from alienation. Detachment is defined as a mental morbidity, a spiritual and mental separation from the world which appears as a lack of empathy to worldly concerns. Thus detachment, as observing others without emotional commitment, is diagnosed between neurosis and psychosis.
Alienation on the other hand is an estrangement in feeling imposed on the human subject by external circumstances. In the best case it is an intentional externalization of experiences; in the worst it is the instance where man is conditioned to be alienated from what are properly his functions and creations, and where instead of controlling them, he is controlled by them (as in Marxist theory). Alienation is not an intrinsic mental state like detachment since it is caused by conditioning.
Actually Jews are not alienated but detached. Throughout history the presence of Jews was evidently central in all worldly affairs. More than 50% of the Bush administration's posts are held by Jews. We can trace Jews as the initiators of ideologies and as central figures who triggered social and cultural reforms and revolutions. This proves clearly that Jews are not alienated, but detached from the gloomy consequences of their deeds. Despite being conceived as the eternal ultimate 'other', the Jewish presence and its unmistakable influence is evident in all fields of political and cultural life. It is suggested that adherence to the role of the ultimate 'other', including separatist tendencies, relates to a transcendence from the figurative, being left solely within the play of words and without icons. Judaism is characterized by the prohibition of making an image of God. They worship a God whom they cannot see. The sensory perception came second after the abstract idea. The ear listens to the writing, and the writing comes from an absent God! So what is considered a Judaic triumph of intellectuality over sensuality, renounce the discourse/figure complimentarity.
Among savages for instance, the figurative prevails, and thus they have no philosophy, no deliberative politics. The savage resolves his wish fulfillment within the existing social organization itself, and by the cultural ritual façade which satisfies the wish to know. In the Greek polis, conversely, the rhetor initiated a secular use of discourse, where the word must sound reasonable. The birth of logos gave birth to science. In Hellenism, the pagan rituals were shifted towards theatrical epic and to the rhetorical theater. Hellenism turned the magic into myth, into theater. The Dionysian encountered the Apollonian stage of rhetoric leading to the path of logic. This is the route that western people have taken since then. In Judaism, the prohibition of the figurative wish-fulfillment turned into neurosis and even psychosis. And where the balance among the natural triad, signified-signifier-referent is distorted, detachment prevails. Apparently the discarding of the referent, including the signifier, conforms to the spirit of post-structuralism. But what is considered a virtue according to post-structuralism went too far with Judaism - right up to psychosis i.e.: narcissism and paranoia[2]. The exclusion of the figurative icon was transformed in Jewish tradition to repetitive ceremonial rites, where irrational ritualism compensates for the forbidden icon. In secular Zionism, the religious rituals were substituted by nationalistic patriotic ceremonies.
Following Lacan, the imaginary represented by the figurative is contrasted with the symbolic, articulated as a discursive language. The gaps of the inexpressible that inspire the work of art stem from rejected elements, absent as audible words but retained as visible things. Judaism excludes the figure, excludes magic, excludes reconciliation, refuses to admit to parricide, and thus there is no art in Judaism. Lyotard asks: Where to place this religion? The empirical mark of its difference is the hatred it inspires; anti-Semitism. Circumcision as the covenant with the word is a cut off from the imaginary, without gaining an entry to the symbolic order. By circumcision the Jew is caught in a double negation, being locked within the symbolic i.e, 'the name of the father,' while the name of the father is censored. With no symbolic order the access to science is blocked too. Hence, the Jew is left aloof without science and without art, emptied of human desire, where the balance between the pleasure principle and the reality principle is ruined. The moment the desire to kill God, which is the key motive of science, is repressed and denied the escape to art, Jews are caught in psychosis, detached from reality, including all its symptoms.
