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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Erasing the Forgotten: Has Gaza Eluded the Historical Memory of Poetry?


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The moment Al Zafer building was hit: photo via Issam Sammour on twitter, 24 August 2014



Hamid Dabashi: Gaza: Poetry after Auschwitz

'To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.' Is writing poetry after Gaza also barbaric?
via Al Jazeera, 8 August 2014

In a memorable and much cited passage in Cultural Criticism and Society (1949), Theodor Adorno, the eminent German philosopher who spent a good portion of his life in the US following the Nazi takeover of his homeland, famously said: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today."

Later in his thinking, Adorno reconsidered the assessment, but the power and shock of this thinking has endured.

What did Adorno mean, exactly, by that phrase? How could writing poetry after a calamity such as Auschwitz, and by extension a horror like the Holocaust, be something barbaric? Doesn't poetry console in moments of mourning and despair? And more to the point today: Is writing poetry after Gaza also barbaric? What would that mean?

The preeminent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is no longer alive. But were he alive today, how would he react to the carnage in Gaza? He would have either committed suicide like the magnificent Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi who did so in protest against the brutish Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, or he would respond with his poetry.

So how would we read Adorno's pronouncement today -- after the barbaric slaughter of Palestinians by Israelis in Gaza?

First, let's put what Adorno said in context. In his essay, Adorno asserts that "the traditional transcendent critique of ideology is obsolete", meaning "there are no more ideologies in the authentic sense of false consciousness, only advertisements for the world through its duplication and the provocative lie which does not seek belief but commands silence".

We have, he is saying, hit a narrative cul-de-sac in our critique of ideology, for we are integral to that ideology. The insularity of that ideology has now metastasised into shades upon shades of advertisements, which engulf and transmute the very nature of our critical faculties. Ideology has become amorphous.
Adorno is after all critic of what he calls "the total society", a society where everything, including cultural criticism, has been brought into being, concretised, the critic and the subject of his or her criticism indistinguishable.

"The more total society becomes," Adorno suggests, "the greater the reification of the mind and the more paradoxical its effort to escape reification on its own."
In other words, you cannot save a society via a cultural critique that in its critical language continues to exacerbate that reification.

It is right here that Adorno suddenly adds: "Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today."

Why that is the case? "Through the crudity and severity of the notion of causality, [cultural criticism] claims to hold up a mirror to society's own crudity and severity, to its debasement of the mind. But the sinister, integrated society of today no longer tolerates even those relatively independent, distinct moments to which the theory of the causal dependence of superstructure on base once referred."

Therefore it is near impossible for cultural criticism to find a moral space outside the culture it wishes to criticise. We are here in a hall of mirrors, where culture and cultural criticism keep reflecting each other, generating the illusion of defiance, consolation, liberation -- but in effect plunging us ever deeper into the abyss.

An open-air prison

It is here that, in an uncanny sentence written in 1949, Adorno uses a metaphor that points decades forward to Gaza:

"In the open-air prison which the world is becoming, it is no longer so important to know what depends on what, such is the extent to which everything is one."

By "open-air prison", he of course means a society in which everything is totalised, homogenised, and has become one -- and thus the fusion of the moral and the material, the ideological and the political, the superstructure and infrastructure has become a concrete totality.

But hasn't Gaza, as a camp -- a concentration or internment camp -- also become that reified totality of the world the way Adorno diagnosed it?

In his Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999), the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben examined the literature of the survivors of Auschwitz, dwelling on the ethical questions they entail. But the testimonial distance between Auschwitz and Gaza is precisely where Adorno's cul-de-sac rests its case. 

This much is all known and familiar to students of Adorno. Now the question is when we fast forward from 1949 when he wrote that essay to today, when we are witness to the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, what do we see? Today how are we to read Adorno's phrase that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric"?

