The Jewish PLO

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

Abraham Weizfeld is a co-founder of the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians, whose motto is ‘Jews & Arabs Are United, Israel’s Wrongs Must Be Righted’. He was also a founder of the Jewish People’s Liberation Organization. Here, he speaks with the Alternative Information Center (AIC):



Jews who are opposed to Zionism marching in Canada (photo: flickr/Ullyses)


Zionism formed in response to European persecution of the Jewish people. Where did it go wrong?


Zionism said that the Jews should establish a Jewish nation state in their own name, excluding any other nation, just as the Jews have been excluded from Germany and Europe, because they realized that Jewish liberty in Europe was not feasible. So instead of opposing the exclusionary European nation state, they adopted the same methodology and chose to implement it in their own name, with the alliance of those European nation states, which considered that the Jews didn’t belong in their nation state, and that the Jews should go to their Jewish nation state, and incidentally form an outpost of European colonialism.


Zionism was separatist, it wanted to segregate the Jewish people in Palestine. That’s the true origin of Zionism. This has corrupted Jewish spiritual culture, and has destroyed a great part of Jewish political culture, the Yiddish language. Now I am a Yiddish speaker who can speak with nobody. Nobody speaks Yiddish, except the Hasidim.

Instead of Zionism going off and establishing its own nation state on the model of European exclusionary nation states, how could they have stayed and fought persecution?


In Poland the Jewish workers’ movement formed a civil rights movement, much like the African Americans did, and they developed it into a political party and a trade union federation called the Jewish Labor Bund. My mother was a member of the Bund and so was her brother, who became a partisan during the Nazi invasion of Russia.


This Jewish Bund, which means ‘union’, was of the opinion that the Jewish people who lived in Poland were legitimately Polish, as legitimate as any other Polish person. They had had lived there for over 500 years. They spoke Polish to each other in their home as well as Yiddish. My parents spoke to each other in Polish, not in Yiddish, and with me they spoke Yiddish. They were as Polish as any other Polish person, only they were Jewish as well, they had a dual identity.


The Jewish people are one of the least religious nations in the world nowadays…but the Jewish cultural-national identity continues to exist. The Jewish Bund was based on this national identity…The Jewish Bund developed on a civil rights basis as an alternative to Zionism, in fact it was anti-Zionist.  It was devastated both by the Nazis and the Stalinists, but it survived nonetheless, and here I am. I was raised as a Bundist by my mother, who was also an anti-Zionist.

It’s interesting that whereas the Bund sought to maintain a duality between their national identity as Jews, and their full participation in the Polish or Russian class struggle as Poles or Russians, Zionism sought to collapse that duality into a single identity, where the cultural-national identity as Jew immediately coincides with the nationalistic identity as Israeli.


The Zionists are so fanatical on that point, their official ideology doesn’t even allow an Israeli national identity to be established. There is only a Jewish identity, though two thirds of the world’s Jewish people do not have a vote on the Israeli elections… That’s why I advocate a Jewish revolution against Zionism, for the independence of the Jewish people from the state of the Zionists. There may be an Israeli nation now, but it is not a Jewish nation. It does not represent the Jewish people.


The Jewish Bund was proven correct in its critique of Zionism, in the sense that it was not necessary for Jewish people to run away to Palestine to preserve their identity. Jewish people are not going to lose their identity, they are not going to be assimilated, even though they live in other societies. Jewish people are strong enough to have a dual identity.


You can speak more than one language. You can have more than one identity. Humans are not limited to being just one thing. To be Jewish is to be creative, it is to develop new ideas, to adapt new ideas, to learn from other cultures, and to fuse them with what the Jewish people have learned from the various cultures, to develop an internationalist culture which is very dynamic.


We have formed an international Jewish opposition to Zionism now. There are various Jewish organizations that are either anti occupation or anti Zionism… Jewish identity has to be asserted in an independent fashion, and Jewish identity has to be rebuilt, without feigning allegiance to the Zionist state, which is artificial and is not representative of the actuality of Jewish culture in any country.

Palestinian Prisoner Self Education

copied from my Palestine Chronicle article here

Books freed prisoners. (Photo: Rana Way)

On the third floor of the Nablus Municipality Library, there sits a room of over 8,000 books set apart from the rest. Many of these books are very old and tattered; many of them, in lieu of a normal face, are adorned with images taken from old National Geographic or Reader’s Digest magazines. Some are laboriously written by hand. The spines of the books show a variety of languages, from Arabic to English, French and Spanish. ‘The New English Bible’ is flanked by ‘The Great American Revolution of 1776’ on one side and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ on the other; across the aisle, Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and ‘The Greek Myths’ look on silently, next to ‘Elementary Physics’ and a study of ‘The Chinese Road to Socialism’.

One day in 2008, Italian artist Beatrice Catanzaro became fascinated with this section of the Nablus Library. “I would return day after day”, she related, “to pour over every detail- how the work was sown, the notations, the drawings.” A librarian, seeing her fascination, told her a story:

“A few years ago an old man asked me for a specific book. [She picks up and shows me a thick hard covered grey book with old yellowish pages.] He started to explore the perimeter of the cover with his fingers, searching in the bookbinding gap. When [I] asked him what he was searching for, the man looked at [me] with a discouraged expression: ‘in prison I use to hide my embroidering needle in the binding of this book’.”

What fascinated Beatrice about this collection? This 8,000-book collection is no ordinary collection, but the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Library. Here are gathered books that lived with generations of Palestinian prisoners behind the bars of Israeli prisons. The shelves are adorned with weathered tomes of economic theory, slim volumes of poetry, well-worn novels, textbooks on mathematics and physics, classic works of philosophy and history, and much more. Personal and political annotations, scribbles and drawings adorn these pages, which captivated the hearts and minds of decades of Palestinian prisoners before finding their way, after the closure of two ex-Israeli military detention structures in 1996, to this library.

PFLP leader Abdel-Alim Da’na, who was imprisoned for a total of 17 years between 1970 and 2004, spearheaded PFLP educational programs behind bars to spread the philosophy of resistance to less experienced prisoners. He explains the foundation of prison pedagogy- “everyone, when they enter the prison, must learn to read and to study. Some people, when they enter the prison, cannot read or write, and we put an end to their illiteracy. Some of them are very famous journalists now, some are poets, some are writing in the newspapers and doing research in the universities, some are men in the Palestinian Authority, some are activists!”

Khaled al-Azraq, a refugee from Aida Refugee camp who has been a political prisoner for the last 20 years, testifies that “through the will and perseverance of the prisoners, prison was transformed into a school, a veritable university offering education in literature, languages, politics, philosophy, history and more…Prisoners passed on what they knew and had learned in an organized and systematic fashion. Simply put, learning and passing on knowledge and understanding, both about Palestine and in general, has been considered a patriotic duty necessary to ensure steadfastness and perseverance in the struggle to defend our rights against Zionism and colonialism. There is no doubt that the Palestinian political prisoners’ movement has played a leading role in developing Palestinian national education.”

Khalil Ashour was a Palestinian political prisoner from 1970 to 1982. Years later, he became Director of the Ministry of Local Government for the PA in Nablus until his retirement in 2005. He was also a central figure in Beatrice Catanzaro’s aptly-titled exhibit in the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Municipality Library, ‘A Needle in the Binding’.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Khalil Ashour wrote a moving personal testimony called ‘The Palestinian Detainee and the Book’. In accordance with the wishes of Ashour and Catanzaro, it is reproduced here in full ..

The Palestinian Detainee and the Book

By Khalil Ashour

The tragedy of detention is the deprivation of freedom of choice, or the limiting of this freedom to the minimum. If someone imposed their rules on you and oppressed you, you are their subject even if you are not a prisoner. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived this tragedy in the Israeli detention centers starting from the year 1967 until now, and the ugliest image of this tragedy was when Palestinian detainees were prohibited from reading and writing. They were allowed only to write letters of ten lines to their families, and if they were to write more than ten lines by one word or more, the prison administration used to tear up the letter. During this period Palestinian detainees used to spend their time in narrating stories they knew and films they had watched before detention.

I recall that a detainee narrated for us the story “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, in several chapters. He used to narrate one chapter a day, until he finished the story after two weeks. We used to wait anxiously everyday until nighttime to listen to a new chapter. We all felt as if “Jean Valjean” the hero of the novel, was living among us. The last night we were so sad, as “Jean Valjean”  was leaving our detention center, knowing that we were never to meet him again. And when the moment of separation arrived, a sorrowful silence fell upon us all.

This was our situation in Asqalan prison in the years 1970-1971. However, in Biet Led, in 1972, the prison administration allowed three things: the first one was to allow the “Jerusalem Post” Newspaper into the prison, which is published in English. One of the detainees who is fluent in English used to translate articles and news relevant to our interests as detainees for freedom. The second was distributing Israeli books which explain and defend the Zionist Movement, the Jewish right to Palestine, and that the Palestinian Organizations are a group of “terrorists” who are going to fail, in order to inject detainees’ minds with the Israeli version of the situation, bring despair to their hearts and smash their morale. The third one was that every detainee’s family is allowed to buy two books every month for their detained family member, however, these books were to be approved by the prison’s administration first, in addition to the fact that they should remain in the prison if the detainee is released or transferred to another prison. This is how the first library was established in Beit Led prison.

However, cultural life in Nablus prison was rather different. The prison was managed by the Jordanian Police before 1967, there was a small library of tens books in this prison. Most of the books were novels, poetry and few school books that talk about the Jordanian History. However books that address philosophy or politics were originally prohibited in the Jordanian Reign. A remarkable improvement occurred during one of the Red Cross’s visits near the end of the year 1972, the delegation handed us a long list of the books that are allowed and approved by the prison’s administration. The list was distributed to the detainees to choose whatever they wanted, it included books about Marxism, Leninism, Communist theory, and Socialist thought. It was a golden opportunity for the Popular Front and democratic front organizations’ members, as their leaders say that they are leftist organizations that defend laborers’ rights, and lead the proletariat revolution from the inside of the Palestinian national movement and Arab nationalism. This was the first time that the communist books were seen in prisons.

Every time a delegation from the Red Cross used to visit the detainees, the number of red books increased, as well as religious books, especially those authored  by Hassan Al-Banna, Sayed Qotob and his brother Mohammed Qotob, as well as Mohammed Al-Ghazali.  Those authors were the founders and poles of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established in Egypt in 1928.

Based on these books, the thoughts that lie within their pages, and according to their viewers and readers, three intellectual trends appeared and spread among detainees. 1. A patriotic and national movement 2. A communist and socialist movement 3. A religious and Salafi movement. Fruitful and rich discussions and debates occurred between these three parties, which improved the intellectual and cultural level of the detainees. These movements also influenced residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as its ideas spread among the populace, especially amongst university students and educated people. When the communist and socialist movements disintegrated as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union after the year 1989, the leftist parties and organizations suffered from a sever tremor, and a deep shock, as they started flopping aimlessly searching for an identity, which resulted in the spread of the Religious and Salafi movement’s values, thus gaining more popularity, as it found itself more free to compete with the national movement.

In addition, books’ spread in Israeli prisons, and the variation in its genres and subjects, opened new horizons for the detainees; even those who were illiterate, mastered reading and writing. Detained students completed their education, became Tawjihi degree holders, and joined universities after they were released. Those who were interested in language learned Hebrew, English and French. Those with little knowledge read books about geography, history, economy, politics, philosophy, astronomy, religion, and literature. This is how Palestinian detainees turned prisons, through reading and writing into active and living workshops, as a room in any prison used to be calm at time allocated for reading and noisy when holding sessions and conducting debates, regardless of the number of inmates. In order to test erudition and level of knowledge, they used to conduct a weekly “question & answer” tournament, and award the winning team. As a result of this tournament, the spirit of competition spread among detainees, they started reading more, and copying books to send to other prisons that lacked them. It is known that copying books helps in memorizing more than reading. Translations also became common from Hebrew or English into Arabic. Detainees used to hold a special meeting to listen to translated articles’, which used to be read by the translator himself. They even held meetings in order to listen to translated literature.

One of the cultural activities also was that a group of detainees worked on preparing and distributing magazines, where they would hand write their articles in notebooks. Here one can see how the desire for learning, reading new books and self-education, was spread amongst detainees, as it was their priority. Books played a pioneering role in the significant change in detainees’ lives and hearts, and the clear evidence was that detainees were different when they were released; different than how they were several years ago when they were arrested. They occupied important and influential positions in society after they were released, in fact, some of them were top students at universities, and some of them went on to complete their MA and PHD degrees.

It is natural for detainees to pursue any mean in order to free themselves from imprisonment, and search for a way to escape from their harsh and bleak reality. Those who are deprived of bread dream of bread, and those who are deprived of freedom seek freedom. The Palestinian prisoner resorted to books in order to dream and free themselves through words as well as to escape to an alternative to their lived reality. If the book was a novel, the prisoner lives with its characters and moves amongst them from one place to the other, eavesdrops on their discussions, experiences their feelings, and walks around in their homes. This feeling creates another life for the prisoner, another world, and another reality.

Hence, books transferred and freed prisoners, even if it was temporary, it is the path to their salvation, as it also brings new ideas to the reader, and new beliefs, it introduces us to different lived experiences, which leads to a widening of horizon and an openness towards difference. The more books a human reads, the more minds he tackles and deals with, the more he enriches his knowledge.

A book is a spring of knowledge that quenches the intellect’s thirst for learning, blessed are those minds that are forever thirsty.

A book is a new world – we add to the world we know a space for another. The book is a transformation tool from a state to a better one, if we listened carefully to what it says and comprehended what it means. A book does not redeem humans from illiteracy, ignorance, delusion and myth only, it redeems one from corruption, bad manners, bad behavior, narrow mindedness, and bias.

Books reveal your true self, guide you to what you will become, and illuminate your world just like the sun lights your day. There are two truths in this world, the first is God which is a permanent truth, and the second; the world, is temporary. We came to this life to read the second truth in order to understand the first, and those who do not know are the ones who do not read.

Community Building In The Face of Israeli Occupation

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

While the Palestinian-led weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier are an important and visible part of non-violent resistance, a children’s community center in Burin fights the occupation on a daily basis just by opening its doors, sometimes for as little as half an hour.


Residents of Burin build their community children’s center, which is named for Bilal al Najjar. (Photo: Ghassan Najjar)

In the West Bank village of Burin near Nablus, local youth are building a new children’s center to foster hope in their community.


Burin’s 4,000 inhabitants live in a valley, surrounded on all hilltops by Israeli settlements — Yitzhar, Har Bracha, Givat Arousna, and a Yitzhar “outpost.” The children and adults of Burin live, day and night, in constant fear of settler attacks and army raids.


21-year-old Ghassan Najjar is the director of Burin’s Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, built in 2008 and named after a villager who died in 1984 while he was being interrogated by the Israeli army.


“The youth here are lost,” he says. “There is no outlet for their frustration. The gym that was once open was closed. The boy’s playground is large, but people are too afraid to play there because of the constant army presence in the area…the girl’s school is tiny, and looks like a jail because of all the bars that are up- a caged-up area is the only place where they can play.”


In 2005, when they were teenagers in the village, Ghassan and 25 of his friends committed themselves to building a community center. “We wanted to get the youth away from a life of hanging around, smoking cigarettes and doing nothing…we wanted this center to be their outlet, to give them hope.”


The teenagers went from door to door raising funds. “People were skeptical at first”, Ghassan remembered. “They would disregard what we were doing, or brush it off, and say ‘how can that help?’ But we were determined.”


When the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center was finally established in 2008, the Israeli army began to crack down. From 2008 to 2010, Israeli soldiers targeted the center for harassment, invasion, and vandalism, usually at night.


“From 11 pm to 4 am”, Ghassan says, “everyone in Burin knew this village was for the Israeli army… they would break down the doors, break the computers, and trash the center. They would come and go as they pleased, and hang around, and do whatever they want. But this is something that we came to expect. We used to get upset when they harassed our center, but we continued.”


In 2010, 22 of the 25 organizers were arrested while cleaning the streets of Burin, and sentenced to a year in prison. While in prison, Burin’s younger generation took on the responsibility of maintaining the community center. One of these young men, who wished to remain anonymous, insisted that “we were dedicated to keeping the center open. It is very important to us. We made sure to open it every day, even if only for half an hour, just to show that we were going to keep it open.”


Now, the young men of Burin are building a new children’s center to better serve as a safe haven for Burin’s children. “There are 112 children here who still have nowhere to go”, relates Ghassan. “They don’t want to stay home and sit with their family, they want to go out and have some fun, but they can’t really play in the streets because of fear of army raids and settlers. So they come and hang out in the center but it is small and there is nowhere to play. There is only space to sit and talk.”


At the new children’s center, which is currently under construction, the people of Burin hope to maintain extensive athletic, recreational and educational facilities. Villagers have reported seeing Israeli soldiers enter the construction site at night, but they are not deterred. “Once the center is up we expect soldiers to come, this is normal for us. They can enter as much as they like, we will just continue, and renew whatever they destroy.”


Ghassan, along with the other directors of the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, are optimistic. “We have a lot of hopes and dreams. We are still young, we are 21, and we hope to educate the ones younger than us to take over the center. We are not dictators, we will one day move on, but we hope that the young people of this village will keep it up, so Burin can remain strong in spirit.”


‘A Jew, Not A Zionist’: Interview with Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine

reprinted from my MondoWeiss article here

(image from

Last week I interviewed Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine, at his home in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Sharim in Jerusalem. Mea Sharim is a tight, crowded maze of a neighborhood with windy, dirty, dimly lit streets. Walking down a cobblestone pathway at night, with Orthodox men, women and children hurrying by on all sides, with cats scurrying in and out of dumpsters, with a yeshiva to the left and a kosher slaughterhouse to the right, one can sometimes get a flashback to a past life in an 18th-century Russian shtetl.

In the few blocks around Rabbi Hirsch’s home, the Neturei Karta stronghold in the center of Mea Sharim, one starts to see Palestinian flags scrawled on the walls, with slogans like ‘No Zionists Allowed’, ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good’ graffiti’d in Yiddish, then crossed out, then graffiti’d again. Rabbi Hirsch’s doorbell reads ‘A Jew Not a Zionist’.

An excellent interview detailing Rabbi Hirsch and Neturei Karta’s political views can be found here- Also be sure to visit Neturei Karta’s website,!

When did your family come here?

Meir Hirsch: I am the fifth generation in this land. My family came 150 years ago from Russia. Then, Aliyah as a term, like Zionism, did not exist. People outside of Israel aspired to get to Israel in order to better worship God. When Mea Sharim was made 145 years ago, it was a wilderness at first! There were animals roaming around, people had to lock their doors!

When the Orthodox community saw waves of European secular Zionists coming, how did they feel?

The Balfour Declaration of 1918 made the people here, especially the orthodox families, very upset. There was an objection from the ultra Orthodox community, which was the majority, specifically in Jerusalem but in other parts as well. Jacob Israel de Haan was a secular Jew who became religious, and came here from Poland. He came to Palestine and at first he went to the Mizrahi movement, but was not content with their version of religion and connected with [WHO] the Chief Rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox. Because of his diplomatic connections he almost got the Balfour Declaration canceled- he had connections with Arabic leaders and British leaders. The Zionist leaders, because they saw that he was about to succeed, decided to assassinate him. When he was coming back from Maariv (evening) prayer, they shot and killed him. That led to the foundation of the Neturei Karta movement to continue to resist the Zionist movement.