The difference between neurosis and psychosis in terms of their respective positions vis-à-vis language, is that the schizophrenic treats words as though they are things, perceiving reality by the signified without signifiers. Ordinary people cope between words and their thing presentation by trial and error. But while the neurotic get confused with the discrepancies of reality, the schizophrenic has no means for testing what is. The attempt to recuperate things via their verbal aspect, without resorting to images, while every thing remains in the realm of articulated language, brings about a schizophrenic aloofness from reality. It ends with inhuman acts, wrongs caused without even a wink. It is not being unethical but rather lacking a sense of ethics. While neurosis is a clash between wish-fulfillment and reality, psychosis occurs when the subject turns against the outside world, sniffing an enemy (anti-Semitism) behind every corner. If dialectic means compromise and reconciliation then the psychotic is not dialectic. Thus, Jewish politics, including Zionism, manifest no compromise and no reconciliation.
Narcissistic pathology is recognized by self-centeredness and a lack of empathy. When this disruption is coupled with a sense of superiority it generates hostility and paranoia that bequeaths to the generations to come the same victim mentality. It is manifested by the legitimization of theft of absentees' lands declaring it 'a proper Zionist decision'. For the sake of Jewish 'survival', Zionism distorts history and justifies discrimination. Thus Zionism is unethical just as Judaism is!
The attitude to past narration and history is another sign of the Jew's detachment and unethical attitude. The Jew turns his eye from the visible and thus history turns into a religious text. It is not reality but words. All traditions revive their forgotten grandeurs by past reconstruction. While Hellenistic glory was recollected in the Homeric epic, for orthodox Jews, including secular Zionists, the legacy of the past is engraved within the holy pages of the bible. Up to the present the bible is considered by all brands of Zionism as a legal document which substantiates the rights to the Promised Land. In Greece the pleasure principle was given free reign in Homerism, but Jewish religion excludes the pleasure principle and thus the core of historical writing is prohibited. For westerners, history is a reactivation of memories in the attempt to interpret the past, for the Jews, history is a teleological pursuit not meant to aid understanding the past, but rather relating the course of history to its end. The birth of messianic Judaism, can be understood in the light of the basic Jewish attitude to history. The coming of the Messiah is believed to be the end of Jewish victimization and the gentiles' Judgment-Day. While in other monotheist religions God’s judgment is directed at individuals, in Judaism, God's judgment is revealed in the history of the nation. The reign of God is expected to materialize in a new kingdom under a Davidic messiah. But the discrepancy in Judaism is that despite God’s promise, God is remote and invisible and the relations with his believers are mediated through the Rabbinic tradition of legalism. God does not meet the observant Jew in real daily life, where human beings encounter their neighbors and take responsibility for how their deeds affect the lives of others[3].
The distressing historical attitude devolved into all brands of Zionism. While religious Zionism was established on the nationalistic aspirations of being chosen, waiting for the minute God will restore the people's former glory, secular Zionists, inspired by 19th century European ideologies, were plotting a nationalist, racist Jewish state. The radical right was dedicated to the primordial idea of blood and race, while the left was ecstatically confused between international socialism and national aspirations.
It is clearly proved that at the point where ideological thought seemed to emancipate itself from the religious sphere and attempt to accomplish the task of demythologization, Zionism failed. I would argue that present day Jewish nationalism, manifested by Israeli colonialist and racist conduct, is deeply grounded in Jewish detachment from reality. The fact that secular Zionism never tried seriously to reflect critically upon its innate contradictory elements, is symptomatic of the old psychosis of floating in the realm of words.
