New Article: Cohen, Mizrahi Subalternity and the State of Israel

Cohen, Kfir. “Mizrahi Subalternity and the State of Israel. Towards a New Understanding of Mizrahi Literature.” Interventions 16.3 (2014): 380-404.



This essay proposes a new approach to Mizrahi literature by re-examining the socioconceptual relation between Mizrahi subalternity and the state of Israel. Examining the recent post-Zionist/postcolonial criticism, I argue that its literary categories and social analysis conceive of the Mizrahi only through the medium and form of the state and only in so far as its ‘culture’ procures it with an alternative content for Israeli Eurocentric nationalism. Such a ‘statist’ and national articulation of the Mizrahi, critical as it might be, confuses the conditions of Mizrahi cultural identity and legitimate speech whose site is civil society with the conditions of subalternity produced in the Israeli social formation as a whole, and thus ends up misconceiving the Mizrahi subaltern and its literary appearance. Since Mizrahi subalternity emerges in social and discursive fields that cannot be rendered in such a ‘statist’ language, it thus holds alternative knowledge and forms that both reveal the conceptual limits of the post-Zionist stance and allow for a new interpretive approach to Mizrahi literature. However, since canonical Mizrahi literature – as with most recent Mizrahi criticism – has always imagined the Mizrahi in statist terms, I argue that this alternative language and knowledge does not exist as such in Mizrahi literature, but only in a displaced form as its unconscious. To provide an example for such a new interpretation and approach, I offer a reading of Shimon Ballas’s The Transit Camp.