Art Of The Impossible – The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP)

“Art of the Impossible” theorizes Yael Bartana’s “Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland” project – a film trilogy, supported by numerous art installations and public performances – around Nicholas Abraham’s psychoanalytic notion of the phantom: a primal scene that traumatically haunts a subject, even though this founding scene is not born of the subject’s own lived experience.

Originally published in Yael Bartana: If you will it, it is not a dream, (Vienna: Secession, 2013).
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Buchenwald survivors arrive in Haifa to be arrested by the British, July 15, 1945.

By Juli Carson


Politics is the art of the possible until the impossible becomes possible. So if you can never think that the im­possible can become possible, you can never think.

Charles Esche [1]

What comes back to haunt are the tombs of others. The phantoms of folklore merely objectify a metaphor active within the unconscious: the burial of an unspeakable fact within the loved one.

Nicolas Abraham [2]

When the First International Congress of The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) commenced deliberations at the Hebbel am Ufer Theatre in Berlin, it might have ended moments after it had begun. One of the delegates addressing the day’s question – How should the EU change in order to welcome the Other? – demanded that the JRMiP ‘criticize the instrumentalization of politics for the sake of art.’ Had the request been agreed to, it would have entailed passing a motion denouncing the entire Congress’ raison d’etre. Most likely, the demand was precipitated by the public controversy and subsequent fatigue over the participatory agitprop activities that characterized the concurrent 7th Berlin Biennale.[3] However, by answering the JRMiP’s open call, the delegate had consented to being an active participant in the Berlin Biennale because the Congress itself comprised Yael Bartana’s contribution to that very event. The demand to ‘criticize the instrumentalization of politics for the sake of art’ was therefore self-reflexive in that its speaker simultaneously relied upon and negated the legitimacy of the Congress that gave meaning to those words and the speaker’s authority to deliver them.[4] It is here – at this philosophical, performative quagmire – that our consideration of Bartana’s project must begin. For the JRMiP is tenaciously a self-reflexive artwork. Through its endless contradictions, reflecting complex fantasies and desires, the Movement exists as an aporia – that insoluble but productive space of doubt. Both real and intangible, the JRMiP is simultaneously a project about politics as much as it is political. As such, it is an impossible artwork, a quintessential act of deconstruction sprung from the limitless space of rhetorical production at the margins of the imaginary / pragmatic dialectic. What follows is a report on the First Congress of the JRMiP presented as a theoretical scaffolding to consider the historical ghosts haunting the Movement’s machine. But we must first establish the JRMiP’s imaginary primal scene.

Tarrying with the real

With a call for 3.3 million Jews to return back to Poland, the JRMiP – initiated by Bartana in 2007 – has its roots in the imaginary. In the words of its manifesto, “We want to return! It is Poland we long for, the land of our fathers and forefathers. In real-life, and in our dreams, we continue to have Poland on our minds.”[5] Hence Bartana’s film trilogy, … And Europe Will Be Stunned, through which the JRMiP came to be and from which the Congress’ original mise-en-scène is established. First there was the call to action by Sławomir Sierakowski in Mary Koszmary (Nightmares) (2007); then the establishment of the first settlement in a Polish public park in Mur i wieża (Wall and Tower) (2009); and, finally, the funeral for the movement’s murdered leader in Zamach (Assassination) (2011).

Borne of this tripartite filmic imaginary, the JRMiP is at once defined by the ideologies it interrogates, ideologies foundational to the subject’s imaginary identification. By ‘subject’ I refer to both the JRMiP’s participants and viewers, subjects caught between the real and fictive nature of the Movement; ‘real’ in that the JRMiP is composed of willing participants in an actual experiment; ‘fictive’ in that this experiment entails imagining rather than reifying a different reality. The JRMiP’s interrogation thus begins with the subject who falters both within and in the sight of the films’ heterogeneous ideological armature. For the films tarry with an excess of merging representations conventionally perceived as being in conflict: European anti-Semitism, Colonialism, Socialism and Zionism. Consequently, there is always something – a signifier – perceived by the subject in a place where it should not be. Witness the Aryan persona of the JRMiP’s leader in Nightmares or the settlement that architecturally evokes a concentration camp in Wall and Tower. What ensues, then, is a return of the repressed at the precise site of the subject’s own imaginary identification, an identification infinitely fractured because it defies the (re)presentation of any one discrete position. To the contrary, the repressed signifier that returns at this fractured point of multiple identification represents a lack in and for the subject – a lack in the sense of the subject not constituting a ›whole‹ body beyond his or her boundless shifting representation, resulting in a mise-en-abyme within the JRMiP’s imaginary stage.

