Louise Bethlehem, The Program in Cultural Studies and the Department of English The Hebrew University http://www.huji.ac.il/dataj/controller/ihoker/MOP-STAFF_LINK?sno=9937132
The Contagion of Witness: I. Metonymy Louise Bethlehem The Program in Cultural Studies and the Department of English The Hebrew University of Jerusalem pain felt in another’s body
―Suppose,‖ speculates Wittgenstein, ―I feel a pain which on the evidence of the pain alone, e.g., with closed eyes, I should call a pain in my left hand. Someone asks me to touch the painful spot with my right hand. I do so and looking around perceive that I am touching my neighbor‘s hand …. This would be pain felt in another‘s body‖ (1958, emphasis in original). These comments have, of course, a proper context of reference—proper, precisely, to the philosophical investigation of reference. But let me be quite frank about disclosing the somewhat idiosyncratic dimensions of my interest in Wittgenstein for the purposes of this forum, devoted as it is to concerns with ethics and the cultural politics of witness, affect and corporeality. I am intrigued by the mise en scène of bodies that this fragment stages, with the manner in which it courts a certain contagion channeled through the (im)propriety of touch.
speech situation. The presence of a third figure, the ―neighbor‖—a word which I would like to use as anticipating its reappearance in the post-structuralist ethics of Levinas, of Derrida--quietly complements the communication which passes between the other two. Her proximity to the suffering first person, in relation to whom she must be positioned less than an arm‘s length away, allows Wittgenstein to reallocate the misdirected gesture of an ―I‖ who feels pain in another‘s body to the sphere of literal reference. This move, indeed this movement between, makes the explication of literal signification answerable precisely to continguity, to corporeality. Beyond literality, we encounter a certain excess of narration that brushes up against the imagined contours of the body. It is thus the less-than-emphatic yet indispensible co-presence of bodies in a shared fiction of reference as much as the bracketing off of sight in favor of a being with (con) touch (tangere), that motivates Wittgenstein‘s entry into my text. The recruitment of this particular turn in Wittgenstein‘s later writings for an investigation of the ethics of witnessing is not new. Veena Das, in her beautiful exposition of this passage, reads it to mean that the somatic call of the other demands a response which begins with and departs from the singularity of the body-in-pain: ―the experience of pain cries out for this response of the possibility that my pain could reside in your body and that the philosophical grammar of pain is an answer to that call‖ (1996: 70). To follow this reading, as I have done elsewhere (Bethlehem 2006: 89), is to concur that it is in a state of errance--the errancy of the traumatic signifier which, like the trope, always misses its mark (see Paul de Man 1986: 91)--and blind error both, that the solidarity of inter-subjective identification arises. But I am forced with a certain retrospective sobriety to concede that Wittgenstein seems to presage very little on identification as an affective, rather than pointedly rhetorical, resource—a language game. To put this differently, narration precedes identification in rendering the truth of pain more, and still crucially less, than coincidental.
My qualification here, less than coincidental, seeks to retain a certain disjunction: spatial, of course, but not only spatial. To what extent does pain traverse the tightrope of language that Wittgenstein offers? What crosses the synapse between bodies? Identification? Or does the vignette effectively dissemble the possibility that the postulate of identification grants too much? ―The pain was
what it was,‖ we might offer in rejoinder, alongside Jean Améry. ―Beyond that there is nothing to say‖ (1993: 33). The trope of the unspeakable, in this particular construction, is a familiar one. Elaine Scarry has long since probed it to argue that pain demarcates the singularity of the suffering body on which it is inflicted, corroding the devices of language which can neither fully contain nor communicate it. But lest we abandon the suffering subject a second time to the sovereignty of pain, or to sovereignty constituted through pain (cf. Scarry 1985); lest we defer to a ban on words--even one derived from the formidable authority of first-person testimony, let us at least note that a communicative act has been constituted, within whose framework pain emerges as the emaciated referent of a retroactive narration.