De Haan was trying to make a bi-national state?

He was trying to undo Zionist aspirations towards statehood. The Zionists were progressing with their project and the Arabs were very much worried that the Zionists were trying to take their land. He met with King Abdallah of Jordan who promised him that Jews would have no problems living in Jordan or wherever he may rule, as long as they didn’t have any aspirations for political dominance.

Could you call de Haan a cultural, rather than a political Zionist?

He was anti-Zionist! He was completely detached from Zionism. All along Neturei Karta has been completely detached from Zionism in any form.

Where does the name come from?

Neturei Karta means ‘Guardians of the City’, it is an Aramaic term from the Talmud. It basically means to guard the city from Zionism entering the culture.

I lied to you, I actually know where the name comes from! [Taken from Neturei-Karta is the Aramaic term for “Guardians of the City. The name Neturei-Karta originates from an incident in which R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) sent R. Hiyya and R. Ashi on a pastoral tour of inspection. In one town they asked to see the “guardians of the city” and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, “The scribes and the scholars,” referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chap. 127. (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. 76c).] So the Zionists in this metaphor are the armed guards of the city, and Neturei Karta represents the scribes and scholars who keep the truth alive?

Well in the passage, the armed guards were the Romans who had conquered Jerusalem, so they actually were the ‘destroyers’.

A (Hirsch’s wife, who wished not to be named): This passage is referring to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Then, the scribes and the scholars literally were the guardians of the city in that, through the merit of their Torah learning, they watched over the city. But the name ‘Neturei Karta’ does not mean they are guarding over the city physically, but ideologically- they are guarding the city of Jerusalem from the ideas of Zionism.

MH: There were also ‘destroyers’ of the city who were not Roman. In the time of the 2nd temple’s destruction, there were a group of Jews called Beriyonim, the ‘Bullies’, the family of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. They resisted the Romans, they decided not to surrender to the Romans at all. They were called Haruvei Karta, the Destroyers of the City. While everyone else accepted the Romans, they were adamant about not surrendering. And that is why the Romans destroyed the Temple, because of this resistance.

There’s a growing movement of reform and secular Jewish opposition to Zionism, in Israel and around the world. What is the relationship between this movement and Neturei Karta’s Orthodox opposition to Zionism?

The difference is that secular Jews are opposed to Zionism for humanitarian ideals which are basically Gentile, while Neturei Karta’s objection to Zionism, though it is also because of the humanitarian ideas, is drawn from religious commands. This is why our objection is much stronger, because it is based on religion.

The secular and reform anti-Zionist movement shares with Orthodox opposition a valorization of diasporic Judaism, but for different reasons- secular Jews feel happy and productive in their various countries, whereas for the Orthodoxy diaspora is our God-given lot until the coming of Messiah….

There is a similarity, but there is a fundamental difference because again, the Orthodox argument is based on a divine command to stay in the diaspora, while the secular Jewish ideas are based on humanitarian values.

What’s the difference between humanitarian moral ideas and divinely commanded moral ideas?

In Syria people are resisting the totalitarian regime. A humanitarian person would object to what’s going on, and would care about what’s going on there. However, in Israel the state is using religious symbols to justify oppression. For example its name, Israel, is the name given to Jacob in the Torah. Whereas anyone would care about humanitarian catastrophes going on in Syria, this is the basis of Neturei Karta’s objection to the religious aspect of Israel’s crimes.

Would you compare the State of Israel to the Jewish people’s sin of worshipping the Golden Calf?

It is much worse than worshipping idols, because while you are worshipping the Golden Calf, you are a Jew who worships wrongly, who worships other Gods. But Zionism comes in order to fundamentally remove the roots of Judaism, it aims to destroy the Jewish people.

A: Zionism claims the Jews need a nationalistic state, they need a land and a language like all other countries. Jews are not based on a land and a language, they are based on following God’s commandments, whether they live in Russia or England or anywhere.

I want to ask about the Three Oaths. (Talmudic passage cited by religious Jews as forbidding a Jewish state in Palestine)

One of them is ‘do not rebel against the nations of the world’- when the Jewish people are in diaspora, they should not rebel against the powers-that-be. The second one is ‘do not go up the wall’. ‘Go up’ is ‘aliyah’. There is no problem with living in the land of Israel, but Jews should not make a pilgrimage, we should not go there en masse. The third one is do not hurry the end- there should be redemption at the end of days, but there is nothing we can do to rush it.

I am curious- one of the Three Oaths is that Jews should not rebel against the nations of the world. Many revolutionary Communists, socialists, anarchists, etc. of the 19th and 20th centuries were Jewish. Were they violating the Oath by rebelling against states?

That is true, but the ones who did that were not Jews. They were fully secular, and therefore not part of the Jewish people anymore. So it was not against the divine command anymore, because they did not do it as Jews.

It is often said that the Messiah will come only and exactly when the world falls completely to pieces. Is the existence of Israel and its effects upon the world a sign that, because things are getting so bad, the Messiah will come soon?

We are not prophets, so we do not know! According to the Torah, the Zionist State of Israel should not exist, so it will be unmade.

The Book of Joshua details the migration of the Jewish people out of the desert into the land of Israel, and their slaughter and expulsion of the land’s inhabitants. What do you think of those who justify the modern-day creation of the state of Israel by citing this biblical precedent?

Because Zionism is coming to destroy the Jewish people, they have no right to do this. Attempting to come and use a Biblical ideal to justify their actions is blasphemous, it is like mixing light and dark.

Some religious Zionists say that Palestinians are descended from Amalek, the so-called eternal enemy of the Jewish people. What do you say to this? [Deuteronomy 25.17-19- “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.“]

This is brainwashing propaganda by the Israeli Zionist media machine. It has nothing to do with Torah. Zionists are actually Amalek! The Chofetz Chaim said that he who goes against Judaism is from the seed of Amalek! And so therefore Zionists are from the seed of Amalek.

Something else I’ve heard is that the Arab world hates the state of Israel because of a deep-seated Muslim hatred of Jews, turning the Israel-Palestine conflict into a ‘holy war’ between Islam and Judaism.

This is a very big distortion of history. If you go throughout 3000 years of history, the big persecutions of Jews were always in Christian, not in Muslim countries. The classic example is the deportation from Spain, where Jews, deported from Christian Spain, found refuge in Muslim countries. But you don’t have to go that far- in the Holocaust time, Jews found safe havens in many Muslim countries.

How is Neturei Karta received by the rest of the Orthodox community?

Almost all Orthodox Jews reject Zionism, and this is why almost none of them enlist in the army. Although many receive funds from the government and involve themselves in the politics of the Zionist state, they reject Zionism’s ideals. The impression is that Orthodoxy supports Zionism but this is not true. They cooperate, they go hand in hand with it but they do not agree with it ideologically. They have gotten used to it. But the difference between them and Neturei Karta is that we desire to have contact with Muslim people and Palestinian leaders.

How old were you when your father visited Yasser Arafat in Ramallah? What was it like?

I was 15 or 16. Even when Arafat was living in Tunisia my father went to him and explained that Judaism and Zionism are two opposite ideas, and that Neturei Karta aims to support the right of Palestinians to receive their national home in Palestine. I met Arafat in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip. It was very important for me, and a few days later, when Arafat spoke at the UN, he said he knew the difference between Judaism and Zionism. This was very important for me.

Were you or your father condemned by the Jewish community for this?

Of course there were objections, by settlers for example, to these meetings, but of course we don’t really care.

So you are carrying on your father’s message!


Why is this important for you?

Zionist actions are creating a lot of hatred against the Jews, and it is important for us to make it very clear to Palestinian leaders that true Jews are anti-Zionist, to try to prevent as much as possible this misunderstanding.

There are some Orthodox Jews who simply ignore the State of Israel, refuse to pay taxes, etc. but Neturei Karta actively vocalizes and demonstrates opposition. What is the importance of this?

It is very important to be active against Zionist actions, because they are harming both Jews and the rest of the world. So it is important to maintain vocal opposition, to dispute the Zionist agenda and make it understood that the Zionists are not really the Jewish voice.

Do you go to the Kotel (Western Wall)?


Why not?

Because it has been occupied by the Zionist state, and I do not recognize this occupation.

It must be difficult for you, because it is one of the holiest places in Jerusalem!

It is hard, because it is only five minutes away from here by foot!

What do you think of international Neturei Karta members who refuse to even set foot in Israel for the same reason?

It is equally important, I believe, to be able to declare opposition from within here, to speak out against Zionist actions.

Do you think that the State of Israel will disappear and become another stain in Jewish history, like Sabbatai Tzevi or any other idol worship in the past?


‘An Interview with a Former Zionist’- My Beautiful Voice On South African Radio

I gave this interview sitting in bed at 9 in the morning to a South African Islamic radio station. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘former Zionist’ really, though I suppose I did write that in this blog’s ‘About’ section…

Settlers & Supporters Descend on Hebron to Assert Jewish Sovereignty

from my MondoWeiss article here

Settlers and supporters celebrate in front of shuttered Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City (with protection from the Israeli military). (Photo: Alistair George)

“So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.” – Genesis 23:17-20

Over 1000 American and International Zionists joined 700 extremist settlers in Hebron this weekend to celebrate the reading of this Torah portion detailing Abraham’s biblical purchase of Hebron land, as a means to assert sovereignty over the Palestinian residents of Hebron.

On Friday, many Zionist visitors camped in tents on Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street. Inebriated from the Shabbat festivities, the visitors harassed local Palestinians throughout the night. On Saturday, soldiers stationed themselves through the streets of Hebron’s Old City, forcing the shutdown of Palestinian shops, while swarms of visitors were treated to an extensive settler-guided tour championing the Jewish roots of Old Hebron. In what was advertised by the Hebron Committee as “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime”,  throngs of young, mostly American males clapped and chanted ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (‘life to the people of Israel’) and other nationalistic chants, while  Palestinian residents were forced to the sidelines of their own streets and kept there by soldiers. Throughout the day, 7 international activists and 2 Palestinians were arrested.

The Zionist visitors paraded down the market streets of an Old City that is no stranger to hardship. Since the now-500 (at least) Israeli settlers and now-2000 (at least) Israeli soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire Southern West Bank- a process, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the Second Intifada, which has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the abandonment of over 1000 abandoned housing units and over 1800 shops and storefronts- Hebron’s Old City, whose narrow and crowded market streets surround and interpenetrate the now-inaccessible Shuhada Street, has fallen under the oppressive control of the Israeli military, and is frequently harassed by soldiers and attacked by settlers. Every day, the soldiers survey the marketplace from rooftop watchtowers, sweep through its streets in unannounced middle-of-the-day raids, and close down its passageways with razor-wire roadblocks for no announced reason; the settlers spit at the heads of its shoppers and salesmen from the heavily-protected windows and openings of their adjacent apartments and schools, and drop blunt objects, from stones, to chairs, to water bottles filled with heavy sand, to knives, onto the market streets, hoping they will hit the goods and the people below.

Settlers march in Hebron’s Old City (Photo: Alistair George)

While a few of this weekend’s visitors were respectful to Palestinian shop owners and residents, many were outright hostile. Mohammed Awawdeah owns a small shop in the old city, selling glass bottles filled with intricate colored sand patterns. Some of his bottles were smashed by a passing settler. “He came and broke my stuff,” Awawdeah says. “I told the police but they are not here for us, they are here for the settlers…I am not even angry for my stuff, I’m angry at the soldiers who let them do this”. The Israeli police have taken the details of the incident and said that they intend to carry out an investigation.

Hamday Dwaik decided to close his bakery in the old city, since his shop was targeted by settlers during the event last year. “The settlers don’t want me to open. If I open they will throw my products on the ground, no one will buy it”.

Laila Slemiah, who works in Women In Hebron, a woman’s collective in the old city selling kiffiyehs and embroidery, was determined not to close her shop. “I know I won’t have any business today,” she said, “but I have to stay open. I’m not scared of them.”

The shopkeepers of Hebron’s Old City struggle under this occupation with a spirit of steadfastness and resilience. “If I see the occupation,” says Nawal Slemiah, Laila’s sister and founder of Women in Hebron, “if I see the soldier pass, I don’t care so much about their guns. l I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.”


As this event is touted by the Zionist community as a Biblically-ordained ‘return to the homeland’, an organization called Project Hayei Sarah has been founded in the U.S. and Israel, offering alternative interpretations of Abraham’s Biblical relationship to Hebron that challenge the attempted Zionist appropriation of this legend to legitimize territorial conquest.

Here is one impassioned plea for justice, from Rabbi Jill Jacobs-

A group of Jews stands in a small park. Across from us two Palestinian children are playing soccer in the street. The ball rolls into the park. A member of our group kicks it back. ‘That’s lucky fur the children, the park is off limit to Palestinians…’ A row of closed storefronts stands where the lively Palestinian market used to be. The graffiti on the metal doors proclaims ‘death to Arabs’, and warns Palestinians that ‘the death chamber awaits’. Bizarrely, one mural shows a smiling Haredi man saying ‘keep smiling’…what a contrast to the Hebron of the torah. There, the city is  a place of compassion, a place where people of different families, tribes and backgrounds come together…it is a place where Abraham introduces himself as a  stranger, a resident alien, and who is welcomed by the residents of the city…a place where Abraham’s estranged sons, Isaac and Ishmael, come together to bury and to mourn for their father….Today, Hebron is just one extreme symptom of the broad systemic violations of human rights that are required to maintain Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is also a city that to both Jewish and Muslim traditions was once a shining example of human coexistence.  This week, as we read Parsha Havei Sarah, the story of Sarah’s burial in the city of Hebron, I hope and pray that we can all do our part to make Hebron once again a city of compassion, friendship, and coexistence.

Today, the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael, recognized by all monotheisms as the Jews and the Muslims, respectively, still come together to mourn their father in Hebron. Housed within a half-mosque, half-synagogue compound, Abraham’s Tomb sits in a circular vault, surrounded by a synagogue window on one side and a mosque window on the other. Gazing through each of their windows at the tomb of their father, the two faiths awkwardly look at each other out of the corner of their eye, through a narrow, slanted, indirect, sidelong, askew line of sight. “How sweet and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) A plastic screen separates the two windows, to prevent the two brothers from throwing shit at each other over their father’s grave.



Israeli Army Steps up Attacks on Palestinian Water

a longer version of my Alternative Information Center article here

Speaking to the American Congress in May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that Israel would maintain a long-term presence in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. In the months that followed, the Israeli army stepped up its attacks on the water wells of the Palestinians who live there.

 Israeli forces destroy a water container in the West Bank (photo: Morrison World News)

The last two months have seen a steady stream of IOF attacks on Palestinian water wells in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, a troubling trend that warrants bringing the issue of Palestinian water rights once again into the spotlight.

On October 13, farmers received demolition orders on several water wells in Kufr al-Deek, a village in the town of Salfit near Nablus. In September, Israeli military forces demolished 6 water wells belonging to Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley, and have threatened to demolish six more. In all these cases, the unilateral IOF actions are explicitly illegal because these wells were built with full permission from the Palestinian Authority, in areas of the Valley supposedly under exclusive Palestinian civil and military control.

The injustice is especially pronounced in the Jordan Valley. On the 8th of September, 50 military jeeps, trucks and bulldozers sealed off Al Nasarayah as a closed military zone, and proceeded to illegally destroy 3 water wells and confiscate the attached water systems, the pumps of which cost $40,000 each to install. Five days later, the IOF returned to Al Nasarayah to demolish 2 more wells, stopping along the way to destroy another well east of Tamoun. The next day, IOF soldiers entered the village of Al- Fa’ara, near Nablus, to photograph and record the GPS coordinates of 6 more wells intended for demolition.

The IOF’s actions are illegal under Israeli, Palestinian and international law because these 6 water wells had permits from the Palestinian Authority, and operated in the 5% of the Jordan Valley designated after the 1994 Oslo Accords Area A, under full Palestinian civil and military control. The motives behind Israel’s actions on the ground, however, emerge into the light of day when seen in the context of other recent Israeli policy resolutions- a plan announced in September to uproot and transfer some 27,000 Bedouin out of Israel-controlled Area C in the West Bank (most Area C Bedouin live in the Jordan Valley), and a decision by the Settlement Division in early July to increase by 130% the land given to settlers for farming in the Jordan Valley, and to increase from 42 to 51 cubic meters per year the amount of water given to settlers to irrigate such farmland.

What do the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin water wells in the Jordan Valley, the transfer of Palestinian Bedouin citizens out of the Jordan Valley, and the expansion of land and water given to settlers in the Jordan Valley, all have in common? Together, they highlight the oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley that has typified Israeli policy since the Valley became occupied territory in 1967.

A focal point of this oppression- and a crucial locus of the Palestinian Bedouin struggle to resist the occupation and  remain in their homeland- is the issue of water. For as Israel has seized absolute control over allocation and distribution of the resources of the 3 water aquifers under the West Bank for use on both sides of the Green Line, the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, and especially the Bedouin population of the Jordan Valley, have seen the steady drying-up of the once-flowing springs around which they have built their villages, have found themselves unable to dig sufficient wells of their own because of crippling Israeli regulations, and have watched themselves become dependent on the exorbitant prices of their oppressor for access to so basic and indispensable a human right.

Far more than in the rest of the West Bank, the struggle over water for the Jordan Valley Bedouin is a struggle between life and death. The ‘draining away’ of Palestinian water rights in the Jordan Valley- to borrow the title of a  2010 report by Ma’an Development Center– has a long and tumultuous history. When the West Bank became occupied territory in 1967, the Israeli army established a military order to the effect that all West Bank water came under control of the state, and Israel’s national water carrier, Mekorot, seized water aquifers and developed wells throughout the West Bank to serve Israel and its newly expanding settlements. Between 1967 and the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Bedouin in the Jordan Valley saw first their land, and then their water, disappear behind the heavily-guarded gates of settlements, where settlers were granted ample supplies of the latter in order to make the former bloom.

The situation grew increasingly dire until a brief ray of hope in 1995, when Article 40 of the Oslo II agreements set an interim agreement, designed to be revised within five years (but still in effect to this day), whereby approximately one quarter of West Bank water resources would come under Palestinian Authority control, and a Joint Water Committee would be established, in the words of the 2009 World Bank report ‘Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Development: West Bank and Gaza’, “to oversee management of the aquifers, with decisions to be based on consensus between the two parties.”

However, Oslo brought with it new institutionalized systems of oppression. Since Oslo 1 in 1993 consigned 95% of the Jordan Valley to Area C status (under full Israeli and military control), neither the Area C Bedouin communities themselves, nor the Palestinian Authority, nor the constant swarm of international NGOs, can commence with unregulated construction of their own initiative, because, in the words of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a grassroots movement, “across Area C, access to basic services such as water is restricted through the debilitating permit system which is regulated by the Israeli Civil Administration. Obtaining a permit for any form of construction –even for water- is notoriously difficult, nay impossible. This prevents Palestinians from building new infrastructure, or from making improvements to existing facilities.”

