What about Levantinization?
This essay was written originally in English but it is only now that it is published in its original form. Kahanoff, born in Egypt to parents from Tunisia and Iraq, was a Western-educated polyglot who saw herself as a child of the Levant. Her article reflects the inherent ambivalence of the Armenians, Copts, Jews, Greeks, and Italians who in the pre-nationalist era regarded, as she did, the entire region as their home. Kahanoff asks why Levantinism threatens Israeli society and Sabra culture, which claims to be authentically indigenous, but in truth was created by relatively recent immigrants from Europe. She exposes the inherent hypocrisy of “authentic” Israeli culture and the Sabra’s fear of “a cultural mutation.”
The Levantines relinquished cultural authenticity because it did not serve them well and adopted modern Western characteristics and values. The price of this survival strategy was a loss of authenticity and of relations with the surrounding hegemonic society. The Sabra’s contempt for the newly arrived Levantines did not prevent them from absorbing the newcomers, which seemed preferable to isolating themselves within the small Jewish community in Israel. The question of cultural mutation as opposed to indigenous authenticity is presented in the essay in a broad historical context, both spatial (the vernacularization of Latin) and temporal (the host of empires that conquered the region and left their mark on its various peoples).
Beyond the Sea of Formlessness: Jacqueline Kahanoff and the Levantine Generation
Monterescu develops the idea of Levantinism as a cultural mutation and draws the discussion toward a conceptual framework of purity and ambivalence. Monterescu sees Kahanoff’s writings as testimony to the cosmopolitan ambivalence of people whose home is the region surrounding the entire Mediterranean; he also argues that their relationship with the hegemonic national society can be framed and understood using Georg Simmel’s concept of the “stranger.” The struggle of the societies in the region against colonialism led to a rejection of everything “non-authentic”—that is, everything foreign or European. The emerging “pure” territorial nationalism juxtaposed the “pure” indigenous inhabitants and the cosmopolitan strangers with connections across the sea: the Greeks, Italians, Turks and the Jews. Following Zygmunt Bauman, Monterescu sees the Levantines as multidimensional strangers who are a part of colonial modernism. Cosmopolitanism and anticolonial nationalism, he explains, are complementary rather than incompatible options. Monterescu supports the call for the creation of a new anthropology of the Levant in which conqueror and conquered are trapped together, and in which the Levantine stranger helps to historicize and deconstruct the very category of indigenousness.
“The Mediterranean Option”: On the Politics of Regional Affiliation in Current Israeli Cultural Imagination
The growing appeal of Mediterraneanism or “the Mediterranean option” (ha-opt’sia ha-yam tikhonit) as it is often referred to in Israel, can be at least partially understood in relation to the Oslo peace negotiations and their promise of replacing Israel’s isolated position in the region with a model of economic, political, and cultural integration. Perhaps it was the apparent difficulties involved in reaching a peace agreement, rather than the promise of peace itself, that drove many Israelis, including key public figures and intellectuals, to embrace the “Mediterranean option.”
This paper closely examines the ideological stakes involved in the intellectual and cultural endeavors of making Israel “Mediterranean.” What, I ask, is the appeal of Mediterraneanism for Israelis at this particular time and juncture? How is it that an ethno-national culture, which for the most part has until recently rejected or ignored the Mediterranean (as both “sea” and “region”) as a site of cultural identification, negating it in favor of ethno-national territorial centrality, has suddenly so embraced the sea and its regional promise? And more precisely, what does this promise entail? How does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prefigure within it? Finally, and most central to my investigation, is the relationship between yam tikhoniyut as a geo-cultural regional affiliation, and mizrachiyut as an ethnic Israeli-Jewish classification. How are we to understand these different articulations of Israeli/Jewish locality and collective identity, and how are we to further understand their distinct rendition of politics vis-à-vis the Zionist national project?
Center or Frontier: Hungary and Its Jews, Between East and West
In the history of Hungarian political thought, East and West served as counter concepts. The first part of the article presents and analyses the history of the Eastern and Western political orientations of Hungarian nationalism from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Key representatives of these orientations are presented with their versions of Hungarian “usable past.” Each orientation (Eastern or Western) views the second orientation as “other.”
The second part of the article describes how Hungarian Jewish spokespeople dealt with Hungarian nationalism vis-à-vis growing anti-Semitism in Hungary in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Using the East-West metaphors, some Hungarian Jewish spokespeople tried to present Hungary’s anti-Semitic campaign as stemming from foreign, non-Hungarian sources.
