The Jewish QuestionAugust 25th, 2009
I’m not Jewish; nobody’s perfect. Beyond my aesthetic interests, I also worry that not being Jewish makes me miss out. With neither bloodline nor lifeline to Judaism, I can’t really absorb the solemn history Jewish people suffer, nor the wisdom their experience imparts to the rest of us. Not being Jewish is a tattered quilt that insulates me from a heritage as constantly endangered yet always indestructible as mankind itself.
Were I half Jewish, would that improve me 50 percent? Or would that bring me the best of both worlds? One enlightening proposal is an excerpt from Alessandro Piperno’s Proust, Anti-Jew. It is the most stirring text in SEMITES, the new magazine conceived, designed, and curated by New York artist and poet Daniel Feinberg.
Piperno parses through the network of conflicting ideas and memories that customized Proust’s reality as a half-Jew, and Proust’s subsequent sublimation of that material into Remembrance of Things Past. Often unrecognized as Jewish, Proust accidentally infiltrated his anti-semitic neighbors. Like a silent spook among vocal anti-Semites, he had a rhetorical dual citizenship during the divisive Dreyfus affair, and a prescient vision of aging and destiny.
In the 48 pages of SEMITES and the accompanying multimedia website, provocative text coexists with lively images ranging from (and blending) camp with iconoclasm. The apocalyptic humor plants ambiguous criticism, which befits the Israeli conflict, entombed under countless layers of sorrow and confusion. Daniel’s “chosen” style, handcrafted appropriation, invokes guerilla art and Dada collages, perfect for such unstable subject matter. An infinity loop of “An I for an I,” handwritten, wraps around a Pyramid in Giza, part of a series of retouched Polaroids that haunt us with ancient history. Retouched film stills remind us of the cycles of war that have befallen us all (and certain drunk Hollywood actors). Through SEMITES, Daniel Feinberg joins the roster of artists researching and addressing Middle Eastern Turmoil, including Emily Jacir, Francis Alÿs, and Walid Raad, to name just a few.
What do Christians Want: is a conversation with Gil Anidjar, in which the Columbia University professor makes the revolutionary claim that the Christian West controls Jews and Arabs by pitting them against each other in a divide-and-conquer triangle. Following his late model, Edward Said, and teaching alongside the controversial Joseph Massad at Columbia, Professor Anidjar deconstructs the Israeli conflict through a lens of power and security.
To warm up readers for such worldly rigor, Daniel prints Theologico-Political Fragmenta by Walter Benjamin. The essay is a dialectic trip-out posing the “Messianic” against the “historical” and “political.” Warning of nihilism, Benjamin proposes isolation and suffering until redemption by restitutio in integrum, which introduces immortality (and headache, for me).
If you prefer list mode, try the streaming roundtable train of defenses and condemnations of circumcision, “docked” by a sizzling centerfold appropriation.