Atop this blanket layer of oppression, which effectively and intentionally squelches all trace of community autonomy, the Palestinian Bedouin in the 95% of the Jordan Valley which is Area C are deprived of the ability to improve their access to water resources through three interlocking buereacratic systems of control- the Joint Water Committee, where a group of Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers permits or denies water access or rehabilitation projects proposed by the Palestinian Water Authority (for Areas A, B and C); the Israeli Civil Administration, which, if an Area C project is permitted by the Joint Water Committee, pulls that project through a thicket of bureaucratic, technical limitations and scrutinies, effectively crippling its implementation if not grinding it to a halt completely; and, last but not least, the Israeli army, which ceaselessly continues, as it sees fit and irregardless of law, to demolish water wells, tankers, and infrastructure on the ground in Bedouin communities across Areas A, B and C, even if the proper permits are possessed.

Thus, what was promised under Oslo II to be consensus decision-making regarding water resources is in reality institutionalized unilateral control of the oppressor over the oppressed, and due to this matrix of Israeli control, it becomes nearly impossible for the Palestinian Authority, as well as most NGOs, to commit themselves to meaningful, sustainable infrastructural development in Area C of the West Bank.

At the level of the Joint Water Committee, details Ma’an’s ‘Draining Away’,   “the fact that decisions are arrived at through consensus effectively means that Israel can veto Palestinian projects…[also], the PWA is not consulted regarding extractions from the aquifer for Israeli use (settlers or otherwise), which is not in accordance with the governance rules under Article 40. Nor does the Palestinian Authority have the right to access data on Israeli use of water resources, whereas Israel reserves the right for continual access to water resource data in the West Bank…around 150 water and sanitation projects are still pending JWC approval for “technical and security reasons”, while only one new Palestinian well project for the Western aquifer has been approved since 1993. In contrast, Israel is able to construct pipelines to its illegal settlements without going through the mechanism of the JWC. Thus Israel effectively has full control of water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

The World Bank’s 2009 report confirms the non-consensual reality of the Joint Water Committee’s supposed ‘consensus decision-making’- “[the] JWC has not fulfilled its role of providing a supportive governance framework for joint resource management and investment…politics and policy issues have limited the number of project approvals…fundamental asymmetries – of power, of capacity, of information – put into question the role of JWC as a “joint” institution…Israel takes unilateral water-related actions outside the JWC…only one third (by value) of projects presented to the JWC 2001-8 have been implemented…(1) the process is in general slow; (2) the rate of rejection of PA projects is high; (3) the PWA has almost never sought to reject Israeli projects (only one has not been approved); and (4) well drilling projects and – until very recently -wastewater projects have had very low rates of approval….in order to solicit approvals on vital emergency water needs, the PA is forced into positions that compromise its basic policy principles. Such an asymmetrical power balance (one party, Israel, has virtually all the power and is not driven by emergencies), together with the observed track record of the JWC, have contributed to a loss of trust and confidence and to very poor outcomes (for Palestinians) that undermine the rationale for the committee as a de facto “joint” approach to water sector management.”

Deeb Abdelghafar, Director of Water Resources for the Palestinian Water Authority, relates how “we submitted our application two years ago to build two new production wells in the northern part of the Jordan Valley, [to supply] water for domestic and agricultural purposes, and we know that they have reviewed it, but up to now we have not gotten any response, and we are not optimistic…we have more than 80 agricultural wells that need to be rehabilitated in Jordan Valley, and we have had these wells in the JWC for more than 4 years, but unfortunately we could not get final approval from Joint Water Committee.”

Even if the Joint Water Committee approves a project, its effective implementation is crippled by the red tape of the Israeli Civil Administration. Abdelghafar continues- “the most difficult step in the process for us is the Civil Administration because there are more than 14 departments, and each department must approve on the project. So we can never get a project through the civil administration, because some departments approve and some do not.” Ayman Rabi, Assistant Director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group for Water and Environmental Resources Development, an NGO working to improve access to water and sanitation services in the Occupied Palestinian territories. echoes Abdelghafar’s frustrations that “there is a big problem now in implementing anything in Area C, and that is one of the major hindrances right now to our work in that area….we have to ask [for a] permit and this generally we do through Palestinian Authority, and then they are applying through the Joint Water Committee….[but] even if the Joint Water Committee approves any intervention or project, the Israeli Civil Administration requests more documentation procedures, the process is longer, they put more conditions for implementation in Area C, so you might end up not implementing any activity because of this long and complicated procedure.” The World Bank report quotes an anonymous donor who reports the same difficulties- “first thing we request is a letter from PWA approving the project. Then we go to the JWC. But then we have to go to the Civil Administration – and there delays of 2-3 years are normal. In fact, we have no positive outcomes for Area C.”

Since nearly every proposal for the construction of water infrastructure in Area C is shut down by the twin juggernauts of the Joint Water Committee and the Israeli Civil Administration, NGOs must focus their efforts, to quote Abdelghafar, on “civil emergency intervention- by delivering small water tankers, by supplying them with water tanks, by constructing rainwater cisterns- it’s emergency humanitarian relief.” While important, this small-scale aid is carried out in lieu of large-scale, long-term projects that would strike at the root of the problem, rather than merely seeking to alleviate its effects. Says the World Bank report, “in the light of the difficulty of implementing major projects, the reasonable response has been short term emergency projects, often small projects with NGOs, and these smaller projects have become a very large part of water sector development…however, the multiplicity of small donors and multiple projects are more difficult to fit within a planning framework…NGOs have a comparative advantage in a grass roots field presence and a certain demand-driven character…[they are] nimble…but are small scale and short term” (p.63).

In the village of Hamsa, near the Hamra checkpoint in the Jordan Valley, Abu Riyad, who has been living in Hamsa with his family for thirty years, must now travel long distances to get water for drinking and irrigation, after two huge water wells constructed for nearby settlements have dried up the springs upon which for generations the community of Hamsa has relied. Says Ma’an’s report ‘Draining Away’- “unconnected to the water network, Abu Riyad must now travel to Ein Shibleh for his water.  Nor does the family know the quality of the water and if it has been treated.  While he is fortunate not to have to pay for this supply, it costs 200 shekels to transport 10 cubic metres of water. As the water covers all of the family’s needs, from drinking, washing and drinking water for the animals, Abu Riyad must transport this amount every four days.  With the price of fuel rising, this means that water represents an increasing financial drain for the family…the community receives little support. While several tanks and water coupons have been donated from local and international NGOs, this is only ever for limited amounts of time, and thus provides only temporary relief.”

Indeed, Abu Riyad is fortunate to receive water for free. Ayman Rabi of the Palestinian Hydrology Group laments that, regarding many of his organization’s aid initiatives, “[the recipients of water] are asked to contribute, unfortunately. Although we do not like this, it is something that has been agreed on by the [Palestinian] Water Authority. They have been asked to contribute by 10 shekels, though we are not happy with this arrangement, for each cubic meter. and then we refill them whenever they ask us to.”

Many organizations, instead of delivering water, deliver water tanks to imperiled communities, so that Bedouin may transport water from filling points. However, by delivering water tanks, instead of connecting communities to water networks, these NGOs, though well-intentioned, often compound the problem by forcing the Bedouin to drive long distances, through a myriad of checkpoints, to filling points in Areas A or B, in order to maintain a constant water supply. The World Bank report decries that “occupation checkpoints and curfews severely limit tanker access to communities…there are 36 fixed checkpoints across the West Bank, including the gates of the Separation Barrier, that seriously affect access of water tankers and maintenance teams to communities….Given the risks faced by drivers for their physical safety coupled with the longer routes, the price of water through tankers has increased exponentially”.

The case of Abu Riyad illustrates how expensive this practice can become for Bedouin faced with no alternative. According to Fathy Khdirat of Jordan Valley Solidarity, “to use water tankers in this way costs the Bedouin 30 shekels per cubic meter of water, while their neighbors in Areas A or B pay on average between ½ and 3 shekels per cubic meter of water.” The perpetuation of this inequality works in the occupation’s favor, by encouraging Bedouin to move out of Area C into Areas A or B.

In addition, mobilizing short-term emergency relief is much more expensive for the NGOs than would be a project to install permanent pipelines linking the Bedouin to water sources. Fathy Khdirat estimates that a recent $700,000 initiative to accomplish the former could have achieved the latter with 10% of the budget. Between the Joint Water Committee, the Israeli Civil Administration and the IOF, however, the possibility of installing permanent water infrastructure for the Bedouin is practically foreclosed from the beginning, so that aid initiatives are forced to work within the restricting, oppressive parameters of Israeli law. Says the World Bank report, “at best, the PA role is reduced to improving water and sanitation services to Palestinian communities within the constraints laid down…stakeholders recognize the inefficiency and high costs of such fragmented and contingency development– but see no alternative.”

The bueraucratic matrix of corruption and control, in which both Israeli and Palestinian political and civil organizations are enmeshed, causes on-the-ground human rights abuses in clear violation of The Right To Water, enshrined in General Comment no. 15 of articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in Geneva, in November 2002. The document stipulates that “the right to water contains both freedoms and entitlements. The freedoms include the right to maintain access to existing water supplies necessary for the right to water, and the right to be free from interference…by contrast, the entitlements include the right to a system of water supply and management that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the right to water.” The covenant goes on to list specific water entitlements- the right of “physical accessibility: water, and adequate water facilities and services, must be within safe physical reach for all sections of the population. Sufficient, safe and acceptable water must be accessible…within, or in the immediate vicinity, of each household, educational institution and workplace…”; the right of  “economic accessibility: water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The direct and indirect costs and charges associated with securing water must be affordable…”; and the right of “non-discrimination: water and water facilities and services must be accessible to all, including the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination”.

Ma’an’s report, ‘Draining Away’, clarifies that, in regards to the Right to Water enshrined in this document, that “while this right does not entitle people to unlimited use of free water or to household connection, it does mean that water and sanitation services should be affordable, that water and sanitation facilities should be in the immediate vicinity of the household, and that water should be used in a sustainable manner. This right exists irrespective of an individual’s ethnicity, gender, age, religious or political beliefs…it also stipulates that individuals and communities can participate in, and influence, decision making relating to water and sanitation services on national and local levels.”

Here are some quick facts taken from Ma’an’s ‘Draining Away’, which should be measured against the UN-enshrined Right to Water-

In October 2009 Amnesty International noted that “180,000-200,000 Palestinians living in rural communities have no access to running water, and even in towns and villages which are connected to the water network, the taps often run dry.”

According to the WASH monitoring project, the cost of private tankered water in 290 communities in the West Bank has increased between 100-200% for one cubic meter since the start of the intifada.

40% of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume less water than the minimum global standard set by the World Health Organization, which is set at 100 liters cubed per day.

56,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume an average of 37 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water per year, as compared to an average of 41 MCM for only 9,400 settlers.

Palestinians are charged more than their counterparts in Israel for water: Mekorot charges Israelis NIS 1.8 per cubic metre, compared to an average of NIS 2.5 per cubic metre for Palestinians.

There is near-universal consensus that there exists in the Jordan Valley a systematic policy of oppression and ethnic cleansing, touching upon not only water but all aspects of life for the 15,000 Bedouin who are unconnected to any water network in the 95% of the Valley designated Area C. Says Deeb Abdelghafar of the Palestinian Water Authority, “the Jordan Valley is  a unique area from the Israeli point of view. They are trying to [establish] control over this area, and they are trying to prevent any permanent water infrastructure in order to prevent the people to be there… they don’t want to support the existence of these people, they want to immigrate the people outside of this area.”

Advocates like Fathy Khdirat of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a grassroots movement that works to build infrastructure for the Bedouin of the Valley, are determined to encourage those under occupation to resist the oppression, and remain in their native land. “I spent all my life under the Occupation,” insists Fathy, “and I want to see a better future for my children. I am from there, and I will not shut up.”

Telescoping of the Past Through the Present: Historical Materialism and the Labor of Remembrance

(my senior project at Bard College, 2010) 

‘Telescoping of the Past Through the Present’

Historical Materialism and the Labor of Remembrance

 To my very dearest friend, Nese Senol


Thank you Mom and Dad

Thank you Grandmom, Grandma, Grandpop, Grandpa

Thank you fancy beast

Thank you Leah Schrader

Thank you Ari Fenton for your life

Thank you Warren Hutcheson in your death

Thank you all my other best friends

Thank you Bard for giving me space and time to think and act

Thank you Daniel Berthold, Nancy Leonard, Adam Rosen

Thank you Chuck Stein

Thank you Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Walter Benjamin

for your strange a-theological Judaism

Thank you Baudrillard, Virilio, Zizek

for your post-modernity

Thank you 1900s, for birthing me

Thank you [(God)], who I know is not really there


If Marx were alive today, I would say to him, “Communism today is an intellectual cry, sung from the depths of an academy sunk into the midst of Babylon. Look! On the inner flap of Zizek’s 2009 book ‘First as Tragedy, then as Farce’, it says Verso is an imprint of New Left Books. Obama is centrist. Where is the New Left? I look left and right for it but cannot find it. I can only read about it, Marx. I try, I try to analyze the means and social relations of production characteristic of the capitalist epoch. I have tried, Marx, I swear to you that I have tried to get into politics.”

Time after time, my mouth moves toward the question of the ‘we’. I try here, through a reading of Marx, Benjamin, Heidegger and Derrida, to speak of discourse. I will attempt, using the methods of historical materialist praxis, to help discourse mourn, and awaken from, the 1900s.

If our discourse can be called political, we must remind ourselves today that our discourse still is not politics. The politics that we see on television is politics. Our discourse prides itself on calling itself political, and thus dissolves into a disorganized muddle of identity politics. Identity politics has been, and remains, the positive, productive labor of group alterity, the work of self-identity and other-identity within discourse. If our discourse can call itself political, politics here means the right to disagree, and yet to be included. But, to act more efficiently together, there must be a solid ground of agreement. As Derrida said once to a Japanese friend, ‘It de-constructs it-self’.

Ever since Marx, our discourse has remained, in various forms, philosophically haunted by the guilt that we are not the proletariat. We attack logocentrism as if it were in itself the bourgeoisie. Yet, by the very fact of our literacy, we are the inheritors of the Western Logos, which remains a call of freedom and liberation. We deconstruct the logos because of the material ugliness of its roar since the Enlightenment. But, as thinking human beings, our guilt becomes amplified, as we remain stuck with a logos that we cannot get off our backs.

Our discourse may be tentatively defined, for today’s purposes, as the literate cosmopolitan public- those who read (and write), with a view to changing the world that exists outside of books. We must remember instantly, however, that as speaking human beings, what we call ‘our discourse’ is not bound to literacy as such. Action remains the rallying cry. Those who act must learn both to ‘listen’ to books, and to refrain from ‘reading’ the world too closely.

The words of this introduction are intentionally loaded with unexplained presuppositions.  I want to convince you, but I do not expect you to be convinced. I did not write any of these statements hoping to receive a check mark. I ask that if you agree with a statement, please think then of ways that you could disagree; and that if you disagree with a statement, ask yourself if there is any way at all that you could possibly agree.

‘The Fathers’ begin by saying- “All Israel have a portion in the world to come; as it is said, And thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.”[1]

When they said ‘the world to come’, they did not mean the afterlife but the next generation. If we start calling it the 1900s we will feel older. In fact, the ambiguous unity of the terms ‘20th century’ and ‘the 1900s’ has probably been confusing us all ever since Jesus.

In the 1900s, Lacan and Derrida, among others, seeded secrets into their writing. Today, we must no longer code our messages to proliferate the play of interpretation.

The oldest of the old follows behind us in our thinking, and yet it comes to meet us. That is why thinking holds to the coming of what has been, and is remembrance. (Heidegger)

As time goes on, the past begins to look more and more mysterious and uncanny to us. It can be said, very seriously, that we know nothing about the 1900s. But if, as discourse, we imagine that we can turn away from our past, get over it, and finally achieve the present, we are forgetting something. But this is precisely when it is coming.

Speaking of the specters of Marx in 1989, Derrida says that “the one who has disappeared appears still to be there, and his apparition is not nothing. It does not do nothing. Assuming that the remains can be identified, we know better than ever today that the dead must be able to work. And to cause to work, perhaps more than ever.” (Specters of Marx, 120)

To me, listening in 2010, Derrida is saying that what we used to call [(God)] up until the Enlightenment is still there, in the being of Da-sein which here, today, can no longer be distinguished from that which we used to call ‘production’ in the Marxist sense.

All of Marx’s key materialist concepts- labor power, production, proletariat, history- are bound today into a muddled metaphysical bundle. It is difficult to see these concepts in the material world of late capitalism, without losing sight of what one is looking at. Many have called for new concepts, and many have answered.

From whence do such calls arise? From a superstructure detached from its base?

To rend such a wound, Marx in 1848 began to call upon the immaterial labor of Reason, which at his moment in history had reached a zenith in Hegel, to reflect its light back down into the material substance of human society. In the international proletariat Marx recognized the early seeds of a new birth, the second coming of a new polis of idealists born slowly, kicking and screaming, from the womb of what was called German Idealism.

As discourse, we call ourselves the intellectuals. Discourse, like the rest of the world, exists inside and outside the academy. It is our duty, in the academy, to work together to fulfill Marx’s injunction- ‘Up until now, philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’.

In Chapter 1, I describe Marx’s legacy of historical materialism and its impact on our discourse. In Chapter 2, I follow the commodity spectacle of 1900s consumer capitalism through the writings of Walter Benjamin. In Chapter 3, I analyze the senses of Walter Benjamin’s phrase from the Arcades Project, ‘telescoping of the past through the present’.

Throughout this work I will resuscitate Walter Benjamin’s inquiry- what is the dialectical relationship between mourning, remembrance, and awakening? I try to refract this question through the 1900s, to ask- what is our discourse?



By 1845, it was for Marx “self-evident that ‘spectres’, ‘bonds’, ‘the higher being’, ‘concept’, ‘scruple’, are merely the idealistic, spiritual expression, the conception apparently of the isolated individual, the image of very empirical fetters and limitations, within which the mode of production of life and the form of intercourse coupled with it move” (German Ideology, 14).

Looking back on Marx today, if we are to conceive of philosophy as separate from the world, we will see that Marx was attempting a very particular attack against Hegel with one hand, while attempting to inspire a revolutionary social movement with the other hand. Marx upset the Hegelian tradition of German Idealism by suggesting the thought of a material and social reality which was more real than the abstract ideas of Philosophers about Spirit. He also began a Communist Revolution which changed the structure of today’s human world as we know it. Leaving aside the question of the unity between philosophy and the world, then, we can say for certain that Marx was writing with both hands.

On the philosophical side, we say today that Marx sought to combat the notion that an individual’s thought is a pure expression of immaterial Spirit, by writing about historical materialism. His picture of human history[2] showed us that since the division between manual and intellectual labor, human societies and the records they leave behind cannot be regarded as simply the many expressions of a single Spirit, but must be seen anew in the light of the labor of the hands which built the palaces in which history was written. In 1845, Marx said that the idea that there is a Spirit which moves itself, of its own accord, according to its own laws of becoming, was absurd. Today, listening to Marx, we attack this Spirit when it appears with a Capital letter, and we do it with spirit. We deconstruct any intellectual writing which seeks to explain a material process by an immaterial law. But it is hard to say what ‘we’ do, because sentences, themselves, are hard to clarify.

