Political Concepts at Brown, December 4, 2015 3 of 4

Political Concepts at Brown, December 4, 2015 3 of 4


We’re going to get started
then with the third panel of the day. I’ll introduce both
the speakers now so that we can go more easily
from one to the next. So our first speaker
is Joan Cocks Professor of Politics at the Ford
Foundation at Mount Holyoke College– this is
news– and the author of a really fabulous
book– well, three really fabulous books, but one that
is most recently on my mind– called On Sovereignty and
Other Political Delusions. Prior to that,
Passion and Paradox– really another great
book– Intellectuals Confront the National
Question, and then her first book, The
Oppositional Imagination. And Jones’ concept for
today is disappearance. Our second speaker
is Branka Arsic. Ar-sich? Who is a Professor of
English and Comparative Literature at Columbia. And she is also the
author of three books, Bird Relics– most recently–
Grief and Vitalism in Theroux. I just read the first two
chapters really quickly. I devoured them, actually. And it’s great, so I
recommend that book to you. She has a copy. She could hold it up
while I’m talking. And then she has another
book before that, On Leaving– A
Reading in Emerson, and a book on
Melville’s Bartleby called Passive
Constitutions from Stanford. And her topic for today or her
concept for today is desert. So we go with Joan Cocks
first, and then Branka Arsic. Thank you, Bonnie. Can everybody hear me OK? First of all, I want to thank
everyone for inviting me. I know I’m a foreigner
here, and I really appreciate the invitation. It’s been fascinating thus far. I also hope I haven’t
condensed this too much. This might be short. We’ll have to see. I just want to frame
the paper, first of all, to say that I wrote this as
a link between the concern of my last book, which was
on the foundational violence and the erasures of
prior modalities of life that accompany the
birth and expansion of new modern territorial
sovereign states. So there’s that project. And my new obsession is with
the foundational violence and erasures the
accompany the birth of capital, the birth
and expansion of capital, as a kind of global
economic sovereign. So this paper sort of
stands in the middle of those two projects. As a prelude to grasping
the concept of disappearance insofar as it’s
relevant to politics, let me pinpoint two
roles that appearances played in the history of
Western political thought. Each role is a function of
the opposite term with which appearance is contrasted. First, when contrasted
with reality, appearance is signified
the less truthful or real of two vertically
related realms. In the platonic
Augustinian rendition of this vertical
relationship, an earthly, ephemeral, and
imperfect realm that appears to the
physical senses is contrasted with a higher
timeless essence or spirit accessible only by the exercise
of philosophical reason or religious faith. In the Hegelian-Marxian-Freudian
rendition, conscious desires and visible
social relations and practices are set to at once
manifest and obscure a deeper structure or dynamic
that requires critical theory to expose it. When contrasted with darkness
instead of with reality, appearance has signaled
a horizontal relationship between an illuminated public
sphere and a shuttered private sphere, and it
suggests the emergence of a self from the shelter
of domesticity, intimacy, or solitude into the view of a
wider variety of other selves to whom it displays its
creation and reveals what it is through words and deeds. No higher or deeper reality
lies above or beneath appearance in this Nietzchean-Arendtian
sense of the term. The play of appearance
is what reality is, and the chance to
indulge in this play is the high point of
human life in the same way that the high point
of a dancer’s life is the performance
of her art on stage. Thus, while appearance is
more suspect or epiphenomenal than its opposite in
appearance-reality binaries, in appearance-darkness
binaries it’s darkness that’s the
problematic term. But darkness is only
relatively problematic when selves can move
freely back and forth between private
and public spaces, for it provides each self
with the necessary oasis and respite from
the public glare. I’m obviously working
mostly off of Arendt here. However, darkness becomes
absolutely problematic when certain selves
are consigned to a life of anonymous toil
so that others can distinguish themselves in public. It also becomes
absolutely problematic when it is all that there
is, because the public space of appearance has been fatally
compromised– as a result of, for example, having
been poisoned by prejudice; as in the
case of racist regimes; corrupted by private wealth, as
in the case of late Bourgeois societies; suppressed by
political authorities, as in the case of
dictatorships; undermined by continual violence, as
in the case of civil wars; or altogether eradicated, as
in the case of totalitarian politics. The possibility of
eradication points to a third meaning
of appearance, which it has when it’s
contrasted with disappearance. Oddly enough, this
conceptual contrast has been of so little
explicit interest to Western political
theory, to the tradition, that no canonical thinker’s
name can be used to evoke it. Appearance and disappearance
does bear a family resemblance to appearance and darkness,
to the second binary, in that what disappears
can be understood as entering into a
darkness from which there is no exit or hope for escape. In turn, as I hope
to show later, in its capacity
to highlight what is erased as a result
of capitalist practices of primitive accumulation
and creative destruction, the appearance-disappearance
distinction deserves to be paired by Marx’s
with the appearance-reality distinction between free
and equal market relations on the surface of
capitalist society and exploitative productive
relations at its hidden depths. But despite these points of
contact with the other two conceptual dichotomies,
appearance and disappearance is distinct in indicating,
at least in its purest form, a relationship in time rather
than in space, between the is and the was, between an
existing or emerging presence, and that which
once was a presence but now has become or is
fast becoming an absence. Indelible facts of
natality and mortality consign the human species
to an endless sequence of appearances and
disappearances over time, or at least to a
sequence that is endless until the species
itself disappears. The capacity of all
humans for self-awareness, including an awareness
of their moral fate, gives the coming and going of
each generation great pathos and poignancy,
which explains why the appearance-disappearance
trope has something almost constitutively
melancholic about it. That said, the trope as
it’s relevant to politics is not a simple function
of the biological givens of life and death,
although it can and often does involve them. Instead, the contrast
is politically relevant when some agent or regime
or complex of social forces has the power to
determine what exists and what must be
excised from existence. Politically orchestrated
disappearances can be literal in the sense
that the disappeared is what has been wiped off
the face of the earth. But they can also
be metaphorical. And when they’re
metaphorical, they do entail a spatial
dimension– as, for example, when
individuals vanish from the ordinary, public,
and private realms of society to be sequestered instead in
some closed-off, deserted, or hyper-dark space. Thus, the 400,000
undocumented immigrants swept into US detention centers
have not literally evaporated. They’ve been subtracted
from normal society, often without the knowledge
of their friends and family. But they remain in the
world of the living. In such cases, the [INAUDIBLE]
concept of abandonment can serve as a near
synonym of disappearance, although the acts
of abandonment lies in what happens to
the abandoned self while the action
of disappearance lies equally on what
happens to the self and what happens through
their loss to others. We can see that latter accent
in a recent New York Times story entitled “1.5
Million Black Men Missing from Everyday Life.” The story reports that while
one white man is missing for every 100 white women,
17 black men are missing for every 100 black women. That statistic conveying
a blow simultaneously to the absent black men and
the present black women– not to speak of black
communities in general and, I would say, not to
speak of all communities in general– the story also
implicitly distinguishes between metaphorical and
literal disappearances when it notes that many black
men are missing because they’ve been subjected to a system
of race-based incarceration. But other black men are
missing because they’ve died untimely deaths
from accidents, disease, or homicide. The appearance-disappearance
distinction in the literal sense of
once present and now absent applies perfectly to them. Racial distortions of a
criminal justice system to one side, a legitimate
function of the modern state is to punish
lawbreakers, whether through metaphorical
disappearance in the form of imprisonment
or literal disappearance in the form of
capital punishment. Less legitimate, at least by
liberal democratic standards, is a state’s capacity to
criminalize dissent and hence delete from society, whether
temporarily or permanently, vocal critics of the regime. Other disappearances with a
spatial aspect in which states have been either
complicit or directive include the ghettoization or
expulsion of racial, ethnic, or religious minorities–
and sometimes, oppressed majorities– the transfer of
populations on racial, ethnic, or religious grounds,
and the corralling of aliens within state borders
into internment or refugee camps. Each of these latter
metaphorical disappearances raises by innuendo the
spectre of literal genocide to produce a racially,
ethnically, or religiously cleansed society. Compared with that
final solution to the so-called
problem of difference, the disappearance of members
of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion
from one political society and their reappearance as
members of a separate state, as occurs in partitions
and secessions, seems positively
benign– at least until racial, ethnic,
and religious divisions emerge within the new state
that make new disappearances attempting option
for the most powerful or numerous social segments. Of course, the
mass disappearances for which states
are best known occur in war, which inevitably
involves the death of soldiers on both sides of the
conflict, almost always a destruction of
material objects that help make up the life
world of at least one side, and very often the physical
or emotional destruction of some percentage of
