Freud and the Non-European – Book Review

Freud and the Non-European
Author:  Edward Said
Publisher:  Verso
ISBN:  1844675114

Book Review by Jonathan Ingleby, Postgraduate Lecturer in Mission, Redcliffe College.

This book is made up of the record of an address given by the late Edward Said at the Freud Museum in London and the reply to it by Jacqueline Rose. Though Freud certainly makes an appearance, so to speak, both Rose, a Jew, and Said, a Palestinian, seem more concerned with issues to do with the holocaust and the State of Israel. Within that, the key issue is always to do with Jewish identity as an ‘irremediably, diasporic, unhoused’ community, looking for a safe homeland. Both writers – friends, each deeply appreciative of the other’s stance – are disturbed at the post-holocaust transition of the Jewish people from victims to victimisers, particularly as exhibited by contemporary Israeli state policy. Both believe that the way forward is the way back, to a diasporic identity in which Israelis can join in a single state with Palestinians, themselves the inheritors of exile and dispersion. Said speaks about ‘a politics of diaspora life’ and wonders whether it could ‘ever become the not-so-precarious foundation in the land of Jews and Palestinians of a bi-national state in which Israel and Palestine are parts, rather than antagonists of each other’s history and underlying reality’ (p.55). Rose affirms this, quoting Marc Ellis, Professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University, ‘what if the centre of contemporary Jerusalem was seen as broken rather than salvific, and shared in that brokenness, rather than divided by victory and defeat?’ (p. 68). (Rose goes on to admit that this is a difficult pathway. She questions whether trauma does in fact lead to this sort of openness, or only to more trauma.)

Both Rose and Said, it seems to me, hold forth a profoundly Christ-like vision, the idea that the kingdom of God invites us to a common experience of dispersion and brokenness. On the whole we find this too difficult. We generally prefer to live together as victor and vanquished, either triumphalistically or as victims, though, in our better moments, we know that such attitudes can never ‘inherit the kingdom’.

The quality and profundity of these two non-Christian writers is mostly way beyond anything we might normally find in the Christian bookshop. I am not sure what that tells us.

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