Thursday, November 04, 2004

My Jewish experience: Diana Wang and the Reasons of Silence [iii]

I want to continue following Diana's textbook (if that's how we can call it); the chapter called "Reasons of Silence" is actually a very interesting exposition of the most diverse ideas on the topic of the Holocaust; as I stated beforehand I want to propose a more universal and personal theory altogether and at the same time. I believe I have some level of disagreement with what Diana has talked about; based on my experience and also based on my life in the State of Israel. I contemptuously disagree as well with many sources of T. Segev; I haven't read the book but I know it only from Diana's quotations and boldings, but well I don't think I want to get into it now. One of the purposes of this series of writings about Jewish identity are to build a more concrete idea of my Israeli experience and then build some written material on the topic of what I'd call the "Israeli Queer Theory" (which would be the follow-up of my old article "The Jewish Israeli gay and the Jewish European gay") inasmuch as some objective criticism on Israeli mentality opposed to Jewish diasporic mentality and Israeliness or Israelism in general; not presented as a school of thought or a dynamic mentality but as the product-consequence of socio-historical equation that gave birth to the nowadays deconstructed Jewish Israeli society.

Right after the introduction (we don't really need the explain the basics of the Holocaust, hundreds of volumes have been written on the topic, but we will just elucidate certain interesting points in accordance to the work of Wang and her contemporaries from whom she's excerpted reference material) she starts exposing several question I would like to try to answer, and although I won't have the answers but until the end of this journey I might start with something; being such an articulate person I might be able to find the words to rephrase those irrational feelings, but don't take it for the granted; some events escape our normal logic.

Before the questions a "change" will follow hereinafter; we won't refer to the Holocaust any longer as the Holocaust; for the word "Holocaust" in Hebrew "korbal ola", referred to the animal that was ritually sacrificed in the temple, the word lacks of functionality in the context of our discussion for it alludes to a religious sacrifice, a ritual purification in the fire, a heavenly punishment. These "signified-signifier" relationships (I granted myself the permission to alter Diana's original wording) obviously cloud up our overview and understanding of the situation, given the facts that it wasn't a sacrifice or purification of nothing, nor a heavenly punishment or religious deed(*). [skipped text].... In the other hand, holocausts and genocides may have been many, accordingly contemporary thinkers sustain that the events of the Shoah have been unique in human history, therefore, their denomination should correspond to this particular unicity.

The word Shoah, "devastation", resumes specifically the experience of the Jewish people(**) as victim and thoroughly describes the magnitude of the events.

(*) Here I somehow disagree with the "semantic" context[s] of the Shoah; in my opinion the Shoah was idealized (mind I'm talking about the ideology, not about the means via which it was all carried out) as a return of a sort of Roman-Germanic Empire; mistifying once again the Scandinavian and Germanic deities; the destruction of the Jewish people was a cleaning process via which the Teutonic societies would regain their inflated pride of the late antiquity in times of the Eddas. The position of Jews in the Scandinavian society yesterday and today are evidential proof of this ideological attitude. Following innocent ideologists of the Shoah such as the philosophy of F. Nietzsche and the music of Wagner, just to mention the major influences; but we can trace it back to the poetry and aesthetical theories of Romanticism. The ultimate ideological purpose of the Shoah was the purification of a new German society that would become a "reign" or a "realm" (as it was in the Scandinavian Eddas) that would absorb other Germanic countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, that were considered racially pure. The way this was executed and how it included other groups such as homosexuals, gypsies and Eastern Europeans in general doesn't preclude us from the ideological facts. I'll return to this topic at a much later stage.

(**) Once again, I don't disagree with the unique experience of the Jewish people, but just as I mentioned in allusion to the Diary of Anne Frank, I prefer to focus on the universal human experience consequence of the events, rather than in the Jewish experience, which I'll treat in detail as well.

Silence and Questions?