It can be said that, as modern intellectual discourse, we fight Spirit with spirit. So what do we mean, then, when we say ‘we’? There is another paradox here- what does it mean to fight Spirit with spirit? Do we hesitate before affirming as true the statement that ‘we fight Spirit with spirit today’? If so, our disagreements must be in part linguistic. There may be many spirited arguments as to the question of Spirit. What is it then that, between us, surprises, scares, angers us about this statement?

Put differently, we may approach from this angle the simultaneous continuity and rupture between Hegel and Marx. It is said today that Marx took literally the Hegelian Notion that ‘spirit is a bone’, and that he used it to throw a bone in the gears of Spirit. Where thought thought itself to be its own originary source of its thoughts, there Marx points thought to concrete material production to show thought that it has a body, and that its body is more real than it thinks.

His doctrine of dialectical historical materialism teaches us that the traces of history, left and preserved by human society, are not written ex nihilo with holy ink, but are written mostly by the ruling class of that society. In a literal sense, then, Marx tells us that all recorded human history has been written by a ruling class which writes the lie that it is God who writes. The truth, as Marx taught it, was that human society, and by extension human history, is simply and solely produced by the totality of physical labor that goes into that society at its historical moment. He taught us also that our thought is in many ways determined by this same concrete context of economic-technological structures.

Today it seems obvious to us that what we call Spirit is nothing other than history, and what we call History is nothing other than the concrete material production of the flesh and bones of a society. But Marx first had to give to the world the scientific revelation that this flesh and these bones can be studied empirically. For him, the historical materialist may imprint an image of the economic means of production, and the social relations of production, that combine to produce or articulate the historical moment of a human society upon planet Earth. The historical materialist produces an image of the structured production of the human world. In this image, said Marx, the economic forms of production make up the base or infrastructure of the societal organism, while the ideological expressions of thought are found in the superstructure.

Expressed through the lens of psychoanalysis (though it was a later development), Marx says that all that a historical moment takes, at its time, to be the unbridled expression of its original thought can be traced back to an unconscious context of material production, atop which this ‘isolated individual’ sits in an illusory mask of self-sufficiency[3]. Each instance of cultural expression, if looked into, “reveals a determined relation between men at a specific level of historic evolution, a relation which is made conscious and developed as an idea. Consequently, the movement of human society itself can be known in its inner meaning as the product of men themselves, as the result of forces which emerge out of their relations and escape their control” (Marxism and Human Liberation, 38). Today, learning from Marx, we practice the attempt to know the movements of human society, though as individuals we acknowledge that we cannot see the totality ‘itself’ or ‘in its inner meaning’; we practice also the attempt to control the forces which emerge out of our own relations, so that we all may not destroy the planet. We say that before Hegel, the immaterial Ideas preserved in writing were considered the truth and the light of illusory material reality. We say next that, for Marx, the physical reality of mankind in his social species being is more real than the thoughts mankind has about himself. This is the critical awakening Marx offers us today, this is what ceaselessly returns, knocks us back to our senses, and tells us to Wake Up! to what actually is around us. But, as Jacques Derrida says many times, in many different texts, ‘who, we’?

The revelatory force of historical materialism, which the signifier ‘Marx-and-Engels’ unleashed upon the world of discourse, is that for the first time in history these structures of material production, and the concomitant structures of social relations, can be studied for a society. It should also be noted that, outside of discourse, Marx and Engels helped propel a huge Communist Revolution into the world. In each instance, what seems obvious to us about Marx today is precisely what in his time period was said for the first time. The historical materialist may bring the contexts of material production to light, to sharpen or illuminate a more concrete and total historical understanding. “We know only a single science”, announces Marx in The German Ideology, “the science of history” (German Ideology, 2). Since Marx, all thought that has attempted to ground the expressions of a society or culture in the economic structures and social relations of production inherent in the particular world historical-moment, strives for such concrete illumination in the light of Marx, and in his shadow. We take for granted today that the ground of (history as such) is the dynamic material-social production which every human society, at each historical moment, at once inherits and engenders upon this planet Earth. Material production is true, it is what actually happened and what actually is happening.

The passage of the rational scientific element of historical materialism beyond itself into the moral and ethical realm of praxis would proceed as such- Societies and their histories are composed of the force of material production. What is material production? It is the force of living labor, and in the history of our Western societies it appears as the physical labor of the proletariat. Who are the proletariat? They are those human beings in a society who are oppressed, who are forced to labor in poverty and suffering to produce the affluence and comfort of other human beings in that society who are their oppressors. This train of thought starts from the purity of Absolute Knowledge and unveils to it its own dirty little secret, in the name of which Marx returns his debt to Hegel in the form of patricide.

This schematic dialogue, however, is misleading, for it relegates the moral moment to a gasp beyond language, at the conclusion of a logical process. It is not as if the scientific law is discovered first, and this revelation of knowledge finds its unexpected pinnacle in the reversal of moral struggle. What is more radical is to think the totality of Western society in its evolution through the Enlightenment into the practical revelations of Marxism. The force of proletarian liberation is the force that opened historicity to the scientific knowledge of the West. In one breath, Marx tells us both that the expressions of the ideological superstructure are in truth the productions of the economic base, and that the illusory freedom of the bourgeoisie is in truth the slavery of the proletariat. The work of dialectical historical materialism at once brings to light the forms and shapes of material production in scientific study, and liberates the oppressed proletariat class in revolutionary practice. This imperative is our inheritance.

It makes sense that the scientific study of the material production of society should coincide with the practical liberation of the oppressed proletariat, because the labor of the proletariat is the material production of society. That which historical materialism takes as its object of study is living labor, the subject of historical-material becoming. Production and the class struggle, then, are inseparable for Marx because production is the labor of the proletariat. To posit concrete, factical human labor as the production of human society and history is to assert, as Benjamin says, that “not man or men but the struggling, oppressed class itself is the depository of historical knowledge” (Illuminations, 260). Further, it is not as if the stuff of history is first recognized as material production, and then revealed to be the labor of the proletariat. The ‘what’ of production, that it is the matter of human society, is always-already the ‘who’ of production, that it is the living labor of the proletariat. The matter is not viewed fully until we see that it matters. If ‘we know only a single science, the science of history’, the degree to which we come into this scientific knowledge of the material historicity of our being, is the degree to which we practically build a free society.

That which has been expressed as history up till now, said Marx, has been the story of the victors, the kings, the priestly class; the underside of this written history, however, which has never been expressed, has been the sweat and blood of those who have labored to build the castles. “Historical materialism”, writes Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, “wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. (Illuminations, 255)

The content of tradition which we receive as our history comes to us as the outcome, the expression and the perpetuation of power and oppression; moreover, our interpretation of history, the way we receive this heritage, may just as easily continue this cycle of oppression. The same danger, and the same possibility, inheres in both: the tradition which influences the interpretation, and the interpretation which changes the tradition. Up to now, philosophers have only interpreted the world; now we realize that the point is to change it, and now we realize that our interpretive power can change it. The same danger, and the same possibility, linger in the content of the tradition which comes to us and the way that we perceive, inherit, act upon this tradition. The interpretation of history constitutes the content of history itself, just as it is incumbent upon the interpreter to unpack the ideological presuppositions that history has already deposited into his power of interpretation. “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.” This clearing of possibility, however, has only recently come upon us as a collectivity.

He does not say that every era renews the movement that wrests tradition away from itself; he says that in every era, the attempt must be made to wrest tradition away from conformism. If every era must renew the leap into war against the oppressors, however, this leap can only be made in the name of a war that is very old, a war that this leap in the present does not initiate of itself, but rather inherits, as its motive force, from outside itself. There is a tradition that is conformism, and there is a tradition that resists this conformism. There is a tradition of resistance to this conformism which is carried out in the name of a tradition older than the conformism itself.

If all history is in truth the history of oppression, this truth refers in its very accusation beyond the history of oppression towards the restless ground upon which this history clings, the class struggle. The class struggle, moreover, cannot be seen primarily as the overcoming of a lack, and cannot be simply a reaction against that which limits it, but before these must posit itself as the expression of a radical positivity, the positivity of the proletariat. It is not as if there once was or will one day be a Golden Age, away from which we have fallen, towards which we now clamor to return. Such a doctrine, inevitably tied into the teleological idea of progress, stimulates and encourages hope only to trick it into waiting, to make “the working class forget both its hatred and spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren” (Illuminations, 260). The proletariat has all along been struggling for liberation, yet in such a way that this struggle is older and deeper than that against which it struggles. The gears that have all along been churning to produce the human world have all along been groaning for release from their bonds.

Historical materialism teaches us to critique the tradition we inherit, by situating it historically in relation to the practical liberation of the proletariat. Today, we inherit a long tradition of historical materialism itself. It completely permeates modern thinking as the endless critique of history. And indeed, many of the most potent, salient aspects of Communism have today permeated the loose system of what we call capitalism. How are we to situate the dawning of the idea ‘history’ historically? What is the history of the concept of history?

Looking back today, we may be tempted to conclude that just as Marx could only have succeeded Hegel, Communism can only have grown out of capitalism as its dialectical opposite and counterpart. Historical materialism dawned in the midst of the growth of the capitalist mode of production, and it posits itself as revolutionary to the extent that its deployment as theory coincides with the practical enlightenment of the proletarian class, the laboring and productive force caught in the quickening economic and technological acceleration of modernity. And indeed, we can detect a deep complicity lurking in this startling coincidence and paradox: at the very time when the capitalist mode of production unleashed by the bourgeoisie approaches an unprecedented fullness of prolific acceleration and exercises an unprecedented intensity of exploitation of proletarian labor, Marx calls from within this system for the enlightenment and liberation of the mass of its oppressed laborers; Marx calls, that is, from within this system for its self-destruction.

For Marx, the bourgeoisie revolution in material production and Enlightenment reason characteristic of 18th century Europe shattered the economic base and superstructural societal relations of the landed feudal aristocracy, and put in its place an accelerating system of capitalist production and technology that drove the laboring proletariat to an extreme degree of alienation. As Marx says in the Communist Manifesto, “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Selected Writings, 161). This perpetual and increasingly immense acceleration of production is fueled for the bourgeoisie by the increasingly intense exploitation of the labor of the proletariat class. The capitalist system alienates the proletariat class from its own living labor, and only from the tension of this sustained antithesis can the capitalist system generate its enormous productive acceleration. The capitalist system of accelerating productivity stretches and twists the proletariat as a rubber band, extracting from its slaves as much efficiency as possible without snapping its primary resource. This is the debt or imbalance, the spectral contradiction built into the very system as its generative force.

But the bourgeois revolution of Enlightenment, with the very force that perpetuated and accelerated this physical production and its concomitant alienation, also set into motion an accelerating development of communication through technology, under the banner of knowledge and freedom. It was the Enlightenment revolutions of the bourgeoisie that shattered the old myths of the Absolute God or of kingship and announced the awakening of Reason as self-determination and freedom. With the rapid technological evolutions of the printing press and the concomitant broadening of the disciplines of scientific knowledge, ‘faith’ gave way to ‘proof’, and in place of the mystery of God history and its facts became something which everyone could sensibly understand. “All that is solid melts into thin air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (Selected Writings, 161-2). This was the awakening of modernity.

When Marx undertook his critique of the capitalistic mode of production”, says Walter Benjamin, “this mode was in its infancy…[Marx showed that] one could expect it not only to exploit the proletariat with increasing intensity, but also ultimately to create conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself. (Work of Art, 217)

The hope for Marx was that the coincidence of the rapidly accelerating evolution and spread of technological networks of knowledge and communication on the one hand, and the necessarily increasing exploitation and alienation of the proletariat as a class on the other, could only result in the awakening of the proletariat to the facticity of their collective oppression and the immanent possibility of a collective revolution. The bourgeoisie banner of Enlightenment freedom would be torn down in its very actualization as practice. Thereby Communism would emerge from within capitalism itself as the nightmare and guilty conscience inherent in the very structure of the latter, as the specter which grows increasingly substantial the more capitalism tries necessarily to avoid its apparition. As Carl Schmitt says in The Concept of the Political, “this antithesis concentrates all antagonisms of world history into one single final battle against the last enemy of humanity. It does so by integrating the many bourgeois parties on earth into a single order, on the one hand, and likewise the proletariat, on the other. By so doing a mighty friend-enemy grouping is forged” (Concept of the Political, 74).

Communism proclaimed itself as the Messianic eruption of a world-historical community which in its emergence would reveal its inherited past as an enormous prehistory from which it had awoken. Historical materialism situated itself as the practical comprehension of historicity as such by which this community would simultaneously form itself for, awaken itself to and practically achieve this task. In the words of Guy Debord, “the real movement that abolishes reigning conditions governed society from the moment the bourgeois triumphed in the economic sphere” with the spread of capitalism, “and it did so visibly once that victory was translated onto the political plane” in the class struggle that would follow capitalism as communism (Society, 48). For “the development of the forces of production had shattered the old relations of production; every static order had crumbled to nothing. And everything that had formerly been absolute became historical.” Thus “the victory of the bourgeoisie was the victory of a profoundly historical time- the time corresponding to the economic form of production, which transformed society permanently, and from top to bottom…history was now perceived in its general movement– an inexorable movement that crushed individuals before it” (Society, 104).

The bourgeois Enlightenment had replaced the myth of God with the fact of history, but to the individual at the cusp of modernity the movement of history appeared as inevitable and automatic as the movement of the gears of the machines of capitalist production, as inevitable and automatic, in fact, as Nature or Divine Providence had appeared to earlier generations. The hope of Communism, then, was to simultaneously overcome individuality in collectivity and to overcome abstract history through its concrete appropriation. Only then could there exist on planet Earth a community of “the living becoming master and possessor of its world- that is, of history- and coming to exist as consciousness of its own activity” (Society, 48).

We may now grasp that kernel of dialectical historical materialism which unites knowledge, history, and the liberation of the proletariat with the fertility of production. This is the thought of the totality channeled through revolutionary practice to become flesh. In his introduction to Marx’s pamphlet Wage-Labour and Capital, Friedrich Engels asserts that it is in the prolific economic and technological productivity of the capitalist system that we may see the seeds that will grow to eclipse this system itself. He describes the passage from capitalism into communism as an organic transition whereby “the expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon [it]”, and flows with a plenitude that finally makes available to all “the means of life, of the enjoyment of life, and of the development and activity of all bodily and mental faculties, through the systematic and further development of the enormous productive powers of society” (Introduction to Wage-Labour and Capital, 80).

Production is that living labor by which the human societal organism in its metabolism with nature posits, expresses and molds itself. In studying the physical structures of production the historical materialist does not unearth the dead bones of a society like an archeologist, nor does he measure the dimensions of a living society with the reductionist gaze of a phrenologist. Material production is the organic expression of the life, the fullness of a human community in its creative and prolific totality. A human society is nothing other than what it produces or expresses, and historical materialism sees in economic and social structures the externalization of the inner societal organism, the body and spirit of the collective polis.

Communism, as envisaged by Marx and Engels, does not reject in itself the conceptual unity of progress and production built into capitalism but, thinking responsibly and historically, learns the way that this unity is built, and then builds a better system that actually produces free bodies and minds. To destroy the bourgeoisie one cannot reject the idea of progress that appears on their banner and hope to turn back the gears of time, for the simple reason that this very thought of the unity of societal production and time, the recognition that the gears have a history, is a thought that must recognize its own history as one inseparable from the materiality of the gears themselves. But neither, then, can one postpone action until the totality is brought to the clarity of thought, for thought does not produce a photograph or even a film of the gears, but sees and feels the gears turning. This is not to say that progress is irreversible but that the totality is immanent.

This is the scientific knowledge value of Marx’s historical materialism, and the realism of its rationalism can be stifling for us. How to think, when all thought is physically produced by the totality of the social body around the thinker? One adapts oneself to one’s time, one looks at the means and the social relations of material production that make up the world in which one lives, one sees them for what they are, and one works to change the world.

The last part of that sentence contains a kernel of Marx’s notion of praxis that is, in itself, beyond and before the scientific use-value of historical materialism. Today, it is so obvious that it seems almost cliché, to affirm that one wants to change the world. What is ‘world’? What is ‘change’? But while these questions are valuable, it must additionally be noted that, in a public sense, these questions are only valuable for a certain style of written academic discourse. In addition, while we must continue to ask such questions, they are silly if one wishes to use them to actually doubt the kernel of truth contained in the statement “Up to now, philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”.

We may now begin to question the relationship between the words ‘interpretation’ and ‘deconstruction’. Though it is incumbent upon us today to deconstruct every word of this statement that Marx once uttered, nobody who is presently listening to me seriously doubts what they know he meant to say. Of course each part of our collective discourse today already knows it, but ‘our collective discourse today’ is also uncertain that it can even dare to call itself a singular collective. As Derrida says many times, “Who, we?”

When we hear the statement, originally expressed by Marx, that ‘up until now, the philosophers have only interpreted the world, and the point now is to change it’, we are to begin to read it slightly differently. Contained in Marx’s Thesis is the absolute object of belief that permeates the entirety of our presently acting discourse. If we all begin to look at his Thesis in the same sense, then we have all begun to agree about something. Marx’s Thesis, then, from a single translation of the Theses on Feuerbach, reads, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it” (Karl Marx: A Reader, 23).

How are we to interpret this statement today? There are a number of ways. 1. The point is no longer to interpret a thing from multiple directions but to act upon it. 2. Now, we must cease to look at the world and begin to change it. In one sense, these are two ways to say the same thing. However, it is, strictly speaking, not the decision to ‘cease to look at the world’ which matters, rather it is simply the decision alone which counts. There is something, then, in Marx’s Thesis which defies interpretation.

Hannah Arendt once said, “Heidegger does not think ‘about’ something; he thinks something.” This statement must not be treated skeptically, but first critically and carefully. We should not try to think her thought, but we should start talking about her statement. But neither should we try therein to uncover the contents of Heidegger’s mind. In a fundamental way, we must begin to think about the words we speak. We can think for ourselves, together.

What I will begin to speak of, therefore, is something I call ‘discourse’. If someone is listening, it is now clear then that discourse immediately includes, in a fundamental way, the speaking and the listening of the writers and the readers of texts in today’s world. This means, first of all, that a text is separate from the world within which it is produced; this means secondly that we already have no idea, in a certain sense, what we mean when we say the word discourse. If we want to know, we must begin to ask ourselves and each other again and again. In this way, however, we can become altogether certain that we are all really speaking to each other. Additionally, we can all begin, in one way, to work together regarding action in the world.

Starting from somewhere, then, I will call ‘discourse’ what Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition called ‘action’, except I will collapse her threefold hierarchical distinction between labor, work and action by asserting that the faculty of thought, which she explicitly excluded from her book, is identical to what she called action. ‘Discourse’ would then be the laborious work of the synthesis of ideal thought and practical action. But without the labor of remembrance, such action would simply be the work of violence. First of all, for Arendt, ‘action’ means upright word, honest speech, and good deed. She does not say anything about thought. “With word and deed”, she says, “we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth, in which we confirm and take upon ourselves the naked fact of our original physical appearance” (Human Condition, 177). Discourse for Arendt is acting discourse, then, because, as discourse, it is action which consciously seeks to change the world. A discursive act cannot be simply thought, and then performed automatically. Action for Arendt is responsible acting-out within the midst of an inherently social human totality. Action is the burgeoning possibility of social change itself. As such it repeats the completely new unexpectedly, over and over again, as it works in the image of a law which, though intuited, can never be lawfully confirmed[4].