Look at Israeli society today, when it has unleashed its gargantuan military machine against a mostly defenceless population. Rape their women, cries one Israeli to his comrades-in-arms, kill their entire population so they won't breed more "little snakes", echoes an Israeli member of parliament. Burn them alive and watch them die, then go on a hilltop to watch even more of them slaughtered by your army.

Kill them as they play on the beach, kill them in the playground, kill their crippled, kill them as they pray in their mosque. Destroy their homes and flatten an entire neighbourhood, maim and murder them in UN school shelters and then gather gleefully to sing: "Tomorrow there's no school in Gaza, they don't have any children left."

Just for good measure, so no one could misinterpret any of this, one Israeli newspaper published a a reader's blog openly calling for the "permissible genocide" of Palestinians.

What does all of this amount to? Doesn't it come together to define what Zionism actually means today, as compared with its original potential? They said there were no Palestinians. Today, Palestinians are Palestinians, if by nothing else, by virtue of a history of unconscionable suffering and heroic defiance. What are Israelis? Who are Israelis? They are Israelis by virtue of what? By a shared and sustained murderous history -- from Deir Yassin in 1948 to Gaza in 2014. Is that not Zionism, the ideological foundation stone of being an Israeli?

'Barbarism manifest'

This macabre chorus of death is the poetry that Israelis are singing upon the graveyard of Gaza. "Death to Arabs", cry mobs in Tel Aviv -- for this is the poetry of Zionism for Gaza. This is what Adorno meant when he said, "after Auschwitz poetry is barbarism". This is what he had diagnosed, this is what he had anticipated. Israel is the puerile poetry after Auschwitz. It is barbarism manifest -- and in that it is the microcosm of the world it inhabits, from Saudi Arabia and Egypt that support it, to Iran and Turkey that feign to oppose it, from the US and Europe that arm it, to China and Russia that look for lucrative business within it. And it is precisely this world at large, crystallised in Israel, that Adorno saw, diagnosed, and feared.

But the terror of that barbaric poetry is heavy. After Gaza, not a single living Israeli can utter the word "Auschwitz" without it sounding like "Gaza". Auschwitz as a historical fact is now archival. Auschwitz as a metaphor is now Palestinian.

From now on, every time any Israeli, every time any Jew, anywhere in the world, utters the word "Auschwitz", or the word "Holocaust", the world will hear "Gaza". That is the sublime truth of Adorno's phrase, for, as Primo Levi saw it as early as 1982, in the aftermath of yet another Palestinian slaughter: "Today, the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis." Thus today Zionism -- as sung by these murderous thugs in the streets of Tel Aviv -- is the barbarism Adorno warned after Auschwitz.

But what about Gaza? What about poetry after Gaza -- the poetry of Palestinians, of Arabs, of any human being bearing witness to the slaughter in Gaza? The answer to this daunting question is no longer with Adorno but with another Jewish thinker of his time, who saw the dark clouds of Nazi terror gathering much sooner than all of them combined and ultimately opted to end his life before they flooded his world with their dreadful and deadly rain.

Between Walter Benjamin's suicide in 1940 on the border between France and Spain, running away from the banality of Nazi evil, and Khalil Hawi's suicide in 1982, in protest against the Zionist invasion and occupation of his homeland, the fate of all our metaphors and allegories after Gaza was written and sealed.

Where Adorno saw concrete totality, Benjamin saw ruinous fragments, and from the shattered concrete blocks of Gaza under the mighty bombs of the US and Israel, Benjamin anticipated the messianic rise of earth-shattering allegories for our future fears, foretelling our fantasies of freedom. While in Adorno the vile and diabolic Zionism that Netanyahu interprets and exercises is the confirmation of his thought that after Auschwitz all poetry is barbaric, in the very same ruins of Gaza, right next to the broken skulls of dead Palestinian children, dwells the rising seeds of our future world -- fearful, phantasmagoric, deadening, inaugural.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.