1 If I labor this point, taking away with one hand that which I seem to have given with the other, it is to anticipate the ethical critiques of the illicit generalization of identification that have arisen with specific respect to Holocaust witness. In his volume The Holocaust and the Postmodern, Robert Eaglestone, for instance, proceeds from the argument that the Holocaust inaugurates testimony as a new genre (2004: 16). To understand testimony as innovative, in Eaglestone‘s sense, is to acknowledge that writing nach Auschwitz—after but also crucially to, or toward Auschwitz (see Michael Rothberg on Adorno 2000: 280) --traverses an aporia. It is strung out between ―the epistemological impossibility and ethical probation against identification with a prose narrative, which is textual and mediated,‖ on the one hand, and ―the ineluctable desire to identify with it, as if it were neither textual nor mediated‖ (Eaglestone 2004: 37), on the other. Eaglestone draws upon a variety of sources in constructing this argument, including Dominick La Capra‘s warnings against the constitution of the reading self as ―surrogate victim‖ (2001: 219) as well as Michael André Bernstein‘s trenchant critique of what Bernstein calls ―witness by adoption‖ (2000: 7-8). Eaglestone asks us to entertain a form of self-reflexive literariness as a safeguard against the fallacy of identification-as-assimilation. He explicitly follows Primo Levi in rejecting assimilation as a crucial point of departure for the ethics of Holocaust witness: the hunger in Auschwitz, Levi famously states at one point in The Drowned and the Saved, cannot be allowed to stand in a relation of equivalence with ―that of someone who has skipped a meal‖ (1989: 128).
Eaglestone‘s position is in many respects an attractive one. But its disciplinary appeal for a reader who, like myself, has been trained in attunement with the redemptive protocols of literary theory offers only partial consolation when weighed against that reader‘s, my, tangled ―worldiness‖ (Edward Said 1994 ). For identification proceeds all the same, as Eaglestone rightly concedes (2004: 23). Moreover, identification proceeds in accordance with cultural protocols (Bernstein 2000), not only generic ones. Its practices embed Holocaust testimony across a range of media in determinate spatial and temporal coordinates, with intended and unintended consequences. Globalization notwithstanding, responses to Holocaust testimony must be historicized and localized, as my colleagues in a research group on the globalization of Holocaust memory at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute have reiterated during the course of our work together (see also Jeffrey Alexander 2002, Michael Rothberg 2004, 2006). Moreover, as Michael Rothberg succinctly puts it, ―If testimony and documentation are to have a politics and not just an ethics, they must be oriented toward the creation of publics, toward circulation and not just exposure‖ (2006: 184). For my own part, I am pointedly aware of the extent to which identification takes place in the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine as the crucial political imperative of post-1967 Zionist nationalism. Suffice it to note that the hegemonic scripts of Israeli nationhood effectively suspend aporia in favor of chiasmus--such that every Jew murdered during the course of the Nazi genocide can retroactively be assigned the status of proto-citizen while every Jewish citizen of the State is subject to interpellation-through-dread in terms of a (not always) phantasmatic future assignation as victim-to-be.
Make no mistake, however. The imperative to identify with the victims of atrocity is a privileged component of the constitution of a wide variety of moral communities at the present time. The nation state, this particular nation state Israel, figures among a whole host of others. The globalization of Holocaust memory combined with the affective resources of a resolutely therapeutic culture has made of ―witnessing‖ a ubiquitous cultural trope. The ―glamour of misery‖ (Eva Illouz 2003), one cognate of the assimilative identification that Primo Levi warns against, informs a host of popular and high-cultural, hegemonic and anti-hegemonic practices. Within the contemporary academy, it is widely conceded that the ascendancy of ethics has much to do with the shadow that the Holocaust casts over the articulation
of ethics in post-structuralist thought, for Levinas, for Lyotard, for Derrida—and in a very different inflection, for de Man as well. In full cognizance of this saturation of memory, I will use the discussion that follows to wager the slightly uncomfortable proposition that postcolonialism, despite an apparently tangential relation to the Holocaust, has incorporated central tenets of Holocaust witness into its disciplinary orbit. For all that the Jewish body remains by and large unmourned in the canonical texts of postcolonial theory, the Holocaust has, I seek to argue, made an engagement with elegiac witness compelling for postcolonialism precisely because it, too, inhabits a state of aftermath. This speculative foray into the constitution of a discipline that has constituted me will, I hope, afford an opportunity to ―relocate ethics‖ across certain disciplinary synapses.
cities that evaporate at the edge of the sword
document of barbarism‖ (1982 ) so as to disclose the freight of bodies that ―civilization‖ entails, trails--Benjamin‘s own corpse poignant among them.