In this sense, then, action is founded on the sense of a repetition which immediately confirms for itself its own history. But what is discourse, and how does it act? In posing such questions as the expressions of thought, we already engage in speaking communal action. I call it an acting discourse then to scare away that thought which thinks that thought cannot change the world. As a whole, parts of discourse today are afraid not that discourse itself cannot change the world, but that they themselves cannot play their part. There is a part of discourse which does not act. The part of discourse which does not act, however, is not the part of discourse which does not change the world; rather, the part of discourse which doubts the fundamental unity of our discourse as a whole, is the part of discourse which does not change the world. To believe in the fundamental unity of our discourse as a whole is not how we must do it, rather it is it, it is what we must do. We must believe in this, and it is good if we already do believe in it.

How, then, does historical materialism cause discourse to act? Historical materialism does not simply roll back the boundaries of human knowledge to unveil further fertile fields for the delight of Reason, because it shakes the very framework of the structure Reason has built for itself. There is something in historical materialism that morally calls into question the very assumption that a detached, autonomous playground of scientific exploration is valuable in itself. This is a way we could say such a thing today. We may say that this occurred in the 1800s when Marx asked the superstructure of society to start thinking about material things, and we may say in the same breath that this needs to happen again today with science, which is the superstructure of our society. In either case the speaking subject stands underneath an enormous machine and tries to pull it down to earth. In the first case we would be saying that in the 1800s Marx began to encourage the philosophical, critical, spiritual and scientific cultural thought of the West to seriously think about Western human society as a single concrete process of material, economic production. In the second case we would begin to ask science to make our human world cleaner, more efficient, and nicer to everyone. As Marx encouraged economic theory to reconsider the fundamental laws of capital, so today we must again consider asking scientific theory to change itself. In each speech act there appears the interrogative violence of what was called dialectical critique or praxis. In the words of Guy Debord, “the close affinity of Marx’s thinking with scientific thinking lies in its rational grasp of the forces actually at work in society. Fundamentally, though, Marx’s theory lies beyond science, which is only preserved within it inasmuch as it is transcended by it. For Marx it is the struggle– and by no means the law– that has to be understood” (Society, 52).

Today, however, historical materialism, through the mediums of structuralism and its aftermath, has seeped so deeply into our discourse that we no longer know how to talk about it. Therefore, when we say that Marx was trying to bring a ghostly superstructure back down into a base of matter, we are speaking under the influence of a certain superstructuralism. It can be said that Marx killed Hegel with one hand and told the proletariat to rise up with the other hand, but this is a metaphor to express the factical occurrence that he got involved with Engels, started writing and speaking to the world, and somehow set it on fire. At the same time we know that Marx did not really start the fire of Communism all by himself, and yet we still tend to trace the signifier Communism back to the signifier Marx. In today’s world, the only working base-superstructure relationship I can imagine is that between the Planet Earth and human society. Here, we may be thinking universally.

Our discourse is afraid because it knows it is a science, and yet it also knows that science in itself does not perform anything except the act of science. Left to itself, science will endlessly accumulate data; left to itself, the warring instinct in man will quickly blow up the planet with nuclear weaponry. The twin instincts of war and science concluded their most intense conjunction in 1945, when human shadows became imprinted upon the walls of buildings and sidewalks of streets in Japan, when human ashes finally ceased to rain in Germany. Since then, war and science still struggle within one another, but something is slowly changing.

Our discourse is today the sensitive underbelly of what may be called at once politics and the media. Our discourse reads politics and reads the media; our discourse is political and mediated. Our discourse produces political action and political discussion; our discourse infiltrates old media and produces, within existing media, new forms of expression.

But considered in itself, our discourse shares a close proximity to the method and the discoveries of science. The theories of science are themselves highly philosophical. In the 1900s, our discourse borrowed from science the tools and methods called structuralism. Today, that part of science which is not science is animated by historical materialism, which is itself discourse animated by what we may call political action.

It is crucial to remember that nowhere in discourse can we find genuine political action. Political action as such remains entirely outside discourse. Discourse is simply speech, and politics, put simply, is action. In discourse, however, the signifier ‘Marx’ remains the primary example of philosophy that is also political action. Historical materialism is a praxis that Marx has left to discourse as his legacy.

What would it mean to say that today, living in this legacy, our discourse is entirely war and entirely science? Could it be said that our discourse is entirely political? Our discourse is within itself a battleground of political ideas expressed scientifically, and yet our discourse fights, as a whole, a continual war against science within science, a continual war against politics within politics, a continual war against war within war. We ask science to feel by learning everything that it cannot learn, we ask politics to think by thinking politically, we ask war to end by fighting with ‘mere’ words. To fulfill Marx’s injunction, then, our discourse must remind itself (and science) again and again that just as thought is obviously not entirely intellectual, historical materialism cannot possibly constitute a primarily scientific revolution for the progress of knowledge in an atemporal sphere of thought. Such a notion of scientific progress in and for its own sake is revealed by historical materialism itself to be the dominant ideology produced by the historical moment of capitalism.

This means, then, that discourse is bounded on all sides by political action. Discourse speaks of political action, but does so only to itself. Political action must be carried down from discourse into the world of which it speaks. Discourse is separate from the human world, then, only to the extent that it is permeated with the injunction ‘Up to now, philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. Today, the injunction of Marx, which reverberates through the thing we call capitalism, de-centers science itself, dragging the beast of science which has reared its most ugly head in nuclear weaponry down into moral and political concern for the entirety of the planet. As Jacques Derrida said in Specters of Marx,

Mourning always follows a trauma. I have tried to show elsewhere that the work of mourning is not one kind of work among others. It is work itself, work in general, the trait by means of which one ought perhaps to reconsider the very concept of production- in what links it to trauma, to mourning, to the idealizing iterability of exappropriation, thus to the spectral spiritualization that is at work in any tekhne. There is the temptation to add here an aporetic postscript to Freud’s remark that linked in a same comparative history three of the traumas inflicted on human narcissism when it is thus de-centered: the psychological trauma (the power of the unconscious over the conscious ego, discovered by psychoanalysis), after the biological trauma (the animal descent of man discovered by Darwin- to whom, moreover, Engels alludes in the Preface to the 1888 Manifesto), after the cosmological trauma (the Copernican Earth is no longer the center of the universe, and this is more and more the case one could say so as to draw from it many consequences concerning the limits of geopolitics). (Specters of Marx,121)

 In the next line, he says, “Our aporia would here stem from the fact that there is no longer any name or teleology for determining the Marxist coup and its subject.”

Today we make the attempt to mourn the 1900s.


 “We have to wake up from the existence of our parents. In this awakening, we have to give an account of the nearness of that existence.” (Arcades Project, 908)

In 1981, Jean Baudrillard lamented that “whereas so many generations, and particularly the last, lived in the march of history, in the euphoric or catastrophic expectation of a revolution- today one has the impression that history has retreated, leaving behind it an indifferent nebula, traversed by currents, but emptied of references” (Simulacra and Simulation, 43). The ‘last generation’ which he spoke of then was the epochal overturning of the 1960s, when revolution seemed imminent on all social and political fronts, and when this immanence moreover felt itself at the palpable tip of a new wave of history that seemed to call for its coming into being. The mythological impact of the 1960s permeates our culture and our discourse. The shame, the hesitancy, and finally even the strange pride we feel in reading this statement testifies to the inheritance that has been received of the epoch just described.

Can we even speak of such a temporal succession of generations as if it were a singular global phenomenon? When I say the 1960s, am I speaking of a cultural head which reared itself primarily in Western society? I speak today from my perspective. This generation, which we shall call ‘the 1960s’, had inherited from its parents the ruins of the Two World Wars of the first half of the 1900s, and found itself, in the midst of the Cold War, delivered over to the many hands of a world market of global capitalism that increasingly came to permeate and threaten all aspects of social and political life. This generation, called the 1960s, felt acutely the dangers of mass conformism and governmental control inherent in the new interpenetration of the global market and the social body. There occurred simultaneously, however, a renewed power of expression, the unceasing burgeoning of a new intellectual, moral and physical freedom which could be used to fight against the dangers of commodity capitalism.

For a brief time, it appeared as if a genuine revolutionary community had constituted itself. The ‘spirit of the 1960s’, as we today understand it, was certain both that its irreducible force had never before appeared on the planet, so it called itself a New Age. It was certain, moreover, that it was also the reawakening of a revolutionary force that had always been there, a potentiality that had always been stitched upon the fabric of history itself. So that generation also called itself a resurgence of the old ways.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of the fabric of history itself, Baudrillard says, in his 1981 essay ‘History: A Retro Scenario’, that twenty years after the end of the Second World War, the cultural memory of the Western world enjoyed a presence to its own history that, after the end of the 1960s, dissipated into a nebulous absence of content. Writing in 1981, it is clear for Baudrillard that the ‘march of history’ reached the peak of its self-presence in the 1960s, and that the following generation looks over its shoulder in the 1980s to see that the 60s has died, the march of presence has retreated, leaving instead the indeterminate void of an epoch through which shapes appear and disappear to a disjointed and groundless present. Today we struggle to raise the question- what must have disappeared, to leave in its wake such an absence which we are still calling postmodern?

We quickly see, however, that Baudrillard was not the first to sing the lamentations of the spectacle. Looking back now at Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, written just before the infamous events retroactively dubbed ‘May 1968’, we see a similar sentiment of cultural absence and mass alienation already expressed. Debord begins his book by saying that “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation”, as “the whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (Society, 12).

‘The spectacle’ is that constellation of mass media culture which, cast down from film, television and computer screens, tends to wire and define the social fabric of our capitalist society.[5] The spectacle is an immense proliferation of technologically-generated words and images, displayed in the omnipresent midst of a communal commodity market. It is the digital imagination that flits through the veins of the capitalist social body. Throughout the 1900s the spectacle, through the vehicle of consumer capitalism, has extended its disgusting tendrils to swallow the whole life of the modern globe it constitutes. Marx would tend to agree, that the spectacle is disgusting because it brings with it a social, physical, institutional, and psychical alienation of the labor, work and action of the productive minds and bodies that constitute a human community. The disgusting tendrils of the spectacle ceaselessly engulf even the most positive of the modern social-technological possibilities characteristic of the capitalist ecosystem. We can no longer even begin to delineate the contours of a spectacle separate from the social body it infiltrates. Leaving aside for a moment then the surface of Planet Earth before the year 1900, it can be safely said that during the 1900s, the spectacle and the conditions of production characteristic of capitalism took over most of the human world together.

Since its irruption, the media spectacle of consumer capitalism has been indistinguishable from the economic means and social relations of production that characterize consumer capitalism. Concerning modern civilization, where the gears of capitalist production go, there the spectral images of commodity fetishism follow. In the system of capitalism, the economic gears of the machine turn ‘on the ground’ to cause the social organism ‘up there’ to function. Since the 1900s, the material processes of production called capitalism have begun to create new cultural waves and patterns that now touch most parts of the globe. Consumer culture and consumer life is eagerly distributed by the hands of the system; poverty and wealth, oppression and the class struggle for human rights are in one (and only one) sense equally served to many citizens by the same People. And thoughAmericaspearheaded much of this exponentially growing production process throughout much of the 1900s, we can safely say today, in 2010, that if there is a single People across our entire planet, this ‘We, the people’, even if it is a spectacle, is certainly not American.

What is the spectacle? Today, in the year 2010, the clarity (or lack thereof) that we see in the words used to describe the essence of what we call ‘the social-political-economic-judicial-unconscious-interpersonal-technological-ecological-media spectacle of late consumer capitalism’ can only testify more clearly to its complete and utter ambiguity[6]. The spectacle spoken of by Debord in 1968 is that very ‘indifferent nebula’ spoken of by Baudrillard in 1981. Each claims, in his own historical context, that the directly lived substance of social and political life has vanished, and each, in his own way, attempts to describe the process of this vanishing. It could be said that such lamentations seek to describe the spectacle poetically, rather than scientifically; this statement, however, immediately calls its own terms into question. In the same breath, three questions can be thought- What is poetry? What is science? What is the spectacle?

How can we speak to each other of such a thing as the spectacle? It is that realm of our modern society advertised and constituted by systems of electric media communication, where an autonomous interplay of images embeds itself in paper and on concrete, to systematically produce and narrate the structure and substance of the production of bodies and minds, overlaying a diffuse and disembodied play of mirrors across the social world itself in its totality. The spectacle dwells in the battlefields of ideology, and in this sense the spectacle, considered apart from its base in material production, can be seen as the social-cultural superstructure of unconscious social dream networks. But still, these attempts to identify the spectacle remain empty gestures. Though the spectacle may be described as an objective social fact, it is difficult to pinpoint the spectacle as a unitary phenomenon. The finger which points to the spectacle gestures toward a force-field that includes the very motions of point and gesture within its total articulation.

How can we be sure that there is an experience of the spectacle? Speaking today about our lives, we can no longer truly speak of a sanctified inner privacy upon which the spectacle could impinge, nor can we speak any longer of a healthy social body upon which the spectacle could attach itself as a parasite, precisely because it is now the spectacle which from the beginning produces any body and any self which could speak of its own authenticity. It can be said, again, regarding the mental images that we create in ourselves about things, that these images themselves come fundamentally from the public sphere of media consumption created and sustained by modern capitalism. There is a place inside the television where intellectual discourse, corporate advertisement, news reportage and public entertainment converge and blend in a thousand voices, images, opinions, and desires. We are not yet aware of how thoroughly the spectacle is the very life force that turns the gears of our collective social body.

But it is still quite obvious to us, because of historical knowledge, that the spectacle of modern capitalism is finite. If the spectacle is attached to capitalism, our understanding of history tells us that capitalism has only recently begun. If the spectacle seems constitutive of industrial human society as such, our understanding of science proves to us that the spectacle is not the universe, because the earth is very small. But with what faculty of the understanding do we perceive the stuff of history? To what extent is our collective historical remembrance scientific? To what extent are the methods of scientific or historical thinking themselves conditioned a priori by the social spectacle?

The spectacle of which Jean Baudrillard spoke had already been spoken of before him by Guy Debord; and before Guy Debord, in turn, we can find testimony to the spectacle’s appearance in the words of Walter Benjamin. “All this is the arcade in our eyes. And it was nothing of all this earlier”, said Walter Benjamin in the 1930s, walking through the new electric-lit arcade shopping malls of Paris (Arcades, 834).

So long as the gas lamps, even the oil lamps were burning in them, the arcades were fairy palaces…the decline sets in with electric lighting. Fundamentally, however, it was no decline but, properly speaking, a reversal. As mutineers, after plotting for days on end, take possession of a fortified site, so the commodity by a lightning stroke seized power over the arcades. Only then came the epoch of commercial forms and figures. The inner radiance of the arcades faded with the blaze of electric lights and withdrew into their names. But their name was now like a filter which let through only the most intimate, the bitter essence of what had been.

There was an ‘inner radiance’ that glowed in the public spaces of Paris before the lighting of the new arcade shopping malls, but now the much brighter glare of electric commodity fetishism causes an invisible withdrawal in the public space, and what is left outside of the spectacle is only an imperceptible absence. The new spectacle for Benjamin now sings ceaselessly to itself in the arcade shopping malls, and in his memory, the silent sanctity of flickering candlelight pales and disappears before the harsh buzz of fluorescent lighting. The spectacle announces itself in the glow of neon names and night-lit signs which cast a monotonous, indifferent and overpowering illumination into the darkness, covering the stars.

We must remember that the spectacle throughout the 1900s was in all its forms a terrifying and monstrous revelation, and that it continues to be. And indeed, we can see, in the monstrous economic growth and the terrifying flow of its ‘commercial forms and figures’, the death of social authenticity and the rise of the mass consumer spectacle. “The dreaming collective” drawn to the arcades like flies “knows no history. Events pass before it as always identical and always new”, and even this sensation of “the newest and most modern is, in fact, as much a dream formation of events as the ‘eternal return of the same’” (Arcades Project, 854).

But we must rewire this sentence so as to bring out its positive and negative reflections. For one side of the brain, it is tragic that an entire collective is completely controlled by the impersonal eternal return of history, as it flits across the fleeting face of the societal spectacle. Baudrillard speaks again from the 1981 essay ‘History: A Retro Scenario’, speaking of “the historical stake chased from our lives by this sort of immense neutralization, which is dubbed peaceful coexistence on a global level, and pacified monotony on the quotidian level” (Simulacra and Simulation, 43). The dreaming collective knows no history, events simply pass before its empty eyes, in a peaceful collective dream of stupid ignorance. This is a very present and very negative effect of the spectacle in today’s world.

Benjamin speaks here of the same spectacle to which Debord and Baudrillard testify; this spectacle was alive in the 1930s just as in the 1960s and 1980s, just as it lives today. Each thinker of each generation already sees all of history summoned to this electric screen of detached simultaneity, sees the texture of experience uploaded to the same digital archive.

But for Benjamin, writing in the 1930s, the names, the words lit up by this new electric glow, uploaded into this new spectacle, are also thereby imbued with a new power to let through something else, ‘the most intimate, the bitter essence of what had been’. We must be careful not to imagine this ‘filter which let[s] through’ as the shining, from within the glare of the new electric lights, of the gentle glow of the gas lamps from the past. The inner radiance of the fairy palaces has faded and withdrawn, to leave in its wake not darkness but the shining of an even brighter, blinding light. What is needed is not a light from the past to break through the darkness of the present- there is more than enough light! But this also means that the ‘most intimate, bitter essence of what has been’, which must come, is something other than ‘a memory of the way things used to be’. Benjamin continues- “This strange capacity for distilling the present, as inmost essence of what has been, is, for true travelers, what gives to the name its exciting and mysterious potency.”

Before examining the epochs closer to our present day, we need to dwell here with Walter Benjamin, we need to see what he saw of his past in the 1930s, before the Second World War and all that followed it to become our present day. What was this transformation, this decline and reversal that he perceived in the lightening of the neon names of the electric spectacle? By what capacity do the neon names turn into a filter, and what is thereby let through?

“The alluring and threatening face of primal history is clearly manifest to us in the beginnings of technology”, though “it has not yet shown itself in what lies nearer to us in time…[and primal history] is also more intense in technology (on account of the latter’s natural origin) that in other domains. That is the reason old photographs- but not old drawings- have a ghostly effect” (Arcades Project, 393). There is a face that turns in the photographed image of the past to look at us, a face that looks in such a way that, meeting its gaze, we feel that it concerns the space of time that its gaze traverses, though what it is concerned about has not yet appeared for us there. Even if there is a person in the photograph, we need not look into their eyes to perceive the face now described[7].

