By Bryan Cheyette
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Extra info for Diasporas of the Mind: Jewish and Postcolonial Writing and the Nightmare of History
But the line between universalizing Jewish history and superseding it can be quite thin. In fact, much of this book explores the tension between those who construct Jews as ‘world-historical victims’ or the quintessential insider/outsider, enabling other victims of history or ambivalent others to speak, and those who wish to go beyond Jewish history in the name of more contemporaneous histories. 51 The problem with such disciplinary thinking is that it reinforces the narrative that diasporic Jewish history ended with the European Holocaust, which is, to compound the Boyarins’ bitter irony (as anti-nationalists), also the narrative of Jewish nationalism.
We cannot fail to connect the horrific history of anti-Semitic massacres to the establishment of Israel; nor can we fail to understand the depths, the extent and the overpowering legacy of suffering and despair that informed the postwar Zionist movement. (Said 1994b: 167) In his much-cited 1997 essay ‘Bases for Coexistence’, Said argues memorably that Jews and Palestinians ‘cannot coexist as two communities of detached and uncommunicatingly separate suffering’ (Said 2000: 208). His sense of exile, in this formulation, is neither detached from ‘the facts of material life’ as ‘metaphor’ (Ahmad 86) nor is it merely ‘postcolonial’.
In The European Tribe, Phillips understands, in this context, that ‘an American black might respond with contempt to an American Jew who told him, “I know what it is to be persecuted; I am a Jew” ’ (Phillips 1987: 53). Such is the anxiety of appropriation, with the fear being that one history of racism expunges other histories. The institutionalized presence of the Holocaust in the United States makes it a convenient filter through which other, more immediate American histories of oppression – such as the history of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans – can be underplayed.