In its disaggregation of both ―civilization‖ and ―race,‖ postcolonial theory has articulated some of the ethical and epistemological, historical and historiographic implications of Benjamin‘s insight for the theoretical humanities. Edward Said‘s insistence, in one of the foundational texts of the paradigm of postcolonial studies—Orientalism (1978)--on the materiality of a set of discourses held famously ―to create the world they purport to describe‖ in accordance with the racialized logic of the unremitting and binary power relation, Occident versus Orient, performs what Benjamin might have recognized as the work of a ―historical materialism‖. The indeterminacy of ―civilizing barbarians‖—the civilizing barbarians; civilizing the barbarians--may be discerned elsewhere in the intellectual genealogy of postcolonial studies as the unsettling play of ambivalence in Homi Bhabha‘s oeuvre which so pervasively undermines the psychic fiction of colonial mastery (Bhabha 1990).
2 The imprints of that barbaric violence complicit in the work of civilization can be read through their therapeutic dismantling in the psychiatric practice of Frantz Fanon on behalf of the violated colonial subject as a prelude to the rehabilitation of the ―damned‖ through what Fanon posits as the cleansing agency of anti-colonial violence (1968). A keen, indeed keening, awareness of the duplicity of ―civilization‖ is just as easily discerned in spirited polemics of Fanon‘s teacher, Aimé Césaire, although we should immediately note that both Fanon and Césaire stand in a far more proximate relationship than Said and Bhabha to Theodore Adorno‘s and Hannah Arendt‘s rigorous reprises of Benjamin‘s dictum as a simultaneous critique of ―civilization‖ and capitalism sustained, time and again, throughout the respective oeuvres of Adorno and Arendt, both. Juxtaposing Adono, Arendt, Césaire and Fanon has the advantage of positioning them as contemporaries engaged in a cross-cutting attempt to read two sorts of aftermath simultaneously: decolonization on the one hand and the state of being-nach-Auschwitz on the other. It is this gesture that founds Michael Rothberg‘s recent innovative analyses of what he terms ―multidirectional memory‖ to position ―the emergence of Holocaust memory and the unfolding of decolonization as overlapping and not separate processes‖ (2006: 160), and to insist on the disciplinary consequences of such a realignment for cultural studies and
literary theory, on the one hand, and for Holocaust studies on the other (Rothberg 2001: 186-87; 2004: 1232-34; 2006: 159-62). Aimé Césaire‘s Discours sur le colonialisme (1972 ) first published in 1950 and republished in Présence Africaine in 1955 offers a promising point of departure for an investigation of the syntagm that Rothberg constructs as ―Auschwitz and Algeria‖ (2006)—each a crucial marker of aftermath. Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the blacks of Africa. (1972: 14, emphasis in original) Césaire‘s use of the conceit of ―the Hitler within‖ couples Nazism and the colonial arena in a manner that ancticipates Hannah Arendt‘s analysis in Origins of Totalitarianism (see also Gilroy 2004: 61-62). He scathingly lays bare the complicity of the agents of imperialism in the consolidation of European nationalism to the effect that: ―through the mouths of the Sarrauts and the Bardes, the Mullers and the Renans, through the mouths of all those who considered—and consider—it lawful to apply to non-European peoples ‗a kind of expropriation for public purposes‘ for the benefit of nations that were stronger and better equipped, it was already Hitler speaking‖ (ibid.: 17). The claim is a very powerful one.
Césaire‘s evocation of Hitler as a monstrous synecdoche, a synecdoche for the monstruous, puts on display for us one register in which it was possible, five years after the end of World War II, to apprehend the murderous excesses of the Nazi regime, well in advance of such catachreses as
―genocide,‖ ―Holocaust‖ or Shoah. It is telling for what it cannot yet say, at least not in the terms to which we have become accustomed. An additional omission disturbs me, however. Note that Césaire figures genocide as a ―crime against the white man.‖ The elision of the Jews as a direct referent here constitutes a disavowal which crucially misrecognizes the distance between the denigration, literally, of the Jew in Nazi ideology, and the category of whiteness—in the brutalizing Aryan construction of the latter.
