By GILAD ATZMON
One way to
look into marginal politics is to illuminate the problematic tension
between demands for equality and the maintenance of clannish supremacist
worldviews. I am referring here to the difficult duality involved
in requesting to be seen like everyone else while considering oneself
to be superior.
At first glance, it seems as if a humanist demand to equalise civil
rights would address the issue and resolve any form of tension between
the margin and the centre. But marginal politics intends to defeat
any humanistic call for equalisation. For the marginal politician,
assimilation, emancipation, integration and even liberation are
the margin may face a severe 'identity crisis'. To a certain extent,
the marginal subject is asked to renounce his particularity and
singularity. Following integration, the heroic 'pre-revolutionary'
days of the righteous struggle for civil rights are replaced by
a nostalgic narrative. In its post-revolutionary phase, what had
once been the margin becomes an unnoticeable entity, an ordinary
crowd. Thus, we should deduce that, at least at the level of identity,
the demand for equality is in itself a self-defeating mechanism.
Once equal, one is no different from anyone else.
marginal politician is engaged in
the maintenance of negation.
This negation is usually achieved
by elevating hostility towards the
margin within the centre.
The Zionist is there to provoke
anti-Semitism. Similarly, gay marginal
politics is dependent on the
existence of homophobia and the
feminist maintains the image of
of integration may transform any meaningful marginal self-realisation
into irrelevant anachronistic content. This is the reason that we
find so few marginal politicians who willingly endorse a political
call for assimilation. Such a call would mean political suicide,
a self-imposed destruction of one's political power.
we can easily conceive of an individually motivated tendency towards
assimilation; we can envisage a member of the so-called margin searching
for ways to integrate within mainstream society. A glimpse into
the social reality of pre-Second World War European Jews provides
an interesting insight into the issue. Assimilation has never been
presented as a Jewish marginal political call. It was rather individual
Jews who welcomed and enjoyed European liberal tendencies. I would
add that even the Bund that supported Jewish political assimilation
insisted on maintenance of Jewish cultural heritage.
of our surrounding contemporary Western reality would reveal an
image of multiplicity. Our society is an amalgam in which many who
were once marginal are now fully assimilated and integrated. Moreover,
various minorities do not even regard their integration as a process
of assimilation but rather as a natural celebration of their civil
rights. This natural tendency to merge with one's surrounding society
is seen by the marginal politician as a major threat.
notion of identity that is so crucial
for post-modernist and marginal
theoreticians is a myth.
When we refer to 'marginal identity',
what we really mean is
offers a critical perspective on different aspects of marginal political
thought. I argue that theories and political thoughts should be
differentiated by their strategies of justification rather than
by their mere content. Further, I suggest that something is inherently
dangerous in any form of marginal politics. My focus here is the
marginal politics of Zionist and lesbian separatist thinking. Although
this paper criticizes marginal political discourse and thought,
by no means does it suggest any criticism of the marginal subject
or any minority whatsoever.
is a term that refers to those who live on the edge of society.
It describes those who fall behind, those who cannot express their
authentic voice within mainstream discourse. The margin is always
oppressed, harassed, humiliated, subject to despicable jokes, and
so forth. The margin is marginal as long as its pain is not acknowledged
within the main discourse. The margin retains its marginal qualities
as long as the injustices committed against it are not addressed
within mainstream discourse.
Once the particularity of the margin is recognised and accepted
by the crowd, the margin becomes an inherent part of the larger
community; in other words, it becomes a minority group or even just
an ordinary crowd. Hence, it should be accepted that the state of
being marginal is, at least to a certain extent, defined by the
But then, one
should ask, can the margin also be understood within its own terms?
Can the margin be defined by its own means? Is being a lesbian enough
to turn one into a 'marginal lesbian' regardless of the surrounding
social circumstances? How can one decide whether one belongs to
any given margin? Is being a Jew, a Muslim, a gay or an ethnic Albanian
enough to transform one into a 'marginal identity'? Clearly not.
We can think of many Jews, Muslims, gays, lesbians and ethnic Albanians
who detach themselves from any ties with marginal identification.