The IOF asking the people in this building near my house [Al Zafer no. 4 residential tower] to immediately evacuate!: photo via Sabreena-Gaza on twitter, 24 August 2014

Report: AlZafer no. 4 building totally destroyed: photo via WhateverinGaza on twitter, 24 August 2014
Smoke seen after a Massive Explosion nearby 7:25 pm. The entire tower was shaking: photo via Culé MD Gaza on twitter, 25 August 2014



Al Zafer building, moments after the strike: photo via Shaima' Ziara on twitter, 24 August 2014



Al Zafer building, after the strike: photo via Shaima' Ziara on twitter, 24 August 2014



13-story Al Zafer residential building razed to the ground after IOF airstrike; 16 injuries reported so far: photo via Omar Daraghmeh on twitter, 24 August 2014



13-story Al Zafer building razed to the ground after IOF airstrike; 16 injuries reported so far: photo via Omar Daraghmeh on twitter, 24 August 2014
This building used to house 360 people now they are all homeless from Israel strike to the tower..: photo via Falasteen on twitter, 24 August 2014
Nothing left to tell their stories... except melting metal: photo via Ahmed Tharwat on twitter, 24 August 2014

Some families taking tents as shelters next to their damaged flats the day after Israel's targeting of the 13-story Al Zafer residential tower: photo via Dalia Labadibi-Gaza on twitter, 25 August 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Palestinians search through the ruins of their homes after Israel destroys 13-story Al Zafer residential tower: photo by Dan Cohen, 25 August 2014
 Ali Bin Abi Taleb Mosque: destroyed by israel for being a mosque...: photo via Gaza Writes Back on twitter, 25 August 2014
That moment!: photo via Mohammed Y. Ismail on twitter, 25 August 2014


More and more attacks hit Gaza... As the 50th day comes to an end, people still under attack: photo via Falasteen on twitter,  25 August 2014


Israeli occupation forces destroy an entire neighbourhood: photo via ISM Palestine on twitter, 25 August 2014

 
Israeli rockets: destruction: photo via Mohammed M Abu Sadaa on twitter, 24 August 2014

The UN says 70 percent of the Palestinians who have died in Gaza were civilians: photo via Al-Akhbar English on twitter, 24 August 2014
Nader al-Masri, Palestinian Olympic athlete and his father at the ruins of their family home: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014
A Palestinian is carried from the rubble of a building bombed by Israel in Gaza on Saturday: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014

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Now many injuries at Alshifa hospital after an airstrike on one of the citizens' homes in Gaza
: photo via Solidarity Gaza on twitter, 25 August 2014
Doctors, Nurses & Paramedics of Gaza...... these are my Heroes: photo via Sabry Wazwaz on twitter, 24 August 2014
Family of five killed as Israel bombs Gaza homes, mosques: photo via Falasteen on twitter, 24 August 2014
Gaza every minute...: photo via Falasteen on twitter, 24 August 2014



Israeli warplanes targeted the House of Al-Dahdouh, South of Gaza City today: photo via CemDM on twitter, 24 August 2014


Israeli warplanes targeted the House of Al-Dahdouh, South of Gaza City today: photo via CemDM on twitter, 24 August 2014


Israeli warplanes targeted the House of Al-Dahdouh, South of Gaza City today: photo via CemDM on twitter, 24 August 2014




Israeli warplanes targeted the House of Al-Dahdouh, South of Gaza City today: photo via CemDM on twitter, 24 August 2014
Rafah sky covered with smoke after the strike: Israel hit a building in Rafah just moments ago...: photo via Falasteen on twitter, 24 August 2014


The largest shopping center in Rafah city burns in the early morning of 24 August: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014



Good morning from Gaza, 24th August: The remnants of the largest shopping center in Rafah city: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014



Good morning from Gaza, 24th August: The remnants of the largest shopping center in Rafah city: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014


Good morning from Gaza, 24th August: The remnants of the largest shopping center in Rafah city: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 24 August 2014
Israelis bombed the Italian tower that used to house 100 families now they are all homeless...: photo via Gaza Under Attack on twitter, 25 August 2014