Other bodies stalk the pages of Césaire‘s text instead. He will continue to route his theme—―that no one colonizes with impunity‖ (1972: 17)—through a litany of colonial massacres. ―[B]y no means,‖ he assures us, ―because I take a morbid delight in them, but because I think that these heads of men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic invasions, this steaming blood, these cities that evaporate at the edge of the sword, are not to be so easily disposed of. They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it [….]‖ (ibid.: 19-20).
back on itself, is rendered melancholic in the familiar Freudian sense precisely at a time when the prolongation of a crisis that we might stenographically evoke through the toponyms Madagascar, Indochina, Algeria speaks to the ongoing need for the production of anti-colonial testimony.
haunted by slight ghosts
Césaire‘s precedent allows us to pose questions concerning the affective dimensions of the intellectual‘s engagement with the colonial archive. Some four decades later, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak will delineate the contours of her particular historiographic desire, writing after the emergence of the victim/survivor as the privileged bearer of the legacies of atrocity. The tasks which Spivak elaborates for the postcolonial intellectual in the pages of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (1999) include the inscription of ―a history that is in some sense a genealogy of the historian‖ (ibid.: 207): a familiar preoccupation at least since the first publication of her ―Can the Subaltern Speak‖ in 1985 (1988 ). Spivak stakes out the complicity of the literary and the archival as ―a crosshatching of condensations‖ (1999: 205) in order to register dissatisfaction with the positions held by the historians Hayden White and Dominick LaCapra. With respect to LaCapra in particular, she is skeptical of the extent to which the psychoanalytic model of transference that he proposes in Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (1983) commits the critic to the fiction of the ―cure.‖ ―I should have liked to establish a transferential relationship with the Rani of Sirmur‖ interjects Spivak at this point, referring to this woman‘s brief irruption into the archives. ―I pray instead to be haunted by her slight ghost, bypassing the arrogance of the cure‖ (1999: 207).
), with characteristic self-reflexive irony as she elaborates the ―narrative pathos‖ (1999: 241) of a pilgrimage of sorts that brings her to the Rani‘s former palace where the woman, this particular woman—Gulani or perhaps Gulari (ibid.: 231) will continue to elude her as the subject/object of knowledge. ―As I approached her house after a long series of detective maneuvers, I was miming the route of an unknowing, a progressive différance, an ‗experience‘ of how I could not know her‖ (ibid.: 241). Instead of the ―assurance of transference‖—a key term in LaCapra‘s own sustained engagement with Holocaust memory (LaCapra 1994, 1998, 2001), Spivak uses the figure of the Rani to concretize ―the epistemic story of imperialism [as] the story of a series of interruptions, a repeated tearing of time that cannot be sutured‖ (1999: 208). She proceeds, in other words, in accordance with the strict disciplinary protocols of her hallmark intervention in ―Can the Subaltern Speak‖ (1988 ). It remains central to my pedagogical intent to insist that this text be read as demarcating the lines of an epistemological fracture, a properly Derridean aporia (see, for example, 1993), condensed in and as the body of the sati rather than as an entry in the identity politics of subalternity, whether we construe the subaltern woman as silent, silenced or eloquent. Spivak is herself quite explicit about this. Noting that the archival records stage only the trace of the sati‘s prior interpellation by British imperial discourse, on the one hand, and refusing to defer to Hindu religious authority, on the other hand, she cautions us that: ―One never encounters the testimony of the women‘s voice-consciousness. […] Faced with the dialectially interlocking sentences that are constructible as ‗White men are saving brown women from brown men‘ and ‗The women wanted to die,‘ the postocolonial woman intellectual asks the question of a simple semiosis—What does this mean?—and begins to plot a history‖ (1988 : 297).
