Saturday, July 28, 2018

More Memmi Quotes (on Autonomy as the Specific Liberation of the Jew)

Is it obvious what I'm reading these days?
You may choose, in spite of everything, to remain on the side of the oppressed, whatever the risks; but you cannot prefer to be oppressed. In any case I fail to see the glory in it. To uphold one's oppressed condition is an act of false daring and empty words, if it does not also mean an action to abolish it, the firm decision to do everything in one's power to cease being an oppressed person and to end the oppression.
For me the dignity of the oppressed begins, first, the moment he becomes conscious of his burden; second, when he denies himself all camouflage and all consolation for his misery; third, and above all, when he makes an effective decision to put an end to it. May all the victims of history forgive me. I know only too well how a victim becomes a victim. I understand the subterfuges which enable him to survive. I pity his inner ruin, but I do not admire his grimaces of pain or his scars. I do not find his suffering face the most beautiful in the world nor do I consider the plight of the victim to be very admirable.
Albert Memmi, The Liberation of the Jew, trans. Judy Hyun (New York: Orion 1966), 271-72.
The first condition of a specific liberation seems to me self-evident: the oppressed person must take his destiny into his own hands. My life must no longer depend on any treaty, often signed with other ends in mind, by anyone with anyone. Not that alliances or the aid of generous friends must be refused, but neither Socialist planning, nor the abstract humanitarianism of the Democrats, nor Christian charity are essential. Better still, no one owes us anything. I became adult, I believe, the day I understood that nothing was owed me. It was high time we became adult; in other words, non-dependent, neither in fear nor in hope. We should not have had to ask ourselves piteously and in vain why the Pope was silent or why the Americans abandoned us, why the Russians didn't budge. And why not the Red Cross! And the A.S.P.C.A.! Liberty is not a gift; bestowed, conceded, protected by someone else, it is denied and vanishes. Our liberation must depend on our own fight for it.
Id. at 274-75.
Still none of this was specifically Jewish. All impossible conditions call for a radical solution, all absolute misfortunes demand an absolute revolt. How were we to discover the specific conditions of each liberation? Here I proposed another criterion: the liberation of an oppressed person must be made as a function of the specific conditions of his oppression. In other words, our starting point had to be the complete description of the Jewish condition, which I have attempted to give in my last book and in this book. The reader may now understand why I have dwelt on this problem; it was not only because I needed to free myself of it, or to exorcize my own ghosts. The liberation of the Jew must be deduced from his particular misfortune.
 The misfortune of the Jew is then a total misfortune; in other words, it does not encompass only one aspect of his life, his political autonomy, his economic function, his culture or his religion. It concerns his whole existence, his relations with himself and with others; it affects the unity of his personality, divided into a private individual and a public person; and his whole dimension as a questionable citizen and an historically impotent man. It is true that all oppression has a strong tendency to become a total oppression, but it is a question of degree and nuance, of generalities and accent. The specific conditions of each oppression consists precisely of such degrees and particular intonations. The Jew is not oppressed as a member of a class, which distinguishes him from the proletariat, for example. Nor is he oppressed as a member of a biological group, which distinguishes him from Negroes or women. He is affected as a member of a total, social, cultural, political and historical group. In other words, the Jew is oppressed as a member of a people, a minor people, a dispersed people, a people always and everywhere in the minority (which distinguished him from the colonized, also oppressed as a people, but a people in the majority).
Therefore the Jew has to find a total solution, one which answers every aspect of his threatened existence, which guarantees his present but also rehabilitates his past and restores to him possession of his future. In other words, the Jew, oppressed as a people, must find his autonomy and freedom to express his originality as a people. Therefore to overcome absolutely, the revolt of the Jew must include that particular aspect which will necessarily rehabilitate and recognize him as a major and majority people.
In effect, if the Jews do not pull themselves together as a people they will necessarily remain a separated minority, threatened and periodically exterminated. If they do not defend themselves as a people they will remain subject to the benevolence of others, in other words, to the fluctuations of their moods, more often bad than good. They will remain condemned to serve as a too-convenient scapegoat, a target for other people's economic and political difficulties, to live in ambiguity and by subterfuge and in fear--his own and that of others, to which he strangely clings, like a hated ghost.
Only this collective autonomy will give us at last the daring and the taste for liberty which alone are the foundations of dignity....
Humanism yes, but humanism after the liberation and not this fake humanism, a one-way street where I must consider all men as saints in a humanity in which I still have no place.
Id. at 276-79.

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