Italian tower that was targeted by Israel last night by Terrorist Israel!!: photo via Sara Alsagga on twitter, 26 August 2014
Remains of Italian Mall tower in Gaza, struck in overnight Israeli raids: photo via Ramy Hossain on twitter, 26 August 2014
Archived photo of the Basha building, which Israel just now completely flattened with 4 F-16 missiles: image via Linah Alsaafin on twitter, 26 August 2014
Albasha tower now: image via Occupied Air / Manic on twitter, 26 August 2014



This is AlBasha tower that was bombed more than five times last night by Israeli F16s...: photo via falasteen on twitter, 26 August 2014



This is AlBasha tower that was bombed more than five times last night by Israeli F16s...: photo via falasteen on twitter, 26 August 2014


This is AlBasha tower that was bombed more than five times last night by Israeli F16s...: photo via falasteen on twitter, 26 August 2014

 
Five Palestinians including three children killed in airstrike on Gaza home: photo via ISM Palestine on twitter, 24 August 2014
 
 
One of two twins born during this assault, killed when airstrike targeted their home: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 25 August 2014
 
 
It's not a toy -- it's a prosthesis: photo via Gaza Under Attack on twitter, 25 August 2014
 
 
"Doctor, please, I don't want to die!" this little girl said: photo via Omar Ghraieb on twitter, 25 August 2014
 
 
His eyes: "WHY THE HELL..."?: photo via Mohammed Y. Ismail on twitter, 25 August 2014
 
 
The Gaza look...: photo via Falasteen on twitter, 25 August 2014

We never forget Sara Omar Sheikh al-Eid, killed by shrapnel: photo via List of War Victims on twitter, 24 August 2014

Holding his hand & trying to convince him that one day the World might get better: photo via Dr Bassel Abuwarda on twitter, 26 August 2014 
We Don't Forget Yasser Zaki Abu Madi, killed by tank shells: photo via List of War Victims on twitter, 24 August 2014
No loss can be compared to that of a parent losing one or all of his children! A dad's cry of pain: photo via Omar Ghraieb on twitter, 25 August 2014
The day began with the new school year starting in Palestine, while remaining deferred in the Gaza Strip: photo via Shereen ElOkka on twitter, 24 August 2014
Gaza children mark first day of school, but no lessons: photo by AFP via Joe Catron on twitter, 24 August 2014

9 comments:

TC said...

A view of the moment of destruction of Al Zafer residential block no. 4

... and another...

and another...

There's a school of thought that holds that this tall-building-demolition phase of the terror is some kind of bizarro anniversary celebration, what with the clever early-autumnal timing, the towers madly falling, the black smoke, the circumabient rubble, the airborne toxins, the firefighters getting hosed... but then, school isn't open.

Wooden Boy said...

What has happened haunts everything. When I put pen to paper I say to my self: I am not writing about Gaza. When I put pen to paper I remember those are our bombs, our drones, etc. and nothing shows up more than the poem's futility.

Where are we writing from? Who are we when we write?

I hadn't heard of Dabashi before: this is someone whose writing we need.

Hazen said...

This question has been much on my mind lately; I'm grateful for Dabashi posing it again so eloquently. What can one say in the face of everyday barbarity? But then, silence seems shameful too. For Tel Aviv, the barbarous has become commonplace. Barbarity is now policy, a way of waging death, a scripturally inspired madness. Israel has become the Fourth Reich.

TC said...

Great thanks to both of you, Duncan and Hazen, persons of conscience, for hanging in there. It hasn't been easy.

The long night of the towers falling seems to have been Israel's signature at the bottom of the document inscribing the fifty nights in which it achieved a paramount place in the history of brutal and senseless warmaking.

That no one knows or cares about history anymore helped. That American coma-bags dressed up as "folks" (thank you Mr Potus) care more about the "lifestyle" of the bacterial cultures in their navels than they do about anything remotely connected with the real world -- that obviously helped too.