the civilian population. These days, non-state actors
with their eyes on the state prize also have acquired a
startling power to determine, through the exercise
of physical force, what must disappear on their
way to their hoped-for institutionalization of
a new order of things. Now by happenstance,
the iconic instance of politically
orchestrated disappearance in the literal sense
of the term is a case not of genocide or of
warfare, but instead of the effort of a military
junta between 1976 to 1983 to reconstitute the
political makeup of a people through excising all
oppositional elements from society for good. The Argentinians who coined
the term “The Disappeared” knew that they needed a
more extreme vocabulary than that pivoting on
abandonment or exclusion to capture the regime’s
obliteration of thousands of domestic left wing
dissidents and civilians, as well as its suppression
of any overt acknowledgment that that obliteration
was happening in front of everyone’s eyes. In Disappearing
Acts– Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in
Argentina’s Dirty War, which I highly recommend to people
if you haven’t read it, Diana Taylor deploys
the term “percepticide” to describe the cultivated
blindness of those who witness visible
specters of violence perpetrated as,
in her words, “men in military attire, trucks, and
helicopters surrounded an area, closed in on the
hunted individuals, and sucked them off the
streets, out of a movie theater, from a classroom or workplace.” Those witnesses were forced not
merely to see public atrocities without protesting them, but
also to see those atrocities without verbally or
physically registering that they were seeing
anything at all, to keep from being
the next to disappear. The public theatricality
of state-orchestrated disappearances performed
to intimidate a population and thereby destroy
its capacities to act as a public thus can
be said to have collapsed the Arendtian public
sphere of appearance and the sphere of
hyperdarkness into one. Now, while appearance is
part of– unfortunately, in many ways, obviously–
the ongoing life of modern sovereign states, the concept
is also pertinent to their birth or beginnings, because a state
cannot become sovereign unless and until it demolishes prior
authoritative orders on which it claims as its
rightful territory. Because all states are human
artifices with no higher right to make such claims than the
right they give themselves, the demolition of
the older order– and also, as Derrida
points out, the creation of a new sovereign
law– must be counted as a kind of violent
imposition, whether or not any blood is shed
in the process. Foundational
violence is repeated whenever a state
stretches the umbrella of its law over new
land that until then had been governed under
a different law or had escaped the
reach of any law. However, the
institution of the state is not the only culprit here. The “people” are
often implicated in foundational violence,
too, especially when land and its material
resources are at stake, which blemishes
the rosy image of the people painted by all
champions of democracy and popular sovereignty. Just as significantly,
that which is slated to disappear
in popularly instigated or perpetrated
land grabs may not be the lives of other human
beings in the first instance, although they may die too,
but instead their life worlds, their mode of shaping and
interacting with the material surroundings to
sustain themselves, their attachments to and
aesthetic preferences for particular physical things
and particular patterns, the sensuous backdrop to
their habits and routines, and the landscape within
their familiar relationships with one another can
continue to flourish. The disappearance of life
worlds for inhabitants inside the boundaries of land
claimed by a sovereign state but outside the
identity boundaries of the new sovereign
people has, unfortunately, many historical and
contemporary illustrations. Two especially
inflamed cases on which I’ve written elsewhere–
and so have other people in this room,
actually, written more than I have– are the
birth of the civic republic of the United States to make
a revolutionary break in North America from hierarchical
social relations and monarchical rule in
Europe, and the birth of the ethnonational
state of Israel to transform a perpetually
vulnerable ethnoreligious minority in Europe into
a self-governing national majority in Palestine. Each of these polities
wished to win freedom for a people in the making,
but each required domination to vanquish existing modalities
of social life at odds with a new sovereign
people, sovereign law, and sovereign cultural ethos. The United States and Israel
were settler colonial states, and the foundational
violence they committed came in the especially
egregious form of a rule imposed against the will of an
indigenous population by ethnic and
geographical strangers. Nevertheless,
foundational violence also typifies state
centralizations partitions, ethnonational or
sectarian victories on home territory and
revolutions, as well as state-imposed modernization
projects that refound society on economic and
social principles disruptive of a
prior way of life. Each of these new
political orders is a colonizing state
of a sort in that it must redraw the territorial
boundaries within which it is to be
authoritative, rewire laws within these boundaries,
reshape the material landscape, reconfigure
structures of feeling and habits of life for
the people it declares to be its people,
and redetermine who belongs to the people
and who will be counted as its aliens and enemies. Now at this point, I’d like
to redirect our attention from sovereign
states to capital, which Wendy Brown in Walled
States, Waning Sovereignty has dubbed the world’s new
global economic sovereign, even though its commands
are not issued from the centralized
point of a monarchical or a popular prince. What powers of disappearance
does this sovereign exercise as it develops,
expands into new territory, and reconquers territory
it already governs? As a segue to answering
this question, I’d like to turn to a
little essay entitled “Two Weeks in the
Wilderness” by Tocqueville in which this French
aristocratic recounts his journey from the
already-colonized to the not-yet-colonized
regions of North America, as he puts it, “to get to
know a place as yet untouched by the flood of
European civilization.” As he travels
westward, Tocqueville records the unbelievable
destruction and even more surprising growth
that he witnesses, as well as a shocking
assumption of the settlers he meets that this is the
normal forward march of events. He recounts seeing an ancient
people– a lot of this is his language–
“an ancient people, the original and
rightful masters of the American
continent, melting away daily like
snow in the sunshine from the face of the earth. In the same areas, another
race rises in their stead at an even greater pace.” Tocqueville is nothing if not
ambivalent about this process. On the one hand, he notes
the egalitarian self-image of every immigrant
and an immigrant’s democratic willingness
to engage in hard labor when compared with the
aristocratic culture. He notes the respect for
work done by man, by men, among these settlers, and
the settlers’ view of himself as one industrious link in what
will become a chain of wealth connecting America and Europe. So those are the pluses
from his point of view. On the other hand, he decries
the pitiless sentiment which drives the European
race to crush the native races, the cold
and relentless selfishness of the Europeans’ conviction
that this world belongs to us, the settler’s
bottomless egotism, his sole aim of
acquiring wealth, and the fact that attaching
value to lofty trees and the beauty of empty
spaces is something which is absolutely beyond him. After Tocqueville
finally arrives at the space not yet
undone by settlers’ axes, and despite the midges
whose bites almost drive him backward– he’s pursued
constantly by mosquitoes and so on as he’s
traveling– he muses that there’s something
so ceaselessly agitating about the settlers’ actions,
that the devastation they compel seems perpetually
fated to reoccur. Thus, he predicts–
rightly, to my mind– that this nation of
conquerors, before whom both Indian peoples and
majestic forests fall– again, his language– will, “after
reaching the Pacific Ocean, retrace their steps
to disturb and destroy those societies
which they themselves have formed behind them.” Now, whatever one thinks
of Tocqueville’s belief in the inevitability of
the defeat of wild grandeur by the triumphant
progress of civilization, “Two Weeks in the Wilderness”
highlights not only the natural and human losses that
such defeat entails, but also aspects of the
destructive process that cannot be attributed to sovereign
state formation alone. The racial aspects I will
leave to critical theorists of colonialism and
the ecological aspects to environmentalists. Here, almost two centuries
on in the history of an economic process
based on the accumulation of infinite wealth,
I wish to flag the part that capital has
played in determining, in Tocqueville’s day and our
own, not just what appears but what disappears. To frame the problem against the
foil of my two sovereign state cases, in 19th
century North America private property
interests were complicit with popular sovereign state
formation and the destruction of the forest and
waters on which Indians had sustained themselves. In a 21st century
independent Palestine, if one ever manages to emerge,
the olive trees cultivated by Palestinian villagers that
the Israeli state had not already uprooted for
political purposes will almost certainly
be doomed by processes of capitalist
economic development with the assent of
indigenous elites. Now, Machiavelli
once quipped that men are much more interested
in present things than in those that are past. Hence, it may seem
unsurprising that most critics of capitalism’s
domination effects have focused on realities that
capital brings into being. The subjectivities
and social relations that appear, however
opaquely, as a result of this sovereign’s rule. This was true not
only of Marx, who was preoccupied with a
capital wage-labor relation, and of Foucault, who traced the
modern production of discipline and self-responsible
individuals. It is also true
of a multiplicity of contemporary commentators
on the new preeminence of financial over
productive capital of Asian over Western financial
networks, of new forms of wage labor such as the
self-investing entrepreneur and the precariat, of
populations rendered surplus by a capitalist dynamic that
has no need of their labor, and of the articulation of
indentured and slave labor and to global capitalist
commodity chains. Nevertheless, capital’s
powers of disappearance are just as critical