They do not see themselves as marginal; nor are they seen as such
by their surrounding environment.
statement: 'I look into myself
and see a Zionist, a gay, a woman,
a nation, a watermelon and so on'
is anything but an expression
of authentic awareness.
What it really means is:
I identify with the Zionist, gay,
woman, nation... Again, 'Zionist', 'gay',
'woman' and so forth are lingual
expressions that are communally
and collectively assigned.
therefore, is dynamic and shaped by its relationship with the centre.
The margin is that which fails to be the centre. The margin is defined
in terms of negation (i.e. what it isn't) rather than by its positive
qualities (i.e. what it is). This is the reason that marginal politics
is so concerned with depicting reality in terms of binary oppositions.
For the gay ideologist the binary opposition is gay/heterosexual;
for the feminist politician it is femininity/masculinity; for the
Zionist it is Jew/gentile and Zionist/diaspora Jew. The marginal
subject is inclined to define itself via a process of negative dialectic.
As soon as
the centre is willing to expand its categorical understanding of
itself, the margin's reality fades; the margin becomes merely a
minority. This is the point at which marginal politics interferes
and the binary opposition is introduced.
marginal politician is engaged in the maintenance of negation. This
negation is usually achieved by elevating hostility towards the
margin within the centre. The Zionist is there to provoke anti-Semitism.
Similarly, gay marginal politics is dependent on the existence of
homophobia and the feminist maintains the image of patriarchal society.
as if marginal politics is destined to engage in an ideological
exchange with mainstream discourse. It is there to retain negation.
And yet, the question remains: can the marginal define itself by
its own means? In order to address this question we must grasp the
notion of identity.
Identification and Authenticity
In order to
transform 'marginal self-perception' into a meaningful notion, the
marginal subject must assume that being a 'marginal subject' conveys
a real and authentic identity. An American Jewish settler living
on confiscated Palestinian land must genuinely believe that being
on occupied land, being daily engaged in an endless list of war
crimes and breaching all possible moral codes, while risking his
own life and the lives of members of his family, constitute direct
fulfillment of his 'true self'.
The settler must believe that he is the son of Abraham and that
this relation to his ancestor grants him special rights where Palestinian
land is concerned. The marginal subject must believe that he conveys
a genuine self.
Belief in a
truly authentic identity is crucial for the realisation of the self
as a genuine autonomous agent, but is authenticity possible? A phenomenological
thinker may say yes. Husserl argues that we can refer to 'Evidez',
which is 'awareness' of matter itself as disclosed in the most clear,
distinct and adequate way for something of its kind. Accordingly,
one can experience a pure awareness of oneself. This notion was
articulated by Descartes' cogito: 'I think therefore I am.'
communities are generally
very sensitive to the power of
language and this is probably
the reason that a substantial
amount of their political energy is
concerned with imposing lingual
restrictions within the mainstream
discourse (usually in the name of
This is the reason that marginal
communities are so creative
in their use of marginal languages.
terms, it is the pure and lucid 'awareness' of me thinking which
removes any doubt concerning me 'being in the world', at least as
a thinking entity. Phenomenology attempts to describe how the world
is constituted and experienced through conscious acts and what is
given to us in immediate experience without being mediated by preconceptions
and theoretical notions. According to phenomenology, one's self-awareness
can depict an unmediated authentic form of knowledge.
take long for Husserl's student Martin Heidegger to expose major
cracks in his teacher's philosophical endeavour. Heidegger revealed
that 'being in the world' might be slightly more complicated than
Husserl had suggested. It was the former's notion of hermeneutics
that exposed the shortcomings of Husserl's phenomenology. Hermeneutics
deals with the complex interaction between the interpreting subject
and the interpreted object. Within his critical reading of Husserl,
Heidegger exposed the embarrassing fact that unmediated awareness
is actually hard to conceive. Human beings, it appears, do 'belong
Language is out there before one comes to the world. Once one enters
the realm of language, a separating wall made of symbolic lingual
bricks and cultural mortar, blocks one's access to any possible
unmediated awareness. Can we think without applying language? Can
we experience at all without the mediation of language?
