Saturday, October 30, 2004

My Jewish experience: Diana Wang and the Sounds of Silence [ii]

Let's talk about Diana Wang, for we already know how I got in contact with her book, contacted her personally afterwards, etc (and I'm still working in the ambitious project to have her novel "A stone in my shoe" translated into English, at some point I'll talk about this novel). Diana was born in Poland (1945), daughter to a family of Holocaust survivors she arrived to Argentina in 1947. Her family declared being Catholic in order to be allowed entry. She's a psychologist specialized in family therapy, began to be interested in the story of her parents' survival during the Holocaust (soon after we start talking about Diana's work, we'll "outlaw" the term Holocaust). She discovered during this search other sons of survivors that were having similar questioning, looking for explanations, trying to understand.

Probably Diana's book made me really interested in different aspects of the Jewish question and I thoroughly read on the subject, the history of the Jewish question in Germany, Holocaust, the Jewish "haskala", Scandinavian-Jewish history and Icelandic-Jewish history, the latter being my current topic. I'm working in some project at the moment in that topic (in my free time, when I have any at all). As a conferencist on the Jewish question I had to pursue by myself a thorough review of the subject. I've stepped into other topics such as Jewish political philosophy with the text of R. Mizrachi, the Jewish mentality of R. Patai, etc. Diana Wang was the spark of all these intellectual journeys, that have been more than knowledge, a permanent search of my inner-self. This search ends in the gay culture of Tel Aviv, deconstructed postmodernism and urban theory; I'll try to give a little bit of everything but for now (and for some time) I want to focus on Diana, in the meantime I'll use my time up to read some philosophical essays that will allow me to continue with my plan as to talk about the subjectivity/reality of morality.

I believe the Holocaust experience and the Jewish identity is only the superstructure of the "eastern" axe of my life, being Classical Greece and the antiquity the "western" axe. I'll go into details when the time comes. The two of them support my intellect and support me as a person and as an invidual; most of the time I rely on my western axe as it helps me understand the phenomena of the world in which I live from one of their main cradles, spiritual knowledge we would say. The eastern axe is a bit more clinggy, a bit more personal, more intimate, supra-linguistic. My knowledge though, is a bit too general and other than linguistic, I have no authority for "educated opinions", but this is simply a blog and I'm free to write down my heart and my mind. This writing is quite not orderly but it's not supposed to be, maybe 20 or 30 years will bring me the answer of what I really need to write about, for now this is the result of personal needs and experiences in life, I think I owe to write about this co-lateral topics.

I probably don't enjoy the social science as much as I enjoy my poetry or my fuzzy notes and stories, but I reckon the importance of discussing these things, it relieved my heart somehow.

The things I'll write about are not all rosey and pink, because I want to discuss truths about humankind and some discussions must be just plain blunt. I'll use many analogies proposed by Wang on the Holocaust and at some point will spread into another hot topic of mine (currently I'm a conferencist on history of democratic ideas and European studies at the OLEI, Latin American immigrants association), the "Democracy" thing and will compare with a certain text on homosexuality in the Nazi party, the Greek philosophy, Indo-European mythology and contemporary gay culture. This is one of the "branches" that I'm more interested in developing. It just seems a lifetime or two aren't enough.

To start with I want to "comment" Diana's request just right before the prologue of R. Hodara and the prologue itself.

Diana kindly requests "If you want to follow my warning and not to read it (she means the book), do know I understand, I understand and accept it. If in spite of my warning you've decided to go ahead, welcome aboard!. When you finish it, or when you're midway if you want, I'd like to know what you think, what you feel like, if you have concerns, memories, things to add or rectify, write me. Even when I'm definitely enrolled in the group of the skeptics and pessimists, I can't deal with myself (survivors tactic perhaps) and I still keep a little hope".

I personally sympathize with her request, I've spoken about the contents of this book with a few people, and coincidences in life made me return to the text. After the national library thing and having taken the book home on loan a few times, I happened to move to Israel and met Arie Gecht, whose family lives in Argentina, during one of his trips I made contact with Diana, who kindly sent me a copy of the book in Spanish and I'm using it right now as I'm writing this. This is exactly what I'll attempt to do now, I don't know if anyone will like the results but I can only try. My parents and my grandparents are not here to help me, I don't have any names, I don't have any stories, I can just comment.