My insistence on the aporetic status of the sati intersects Spivak‘s idiosyncratic coda to her discussion of the colonial archive in ―Can the Subaltern Speak‖ where she devotes the last part of the article to the enigma of the ―graphematic‖ body (see Derrida 1982 : 307-330, also Spivak 1993: 130-40) of a young woman, Bhubaneswari Bhaduri whose suicide in 1926 constitutes an oblique form of writing-as-resistance, or speech-across-death in Spivak‘s interpretation. Spivak suggests that we consider the suicide as ―an unemphatic, ad hoc, subaltern rewriting of the social text of sati-suicide‖ (1988 :
308) but also insists on our apprehension of Bhaduri‘s silencing in a familial context to which Spivak is privy (ibid.). The relay which has Bhaduri approximate the more ―elusive‖ figures (1999: 245) of the Rani or the ―sati‖ uses the domestic context to trope on the properly deconstructive problematic that Spivak brings to bear on the status of the colonial archive. For all its efficacy in supplying us with the consolation of story at precisely the point in the deployment of Spivak‘s argument that seems to deny us precisely this gratification, the narrative of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri courts its own status as Derridean supplement: seemingly extraneous yet integral to Spivak‘s intent (Derrida 1976 ). But its supplementarity is mitigated, in a sense, if we choose to reframe the closing section of the article. The reinscription of a family context allows us to renegotiate the dimensions of witness that operate in the article as well as in central tropes of postcolonial theory more generally. Spivak reworks the colonial subject‘s relation to the past as the structural appropriation of social history, in the formulation that David Lloyd has put forward (2000), by transforming it into the occasion for a much more intimate act of mourning. Not epistemology, then; not the itineraries of epistemic violence; or not only these things. ―Can the Subaltern Speak‖ offers us, in fact, an exemplary instance of postmemory (Marianne Hirsch 1997, 2001). Marianne Hirsch developed the notion of postmemory with specific relation to first- and second-generation Holocaust survivors, although she does indicate its more general applications (for example, 2001:9). For Hirsch, postmemory is a facet of ―intergeneration identification‖ frequently but not exclusively, derived from familial contexts. It is a ―belated‖ form of memory ―mediated not through recollection but through representation, projection, and creation—often based on silence rather than speech, on the invisible rather than the visible‖ (ibid.). The advent of postmemory for Spivak is crucial to my argument. For what intervenes between the curiously impersonal and hyperbolic mourning work that Césaire offers us and the minutely calibrated familial reprise of sati-suicide in Spivak is, I would suggest, the consolidation of the genre of testimony in its specifically post-Holocaust provenance (cf. Eaglestone 2004).
Now to read Spivak through her desiring retrieval of a series of dead women is to reposition her intervention as a form of mournful performance. It is also to open postcolonial theory up to a defamiliarization attendant on agreeing to see it as animated, at least in part, by cultural tropes of witness that are deeply tied to the ascendancy of Holocaust memory. In the spirit of the cognate projects that Rothberg constructs as ―multidirectional memory‖ and that Dipesh Chakrabarty before him parses as ―provincialising Europe‖ (1994, 2000), it becomes possible to suggest that both postcolonial theory and Holocaust studies have something to gain from closer investigation of this intersection. Postcolonial ethics needs to engage more fully with its indebtedness to Holocaust memory, not only out of considerations of historical accountability (Rothberg 2001: 186) but also because it has yet to come fully to terms with its own status as witness. At the same time, Spivak‘s rehearsal of aporetic witness in the face of an archive that refuses to be rendered transparent will become increasingly salient, I suggest, over and above the formidable ethicity that it performs for us
as we outlive the presence of the Holocaust survivors among us.
6 But also by language. The irredeemable loss of Spivak‘s objects of identification, these dead women, is an integral part of this story: ―Indeed, it is only in their death that they enter a narrative for us, they become figurable‖ (1999: 245). The self who desires here can desire only after narration; only as its consequence in a dual sense. The identifications which Spivak stages are nothing if not mediated. They are entertained, moreover, in order to underscore questions attendant on precisely literary and archival mediation. It is in this sense that she approaches the model of the prior structuring of identificatory affect by rhetoric which I drew from my reading of Wittgenstein at the beginning of this essay.