to the making of the contemporary
world, even if they’re more difficult to see after
they have each accomplished their slice of work. These powers are
also temporally prior to the powers of appearance,
both in the past history’s sense that the ratio of
non-capitalist life worlds cleared the way for
the original emergence of capitalist relations and
in the present history’s sense that erasure continues to
occur with each new disruption of what Partha Chatterjee calls
“the social unity of labors with their means of production
in regions newly opened up to capitalist penetration
and investment,” as well as in advanced
capitalist settings, with each new attack on
smaller-scale market relations by more concentrated
capital, each new disturbance to built environments
by the next round of capital-compelled
creative destruction, and each move to privatize
what had been public goods or to monetize
facets of social life that previously had been out
of bounds for profit-making. A sensitivity to the
disappearances involved in capitalist expansion
challenges the equation of capitalism with
freedom in two ways. First, it discloses the
foundational violence that capital commits as
it conquers new territory and enlarges its domain,
whether that violence takes a physically
coercive form or not. Second, it showcases
what has been lost or is in danger
of being lost when this economic sovereign
power undermines patterns of life to which ordinary
people are attached; assaults functioning human and
non-human habitats in the name of progress, development, and
a creativity that endlessly devours its own
previous achievements; and so successfully
subverts any limitation to the ethos of commodification
that no other ethos can thrive in the same world with it. In conclusion, resistance to
capital’s powers of appearance, the inequalities
and exploitations a capital brings into
being, requires a politics that points the way forward
to social arrangements that are less asymmetrical than
the ones we have now– and a whole lot of other
things that we hope will happen with that kind
of politics, by the way. In tandem but also in
contrast, resistance to capitalism’s powers
of disappearance requires a politics
that stands up for existing but vulnerable
modalities of life against an onslaught. However much a politics may be
accused of nostalgia mongering or trucking with
political conservatism– and in my longer paper that
this is becoming a part of, I take on those arguments–
but however much a politics may be accused of nostalgia
mongering or tracking with political conservatism, the
struggle against disappearance is a crucial aspect of
radical politics today, both in its defense
of what has been and still fragilely
is by those who value it against
invasive economic forces and in its imaginative recovery
of what once was and could and should be again
under new conditions that must be fought for and won. And I did get done early. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you, Bonnie, and
everybody, for having me here. My concept is desert, in kind
of a physical sense of the term as the Earth’s surface. And because I’m not a
political theorist– I hope that organizers
knew that when they invited me to present– because I’m
not a political theorist, I have decided to outline
the way in which a concept of desert assumes the status of
a political concept on a basis of things I know better
than political theory, and that’s 19th century
American literature. I will be reconstructing
the political landscape of the desert through a reading
of Herman Melville’s poem, “Clarel,” the epic
based on his 1856 trip to Palestine, into which he
reworked a number of entries from the journal he
kept while there. Most of the characters in the
poem are Christian pilgrims, and as their pilgrimage
progressive and the pilgrims begin their walk
to the Dead Sea, the desert takes
over, slowly turning into something like the
main character of the poem. What causes the
pilgrims’ minds to waver is the realization that
the desert is not only a geological but also
a historical entity, and that the politics
that create it are slow, where some
others are fast. A whole layer of the
narrative turns the desert into an accomplice
of fast politics. It depicts contemporary
political relations among different populations,
registering Jewish communities walled for fear of
Arabs, Christians segregated from Jews, or the
ways Ottomans ruled Jerusalem. But there are also
strata of the poem that tell the story of
a slow politics that fabricate the desert. It is to this scale
of slow politics that I will turn in the
arguments that follow. I will attempt to delineate
several figures of the desert drawn by Melville. They will, however, exclude
its theological meaning and the long biblical
tradition that promises the revelation of
truth through the ascetic. And it will also exclude
a geological understanding of deserts, specifically
the Judean desert that was offered in the middle
of the 19th century and threatened to crack
open Christian epistemology. I exclude those aspects
since my principal argument is that Melville’s
investment in how the forces of human politics
generate the desert. I will thus focus on four
aspects of the concepts that concern him– desert
as in ecological disaster, desert as the plateau for
horticultural reform of humans, desert as the site
of funerary rites, and desert as the outcome
of politics of memorization. And at the very
end, I’ll conclude with a short coda that will
bring me to the 20th century. So first moment–
so acutely aware is Melville of how
human-authored disasters changed the surface of
the earth in Palestine that “Clarel” often verges
on an ecological treatise. In Arthur Stanley’s
Sinai and Palestine, Melville reads about
human-induced dehydration of greenlands into desert. Stanley interprets agriculture
less as a great progress for humanity that transforms
the Earth from wilderness into cultivated fruitlands,
but to the contrary, as a practice that exhausts
vitality of vegetal life. Clearing the woods for
agricultural cultivation had, in all likelihood,
quote, “given full scope to the rains, which have
left many tracts of bare rock where formerly were
vineyards and cornfields. The forest of Hereth,
and the thicket wood of [? Ziff ?] in Judea,
the forest of Bethel, the forest of Sharon have
long disappeared,” end quote. In Melville’s poem, it is
as if all of his pilgrims had read Stanley’s diagnosis
of such ancient ecological disasters, for they
become haunted by the fact that the politics of
agriculturalization of the Earth, its education
into sophisticated orchards and gardens, end
up by forcing life into an elemental immobility. The desert becomes for them
a monument to vegetal life, embodying the history
of an assault on it. The idea that the human
politics of cultivation could trigger a
geological transformation of such proportions
that creaturely life is now literally reduced to sand
dunes, Melville for instance, says, “Look what lifeless hills. Dead long for them the
hymn of rills and birds. Nor trees nor ferns they
know, nor lichen there have there to grow.” So the idea that creaturely
can be reduced to sand disorients the faith in
God’s protection of life and turns the pilgrims’
search for God into a search for fossilized
remnants of the vegetals as stills enfolding the
fragile writing of that forest. They thus persistently
trace the disappearance of palm, olive, and
date trees, becoming taxonomers of fossilized. For instance, on their
first night in Jericho the pilgrims see
fossilized pines that the narrator
declares killed, a verb signifying human
agency rather than beaten by geological forces. Quote, “look, now a pine
in luckless land by fires autumnal overrun abides a black
extinguished brand, gigantic, killed, not
overthrown,” end quote. The extinguishing of monumental
pines was as the outcome less of the slow advance of
elements that imperceptibly overthrew them than of practices
of quick agriculturalization. Melville imagines it as the
violent slaughter of the trees by means of which
humans revise the Earth, as he explicitly
states when describing the history of the pick-like
glade the pilgrim see. And I quote, “clean scooped
of last lean dregs of soil, attesting in rude terraced
stones the ancient husbandmen’s hard toil, all now a valley
of dry bones,” end quote. It is this understanding of
the radical transformation of the earth that
finally leads Derwent, a character in the poem, to
exclaim upon encountering a rare tree in the
desert that it can’t be a tree of knowledge, can’t
date from ancient times, for the radical changes
inflicted on the earth will have interrupted the
continuous biological history that would connect
current plants with those from prelapsarian gardens. All is altered. Earth’s another scene now. Second moment– as Clarel
traverses Palestine, he doesn’t only
perceive the desert to be the outcome of the
human agency of cultivation. He also meets many who insist
that the desert precisely requires human
geological agency. He meets Nehemiah, an
American millenarian who is mastered by inveterate
zeal and mobilizes others for a project of massive
topographic revisions that would transform the desert
into a solitary garden. To other pilgrims who observe
him zealously removing stone after stone to literally
annul the desert, Nehemiah appears mad. “Look, is he crazy? See him there. The saint it was with busy
care, flinging aside stone after stone,” end quote. But oh his 1856 trip to
Palestine, Melville in fact met many American
missionaries in Jaffa, busily changing the
desert into floral soil. Writing in 1907 for The
New England Magazine, George Walter Chamberlain
described a movement Melville then witnessed spreading through
Palestine as a New England crusade. But Chamberlain
seriously misinterprets things when he claims
that all the New England crusaders wanted to do in
Palestine was, and I quote, “introduce the Bedouin of
Syria to American ideals and American customs and habits
in accordance with an already well-established
generosity of our country, the United States of
America, teaching the world religious toleration
that men of many races are fit for political
freedom and that material well-being should abound
everywhere,” end quote. For in fact, they were
concerned neither with Syrians nor with American ideals
of material well-being. Instead, their plan was
to transform the desert into a messianic floral paradise
by coercing Jewish minds to bloom as Christians. Clorinda Minor was,
as Melville’s notes from Jaffa rightly suggest,
and I quote Melville, “the first person actively
to engage in this business, and by her pen incite
others,” end quote. The writing that incited
others book entitled Meshullam! or Tidings from Jerusalem,