The Orient in the Literature of the Haskalah: A Levantine Reading in Euchel, Löwisohn and Mapu
This paper explores Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) literature representations of the Orient. Focusing on key Haskalah figures—Isaac Euchel, Solomon Löwisohn, and Abraham Mapu—the article asks how the discursive presence of the Orient influenced Haskalah literature’s definition of modernity and secularity, and provides a comprehensive analysis of the various literary tropes and figures (such as the beautiful, the sublime, oriental despotism, paganism) used by maskilic authors for either coping with or repressing the Orient in their work. The article argues that modern Hebrew literature’s embrace of humanistic western culture is highly ambivalent, and that the regnant historiography of Hebrew literature did not address this ambivalence properly. The history of modern Hebrew letters is viewed less as a modern framework for overcoming or containing the rivals of modernity and enlightenment (among others, the Orient) and more as an uneven field, fraught with contradictory expressions of religious, exilic, and oriental resistance to the secularist and Eurocentric stance, that still dominate the study of Hebrew literary history.
The Long Shadow of Max Weber: The Notion of Transcendence and the Spirit of Mystical Islam
In this article I argue that Max Weber’s analysis of the reasons behind Islam’s failure to convert its sophisticated notion of transcendence into the order of rationalization that was initiated, according to him, in Protestantism, is based on a flawed conception of the implications of this notion for the Islamic mystical tradition, whose greatest representative is Muhyddin Ibn al-ʿArabi (d.1240). I discuss three distinguished scholars’ visions of Islam: Muhammad al-Jabiri, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Richard Khuri on the background of Max Weber’s analysis of the sociopolitical history of Islamic civilization. I attempt to show that Jabiri’s negative view and Davutoğlu’s indifferent view of Ibn al-ʿArabi’s mystical philosophy precluded them from overcoming Weber’s implicit influence on their thought. Despite their limitations, Khuri’s highly appreciative view of the Islamic mystical tradition in general and Ibn al-Arabi’s unique notion of transcendence in particular, are major steps beyond Jabiri’s and Davutoğlu’s conceptions of Islam, which may be considered Weber’s mirror images, and towards an appreciation of the spirit of its intellectual history.
The Struggle for Humanism in Islamic Contexts
The section is a translation of the introductory chapter of The Struggle for Humanism in the Islamic Context, by the late French-Algerian philosopher Muhammed Arkoun, who was one of the most important Muslim philosophers in the last few decades. Arkoun believes that the key to rejuvenating and revitalizing Islam is in understanding and reviving tenth-century methods. He attacks the separation of disciplines that removes Islamic studies from religious studies, as is customary in both the Muslim and the Western world and rejects the ceaseless quest for authenticity. He complains that the Muslim world is afflicted by modern ideologies without being included as a partner in the construction of this modernism, and calls for intellectual, sociological, legal and philosophical activity by scholars of Islam to restore reason to Islam. He blames the failure of enlightenment in the Muslim world on the education systems of countries and religious movements that emphasize authenticity, patriarchal nationalism, national character and difference, thus sowing the seeds of fanaticism and hatred of strangers. The obsessive search for authenticity serves the dominant movements as an escape from their problems and hinders the development and revitalization of humanism in the Islamic context. Arkoun argues that hiding behind the search for authenticity will not let them permanently avoid the difficult challenge of analyzing the text underlying Muslim law. Only such an act will restore Islamic studies to the disciplinary framework of religious studies and energize humanism in the Muslim world.
Rediscovering the Mediterranean: Political Critique and Mediterraneanism in Mohammed Arkoun’s Thought
The article explores the works and the thought of Muhammed Arkoun, one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in the West, and a representative of liberal Islam. Since the 1970s, Arkoun’s major intellectual critique was directed at “Islamic reason.” He endeavored to deconstruct the “regimes of truth” of Islamic medievalist dogmas, which still function as orthodoxies among contemporary Muslims (Sunni, Shiʿi and Khariji). According to his analysis, this medievalist perception of Islam fulfills a function in the modern era of political ideology. His works not only deconstruct and reassess Islamic traditional epistemology but also posit a counterpoint to the common perception of Islam among both Muslim believers and western scholars.
The article contextualizes Arkoun’s works in the intellectual and political history of the Arab-Muslim countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean. The first section presents a general overview of Arkoun’s oeuvre since the 1960s, with special emphasis on the foundation of his political critique. The second section sheds light on the role of the Mediterranean as a concept of mental and geo-cultural space in Arkoun’s thought.
Mahmoud Darwish: Poetry’s State of Siege
Behar describes the cultural and literary strategy of Mahmoud Darwish, who experienced exile and migration more than once in his lifetime and who transferred the arena of the struggle to the region of memory. Denial and memory are at play in the “state of siege” and weigh on the poet’s ability to write. Behar sees the state of siege as evidence of the Israelis’ fear of Arab culture. Both besieger and besieged are trapped together in the same “state.” As Behar writes, Darwish reminds us of the common denominator shared by the Palestinians and the Israelis—the lack of a distinct, authentic culture.
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