As the prologue goes (I'll use the translation from Diana's website); I think
it's a very "concise" introduction to the subject of the book, ironically
dealing with the "silences", how silent can you remain? for how long time? for how many years?; the prologue of the book is called "The Sounds of Silence" (!). I've quoted the first paragraphs of this introduction in several writings of mine, for I could never really separate myself from that concept, and without willingness to make heroic noises about the weightful characters of those words, I wouldn't withhold myself from starting my journey through Diana Wang, precisely with simple quotations from her book's prologue; I think there'll be a simple note I'll add on each and every personal remark but I don't really know this'll turn out so I'll let myself flow. I believe this is one of the most ambitious enterprises I could ever pursue, the inner journey to talk about my personal story, something that people owe to remember, a set of explanations I've tried to find over the last 7 years of my life. This comes product of an inner need to release and relieve myself, more than a simple desire to write about anything in particular. As the words slip by I have more and more difficulties to verbalize, to compare, to understand but nevertheless I dare; these pages are my very own daring. I'll survive them and rescue my life from the ashes of their procrastinations. This is not dead matter and it's not history either, it's just an opinionated and objectively defined thought about my life.

The prologue of the book dwells firstly on the topic of the silences; I believe silences are a very important and meaningful part of the sensorial experience, of supra-linguistic information that humans share; that kind of information the radical experience of reason can't explain; such as metaphysical phenomena and others. Silence is to some extent a different language, a universal language that precludes itself from the signified-signifier relationship of regular language. Silence doesn't know morphemic units, doesn't know semantic relationships and syntactic interfaces; it's a more universal language. It's a language with a different code, a subreptitious code; it's the language of our artistic appreciation, the language of universal pain and love, the language of the man-nature relationship; and perhaps silence is the dreadful tool of those of us who "dare" into this inner journey.

Only now I started to understand or better say "overview" how the Nazi Holocaust gave me a detailed outlook of my own personal experience, of my emotional experience in general. The more I learnt about different perspectives of this phenomena beyond the pitiful historicism of the Holocaust, the more I find myself in those conclusions, the more I understand about my culture, about my identity, about my family, about my life, my country. I would encourage each and every Jewish person to "dare" into the questioning, to inquire, to search, to find. I believe Diana was one of those daring persons, and I would like to include myself in that group too. As she commented once, if you want to keep believing that the world is this black-and-white-only structure with good and evil, right and wrongdoing, you're entitled the civil right to do so. I honestly prefer my shelter in between the greys, my awareness.

"The Sounds of Silence" (Rachel Hodara)

"In general, in order to sleep we long for silence. Yet there are certain kinds of silence that preclude sleep, silences that are cries of terror which - suffocated by pain and shame - strain to be heart. Among those who have suddenly been assaulted by this discovery, there are some who have chosen to quickly plug their ears; they cannot be blamed. They only wish to protect their sanity. Other plug into the sounds , but do not perceive the words they are composed of. A few, very few, dare to decipher the words, to become participants not only in the pain but also in the knowledge and, thus, in the terror that unavoidably accompanies it, hand in hand.

When I come to think about those words, it's probably a brief-in-a-nutshell of what we're going to "talk about"; this silences are a fundamental component of human discovery of the universe of phenomenology. I want to examine the words... for this "silence" equation is very similar to knowledge in general; to understanding and overview, perspective. These things that are not particularly unique but that affect the whole common of the human kind.

Silences that preclude sleep? I think I'm somehow very familiar to this experience. All those of us that have been attacked by the unfamiliar smells and scenes of what some sociologist friend of mine would call the "genetic memory", all those of us know what this silence that precludes sleep is about. All of us that have lived in families that survived regimes, dictatorships and that smelled death from a very close know what this silence is about; I belive somehow even Israelis could understand this silence. Sometimes these silences are the only rational explanations we can find to our longing and sorrowful thinking; the circumstances that have led our lives or maybe the lives of our family and therefore our personal history escape the convention of the logics, escape the conventions of our right and wrongdoing representations of the world, thus, we have to deal with those phenomena with tools and skills that escape the conventions of logic inasmuch as the phenomena themselves; terrorist attacks are a great example of this dicotomy. Silences are one of those non-logic natural responses we develop as a protective shield, they protect us from the conceptualization, from the realization; they preclude us from the creative process in which the event connects the experience and the idea all at once; it's a frightening thought. Those silences protected our parents and protected us, and probably we protect our children with those silences too. But, are we really challenging enough to decipher the language of silence? I certainly doubt it, we can't find the root of the matter, but somehow we can enter the experience of the "can never leave" that creates this silences as a continuum between events and the "life in the aftermath". I believe the search is very much worthy, not as an end, but as a process. We'll go back to the issue of silence several times, only one important keyword: verbalize.