But it's now clear that if there is a history of that real world, and that history has a dust-bin for the particularly foul, America, by condoning and enabling this one-sided Zionist war, has forever conjoined itself with Israel, in it.

On the other hand, very few Americans will have noticed, and fewer still will care.

__

Outside this country, by the way, the possibility of a historical reckoning has actually been floated. Here's Ben White, writing three weeks ago -- and keeping in mind this was before the latest über-blitzkrieg stages:

A report in Haaretz a week ago said that more than 30,000 artillery shells had landed in Gaza, in addition to the then-4,000 "targets" struck by airstrikes. It is vital to recall, when considering the bigger picture of Israel's military operations, that the army's own legal advice strips civilians of their protected status, in what has been described as "a 'targeted assassination' of the principles of international law".

Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for the anticipated legal ramifications of its war crimes – a reasonable expectation given the calls already made by the likes of Amnesty International for an arms embargo, as well as the UN Human Rights Commission inquiry.

According to the Israeli media, for domestic consumption officials describe the damage done to Gaza "as the main deterrent" – but "play down this claim in the international arena", as they are "aware the destruction will have serious political ramifications". On July 10, a military source claimed that when "Gaza residents see the great damage to the Strip", it "will speak for itself".

The Israeli military has already established a team "in case the army is accused of war crimes" consisting of senior army officials, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Their remit also includes "organizing a diplomatic and public relations offensive".

Ben White: Israel's Atrocities in Gaza Prompt Unprecedented Political Fallout (8 August)

TC said...

Talking of historical memory, though...

It would be a shame were any of our short-attention-span AIPAC donors to have missed out on the heart-stopping real-time footage from Gaza featuring the worst terror their money could buy...

(Just to bring things a bit closer to home, just imagine that exploded and collapsing structure to the left of your screen was, oh, what... an apartment building on the Concourse?)

And then, ceremonial incense for Bibi, the eerie silence and funereal pall of smoke rising from the rubble, on the morning after that tower came down...

On the other hand, seeing that the Avigdor Lieberman wing of the Fourth Reich is already grieving over the body-parts that got away, maybe at the moment it's an ashes-and-aloes chaser our sado-maso-Zio-trolls will have a taste for... how about a brief check on what dawn felt like today, amid the ruins of those who had miraculously defeated the mechanical force of mighty arms with nothing but spirit...

Right. Honk-honk. Get on with it. Awaken from the nightmare, attempt to rebuild something like a normal life...

And who's going to take on the massive reconstruction? Will it be left to the endlessly resilient roosters of Gaza to provide the signal of inspiration?

Do we hear the jingling of the reparations shekels in the basket, over there beyond the comfortable outdoor atrocity-viewing sofas of Sderot, yet?

But wait... Reparations -- for whom? The Forgotten?

Oy, who were they, again?

Curtis Faville said...

Lately, we've been getting revised historical accounts that focus in on Lincoln's strategic thinking towards the end of the Civil War.

Over and over again, we hear how it became a ruthless determination to "convince" the South by beating it into abject submission.

Which meant, if I understand it correctly, bludgeoning not just whole armies, but towns and civilians and train rails and roads and coal depots and water towers--the whole regional infrastructure.

This "convincing" I suppose is what I assume Israel is now determined to do, to beat down the Palestinian society and culture, to obliterate it into submission.

I see no way out of the conflict. Either you believe Israel has a "right to exist" as a "Jewish State" or you don't. You take sides with one or the other. Because there isn't a "brokered solution" to which either side will ever subscribe.

The killing and destruction is a testament to this unyielding determination. It is one-sided, and horrifying, and we all want it to stop. People are dying. They are also dying in dozens of other places in the world.

We live with this, every day. And it goes on.

TC said...

Curtis,

A couple of problems with the comparison.

In the US Civil War the North never suggested the people of the South were of a lesser order of being -- that is, not quite human.