This is where Jacques Lacan’s notion of the Real comes into play. Conceived in Seminar XI, the Real hinges on a reinterpretation of Freud’s Vorstellungsrepräsentanz, whereby a representation gives us something that is originally and structurally missing, rather than the re-presentation of an object in the world. For ‘behind’ every representation is always (already) more representation. Hence Lacan’s most famous axiom inferring the tautological vortex of representation: a signifier represents a subject for another signifier. Alenka Zupančič lucidly explicates Lacan’s notion of Vorstellungsrepräsentanz as a representation that is not a “‘presentation of a presentation’ or the state of a situation but rather a ‘presentation within a presentation’ or a state within a situation.” Reconceived this way, representation is not finite. Rather, it is “infinite and constitutively not-all (or non-conclusive)” for the subject; it is “a wandering excess representation over itself.” This, then, is Lacan’s Real: – it comes from representation’s “own inherent ‘crack’ or inconsistency.” It is not something apart or beyond representation, as in traditional definitions of the real.[6]

From this Lacanian notion of Vorstellungsrepräsentanz a presentation within presentation, a state within a situation – we come to understand the JRMiP. Moreover, it’s within such mise-en-abyme that the subject is deconstructed, to the point of hyper-politicization, along the most untraditional path and through the most unconventional codes.

An imaginary stage

As stated by the organizers, the First International Congress of the JRMiP was derived from a letter written by the JRMiP’s leader, Sławomir Sierakowski, found after his assassination. An excerpt reads:

To my friends and comrades, I can feel that I might be gone soon, but I know that you won’t run out of strength and imagination to change the world… I had a dream about what should be changed in Poland. But we need more dreams and imagination to change Europe and the Middle East. And I can promise you that these changes will be big and difficult to carry out. That’s why I’m asking all of you to think about them together. Argue, debate, and choose those that will best serve our cause. The cause of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP)! [7]

Considering Sierakowski’s prophetic words, we are again faced with a paradox: the hailing of international delegates – based upon an imaginary letter written by an imaginary leader – to engage in a real public debate. Admittedly, this seemed illogical to many Berliners who asked, “Is this real?” over the course of three days. However, as Jacques Derrida points out, the performative deconstruction of art versus politics, and, by extension, the fictive versus the real, can be hyper-political for the reason that, within a European context, fiction (i.e., literature and theater) has been historically bound up with “a revolution in law and politics: the principled authorization that anything can be said publicly.” As a consequence, “… literature is the right in principle to say anything, and it is to the great advantage of literature that it is an operation at once political, democratic and philosophical and philological, to the extent that literature allows one to pose questions that are often repressed in philosophical context.”[8] This marked the deconstructive spirit with which the JRMiP movement assembled in Berlin “for the first time to collectively imagine a new future and vote upon its agenda.”[9]

And yet, as conceptually complex as the Congress was, the means by which the participants were lobbied and assembled was fairly straightforward. A solicitation for the recruitment of delegates was made by the JRMiP’s “think tank,” directed towards real world professionals – politicians, artists, scholars and curators. Notably, the potential delegates were invited to attend not as actors but to play at being themselves on the Congress’ imaginary world stage. Those who complied were then tasked with constructing a demand in response to one of the questions the Congress would consider over three days: How should the EU change in order to welcome the Other? How should Poland change within a re-imagined EU? How should Israel change to become part of the Middle East? But I already must begin again because it is here that the situation becomes psychoanalytically more complicated.

Based upon these questions, an Oedipal triangulation structured the Congress from the outset. Subsequently, the paternal gaze of the EU was cast upon the Other on day one; the maternal gaze of Poland upon the “Jewish Question” on day two; and, on the final day, both parental gazes were cast into doubt when the future of Europe’s offspring – the Israeli State – was put on the table. By evoking an Oedipal triangulation in this context, I mean to address a dynamic operation of deconstructive subjectivity, not a static or literal narrative of power positions. As J. Lapanche and J. B. Pontalis have explicated, the Oedipus complex is indeed an “organized body of loving and hostile wishes which the child experiences towards its parents.” But, as Lacan interprets the dynamics of this triangulation, no one is afforded a masterful or discrete position of self-knowledge. To the contrary, each position is defined reciprocally in the space of the other and, as such, each subject powerfully determines the other’s imaginary concept of his or her own ‘reality.’ In this way, the reality of each subject is defined in a fictional direction, precisely in the place where he or she is not. In the Congress, then, we could analogously say that this triangulation manifested itself through a circuit of gazes exchanged amongst its subjects who were being asked to speak on behalf of three individual ‘states.’ And just as the subject positions of father, mother and child are obtained by negation in the Oedipal triangle – through the interactive play of what each is not – so, too, were the subject positions of those participating in the JRMiP’s first Congress.

