Mohamed Hamoud Kassim Al-Mahfedi,
Ph.D Research Scholar,
Department of Studies in English,
University of Mysore,
Said is a remarkable instance of a thinker for whom fair critical consciousness is a kind of archaeological excavation of the buried, forgotten, repressed and denied past. His main goal is to undo the dual relationship between power and knowledge and to set free human thinking from the ideological convictions that hinder human coexistence and harmony. In this paper, I try to pinpoint one of his critical potentials as a free intellectual who fairly breaks with his filiatve bonds to a wholeheartedly affiliative world of human history as a whole. The paper focuses on his dialogistic readings of Freud’s examination of Jewish identity in his book Moses and Monotheism.
Though he emphasizes Freud’s secular position regarding the identitarian jargon of the concept, Said points to Freud’s bias against the non-Europeans: “I don’t think that in cultural terms non-European primitive peoples and cultures were as fascinating to him as were the people and stories of Ancient Greece, Rome and Israel. The latter were his real predecessors in terms of images and concepts.” (15) Yet, Said was very much conscious to Freud’s cultural classification that superficially, but, not necessarily,
different from theories about Semites propounded by Orientalists like Renan, and racial thinkers such as Gobineau and Wagner who underlined the foreignness and the excludability of Jews – as well as Arabs, … to Graeco-Germanic-Aryan culture. Freud’s view of Moses as both insider and outsider is extraordinarily interesting and challenging.” (16)
Although he underscores Freud’s “Eurocentric view of culture,” he excuses him because “he lived before the massive population shifts” and colonial legacies and postcolonial and decolonized conditions that brought different cultures and situations into a single slot. (16)
The “non-European” is the term that Said wants to explore through his reading of Freud’s Moses and Jewish identity:
“the non-European” that I’d like to draw attention to is the culture that emerged historically in the post-World-War-Two period – that is after the fall of the classical empires and the emergence of many newly liberated peoples and states in Africa, Asia and the Americas … the constellation of words and valences that surrounds Europe and the West acquired a much more fraught and even rebarbative meaning from observers outside Europe and the West. (17)
These are the cases that Frantz Fanon dealt with in his posthumously published book, The Wretched of the Earth (1968), especially in his appendix entitled “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders.” Fanon notes that to European, the non-European world contains only natives, and “veiled women, the palm trees, and the camels make up the landscape, the natural background to the human presence of the French.” He also shows how the native is diagnosed by the European clinical psychiatrist as a savage killer who kills for no reason, Fanon cites Professor A. Porot who considered natives life is dominated by “diencephalic urges” whose net result is an undevelopable primitivism. (Fanon, The Wretched 250) he quotes a chilling passage from a learned analysis made by Porot:
This primitivism is not merely a way of living which is the result of a special upbringing; it has much deeper roots. We even consider that it must have its substratum in a particular predisposition of the architectonic structure, or at least in the dynamic hierarchization of nervous centers … the Algerian has no cortex; … he is dominated, like the inferior vertebrates, by the diencephalons. (301)
The point for Fanon is that when you extend all the scientific achievements of European science into the of practice colonialism, Europe ceases to occupy a normative position with regard to the native. Hence, Fanon proclaims:
Europe undertook the leadership of the world with ardor, cynicism, and violence … Europe has declined all humility and all modesty; but she has also set her face against all solicitude and tenderness. …When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negation of man, and an avalanche of murders. (311-12)
Following Fanon, Said rejects the European model entirely and demands instead that all human beings collaborate in the invention of what Fanon calls “the new man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth”. (313) According to Said, Fanon’s “main purpose […] is to indict Europe for having divided human beings into a hierarchy of races that reduced and dehumanized the subordinates to both the scientific gaze and the will of the superiors.” (21)
The gist of Said’s attack on the colonial Europe which was furthered by subsequent critics of Eurocentrism takes on
Europe’s historiography, the claims of its universalism, its definition of civilization, its Orientalism, and its uncritical acceptance of a paradigm of progress that placed what Huntington has called “the West” at the center of an encroaching mass of lesser civilizations trying to challenge the West’s supremacy. (22)
He further argues that “there is no doubt that the whole idea of cultural difference itself – especially today – is far from the inert thing taken for granted by Freud” (22). In this regard, he tries to judiciously talk about the colonial legacy and the emergent postcolonial condition that posed new cultural outlook. Therefore, he refers to the critical reception that his comments – especially those regarding his critical analysis of Austen and Marx:
