• 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.