We feel that this face from our distant past is about to tell us something about that time which has become its future, that time which now follows behind us as our more recent past- and yet it lingers on the tip of its silence, it does not move, it seems to hold its breath in anticipation. Is it waiting for us to say or do something? Without breaking our gaze it seems to beckon to the space that has gathered between our respective places, as if time itself were the light which has crystallized to form this black-and-white photograph before our eyes. Yet between the present and the past, in the impossible gape of time itself, there unmistakably passes an imperative that strikes time with a force that cannot be described in the language of time or space, and yet is coming. The image was not uncanny in this way when it was first captured and viewed, but has only become uncanny to us with the passing of time through space, the stretching of space through time. This uncanniness, which dwells in the old image that is perceived anew in the digital age, is the compression of time into the thickness of space, the condensation of space into the crystal transparency of time.

It is useful now to speak of the aura. “In the fleeting expression of a human face, the aura beckons from early photographs for the last time. This is what gives them their melancholy and incomparable beauty” (Work of Art, 27). The aura for Benjamin denotes a communal, mystical trace of alterity that inheres in physical objects which are surrounded by and imbued with ritual and tradition. For Benjamin, no such artistic object in a capitalist society can remain suffused with aura, since the age of technological reproduction ensures that any singularly significant work can be photographed, reproduced, and distributed infinitely.

The primal history[8] seen in early photographs, however, speaks to us with a startling urgency different from the ancient voices that whisper and rumble in the tattered fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not simply because the photograph is closer to us in time, but also because of the rapid acceleration of technological progress peculiar to modern capitalism. The Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they are captured behind transparent glass in a museum, rest as they are, singularly enshrined in their aura. Likewise, an original painting from the late 1800s rests as it is, and as it was from the day of its completion. Even if we saw its image on the Internet before we went to the museum, and even if we have read the myriad scholarly interpretations of its minute brushstrokes, still we may to some degree approach the living thing itself, we may touch without touching, breathe without breathing the mystery of its history. It is a grandparent to us, in the sense that we may trace therein the contours of what, though ephemeral and past, still carries therein the weight and fullness, the presence of its mystery. Its distance is maintained, and respected. It ‘rests in peace’, and we preserve it.

Technological reproduction, however, has collapsed the distance between ourselves and our dead. Thereby, in the wake of the disappearing aura, we are called upon to become messengers of death in the fertile fields of the living[9]. In the 1900s, a century marked as much by the acceleration of capitalist technological production as by the traumas of Western individualism, we experienced the catastrophic collapse of all contact with a past that used to seem suffused with a primordial sacredness, irreparably lost. That which has passed returns in an atmosphere of political emergency. What is so startling in the faces of early photographs is that we can see therein the worry, the invisible trauma that is not yet the utter absence of aura characteristic of a discarded candy bar wrapper, but is rather the disappearing of the aura in the last gasp of its disappearance, the desperate glimmer of the aura as it is frozen in the process of vanishing before our eyes.

The flat, glossy smiles on the color-splashed faces of today’s magazines, their perfectly transparent eyes are a parody, a mockery of this murder. Yet they are also a sign that today, many years since Benjamin, we cannot remain in an indefinite state of mourning. Benjamin in the 1930s saw this disappearance, saw the disappearing of this disappearance before his eyes, and he spoke of what he saw as the terrifying passage into a new epoch, where “in technology, a physis is being organized through which mankind’s contact with the cosmos takes a new and different form from that which it had in nations and families” (Work of Art, 59).

With the sudden rise of new networks of media communication, every work of art ever drawn, every sentence ever written by human hands becomes technologically reproduced into countless identical simulations of itself, becomes detached from its original context in heritage and tradition, and splits into myriad clone copies of itself which disseminate in myriad directions to enter into myriad combinations with myriad other images. Through the 1900s and into the present, this process of splitting and dissemination is itself accelerating in its speed and breadth, until the image we had of the process itself spills and disseminates before our eyes. “The technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition”, and causes “a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past- a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the present crisis and renewal of humanity” (Work of Art, 22).

Along with the massively accelerating production of commodities to create the factical ways of life of an entire society, the discipline of the technical and electronic production, reproduction, assembling and archiving of the entirety of the documents and artifacts of cultural knowledge and history has completely transformed the production of the thoughts and actions of what can (in only one sense) be called a worldwide civilization. This process has long since escaped the control of the Western world from which it came. It is the capitalist spectacle which has, to some degree, permeated every aspect and every layer, individual and collective, spiritual and material, artificial and natural, of the entirety of human culture upon Planet Earth.

Throughout the 1900s, the socio-economic productions and the cultural-ideological expressions of the capitalist system accelerated their spread across the human world. This century was and still remains terrifying and inexplicable to us. In the 1930s, the rapid viral infiltration and spread of Mickey Mouse and Charlie Chaplin across the collective consciousness of an entire civilization showed to Benjamin that “capitalism was a natural phenomenon with which a new dream-filled sleep came over Europe and, with it, a reactivation of mythic forces” (Arcades Project, 391). And yet, after the Great War and before the Second World War which would retroactively constitute the former as the First, Benjamin had hope that with the crisis of the spectacle of commodity capitalism would come the renewal of awakening, as “historical ‘facts’ become something that just now happened to us, just now struck us”, so that “to establish them is the affair of memory”, a unique digital memory of the present (Arcades Project, 883).

Benjamin took pains to show that, though technological reproduction alienated capitalist civilization from authentic contact with its history, hope could still be found in the new possibilities opened up for modern man. The primal history that begins to shine through old photographs gradually, only years after they are produced, testifies to a powerful new wave of cultural-historical awakening that follows, like a roll of thunder, in the wake of the lightning bolt of the commodity takeover which had erased the aura of the past in the instant of its flash.

In a single swipe, the age of technological reproduction tears each singular work of art away from authentic contact with the aura of its heritage and tradition, and files the digital copy of its image onto a universal database so that, there, it may be uploaded onto any screen and viewed at any place, at any time. On the one hand, an utter impossibility- all primordial connection with the originary essence of the past is destroyed; but just as quickly, then, there return waves of possibility, innumerable permutations of images of a past detached, reproduced, encoded, commodified. This movement- from the fairy lamps to the neon signs, from rupture to revivification, from the disappearance of contact with the aura to the reappearance of political possibility, from the forgetting of the authentic practice of past tradition to the electric remembrance of every detail of every ritual- here we see delineated the contours of what Benjamin in the 1900s called “a not-yet-conscious knowledge of what has been: its advancement has the structure of awakening” (Arcades, 883).

What hope did Benjamin see there, between the two World Wars, in the midst of the great storm of the first half of the 1900s? If the commodity fetishism characteristic of capitalism in the 1900s may be likened to a lightning bolt, where is the roll of thunder whose advancement could awaken to historical consciousness a new knowledge of what-has-been? If the spectacle in the 1900s strikes with a visible flash, we must not look, but rather listen for the ominous murmurs of awakening that follow. The greatest virtue of a storm is its unpredictability. A lightning bolt can be silent and nearly imperceptible; thunder can shake the earth.

The momentum of primal history in the past is no longer masked, as it used to be, by the tradition of church and family- this at once the consequence and condition of technology. The old prehistoric dread already envelops the world of our parents because we ourselves are no longer bound to this world by tradition. The perceptual worlds break up more rapidly; what they contain of the mythic comes more quickly and more brutally to the fore; and a wholly different perceptual world must be speedily set up to oppose it. This is how the accelerated tempo of technology appears in light of the primal history of the present. (Arcades Project, 461)

We must read this first line carefully. He is not simply re-narrating the doctrine of Marx, according to which bourgeois Enlightenment replaced the belief-structures of church and family with the open question of historical reason. He is not saying that a past society saw its past as the tradition of church and family, whereas our present society sees its past as the momentum of primal history. He is saying that for us, today, the momentum of primal history in the past is no longer masked by the tradition of church and family, as it once was masked for us.

But again, it is not as if in the past we saw a distorted picture of the past, and today in the present we see that we saw this distortion, we correct this distortion, and so we see the past more clearly. We can no longer assume a meaningfully continuous timeline between past and present. The past was not for us then what it is for us now, just as the present for us now is not what the present was for us then. There are many pasts; there is no single present; there is always only the Moment. We have changed fundamentally, and this is not the growth of an organism through time, and this is not progress. There is no vehicle called society that, driving along in the present, maintains a space in its backseat for historians to record what they see out the back window. There is no road- not the memory of a road that we struggle to maintain behind us, nor the gradual unveiling of a road that continues before us. But we are here now, and ‘there is a tradition that is catastrophe’. This tradition is wholly other to us. We cannot see what they saw of their own past or their own present, and we cannot see our own past or our own present. But what do they think of us?

We cannot see anything; however, this does not mean that there is nothing that has been given for us to see. Now, drenched in this impossibility, we can see that what appears to us as our past is not, never has been and never will be a primal history uncovered in its truth, its original ground. Rather, what comes to us is a series of marks that has always been changing, marking and remarking itself not upon a single skin, not in itself and for itself, not with a view to itself, but as the living record of this ceaseless change. This ceaseless change is not written ex nihilo with holy ink, but is the sweat, blood and toil of the oppressed. Here, it is clear that what can retroactively be called the utter contingency of human history was once produced by the hands of the oppressed.

This ceaseless change is the momentum of primal history. What the tradition of church and family covered up was not the true face of what really happened, but the truth of ceaseless change. The truth of ceaseless change that is uncovered is not primal history itself, but the momentum of primal history, and this momentum is the very force of uncovering which shows to us primal history as the imprint or echo of ceaseless change. The ‘momentum of primal history in the past’ is that rereading and rewriting of the past which shows it as the expression of the force of ceaseless change. This momentum itself can never be seen, but a primal history can be seen in the light of its ceaseless change. It is the primal history of the present.

‘The momentum of primal history in the past is no longer masked’ for us, and this is ‘at once the consequence and condition of technology’. Thanks to the accelerating evolution of technology and the broadening scope of its information systems, we can more readily view the accumulating record of our past with an eye towards shaping and re-shaping it as historical narrative upon a temporal continuum. As we look farther away from the present, through the 1900s and into the more distant past, it becomes easier for us to see the facts of history as froth atop a seething, unconscious sea of ceaseless change. We can more easily sculpt our interpretations out of the dust which has already settled, because it is easier for us to accept what has long since passed for its essential contingency.

But that thereby ‘the perceptual worlds break up more rapidly’, as technology grafts its dissimulating digital screen indissolubly into the perceptual fabric of the succession of human generations- this is ‘how the accelerated tempo of technology appears in light of the primal history of the present’ (my italics). This goes beyond the orthodox Marxist reading that, as a consequence of the physical transformations of technology, the institutions of church and family can no longer explain our past. The Marxist reading will explain this as the adaptation of the ideological superstructures of church and family to the transformations of their economic-technological infrastructure.

If, however, the opening of the momentum of primal history in the past is also the condition for the possibility of these technological transformations, we can no longer explain these transformations as simply physical. Changes in the superstructure are not causally determined by changes in the base. The economic, technological and ideological transformations of the 1900s were marked by utter contingency, and remain so. Still, we must recognize that our living past has granted us the ability to perceive this radical contingency. In the same breath that speaks of these phenomena, we must historically situate the consequences and conditions of our own perception of these phenomena.

We may now say, regarding the 1900s, that the accelerating transformation of economic and technological production is predicated on the opening of the momentum of primal history, the force of ceaseless change. The force of ceaseless change itself produces economic and technological transformation, because it is none other than the labor of the proletariat. “The class struggle,” writes Benjamin in his Theses on The Philosophy of History, “is a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist.” In the class struggle,

courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude…have retroactive force and will constantly call in question every victory, past and present, of the rulers. As flowers turn towards the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives to turn towards that sun which is rising in the sky of history. A historical materialist must be aware of this most inconspicuous of all transformations. (Illuminations, 255)

The class struggle involves not only the labor and pain of the oppressed, but also the force of dialectical critique which calls into question the doctrines of the oppressor. The force of ceaseless change, which as the toil of the oppressed produces history, is also the ground of the possibility for critique, rupture and revolution. There is a way to perceive the past as tragic catastrophe, and to simultaneously be grateful for that in it which, most bitter, served as the ground for the possibility of critical perception as such. We must continue to perceive the 1900s as an immense catastrophe, and we must continue to perceive therein the history of our perception. In this way we can both radically affirm positivity, and ruthlessly critique teleology.

And still we ask- what is our time? We may now begin to speak of ‘the 1900s’ because it has passed away. But every past implies a present. Between the ‘momentum of primal history in the past’ and what ‘appears in light of the primal history of the present’, we find ourselves now sucked into a cinematic model of movement, and flattened out into a temporal time-slice of stagnancy. If we hope to write a ‘primal history of the present’, however, we must not seek to collect the aggregate of information leading causally up through time to the modern condition, in the hopes of arriving at a picture of the present age. Rather, we must perform the labor of historical remembrance that is of the present, that is perceived and written with an ear to the moment at which it is written, that could only have been written at the particular time of the historical materialist who writes.

At this critical juncture between past and present, Benjamin’s dialectical method of historical materialism sought an experience of a past that bursts through the detached frames of linear historical narrative to become startling montage, real image in the present. This is the experience of the dialectical image.

The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again…for every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably. (The good tidings which the historian of the past brings with throbbing heart may be lost in a void the very moment he opens his mouth.) (Illuminations, 255)

The dialectical image of the past uncovered by the historical materialist is an image that curves as a candle towards the glow of the present. It is an interpretation of the past sculpted by the contours of the present. The dialectical image therein receives not only its truth value, but also its political significance, because it concerns and effectuates the liberation of past and present oppression. But then what is the essence of this candle, this flame stretched between past and present- what is it of the past that falls between our fingers in the present, what is it in the present that so magnetically attracts the glow of the past?

When we inquire into the ontological essence of the image that confronts the historical materialist in his work, the dichotomy of present and past fails us. “It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill” (Arcades Project, 463). The dialectical relationship between a ‘present’ and a ‘past’ which, as opposites, would each project light upon and reciprocally illuminate the other, yields to the sudden confrontation between the ‘now’ and ‘what has been’. This confrontation strikes in a singular spark to become a constellation, the experience of the dialectical image.

However, it is important to remember that the ‘now’ is not a simultaneity of past and present, a direct intuitive unity of essence shared between the matter of history and its historical materialist. As Derrida says, “simultaneity is the myth of a total reading or description, promoted to the status of a regulatory ideal. The search for the simultaneous explains the capacity to be fascinated by the spatial image: is space not ‘the order of coexistences’ (Leibniz)? But by saying ‘simultaneity’ instead of space, one attempts to concentrate time instead of forgetting it.” (Writing and Difference, 25) The dialectical image is not a spatial image. The historical materialist does not imprint the total picture of a spatial event in history upon a photosensitive plate of cultural memory for the benefit of the knowledge of his species. Such an ideal photosensitive plate, perfect to be filed into the historical continuum, would capture the density of thickening space, founded on the concentration of time into the simultaneity of the Event, coined into the clear visual image of a substantive sign-system, stamped with the gleaming mark of historical truth.

When the dialectical image appears in the ‘past’ to the historical materialist of the ‘present’, the objective temporal continuum of history does not sharpen, concentrate, focus or zoom in on itself, rather it is blasted as object, it ceases to exist in space as time. Neither is the dialectical image a motion that flits in time as space, a subjective corporeal movement that dives down into the flesh of historicity to become the diachronous stretching of time as it unfurls as and along its own timeline.

The experience of the dialectical image is not a visual apprehension of an historical essence. Benjamin explains- “what distinguishes images from the ‘essences’ of phenomenology is their historical index. (Heidegger seeks in vain to rescue history for phenomenology abstractly through ‘historicity’). These images are to be thought of entirely apart from the categories of the ‘human sciences’, from so-called habitus, from style, and the like” (Arcades Project, 462). When the dialectical image appears, both the spatial movement of time as diachronic duration, and the temporal moment of space as synchronic snapshot, are destroyed. But we must remember also that the structural differance by which time breaks up into a multiplicity of successive moments, as well as the structural differance by which space breaks up into a multiplicity of simultaneous points, fail us. What can the dialectical image be, if ‘in’ its appearance it is neither a flat nor a stretched thing in space, if it does not persist in time, if it has neither substantive matter nor structural composition? And most importantly we must remember that what remains here, after time and space have been obliterated, is not the primordial opening of historicity as such. What is the dialectical image if it is not ‘in’ space or time? Does it have a face? Is it?

Here we have bumped up against language. Benjamin tells us that “only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is language” (Arcades, 462). Did we just see a dialectical image, there in language? Did we experience it? Do we know what it is or what we are talking about? Did you see it?

Or perhaps we should speak about language. But what is language? Is it this? What is this? Is it writing? But what is writing? Are we talking too much?

When we spoke of the dialectical image, we could not imagine it Other than time or space, we could not see its face or know its core. We came to no place, got to no point, saw no thing. Did we feel something? If so, we are unable to speak of it to each other, because all speech/language/writing ‘is’ metaphor, is spatial and temporal, is historical. What is here communicated?

Perhaps we are still looking for an essence. “What distinguishes images from the ‘essences’ of phenomenology is their historical index.” (462) The historical index that marks dialectical images “not only says that they belong to a particular time” in the past, but “that they attain to legibility only at a particular time” of the present. If no particular essence inheres in the dialectical image, it is because the moment of interpretation, again and again, decides the singular experience of the encounter with alterity. This undecidability delineates the ever changing political coordinates of the class struggle.

The ‘now’ is not the present moment which supersedes the ‘has been’ in the smooth flow of the homogeneous tissue of historical progression. Rather, the ‘now’ is the sudden moment of danger, the singular gasp of a confrontation, the instant which in its irreducibility cannot be measured and so cannot be called a ‘present’. Likewise, what ‘has been’ is that trembling inheritance which overtakes the now with a wave of déjà vu, in a rush of intuition, as whispered promise. The encounter which Benjamin calls the ‘dialectical image’ traverses experience in a critical moment, that of ‘dialectics at a standstill’, and interrupts the continuous flow of history. Therein lies its revolutionary, Messianic spark. “For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent…not temporal in nature but figural” (Arcades Project, 462-3).

To the historical materialist, the dialectical image can be blasted out of the continuum of history because, as a singular historical object, “its monadological structure demands it. This structure first comes to light in the extracted object itself…in the form of the historical confrontation that makes up the interior (and, as it were, the bowels) of the historical object, and into which all the forces and interests of history enter on a reduced scale” (475). The object of comprehension for the historical materialist is an irreducibly singular monad, in which can be seen in a microcosm ‘all the forces and interests’ of the historical continuum from which it was blasted. If the event is considered in its larger historical significance, as a representation of its culture in its time period, then the elucidation of the event will sharpen the ‘larger’ understanding of this culture and this time period, just as the larger historical context will illuminate the significance of the singular event. This monad “finds represented in its interior its own fore-history and after-history”, that is, it receives its structure as a singularity from the way it exhibits within itself the tension between its own past and its own future within its own historical continuum. From the illumination it receives from the historical context on either side of it, it glows with the intensity of an absolutely singular, shattering event. It is a historically situated object that is illuminated by, and reciprocally illuminates, its context, in such a way that it is wholly itself, wholly other to its context. As an event it stands on its own, irreducible to anything that came before or after. Yet it itself is the point at which its past and future meet, it itself is the juncture that holds its past and future on either side of it, together in a single narrative yet separate in indecision, open to interpretation.

