This paper tackles the paradox inherent in Israeli attempts to silence the Palestinian Nakba: despite massive effacement efforts, the traces of the Nakba remain all-pervasive in Israeli culture and collective memory. Several silencing practices are described and discussed from a Freudian perspective, as instances of collective repression of anxiety provoking material. Furthermore, it is suggested that as far as the Nakba is concerned, this repression might be the result of collective perpetrator trauma. Finally, the paper offers several intriguing examples of “social traumatic symptoms”, which are understood as signs of the return of the repressed. According to LaCapra, collective post-traumatic symptoms serve as obstacles to the formation of just and responsible societies. Thus, the paper concludes with a discussion of the socially therapeutic value of the current analysis and its potential contribution to long term processes of collective working through and decolonization.
To conclude let us step back and look at the effects of all of these transformation narratives together. These and other novels and films engage in a sustained reusing of the past and successfully transform the way people articulate their identity. They do this with an empathic retelling of the national story like Oz, with the German or Arab Israeli other as in the film Walk on Water and Arab Labor, or with a crazed narrator like Kaniuk’s and Castel-Bloom’s. Therapeutic interventions end with a working through of displacement and immigration, a heightened awareness of the effects of the Holocaust, and a new appreciation of the creative potential of Jewish identity and culture. Self-critical satire breaks open a monolithic national identity, exposing its constructed nature and calls for creative transformations. We can now ask why these two narratives are so central to the way literature and film re-imagine national identity in contemporary times. I think that the answer lies most prominently in globalization. International flows of culture, goods, and people help strengthen civil society in its critique and parody of state violence and state agents. Somewhat paradoxically, globalization also leads to a demand for specifically national narratives in the international market. In a recent talk, Salman Rushdie pointed out that contemporary writers are increasingly asked to mediate the story of a nation for an international audience. Indeed that is what his own Midnight’s Children did for India, what J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace did for South Africa, Toni Morrison’s novels for the U.S., and Oz and Grossman for Israel. Thus we get narratives that are called to represent the nation on an international market but heal, critique, or poke fun at it at the same time. The system in which Hebrew literature finds itself has radically changed. Previously this system or field was constructed as a national field; now the field is constituted as semi-global. Some actors achieve international success while others remain domestic. Some mediate and explain the national story on the global stage while others parody the nation in order to change it.
Israeli national-cultural discourse is not a sole expression of some underlying economic forces that determine its content. However, its expression is a result of creative adaptation to economical and political pressures and opportunities that have become more and more global. Mainstream literature and culture has responded by articulating narratives that simultaneously reflect feelings of lack of political agency and an empathic apologetic self-representation for the global other. Minor literature in Israel saw an opportunity in the weakening of the state to articulate a critique in the form of parody that attempts to reconfigure national identity.
Schilling, Christopher L. Emotional State Theory. Friendship and Fear in Israeli Foreign Policy. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.
This book develops “emotional state theory” as a new contribution to international relations theory (IR). The text addresses the State of Israel vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The rationale for this research perspective stems from the trajectory of Israeli state-building since its foundation in May 1948 to the present date. This trajectory is constructed reflecting the trauma of the past and dreams about the future. Both contribute decisively to a better understanding of the current image and position of the state of Israel. The reference builds on two great Jewish thinkers’ works, Theodor Herzl and his book The Jewish State and Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.
The author argues that despite the fact that both never met, taken together their ideas lend themselves to shed light on and offer an explanation for Israel’s troubled and uncertain position in current international relations. The resulting question underlying this work on the emotionality of states and its impact on international relations is therefore “whether Israel is still in a process of dreaming” and whether it is therefore to be understood a “state which has not yet woken from the trauma of the Jewish past. Not a dream’s fulfilment of an end of the Diaspora, but a nightmare based on this experience.” Drawing on these two parallel and rather influential texts, Schilling rephrases the leading questions of this book as this: “Has Israel developed an understanding of itself which sees the country as a modern state among the nations, which is dealing with its neighbors, or rather, does Israel understand itself more as being like a ghetto that is still surrounded by a hostile world? Has Israel become a strong, self-confident country, or has it continued with the nervousness of the Diaspora Jews to become a state with an emotional problem?”.