The state of Israel reflects a cleavage between those who perceive Judaism as grounded in a mutual covenant between the children of Israel and God, and those who are fixed on the idea of statehood. Besides the antagonism between the two perceptions, just as in the time of the prophets, each of these positions does not allow for the existence of a Jewish community under its own basic assumptions. For the former perception, as long there is a promise of continuing with the Jewish life style and Halachic law the existence of an independent Jewish state is not conditional; while the Zionist view, by advocating the notion of statehood, is caught in the contradictory terminology of defining Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Thus the moment they put the prefix Jewish before the word state they dismantle the sense of democracy in the same breath. From all the many complexities bound to the notion of a Jewish state, I choose to elaborate the perplexities associated with the notion secular Jews which is an oddity in itself. For the orthodox, Jewish identity means a complete observance of the law without compromise, and thus, it does not cause any problem. Their difficulties emerge precisely in Israel as a secular democratic Jewish state. Real obscurity is revealed when secular Jews start wrestling with their identification as Jews. Most Israelis try to avoid this question by shooting from the hip that what unites all Jews is anti-Semitism, as if anti-Semitism is an inherent feature of the world. As a reflection of their own animosity toward gentiles, Jews are completely convinced that it is an inborn gentile necessity to exploit the ultimate Jewish otherness as a punching bag. Israeli educational curricula blame other religions, mainly Christianity, for orchestrating hatred towards Jews throughout history - as if the segregationist predisposition is a Christian invention. Children's books are saturated with inquisition and pogroms, ignoring the circumstances that led to those historical events. Israeli Jews mourn their killed children while remaining oblivious to their atrocities that brought the Palestinian martyr to perpetrate his desperate act.
Some secular Israeli Jews recite the slogan that Judaism is not a homogeneous entity, that there are many versions of Judaism. They identify themselves as Jews characterized by the glorious Jewish cultural tradition of scholarship. But this false pride falls apart easily when they are asked what they mean by Jewish culture, or what are the main virtues of Jewish scholarship? Their ignorance is grounded in religious and political motives that intentionally blur the narrative regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the birth of Christianity. Jews in general, and Israeli Jews in particular, are lacking in knowledge about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, as Judaic oppositionary paradigms.
Beit Hallahmi (1993) In his book ‘Original Sins’ elaborate a thorough overview that clarifies the background for the distortion of Hebraism into the Rabbinic tradition. The Rabbinic tradition is responsible for what is called Jewish culture or Jewish genius over 2000 years of exile. He blames this tradition for the origin of Jewish segregation and intolerance. In exile, after the fall of Jerusalem, the rabbinic tradition took over and became the driving force behind all characteristics of Jewish identity. The rabbinic ruling interpreted the law given in the five books of Moses, the written version of the oral tradition which was collected in six volumes called the Mishna. This is the core for further interpretation in the Talmud. Beit Hallahmi argues that the Mishna was actually a new version of Judaism.
The Rabbinic tradition is linked with the Pharisees who attempted to modify the harshness of the law by interpretation and inference. Actually they were the authoritarians who successfully tied the whole of life, down to its smallest details with the observance of the Law. The oppositionary conservative school to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, rejected any tradition that was established by scribal activity. After the fall of Jerusalem they disappeared and the Pharisees' exposition of the law became the touch-stone of Jewish scholarship. The rampant deception about profound Jewish scholarship is prevalent among Jews. The glamorous tradition of scholarship is actually a learning by rote of piles upon piles of rules as related to the Jewish law. Judaism is a religion where man in relation to God, is conceived in legalistic terms, where the ethics are equated with obedience and fear of God. There is no theology in Judaism.
These darkened spaces in narrating their ‘national’ past cause further ignorance which ends in a detachment from reality. The same people who praise Jewish culture and its profound scholarship, lack any knowledge regarding the style of Jewish learning. The secular young Israeli Jew is not faced with a Pentateuch scroll or with a Talmud page. But although Israeli Jews are completely alien to Jewish PILPUL (scribe interpretation) they are very keen to raise their voice in praise of Jewish scholarship.
In a brilliant article Meron Benvenisti declares that if Zionism does not convert its ideological basis it is doomed. I argue that it is not the ideology but rather a genuine morbidity typical of Jewish identity which causes Zionist conduct. Taking a step further I would say that there is no chance for a people afflicted by the morbidity of detachment to change, and thus they are doomed- unless they decide to rediscover their innerself critically by self reflection and learn to be more alienated rather then detached.

