Academic journal article Critical Studies

What Does Difference Have to Do with Community? Derrida's Diacritic Difference

Academic journal article Critical Studies

What Does Difference Have to Do with Community? Derrida's Diacritic Difference

Article excerpt

This essay explores the ways in which difference can be preserved within a community. It departs from Jacques Derrida's critique of the image of community as immediately present to itself, without difference and his criticism on the minorities which identify themselves with other oppressed minority communities in the name of the universal. Through Derrida, it discusses other strategies of difference which can no longer be related to a community identity. From this perspective, the essay attempts to portray difference as a diacritical mark in a selection of photographic and filmic works: Frédéric Brenner's Diaspora and Jo Sol's Fake Orgasm. Do Frédéric Brenner's Jewish visual archive and Jo Sol's film on sexuality seek to measure the stakes of the diacritic difference in common?

Throughout the world, when non-Jews want to protest, denounce, and bear witness in the face of anti-Semitic hatred unleashed in their own civic and national space they always make, symbolically, the same gesture: to identify for the occasion with an oppressed minority community, the very one that already speaks in the name of the universal: "We are all German Jews!" say the non-Jews. "Let us all wear the Yellow Star!"

Enlargement without measure of the symbol, placing en abyme of the metonymy. The protesters seem to want to say: All of us identify, universally, with a minority, with a minuscule community that itself, with it sense of being elected, has forever identified with universal humanity or fraternity.

Jacques Derrida

How is it that a minority community identifies itself with other and different minority communities? How is it that difference and minorities embrace the universal? How is it that this mirror-like process identifies the heterogeneous with sameness, and the excluded with unrestricted humanity? What kind of metonymy can there be, Derrida asks, if the universal fraternity ends by taking the place of the minuscule minority and, in doing so, erases its difference?

In what other ways could minorities save themselves from the historical punishments of difference-exclusion, exile, invisibility, hunger, illiteracy? Would it be conceivable to avoid the identification drive and remain strictly different? Is the pure difference, the difference itself conceivable? But what would it mean? What does difference mean?

And what does difference have to do with community?

The context of Derrida's remarks on difference and community is French photographer Frédéric Brenner's book Diaspora. Homelands in Exile, a visual anthology of the Jewish Diaspora with contributions by, among others, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Cavell, Benny Levy, Henri Meschonnic, Natalie Zemon Davis, Julius Lester, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Michal Govrin, Georges Steiner and Carlos Fuentes. They all consider different photographs of Brenner's visual archive, a twenty-five year search in forty countries around the world. His are photographs of Jewish communities that ask us to rethink what a community is or may be to the extent that, as Derrida puts it, they "remin[d] us of an elementary but striking truth. The 'exile' does not disperse Jews throughout the world in a multiplicity of communities identical to themselves and distributed over the surface of the earth, or even re-planted in other nations identical to themselves. No, the dispersion affects the interior, it divides the body, and soul and memory of each community" (35).

Frédéric Brenner's photographs portray this dispersion, through a variety of depictions, since they show Jewish barbers working in the waters of the Dead Sea; the Jewish community of Beijing at Tiananmen Gate; a family portrait of Chinese Jews; a Jewish wedding party in Jerba, Tunisia; Jews from The New York Psychoanalytical Society; women rabbis and cantors, students and teachers wearing talit and tephillin at the Theological Seminary of America in New York; a rich Indian Jew with a servant in his sumptuous residence, in Calcutta; Portuguese Marranos celebrating the Jewish Passover in Belmonte. …

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