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Ariella Atzmon: Detachment and Alienation

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    Detachment and Alienation: From freedom of choice to the promise of being chosen By Ariella Atzmon Saturday, September 17, 2005 http://arielaatoz.blogspot.com/
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2006
      Detachment and Alienation: From freedom of choice to the promise of
      being chosen

      By Ariella Atzmon
      Saturday, September 17, 2005

      In the beginning was the WORD, God speaking, to be followed later by
      the prohibition of the figurative, and the children of Israel were
      left aloof in a world of words without things. Freud's diagnosis
      proposes this condition of aloofness as obsessional neurosis, and
      Lyotard adopts the hypothesis of psychosis[1]. Hence, in order to
      evaluate the distinctiveness of Judaism we need to first be liberated
      from the bonds of political correctness.

      An analysis of the two synonymous words ALIENATION and DETACHMENT
      epitomizes a gap between the view that refers to human beings as
      celebrating freedom of choice, and the Judaic self-conviction of being
      chosen. To be Jewish means that in response to being bound to a mutual
      covenant with God in which the utterance of his name is prohibited,
      Jews are rewarded with the promise of "choseness." Taking a
      psychoanalytical line might be helpful in specifying typical Jewish
      political conduct as being afflicted with symptoms of detachment. I
      argue that the Mosaic prohibition of the iconic figure is much more
      significant than what the inventors of the _expression
      'Judeo-Christian tradition' are prepared to concede, and try to sweep
      under the carpet.

      Re-examining the birth of the _expression Judeo-Christian tradition
      philosophically reveals a Jewish attempt to become oblivious to the
      bottomless divergence between Judaism and Christianity. This
      _expression, coined in 1964 in the USA by 120 Rabbis, was a deliberate
      plot to exclude Islam and to give the impression that Judaism and
      Christianity are kindred European monotheistic religions that worship
      the same God, share the same sacred texts and the same ethical
      standards. It was forged to create a religious consensus that the
      embracing of Judaism would ward off anti-Semitism. Thus before using
      Judeo-Christian terminology for the demarcation of European culture
      from other traditions, it would be advisable to underscore the kinship
      between Judaism and Islam, rather than its claimed closeness to
      Christianity. As a political invention it covers up the fact that
      there are no compatible principles shared by Judaism with
      Christianity. The two religions hold quite opposing ethical values and
      contrasting conceptions of God and of human beings. And thus all
      western history can be narrated with reference to the enduring clash
      that split the two religions from each other.

      Since the symptoms of detachment are attributed to Jewish identity we
      need to define what detachment means as distinct from alienation.
      Detachment is defined as a mental morbidity, a spiritual and mental
      separation from the world which appears as a lack of empathy to
      worldly concerns. Thus detachment, as observing others without
      emotional commitment, is diagnosed between neurosis and psychosis.
      Alienation on the other hand is an estrangement in feeling imposed on
      the human subject by external circumstances. In the best case it is an
      intentional externalization of experiences; in the worst it is the
      instance where man is conditioned to be alienated from what are
      properly his functions and creations, and where instead of controlling
      them, he is controlled by them (as in Marxist theory). Alienation is
      not an intrinsic mental state like detachment since it is caused by

      Actually Jews are not alienated but detached. Throughout history the
      presence of Jews was evidently central in all worldly affairs. More
      than 50% of the Bush administration's posts are held by Jews. We can
      trace Jews as the initiators of ideologies and as central figures who
      triggered social and cultural reforms and revolutions. This proves
      clearly that Jews are not alienated, but detached from the gloomy
      consequences of their deeds. Despite being conceived as the eternal
      ultimate 'other', the Jewish presence and its unmistakable influence
      is evident in all fields of political and cultural life. It is
      suggested that adherence to the role of the ultimate 'other',
      including separatist tendencies, relates to a transcendence from the
      figurative, being left solely within the play of words and without
      icons. Judaism is characterized by the prohibition of making an image
      of God. They worship a God whom they cannot see. The sensory
      perception came second after the abstract idea. The ear listens to the
      writing, and the writing comes from an absent God! So what is
      considered a Judaic triumph of intellectuality over sensuality,
      renounce the discourse/figure complimentarity.