Admittedly, we are capable of feeling desire while dreaming or being
overwhelmed by beauty but then, as soon as we think it through,
we find ourselves entangled in a process of naming. As soon as we
name, the awareness ceases to be unmediated. Once within the realm
of language, our perception of the world is shaped by meanings that
are not ours. It would seem that a comprehensive authentic awareness
If this is
the case, there is no longer room to talk about identity in terms
of a genuine expression of a real self. Unmediated self-awareness
is not available to any of us. Even when we touch the sublime or
come across an inexpressible unmediated experience, as soon as we
aim to share it even simply within ourselves, we are already surrendering
to language. Hence, looking into oneself can never reveal an authentic
we may be able think of identity as a set of ideas, narratives or
'thinking modes', as a worldview or a perception. But then
rather than really talking in terms of a genuine 'self-awareness'
we are intentionally moving to deal with a mental process that is
better described as 'identification'.
following list presents
different spellings for the word
woman/women used by
lesbian separatists in the 1970s:
wimmin, wimyn, womyn, womin.
These alternative spellings were
intended to 'prove' that, at least
symbolically, woman could be
'complete' even when the word
man/men was taken out of
with ideas, narratives, thinking modes, certain worldviews, perceptions
and so on. We must then accept that when we talk about identity
we are really talking about identification. The
notion of identity that is so crucial for post-modernist and marginal
theoreticians is a myth. When we refer to 'marginal identity', what
we really mean is 'marginally identifying'.
a lesbian is not enough to turn one into a 'marginal lesbian'. While
being a 'lesbian' is a state of being, being a 'marginal lesbian'
is a form of identification. As we can see the marginal subject
cannot define itself by its own means. The American Jewish settler
who mistakenly believes that he follows his true call is in fact
simply identifying with a messianic Zionist identity. He is identifying
with an external idea rather than revealing his 'real self'.
As we come
to view identity as a meaningless term, we move towards an understanding
of self-perception as a dynamic mechanism. When talking about identity
we refer to an axis of identification: at one pole we find the elusive
notion of authenticity produced from unmediated self-awareness (something
that is almost impossible to achieve), at the other pole we find
a state of estrangement that is achieved by identification.
Thus, the search for one's genuine identity should be associated
with utter misery: the more one searches for one's authentic self
the more one is engaged in the process of identification that will
eventually lead to complete alienation. Here I turn to Lacan's subversive
twist on Descartes' cogito, in which 'I think therefore I am' became
'You are where you do not think.' If anything, thinking removes
one from oneself. Identification positions one far from any possible
therefore, that identity is a myth and authentic awareness a rare
experience. Thus, the marginal subject cannot define itself by its
own means. The
statement: 'I look into myself and see a Zionist, a gay, a woman,
a nation, a watermelon and so on' is anything but an expression
of authentic awareness. What it really means is: I identify with
the Zionist, gay, woman, nation... Again, 'Zionist', 'gay', 'woman'
and so forth are lingual expressions that are communally and collectively
are not within the realm of unmediated privacy. But then even 'I
feel gay', 'I am a lesbian' and 'I feel Jewish' are not authentic,
unmediated expressions. Such expressions only mean that an external
lingual web orchestrates our feelings. Once we think, we are already
defeated by the dictatorial power of language.
the first Zionist Congress,
in 1897, Chaim Weizmann announced:
'There are no English, French,
German or American Jews,
but only Jews living in England,
France, Germany or America.'
According to Weizmann,
first you are a Jew and then
an American. In other words,
Weizmann called for Jews
to celebrate their sameness...
communities are generally very sensitive to the power of language
and this is probably the reason that a substantial amount of their
political energy is concerned with imposing lingual restrictions
within the mainstream discourse (usually in the name of political
correctness). This is the reason that marginal communities are so
creative in their use of marginal languages. The
Zionists' relationship with the resurrected Hebrew language is a
good example. Early Zionists realised that full control over language
would allow them to impose their world view on subsequent generations
of Jews. But Zionists are not alone in this respect.
