Imagining Exodus for Israel-Palestine: Reading the Secular and the Sacred, Diaspora and Homeland, in Edward Said and David Grossman

Anna Hartnell


This paper takes as its starting point Edward Said's distinction between 'religious' and 'secular' modes of cultural affiliation. As these simultaneously diverging and converging modes also trammel the particular grounds of thinking that have been Said's natural target of criticism - Zionism - his work speaks particularly powerfully to the debate surrounding the religious genealogy of Jewish identity. This paper argues that Said's interventions on Zionism highlight as problematic the position whereby the 'Ingathering of the Exiles' is promoted as coexisting with a 'diasporic consciousness' nurtured by Judaism during exile; messianic hopes of religious Jews cannot be reconciled with physical return to the Promised Land; identity circumscribed by ethnicity and place cannot stand in as exemplary for the exiled, unsettled and ultimately homeless identity trumpeted by discourses of the 'post', as many contemporary theorists would have it. And yet through an exploration of the writings of David Grossman, whose construction of Jewish identity is envisaged through the regulating, competing and collaborating tropes of Zionism and Diaspora, I argue that this position is crucial for the elaboration of Israeli identity. I also argue that in fact there is room within Said's thinking both for the anti-essentialist elaboration of 'homeless' identities as well as 'the permission to narrate' an identity politics, and that his own distinction between the 'secular' and the 'religious' begins to disassemble. I explore this blurring of the sacred and the secular through the prism of Exodus - as both concept and narrative. This paper suggests that it is precisely Said's achievement to embody these tensions between religion and its other, divine providence and human agency, historical materialism and postmodernism, alienation and its perennially tempting opposite: home.

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