      Among savages for instance, the figurative prevails, and thus they
      have no philosophy, no deliberative politics. The savage resolves his
      wish fulfillment within the existing social organization itself, and
      by the cultural ritual façade which satisfies the wish to know. In the
      Greek polis, conversely, the rhetor initiated a secular use of
      discourse, where the word must sound reasonable. The birth of logos
      gave birth to science. In Hellenism, the pagan rituals were shifted
      towards theatrical epic and to the rhetorical theater. Hellenism
      turned the magic into myth, into theater. The Dionysian encountered
      the Apollonian stage of rhetoric leading to the path of logic. This is
      the route that western people have taken since then. In Judaism, the
      prohibition of the figurative wish-fulfillment turned into neurosis
      and even psychosis. And where the balance among the natural triad,
      signified-signifier-referent is distorted, detachment prevails.
      Apparently the discarding of the referent, including the signifier,
      conforms to the spirit of post-structuralism. But what is considered a
      virtue according to post-structuralism went too far with Judaism -
      right up to psychosis i.e.: narcissism and paranoia[2]. The exclusion
      of the figurative icon was transformed in Jewish tradition to
      repetitive ceremonial rites, where irrational ritualism compensates
      for the forbidden icon. In secular Zionism, the religious rituals were
      substituted by nationalistic patriotic ceremonies.

      Following Lacan, the imaginary represented by the figurative is
      contrasted with the symbolic, articulated as a discursive language.
      The gaps of the inexpressible that inspire the work of art stem from
      rejected elements, absent as audible words but retained as visible
      things. Judaism excludes the figure, excludes magic, excludes
      reconciliation, refuses to admit to parricide, and thus there is no
      art in Judaism. Lyotard asks: Where to place this religion? The
      empirical mark of its difference is the hatred it inspires;
      anti-Semitism. Circumcision as the covenant with the word is a cut off
      from the imaginary, without gaining an entry to the symbolic order. By
      circumcision the Jew is caught in a double negation, being locked
      within the symbolic i.e, 'the name of the father,' while the name of
      the father is censored. With no symbolic order the access to science
      is blocked too. Hence, the Jew is left aloof without science and
      without art, emptied of human desire, where the balance between the
      pleasure principle and the reality principle is ruined. The moment the
      desire to kill God, which is the key motive of science, is repressed
      and denied the escape to art, Jews are caught in psychosis, detached
      from reality, including all its symptoms.

      The difference between neurosis and psychosis in terms of their
      respective positions vis-à-vis language, is that the schizophrenic
      treats words as though they are things, perceiving reality by the
      signified without signifiers. Ordinary people cope between words and
      their thing presentation by trial and error. But while the neurotic
      get confused with the discrepancies of reality, the schizophrenic has
      no means for testing what is. The attempt to recuperate things via
      their verbal aspect, without resorting to images, while every thing
      remains in the realm of articulated language, brings about a
      schizophrenic aloofness from reality. It ends with inhuman acts,
      wrongs caused without even a wink. It is not being unethical but
      rather lacking a sense of ethics. While neurosis is a clash between
      wish-fulfillment and reality, psychosis occurs when the subject turns
      against the outside world, sniffing an enemy (anti-Semitism) behind
      every corner. If dialectic means compromise and reconciliation then
      the psychotic is not dialectic. Thus, Jewish politics, including
      Zionism, manifest no compromise and no reconciliation.

      Narcissistic pathology is recognized by self-centeredness and a lack
      of empathy. When this disruption is coupled with a sense of
      superiority it generates hostility and paranoia that bequeaths to the
      generations to come the same victim mentality. It is manifested by the
      legitimization of theft of absentees' lands declaring it 'a proper
      Zionist decision'. For the sake of Jewish 'survival', Zionism distorts
      history and justifies discrimination. Thus Zionism is unethical just
      as Judaism is!