Other marginal groups are known for their creative dialects, spelling
and vocabulary. The
following list presents different spellings for the word woman/women
used by lesbian separatists in the 1970s: wimmin, wimyn, womyn,
womin. These alternative spellings were intended to 'prove' that,
at least symbolically, woman could be 'complete' even when the word
man/men was taken out of woman/women. 'We,
as womyn, are not a sub-category of men' (http://www.msu.edu/).
The lingual meaning defines the worldview.
But then, if
language has such a crucial role in marginal politics, the margin
can never detach itself from the centre. Even when it establishes
its own discourse, this discourse can only be realised in terms
of its relationship with mainstream discourse. Moreover, if there
is no room for self-grounded marginal identity in terms of self-realization
or self-awareness, we are bound to deal with the margin in terms
of its pragmatic strategies of exchange with the mainstream discourse.
Since the possibility of assimilation is occasionally presented
to the margin by the hegemony, opportunities for integration with
the centre are available to the marginal subject. Assimilated Jewish
Americans have always been extremely excited about the possibility
of becoming American patriots. Many American Jews have found their
way into the leading classes via the academic world, banking, real
estate, the stock market, the media, politics and so on. But since
they have been in key positions within mainstream society, their
patriotic tendencies have been challenged by those they had left
in the margins.
order to support their views,
Zionists illustrated an image of
Their illustration was far from accurate.
In fact, by the late nineteenth century
Jews were already deeply involved
in every possible aspect of
European civil life.
Moreover, the Zionist leaders
themselves were highly
integrated within their
Christian context. But a persistent
myth of persecution was needed.
in America specialise in tracing rich and influential Jews. They
pressure them to 'come out of the closet' and to show greater commitment
to the Jewish nationalist venture. Gay marginal politicians behave
similarly. Some marginal politicians seek to shame their integrated
brothers and sisters. This serves two purposes. First, it conveys
a clear message that real assimilation is impossible: once a gay,
always a gay; once a Jew always a Jew.
This logic was reflected in a recent Hollywood cartoon. Shrek and
Princess Fiona were doomed to find out that 'Once an ogre always
an ogre. One can never escape one's real identity.' Second, it pushes
the assimilated being towards collaboration with his old clan. You
will never escape being who you are so you had better be proud of
it. The American Zionist takes this ideology one step further, telling
the assimilated Jew: 'You will never escape being who you are so
why not be proud of it and work for us.' These points help us understand
the impact of Jewish political lobbies within the American administration.
Moreover, they may give an explanation for the growth of Jewish
espionage within America's strategic centres and businesses.
Let us review
the logic behind this strategy. At
the first Zionist Congress, in 1897, Chaim Weizmann announced: 'There
are no English, French, German or American Jews, but only Jews living
in England, France, Germany or America.' According to Weizmann,
first you are a Jew and then an American. In other words, Weizmann
called for Jews to celebrate their sameness; he
aimed to remove or even eliminate differences between them. Being
Jewish is an essential characteristic; all other qualities are contingent.
Thus it would seem that even the 'good Jews', those who protest
against Israeli atrocities while shouting 'not in my name', fall
into Weizmann's trap. First they are Jews and only then are they
humanists. In practice, without understanding it, they adopt Weizmann's
anti-assimilationist strategy. In other words, they prove that the
clan is more important than any other category. Weizmann's strategy
is sophisticated and hard to tackle.
is a strategy of
ghetto building and Zionists
have followed this strategy
since the late nineteenth century.
And yet, who are the first to suffer?
Of course, those Jews who are
weak enough to take
Zionist Separatism seriously
and those who are doomed
to be born into a
Zionist reality in Israel.
'I do not agree with Israel although I am a Jew' is to fall into
the clannish trap. Having fallen into the trap, one cannot leave
the clan behind; one can never endorse a universal language. As
bizarre as it may sound, even when one denounces one's own clan,
one is destined to approve the clannish marginal philosophy.
In the early
days of Zionism most Jews refused to buy the Weizmann agenda, preferring
to see themselves as American, British or French people who happened
to be Jewish. This dispute between the individual Jew and the Zionist
movement developed into a bitter conflict. During their struggle
for recognition, Zionists admitted their contempt for the diaspora
Jew. This was essentially the birth of Zionist separatism. Zionists
confronted the Jewish people in the name of the call for their liberation.
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