Can cultural (post) Zionists still throw knives? Azkelon: where map is not territory

During a field exercise for the Golani brigade deep in the desert, a soldier recently reported how his squad was on a night patrol and how halfway through, the squad realized they’d lost their map. The patrol navigator then informed the squad,

“Our odds are 1 in 360 that we’ll get out of here.” 


“How did you come up with that?” someone asked.


“Well,” he replied, “one of the degrees on the compass has to be right.”

Such is life too, that sometimes we can be lost even with every map and compass in hand. Perhaps, that is why renowned Jewish philosopher of religion, J. Z. Smith once titled a book that collected some of his most influential articles on sacred space and time in religion as Map is Not Territory—life, and religion by extension, is simply much more messy than any lines that could be drawn on a map, never mind in the sand. So at a recent exhibit of next generation cultural (post) Zionist artists, I was amazed at the breadth of art displayed, especially a color video projected onto the ground running on a loop of 16 minutes and 32 seconds. The piece entitled, Azkelon (2011) was created by Israeli artist, Sigalit Landau, a Jerusalemite born in 1969, living and working in Tel Aviv. Landau has created a remarkable work of art, orchestrating this video loop where geographic spaces and conflicted ideologies intersect. Azkelon is a collocation of the word-places— GaAZa and AshKELON—and the loop depicts young men playing a “knife game” popular among Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza and the nearby city of Ashkelon. As Landau describes it these gestures of throwing one’s knife into the sand beneath each player’s feet is all part of:

“…the game, which involves the strategic drawing and redrawing of borders with the object of overtaking another player’s space, echoes seemingly irresolvable political tensions in the territories where the players live. Knives, which are more often considered weapons, become tools for co-operation, for games with mutually agreed upon rules.”

I was struggling with exactly how to best convey to my students about the current existential quandaries of (post)-Zionist thinking and its contemporary iterations recently in a lecture hall that was practically next store to the exhibit featuring Landau’s work and proceeded to explain the philosophic notion of Geworfenheit, often obscure, by this riveting video loop. Geworfenheit is a philosophic concept initiated by one of the 20th centuries most renowned/reviled philosophers, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) who created this term to describe the existentially fraught human condition— one’s mode-of-being in the world is marked by this sense of being thrown into existence randomly almost chaotically without any sense of meaning, purpose or direction. This in turn is why the human being is constantly in search of telos or as they say in Yiddish tachlis— a sense of meaning, purpose or direction for life. I was drawn to another passage (unearthed by a fellow Jewish philosopher and teacher of mine) in which Heidegger deals with the notion of en-rootedness in space and the conception of homeland in a series of until recently unpublished lectures. Unfortunately, his former students also confirmed that Heidegger was a Nazi blood and soil environmental enthusiast throughout the much of the 1920’s.

Much like Zionist poet, Uri Tzvi Greenberg:

“Heidegger bragged about the Nazi naturist youth movement as one of the keys to a successful future. Heidegger tragically embraced the existential realities of blood and soil,” (Mark Musser, “The Green Nazi Deep Ecology of Martin Heidegger” American Thinker, July 10, 2011).

Both thinker and poet discover how their yearnings for a homeland based in a nation-state can meet with disastrous consequences. Heidegger openly proclaimed, taught and later abandoned the Fuhrer principle, German racism,and eugenics, Nazi collectivism, and was even promoted as rector to the University of Freiburg, where his first order of administration was to ensure the force removal of Jewish professors from their posts. Since Heidegger did not believe in biological racism, environmental historians according to Musser, have now pointed out that the philosopher cannot be considered a genuine Nazi. Faye, however, counters that in place of a fundamentalist view of Nazi blood,

Heidegger taught a racial rootedness in the German soil that was ontologically or existentially based rather than biologically based. (Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars 1933-35).

This key point here is that en-rootedness as a human being provides a philosophical justification for German racism without it being tied to the fundamentalism of Nazi scientism.  Indeed, in his Heidelberg lectures, Heidegger taught that, “the Fatherland is being itself.” It has further come to light that in 1934, Heidegger signed an environmental petition called the “German Landscape in Peril” to which other Nazi greens signed on, including: Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Walther Schoenichen, Hans Schwenkel, Konrad Guenther, Werner Haverbeck, and Fritz Todt. It was common then for German greens to be enraptured with Himmler’s “blood and soil” ideology, whereby German blood rooted in German soil became the basis for protecting “the homeland” (Heimat)  –culturally, militarily and even environmentally. Even years after the war, Heidegger spoke of the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism, and in that context Heidegger apparently taught that this notion of  “living space” (lebensraum) will perhaps never be revealed Semitic nomads” who were “simply unworthy” and goes on in the same context to declaim that this notion of space will be revealed differently to “Slavic people”. There is no denying that at a pivotal moment in history, the Jews are singled out for genocide by this horrific Nazi thinking! While the implicit anti-Semitism cannot be denied, ironically, I was reminded by this Jewish philosopher of the larger picture within Heidegger’s thought that challenges us to consider a more complex negotiation of heimlichkeit or “being at home” and its necessary experience of homelessness. So Landau’s video loop installation was remarkably insightful at the nexus between philosophy and experience. That strategic drawing and redrawing of borders with the object of overtaking another player’s space, echoes the human need for heimlichkeit in those fluid spaces  where Israeli and Palestinian are the players co-existing side by side. As a prophetic Israeli artist, what Landau has accomplished is a near total transformation of knives as weapons to knives as tools for playing “with mutually agreed upon rules” where such spears are turned into hooks for pruning through our oftentime prickly ideologies of blood and soil, otherwise dangerously embedded in that yearning for a homeland not yet fully realized…


About the Author
Aubrey L. Glazer, Ph.D. serves as rabbi at Beth Sholom, San Francisco. Aubrey is the author of Mystical Vertigo: Kabbalistic Hebrew Poetry Dancing Cross the Divide (Academic Studies Press, 2013), A New Physiognomy of Jewish Thinking: Critical Theory After Adorno as Applied to Jewish Thought (New York: Continuum, 2011) and Contemporary Hebrew Mystical Poetry: How It Redeems Jewish Thinking (Edwin Mellen Press: New York, 2009).
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