in which Minor detailed impressions from her
pilgrimage to the holy land. Like so many America,
Minor was a millenarian. But millenarian is reductivist. Convinced that the
kingdom is near, Minor worried less about the
condition of resurrected bodies than the physical
configuration of the new earth announced on several
locations in the Bible. First promised by
[? Josiah ?], who prophesized that the
creation of a new earth would trigger the complete
oblivion of the old, it was further
elaborated on by Peter, who detailed the new
earth’s formation through a proper
metallurgical transformation of the current
constellation of elements which would combust into a novel
physics of revised geographies. And John’s revelations added
the final specifications to the new earth,
explaining that it would lack oceans and seas. And in lieu of
the old Jerusalem, a new Jerusalem would be
dropped from the heavens for God to dwell in with the
post-humans he had saved. Now, in 1842, Minor hears a
voice clarifying somewhat how the new earth would advance. The voice explained
that the new earth doesn’t arrive through an
operation of grace that reworks the believer from within. As King James translates in
Luke, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Rather, the new earth is at
hand, which Minor interpreted to mean that Messiah
will not convert the hearts of unbelievers
instantaneously while simultaneously conferring
a new physics on Palestine. Instead, one needs
to employ one’s hands to reach for what is near
them, or less metaphorically, that manual work is
required to enable the coming of the new earth. The new geophysics
that is at hand will be realized
only if its coming into being is facilitated
by the work of hands. And I quote, “Many of us
believed that the kingdom would immediately appear,
but we now see that the day of His preparation
must precede His coming. And in this time of
end, that curse of Lord shall be removed,” end quote. Now, the day of
preparation introduced here assumes a curious
temporal status. Still in history
because it precedes the arrival of messianic
time, it is also positioned on its outside. It is defined as
a time of ending in which only the
ending keeps happening, the obliteration of the
desert in favor of the garden. To prepare the kingdom
that is at hand is thus to cultivate
the earth by hand. The protracted present
that is the time of ending is thus neither historical nor
messianic, but horticultural. It is here that Minor’s ontology
is particularly perturbed, for it becomes unclear
just what, or indeed, who, the desert is. For according to the
millenarian interpretation of Paul’s epistle to the
Romans, “the new earth will occur only if Israel
can be included into it.” And in Paul’s
botanical metaphor, God grafted Christians onto
the original Jewish olive tree representing God’s
covenant with Abraham while simultaneously
cutting of Jewish branches as punishment for Israel’s
rejection of the Gentiles’ messiah. But the maturing of time
promises a new covenant that will save Israel, which
Paul describes as regrafting onto the vital, and now
Christian, green tree its pruned and dried
Jewish branches. Minor interprets
this in the same way that she interprets the desert. For the new earth
to occur the desert must bloom, just as the
Jews must start greening. The Jews thus appear
as a desert that need to flower into the
olive tree of Christianity, in the same way that
the stones of Judea need to bloom into orchards
to appeal to the Messiah. Since the Jew and the
desert are, according to Minor’s reasoning, in
need of the same ontological transformation into a flower,
the best way to enact both is to make them coincide. The Jews will experience
the turn of heart that will make them sprout
green on the olive tree of the new covenant only
as they are witnessing with amazement their actual
transformation of desert into garden. Thus, the best way to achieve
the return of the Jews to life is not to preach, but to
teach them agrarian skills. It is on this basis
that there develops the idea of colonizing
Palestine by spreading agricultural schools
for the Jews. Melville meets several
American agricultural crusaders in the course of his
pilgrimage through Palestine– a couple from Rhode
Island who established an agricultural school in
Jaffa but miserably failed, and also family of Deacon Dixon
who established a cultivation site about an hour
from Jaffa Gate that Melville also visited. After the visit, Melville
interviewed Dixon. Herman Melville, “Have you
settled here permanently, Mr. Dixon?” Mr. Dixon, “Permanently settled
on the soil of Zion, sir.” Melville, “Have you any
Jews working with you?” Dixon, “No. Can’t afford to hire them. Do my own work with my son. Besides, the Jews
don’t like work.” Melville, “And do you not
think that the hindrance to making farmers of them? Dixon, “That’s it. The Gentiles, Christians,
must teach them butter. The fact is the fullness of
time has come,” end quote. In his journal, where he
recorded this interview, Melville made
further observations about Dixon’s family,
concluding with remark, and I quote, “that the idea
of making farmers of the Jews is in vain. In the first place,
Judea is a desert. In the second place,
the Jews hate farming. All who cultivate the soil
in Palestine are Arabs.” Third moment–
Melville’s journal registers two ways in
which Arabs are preoccupied by cultivating the
soil, both of which contradict the many accounts
by British and American geographers of Palestine
for whom Arabs were unsettled nomads disinvested
in the features of the earth to the point of
not even precisely naming and charting it,
let alone cultivating it. The unstable and nomadic
Arabs, the Bedouins, became a people living the life
of the nameless surface that is the desert. Stanley– all of
these people Melville reads in quotes– reports that
the most striking impression of his first day in
Palestine after, and I quote, “all the uncertainty of
the desert topography was to find the authentic
localities,” end quote. They were authentic in the sense
of being historically stable as opposed to the makeshift
sites through which Arabs are seen to drift, leaving
them unappropriated and therefore inauthentic. As Stanley observes, the
topographic uncertainty of the desert characterizes
the way Arabs also differentiate among themselves. Their tribal names do
not reflect history, but geological differentiations
of the desert itself. Their names thus are not
particular, but instead general, given, as
he says, according to geographic contrasts
between high and low elevations in the desert. Amorites, for instance,
are dwellers on the summit. Similarly, Eliot Warburton,
The Crescent and the Cross, states that disregard for names
is typical even of settled Muslim populations
so much so, and I quote, “that Muslim Egyptian
infant is the most ill-favored object in human creation. A name is applied to him
with as little ceremony as a nickname is with us. And indeed, there are not
perhaps 20 different names distributed among the 200,000
Muslim inhabitants,” end quote. As Warburton sees it,
Muslim populations are like plateaus
of a large desert, uncertain topographies
reduced to groups named by the same name that
refuses to individualize them into persons, hence his own
disconcerting classification of Muslim children as objects. Or finally, William
McClure Thomson– for him, the names Arabs give to cities
are like figures on the desert sand, contingent and
aleatory, and I quote, “generally derived from
some accidental circumstance connected to them,” end quote. Without a rich
historical memory, their names change like
the desert surface, just as the circumstances
that trigger them change. And because such names are
not monuments but temporary signposts, Thomson
declares, and I quote, “useless to remember this
nonhistoric names which our guide is rattling off
in such a rate,” end quote. The desert thus expands, and
its substance starts to vary. For Arabs and Jews, it is stones
and sand that constitute it. For American Christians,
it is the Jew. For English and American
geographers it is the Arab. Against the grain of
perceiving Arabs as the desert, Melville’s journal
claims Arabs to be people of the land, preoccupied
with its cultivation and generating
significant topographic and agricultural
diversity through farming. Then Melville notes that all
who cultivate soil in Palestine are Arabs. He refers to the site
he witnessed while on the road from Jaffa, also
registered in the journal, and I quote, “Are Arabs
plowing in their shirttails, some of them very old men. Old age is venerable, but hardly
in the shirttail,” end quote. However, when Melville
notes the Arab attempt to change the desert
by cultivating it, he also thinks of
the forestation that was closely related
to Arab funerary rites, and which he registered
with fascination throughout the part of
the journal that covers his travels in the Middle East. On December 13,
1856, Melville went to see the very famous Paris
cemeteries above the Bosphorus and referred to
them, and I quote, “as forests of cemeteries.” That is because
Muslim, and I quote editors of “Clarel”
explaining, “Muslim custom was to plant a cypress
at each grade so that all Muslim cemeteries
could seem like forest to him,” end quote. Amelia Hornby, the
wife of Edmund Hornby, an English diplomat
in Constantinople from 1855 to 1865, describes
how such a cemetery must have looked like
when Melville saw it. And I quote, “What
a vast place it is, and how truly magnificent
are its funeral trees, the cypruses. Fancy the effect of a
forest of such as these with innumerable turban
stone,” end quote. Hornby suggests in her
account that the cypruses are the only surviving mark
of the grape, a sort of living monument that commemorate that
dead by literally foresting the earth. Similarly, in
Warburton’s The Crescent, there is a reference
time and time again to funerary cypresses
in Palestine and Syria. But most relevantly,
back in Constantinople and at the Paris
cemeteries, he understands cypresses to be
planted on graves as an investment in living. And I quote, “Here
at these cemeteries, all the gay people of the Frank
city assemble in the evening and wander among the tombs
with merry chat and laughter,” end quote. Warburton registers
in the Muslim rite the effort not to expel the dead
into desert lands of silence, but instead to include them
in the movement of life by foresting the earth. That is also how
Melville understands the cypress planting when
he refers to cemeteries as, and I quote, “great
resort in summer evening.” To him, the cypress tree appears
as a sort of ontological bridge that channels connections
between life and death. Quote, “The cypress a
green minaret, and blends with the stone ones.” Minaret perhaps derived
from cypress shape. The intermingling of the dark