I really feel myself identified when Diana says: "Many of us, sons of appeared-victims question ourselves about the past of our parents, those are questions we cannot always pronounce."

Hereunder the main questions I can relate to;

1. Are we unaware that we're questioning?
2. Have we been taught not to notice certain things?
3. Have we been taught to silence up?
4. In which way, have we adapted ourselves to such complicity of silences, to the symulachre that our lives was alike the life of everyone else(*)?
5. Are we unaware of our special category of identity?

(*) I call for a larger level of universalism, those experiences I believe are not exclusively particular of the Jewish people. I think we rather use the Shoah as a mean of understand of more general issues of human behaviour, history and humanity in general.

I'll retake Diana's further ideas:

[] ...There're many of us that ignore we've begun to question outloud
[] ...The stories that have been silenced up(*) have turned into secrets that have been kept deep inside(**) for most of us, without losing one centimeter of their toxic capacity.
[] ...The hidden and silenced stories (of the Shoah), in regard to survival issues, are of a different logical order than those secrets that normal families and it places them in a more intimate, personal (and intimidating) context.
[] ... Question the idea human beings have about themselves.
[] ...To understand this second category of identity.

Now my two cents;

I believe the questions proposed by Diana are more than accurate, the answers are probably the leading chain of ideas that stream through these pages and the main constituent of her book. I'll try to develop those questions based on my knowledge, my personal experience, my Israeli experience and to give my personal overview. I don't claim to be a psychologist, an historian or a writer, I'm just expressing a humble opinion in a language that although not mine, is the language I know best. The central axe of these pages must be the experience of the Shoah, its consequences and lessons and my personal elucidations; from there I'll branch into different topics, such as construction of the Israeli identity (as a response to Wang), the Israeli queer theory (as a response to "The Pink Svastika") and my proposed essay on morality as a response to Mayer, Diguistini and Kaltsidou.

Diana's topical reflexions to the "thinking" and "being thought" necessary to approach our "special" category of identity.

1. Importance of the contexts
[] ... The context determines meaning, understanding and valuation. True, this might remind me of some early theories in anthropology and linguistic anthropology; the context is a determinant to the social reality.

The social reality of the Shoah, for the survivors, their sons and ourselves (3rd generation) must be thoroughly encompassed without the rational logic of chronologic historicisms. This social reality can't be understand as a mere structure of events in a linear sequences, in fact non-linear understanding is probably the only way to encompass the contexts of the Shoah from the universal perspective; being poorly methodological and overview the events of these people lives as phenomena, rather than as simple events. I think Diana elucidates this very clearly in a very different way though.

Firstly we have to understand the context of the lives of those survivors as Diana has pointed out. Age, profession, level of literacy, social status, gender, personality, physical aspect-condition, etc. many of these contexts will determine how influential or less influential many of these events of the Shoah would be in the development of the later characteristics and pivotal identity of those survivors, their families, their communities, their sons and their grandsons.

There're also other contexts I believe Diana has to a large extent ignored; for example those who didn't return to Judaism and precluded their own sons and grandsons from the awareness of their identity to start with; this is a certain specific context that constitutes a painful and to a certain extent overlooked stream of the world of the Shoah. The contexts of their different countries of exile; it wasn't only Argentina and Israel. There were many other countries, many other different experiences and different levels of sufferance born upon different generations.

Here I enter to deal with the topic of the genetic memory; even if someone who hasn't been exposed at all to the topic of Judaism and the Shoah, whose grandparents have died, whose parents are ageing and unaware of the events that would determine their lives to a great extent; is the next generation insofar free of the burden? Of the stone in the shoe of Diana Wang? I don't think so. There's an almost genetic transmision of language and culture within certain specific contexts, this transmision of probably unconscious and it certainly doesn't take place in the same dynamic process than DNA and cellular composition, but there's something to it. If the means used by diachronic linguists to reconstruct languages imitated that of evolutionary molecular biology, who not using a similar method when we're talking about the transmision of culture? Aren't language and culture similarly related? Yes, they're... language is the bridge via which this culture can be transmited, be it semantically, semiotically or in full linguistic constructions such as oral tales or first language education.