      The attitude to past narration and history is another sign of the
      Jew's detachment and unethical attitude. The Jew turns his eye from
      the visible and thus history turns into a religious text. It is not
      reality but words. All traditions revive their forgotten grandeurs by
      past reconstruction. While Hellenistic glory was recollected in the
      Homeric epic, for orthodox Jews, including secular Zionists, the
      legacy of the past is engraved within the holy pages of the bible. Up
      to the present the bible is considered by all brands of Zionism as a
      legal document which substantiates the rights to the Promised Land. In
      Greece the pleasure principle was given free reign in Homerism, but
      Jewish religion excludes the pleasure principle and thus the core of
      historical writing is prohibited. For westerners, history is a
      reactivation of memories in the attempt to interpret the past, for the
      Jews, history is a teleological pursuit not meant to aid understanding
      the past, but rather relating the course of history to its end. The
      birth of messianic Judaism, can be understood in the light of the
      basic Jewish attitude to history. The coming of the Messiah is
      believed to be the end of Jewish victimization and the gentiles'
      Judgment-Day. While in other monotheist religions Gods judgment is
      directed at individuals, in Judaism, God's judgment is revealed in the
      history of the nation. The reign of God is expected to materialize in
      a new kingdom under a Davidic messiah. But the discrepancy in Judaism
      is that despite Gods promise, God is remote and invisible and the
      relations with his believers are mediated through the Rabbinic
      tradition of legalism. God does not meet the observant Jew in real
      daily life, where human beings encounter their neighbors and take
      responsibility for how their deeds affect the lives of others[3].
      The distressing historical attitude devolved into all brands of
      Zionism. While religious Zionism was established on the nationalistic
      aspirations of being chosen, waiting for the minute God will restore
      the people's former glory, secular Zionists, inspired by 19th century
      European ideologies, were plotting a nationalist, racist Jewish state.
      The radical right was dedicated to the primordial idea of blood and
      race, while the left was ecstatically confused between international
      socialism and national aspirations.

      It is clearly proved that at the point where ideological thought
      seemed to emancipate itself from the religious sphere and attempt to
      accomplish the task of demythologization, Zionism failed. I would
      argue that present day Jewish nationalism, manifested by Israeli
      colonialist and racist conduct, is deeply grounded in Jewish
      detachment from reality. The fact that secular Zionism never tried
      seriously to reflect critically upon its innate contradictory
      elements, is symptomatic of the old psychosis of floating in the realm
      of words.

      The state of Israel reflects a cleavage between those who perceive
      Judaism as grounded in a mutual covenant between the children of
      Israel and God, and those who are fixed on the idea of statehood.
      Besides the antagonism between the two perceptions, just as in the
      time of the prophets, each of these positions does not allow for the
      existence of a Jewish community under its own basic assumptions. For
      the former perception, as long there is a promise of continuing with
      the Jewish life style and Halachic law the existence of an independent
      Jewish state is not conditional; while the Zionist view, by advocating
      the notion of statehood, is caught in the contradictory terminology of
      defining Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Thus the moment they put
      the prefix Jewish before the word state they dismantle the sense of
      democracy in the same breath. From all the many complexities bound to
      the notion of a Jewish state, I choose to elaborate the perplexities
      associated with the notion secular Jews which is an oddity in itself.
      For the orthodox, Jewish identity means a complete observance of the
      law without compromise, and thus, it does not cause any problem. Their
      difficulties emerge precisely in Israel as a secular democratic Jewish
      state. Real obscurity is revealed when secular Jews start wrestling
      with their identification as Jews. Most Israelis try to avoid this
      question by shooting from the hip that what unites all Jews is
      anti-Semitism, as if anti-Semitism is an inherent feature of the
      world. As a reflection of their own animosity toward gentiles, Jews
      are completely convinced that it is an inborn gentile necessity to
      exploit the ultimate Jewish otherness as a punching bag. Israeli
      educational curricula blame other religions, mainly Christianity, for
      orchestrating hatred towards Jews throughout history - as if the
      segregationist predisposition is a Christian invention. Children's
      books are saturated with inquisition and pogroms, ignoring the
      circumstances that led to those historical events. Israeli Jews mourn
      their killed children while remaining oblivious to their atrocities
      that brought the Palestinian martyr to perpetrate his desperate act.
      Some secular Israeli Jews recite the slogan that Judaism is not a
      homogeneous entity, that there are many versions of Judaism. They
      identify themselves as Jews characterized by the glorious Jewish
      cultural tradition of scholarship. But this false pride falls apart
      easily when they are asked what they mean by Jewish culture, or what
      are the main virtues of Jewish scholarship? Their ignorance is
      grounded in religious and political motives that intentionally blur
      the narrative regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the birth of
      Christianity. Jews in general, and Israeli Jews in particular, are
      lacking in knowledge about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, as
      Judaic oppositionary paradigms.

