Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quote of the Afternoon

The "guest-post" I've been putting together for Feministe is already way too long -- I started writing, and then realized I needed some catharsis. I don't normally shy away from the lengthy blog post, but 14 single-spaced pages and counting is a bit much even for me.

However, if I did have space for such things, this would certainly make it in:
I did not suddenly become nationalistic as soon as it was in my own interest to do so. I continue to think that nationalism is far too frequently an alibi for hatred and domination. I cannot forget that the Jew was always one of the first victims of nationalistic crises. But history has convinced me, at least twice, that a nation is the only adequate response to the misfortune of a people. In the case of the colonized I had already discovered that their liberation would be national before it could be social, because they were dominated as a people. The Jew too was oppressed as a member of a total society which was neither completely real nor completely fictitious! He was considered and treated as a foreigner, or at best as a special kind of citizen.

For the Jew, it is true, the matter was extremely complex. The colonized were generally a people, reduced to impotence, but a compact and obvious mass—a majority. [*288] What then could become of the Jewish people, scattered in a thousand fragments across the globe, not even able to understand each other in a common language? I am sorry to have to point out once again our sociologists’ lack of imagination, one which leads them furthermore into a systematic error in their evaluation of reality. They can only conceive of peoples and nations on the basis of the completed models which they have before their eyes: the great European nations. The result is that no one has the right to conceive of a new type, either in the present or in the future. The same objection had served against the colonized: how dared they claim a national liberation for nonexistent nations? The Jews, it is perfectly true, did not comprise a nation, hardly a people in the usual sense of the word. Efforts, such as those of the Zionists, to demonstrate that a Jewish nation has always existed, apart from the abnormal conditions of its existence, are, I believe, useless. Today the Jew has become an anachronism, irritating to others, unbearable to himself. His dispersion, his crumbling, are part of his oppression. He must cease to be a three-legged sheep: the missing leg must be restored to him, he must be allowed to remake an existence more adapted to the world in which he lives. He must be shaped into a people among peoples, a nation among nations.

In short, the nation is before the Jew and not behind him. Like the colonized, he has to fight for his national liberation and create a nation for himself, since history exacts. Since the nation is still the most effective historical form, the Jew must adopt this form to rid himself of the oppression and live as a normal people among other peoples. The nation is not a preliminary, it is an ending.

I continue to hope it is a temporary ending.... (287-88, emphasis original)

Albert Memmi, The Liberation of the Jew (trans. Judy Hyun) (New York: Orion Press 1966). Memmi, a Tunisian Jew, is a key figure in the field of post-colonial literature and thought.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I think both anti-colonialism (as you point out, one requiring a bit of imagination) and queer theory are relevant. I wonder if I might not play up the relationship to queer theory for Feministe. But if you've managed 14 pages without including that, surely you've written something very well thought out. I'm always struck by the seeming enormity of even beginning to describe Jewish oppression.