Then, one of my open questions in these essays is, isn't suffering (as an integral component of personality and probably of cultural bias) transmited from one generation to the other as well? Aren't the echoes of the Shoah still ringing in the ears of those who never happened to hear? Of those who don't know they are looking for the truth? For those that ignore their dual identities and the events that subreptiously lead their lives to some extent? A driving force, either self-destructive or self-constructive? This is basically, what I'm most interested in commenting.

2. Silence and our identity

Definitions of this silence according to Diana:

[] Silence appears in a double-edged hue; as the ground of our identity, and at the same time, obstacle in its recognition.

[] Many of us have believed all through the years this happened only in our very families.

Now my two cents:

I think in accordance to Diana that we all have participated unknowingly in this silence; 2nd and 3rd generation. The Israeli society itself has participated in this preclusive and sickening silence; but it doesn't end there in my opinion. The world itself has participated in those silences, the west has silenced up to the outrageous consequences of the Shoah for the Jewish people, and of the 2nd World War for the rest of the victims of the Nazi; the Russians, the Homosexuals, the Anarchist Clergy, the Resistance; no one is excluded from this group. The son and grandsons of those survivors in any context (Jewish or not) have been excluded from the circles of pity and remembrance; our testimonies as post-survivors have been forsaken, have never been taken into account. The once-again evident idealization of the Jew, the strong powerful and almost criminal State of Israel is part of those idealizations; the contemporary Jewish mentality and social dicotomy, we're all part of the mistification of the Holocaust in one hand, and of those "plugged ears" to the sounds of this phenomena, not exclusively for the Jewish people but in the context of the human kind as a whole.

True, apparently the 2nd World War would be the last armed conflict in Western Europe; the Europeans would "learn a lesson", following ulterior unification of the European states and that modest treaty of Rome in 1951 that would become 40 years later what we know today as the European Union, since the Maastricht treaties of 1994. What have we learnt from 2000 years of wars and anti-semitism? What have we learnt from the worst massive crime ever committed by a nation-group? Here, it's important to stress what Diana repeatedly says, that it wasn't simply an armed conflict in which the exhacerbated animosity of one people threw them into the massive extermination of other people (such as it was in the Russian and Khazak pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe); it was rather a mechanical bureaucracy that exterminated with full consent and "following orders" six million people, among them 1.5 million children and millions of orders that would die in Russia product of the war; Christians that were taken to the concentration camps because of their sympathy for the Jewish people. The Shoah would exterminate not only the best elements of our Jewry but also thousands of others. The 2nd World War would be the pivotal axe of other wars, of the American-Japanese war and an outstanding number of world crisis that would dramatically change the balance between poor and rich, strong and poor; in the aftermath of the events. Europe would build itself from the ashes where it was left, the rest of the world didn't happen to be as lucky, South America to give one example.

Decades of extreme social polarizations would follow the war, polarizations that once again awaken in the 21st century and knock in the door of our houses. I'm not blaming the German nation or its people for the sorrows of the contemporary world, for wars have been an historical determinant for the fate of whole nations and continents all throughout history; I'm just exposing the facts and yet noticing how precluded all those people that suffer and still suffer from what happened in the most civilized nation of the time; those people.... that still silence up. Those undermen. This takes me straight away to Diana's next conclusion:

3. The Shoah did NOT end

I wholeheartedly agree, for my grandparents, for my mother and for me, the Shoah didn't end, that's why I spend my time in these pages, trying to give it a rational end, as illogical as it sounds. I don't want to continue my life walking with that stone in the shoe; with that stone the last 2 generations of my family walked almost unknowingly. But I opened my eyes to the world of these challenges early in my adolescence and that painful world of unexplainable ideas, of unthinkable stories and unconceivable events would bring me down here, to the land of Israel. From here, I would start this search back to the beginning of my own personal story, my split Jewish identity, my national dicotomy and my position as an element of the Israeli society; sometimes a super-element, sometimes a sub-element.