[1] The Lyotard reader, 1989 (Oxford:Basil Blackwell)
[2] Even the close proximity of postmodernism and poststructuralism to Judaism is refuted. Post structuralism as the linguistic turn is related with the artistic nature of language where all binary oppositions are dismantled. Since Judaism is obliged to differentiate between the secular and the profane, Jews and gentiles, Kosher and TRAIFAH, Judaism takes a diverged route from post structuralism.

[3] Butmann R., 1956, Primitive Christianity, (The Fontana Library)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Legal populism or the way to ‘post’ multiculturalism

Ariella Atzmon ©

This paper is a discourse analysis of the terminology of multiculturalism in relation to legalism vs. morality and ethics, viewed from a philosophical perspective. The ambivalence inherent in the vocabulary of multiculturalism is evident in the political scene where the meaning of legalism, inspired by scientific thought is confused with notions of morality and ethics. In Stanley Fish’s words: “many moralities would make many laws, and the law would lack its most saliently desirable properties, generality and stability”. The term "multiculturalism" which has to do with language and political correctness (or incorrectness), amplifies populist clichés regarding cultural equality and moral norms. Western jurisprudence, bound to morality and ethics, is essential to the way we interpret the notion of multiculturalism.
A discourse can be seen as a set of practices that systematically defines the rules which permit certain statements to be made. A discourse analysis of multiculturalism, from the perspective of educational curricula and other contents organized around the term, exposes liberal democracy's tricky game regarding non-western cultural norms. The fictitious populist view of science as an ideal model for human reasoning lies at the root of the affirmation of the legal system as autonomous, independent of any supplementary discourse such as morality or ethics. "Multiculturalism" as a gentle and tolerant expression actually presents a pair of opposites, declaring the ethnic minorities' empowerment of cultural manifestations on the one hand, and on the other, thoroughly identifying these same groups in terms of socio-economical and cultural guidelines quite distant from them. The use of the expression post-multiculturalism hints at the role of multiculturalism as a safeguard for the new liberal democratic state.
By putting ‘post’ in proximity to multiculturalism the contradictory nature of the term is revealed. The word ‘post’ can refer to the act of posting, that is ‘to deliver’, ‘to make known, to announce’, to advertise or to bring before the public. Simultaneously, the prefix ‘post’ alludes to what comes ‘after’, what is ‘laid aside’, or ‘finished with’, in other words, what is ‘postponed’. Bear in mind that multiculturalism proclaims that all cultures and religions are worthy of respect. So by grouping legalism together with morality and ethics under the same umbrella multiculturalism is concurrently postponed. If moral codification has to do with group cultural norms, then by celebrating the supremacy of legalism as an empirical entity, while ignoring moral considerations and personal ethical reflection, signifies that any possibility for cultural pluralism is called off.
By presenting the ‘nation’ as a unitary, homogeneous formation, legal populism operates as a vehicle for ‘posting’ multiculturalism (i.e., that all cultures are worthy of respect), and postponing it in one and the same breath. As long as multiculturalism is blind to the existence of ‘many moralities’, modes of assimilation and integration prevail upon negotiable hybridization, where cultures are viewed as retaining their distinct characteristics and yet form something new. Our generation has produced more refugees, migrants and displaced people than ever before. The question is how should national institutions respond to this diversity? By an attempt to assimilate distinct cultural norms under the command “melt or get out of the pot." or by trying to generate a hybridized cultural identity?
Regardless of diverse moral norms, multiculturalism enfolds everything under the cover of ethnicity, as if ethnicity is the key for handling multiculturalism better. Opposing this view, I shall stress the idea that ‘the discourse of the law’ as predetermined by words, and common phrases coined by the hegemonic culture, is obscured. The idea of moral universalism that fuses in its amalgamated spirit political, legal and philosophical terminology leads to the confusion of ethics and morality with legalism. Opposed to the melting pot model, it is cultural hybridization, where cultural incommensurability and interstices between cultures should be explored.
