Toward a New Language
A Galley Talk with Dr. Orly Lubin and Dr. Yif’at Guttman
By: Eitan Bronstein
10/2011
Languaging Revolution

Liat Rosenberg:  I’m the new director of Zochrot and this is my first public appearance.  We want to examine the role of language in regime-creation and in the establishment of new social arrangements.  Feminist discourse inspires the post-colonial thinking that provides the context for Zochrot’s work.  Feminist texts also demand action, thereby helping connect the return to feminism.  Zochrot’s project of planning the return also creates a new language.  Zochrot’s shift in emphasis, from focusing on the “right” of return to a focus on the return itself, makes a new language possible.  The discourse about the right (of return) is neo-liberal, erasing identities that can be reinstated in the language by the discourse of actual return.

Dr. Yif’at Guttman wrote her doctoral dissertation on commemorations of the nakba, including Zochrot’s activities:  
I want to talk about the renewed use of language, which I call a radical, counter-use.  I’ll discuss Zochrot’s tours and examine what they imply about a new language.  When I speak of a renewed or radical counter-use, I’m referring to employing language for subversive ends as part of existing, familiar practices or cultural forms which already possess legitimacy and authority in society, for purposes opposed to those practices’ original ends.  I’ll also discuss the project displayed in the counter-mapping exhibit.  The radical use of language employs ordinary language for subversive ends.  There’s a danger in this, since doing so may recycle, copy or reproduce those very elements to which one is opposed.  I’ll discuss the example of the tour planned in Israel.  Israelis are very familiar with the Saturday hike.  Hiking on Saturday is part of growing up in Israel, and those who haven’t done so, Jews of Middle Eastern origin and Palestinians, are considered as being less Israeli.  Tamar Katriel writes that organized hikes for educational purposes were an activity begun by Jewish youth movements in Germany and then imported to Palestine.  Traditional Judaism emphasized reading texts, not engaging nature.  Physical activity and organized hikes in Palestine/Israel were very important to the country’s youth movements.  Vilnai wrote about how hiking connects the hiker to the land and strengthens their Israeli identify.  Those who didn’t hike, Jews of Middle Eastern origin and Palestinians, were seen as being less Israeli.  It was mainly Ashkenazi Jews who hiked.  In recent years, hikes have been viewed humorously (for example, Tal Friedman playing a ridiculous tour guide on “Eretz Nehederet” [a satirical TV show], E.B.), but that’s only because the custom is so deeply rooted.  The hike became apolitical, except for the trips to the territories occupied in ’67.  So how can hikes be remade, become inclusive instead of exclusive as they have been traditionally?  Zochrot’s tour makes manifest the Palestinians’ connection to the land, not only that of the Jews.  Erecting signs is what the state has always done, and when Zochrot does so as part of its tours it presences Palestinian life in the country.  Participants in the tours report that the appearance of the new signs, commemorating what had long been excluded, is a very powerful experience for them.  Suddenly people see the entire country with new eyes.  The tour is also self-critical.  As Eitan Bronstein says, the tour “remaps the country on foot,” as opposed to “conquering the land on foot” during the Yishuv period.  That is, the re-use, in the case of Zochrot’s tours, is intended not only to re-use accepted, legitimate, authoritative practices and forms of documentation and commemoration, but to recognize the power latent in the structuring of knowledge, identity and ownership of the land which the tour accomplishes, as well as presenting this practice critically in a manner that exposed its intentions and selective nature, even as it obliterates those original intentions.  

How is all this connected to planning return?  I’ll talk about the counter-mapping project directed by Einat Manof.  It provides an enfeebled community with tools and power to continually challenge the sovereignty of the mapping authority, criticizing the maps by reading the area anew.  Counter-mapping, including return, subverts and can make implementation possible via spatial-political imagination.  The activity seeks to re-establish the space.  Aviv Gross Alon discusses how she once viewed the return in opposition to Zionism:  “I concluded that I responded to Zionism rather than going elsewhere.  The hand-drawn key creates a new language.”  The new mapping metaphor creates a new language, but also a new source of authority.

Liat:  She continues, citing what Aviv says about the need to develop a discussion rather than seeking a single, correct solution.

Dr. Orly Lubin, Chair, Department of Literature, Tel Aviv University; deals with feminist theory:  
I have some thoughts that aren’t very well-organized, partly because a new language is a big mess.  Every new language creates difficult problems, as prominent feminists have noted.  The woman who experiences herself as she is seen by the male gaze exemplifies the great difficulty of creating a new language.  It’s incorrect to say that the Zionist use of space, of walking nature, was foreign to Judaism.  There were Hassidim who went out to nature.  Zionism secularized that Jewish tradition and created what appeared to be something new.  My body occupies the land.  The earth itself must reflect that occupation.  Place names were also occupied, the renewed name strongly hinting at its predecessor.  Why were so many signs allowed to remain after the country was occupied?  The occupation persisted in Israeli discourse because it was impossible to speak openly of the holocaust.  We are imprisoned in mechanisms that allow us to escape responsibility. We use the occupation to avoid speaking of the holocaust, attempt to eliminate the holocaust from discourse in order not to deal with the centrality of the occupation for Zionism.  Without the occupation we won’t be able to maintain the narrative of “the holocaust will not occur again,” and the function it fulfills.  Our use of neutral meta-conceptualizations to think about the return is a cowardly practice that prevents us from accepting responsibility.  I share the fear and responsibility which that imposes on us.  The neo-liberal, lexical concept of return creates fixed power relations and ways of speaking.  Every new lexicon immobilizes an ideology that, even if I created it, can’t promise to enable return.  Even if the lexicon is written by both peoples there’s no guarantee that good will come of it.  A lexicon brings back liberal state citizenship that erases difference, ethnicity and gender.  That’s why the attempt to create a new language, while continuing to employ concepts that deny and exclude others, is problematic.  Liberal citizenship erases our religion, race and ethnicity; everything that is particular disappears.  The egalitarian state structure absolves of responsibility; no longer can anyone can speak from a privileged position, which is very problematic.  What language can include responsibility rather than concealing it?  I would like to propose a rhetoric of reconciliation and mediation to develop solutions for peoples.  Reconciliation as something leading neither to love nor brotherhood but to the possibility of a common existence.  Accepting responsibility for injustice, and payment, must be part of the bargain.  Apology is not the issue, nor is making friends.  Even if I’m forgiven, that’s not necessarily connected to my accepting responsibility.  I favor of a language of concrete, material responsibility, not one based on broken or crushed hearts, nor on state structures.  The necessary language and linguistic and visual tools manifest themselves when one accepts responsibility.  It will help to see the lowered gaze of enfeebled political minorities enclosed within inflexible borders.  That gaze doesn’t have the luxury of fleeing from responsibility, because it sees the living, material body.  It doesn’t write history and the narrative, because it’s creating the present here and now.


Translation to English: Charles Kamen

Zochrot online