I have often been interpreted as retrospectively attacking great writers and thinkers like Jane Austen and Karl Marx because some of their ideas seem politically incorrect by the standards of our time. That is a stupid notion which … is not true of anything I have either written or said … On the contrary, I am always trying to understand figures from the past whom I admire, even as I point out how bound they were by the perspectives of their own cultural moment as far as their views of other cultures and peoples were concerned. … it is imperative to read them as intrinsically worthwhile for today’s non-European or non-Western reader, who is often either happy to dismiss them altogether as dehumanizing or insufficiently aware of the colonized people or reads them, in a way, above the historical circumstances of which they were so much a part. My approach is to see them in their context as accurately as possible.” (23-4)
To present the discoveries and recognitions of the postcolonial dynamics, he resorts to reading these writers and thinkers “contrapuntally, that is, as figures whose writing travels across temporal, cultural and ideological boundaries in unforeseen ways to emerge as part of a new ensemble along with later history and subsequent art” (24). This later history reopens and challenges what seems to have been the finality of an earlier figure of thought, bringing it into contact with cultural, political and epistemological formations. So, Said underlies, “the often surprising dynamics of human history can … dramatize the latencies in a prior figure or form that suddenly illuminate the present”. He also stresses that “text that are inertly of their time stay
there: those which brush up unstintingly against historical constraints are the ones w keep with us generation after generation” (24, 26-7)
As Said observes, “Freud was an explorer of the mind but also, in the philosophical sense, an overturner and re-mapper of accepted or settled geographies and genealogies.” (27) This is because his archeologically scientific excavation of the Jewish identity and its genealogy had destabilizing effect on the concept of geography, and it was also embedded in the power of geopolitical configurations of the territorial and cultural identity of the people and landscape. So, Freud the scientist looking for objective results in his investigation, and Freud the Jewish intellectual probing his own relationship with his ancient faith through the history and the identity of its founder, are never really brought into a tidy fit with each other. Everything about the treatise suggests not resolution and reconciliation … but, rather, more complexity and a willingness to let irreconcilable elements of the work remain as they are: episodic, fragmentary, unfinished. (28)
The core of Freud’s argument is that if monotheism, and necessarily Moses, was genetically Egyptian, it has been historically Jewish: “it is honor enough for the Jewish people that it kept alive such a tradition and produced men who lent it their voices, even if the stimulus had first come from the outside, from a great stranger” (Freud, Moses and Monotheism 63 italics added)
So, it is a matter of “belonging” and “national interests” that seems dominating the philosophical dimension of the discussion. The sarcasm in the statement “to deny a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its son” (Freud, 3) lies in the thought of the sake of “national interests”; “its willingness to subordinate the interests of a whole people to what is more important: the removal o a religion’s source from its place inside the community and history of like-minded believers” (Said 32). The theoretical speculations spilled by Freud was crowned by his speech he delivered before the Jewish National Fund saying that it was “a great and blessed … instrument … in its endeavor to establish a new home in the ancient land of our fathers” (Yerushalmi Freud’s Moses 13)
However, the “foreignness” of the Jews was problematized by Freud through binary concepts of “European/non-European” which sinisterly acquire dramatic resonance in Jew- versus-non-European and non-Jew opposition in the unfolding narrative of Zionist settlement in Palestine. Said remarks “By 1948 the relevant non-Europeans were embodied in the indigenous Arabs of Palestine … in the years after 1948, when Israel was established as a Jewish state in Palestine … there occurred anew re-schematization of races and peoples… In this setting, Israel was internationally adopted by the Atlantic West (in fact had already been granted early title to Palestine the Belfour Declaration of 1917) as, in effect, a quasi-European state whose fate … was to hold non-European indigenous peoples at bay for as long as possible”. (41-2)
What happened in Palestine nowadays is the aftermath of colonial legacy that produced a new geo-political map. It is a continuous and consistent colonialist/Orientalist project that marked the “non-European” as a foreign “Other” even to his/her place land and culture. “The main classificatory stipulation inside Israel,” Said observes “is that it is a state for Jews “whereas non-Jews, absent or present … were juridically made foreigners, despite residence there.” He highlights that “the actuality of the non-European was its constitutive presence as a sort of fissure in the figures of Moses – founder of Judaism – but an unreconstructed non-Jewish Egyptian none the less.” (42)
This geopolitically colonial move has a devastating effect on the life of a whole nation whose people are subjected to discriminatory and dehumanizing process that victimized,
deposed, and confiscated the human rights of them as a foreign “Other”. It is no doubt that out of the “travails of the specifically European anti-Semitism, the establishment of Israel in a non- European territory consolidated Jewish identity politically in a state that took very specific legal and political positions effectively to seal off that identity from anything that was non-Jewish.” (43)
