- In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imagination
The intimate relationship between Arab and Jewish cultures, histories, and identities has in the past three decades garnered steadily increasing scholarly attention. Gil Z. Hochberg's In Spite of Partition joins this body of scholarship, developing and adding to themes and ideas first proposed by Ammiel Alcalay, Ella Shohat, Edward Said, and others. This important and timely new book aims "[to] challenge the dominant ideology of separation" that characterizes mainstream understandings of the relationship between Arabs and Jews (ix). While several other books have engaged in literary analyses that reveal commonalities and bonds between Arabs and Jews (a recent example is Rachel Brenner's Inextricably Bonded: Israeli Arab and Jewish Writers Re-visioning Culture ), Hochberg's thesis focuses less on questions of mutual tolerance, coexistence, and even cultural dialogue, instead provocatively proposing "a future made of love" (137) and suggesting that "libidinal ties" link these identities (2, 6, 140). As such, it constitutes a valuable new contribution to the existing discourse.
The book is divided into five chapters and an introduction that provides political, cultural, and historical grounding for the literary analyses. The first chapter deals with the figure of the Arab Jew as articulated through a comparative reading of Albert Memmi and Edmond Amram El Maleh. The second chapter discusses the reclaiming of Levantinism by two Jewish authors, the Egyptian Jacqueline Kahanoff and the Israeli Ronit Matalon. Anton Shammas's famous novel Arabesques is at the center of the third chapter's concerns with language and the figure of the Israeli Palestinian. The fourth chapter returns to the figure of the Arab Jew and Israeli orientalism through an analysis of the important novel Aqud by the Moroccan-Israeli author Albert Swissa. The final chapter is devoted to the battle between the collective memory of Israeli Jews and that of Palestinians, comparing texts by Mahmoud Darwish (notably and unfortunately, the only major text examined that was written originally in Arabic) and Amin Maalouf.
One of the many strengths of this book is its devotion to literature and the seriousness that it ascribes to literary analysis. Comparative literature, a field at the forefront of theoretical discourse, sometimes produces studies that have very little to do with literature. Hochberg's admiration for Said clearly extends beyond his humanism and politics to his production as a literary scholar, which was very much about literature. She devotes much of her brief preface to articulating the important role that literature should play in the politically charged issues her book confronts, insisting that empirical analyses alone cannot account for the complexities of these issues. In particular, her nuanced and illuminating interpretations of Shammas's Arabesques and Swissa's Aqud demonstrate her attentive, multilayered, and innovative engagement with the texts and their poetics. Her close reading of one of Shammas's biblical allusions in Arabesques, for instance, reveals his masterful shifting between classical and modern Hebraic registers and structures, the irony produced by his playful rearrangements, and the proximity it suggests between the historical experiences of Jews and Arabs (84–85).
Hochberg complements her eloquent close readings with a sophisticated theoretical grounding. Her analysis moves seamlessly between the primary texts at hand and a wide spectrum of theorists, including Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Homi Bhabha, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, and many others. Providing fascinating and innovative prisms through which to view these texts, her erudite application of theory does not (as often happens) come at the expense of her discussion of the literary texts themselves. For example, her discussion of scatology in Swissa's Aqud draws on the relationship between abjection and social differentiation as developed by Kristeva, Judith Butler, and others to demonstrate how, "[mimicking] and embellishing the very contaminating force ascribed to the abject-being, Aqud exposes the fact that the effects of abjection necessarily exceed a mere narrative of victimization, for they paradoxically grant the abject-being the ability to 'endanger' and 'contaminate' others" (104). The firm theoretical foundation of...