We take for granted today that we have the cognitive ability to look at a person, a place, an object, an event, in the past, and to say ‘Wow, what an irreducibly beautiful, fascinating thing we have before our eyes- and what an example of its time!’, as if the thing stood there for us in its time, and yet also looked out at us from its time, out of its time. As if history were a scrolling slideshow of images, and we could click on any image to watch a film, and freeze that film at any moment to find another image, which is once again on a slideshow of images (metonymy and metaphor///space and time); and as if the surface of the screen of history lay before but also behind our vision, as if, in the present, we were between ourselves and the screen of the past, as if, engaged in a perpetual uploading of the present with the past, we were between the screen and itself, as if in the present the mouse were our hands and the screen were our eyes, and “the free act of the question, which frees itself from the totality of what precedes it in order to be able to gain access to this totality, particularly to its historicity and its past”, were so to speak refreshing to us (Writing and Difference, 167).

This cybernetic ability we have today is part of the legacy of historical materialism, particularly the way that Marx’s scientific insights have been uploaded into the knowledge of the Western world. But the downloading of Marx’s most bitter insight is another matter. We take our cybernetic ability for granted, that is, we take it for granted. We assume it as already given, we do not question it, and so we are thrown into it; thus taking it as already given, we seize our gift out of the hands that have given it to us without recognizing it as gift. The free act of the question frees itself from the totality of what precedes it; and even then, it is not thereby immediately in contact with the presence of the historicity and the past of this totality, but gains only the presence of the ability to access the historicity and the past of that totality. The question which has brought itself to the presence of this possibility, Derrida continues, “cannot expect an answer. It is the question of the possibility of the question, opening itself, the gap on whose basis the transcendental I, which Husserl was tempted to call ‘eternal’ (which in his thought, in any event, means neither infinite nor ahistorical, quite the contrary) is called upon to ask itself about everything, and particularly about the possibility of the unformed and naked factuality of the nonmeaning, in the case at hand, for example, of its own death” (Writing and Difference, 168).

In receiving and applying Benjamin’s writings on the historical materialist method, the danger that ‘affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers’ is that we who receive this inheritance will use it to distill dialectical images from the objects of history that do not transmit the explosive spark, the ‘destructive or critical momentum’ that constitutes an authentic monad. The danger is that we will be good Hegelians but bad Marxists, we will not recognize that the force of critique comes not from the synthesis of Spirit in Absolute Knowing but before that from the struggle of the oppressed whose labor is concretely and abstractly the possibility of the question. Let us turn again to Benjamin’s words, at which we may have looked too quickly. “If the object of history is to be blasted out of the continuum of historical succession, that is because its monadological structure demands it. This structure first comes to light in the extracted object itself. And it does so in the form of the historical confrontation that makes up the interior (and, as it were, the bowels) of the historical object, and into which all the forces and interests of history enter on a reduced scale. It is owing to this monadological structure that the historical object finds represented in its interior its own fore-history and after-history” (Arcades Project, 475).

The monadological structure ‘comes to light’ in the object of history after that object has been extracted from historical succession. However, the object may be extracted from its place in the timeline only if the historical materialist has already heard the call, from within the object, of that object’s monadological structure. The monad ‘neither reveals nor conceals, but gives a sign’, a demand that bypasses the order of sight, and yet a demand that is structural. The monad calls from within the bowels of the object, the historical materialist responds by blasting the object out of historical succession, and only then does the monadological structure of the object reveal itself to vision in the object. What comes to light in the extracted object, the dialectical image of its monadological structure, shows itself in the form of a historical confrontation that fills and fulfills the belly, the bowels, the flesh and blood and bones of the object. This is the world-historical confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is the stillness in the center of the moment, the moment of what-has-been and the moment that is now. The moment gathers, however, not in an open clearing of peace and light, nor in the closed darkness of nothing, but in a commandment at once joyous and sorrowful. In the inbreath, shared between the historical materialist of the present and the historical matter of the past, there gather the forces and interests of the suffering and redemption of time itself towards the still point of remembrance. This place is not present, but remains. It is not the struggle between Master and Slave, but the struggle of the oppressed.

Only in the outbreath can we say that “it is owing to this monadological structure that the historical object finds represented in its interior its own fore-history and after-history” (475, my italics). In my former interpretation of this passage, I thought that the ‘historical confrontation that makes up the interior (and, as it were, the bowels) of the historical object, and into which all the forces and interests of history enter on a reduced scale’, was the monadological structure of the historical object itself. I interpreted the word ‘confrontation’ to refer to the jointure, the presencing of the present between past and future which “the historical object finds represented in its interior [as] its own fore-history and after-history”. In this way I was able to conceive that each past had a past, and I was able to perceive the fractal sedimentation of interpretation between every present and its past. I then saw my own ‘confrontation’ between my present and the past of the historical object, in the light of that general monadography by which the repetition of interpretive remembrance comes to representation.

But when I realized the true meaning of the word ‘confrontation’, that it referred in that sentence not to a spatial relation of the temporal continuum to itself but primarily to the confrontation of the oppressor against the oppressed, I realized further that the ‘monadological structure’ is not the historical object itself in the primordial illumination of its historicity, but is that by which the historical object finds already represented in its own interior its own destiny. Though it demands that the historical object ‘is to be blasted out of the continuum’, the monadological structure does not show itself in itself, rather it comes to light in the extracted object itself, as the way that the constellation of that particular historical moment is illuminated from within itself by the explosion of the class struggle which produced it. The historical object never ‘has’ a monadological structure that reveals itself in the articulation which opens historicity to full comprehension of the interconnectedness of its own timeline! There is never in the historical object even the slightest trace of a monad or a monadological structure in its presence. There is only ever the world-historical confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, in its sorrow and its joy.

It is essential to acknowledge this non-presence of monadological structure, in order to guard against the excesses of a structuralism which would seek a totalized and definitive snapshot, or an authoritative cinematographic narrative, of the structure of a historical moment. However, this does not mean that we must deny ourselves all positive statements, and condemn ourselves to rootless interpretation. There is no monadological structure of the historical object, however, such structure can be seen in the historical object if the object is first wrested away from the structure of its historical context, and is seen in the light of the class struggle which has already given it its own structure.

In this structure [the historical materialist] recognizes the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for an oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogenous course of history- blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifework. As a result of this method the lifework is preserved in the work and at the same time canceled; in the lifework, the era; and in the era, the entire course of history. (Illuminations, 263)

In the blast, the historical object is shot through with chips of the confrontation, and it is these which come through the historical object as the apparition of its dialectical image, in the light of which it ‘finds represented in its interior its own fore-history and after-history’. The historical object does not thereby assume its place as a permanent mark or unchanging tag atop a raging, changing historical chaos that would serve as its context; and likewise, the historical continuum is not a constant, factically objective skin or texture upon which transient and indeterminate monad-objects flit or twitter, make their marks and dissolve. The force of the blast shatters these spatio-temporal models. When the historical object constitutes itself it is seen as a dialectical image completely blasted away from any relation with any context or any model. This is not a reconstruction of the face of originary historicity, but a destruction of the old and a construction of the new. But a deconstruction aimed at dissolving presence into indeterminacy is guided by nothing if not the class struggle embodied in Marx’s 11th Thesis, ‘Up until now, philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. If a structure is to be illuminated, it can only be that which serves the proletariat in its struggle against the oppressor, in the now.

“Hence, for as long as the metaphorical sense of the notion of structure is not acknowledged as such, that is to say interrogated and even destroyed as concerns its figurative quality so that the nonspatiality or original spatiality designated by it may be revived, one runs the risk, through a kind of sliding as unnoticed as it is efficacious, of confusing meaning with its geometric, morphological, or, in the best of cases, cinematic model” (Writing and Difference, 16). The class struggle animates the dialectical image with a face that defies structural or scientific representation. And yet, the meaning which burns in history as the scent of the class struggle cannot be lifted from history, removed in its purity apart from the stain of any symbolic representation. For the class struggle produced history, and the historical materialist must narrate the class struggle in history for the liberation of past and present oppression. History must be reread and rewritten.

And indeed, Benjamin says elsewhere that “the fore- and after-history of a historical phenomenon show up in the phenomenon itself on the strength of its dialectical presentation” (Arcades Project, 470). Dialectics does not destroy history but awakens it from its restless slumber, revives that in it which has always been revolutionary confrontation. However, Benjamin proceeds in this passage to use the word ‘confrontation’ not in a revolutionary, but in an explicitly structural sense. “Every dialectically presented historical circumstance polarizes itself and becomes a force field in which the confrontation between its fore-history and after-history is played out. It becomes such a field insofar as the present instant interpenetrates it. And thus the historical evidence polarizes into fore- and after-history always anew, never in the same way. And it does so at a distance from its own existence, in the present instant itself- like a line which, divided according to the Apollonian section, experiences its partition from outside itself” (470).

Though the historical object is blasted out of any continuous historical timeline and summoned to the present moment of interpretation, nonetheless this destructive force blasts open a play of differential marks across the object which remain imprinted, beyond the object, on a historical force field that is sensitive to structure. The force of dialectics awakened and unleashed in the ‘Messianic cessation of happening’ congeals into structure, surrenders its absolute alterity to a play of interpretation that constantly reconfigures itself through time. Precisely because of the total uploading of history into an archive of digital information, the historical materialist may trace lines, and lines within lines, upon this permeable and receptive encoding membrane, may form and reform monads, changing the very text and context of this ‘primal history of the present’. This structure is so to speak constantly astonished at its own existence, refreshed in its own growth.

It is in this sense that Derrida tells us that “the structuralist stance, as well as our own attitudes assumed before or within language, are not only moments of history. They are an astonishment, rather, by language as the origin of history. By historicity itself.” (Writing and Difference, 4)  Earlier, we saw how the scientific revelation of historical materialism opened the ground for the concrete socio-economic structures of a living societal organism to be studied, in their factical historicity, as the production of an articulated totality of superstructural institutions and ideas, social formations and organizations. Though Marx first posited the economic infrastructure as the primordial root or body of the cultural-ideological superstructure, thinkers after Marx extended his concept of production to cover a more general phenomenon embracing base and superstructure, encompassing material and ideological production alike as the semiotic, historical expression of life itself. The structuralist wave of the human sciences sought to unveil sign-systems of signification in the structured substance of human societies, in the relations and patterns of social codes, institutions, languages and laws as much as in the physical economic means of production. Infrastructure and superstructure alike are generated as structure, are knotted with articulated systems of signs, semiotic networks which change and grow. And while these patterns are found in flesh that is historical, and while these patterns change with the wrinkling of the skin, these patterns themselves are thought by structuralism to be the play, within history, of forms that in themselves are not historical.

“But within structure there is not only form, relation, and configuration. There is also interdependency and a totality which is always concrete” (Writing and Difference, 5).


The polarization of the texture of history creates a force field of interpretive potentiality, a sensitivity between the very delineations of present and past, a thinning of the veil through which the violent spark between the now and what-has-been may flicker. The primal history that looks out at us in old photographs is the opening of this force field, the “telescoping of the past through the present” (471).

What is the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’? Let us look at this word, telescoping. It refers ultimately to the noun, ‘telescope’; this noun was turned into a verb, ‘to telescope’; this verb became an adjective, ‘telescoping’, which is in its turn a noun again, referring to the entire process of telescoping. Before we define ‘telescoping’, then, we must look at the telescope. The noun ‘telescope’ refers to a thing, the telescope. A telescope is a scientific instrument that allows us to see the stars. To do that, it uses reflecting mirrors and/or refracting lenses to absorb light that comes to us from the stars, as the stars. The light is the way that the stars appear to us, as well as that which allows us to see the stars. A scientist uses a telescope to look at the stars. There is a shining of the stars, and there is a shining of the telescope.

The eye, pressing against the telescope, thus sucks in light either through contact with a medium which distorts the light (a refraction telescope), or through indirect contemplation of a clearer image of the light in a mirror (a reflection telescope). The refraction telescope, first built by Galileo, uses a lens or multiple lenses to channel and focus light in a direct, linear passage to the perceiving eye. With a refraction telescope the human eye, itself a lens, is looking at the star through more powerful lenses, but because the light bends through the subjective curvature of the lens, different colors become bent different amounts, and the light becomes unfocused. The reflection telescope, first built after Galileo by Newton, reflects the light through a relay of mirrors that mediate the image to the eye of the scientist, which perceives the final mirror in the chain. This is the indirect contemplation of the reflection of a star, of an image which is clearer through the faithful and accurate mediation of mirrors. It can be said, in conclusion, that the refraction telescope is more ‘subjective’, and the reflection telescope is more ‘objective’.

Immediately, then, we see in the statement ‘telescoping of the past through the present’ the play of visual and scientific metaphors. It was necessary, for our purposes, to trace the word ‘telescoping’ back to its root in a scientific instrument. Benjamin originally wrote “Teleskopage der Vergangenheit durch die Gegenwart“ (Bd. V, S. 588). ‘Teleskopage’ is written in French, and the rest of the statement is written in German. In French, ‘teleskopage’ derives from the verb ‘telescoper’, whose etymology is traced back not to the Latin root ‘telescopium’ (far-seeing) but to Galileo’s English word ‘telescope’, which he lifted from the Latin root. Before we move to the senses of the verb ‘to telescope’, we must linger longer on the implications of this scientific root. Benjamin’s word ‘teleskopage’ itself carries, beyond its own intentions, an intrinsically scientific inflection.

In a similar sense, the meaning we will extract from the statement ‘telescoping of the past through the present’ is and will remain connected to the human adventure of vision. Our attempt to make sense of this word, and Benjamin’s message in uttering it, meet in the assurance that there is vision here, scientific vision that wants to see the stars, human wonder that wants to behold the coming of the stars through space and time towards the revelation of sight. Keeping our guiding-question (what is the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’?) in mind, then, we may include in the scope of our inquiry another, larger, question- What is the relation of the historical materialist project uttered by Marx to the human adventure of vision accelerated by science? What is the scientific use-value of historical materialism? Can we think the historical materialist as a scientist?

If the Marxist science of history ushered in a paradigm shift, it is nonetheless clear that the Marxist project signifies more than a purely scientific revolution. Historical materialism deconstructs the notion of science-in-itself as bourgeois ideology. Is the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’, then, the ‘telescoping of light through the telescope’ in any sense, and does this mean that Benjamin must be speaking of the ‘presencing of the past through the present’? Can we say that the historical materialist stands in the present moment, faces the past and tries to imprint its light upon his vision? Heidegger began to ask this question when, in Being and Time, he sought “neither the science of history nor the latter as an object, but rather this being itself which has not necessarily been objectified” (Being and Time, 347). Can historical materialism scientifically behold history itself? [10]

Maybe the historical materialist is using a telescope to look at a star. But if this is the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’, and if we say then that the present is the telescope used to look at the past, then why is the historical materialist inside time[11]? If here the scientific metaphor of the telescope has been confused with practical life experience, then we must correct ourselves. We can say that what we call the present moment in history possesses neither the materiality of a space of occupied time, nor the physical existence of a scientific instrument. Still we conceive of the present from the objective perspective of a security camera. Let us leave aside the question of the word ‘present’, and now ask- if the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’ involves no telescope and no objectively present moment, how else can we conceive of the word telescoping?

We may say that the past is the thing that the historical materialist looks at through the ideological telescope of the present, which either refracts the light of the past subjectively upon his gaze, or deflects it onto mirrors which reflect it more objectively into the eye. According to this metaphor, then, the telescope would be ‘the present’, defined as the totality of the historical-social context in which the materialist is writing, and the past is that thing he is looking at which actually happened then. The historical materialist, in this case, stands outside time and uses the present as the instrument that has been handed down to him, to perceive the past. For this sort of scientist, the dilemma as to whether the light is ‘what is really out there’ or ‘only what I see’ is ignored in itself, and instead sublimated towards the further perfection of the telescope; “for now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But this metaphor does not hold, because the historical materialist is immersed in the present, and the past is catastrophe. He is not separate from his instrument, he doesn’t care about perfect vision. Furthermore, the present is not at all an instrument to him! He cannot simply take the concrete, historical, social and material context of his human world at its present moment as granted for use, but must ceaselessly reflect upon it, surrender himself to the truth of its injustices, expose himself to the scars of its catastrophic and terrifying history. There is no telescope that has already been built for him. Nor does he look through the telescope to study the past with one hand, and open up the gears of the telescope to study the present with the other. For him neither present nor past can be the tool of the other. The historical materialist does not study the present in his spare time, and when he studies the present, his task is not simply to study the structure of the telescope he has inherited in order to further perfect it for those to come. In this sense, the historical materialist is as far away from a scientist as a scientist can possibly get.

If there really is no telescope involved in the telescoping of the past through the present, this must be above all because the historical materialist is not a scientist trying to study the past. Nor does he look into the past as if to see therein the contours of a present face. If the historical materialist studies some thing, it must be something that is both the past and the present, something that has passed and is presencing, in such a way that these terms themselves become transformed into what Benjamin calls the ‘what has-been’ and the ‘now’. But what was the telescope to begin with, and what is now telescoping?

We are still trying to look at the telescope. If not language itself, then at least our visual metaphors are beginning to fail us. We must stop looking at these words as things. The historical materialist does not look to see what actually happened in the past, nor does he ever hope to discover what is actually happening in the present. His adventure is not for the sake of science, yet he uses its methods for a purpose that goes beyond the simple and beautiful presencing of clarity for the sake of knowledge. Like the eye of the science of history, his eye is attracted to light, but in the stuff of history light appears to him as the broken sadness and the persistent joy of the class struggle. This means that the hands which study the historical past must include the thought of the historical present within their work, and that the thought which asks the question of the present moment in history must draw its reserves from the mournful and loving cultivation of the past.

Turning back now to the word, we see that although the word ‘telescoping’ was originally a thing to call the motion made by the sliding tubes of a collapsible telescope, the word ‘telescoping’ quickly disseminated itself through time and the human sign-system to refer to the motions or actions of many physical objects besides the telescope. Using the language developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their dialogue Capitalism and Schizophrenia, we may say that the physical motion of the sliding tubes of a collapsible telescope was deterritorialized from the world of matter towards a linguistic space, wherein appeared, reterritorialized, the verb to telescope.

To telescope- ‘To slide, run, or be driven one into another (or into something else); to have its parts made to slide in this manner; to collapse so that its parts fall into one another (quot. 1905).” A linguist may telescope a plethora of particular cases into one general rule of agreement; two train cars may collide and one will telescope over the other; the limb of a machine may unfurl and stretch itself out of itself, or may curl back in; an intestinal tube may suck itself back or eject itself forward through another intestinal tube. Each is an instance of telescoping. Most directly pertinent to Benjamin here is perhaps the telescoping effect of psychology and cognitive science, where parts of a person’s short- or long-term memory become disproportionately nearer to or farther from their gaze in the present.

In each case, ‘telescoping’ refers to a living motion that an entity itself undergoes. Telescoping involves concentration, combination, crunching, condensing, compressing, thickening, charging, loosening, tightening. In the telescoping of the linguist, one can see how the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’ could be read as that scientific work by which the historical materialist compresses, condenses and clarifies the past into images of high conceptual resolution, gathering the tattered strands of linguistic memory towards the smooth screen of the present, building a synchronic ground in the thick of diachronic chaos. But this would still only be the telescoping of the past in the present, or at most the presencing of the past through the present. The ‘through’ goes through the presence between present and past, to arrive at the confrontation between the now and what-has-been. This is the world-historical confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat[12]. The other three examples of telescoping give some sense of this, but we cannot expect to see this meaning in language.