Spivak intersects our reading of Wittgenstein in a second sense, too. As witness, she is answerable also to the materiality of the body, in the sense that no corpse is reducible to another. Thus Bhubaneswari Bhaduri does not stand in for the women whose names are ―grotesquely mistranscribed‖ (1999: 287) in the police record of the East India Company, as if in some instrumental calculus of substitution. What is at stake is not metaphorical substitution but metonymic relay in relation to a determinate source (or sources) of patriarchal and colonial violence. Exhumed as a funct'ion of narration, the women whom Spivak invokes become envoys of the disjunctive transmission of affect. What the narration cannot, however, afford to do away with in contexts such as these is its debt to embodiment—to the life and death of these women—that persists over and above their mobilization for theory. Signification is answerable to corporeality, once more. I take this to be one of the fundamental ethical precepts of witnessing.
coda: the setting to work th 2009, the dissident organization Zochrot opened an exhibition in Tel Aviv whose substance was the destruction of Gaza but whose sub-text was, plainly, also--witness. The installation came into being around the photographs of the Palestinian artist Sareef Sarhan who photographed Gaza City during and after Israel‘s bombardment. During the brief intervals when electricity was restored to Gaza, Sarhan distributed these images on the internet. The curator of the eventual exhibition Norma Musih, a longstanding Zochrot activist, responded to the photographs by relaying them to approximately 30 Israeli artists, who then responded in turn. This collective portfolio, a group portrait across a chasm if you like, or better still, across a security fence, an
How might the ethical model which I have begun to extrapolate from Spivak‘s precedent be ―set to work‖ in the phrase whose specifically Derridean inflection of responsibility she assumes (see Spivak 1999: 427)? I would like to offer as coda and recoding a performance of witness that arises from the latest Israeli war on Gaza (December 2008/January 2009). On January 28
apartheid wall, formed the body of the exhibition. In Musih‘s words: ―A link to Sarhan‘s photographs was sent to artists, appealing for their response, their reaction. Some of the artists chose to focus on transforming a single image, while others responded with a different image or a text. All of them viewed Sarhan‘s photographs. Looked at them, and then looked at them again. The artists‘ works are evidence of their viewing, as well as being part of it. They serve as a kind of testimony, saying, ‗We saw what is happening in Gaza, we saw and we are responding‘‖ (see http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?id=721 , accessed May 17 2009).7
The intervention is revealing of Zochrot‘s brief. Zochrot translates loosely as ―remembering‖. The name of the organization derives from the plural feminine form of the verb ―to remember.‖ It seeks to raise awareness of the Palestinian ―Nakba‖ or ―catastrophe‖ of 1948 within the constituency of Jewish Israelis in defiance of the work of a willed Zionist amnesia through ―bringing the Nakba into Hebrew, the language spoken by the Jewish majority in Israel‖ as the text on its website announces (http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?lang=english , accessed May 17 2009). The organization undertakes advocacy on the part of internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Israel, compiling oral histories and using a variety of performative techniques to re-inscribe the memory of pre-1948 Palestinian life on the face of the Israeli landscape from which it has been erased. These include posting signs at the sites of demolished Palestinian villages or in mixed cities such as Lod and Haifa where Palestinian names have been overwritten by Hebrew toponyms.
The organization emphatically supports the right of return of the Palestinian refugees: a stand which places it far beyond the national consensus.
th, Shareef Sarhan addressed an audience of Israeli artists and activists, Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, through video-conference from Gaza City. The gallery space was full of images: Sarhan‘s photographs and the responses they had generated. On the walls, on the floors, on a display table in the center of the room. Although a ceasefire had been proclaimed, few present felt occasion to celebrate. Sentiments ran high. At one point in the question-and-response session, a woman standing near me proclaimed passionately, in Hebrew: ―Gaza is here.‖ The
willful, wishful substitution missed its mark. The traffic on Ibn-Gvirol Boulevard, just a stone‘s throw from the site of Yitzhak Rabin‘s assassination, flowed on uninterrupted. No tanks, no devastation. Some in the audience no doubt felt a frisson of vicarious identification, all the same. Others answered the summons of a different dispatch (envoi) that emanated from the images on the walls, one that addressed us in a voice (en voix) that did not so much speak as invite a relay of post-cards: des envois, as Jacques Derrida might have put it.
9 Postcards to Gaza.
Uploaded January 10 2009
In thrall to these images, but also complicit in what stands behind then, I do not promise you identification. Gaza is far remote from here. But something can pass from my hand to yours. A transmission, blank as yet. In one of the languages which claim me, the Afrikaans word encodes the blank, the blanket whiteness of privilege. Net blankes. Whites only. I start from this blankness. It cannot be otherwise. Here. On this white page. I extend my hand, nevertheless. In expiation? Perhaps. In contagion? Most certainly. I offer you something all the same. A postcard.
