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Palestine and Jewish History

Criticism at the Borders of Ethnography

1996
Author:

Jonathan Boyarin

Palestine and Jewish History

This provocative and personal series of meditations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argues that it represents a struggle not as much about land and history as about space, time, and memory. Palestine and Jewish History enacts rather than reports on Boyarin’s process of error, pain, impatience, uncertainty, self-criticism, intellectual struggle, and dawning awareness, challenging and engaging us in the process of discovery.

This provocative and personal series of meditations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argues that it represents a struggle not as much about land and history as about space, time, and memory. Palestine and Jewish History enacts rather than reports on Boyarin’s process of error, pain, impatience, uncertainty, self-criticism, intellectual struggle, and dawning awareness, challenging and engaging us in the process of discovery.

This provocative and personal series of meditations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argues that it represents a struggle not as much about land and history as about space, time, and memory. Juxtaposing entries from Jonathan Boyarin’s field diary with critical and theoretical articulations, Palestine and Jewish History shows not only the unfinished nature of anthropological endeavor, but also the author’s personal stake in the ethical predicament of being a Jew at this point in history.

Boyarin comes to Israel as a specialist in modern Jewish studies, an individual who has kin, friends, and colleagues there, a scholar with a long history of peace activism. He interweaves fascinating descriptions of ordinary life-parties, walks, classes, visits to homes-with a selection of his related writings on cultural studies and anthropology. Some sections are polemical; others are witty analyses of bumper stickers, slogans, the ambiguities in conversations. Boyarin foregrounds the messiness and lack of closure inherent in this process, presenting “raw materials” (field notes) in some sections of the book that reappear in other sections as various kinds of “finished” products (conference papers, published articles).

In the process, we learn a good deal about the Middle East and its debates and connections to other places. Boyarin addresses two fundamental issues: the difficulty of linking different sorts of memories and memorializations, and the importance of moving beyond objectivity and multiculturalism into a situated, engaged, and nontotalizing framework for fieldwork and ethnography.

Palestine and Jewish History enacts rather than reports on Boyarin’s process of error, pain, impatience, uncertainty, discovery, embarrassment, self-criticism, intellectual struggle, and dawning awareness, challenging and engaging us in the process of discovery. Ultimately, it gives the lie, as the Palestinian presence does in Israel, to any concept of a "finishedness" that successfully conceals its unruly and painful multiple processes.

Jonathan Boyarin is the Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Distinguished Professor of Modern Jewish Thought in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He of Storm from Paradise and the editor of Remapping Memory, both published by Minnesota.

Palestine and Jewish History

Jonathan Boyarin is the Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Distinguished Professor of Modern Jewish Thought in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of Storm from Paradise and the editor of Remapping Memory both published by the University of Minnesota Press.

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