Plugging ears? Well, this is common to most human experiences. I'm "used" to do it all the time; it's a very "infamous" behavior well-known as denial, one of the greatest inventions in human history if you ask me. This is the easy way to deal with life, with reality, with history. Most of these persons are foreign to the silence, they see it as something strange, unfamiliar and unworthy of any serious thought, devoid of relevance. We live in a society of "plugged ears"; for the social conventions and even the moral super-structure of these societies make denial an acceptable way of living, an alternative. History of the world is a history of plugged ears, of neglectance. History cannot be seen anymore as those cold historiographic and flat facts events about wars and conquers; there's something more to it, there's humanity and there're facts that logic fails to explain, that the history of sciences and the spirit fails to explain. That's why we cannot plug our ears anymore. But we can't blame to those who do, it's always the easy way. "Protect their sanity", how many times did I try to commute with these words? How many things did I do in my life only in order to protect myself? Could I defy life with its science?

Plunging into the sounds? Plunging into the sounds is a common experience to most of us I guess; that's from where we have all those discourses about "no more" and "never again"; and we never really end up understanding the causes of our very own sorrows, struggles and defeats. We just find it comfortable to smell our history from a far without really getting involved with it, the superficial approach, it doesn't bring you any personal satisfactions and it doesn't constitute a real passion, but it doesn't hurt either, it doesn't harm and it doesn't change your life from the pre-established set of conditions you've been given, your place in society, in your world, your family. The world is still black and white, spiced by those "Frankensteins" of flesh and blood, those criminals, those beings devoid of human touch. But, what are we anyway? Plunging into sounds is as if you didn't listen at all with the "sinful" difference that you do (I'll go back to this point much, much later).

Dare to decipher the words? participation in knowledge, fear and terror? What is it all about? That's exactly what I intend to do in these pages. I probably lack the knowledge but at the same time I knowingly participate in the fear and in the terror of the silences, of open wounds, of illogical fragmentary memory, I participate in this world of "never leave". Nothing precludes me from that imaginary world that is as real as my friends, my family, my school days, etc. It's a parallel world in which I participate without much willingness. Several events of my life have led me to live a life in fear, unavoidably. Somehow I didn't learn to cope with it but I resigned to the idea of such being a constant in my own life. Those things I'm not allowed to share, they're not clear even to myself. I don't have the answers, I don't have the right questions, I simply have doubts that after becoming procrastinations they become sorrows and burdens in my everyday life; those phenomena have conducted my life through certain given paths; but I'm not alone out there. I'm listening to the silences, they rip me off, you can't blame me for this; I'm simply trying to understand. To rediscover history to let it be history and step forward in my life; to make of it my life, rather than a rendez-vous of fears, untold stories and contemptous silences. I want to participate in the knowledge, I want to journey back and forth through it, its the only way to bury it.

Before I start this serious journeying, I must clarify a few points:

1. I must repeat again, I don't have the knowledge of facts about my personal story, but I do relate to the consequences of it and to the phenomena experienced by others. To some level it makes me one of them, one of the survivors, a grandchild of survivors.

2. I never really met any member of my family, uncles, aunts, cousins, and I can even say I never really had the chance to know mom, wherever she might be. I'll explain this later. But the fact of not having these facts doesn't preclude me from the universalism of these factors.

3. I read an interesting article about Anna Frank in the daily Ha'aretz (Israeli newspaper) in which they were claiming the universalism of the diary of Anne Frank. Her experience, although particularly Jewish in historical terms could be applied to the life of anyone who lived in that time, and is a source of inspiration and courage to all of us regardless of our paths in life; even for contemporary German children, as ironic as it sounds. In the different movies and theater plays about Anne, never the Jewish character of the story was stressed, but they rather rescued those universal values and gave them to the world. I believe the same goes for Diana, as much as the Jewish experience in its polyfacetism is central to our ability to understand what she explains us, this experience is not unique to the Jewish people and could perfectly match many others. I find myself in a grey shade in between the Jewish experience and the universal experience and that's why I dare to say this could be the life of anyone else, in Israel, in the USA, in Hungary, in Iceland, etc. The world has mystified the Jewish experience, and I do it as well but that doesn't mean by necessity this is necessarily a Jewish continuum; to approach the universal self is far more important; whether if it is seen through the analogy of the Jewish perspective or not it's not the issue, we're just talking about human kind.


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