tree with the bright spire expressive of the intermingling
of life and death. Fourth moment– but in
“Clarel,” the desert is also generated by the
politics of memorialization, the ways in which archives
deposit a political past. Already in Alexandria, the
strata of the earth’s surface resemble to Melville
monumental stone. And I quote, “Alexandria
seems Macadame with the pulverized ruins
of towns and cities. The soil looks
historical,” end quote. But the stratification
of the earth by monuments becomes an obsessive
topic in “Clarel.” Very early in the pilgrimage,
Melville’s narrator proposes that human
practices of commemorating the past on stone
surfaces are what revises the earth’s geology. And I quote, “Days fleet. They rove the historic ground. Tread many a site that
rues the ban where serial wrecks on wrecks
confound era and monument and man, or rather, in
stratifying way, bed and impact and overlay,” end quote. Deposition of monuments
in upright layers signals to Melville that
the history of nations archives itself by burying
earlier monuments alive. History is thus not, for him,
a continuity opening itself up from an origin with which
we are still connected. Monuments under whose weight
older monuments are pulverized perform in this way
extinction of the past such that, contrary to the
commonsense belief that it builds
reservoirs of memory, history works through
the labor of forgetting. And I quote, “Over
against the temple here, a monastery unrestored, named
from prediction of our Lord, crumbled long since,
outlaying near. Some stones remain, which
seats afford,” end quote. The distinction in effect
here between monuments that still speak and those
that are buried by them points to almost
systematic taxonomy that Melville makes throughout
“Clarel” between a living rock, dead rock, arid rock, and waste. A living rock is a
testamentary stone, gravemark, religious relic, or site that
speaks because it is still claimed by memory. In contrast, on the dead
rock, the testifying letters are so disfigured
that they remain only as meaningless wrinkles
written by deep time itself. Such are, for
instance, the monuments that Melville witnesses
in Jehoshaphat. And I quote, “So old,
the Hebrew inscriptions can hardly be distinguished from
the wrinkles formed by time.” There are also arid
rocks from which all signs of
monumentality are erased, but which remain in heaps,
suggesting that they might have been monuments. Near, they sow a heap
of stones in arid state, a monument to bareness. And finally there’s waste, which
is everything once cultivated from a monument to
a piece of pottery but now pulverized
into pebbles or dust mixed in with the desert mass. Such relics are most
often indistinguishable from natural
phenomena, the waste of history gone uncontrived. And I quote, “Shapeless
stone, [INAUDIBLE] shows seams of natural
rock, capitals of pilasters rubbed off by time.” Looking at the Hospitallers
cloisters in Jerusalem, Clarel, the main character,
thus perceives something like a frozen dialectical
image of history. And I quote, “The Hospitallers
cloisters, shamed, crumble in ruin. On shivered Fatamite
palaces, reared upon crash of Herod’s sway, in
turn built on the Maccabbees and on King David’s glory they. And David, on antiquities of
Jebusites and Ornan’s floor and hunters camps
of ages long before, so Glenroy’s tiers
of beaches be, abandoned margins of the
glacial sea,” end quote. What Clarel sees is thus much
like the view that enthrals Benjamin’s angel of history. He famously defines it,
“Where a chain of events appears before us, he the angel
sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling
wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet.” End of quote. And Melville too,
like the angel, mourns that what has been
smashed in the storm of history can be mended. And he too would call the
violence of this smashing historical progress. But in contrast to Benjamin’s
depiction of the historical, where the angel is drawn
by the [INAUDIBLE] storm into the future, finally
leaving the smashed testimonials piled up as rubble,
Melville’s storm doesn’t blow from a promised
afterlife, nor is it messianic. It is instead a
desert storm that throws the rubble
heap towards the earth and dissipates it over
the earth’s surface, turning it into desert beaches
where the sea begins or ends. Thus, when he claims that the
desert nature of Jerusalem’s geological bed is produced by
the impact of a history that overlays era and monument
and man in a stratifying way, Melville is
diagnosing what might be called the
desertification of the past as a literal transformation
of the earth’s surface. The politics of
desertification of the past, which for Melville
is paradoxically the essential
operation of history, always also
desertifies the earth. In Melville, the
angel of history is always the angel
of the desert, and the desert is
always historical. And finally, one last quote
for the very end– David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s
first prime minister– or founding father, as
he is sometimes called– was a reader of Melville. Commenting in his memoirs–
and I thank my friend Eduardo Cadava for attuning
me to this book– on the tremendous success
the young Israeli state had in forest in Judea, which in
the 19th century was deserted, Ben-Gurion says, “a country
of empty spaces and slums,” end quote. He regrets that,
and I quote, “Mr. Melville cannot return to
Jerusalem today to witness the transformation of the
desert into garden and forest.” And I quote, “The
soil of the territory called Palestine
was almost bare. The American author
Herman Melville wrote at the time–
and this is Ben-Gurion quoting Melville– ‘Here
is the implacable nudity of desolation. No other land could dissipate
so quickly the romantic expectations of the Jews.'” Now, Ben-Gurion curiously
rewrites Melville’s remark. Removing the
denomination “Palestine” from Melville’s sentence,
he also specifies the Jews as those who have romantic
expectations for Palestine, whereas Melville’s
sentence attributes to those expectations to
whoever would visit the country. This is how Melville phrases it. “No country will more quickly
dissipate romantic expectations than Palestine,” end quote. In 1949, at the end of
the Arab-Israeli war, Ben-Gurion gave a speech
explaining Israel’s goals of forestation and
its turning desert into bloom, which
would so excite Melville in the following way. And I quote, “They must cloak
every mountainside with trees. They must also plant
along all our borders, for reasons of security, along
every highway road and track, around buildings and civilian
and military installations. These shall not be fulfilling. One of the cardinal
obligations of the state, that of conquering
the desert, if we confine our efforts solely
to the need of the hour,” end quote. Like Melville then,
Ben-Gurion thus imagines the beauty of
the forested desert. But unlike Melville,
who celebrates forests of cemeteries in the
desert as a communal place that destabilizes
identitarian divides, Ben-Gurion desires
forestation in order to conquer the desert’s
resistance to fixed border lines, its openness to mixing. Forests planted along borders
for reasons of security are designed to produce
Ben-Gurion’s version of the walls supposed
to embody and maintain a state’s sovereignty. If the cardinal
obligations of the state are to conquered the
desert, it is then because the desert’s
resistance to stable traces disorients the idea of
sovereign border lines. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] I’ll just take this
for one second. I think we could just have
you two talk to each other. The rest of us can just watch. But we’ll do what
we normally do, which is open the
floor for questions. And I will keep the queue. I’m just checking on the timing. So we have about 40
minutes for discussion. So is anyone ready for questions
for either of our speakers? Thank you both for two
really excellent papers. OK, good. Alex? Jim? Anyone else? OK. OK, I’m sorry. I’m just really
barely operational. Alex. Jim. Suzanne. William or Bill? William. Adi? [INAUDIBLE] OK. Oh, I forgot to mention. The heat is motion-detecting. In other words, if you’re cold
it’s because no one has moved and it thinks no one is here. So we can do the
theater thing of hopping up and down in between, like
getting the blood going. Or you could just go to the
washroom when you want to, or wave at me really well if you
want to put you on the queue. So let’s start with Alex. Thanks for two really
interesting presentations. This is a question
for Joan, and it’s a response to the very end,
where you said the left needs to fight against disappearance. So I wonder if you could
say more about why, because on the one
hand I could see it as sort of the anti-Machiavelli
attitude of the left. If contemporary political
orders of violence and coercion only reproduce
themselves by making their original founding
acts of violence disappear– and you
brought up Machiavelli as these sort of primitive
acts of accumulation of legitimate power–
then it is a kind of challenge to
the existing order to make those acts reappear. And it is an effective act. On the other hand, if I think
about some forms of criticism by the left that
take this form, it’s sometimes a mask for the
left’s powerlessness. It looks backwards because
it can’t look forward. In other words, it can’t
make something new appear. It doesn’t really have a vision
of any future, any new future, that will appear and take
the place of the current one. And so it falls back
on just constantly dredging up old moral horrors
to make itself look powerful. It’s certainly a powerful act. But in the end it’s
actually concealing a real powerlessness,
because it has no power to make anything new appear. And so it just makes
past atrocities reappear. So I’m wondering if
you could say– I mean, we can think of some examples. Maybe even arguments
about reparations would be kind of a good
example of something like that. So that’s sort of a question. I think I’m trying to argue
that in fact, I think the left itself, at least
the Marxist left I think in some sense had a
very problematic view of history to begin with. And not just because it had a
teleology of history in which history was moving forward. But I think it embraced the
idea of a kind of progress that capitalism was one stage
on the way to actualizing, but obviously that
supposedly communism would fully actualize,
that I’m trying to contest. And I guess this is part of
my response to your question. And I think that
there’s a kind of sense either that– well,
since on the left’s part, that what happened
before or in the past is really less adequate
than the present and much less adequate
than the future. And I really think
that the whole sort of way of looking at the