Upon this imaginary Oedipal stage, the ideological formation of the Congress’ subjects to the EU, Poland and Israel were spectacularly played out. However, due to the mindful, deconstructive platform that Bartana chose for her players to reenact these formations upon – one situated between fact and fiction – ideology always surfaced in the Congress as the effect of an unrepresentable Real.

The uncanny valley

As Louis Althusser noted, our relationship to the real conditions of the world is the core of our ideological imaginary representation of the world.[10] The same can be said of the delegates’ imaginary self-representations that were manifested by their individual demands made within the real conditions of the Congress. These real conditions began with the most fundamental condition structuring the reality of the participants, delegates and audience: the theater itself. Entering the Hebbel am Ufer, people were directed to take their assigned positions depending on their respective roles. The gallery balcony was reserved for the paying audience, beneath which a film crew produced and captured the Congress’ debate. In the theater’s converted arena – a space usually designated for the audience – delegates made their demands, with the participants subsequently debating and voting them up or down. Beyond the arena, behind the stage’s proscenium, a live- feed projection of the event was displayed on a large-scale screen.

All of this constituted the Congress’ literal stage upon which a classic “Happening” would unfold. Bartana’s detailed attention to the structural means of integrating the entire environment – blurring the theatrical delineation of audience versus performer – was central toward this end and began with the removal of the audience seats in the theater’s arena.[11] In their place, an elevated riser (or platform) was installed, seamlessly extending the arena’s floor up to the floor of the original stage, so that both spaces existed on one level, with the screen elevated above and behind the delegates’ table and participants’ section. Meanwhile, in the space reserved for the ‘actual’ audience in the balcony, onlookers were not discouraged from intervening in the spectacle below, which they did periodically.[12] The film crew, stationed under the balcony and out of the audience’s sight, quietly captured the event, lending the Congress its most uncanny aspect. For in reality, the Congress constituted a film set for Bartana’s crew inasmuch as the crew was there to capture the Congress on film as a real event. Simply put, the Congress was not re-presented on film, as in any ordinary representation of an event. Rather, the Congress and film crew mirrored each other as a pure instance of chiasmus or reciprocal action.

The great equalizer amongst everyone was the towering film screen simulcasting the spectacle for instant analysis. This functioned as the material base of what I earlier identified as the Congress’ Vorstellungsrepräsentanz – a presentation within presentation or a state within a situation. But if Vorstellungsrepräsentanz is structured around a lack, what was missing here? Simply, it was the ontological presence of each participant beyond their representation because, given the lack of delineation between participant and audience, and, by extension, the event and its representation, every presentation existed within an infinite state of mise-en-abyme. The Congress’ real conditions and the participant’s imaginary relationship were thus comprised as a seamless loop of reciprocity without a first or second position, a phenomenon both facilitated by and played out on the screen.

Which brings us to the question of art.

Michael Fried, the tenacious defender of Clement Greenberg’s brand of modernism, famously contended that art of this sort – the type that embraces the overall situation of a work’s physical and psychological emplacement in situ – was the very negation of art and thus the beginning of theatre.[13] Fried, of course, was talking about minimalism’s phenomenological aspect whereby the spectator’s perception of him or herself vis-à-vis the object of art was the work’s very raison d’etre, a situational aspect prohibited by a branch of modernist visual culture that instead strove for the viewer’s complete disembodiment in the realm of the aesthetic experience. But it’s exactly to this all-encompassing space, one ambiguously caught between the real and imaginary shape of things, that Bartana’s JRMiP leads us. For it is there, in what Fried so long ago called a “new genre of theater,” that Bartana’s broader project as film- maker finds its most deconstructive space of productivity.

Escape from the real

From this ‘crack’ in the mirror of representation – the product of a concrete Happening that was at once an imaginary situation – three ideologies entered the public discourse at Hebbel am Ufer as a collective means of tidying up an uncanny surplus of the Real: Otherness, Zionism and forgiveness.[14] Following Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of ideology’s psychoanalytic function, one informed by Althusser’s formulations, we encounter another chiasmus. Ideology is not a false consciousness of reality. Nor is it a dreamlike illusion. Rather, reality is to be conceived of as ideological, in that ideology is what allows us to escape from the Real – that pure state of nothingness – back into the space of conventional self- knowledge, which is to say – symbolization.[15]

There is, however, always a remainder. It’s what Žižek calls a “kernel” of the Real in reference to Lacan’s notion of an objet petit a – that elusive object cause of desire, which should never be confused with an obtainable (or representable) object in and of itself. Rather, the objet a stands in for that primordial ‘impossible’ object, a piece of oneself the subject phantasmatically perceives as being lost within the world of representation. This object, however, can never be retrieved because it doesn’t really exist – in fact – as there is no self-knowledge beyond our representation in the world.

