April 21, 2012

David Landy: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel

It's a great pleasure to post links to these videos from a recent talk given by David Landy in Berlin. David has the distinction of having actually researched and reflected critically on what he talks about, an almost unheard of behavior among people who specialize in talking about Jews. His calm, factual deflation of the hyperventilating "Zionist left" (c) first question during the discussion put a big smile on my face.
Welcome by Christoph Holzhey | 1:45

Introduction by Anaheed Al-Hardan | 3:45

Lecture by David Landy, part 1 | 23:20

Lecture by David Landy, part 2 | 17:15

Discussion, part 1 | 23:15

Discussion, part 2 | 19:25

Since I wasn't there, let me ask David what I would have liked to ask if I were there.

You talk about the work of activists representing a distant field within a local field as translation/appropriation. What about agency/subjectivity? Is it by chance that all our words for, for lack of a better term, the self-assertion of the Sarterian/Hegelian "being for itself," carry a double and almost oxymoronic meaning? To be a Subject is both to be in possession of itself and "subjected" to an external imposition. To be an agent means both to self-actualize and to represent someone else. It seems to me that one has to consider the question of translation/appropriation within that duality (or, to use Lacan's terminology, extimacy of the subject.). Worrying about "erasing Palestinian agency" is necessary to the extent that it is part of a reflection about one's own location and one's own agency. But there is a way of engaging with that which you seem to do sometimes that is almost as a pure anxiety about the other as such, and that anxiety itself reproduces the kind of "savior complex" that is part of a lot of what you call "distant area activism" in the West. After all, it should be a given that, as a white Jew living in the West, I cannot make present the quality of being Palestinian in any local field, and that pretending or seeking to do so would and should be politically suspect. I can only (partially) re-present, translate, intervene, shift and rearrange, and the ethics of these actions is inherently bound to my own agency (in its double determination) in all the fields in which I am present. That is, rather than starting from the relation with Palestinians, and ranking various groups according to how well they incorporate or are true to representing the distant field, shouldn't the point of departure for all criticism be more expressly political, namely, a question of what a political agent is agent of, and how that agency is understood and put into practice?

In a way, to clarify, my critique here is partially also a question about the choice of Bourdieu's sociological framework. Because for Bourdieu, the virtue of the field/habitus logic is that it objectivises systems of symolic domination and makes visible the mechanisms of invisibility within them (It's like blowing smoke to make light rays appear in a room). But within the idea of revolutionary politics, what Bourdieu calls habitus and field is problematized (as death drive, or Thermidor, or simply as death, to take St. Paul as reference). So isn't the use of the field/habitus framework applied to movements at risk of excluding revolutionary politics in advance, or, if it is included, to describe it from the perspective of its death?


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