(Hod Hasharon/Mt. Scopus, East Jerusalem, May 2008).
// Postcards for Gaza // Exhibition at Zochrot Gallery // January 2009 Ibn Gvirol 61 Tel Aviv, +97236953155 // To download the postcards and for more info about Zochrot www. zo c hr o t .o r g
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1 I am drawing here on the work of my colleague Amos Goldberg in a recent analysis of pain and its representation in the poetics of Imre Kértesz, forthcoming in Hebrew. (Personal communication, May 12 2009). See also Robert Eaglestone (2004: 18) as well as Veena Das (1996: 70). 2 I am indebted to Leon de Kock‘s excellent volume Civilising Barbarians (1996) for teasing out the material consequences of this indeterminacy. 3 The evacuation of the specifically Jewish corpse in Césaire intersects a different tendency in the later academic institutionalization of postcolonial theory, where a kind of ―interdict against mourning‖ regulates the engagement with the Jewish dead in accordance with the political rationality of opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I am not suggesting that postcolonial theory recant on its recognition that the instrumentalization of Holocaust memory in the service of Israeli nationalism continues to structure the power relations, the traffic in bodies of the Occupation. But surely this is by no means all that can be said. I take the notion of a proscription on mourning from Mark Sanders where its use relates specifically to apartheid South Africa (2002, 2007: 34-58). 4 Spivak‘s reprise of this sentence in the later volume, Critique of Postcolonial Reason rewrites it as follows: ―One never encounters the testimony of the women‘s voice consciousness . . . Faced with the dialectically interlocking sentences that are constructible as ‗White men are saving brown women from brown men‘ and ‗The women wanted to die,‘ the metropolitan feminist migrant . . . asks the question of a simple semiosis—What does this signify?—and begins to plot a history‖ (1999: 287). 5 I use Paul de Man‘s term to throw into relief the passage of Spivak‘s resolute engagement with ethics as pertaining to the relation between human subjects through linguistics imperatives. For de Man, ―Ethics (or one should say, ethnicity) is a discursive mode among others‖ (1979: 206). Spivak‘s searingly lucid ―Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching,‖ (2002) depicts more concrete interpersonal engagements, in situations of pedagogy in rural India for instance.
6 In her Precarious Lives, Judith Butler gives this account of dispropriation by grief: "Freud reminded us that when we lose someone, we do not always know what it is in that person that has been lost. So when one loses, one is faced with something enigmatic: something is hiding in the loss, something is lost within the recesses of loss" (ibid.: 21-22). Mourning, she argues, makes the self inscrutable. "On one level, I think I have lost 'you' only to discover that 'I' have gone missing as well. At another level, perhaps what I have lost 'in' you, that for which I have no ready vocabulary, is a relationality that is composed neither exclusively of myself nor you, but is to be conceived as the tie by which those terms are differentiated and related" (ibid.: 22).
7 The complete dossier of Sarhan‘s photographs can be downloaded from: http://www.zochrot.org/images/Image/Zoc_ExhGazaCards_Shareef.pdf
The pace of the destruction of Gaza can be read off the images. Musih notes: ―The photographs in the exhibit include the date they were put on the internet, allowing the viewer to track the progress of the destruction they portray. A number of clearly-identifiable buildings are shown in various stages of destruction as the days pass. Most of the photographs are very hard to look at: large buildings collapsed into pieces, people searching the ruins, dead children wrapped in white sheets.‖ (http://www.zochrot.org/index.php?id=721, accessed May 17 2009) 8 In a position paper on posting signs at the sites of demolished villages, Eitan Bronstein who founded the organization amplifies the challenge of memory as a challenge to the very means of representation—the intention is to defamiliarize the Hebrew language alongside the consciousness of the Jewish Israelis who use it: Zochrot seeks "to commemorate and talk about the Naqba in Hebrew so that our language will be more peaceful and just." (Eitan Bronstein, personal communication. July 2005). 9 I am referring of course to Derrida‘s The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (1987). See especially the entry ―envoi, envoyer‖ in the translator‘s introduction, Alan Bass 1987: xx-xxi). It is this work that lends me the concluding sentence of my article (1987: 143).