      Beit Hallahmi (1993) In his book Original Sins elaborate a thorough
      overview that clarifies the background for the distortion of Hebraism
      into the Rabbinic tradition. The Rabbinic tradition is responsible for
      what is called Jewish culture or Jewish genius over 2000 years of
      exile. He blames this tradition for the origin of Jewish segregation
      and intolerance. In exile, after the fall of Jerusalem, the rabbinic
      tradition took over and became the driving force behind all
      characteristics of Jewish identity. The rabbinic ruling interpreted
      the law given in the five books of Moses, the written version of the
      oral tradition which was collected in six volumes called the Mishna.
      This is the core for further interpretation in the Talmud. Beit
      Hallahmi argues that the Mishna was actually a new version of Judaism.
      The Rabbinic tradition is linked with the Pharisees who attempted to
      modify the harshness of the law by interpretation and inference.

      Actually they were the authoritarians who successfully tied the whole
      of life, down to its smallest details with the observance of the Law.
      The oppositionary conservative school to the Pharisees, the Sadducees,
      rejected any tradition that was established by scribal activity. After
      the fall of Jerusalem they disappeared and the Pharisees' exposition
      of the law became the touch-stone of Jewish scholarship. The rampant
      deception about profound Jewish scholarship is prevalent among Jews.
      The glamorous tradition of scholarship is actually a learning by rote
      of piles upon piles of rules as related to the Jewish law. Judaism is
      a religion where man in relation to God, is conceived in legalistic
      terms, where the ethics are equated with obedience and fear of God.
      There is no theology in Judaism.

      These darkened spaces in narrating their national past cause further
      ignorance which ends in a detachment from reality. The same people who
      praise Jewish culture and its profound scholarship, lack any knowledge
      regarding the style of Jewish learning. The secular young Israeli Jew
      is not faced with a Pentateuch scroll or with a Talmud page. But
      although Israeli Jews are completely alien to Jewish PILPUL (scribe
      interpretation) they are very keen to raise their voice in praise of
      Jewish scholarship.

      In a brilliant article Meron Benvenisti declares that if Zionism does
      not convert its ideological basis it is doomed. I argue that it is not
      the ideology but rather a genuine morbidity typical of Jewish identity
      which causes Zionist conduct. Taking a step further I would say that
      there is no chance for a people afflicted by the morbidity of
      detachment to change, and thus they are doomed- unless they decide to
      rediscover their innerself critically by self reflection and learn to
      be more alienated rather then detached.

      Dr. Ariela Atzmon is related to self-exiled Israeli jazz musician
      Gilad Atzmon.

      [1] The Lyotard reader, 1989 (Oxford:Basil Blackwell)
      [2] Even the close proximity of postmodernism and poststructuralism to
      Judaism is refuted. Post structuralism as the linguistic turn is
      related with the artistic nature of language where all binary
      oppositions are dismantled. Since Judaism is obliged to differentiate
      between the secular and the profane, Jews and gentiles, Kosher and
      TRAIFAH, Judaism takes a diverged route from post structuralism.

      [3] Butmann R., 1956, Primitive Christianity, (The Fontana Library)



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