The population of the North was made up predominantly of English-speaking people of Northern European descent, and the people of the South, likewise. Apart from their slaves, that is.

After all, let's not forget high-school Civics. The North had principle on its side. Slavery and apartheid are deeply inhumane. The "right" to own slaves was the principle on which the South went to war. Israel is an apartheid state. Its perceived "right" to remain that way, furthermore, includes the right to aggressive expansionism, the forcible apportionment of lands and resources, the "resettlement" of the lands of others by outsiders offered substantial incentives to colonize, and so on.

Then too, the methods and machinery of warfare in the Nineteenth Century were not what they are in the Twenty-first. Cruel, but not as cruel.

And finally, the North was not being financed, equipped, and encouraged by an outside government that empowered it to commit serial war crimes with impunity and with as little notice as possible.

That the enabling outsiders in this present case happen to be you and me and millions of other armchair saps like us... well, I can't help seeing that as an aggravating circumstance.

Please do keep in mind that in the end -- and this after nearly eight weeks of unmitigated horror too glaring to avoid or deny any longer -- it was not until so many little old ladies, little old men, unemployed social outcasts, and others excluded by the new tech-worshipping, security-obsessed, selfie-mesmerised, smartphone-bound, stock-portfolio-clutching society had bestirred themselves to speak out, however mildly, or act up, however seemingly ineffectively, but in considerable numbers, the cup of horror and revulsion had finally filled to the brim and spilled over into a caldron of international outrage -- seen and felt everywhere but in the US and its weak little sister Canada -- that a lid could at last come down over what must surely be one of the most lopsided, cowardly, barbarous wars waged by a dominant power against a virtually powerless enemy.

Keeping in mind that the fury now being expressed in Israel is not over having offered any real political concession -- after all their blockade remains in place, their terror drones still pollute the Gaza sky -- but over having had to call off the campaign of destruction just short of completing it by levelling Gaza to the ground and removing its population permanently.

If your historical research has caused you to conclude that Netanyahu = Lincoln, I'd suggest you consider some other sources of information.

Curtis Faville said...

Tom:

No, no, no.

It wasn't a comparion of men by any means. Nor a historical pairing.

I was just noting that the strategic principle of fighting with "honor" or "the rules of war" or "pity" or "respect" are finally set aside, and savagery is let loose. Anyone who ruthless bombs a grammar school, or an apartment building--well, what can one say?

Your eloquent indignation bespeaks a degree of fury that moves me. I've never been completely comfortable being an "armchair sap" but I'm willing to take the consequences of my apathy.

If we must choose between supporting Israel while living with its repugnant policies, versus withholding it and risking its vulnerability? . . . I'm not sure we have a good choice here.

The whole middle east is coming apart. It was never an organized group of nations, but a cobbled hodge-podge of unstable entities. The fake "nation states" created in the early part of the 20th Century by European colonialists and diplomats never had real viability. In this context, the birth and continued existence of Israel is just another example.

TC said...

Curtis,

"If we must choose between supporting Israel while living with its repugnant policies, versus withholding it and risking its vulnerability? . . . I'm not sure we have a good choice here."

First, "we" do not have a choice, much less a good choice. Nobody asks "us". It's all theatre, this fraud of a democracy.

On the subject of "vulnerability": the exposure, the vulnerability, the harm, the pain, the loss -- loss of family, loss of memories, loss of property -- it's all on the one side.

On the other, a Myth of Vulnerability: general paranoia, persecution complex, people with drinks coolers sitting on sofas on hilltops in the lovely Mediterranean dusk, watching the bombing as though it were an entertainment.

Power is the issue. They have the fourth most powerful military in the world. The most powerful in the region. A massive nuclear arsenal, the ultimate overkill.

The vulnerability of Power is all in the realm of Truth. Their propaganda -- they call the "strategic policy" Hasbara, bombs plus lies -- is designed as an iron shield against the one window of vulnerability.

That's the same window of vulnerability that's always been a bother to Power.

Vulnerability to Truth.