relationship between past, present, and the future that
the Marxist left participates in, along with liberals in a
very different way– I mean, those two camps– I think
really needs to be challenged. And one of the kind of
jams I get myself– I’ll tell you exactly what
I think the jams are that I get myself into. One is that– I mean,
one could say, well, what can you do about it? This is just what history is. Things are always changing. You can’t really
preserve what was. But I think there are really
valuable facets of existence that actually need to
be preserved or need to be recaptured from the past
in our present and the future. So part of a kind
of active politics is to protect those
endangered aspects of life, and to try to fight against the
forces that would undo them. And I see that as– it’s
weird, because it’s a very much, in some sense, a
conservative, not politically conservative, but a
conservative kind of politics. But I think it’s a
radical politics, because the forces
that are attacking those valued aspects
of life are forces that are concentrated power. They’re, to me,
capitalist and sort of big private
concentration of power that is part of this
force, and then the state is sort of the other big
concentration of public power. So I know that– I mean, it’s
just particularly difficult when things are already
gone, and you realize that they had a value in
them that was much more attractive than the kind of
current organizations of life. And so how do you stand
up for that value, and how do you possibly try to
bring it back into existence? But I do think this
is part of the fight that I’m interested in. And so there’s a criticism of
the Marxist agenda in here. I think that creating
something new is in part– this isn’t an
argument against creativity. It’s an argument
against the idea that somehow the
future, its creations, are always going to be something
that’s humanly more enhancing than the past and
things in the past, or things in the present that
are in danger of becoming past. So I look around, and when
I see social movements that are trying to fight for the
preservation of– I mean, this is part of it. It’s the public, public
libraries, public parks in this country that
are under assault. I mean, the liberal arts–
I teach at a liberal arts college. That is really under
assault right now. So I see this fight
as being not just– you would have to
act into the future in order to restabilize these
things or give them new life, so it’s not like stasis. But I think sometimes
it’s a fight that has a kind of [INAUDIBLE],
perhaps, dimension to it. So I’m going to say
one last thing here, that some of the biggest
voices that are now critical of people who
are trying to preserve are capitalist voices. And they say, this
is just nostalgia. What’s wrong with it? Neighborhoods have to go. Things always change. Little stores? Well, once we have more
concentrated capital they’re going to be displaced. But that’s just
the way things are. That’s progress. And that’s the kind
of mentality I’m trying to articulate
a response to. But I know the dangers. The other paper just kind
of showed me dangerous. You don’t want to romanticize
the past or parts of a present that shouldn’t be romanticized. Jim? There are two questions, and
for Joan Cocks– or comments, I guess. The second one– well, the
first one was to be my second, but it follows
directly from this– was the role of
memory in preserving the disappeared or
the disappearing, or how memory works on things
which are already gone, your last point there. Maya Lin has this
project that she’s now engaged in of
memorializing things that are disappearing
before they’re disappeared, which takes the form of
a rather large website that she’s creating where people
are supposed to report on what they can’t find anymore
or what’s beginning to go missing in their area. And I don’t know whether
that would be one– No, I’d love to look at that. But what sort of brought
to a stop in your talk, so much that I just
ruminating over it that I lost the last part of
it, unfortunately, was just the really powerful
image of the helicopters coming down and taking
people off the street. And what you did
with the significance that these people are
called The Disappeared, and just whether there
are other cases of this or whether the Argentinian
case in some ways is really quite
emphatic in the way in which people are disappeared,
and whether this is, going back to
questions of agency, a peculiar new technology of
the state showing its power to make people disappear
in front of other people? And to make them
not register it. That’s the thing, I think,
that Diane Taylor really she spends a lot of time– and
I don’t know the answer to your question. It’s a really
interesting question. But that when you saw this,
you had to not register. You were forced to
witness it, and you were forced also to
not register anywhere in public or private space
that you had witnessed this. And this has produced major
psychological problems in many of the people
who saw this happen. [INAUDIBLE]? Yeah, thank you both for
very interesting papers. And Joan, as you
were speaking, I thought very much
that you were talking about old Marxist
debates, how we get from, in the
structuralist language, from one mode of
production to the other. And of course, Balibar wrote
the big article on that, and there was this
problem of how you jump from one epistemic
system to the other. And so there was
an attempt at sort of thinking about so-called
theory of transformation on the one hand,
and then of course Marx’s long chapter on primitive
accumulation and all that. And where in fact, he
avoids the feudal problem by simply going to the
United States as a way of, again, skirting the problem. So as you were speaking
I was thinking, well, to what extent could
one use disappearance as a kind of basis for a
theory of transformation. And then I was thinking, well,
is that what you were doing? And that’s really my question. Is this a theory
of transformation, or are you making a more
prescriptive argument? So then together with the
Taylor term “perspecticide,” which is fantastic, I was
wondering whether in fact what we’re dealing with when
you invoke the term “disappearance” in the context
of transformative structures, historical transformative
structures, whether in fact what
you’re getting at is a kind of disappearance
of disappearance, right? In other words, that there’s a
kind of specticide to the act of disappearing that we cannot
conceptually or theoretically register. Yeah. Well, I do mean this to be
prescriptive, my argument. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. And you’re right that
it’s very difficult even to write about this,
because once something is gone, especially in a
society like this one which has embraced this sort
of idea of endless change for the sake of I
don’t know what, it’s very difficult
to even conjure it up. Unless you happen to be a
people– for some people who’ve been really crushed by a
new modality of life that isn’t theirs, it’s
alive in their memory. Sometimes there’s not
much they can do about it. Sometimes they can try to fight
for some sort of revitalization of their lands or whatever. But I think for a people
whose subjectivities have been reformed inside of
this new order things, that’s not in their imaginations. This is something
that– I forget what this guy’s name was. He was a journalist
who was really writing about the disappearance
of the commons in various ways, and he says that once
something is made private, then after the next generation
or so it’s all naturalized that it’s private. So he tries to come up with
something that hasn’t yet been privatized, and he comes
up with looking at the clouds. Looking at that, we see
this is the kind of– it’s not a private thing. But actually, there are moves
afoot to privatize airspace. I mean, we know this already. And once that’s done,
take a few generations and we’ve lost the capacity to
see that this is just– it just becomes a natural
thing, which doesn’t mean that it’s a better thing. I’ll shut up after
one second, but I want to say one thing about
primitive accumulation. I exactly went back to Marx
and dug out that chapter because I thought
this chapter really shouldn’t have been buried
in Das Capital where it is. It really deserves to be at
the forefront of that text, not to downplay the importance
of exploitation of wage labor. And then I discovered
that there are all these post-colonial
Marxists who are doing tremendous
work on the concept of primitive accumulation. There’s such a rich
literature, which is really what I want to get into. I mean, I’m just beginning
to creep to that point, but that’s where I want to go
with this, is to explore that. I’m very tempted to jump
into this discussion of Marx and history and
progress, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to ask
Branka a couple of questions about the last section
of your paper, which I found really interesting. And they’re questions that
have to do with the two brief quotations I jotted
down from Melville, “the soil looks historical.” The soil itself
looks historical. And this idea of serial
wrecks on wrecks. So I’m interested
in that imagery and the sort of political
significance of that imagery. And my two questions are these. Does Melville anywhere in
his diaries or in “Clarel” address directly the
Roman imperial presence in Palestine Judea? No. He’s mostly concerned
with the Ottoman. There’s a lot of
really interesting marginal observations. The Roman question kicks in in
the parts in which he discusses the historical reasons for the
survival of Catholicism, which he believes is– I
guess one can expect it from a Protestant in the
19th century– obsolete. But his question is, well, if
it’s theologically obsolete, how come it’s getting
more and more global? And what contributes
to its spreading? So for him it becomes
a political question. It becomes the
question of, what’s so appealing, in other
words, across the nations and ethnicities? What’s in Catholicism
that enables it? And so in that sense,
there are moments when he suggests that the
Roman churches might come back to Israel, to Palestine. But he does not,
to my knowledge. I mean, it’s the longest
poem in American literature, 18,000 verses. Yeah. I’m surprised it’s not in there. It’s written in
ocotsyllabic pentameters. It’s really difficult to read
it, so I might miss something. But to my knowledge, no. OK, so nothing you remember
about Roman imperial presence, Syria or Judea being
provinces of the Roman Empire? Right. I mean, he does talk about
the Crusaders, of course. There’s a lot of
talks about that. And that also is the motion
of sheer destruction. So he just sees all of these
fighters for truth and identity throughout history