According to Said, history unfolds that Palestine is a cosmopolitan world that contains within itself the three major religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and consequently, reflects a multicultural historic place of all humanity. Even Freud referred to this fact when he insisted in excavating the archaeology of Jewish identity that it
did not begin with itself but, rather, with other identities (Egyptian and Arabian) … This other non-Jewish, non-European history has now been erased, no longer to be found in so far as an official Jewish identity is concerned. …of the consequences of Israel’s establishment, non-Jews –
- in this case, Palestinians — have been displaced. … I think I am right in surmising that Freud mobilized the non-European past in order to undermine any doctrinal attempt that might be made to put Jewish identity on a sound foundational basis. (44-5)
These archaeological claims, however, uncannily return us not just to the archival site of Jewish identity as explored by Freud, but to its forcibly sanctioned geographical locale, modern Israel. This revisionist attempt was used to produce a new positive structure of Jewish history. In her book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (2002), Nadia Abu el-Haj provides a history of systematic colonial archaeological exploration in Palestine, dating back to British work in the mid-nineteenth century. She then continues the story in the period before Israel is established, connecting the actual practice of archaeology with a nascent national ideology of possessing the land through renaming and settling. This effort, she argues, epistemologically prepares the way for a fully fledged post- 1948 sense of Israeli-Jewish identity based on assembling discrete archaeological particulars into a sort of spatial biography out of which Israel emerges “visibly and linguistically, as the Jewish national home” (74). Therefore, for an Israeli, archaeology rationalizes the colonial settlement.
By returning to Freud’s argument and his attempt to reconstruct the primitive history of Jewish identity, he conspicuously made it clear that the Jews “were mainly to be thought of as European, or at least belonging to Europe rather than Asia or Africa.” (Said 50)
What is compelling about Said is his suggestion of Freud’s cosmopolitan tendency
by way of refusing to resolve identity into some of the nationalist or religious herds in which so many people want to desperately to run. More bold is Freud’s profound exemplification of the insight that even for the most definable, the most identifiable, the most stubborn communal identity … there are inherent limits that prevent it from being fully incorporated into one, and only one, Identity. (53-4)
The strength of this thought is that it can be articulated by “attending to it as a troubling, disabling, destabilizing secular wound – the essence of the cosmopolitan …” This is because “identity cannot be thought or worked through itself alone; it cannot constitute or even imagine itself without that radical originary break or flaw which will not be repressed”. Therefore, and in the light of his trend toward a bi-national state, he asks, “Can it ever become the not-so- precarious foundation in the land of Jews and Palestinians of a bi-national state in which Israel and Palestine are parts, rather than antagonists of each other’s history and underlying reality? I myself believe so – as much because Freud’s unresolved sense of identity is so fruitful an example”. (54, 55)
Undoubtedly, the concept of identity is a problematically postcolonial concept that cannot be analyzed in a simplistic way. But, it can conspicuously said that “national” identity is more concerned with the “filiative” elements such as community bonds and social relations and race while “cultural” is affiliatively governed by a wider range of elements that connect it to other socio-political and cultural set up that go beyond the limited terms of nation and national conventions. Therefore, it can easily be inferred that while Freud is nationally filiated to his community and identity, Said is culturally affiliated to the human history at large. According to Stephen Frosh, “Freud’s Jewish identity seems without doubt to have had a massive influence on the form and content of his psychoanalytic discoveries and on the formation of the movement itself” (Frosh 309-10). “These Jewish origins” Frosh argues
had a very substantial effect on the content of psychoanalysis, particularly in respect of the rationalist values to which it committed itself, as well as on its social relations –the intense, family-like bonds with which its adherents have always been characterised, in turn leading to schisms and passionate advocacy of belief structures, sometimes irrespective of anything that might resemble evidence. (310)
Unlike Freud, Said’s concern, however, is coexistence, cultural dialogue and interaction. This is no evidently clearer than in his advocacy of a bi-national state that brings both Palestinians and Israelis together in a harmonious coexistence. The insistence on a Jewish state exclusively for the Jews is the utmost and highest form of racial and inhuman action that humanity would endure in the contemporary democratic world. Besides, the taking away the land of its residence and deposing its people on the ground of racial and national interests is itself another stigmatic sign in the history of human history.
Abu el-haj, Nadia. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self- Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1968.
Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism. Trans. Katherine Jones. New York: Vintage, 1967.
Said, Edward W. Freud and Non-European. London: Verso, 2003.
Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
Frosh, S. “Freud, Psychoanalysis and Anti-Semitism.” The Psychoanalytic Review. 91. 3 (2004) 309-330.