Let's see what Diana says:

[] ... The war didn't end with the surrender of Germany. This is one of the lessons we're learning and that we owe to transmit to others.

[] ... It didn't end for those families of the "murdered" victims that will never find relief. (I personally belong to this category, I'd add... what about those who will never be able to trace their family history? To find their roots backs? To those that are already precluded from the world of their own inner-existence? To those that will never find the truth but will somehow hear the toxic noises all through their lives?)

[] ... It didn't end for those who survived, the appeared-victims and their families (We also belong to this category)

[] ... It didn't end for the perpetrators, neither for their sons, victims they didn't bear in mind (Diana elucidates this somewhere in the book, it's devastating actually).

[] ... It didn't end either, and perhaps this is the heaviest consequence, the hardest to bear upon, for the whole human kind that must learn to commute with this new conscience about what men can do to other men.

4. Our mission

This is one of the parts in which I feel most sincerely touched by the work of Diana; I believe I make part of this group too. I met all through my life a few others of my condition, unaware, ignorant, dazzled, clouded by the weight of this history they're contemptuously unaware of. I just would like to complement.

"We're part of the consequences of the Shoah, our lives and testimonies can testify about what takes place product of a war and in situations of human extra-polarizations, humiliation, victimization, intolerance and dehumanization".

I couldn't agree more, I'm one of those. Probably my life is one of those lives that despite its lack of meaning and simplicity can be put up as an example for the wrong-doings of a generation. I'm not underestimating myself or awakening pitiful remarks; being a writer and an intellectual has nothing of degrading or meaningless or wrongdoing; but we'll start explaining it at some other point. Some pivotal axes will collide at some point and will elucidate the "edging" between life, history and thought (the story of thinking and being thought).

"We, our sons and their sons carry with us the memory of shame, humiliation and the reach of those Frankensteins of blood and flesh"

I don't think I need to comment on this one (for now).

"Maybe the mission is only an expression of yearning and desire after so much experience of impotence and frustration, an inner need to find a more trascendent sense to this search in which we're engaged"

I sympathize; probably this "search" and entering the sounds of such silences is more of a personal issue, we do it for ourselves, we do it for our families, to save us from the misery of those stones in the shoe. To lift ourselves up, to find relief. The relief that only those who experience the sounds that come with the silence, can find.

This topic ends with the most powerful words, yet so simple... devoid of our intellectual procrastination;

Perhaps it will not serve any purpose
Perhaps nobody will hear
Not even to us

This is probably our only pursuance, being heard, such as other before us were never heard; we feel the inner need to rescue ourselves from the razorblades of silence and make our voice heard; as much as my Israeli colleagues would harshly criticize this enterprise, I believe we're not as strong as we might think we are. We all need our time for some "soul searching" and it might take months, years or a whole lifetime even, yet it's necessary with start with something, somewhere. The Shoah might be my starting point, because I'm involved somehow with it, it belongs to a darkening and not easy to bear past I carry with me, ever since the most innocent childhood. A heavy past that screws tightly the super-structures of my life every once in a while. And for me, it's time to see inside the stone in my shoe, to look up into it. It might be revealing.


The reasons of silence?

Diana makes a proposal, rather an exhaustive topics that are meant to open up for us the universe of the Shoah, the universe of those who silenced up.

I'll follow her model, and will devote one separate essay to each topic.

1. The post-war society didn't want to hear
2. There were no words, linguistic inability
3. The categories of sufferance, inheroicity and its relation with silence
4. To avoid the future generations to suffer what we've suffered (as long as they don't know, they'll be able to live a normal life)
5. The break of the continuum, the "Gap"
6. The collective memory and the other memories

There I'll start.

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