Intertwining Heritage: Language, Research, and Representation Based on Cultural Traumas
A workshop for European, Palestinian, and Israeli researchers and individuals in the creative arts that will deal with the question of language and representation in contexts of asymmetry, guilt, and trauma
Direct conversation between the parties involved in a conflict in the present or the past is extremely complicated. This is a situation full of guilt and blame, victimhood and aggression. At the same time, it is a multidirectional situation in which the guilt, blame, and trauma point in different, sometimes opposite, directions simultaneously.
In such situations, the discourse tends to cluster at one of the two poles, both of which are clichéd and constricting. Speech is limited by the boundaries of the politically correct, and sometimes there are accusations steeped in violence, so that the gap between the two sides cannot be bridged. (This is usually the situation between Jew and Palestinians). Sometimes, especially in cases of asymmetrical guilt, the usual discursive framework allows one side to blame the other, while the second side must be very considerate of the dignity and feelings of the first (this is usually the case, for example, between Jews and Germans or between “left-wingers” and Palestinians).
Victimhood, injustice, and guilt, on the one hand, and purging the language of authentic elements that require ethical consideration, on the other hand, are common means of representing the trauma of the Nakba in the Israeli-Palestinian context, the question of the relations between the non-Jews and the Jews during the Holocaust, or the connection between the two events.
These patterns and others like them prevent substantive conversation by making conversation impossible from the start or directing it into the same meaningless channels that already exist.
How does one create speech and “authentic” representation, at the personal and psychological level, of traumas of societies and of peoples? How does one conduct research, write, and take part in the creative arts in a situation of asymmetry? How can an “authentic” conversation that aims to break new ground take place when there is an imbalance in the power relations? How can one recognize that there is an asymmetrical situation without allowing it to dominate the conversation totally? What are the tones and modes of thought, creativity, and language that make it possible not to fall into repetitions and clichés and not to be stuck in empty and “laundered” representations?
We propose holding a workshop at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute of European, Palestinian, and Israeli researchers and individuals in the creative arts that will deal with the question of language and representation in contexts of asymmetry, guilt, and trauma. (in the end the workshop was held at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna)
The workshop’s point of departure is that societies in a situation of trauma and guilt (a formative trauma, as LaCapra terms it, or a cultural trauma, as Jeffrey Alexander calls it) will find it difficult not to fall into the familiar modes or modes that destroy meaning when they study or represent the topic.
Can ironic discourse create a critical reworking without compulsively repeating the spirit of the past? Can irony create solidarity or only philosophical distance (Rorty)? What does sentimental writing do to the cultural trauma? Can such double edits or various mirror images bridge the gap between what Dominick LaCapra calls “Acting-Out” and “Working-Through”? Is it necessary, for example, to rethink the basic concepts and images— such as anti-Semitism, Zionism, dialogue, catastrophe—that organize the conversation?
How does one cope with the intense self-censorship and with the thoughts about how one’s words will be understood and how, through some statement or other, one is reflected in one’s own consciousness and that of a true or imagined partner to a conversation?
Researchers and individuals in the creative arts grapple with these questions when they deal with the trauma that is at the heart of the existence of their society. The assumption is that the research process on which the creative work is based sometimes makes it possible to break through the difficulty and even to propose new modes of thinking. The workshop aims to bring together researchers and individuals in the creative arts who are grappling with these questions so they can learn from each other and formulate options for various kinds of coping.
One of the methodological assumptions for the workshop will be that in the context of asymmetry, guilt, and trauma private family narratives can act as a starting point for “authentic” and not stereotypical discussions. We offer to start from the private family story and from that to develop a dissection that enables the complexities of identities (e.g. Palestinians living in Europe, Christian Palestinians, Mizrachi Jews, non-Israeli Jews, non-German speaking Europeans)
The two-day workshop will take place at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and will combine methodical discussion with test cases from the humanities and the creative arts.
Some 12–15 participants: Israeli, Palestinian, and European researchers and individuals in the creative arts.
Friedemann Derschmidt, The Academy of Fine Art, Vienna
Yochi Fischer, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Shimom Lev, Artist