as just really the forces of destruction. So I haven’t registered
a moment there where he perceives–
I mean, the journal that’s written in
1856 during the trip is a little bit
different from “Clarel.” It took him 17 years
to write “Clarel,” so he read all of these
books and got really invested in the question of Palestine. But then he comes
as a North American when he goes to Palestine,
his journal registers that. He has a fear of Arabs. And he says. I’m afraid. I don’t like to see them. But he’s also fascinated. So, this I’m saying in
order to say that he didn’t go totally open-hearted. And yet, at no point
in the poem he’s worried about the
spreading of Islam. It’s not in that
way politically. So it’s very interesting
that he would, at a kind of personal
level as a traveller, show some signs of fear but
then would be also fascinated by the customs, by the rites. Just one quick follow-up. Does he anywhere refer
to the book by Volney? The English title is usually
given as The Ruins– Meditation on the Ruins of
Empire, which was first published in French in 1791
and had a persistent readership right through the 19th century. Is that anything– No. I mean again, I cannot
guarantee-guarantee. But I don’t think,
because I also checked the editorial
list of all of the books and I used most of
those, which are also fascinating material,
American geographers and sacred geographers wrote. And that was a genre that
was extremely popular in 19th century America, and how
people fantasized about– its was both anti-Jewish
and anti-Muslim. So that’s kind of an aspect
of that approach that’s now a little bit toned down,
but that’s what it was. Thank you. I would like to ask
both of you what is somewhat related– it’s
the same thought that would be addressed to both of you. So I’ll start with Joan. This disappearance sounds
to me, as you talked about, most of the time as destruction. And I wonder if we don’t have
to distinguish here, especially since there are kinds
of disappearance of things that have come back. And when this is the
case– and sometimes we don’t know whether or not this
is the case– when a soldier is missing, with the
Argentinian activists, often it was not absolutely
clear, not immediately, whether they are gone forever. So disappearance in
this sense is spectral and inherently ambiguous. And I think it has a
different political effect. So one of the things is that
in processes of destruction, it is often the
case– and this is related to the end
of your paper– that the destruction
itself should disappear– should disappear. So of course, one
of the main purposes of forestation in
Israel is to make the villages, the Palestinian
villages, disappear. I wonder if you have
some thought about it, about this moment in the
fight against the desert? And also, I think, in between
destruction and disappearance, when I was listening to
this fascinating talk about the desert, I
thought about emptiness as, I don’t know,
somewhere in between. So both emptiness,
but also the desert is the best place for
preservation of the past. Does it play any role? And also about the desert
is that as the [INAUDIBLE] for appearances of
a very special kind. I mean, all the main revelations
took place in the desert. So I think has to do
with its emptiness. So if there’s any resonance– Yeah. So yeah, I have just
a couple of things. This is a part of a
very long project, so I kind of keep thinking about
it from many points of view. And one of the things that I
thought Melville was saying, and I wanted to suggest
by introducing Ben-Gurion at the end, is that Melville
comes to see the desert there. He becomes aware of the
historical aspect of it. And so I would say that he
does not think of desert, or does not end up
thinking about the desert, as something that’s
completely deserted or erased, so that the destruction that
happened and created the desert is not obliterated by the
fact the desert is there. He comes to look at the
desert as full of traces. The question is that the
traces themselves are muted. So he comes to see the desert
as, in fact, a mute monument. So not a natural
kind of creation. There is a testimony there,
but it becomes a testimony to destruction without
being more specific. And that’s what he warns. He says that in
fact, the specificity of the destruction– so he’s
worried also about that. And another thing
that also happens towards the end of the
second– there are four books– is that one of the
characters is represented as a Christian pilgrim as
kind of a revolutionary mind. And Melville says he has
around him an atmosphere of Haitian revolution. So that’s an
historical reference to Haitian revolution. And then Melville says, but
he doesn’t go to the desert, because there’s no
revolution in the desert. So he starts to see it, at
some point, desert, as in fact the absence of
strife, as he says, something that in fact resists
the revolutionary movements or war. So desert is not a great
place to engage in war, because it’s open. And at that point, he starts
developing a positive aspect of what I call the concept
of the desert, very in fact a certain forgetting
of the destruction may in fact enable those who
are at a certain point together in the desert to just
start over together, unburdened by the history
and who did what to whom. So desert at one point
in the poem in fact appears as a kind of
affirmative moment, as kind of a liberatory moment,
kind of, let’s forget it now, move together into
something else. Yeah. Yeah. What I thought you
were going to do is to say all the disappearances
you write about are destructive, but what
about disappearances that are really positive? And you didn’t go
in that direction. I wanted to. OK, well, I’m going to
first answer that one. And then I’ll get
to your question. I don’t mean to say that
disappearance is always lamentable, and erasure. The problem is
that the yardstick for measuring whether the
next order– if we think about sovereign state
disappearances, disappearances that happen when a
new state is born or when a new state
expands, the problem is that the yardstick
that measures what is progressive or
regressive is given by the new order of things. And it’s very difficult,
especially for people whose subjectivities have
been formed in that order, to put that yardstick aside,
to really try to imagine life from the vantage point of
a disappeared life world, for example. But I don’t want to–
I mean, obviously there are things that
were very happy most of us that have disappeared. I was going to say like slavery,
but it turns out slavery really hasn’t disappeared. So it’s very tricky
to figure out how to evaluate what
comes into being without using its measurement
system or its schema values. But I think the more
interesting point– and I think it’s a wonderful
point– is that things that disappear, sometimes
they truly are erased, even from the
mentalities of the people who are generations later who
just never remember that there wasn’t always such a thing as
the private ownership of water, for example. But often, you are
right, there is a return in either the psychological
effects of disappearance or an actual people
who hold those memories and may sometimes have been
deformed by those memories and do really awful
things because of a memory of a destruction
that their people has suffered. But often that comes back
to haunt the present. And I think if I weren’t
writing a 30-minute thing for a concept, that definitely
is something to enrich the category of disappearance. It’s really
important, and to make it less definitive
and less sort of, this happened and now it’s over. It would be really
important to do. I should say, also,
here to the rest of you that clearly, besides
as one gets older, one realizes one is also
on the way to disappearing. So partly this is
my own age maybe that makes me think
in these terms. But obviously, extinction,
the sixth extinction, extinction of the
species– that’s all sort of haunting this paper. And the importance
of standing up for other modes of
life besides human life before they disappear
is really important. And just to finish
this– I was part of a seminar on the
concept the disappearance, and people came from
different disciplines. And there were people
studying colonialism, and people who were artists. They were the only ones who
celebrated disappearance, because they did some
interesting things with it. But the biologists– to have
the biologists in the room, that was really something
because this is what they are attuned to
now, is the disappearance of life forms. So anyway, that’s partly
what’s informed this too, this pessimism, I guess. OK, so we have 10 minutes-ish. Stuart. OK, well we’ve got three
people already in the queue, and I can add you as the fourth. I was just going
to suggest that we take all of the
questions at this point, and then allow our two speakers
to respond to them together. OK? So we have Tahl, Sharon,
Ariella, and I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. Stewart. Stewart? OK. You have a microphone
right in front of you, if you want to use it. Thank you very much
for both of the papers. I think I’m going to
focus on the question that I had for Joan, though
what you were just saying really addresses it a lot. And I guess I was struck
at certain moments by your description of the
present as one in which we’ve embraced endless change, in
that I was thinking– I mean, the issues that were
coming to mind to me were the sort of
recent controversies over the Confederate flag,
the discussions at Princeton about the Woodrow Wilson
school’s name right now. And I was thinking
more generally about the Civil War and sort
of, is disappearance always bad? And maybe you’ve
already answered it, but I didn’t know if you
would want to say more. But I guess I’m
just struck by there being huge elements
of our society that in fact are very
invested in preserving certain names, certain legacies,
certain titles– very much in academic settings. And I don’t know if you
want to say more on that. Do you have a microphone
that you can reach? So I wanted to also ask
Joan a question about, coming back to the
Argentina case, part of what that
illustrates to me is the way that the observance
of the disappearance by other people affects
a kind of disappearance of the citizen within them. And yet, then there
are the mothers of the disappeared who appear. So they bring citizenship
back into being somehow. And I mean, this goes in a
way to Suzanne’s question about transformation. And I hear in what
you were saying that you are interested
in that, in forms of resistance to disappearance. So I just wonder,
is there anything about that case that tells us
something important about how to appear in the face
of disappearance, including the disappearance
of our own selves as citizens? And thinking about the