Morality has to do with cultures and group norms, while ethics addresses questioning and response-ability. Ethical judgment is the challenge of one’s self in the face of the Other. While morality is a body of norms concerning what is right and wrong, with respect to human conduct, adhered by a professional or social group, ethics never signify closure. As legalism is inspired by scientism i.e. an exaggerated trust in the efficient methods of the natural sciences, it is distinct from ethics and morality because of its claim to universality. This obsession with scientism turns the whole western legal machine into a binary system where statements are verified on the basis of observational proofs. Since testimony in western legal systems means validation of statements in correspondence with empirical evidence, we come to realize how latter day western regimes are steeped in documents and intelligence reports.
The fact that every society is comprised of a variety of interests and communal norms necessitates the foundation of a social apparatus that will be accepted by all. In seeking legitimization of its rule, the liberal paradigm turned to the legal system as its main source of stabilization. Thus, by asserting that legal, rational reasoning emanates naturally and autonomously from moral intuitions liberal secular ideology constituted the civic legal system, as an all-inclusive means for the resolution of conflicts. It is the culture of ‘reason’ that replaced the rule of power. In the course of liberalism, rhetoric turned into an acrobatic pursuit of how to contain politics in accordance with the law. According to this utilitarian approach, ethics are relegated to being interpreted in calculative terms for the assessment of harm caused to the ‘other’. By this argument I contend that liberal democracy, supported by scientific rhetoric, put up a barrier between morality and ethics on one side of the divide, and legality on the other.
In view of recent events where governments are occupied with ‘the legal justification of the war’ the role of THE LAW is better understood. The liberal assertion of moral universalism where the category ‘legally valid’ is equated with ‘morally right’ paves the way to ‘post-multiculturalism. It exemplifies the way in which the legal system blocks any encounter with cultural, moral considerations and silences personal ethical judgments. By highlighting legalism and equating it with morality and ethics, liberal democracy sustains its power.
Actually, multiculturalism as a sophisticated form of social control, talks in two voices. It praises cultural pluralism, while only scientifically approved phrases are acknowledged. The privileged status of scientific thought, is reevaluated in keeping with the idea that autonomy and rational judgment, promise redemption from deprivation. People exchange prior cultural, spiritual and moral bondage for access to the portal of enlightened legalism. Inspired by scientism they are converted to a new belief in facts, reports and evidential findings. Thus, the melting pot metaphor is a cover for a new type of oppression. The only way to melt in the pot is to assimilate - to become similar – to the dominant culture under the hegemony of science. But science is not just a selection of contents; it is a set of metaphysical assumptions about reality and knowledge. Science is an attitude for the legitimization of knowledge. By taking the bull by the horns, science filters the contents of knowledge from the educational curriculum to the legislative system. Thus multiculturalism turns into a safeguard protecting western culture from becoming contaminated by too strong a dose of other rationalities. Science determines the inferiority of those who do not follow its modes of thought. Thus multiculturalists’ openness regarding norms, beliefs, religious worship turns out to be another hypocritical falsehood.
A declaration made by an Israeli Supreme Court judge that: “All can be judicially accountable”, points to one of the most crucial cornerstones of liberal democracy. This phrase assembles ethics and morality under the legal system. Since legalism acts in reference to conformity with a book of laws, the moment legalism is declared all inclusive, multiculturalism is dismantled. The two threats to the authority of the legal system are: subjective moral intuitions and interpretation In Stanley Fish's words: “Interpretation has to do with the ethical judgment which is an inter-subjective consideration regarding what ought to be done”.