The ‘telescoping’ of which Benjamin once spoke does not refer merely to that sharpening-clarifying action between human and tool, turned towards the Thing in Science. Even if it be granted that the eye which looks is itself a lens, the historical materialist is not a vessel through which the pure light of telescoping works itself out into history. If we are to say that the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’ is scientific, this can only refer to a transformed science whose principal goal is no longer solely to fix its gaze upon an object of knowledge and sharpen its focus. The science which looks for a self-same reflection is itself refracted by the historical materialist into a medium that is other than light. Further, even if the word ‘telescope’ (which means far-seeing) appeared while Galileo walked the earth, there exists, neither in word nor thing, no historical-linguistic aufhebung by which the noun ‘telescope’ passes through the verb ‘to telescope’ and stands upright or returns to itself as ‘telescoping’. In our language the usage of the word ‘telescoping’ has nothing to do with a telescope.

Let us now examine a particular use of the word ‘telescoping’ in ‘21st century culture’. In the 2001 film Waking Life, chemistry professor Eamonn Healy speaks of telescopic evolution-

If you look at the time scales that are involved here — two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it — you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.

And indeed, this does touch on one aspect of Benjamin’s ‘telescoping of the past through the present’. The historical materialist does live from the awareness, both that his power of historical perception is absolutely new upon this historical earth, and that his power is a borrowed expression of the same evolutionary process which always has been.

Put differently, the historical materialist lives from a world-historical awareness which has been given to him by science. Earlier in this essay, Derrida spoke of the Copernican, Darwinian and Freudian scientific revolutions, to show us how ‘mourning always follows a trauma’. He continued, in his book Specters of Marx, to say that “the blow that struck enigmatically in the name of Marx also accumulates and gathers together the other three”, it “carries beyond them by carrying them out, just as it bears the name of Marx by exceeding it infinitely”, it is in fact “the deepest wound for mankind, in the body of its history and in the history of its concept” (Specters, 122-3).

Copernicus taught us that the Earth revolves around the Sun; Darwin taught us that life on Earth evolves into the complexity of its own sustenance; Freud taught us that the human unconscious mind is an incredibly powerful thing. If Marx strikes a blow that somehow transcends these three scientific revolutions, the force of his assault cannot be found in the statement ‘We know only a single science, the science of history’, but must be seen in the thesis ‘Up until now, philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’. We used to call this the Communist Revolution; today, however, Communism is an academic concept, and Capitalism, at least in America, is struggling to recover from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

What would Walter Benjamin think of Eamonn Healy’s optimism?

In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin describes how “during long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.” Here, the superstructure, ‘human sense perception’, changes with the base, ‘humanity’s entire mode of existence’. The former is not the effect but the expression of the latter. Then, he says that the structure of the superstructure, the ‘manner in which human sense perception is organized’, is determined; it is not, however, solely determined by a material base of production crudely understood as ‘nature’, but ‘by historical circumstances as well’. Historical circumstances may be akin to ‘the medium in which [human sense perception] is accomplished’.

Historical materialism is consciousness of historical evolution, consciousness which lives on the palpable temporal tip of this evolution. And indeed, the historical materialist certainly does see telescopic evolution ‘manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation’, in the sense that he sees the present moment as the precipitated past, and he grafts the mystery of his perception of the present moment into his perception of the world-historical moment. This is a poetic element indispensable to dialectical praxis itself. The chance for the revolutionary fight for the oppressed past opens up thanks to what Healy calls telescopic evolution, in the light of it and through the light of one’s awareness of its light.

But so far, Healy has not mentioned anything about the heart of dialectics, which is found by adding the letter ‘r’ to the beginning of the word ‘evolution’. If this grafting does not quite sever the new word ‘revolution’ from all implications of ‘evolution’, nonetheless it is certain that events of the former cannot be subsumed as mere instants of the latter. Healy continues- in the modern age, “as intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until we reach a crescendo in a way that could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfillment of human, human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different.”

In a way, this ecstatic prophecy could be compared to the ideal vision of Communism espoused by Marx in the 1800s. If such a comparison were possible, then Marx and Eamonn Healy would agree. But no such scientific comparison is possible. Another if/then statement- If Marx were grafted out of the 1800s and transplanted into the present world-historical moment, then Marx would deconstruct Healy.

Leaving aside the question of time travel, it is clear that the telescoping of which Healy now speaks is no longer the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’.  Why? What is it about this espousal of telescopic evolution that Benjamin would call an optical illusion? Let us look at the 18th Thesis on the Philosophy of History, which Benjamin wrote in 1940 to directly address the modern scientific-technological revelation of telescopic evolution.

“In relation to the history of organic life on Earth,” notes a recent biologist, “the miserable fifty millennia of homo sapiens represents something like the last two seconds of a twenty-four hour day. The entire history of civilized humanity would, on this scale, take up only one fifth of the last second of the last hour.” The here-and-now, which as the model of messianic time summarizes the entire history of humanity into a monstrous abbreviation, coincides to a hair with the figure, which the history of humanity makes in the universe.

An objective conceptual glance shows no essential difference between the statements of Eamonn Healy and Walter Benjamin. One strange detail suggests itself- whereas for Healy the quickening time spans of biological life show that it is ‘evolutionary time’ itself which telescopes and ‘manifests itself within our lifetime’, Benjamin portrays the entire history of biological life on the face of a single clock, which at the present moment stops ticking.  Nonetheless, Benjamin and Healy have ‘set the same clock’- they are scientifically certain of the same telescopic evolution, and they both conclude that it has produced a present moment suffused by the awareness that ‘it could be something totally different’.

If Healy tells us that ‘it could be something totally different’ to encourage us to exalt in wide-eyed psychedelic freedom, however, Benjamin would have told us that ‘it could be something totally different’ in order to summon us to a mournful, daunting experience of catastrophic contingency. The heritage of our civilized species, for Benjamin, is ‘miserable’, and the telescopic present into which we are crunched is ‘monstrous’. The technological acceleration of capitalism is not evolutionarily inevitable or exhilarating, but terrifying and destructive.

Yet if we are certain of Healy’s optimism, something flashes at the end of Benjamin’s Thesis that prevents us from portraying Benjamin as simply a pessimist. The evolution that has telescoped us into the present deposits an awareness into our species-being that does not for Benjamin primarily open the future unto infinite speculative possibility, but first summons us to think responsibly the process in the past by which our species has arrived together at this moment. He uttered his words before the bulk of the Second World War. The Angel of History does not turn around and look backwards, but faces the past. Progress is not opposed by an arrow pointing in the opposite direction[13], remembrance of the past is not founded on nostalgia for lost origins. The Angel of History is ek-static in the fullest Heideggerean sense of the term.

We are comparing Eamonn Healy and Walter Benjamin because at bottom they participate in the same discourse. Though sixty years apart, they converse with each other. To show the time that has passed between the two, to show the history that has changed, to show therein the irreducibility of the one to the other would not cancel but deepen this unity of their shared discourse. Benjamin would ultimately agree with Healy that ‘it could be something totally different’, and like Marx, Healy insists that “the new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. And that is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.” Indeed, the entire history of Western discourse has been spurred along by such positive statements, and the critical deconstructive spirit in which our modern age receives its inheritance may turn out to be the most positive spirit of all.

In this spirit, then, we should read these words written by Esther Leslie in the year 2000, in the introduction to her book Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism

A perspective convinced of past Benjamin’s continuing relevance for the present draws on the Aktualitat of his offensive against a technology fetishism that is ignorant of the stipulations accorded by the private mode of appropriation. Such ignorance may be newly prevalent in the hyper-cyberbabble of the new millenialism. The notion of the technoid subject might give a neon-green light to cybermaterialism and its visions of machinic subjects, enhanced with prosthetics, wired up and plugged into inflowmation…what happens in this cyber-conception of material is that the distinction between machine-technology-worker- a technician producing within technical relations of production- is collapsed into a single, mythic, postnatural subject. This subject embodies, quite literally, technology, technical relations of production and producer, and so can only with difficulty be envisaged as involved in a process of exploitation. But a communion with high-tech that evades relations of exploitation is a rare privilege. Cybermaterialism sets up a frozen concept of technology, a blindly determining force, shooting us back to Second International Marxism, and it is no wonder that Charles Darwin and friends enjoy a new popularity: the talk, for all its rhetoric of revolution, is of evolution. The cybers seek through technology a new determination of the species. Benjamin might sometimes be wheeled on to articulate the early birth of this machine-man, but he would be shocked at the cybermonster’s class-blindness.

To collapse the relations of production into a single mythic subject- here we see what may be called a bad instance of telescoping. If we are to authentically affirm the positivity expressed by Healy when he says that ‘it could be something totally different’, we must acknowledge the degree to which his optimism risks falling into the naivete of which Leslie speaks.

Similarly, the ‘telescoping of the past through the present’, with its scientific undertones, may be erroneously envisioned as an Enlightening, Romantic experience of accelerating historical-technological evolution of collective consciousness. But to the degree to which this may turn out to be true, we must be careful not to telescope the factual materiality of our collective human world into ‘a single, mythic, postnatural subject’.

The haptic sense of the word ‘telescoping’, describing convulsive rupture or catastrophic collision, delineates a dimension of signification, within the meaning of the word itself, that cannot be seen, that is irreducible to an adventure of vision or cognition. Similarly, there is in the word ‘revolution’ a meaning irreducible to ‘evolution’. This meaning shows itself as irreducible again and again, and this ‘again and again’ cannot be conceived within any process of evolution. There is a revolutionary heritage of the West, inaugurated for the modern world by Marx, which is at times more real than the self-transforming evolution of what has been called Logos, Spirit, Being.



If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.


What are you building?- I want to dig a subterranean passage. Some progress must be made. My station up there is much too high.

We are digging the pit of Babel.

– Kafka

Today, in the year 2010, capitalism is the name given to our Western social order. However, emerging from the 1900s, we do not yet have a word today for the world towards which we gesture because, unlike Marx, we can no longer touch with our hands or see with our eyes the sheer materiality of the productive gears of the social body. The energy or power which animates the body of the computer and comprehends the information stored ‘in’ its inner chips cannot be seen by the eyes of humans.

If we still believe, under Marx, that capitalism is finite, then who are ‘we’? Is it enough to say that we are those animated by Marx’s 11th Thesis? Are we to become the New Left? If Marx turned Hegel upside down, perhaps we must now reverse the causal vector of Marx’s base-superstructure model by realizing that our discourse, the more it corrects its worldly and written imperfections, is actually pushing from the bottom up, out into the world, the movement which he then referred to as the Communist Revolution. But where is ‘our discourse’?

What is remembrance, and what is awakening? How may we begin to properly mourn the 1900s? We do not need a new generation of prophets of the 2000s. We first need a generation that can learn to properly mourn the 1900s, in the hope that we may discover therein a better name than ‘2000s’.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition.University of Chicago Press,Chicago,IL. 1958

Baudrillard, Jean. ‘History: A Retro Scenario’ from Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser.UniversityofMichigan, 1994.

Benjamin, Walter. Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Harvard University Press, 2002.

Benjamin, Walter. ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ and ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction’, from Illuminations. Schocken Books,New York. 1988.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Zone Books, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques, “The Ends of Man”, from Margins of Philosophy.U. ofChicago Press,  1982.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Routledge, New York, NY. 1994.

Derrida, Jacques. “Force and Signification”, from Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass.UniversityofChicagoPress,Chicago,IL. 1978.

Derrida, Jacques. ‘Letter to a Japanese Friend’, from A Derrida Reader. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 1991.

Engels, Friedrich. “Introduction to Karl Marx’s Wage-Labor and Capital”. Marx/Engels Internet Archive 1993, 1999. Web.

Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2001. Waking Life Excerpt / Youtube. 28 Aug. 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2010. <;.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. 1996.

Holy Bible. The New King James Version. Thomas Nelson Publishers, NY. 1980.

Kafka, Franz. Parables and Paradoxes. Schocken Books, New York, NY. 1958.

Leslie, Esther. Overpowering Conformism: Walter Benjamin. Pluto Press, Sterling, Virginia. 2000.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Duquenne University Press,Pittsburg,PA.1998.

Marx, Karl. Karl Marx : A Reader. Edited by Jon Elster. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York,NY: Cambridge University Press, c1986

Marx, Karl. The German Ideology, from Marx-Engels Collected Works. Vol. 5. 1932. Web. <;.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. ‘The Communist Manifesto’, from Marx/Engels Selected Works, Vol. One, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, pp. 98-137. Web.

Rickey, Christopher. Revolutionary Saints : Heidegger, national socialism, and

antinomian politics.University Park :Pennsylvania State University Press, c 2002

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Trans. George Schwab. University of

Chicago Press, 2007.

Sayings of the Fathers or Pirke Aboth. Behrman House, Inc. New York, NY. 1945.

Zizek, Slavoj. First as Tragedy, then as Farce. Verso,Brooklyn,NY. 2009.


[1] Today, in the year 2010, I know relatively little about the political situation in the land of Israel. Because it is a fundamental political concern, however, I want to make it clear that I fundamentally wish for that patch of land to be shared equally among all human beings of all faiths. To me, ‘Israel’ may as well mean ‘Planet Earth’.

[2] A picture that, of course, has since been modified, corrected, altered.

[3] Today, psychoanalysis traces cultural expression back to a collective unconscious context of unspoken social desire and wish, while Marxism traces cultural expression back to an explicit base of material societal production. Though they meet and diverge, their common object is the totality of the social organism.

[4] Consider these words of Heidegger, from Being and Time– “Resoluteness does not first represent and acknowledge a situation to itself, but has already placed itself in it. Resolute, Da-sein is already acting. We are purposely avoiding the term action. For in the first place, it would have to be so broadly conceived that activity also encompasses the passivity of resistance. In the second place, that term suggests a misinterpretation of the ontology of Da-sein as if resoluteness were a special mode of behavior of the practical faculty as opposed to the theoretical one. But, as concern taking care of things, care includes the being of Da-sein so primordially and completely that it must be already presupposed as a whole when we distinguish between theoretical and practical behavior; it cannot first be put together from these faculties with the help of a dialectic [my italics] that is necessarily groundless because it is existentially unfounded. But resoluteness is only the authenticity of care itself, cared for in care and possible as care.” (Being and Time, 276-77)

[5] This paragraph owes the sense of its sentences to Paul Virilio.

[6] I’m sorry if I have missed a few.

[7] The dialectical image dwells not in what was once photographed, but in the ageing of the old photograph itself. The metaphor of the face here denotes an encounter with alterity that is not wholly other to the experience described by Emmanuel Levinas- “Signification is the-one-for-the-other which characterizes an identity that does not coincide with itself. This is in fact all the gravity of an animate body, that is, one offered to another, expressed or opened up…This opening up is…a relationship across an absolute difference…it is neither a structure, nor an inwardness of a content in a container, nor a causality, nor even a dynamism, which still extends in a time that could be collected into a history” (Otherwise than Being, 70).

[8] It is important to recognize, when we hear of a ‘primal’ history, that Benjamin’s work may have fallen prey in many ways to the ideological limitations of his time period. Does not the dream of a ‘primal’ history echo the imperialist desire for a virginal, native land of truth? It must be remembered, however, that in the 1930s Benjamin was voicing an anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist plea for the liberation and expression of sub-altern narratives of suffering, oppression and pride.

[9] Says Kafka, “The Messiah will come as soon as the most unbridled individualism of faith becomes possible- when there is no one to suffer its destruction; hence the graves will open themselves” (Parables and Paradoxes, 81).

[10] Yes, if as good Marxists we remember that for historical materialism, the past is not any thing other than the dialectical totality immanent in the production of today’s human community.

[11] This was Heidegger’s question.

[12] In today’s world-historical moment, the terms ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’ have been used up, though the struggle between Masters and Slaves remains stronger than ever.

[13] See Benjamin’s ‘Theologico-Political Fragment’.

Palestinian Freedom Rides Echo the Civil Rights Movement

copied from my Alternative Information Center article with Mya Guarnieri here

This week’s Palestinian Freedom Rides will resemble those of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. As the American Jewish community was widely supportive of the Civil Rights movement, the event serves as an opportunity for American Jews to reflect on Israel’s system of segregration–a system that it opposed in the United States. 




Rabbi Dresner and another American rabbi being arrested during the African-American Civil Rights Movement


The Palestinian Freedom Rides, which are set to begin on Tuesday, will seek to replicate those of the African-American Civil Rights movement. Palestinian youth activist and organizer Fadi Quran explains, “this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in the US. Apart from disrupting the segregation and challenging the oppression imposed on us by Israel, we chose this form of direct action to highlight the similarities between the Palestinian struggle and the [African American] civil rights movement to an American audience.”


Despite the similiarities, there are crucial differences between the Freedom Rides that were held in America during the 1960s and those that will take place this week in the West Bank. Those who participated in the American Freedom Rides were United States citizens who sought to reform the country’s discriminatory policies. The Palestinian Freedom Rides, on the other hand, is a people’s attempt to assert their rights in the face of a foreign military occupation. While the African-Americans sought merely to level the playing field with their white oppressors, it can hardly be said that West Bank Palestinians simply demand equal access to settler roads and buses. They seek to call attention to and dismantle an inherently oppressive system.


The event also holds potential for the American Jewish community–which was, by and large, supportive of the African-American Civil Rights movement–to reflect on the segregation the Jewish state enforces in their name.


Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner was a white, Jewish-American Reform Rabbi who joined the 1960s Freedom Rides as part of the ‘Interfaith Riders’, a group of black and white clergymen and rabbis who became known as the ‘Tallahassee Ten’ after their arrest for attempting to desegregate an airport restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida.


“I became a ‘dove’ in the few years after the Six Day War”, says Dresner. “By 1970 I had already realized that the occupation was a disaster.”


Dresner was arrested in the 1970s for marching on behalf of the refuseniks, and has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians since the early 1980s.


“As long as they remain nonviolent”, he says about the new Palestinian Freedom Rides, “I’m all in favor of this…there are major differences [between the two Freedom Rides] of course…[but] the occupation has led to a buildup of hatred in Israel, the kind of hatred we call racist hatred- the kind that says ‘all Arabs are bad, all Palestinians are terrorists’…so the occupation has been a disaster for Israelis and for Palestinians.”


Nonetheless, following a typical path of ‘soft’ liberal criticism of Israel,  he prays essentially for the reform of what he believes to be an originally and ultimately morally just state. “I love Israel,” he reassured the Jewish Week in an article published in May 2011. “I’ve been there 36 times. I was married there. Israel means a great deal to me, and I just feel that their policies are self-destructive.”


Dresner, who today sits on the Executive Board of Meretz USA, told Rabbis for Human Rights in 2010 that “I’ve been a dues-paying, card-carrying Zionist for 68 years, and Zionism today has been corrupted and corroded…we have to correct it, we have to reform it to change the annexationist policies…”


Dresner is not the only Jewish American Freedom Rider who would come to question Zionism. Henry Schwarzschild became a civil rights lawyer and activist who publicly declared himself Israel’s enemy after the 1982 siege of Beirut.