Academic journal article Nebula

Narrating the Palestinian in Philip Roth's Operation Shylock: A Confession

Academic journal article Nebula

Narrating the Palestinian in Philip Roth's Operation Shylock: A Confession

Article excerpt

Introduction : Jewish American Literature and the Arab/Israeli Conflict

Irving Howe argues that Jewish American literature in general is the result of a confrontation between "an immigrant group and the host culture of America" (Howe 1977:3). Apparently the immigrant experience in America of marginality and alienation emerges as the basic subject of the American Jewish writer in the present time, however, there are many American-Jewish narratives located in an Israeli landscape. This reveals that "the subject of Jewish identity is increasingly being set against an Israeli background" (Solotaroff 1992: XXII). The interest of Jewish and Zionist American writers in Israel drives critics to come to the conclusion that since America is a multi-ingredient nation rather than a melting pot "one can look forward to a new renaissance of Jewish-American fiction about Israel in the next decade"(Pinsker1993:8x).

Unfortunately in both American and Israeli / Hebrew literature on the question of Palestine, there is a trend which emphasizes "the intolerance and hostility toward Jews of Arabs who refuse to acknowledge any possibility for coexistence" (Coffin 1982: 321). The hostile image of the Arabs/ Palestinians prevalent in Israeli literature is echoed in Jewish American fiction about the Arab / Israeli conflict. In both cases, the Palestinian subaltern is eliminated except as negative values and is seen as synonymous with everything fanatic, degraded and vicious. For example in Roth's Operation Shylock : A Confession, the author creates a Palestinian character, George Ziad or Zee, a friend of the novel's protagonist, the speaking voice of the author. Ziad is aesthetically articulated to introduce the Palestinian narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict from a perspective which fits his image in western colonial culture as an anti-Semitic fundamentalist. He attempts to challenge the Israeli mythology of victimization claiming that the Zionists in Israel have manipulated the holocaust propaganda to justify the occupation of the Palestinian territory in Gaza and the West Bank and the annexation of land from neighboring Arab countries. Ziad's argument that "Israel has drawn the last of its moral credit out of the bank of the dead six millions" is condemned by Roth's central narrator as false allegations. The author underestimates the Palestinian counter- narrative posited by Ziad by viewing him as a fanatic who degrades the holocaust memory : "Marlboro has the Marlboro man; Israel has its holocaust man" (Roth 1993 : 269), says Ziad.

In "Imperialist Nostalgia", Renato Rosaldo states that "in imperialistic narratives, descriptions of character attitudes are fertile sites for the cultivation of ideology." This process is integral to the narrative discourse of Operation Shylock : A Confession, therefore Ziad's claim that Israel has exploited the holocaust--related guilt of the world community to justify its aggression against the Palestinians is rendered as a maniacal perspective and his vision of the Arab / Israeli conflict is viewed as nothing but "anti- Zionist crab" (289). By identifying Ziad as an anti-Zionist fundamentalist, the protagonist of Roth's novel exercises his power as a colonizer. In other words, the colonizer uses his power to classify, categorize and represent the colonized Other. By calling the displaced Palestinian a terrorist or a fanatic, the protagonist/narrator utilizes his strength as a colonizer who is able to name and identify. Since naming and addressing, to use colonial / theoretical terms, is an act of possession performed by the dominant oppressive culture, any name attributed to the colonized Palestinian is a hegemonic act of naming, i.e. erasing the real or original name. It is then a re-naming intended to deprive the native Palestinian from his identity in order to affiliate him or obliterate his identity. In other context, the colonized Palestinian is dealt with as a newborn baby appropriated by the father / colonizer when given his name. …

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