The legal system represents a public commitment to view conflicts as something that should be judged by legal means. But what does public commitment mean? If it is a commitment to all communities existing in the public sphere, then does it accord with the cultural norms that correspond to non-representational modes of thought? Defeated multiculturalism can be viewed in Israel where the majority Jewish population, comprised of immigrants and refugees, intolerant of each other, dominates a minority, indigenous Arab population. It is a case where cultural incommensurability between Western law and Jewish Halakhah seems to be insoluble. The multiculturalist demand that all cultural groups have the right to bring their cultural norms into the marketplace of ideas is unfulfilled, since many vocabularies constitute a threat to liberal legalism. This is why multiculturalism appears to the world wrapped in liberal legalism and why the two discourses support each other.
Multiculturalism should be a way to guarantee equality for moral norms and for witnessing many vocabularies. It suggests taking the path of hermeneutic interpretation, interpretation that establishes the meaning of a phenomenon, which, by its very nature, is fragmentary and incomplete. The underlying bloodthirsty wrestling in the political rhetoric for harnessing meaning is a vital tool in fortifying consent in the democratic sphere. Ethics have no rules for justification. There is no viable route for an ethical proof. Even if there are rules for what should be described as ‘the real truth’ they are inaccessible by their ethical nature. Since legality belongs to a calculative culture it needs proofs, supported by factual evidence. While legalism is committed to statutes and the regulation of the law, ethics and morality are released from presenting proofs. Since morality is bound to ethnic, religious, or cultural group norms, it should be contiguous with the discourse of multiculturalism. Liberal democracy’s obsession with legal assessments and evidential proof, with the aim of justifying dubious political acts, ends with a disregard for ethical judgment, and the POSTPONING of multiculturalism. Ethical judgment can not be learned by adding ethnic content to school curricula. It cannot be taught, but is generated by internalizing the essence of hybridization.
The way legalism is confused with morality and ethics, becomes apparent when prescriptions for professional behavior are distributed to the public as ethical codes (medical doctors, lawyers or teachers). In Israel a renowned philosopher produced a document entitled the IDF Ethical Code. Erasing distinctions between ethics, morality and legality leads to a dependence on juridical committees for the assessment of what is right and what is wrong, in cases which should be regarded as purely ethical. Leaders, who should reflect upon their own clear or bad conscience, would be more respected if they leave the court and be judged according to inter-subjective ethical imperatives. Despite this, we are witnessing a current, democratic, judicial routine: where a salient ethical and moral judgment is needed. The political leadership appoints judicial committees in order to examine their deeds in the face of further accumulations of evidential findings. It is the philosopher's task to draw attention to the sly legal game that veils political maneuvering. That’s what Stanley Fish calls the “amazing trick”, by which the law re-builds in mid-air without ever touching down. This is how law subsists through the Hutton Committee or the Butler inquiry.
Citizens of the democratic free world should become more engaged with ideas and the way these ideas are articulated by words. But to cease being indoctrinated by evidential proofs, means taking an alternative path of being attentive to citizens’ moral and ethical considerations. This alternative option does not fit with the liberal image of unprejudiced rational reasoning, free of emotions and the torment of the soul. The gloomy conclusion is that liberal democracy invented multiculturalism in order to tranquilize minorities' aspirations for attracting attention to their moral or ethical thought. By providing endless, observable referents in the name of superior scientific thought, populist legalism crushes any chance for ethical judgment or for a diverse, cultural moral norm to be heard. This is how positivism, phenomenology and constructivism became the leading philosophies in liberal democracies. How Habermass's consensual communication, Rolls' reasonable judgment, and Chomsky’s innate universal grammar, became leading figures in universities' curricula. As the guardians of the democratic deceit, their treatise prevents us from being alert to the deprivation of non-calculative modes of thought. The bearers of deconstruction, Heidegger, Derrida, or Lyotard are marginalized in many departments of philosophy. Totalitarian regimes invented prisons and torture cellars for rebels and political outsiders, while contemporary democracy discovered terms such as multiculturalism for narcoticizing its citizens.
