Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

In the Desert of the Other: Identity and Lucrimax in Modern Hebrew Fiction

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

In the Desert of the Other: Identity and Lucrimax in Modern Hebrew Fiction

Article excerpt

"We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in theirs." Numbers 13:33

If it is true that "Nation" is an "imagined community" (Anderson 1991), then national identity must also have been created by the imagination. In this paper I want to highlight Jewish identity as imagined and constructed, in several works of 20th-century Hebrew prose. The texts chosen for the present study serve as individual instances, or even allegories, for prominent patterns. These patterns can be traced in many other texts which would also be relevant to the proposed study but which will need to be left for a future monograph as they cannot be adequately presented, or even summarily mentioned, within the parameters of a single article.

Discussing the problem of identity, I would suggest using three concepts, corresponding to their theoretical frames: "The Other" (Post-Colonial Theory), "lucrimax" (the anagram of Baudrillard's simulacrum, as proposed by Russian scholar Alexander Etkind) and "chronotop" (Mikhael Bakhtin's historical poetics of the Novel). I'd like to argue that in different periods of development of Hebrew literature the same chronotopic phenomenon takes place: while the borderlines of Jewish identity are determined by the "Other" (the Non-Jew, gentile or Arab), the open space, identified with the non-Jew, is opposed to the closed space, which is inhabited by the Jew.

I would like to highlight some aspects in the arguments of theoreticians regarding national identity. First, identity never exists by or for itself, but always reverberates toward someone, its boundaries determined by the "Other". Second, the control and the subordination relationships linking the Subject with the "Other" are incorporated in the internal mechanism for representing the "Other" and in identity itself. These well known arguments, developed in the poetics of narrative by Mikhail Bakhtin (Bakhtin 1981) and in psychoanalysis of the self by Jacques Lacan, are attributed in Postcolonial theory to the national narrative and to the collective self (Bhabha 1983; Bhabha 1986). The third argument, less well known but one which I want to add to this discussion, is that the fundamental ground of identity is the connection to the largest possible human community--the human race. This connection is also imagined and constructed, its borderlines also determined by the "Other".

We find a generalized portrait of the Other, viewed from the perspective of the colonizer (which in turn is modified in accord with the view of the colonized) in classical Postcolonial writings of Frantz Fanon (Fanon 1986) and Albert Memmi (Memmi 1965). The natives are infantile and childishly naive; they are narrow-minded and primitive; they are also cunning and deceitful; they are children of nature and tend to be oversexed; they reach puberty at the age of nine; they are the embodiment of instincts overstepping the limits of ethical norms and taboos; they are lazy and irresponsible; they are not willing to work, and it is only by force that they can be made to do anything. Sure enough, they are human beings rather than animals, but they are situated precisely at the borderline between man and animal, between human and nonhuman. Overall, according to Fanon, colonial discourse is a double-edged sword: The colonized are enslaved by their inferiority, and the colonizers by their superiority (Fanon 1986:60).

Edward Said, after some objections to the unqualified distinction between colonizer and colonized, also affirmed that in Western texts the Orient is represented as the locus of irrationality, eroticism, and darkness. According to Said, power-knowledge relations in the Orientalist texts operate mainly in one direction only--as oppression of the Orient by the West (Said 1978). It was Homi Bhabha who pointed out, Lacanian-style, that the "familiar alignment of colonial subjects (Black/White, Self/Other) is disturbed and the traditional grounds of racial identity are dispersed" (Bhabha 1986: IX). …

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