it is because of wonder that people both before and now have set themselves upon philosophy
(Aristotelis Metaphysica 982b.12-13)
إذا عرف السّبب بطل العجب
wonder disappears if the reason is known
(Não encontrei a fonte; Provérbio?)
What we should part with—indeed, what we must exorcise from our cognitive system—is the obsessive theoretical craving for all-encompassing unities and continuities. Though we can understand the deep cultural insecurities that give rise to such cravings, and even aesthetically relish the beautifully arranged projections by which such insecurities are kept at bay, we cannot afford to let them replace historical realities. This is not a call for the banishing of ideological considerations from historical and literary thinking. Such banishment is both impossible and unwarranted. All history is informed by ideological considerations. However, ideological projection and wishful thinking are not one and the same. An authentic, scholarly historical narrative can balance such inevitable projections with a genuine interest in the ever so complex and multifarious facets of historical reality. The more we study the realities of the Jewish literary complex the less we feel the need to superimpose upon them a symbolic order (in the Lacanian sense of the term), to organize them hierarchically under an overarching principle. We should remind ourselves that the hierarchically tiered systems we are often offered by cultural theorists are at best no more than temporary and fluid constructions. Almost all can be differently arranged with lower, recessive, and conditioned tiers replacing the upper, dominant, and conditioning ones. The hierarchy is o en only in the eye of the ideological beholder. That is an important lesson we can and should learn from observing closely the Jewish literary complex, and especially its modern evolution since the second half of the eighteenth century. Modern Jewish history, with its wildly colliding crosscurrents, did not allow for the emergence of one unified modern Jewish culture or for an integral, albeit multilingual, modern Jewish literature. It rather forces upon the scholarly observer the realization that Jewish culture and literature were fragmented beyond repair.
It was this realization that sent the early Zionist and Yiddishist theorists on their wild-goose chase after ideologically wished-for but historically impossible unities and continuities. Without necessarily adopting post-Zionist a itudes, I believe we can reverse this process. Zionist theorists, we know, sought a new, or revived, Jewish normalcy: this normalcy would entail a reunification of an exiled and sca ttered people, as well as a reorganization and streamlining of this people’s abnormal, fractured, and scattered cultural legacy. If we accept the so-called abnormality of modern Jewish culture, or even assert its essential normality, we can shed new light on the so-called normal literatures which are, in fact, not that much different from the aggregate of Jewish literatures. For these literatures—particularly the richer and more extensive and expansive ones—are ultimately no more than aggregates of their own, governed by projected hierarchies and imagined common denominators. As the scholarship triggered by the theories of minority discourse and minor literatures demonstrate, these hierarchies reflect the relative stability of the social and political power structures that approve of a culture and a literature of a certain tenor. They purport to express and define the universal human ethical identity while, in fact, they assert and define the identity of the sociocultural powers that be. At the same time, they eliminate other identities, through preferences, canonization, marginalization, and exclusion.
Jewish culture, lacking the organized socioeconomic and political basis that supported the hierarchical structures of other cultures, could not achieve such impositions—no matter how much Jewish ideologues craved them. It was therefore unable to develop a modern Jewish canon. (This very concept is necessarily self-contradictory; Ruth Wisse’s recent treatise, The Modern Jewish Canon, for example, unwittingly demonstrates this by excluding most of the important modern Jewish fiction writers and by disregarding modern Jewish poetry altogether.)
As a result of these weaknesses, however, modern Jewish culture and literature only made clear what all modern cultures harbored in the depths of their complex and repressive bulks. What has surfaced throughout the second half of the twentieth century is that cultures and literatures that were supposedly national and monolingual have actually been created, in part, by a host of foreigners and neophytes, whose language of writing was not their mother tongue. We have seen members of repressed and peripheral societies— colonial and otherwise—who have deterritorialized and denationalized languages such as English or French. In fact what we see in the last fifty years can be called the Judaization of modern Western civilization, in the sense that what was once regarded as a peculiar and unfortunate Jewish cultural condition has become quite the normal cultural condition of the West as a whole.