I write folded in two.
On the night of Wednesday January 28
Haunting disrupts. By analogy with Spivak‘s consistent refusal of the theorist‘s appropriation of alterity in the production of a ―self-consolidating other‖ (1999: 207), we might see her various invocations of dead women as foregrounding an ethics of dispropriation (see Thomas Keenan 1997, Mark Sanders 1999) which takes the self as its haunt. Far from being allowed to assume the status of a surrogate victim in the pursuit of entitlement, the self is undone in this model, once, twice, many times over. By grief, certainly.
The trope of identification emerges into visibility here, although it is very much to my point that we register its simultaneous avowal/disavowal of an assimilative rapport with—an incorporation, one might say, of—the victim. Instead Spivak will allow a properly uncanny identification full rein (Freud 2001
The cumulative elaboration of atrocity throughout the pages of Césaire‘s text allows him to stage a form of hyperbolic mourning whose excess serves as the displaced mimesis of the excessive violence of colonialism. ―[S]hould I have cast back into the shadows of oblivion,‖ he asks in response to the criticism of an imagined interlocutor, ―the memorable feat of arms of General Gérard and kept silent about the capture of Ambike, a city which, to tell the truth, had never dreamed of defending itself: ‗The native riflemen had orders to kill only the men, but no one restrained them; intoxicated by the smell of blood, they spared not one woman, not one child . . . . At the end of the afternoon, the heat caused a light mist to arise: it was the blood of the five thousand victims, the ghost of the city, evaporating in the setting sun‘‖ (1972: 19, ellipsis in original). Césaire‘s strenuous efforts to elaborate a paradigm of witness here seem labored in retrospect, precisely to the extent that the traumatic sublime (LaCapra 2004: 123) is depersonalized. There is as yet no cathexis in place that might take the exemplarity of the Jewish victim/survivor as the model of its desire. Césaire‘s political purchase over the affect of atrocity founders, precisely because assimilative identification has not yet been routinized. His mourning work is turned
Let me be begin this trajectory by specifying the type of historical recursion that I intend to designate ―aftermath.‖ Colonial governance and the Shoah are co-implicated in the notion which I seek to access, because of their overdetermination by what Michel Foucault has taught us to call the ―biopolitics‖ of race (1978: 135-45, 1980: 166-82). Hannah Arendt knew this well. ―African colonial possessions,‖ she writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism ―became the most fertile soil for the flowering of the Nazi elite‖ (1968 : 206). The trajectory to be emphasized is causal rather than merely chronological as Arendt‘s painstaking anatomy of racism demonstrates. I take such causality to constitute the salience of Arendt‘s re-appearance in Paul Gilroy‘s appropriately haunted volume Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race (2000: 54) which explicitly frames ―the possibility of a significant relationship between the sometimes genocidal brutality of the colonies and the later Nazi genocide in Europe (ibid.: 141). Together with Arendt, Gilroy, Michel Foucault and Achille Mbembe (2004), we might point to race as the biopolitical signifier which infiltrates the ―civilizing mission‖ and renders it literally murderous. Maintaining a resolute awareness of the biopolitical arbitration of race helps us to flesh out Walter Benjamin‘s well known pronouncement ―There is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a
Wittgenstein sets in motion a play of deixis whose substance, pain, remains intractably serious. The mobility of this deixis—I feel a pain here but touch it there—erodes a delimitation of pain that is wholly internal to the ―I‖ who experiences it. But note that this transfer (it is premature for us to talk about transference) depends not only on the resources of linguistic reference that Wittgenstein is trying to pry apart, but crucially on an embedded context of narration whose coordinates are shared by two or three bodies, at the very least. The passage presents us with a subject whose body in pain is interpellated in response to an external instruction: ―Someone asks me to touch the painful spot with my right hand‖. But within the context of the dénouement that Wittgenstein apparently seeks, the mere injunction to touch which derives from the second figure designated in this tableau, the one who speaks, would leave the philosopher‘s speculative desire unfulfilled were it not for the anterior structuring of the