Burning Man is an amazingly inclusive public space. San Francisco’s Identity Groups leave identity behind and make the yearly pilgrimage to the desert. We all support one another without the filters of labels and identities, or so I thought. This year I encountered a number of lesbian chauvinists who had brought anti-male toxicity out into the desert. Jesus, what are they doing out there anyway?
They triggered me, and that got me thinking about trauma identity and victim’s culture. Trauma Identity allows Radical Feminists, misogynist Gayboys, and Angry Transsexuals all to act as aggressors while feeling like they are defending themselves. Anno 2010 it is still politically inconvenient to take notice of this. Trauma Identity and Jewish Identity is better catalogued and less controversial than Wendy Brown’s critiques of Women’s Studies. I found the following essay by Zygmunt Bauman very enlightening in this respect.
The pernicious legacy of the Holocaust is that today’s persecutors may inflict new pains and create new generations of victims eagerly awaiting their chance to do the same, while acting under the conviction that they avenge yesterday’s pain and ward off the pains of tomorrow – while being convinced, in other words, that ethics is on their side. This is perhaps the most awesome among the Holocaust’s curses and the greatest of Hitler’s posthumous victories. The crowds which applauded Goldstein’s massacre of the Muslim worshippers in Hebron, which flocked to his funeral and go on writing his name on their political and religious banners, are the most terminally afflicted, but not the only bearers of that curse.
The phenomenon of hereditary victimhood ought not to be confused with genetic kinship, or with family tradition preserved through parental influence over the educational setting. Heredity in this case is mainly imagined, acting through the collective production of memory and through individual acts of self-enlisting and self-identification. Thus the status of the “Holocaust children,” that is of hereditary victim, is open to every Jew, whatever his or her parents might have been “doing in the war” (in fact, embracing this status has turned for many into their main vehicle of Jewish self-definition).
Living in a not-hostile and harmless world means the betrayal of that sense-giving parentage. To reach completeness, to fulfill their destiny, to get rid of their present deficiency and to efface their vexing (and in the end humiliating) impairment, to turn from children manques into children pure and simple, they would need to re-forge their own imagined continuity of victimhood into the world’s real continuity of victimization. That can be done only by acting as if their present site in the world was really and truly a site of the victims; through abiding by a strategy which may gain rationality only in a victimizing world. Children manques cannot be fulfilled unless the world they live in reveals its hostility, conspires against them – and, indeed, contains the possibility of another holocaust.
The awesome truth is that, contrary to what they say and think they wish, children manques – the “flawed children” are unfit to live, and feel out of place in a world free of that possibility. They would feel more comfortable living in a world more like that other world, populated by the Jew-hating murderers who would not stop short of including them among its victims if given a chance and not having their blood-soaked hands tied. They draw a sense-giving reassurance from every sign of hostility toward them; and they are eager to interpret every move of those around them as overt or latent expression of such hostility. In their lives the ghost of the Holocaust may feel safe; in their deeds it has found a magic counter-spell against other people’s exorcisms.
The flawed children of the martyrs do not live in homes; they live in fortresses. And to make their homes into fortresses, they need them besieged and under fire. Where else can one come closer to their dreams than among the famished and destitute, despaired and desperate, cursing and stone-throwing Palestinians…. Here, the comfortable and commodious, all-mod-con houses are unlike the houses the children manques have abandoned – those comfortable and commodious, all-mod-houses over there in the stale and dull, too-safe-for-comfort American suburbs, where children would be bound to stay as they are, manques. Here, in Israel, one can tightly wrap the houses with barbed wire, one can build watchtowers in every corner and one can walk from one house to another proudly caressing the gun hanging from one’s shoulder. The hostile, Jew-baiting world once forced Jews into ghettos. By making a home in the likeness of the ghetto one can make the world once more hostile and Jew-baiting. In that fully and truly flawed world, the children, at long last, would be no more flawed. The chance of martyrdom missed by the generation would have been repossessed by its chosen representatives, who want to be seen as its spokesmen as well.
Whichever way you look at it, the ghost of the Holocaust appears self-perpetuating and self-reproducing. It made itself indispensable to too many to be easily exorcised. Haunted houses have an added value, and being possessed has turned for many into a valued, meaning-bestowing life formula. In this effect one can spy out the greatest posthumous triumph of the Endlosung designers. What the latter failed to accomplish when alive they may yet hope to achieve in death. They did not manage to turn the world against the Jews, but in their graves they can still dream of turning the Jews against the world, and thus – one way or another – to make the Jewish reconciliation with the world, their peaceful cohabitation with the world, all that more difficult, if not downright impossible. The prophecies of the Holocaust are not quite self-fulfilling, but they do fulfill – render plausible – the prospect of a world in which the Holocaust may never stop being prophesied, with all the deleterious and disastrous psychical, cultural and political consequences which such prophesying is bound to bring forth and propagate.
Can one exorcise the ghost of the Holocaust? A big question and a daunting task, no doubt. And a different one from making the world Holocaust-proof, although the state of being possessed makes that other task yet more daunting. It is not easy to write out a foolproof recipe for exorcism, and even if a medicine were available, there would be no guarantee that the patient would swallow the prescribed pills.
Being possessed means seeing the world as one dimensional while being blinkered to all other dimensions, not to mention their interplay. The sole dimension which the ghost of the Holocaust renders visible to the eyes of the possessed (while effacing or removing from sight all other dimensions) is that measured by the degree of Jew-resentment. The world, though, is multi-dimensional.
Jean-Paul Sartre proposed that the Jew is a person whom others define as a Jew. What Sartre must have meant was that the act of such defining is also the act of reductive selectiveness; one of the manifold traits of an irretrievably multifaceted person is hereby given prominence, rendering all other traits secondary, derivative, or irrelevant. In the practice of the possessed, the Sartrean procedure is conducted once more, though in the opposite direction. To the possessed, the others, the non-Jews, emerge as one-dimensional as the Jews appear in the vision of their haters. For the possessed, the others are not benign or cruel patri familiae, caring or selfish husbands, benevolent or malicious bosses, good or bad citizens, peaceful or pugnacious neighbors, oppressors or oppressed, pained or pain-inflicting, privileged or dispossessed, threatening or threatened; more precisely, they may be any or all of that, but the fact that they are all that and more is but of secondary and minor importance and does not count for much. What truly counts – perhaps the only thing that counts – is their attitude toward the Jews (and let us recall that the possessed take every stance directed toward a person who happens to also be a Jew as a manifestation and derivative of the attitude taken toward the Jews as such).