Swans Commentary » swans.com May 31, 2010  



Harold Bloom On The Jewish Question


by Maxwell Clark





"In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not."
—T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets.


(Swans - May 31, 2010)   Harold Bloom is among the most esteemed literary critics now writing in the world. A veritable pontifex maximus. His opinions are the arsenal of the everyday, common sense capitalist. Whether or not one agrees with these opinions, it is good to read them in the precise form that Bloom presents them. Nothing less than the legitimacy of ruling class ideology depends on gathering a consensus around his basic arguments.

It is of some note, then, that the May 9, 2010, New York Times Book Review headlined Bloom's review of "Trials of the Diaspora," by Anthony Julius.

Why Julius? Because of:

the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. (...) The fierce relevance of Julius's book is provoked by this currently prevalent anti-Semitism.

While Bloom tactically narrows this charge of "anti-Zionist-anti-Semitism" onto the British literary and academic establishment, hoping thereby to exculpate American letters from the same guilt ("The United States remains almost free of this disease[...]"), he forgets, or perhaps rather evades, the seminal figure of the tendency he is combating: the Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said.

Bloom indeed seizes ruthlessly upon the death of Said. In the gap left after Said's radical anti-imperialist engagement in American letters Bloom would insert his latent liberal US imperialism, retroactively erasing even the memory of Said -- much as the contemporary Israeli state would erase the memory of Palestine.

But the most nuanced statement of Bloom's position is to be read here:

To protest the policies of the Israeli government actually can be regarded as true philo-Semitism, but to disallow the existence of the Jewish state is another matter. Of the nearly 200 recognized nation-states in the world today, something like at least half are more reprehensible than even the worst aspects of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians. A curious blindness informs the shifting standards of current English anti-Zionism.

Let us attempt to unpack this.

To "disallow the existence of the Jewish state" is not precisely the aim of the anti-Zionist movement. Framing the question in ethnic terms is counter-factual. The true character of the anti-Zionist is resolute anti-imperialism, rather than narrow anti-Semitism. Bloom's indifference with regard to the actual contours of the world categorically invalidates his arguments. The house and family of the Zionist is simply as subject to displacement as the Palestinian. An equality, an equivalence of violence is simply posited. The right of nations to self-determination argument that Bloom is tacitly employing here debases the grand and universal principle of Lenin into a mere papering over of the forcible exile of millions from their likewise legally enshrined properties. It is the true twilight of the latter idol.

Between equal rights, force decides. Imperialist violence gutted the property rights of the Palestinian; now anti-imperialist forces would defend and reclaim those properties. It is not only a totally conservative project, then, but it announces its own impeccable, self-constituted justice already in a future of forcible re-expropriation. Just as might made right for Israel, so too may Palestine assert its will. This is the pure ethics of the state: murder is first morality. The Israeli sacrifice of Palestinian blood to its imperial lords set the terms of the polemic, sent the first letter in a correspondence, the intifadah only achieves its logical conclusion, a return of the call.


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About the Author

Maxwell Clark is, rather paradoxically, a writer living in New Haven, CT. He has been published in the Socialist Worker (U.S.), the Socialist Review (U.K.), and the upcoming (May) issue of decomP literary magazine.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/clark02.html
Published May 31, 2010