Making a distinction between an object of cognition, and objects of ideas, points to the cleavage which threatens human society. An object of cognition refers to a cognitive category - its existence can be validated or refuted by testimonial means. Objects of ideas have to do with reflective, contemplative thought. Legalism conforms with objects of cognition where a statement about reality can be validated according to a common rule. Ethics and morality comply with the realm of ideas which evade factual findings. There are no protocol procedures for establishing the reality of an object of an idea. And thus, a statement regarding an object of an idea can not be legitimized by legal means!
The minute a person or a site on the map is defined as evil it is predicated as an object of an idea. And as such it can not be validated or refuted by legal means. It can be examined solely in moral or ethical terms. So when Bush's advisers coined the expression ‘axis of EVIL' they elevated Saddam to the heights of an object of an idea. Thus, however, they were caught in the trap they laid for themselves. By referring to Saddam as an evil, they ruled out their chances of justifying the war against Iraq by legal means. From a philosophical perspective, they lost the case of portraying the acts against Iraq as grounded in a cognitive discourse, and thus, all intelligence reports, documents, and testimony regarding the existence of WMD became useless. There is no way to hold the stick by both ends: to declare rational reasoning grounded within the cognitive genre on the one hand, and to validate an abstract idea by cognitive means on the other. This conduct means being irrational while at the same time claiming rationality. For the cognitive genre it is impossible to quit the conditional demand for binary logic. It is impossible to deliver a guilty/not guilty sentence. There is no way to be rational and irrational at the same time! An attempt to elude this claim is totalitarian. So how dare enlightened people establish the multiculturalism project if they themselves are oblivious to their own norms? How dare liberal leaders democratize other societies, whilst they themselves are unfamiliar with rational thought portrayed by scientific reasoning?
The concept of the Differend coined by Lyotard illuminates this theme clearly. A differend is a case of conflict between two parties that can not be resolved for lack of rule of judgment applicable to both arguments. A differend takes place when the one who complains about a wrong done is denied the means to prove the damage. The differend is signaled by an inability to prove, when the victim is reduced to silence. But, to be able not to speak is not the same as not being able to speak. As Lyotard put it, “There is no non phrase. Silence is a phrase”. When 'one can not find the words', one might express oneself by a ‘negative phrase’, by silence, by non-verbal aggression and acts of destruction. The captives of the cognitive genres are left in the remorseless limbo of a futile blind alley. The option available to the victim is to turn the state of being able not to speak into a benefit, to start a wordless fight outside the cognitive genre. Letting the ideas talk for themselves by killing the referent.
Multiculturalism under the hegemony of legalism means lip service that supports the reality of the differend as natural and indisputable. In order to stop being victims of populist rhetoric, and thinking of multiculturalism not in ethnic terms but as a moral issue, people should renovate significations and explore new expressions. Let’s dream a reality where the victim of the cognitive genre is able to dwell in the zone of the differend, get involved in the art of deconstruction. and thus, gain access to expressing the wrong done by using new phrases.
The idea of freedom, tolerance, leadership responsibility, being good or being evil is not conditioned upon phrases which are related to referents of knowledge. Instead of preaching multiculturalism under the guise of science and calculative thought, more space for ethics and morality should be made available. This could generate genuine empathy for immigrants and diverse ethnic or religious communities, and bring ‘cultural pluralism’ to the public agenda and to schools. Thinking of language hermeneutically, putting all texts under the magnifying glass of deconstruction, might let in some light and deconstruct the texts of multiculturalism!
A bothersome questions to ask is: what is the reason for the dubious conduct of western philosophers who do not criticize their political leadership on philosophic grounds; disclosing their ignorance, shouting to the world that ‘THE KING IS NAKED’? What is the use of multiculturalism if they turn their back on justice? Could it be that popularizing legalism is the way to postpone multiculturalism?

This paper was presented at the "New Europe at the Cross Roads" conference (sponsored by Loyola College in Baltimore). Munich summer 2004.