School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Palestinian racial subjects: Co-memory of catastrophe and melancholia


Memory of catastrophe, sacralised and banalised (Bauman, 2004), is a currency of the ‘confessional culture’ of ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman 2000), and an increasingly valid social sciences theme, no longer the exclusive realm of historians and psychologists.

I concur with Lila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad Sa’di that the memory of the Holocaust, after an initial silence, became so dominant a narrative of our times, particularly, but not only, in Israel, that the Palestinians could not make themselves heard over the louder story, ‘told by European Jews who stressed their alliance with the cultural and political values of the West’ (Abu-Lughod and Sa’di, 2007: 12). Yet all Israeli Jews live in the shadow of the 1948 Palestinian refugees. This paper is underpinned by this dialectic link, not an easy one to make, between the Holocaust and its implications for the Jewish state’s dispossessed Palestinian victims.

Theorising Israel as a racial state (Goldberg, 2002), where what Giorgio Agamben (2005) terms ‘the state of exception’ constructs some lives as ‘bare life’ (Agamben, 1995), this paper uses Bauman’s writing on memory and the making of strangers to theorise the co-memory of the Nakba by Israeli Jews, which, I argue, is affected by unresolved melancholia for the Palestine they / we destroyed and the Palestinians they / we dispossessed.

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