environmental thing and also the force of capitalism
to make things disappear, it seems to me that
that experience of witnessing disappearances
that cause the citizen in you to disappear is
actually kind of common. Like you said, we have this idea
that, well, small businesses are being taken over
by Walmarts everywhere, and that’s just the
way it’s going to be. That’s just what it is. There’s a kind of disappearance
of the citizen in us when we see that. Life forms are disappearing
off the face of the planet, and what can we do about it? Nothing. The disappearance of
the citizen in us. So anyway, is there anything
about that case or others that could be a starting point
for the kind of transformation that could make
citizenship reappear? Ariella? Yeah, so in a way I would like
to continue Sharon’s question about the particularity,
or what can we learn from the Argentina case. First of all, really thank
you for both wonderful papers. I mean, address a
similar question, I think, about
disappearance, knowing the disappearance that is
underneath your forests or deforestation or whatever. But my question will be to Joan. Listening to you and when you
discussed the Argentina case, I could understand that you
were saying that “percepticide,” Diana Taylor’s term, is what
is particular to the Argentina case. But I think that maybe
there is something else that is particular to
the Argentina case. And in order to formulate
it, I would like just to bring to the fore the
Palestine case, because what happened in Palestine is the
disappearance of 750,000 people and the disappearance
of Palestine. And it was so difficult to
frame what happened in Palestine in terms of disappearance. And I ask myself in relation
to the Argentina case why it was so
difficult. And I know because I struggled
for many, many years to make this appearing
as a disappearance. And in order to make an
appearing as a discipline, there are two things that
differentiate Palestine from Argentina. And one of them
is that Palestine went through partition. So as Palestine went
through partition, the disappearance was
made into meaningless for one part of the
partition, because partition, the whole idea was
to create two sides. So I think this is
one of the aspects. The other aspect is the law. The disappearance
became the law. You should not recognize what
they’re– but when I studied a case of Palestine, in order
to understand it as a kind of percepticie–
or as I called it, catastrophe from
their point of view, because it was not catastrophe
from the point of view of the Jews. It was made, not
catastrophe, for them. The problem was to
bring together the Jews as those who were
present with Palestinians when the disappearance happened. And Diana speaks about or
you speak about Argentina, there are these kind
of spectacular moments when you can see how people
are kidnapped in front of the eyes of the others. But in Palestine, it
happen for 750,000 people in front of the Jews. The problem was how
to make the Jews again implicated back then, in ’47,
’48, before it disappeared. And listening to you, I
thought about the possibility– and I would like to
hear you about it– that the fact that the
word “disappearance,” not the phenomenon
of disappearance– because the phenomenon
of disappearance is similar in Palestine
and in Argentina, and in many other places
when political violence is exercised– but the
word “disappearance” enabled to keep this
percepticide open, as if we were not really
speaking about percepticide, but we are speaking about
different things, which I don’t know exactly what it is. Because if we have
this word in common, because Argentina didn’t
go through partition of population– so if
this word was kept, it was preserved in common
in the public sphere, what is the role of this
word that it was there since the beginning,
part of the phenomenon? So it’s kind of a
very long question, but I would like
to hear you about– Not yet, because
we have one more. Stuart? Should I pick up a microphone? Yeah, sure. Thanks. So it’s a question for
Branka, but it’s not as disconnected, perhaps,
from the other questions as it might seem. And it’s simply about the
kind of figure of the desert more broadly in mid-19th
century American thought, especially slavery. Because obviously, in African
American thinking at the time and on through the 20th
century, the importance of Moses and the 40 years
in the wilderness, it’s essential, right? It’s the central way of
making sense, in some ways, of the history of oppression
in the proceeding 200 years. So there’s that aspect,
but there’s also the fact that Melville’s
desert– and I loved your [INAUDIBLE]
notion of history appearing in its erasure. That seems exactly
right to Melville. But Melville’s desert sounds
quite like Melville’s ocean. And thinking of the
many, many references to the desert, the comparisons
to the desert in Moby Dick, but more broadly in the
way that the ocean figured for abolitionists,
the horror of it being as the many deaths that
happen in the Middle Passage are not memorialized. There are no
markers, so the ocean becomes a kind of space for
the disappearance of memory in precisely the way I think
that the desert is working in your account of “Clarel.” So I’d be interested
in kind of a broader discussion of the relationship
between the desert and slavery. So thanks. So it’s 4:45, which is
when we’re supposed to end. So I’ll ask you both to not
take too long, but to please respond in any way you like. And we’ll assume
the conversation will continue over drinks
or coffee or whatever. Why don’t you go first? I have to think about this. [INAUDIBLE] more focused. OK, I can just say really
very quickly two things. One, you’re right about
Melville eventually comes to think about the desert
in the same way in which he had talked about the
ocean in Moby Dick. And that happens relatively
late, with later poems. And there is a preface to them
where he explicitly compares the desert and the ocean. But a very short kind of
comment on the second part of your question–
I think that you’re absolutely right about
the naturalist as kind of an historical memorial. And that’s what people
are talking about today in the context of the
Atlantic slave trade. And that is basically the whole
basis of [INAUDIBLE] poetic, for instance, that every island
in the Caribbean is a monument. The stones are historical. So this kind of idea to do
what Melville was registering in the desert, the desert
is historical and in fact is a history of destruction. That’s what he was kind
of developing in terms of the Caribbean slave trade. I think I’ll just
say very quickly, the disappearance of the
citizen– great question. I think really that’s one of
the big battles in this country, a battle to sort of revitalize
the citizen, if possible, which is harder and harder
when there are fewer and fewer public
spaces and public things, but not impossible. And then the very good
question from Tahl, about what happens when
people lament or they want to preserve a past
and the past had injustice at its very heart. What do you make of that? And that goes back
to this thing, are all disappearances really
bad, or if some of them are really important and
emancipatory for all of us, even the people who
are lamenting the past? It’s strange, because
I do believe today that part of radical politics
is a politics of protection and preservation. But yet, that really
puts me in the camp with some strange
bedfellows, I guess. So I have to think about
how to get out of that camp or what to do about that. But maybe part
of– well, anyway. I think part of what I do
understand, not about what people who want to preserve
the Confederate flag, not that desire, but
I do think there’s a kind of city-country
tension in a lot of the people who feel that the urban and
industrial and post-industrial life is sort of railroading
over a kind of rural life. And I do have a lot
of sympathy for that, wherever it happens
in the world. There’s lots of places where
you see in front of your eyes. And I just saw this
film outside of Istanbul where small peasant
farmers were just– they see their plots of land,
the state just take them, and it’s all going
to be hyperdeveloped, because the state’s
embedded with the capital. But I have some kind of
temperamental affinity with the importance of
the rural for many people. And there are good reasons
why it’s important for people, I think. But that’s a good question. I don’t have a great
answer for it, really. The question of Palestine
versus Argentina is a wonderful,
wonderful question, and it would be great to have
a long conversation about this. I’m not a specialist on
Argentinian politics, but from my reading
of Taylor’s text and my Argentinian
friends, some of whom went through that when
they were much younger, I think it’s very different. I think in Argentina you
had a population that was at the mercy of
a particular regime, and saw their friends and
neighbors disappearing and couldn’t say
anything about it. I think in the cases
of Israel-Palestine, you have– well, first of all,
people that at most will say, well, the problem starts in ’67. And they say what
gets disappeared is the fact that the problem
doesn’t start in ’67, and the problem goes back
to ’47 and before that. So there’s that kind of memory. The memory stops in ’67 for
Israeli Jews and American Jews who acknowledged some
oppression of the Palestinians but think that it begins
much later on in the history of the state of Israel. But I think also
that the Zionists who struggled for a Jewish
state– I mean, they knew, people at the time, they
saw what they were doing. I mean, they were doing it. If you go back
there, they certainly knew they were sort of
taking over villages or destroying villages or moving
Jews in and moving Palestinians out. So at the time, I
think, it wasn’t as if this is
populations saying, we can’t acknowledge
disappearance because of what the regime
is going to do to us. It said, you have
a population that had an interest in winning
land for its state. So I think it’s different. And then the question is,
why doesn’t that population see this as an injustice? And that’s a
complicated question. I think in part, it has
to do with the traces left from the persecution– this
is not an excuse– of Jews elsewhere. Unfortunately,
persecution doesn’t always produce virtuous people. It can produce people who
are determined next time around to be a majority people
instead of a minority people. And that’s how the traces of the
past end up fueling, I think, this desire to become a
sovereign master in a new space that many Jews had. But it’s a complicated,
great, great question of how to compare
those two cases. So would everyone join me in
thanking our two paper-givers? [APPLAUSE]

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