Paradoxically, the impossibility of retrieving this primordial object ensures that the subject’s unconscious drive remains active and his or her consciousness desirous. Such that, the farther removed the objet a – the object cause of desire – is from the subject, the more the subject’s desire increases; inversely, the closer the objet a comes to the subject, the more the subject’s anxiety increases. This is because the objet a is a courier of the Real. As it approaches the subject so does the repressed nothingness of the subject’s Real being beyond his or her infinite series of self-representations. And yet it’s precisely this nothingness, as a primordially repressed idea, that drives the subject’s conscious desire to be something ontologically whole and independent of his or her representation in the world. In this reciprocal action between the objet athe remainder of nothingness – and its cover story – ideologies of the self – it’s always a case of to and fro, or, as Freud would have put it, fort and da.

Which brings us back to the Congress

Throughout the delegates’ deliberations, ideologies were summoned up, one after another, to thwart the free-flowing circulation of the objet a, this kernel of the Real. The reason being that ideology, a symbolization of imaginary desire, served well to lengthen the distance between the JRMiP’s founding thesis – We want to return! It is Poland we long for, the land of our fathers and forefathers – and the unfathomable Real driving this principle – the so-called “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question.”[16] At the same time, in the face of meta-historical narratives (grand récit) that attempt to explain the “Final Solution” – a nameless thing beyond comprehension, beyond representation – there is literature (la petite histoire), which, if we recall Derrida’s formulation, is the right to say anything.

Now this right, in the context of the JRMiP, gave rise to a collective jouissance – Lacan’s notion of an unbound ‘pleasure’ lying beyond conventional imaginary desire.[17] Since jouissance is connected to the excess of the drives and thus to the Real, it’s quite different from desire, which is all about identification. As Jacques-Alain-Miller explains, “desire is always a desire to be told ‘you are this or that.’ ”[18] Jouissance, to the contrary, can more accurately be described as a type of pleasure-pain in that it knows no limits and respects no boundaries. But it is always precipitated in the face of the Other who represents something traumatic, something obscene, that can’t be integrated into the subject’s universe.[19] To alleviate the delegation’s jouissance produced by the Other’s (obscene) right to say anything, ideological tropes were cathartically reiterated throughout the Congress’ testimonials. And yet, as soon as one was established, another excessive testimonial followed, which could not be integrated into the subject’s symbolic sphere of identity. The alternating reciprocity of these testimonies – one of desire, the other of jouissance – generated the pulse that beat at the heart of the Congress. Hence, on Day 1, the practical demand to “Establish a media watch in Europe to prevent dissemination of racist ideology” was countered by the surrealist demand to “Rebury all dead people of one nation in the neighboring nation and vice versa.” On Day 2, the cultural demand that “Poland should devote 15% of its annual budget to culture and the arts” was countered by the impossible demand that “Poland create an anti-concentration and death camp.” And on Day 3, the symbolic demand that we “Acknowledge the right of return for both Jewish and non-Jewish people” was juxtaposed with the inconceivable demand that “Israel be stripped of its Jewish character.”

And so it unfolded, the call and response between words of desire and words of jouissance determining the Congress’ deliberations over three days. In many ways, this back and forth was to be expected. However, what was unanticipated is that these words would conjure up a phantom at the very core of the JRMiP, one that haunted not on behalf of the dead but on behalf of the gap left in the movement by the secret of others.[20] In this way, the very words through which the phantom spoke pointed to an unspeakable truth – both real and imagined – of the JRMiP’s ancestry.

A ghost in the machine

As a means of addressing the phantom that entered the Hebbel am Ufer Theatre during the First International Congress of the JRMiP, I’ll take recourse to the following case study:

In “Notes on the Phantom,” the psychoanalyst Nicolas Abraham recalls a patient who was plagued by a personal phantom stemming from his father’s illegitimate birth. This illegitimacy was a secret carried to the father’s grave by a complicated piece of fiction the family maintained: the patient’s bastard father was a descendent of European nobility. By embodying the fictional account of his father’s genealogy, the son had unconsciously internalized the neurosis of being illegitimate even though he lacked a repressed primal scene of bastardization. This internalization indexed a gap standing between the father’s own reaction-formation (the assertion of nobility standing for illegitimacy) and the son’s unconscious perpetuation of the father’s neurotic behavior, acted out in verbal fits and irrational claims. Abraham explains how the father’s unconscious is focused on one thought (which gives rise to the phantom):

If my mother had not hidden the name of the illustrious lover whose son I am, I would not have to hide the degrading fact that I am an illegitimate child.‹ How could this thought, alive in the father’s unconscious, become transformed into the unconscious of his eldest son, everyone’s favorite, and remain so active there as to provoke fits? In all respects and by all accounts, the patient appears possessed not by his own unconscious but by someone else’s.[21]

The difficulty of analyzing the patient thus “lies in [his] horror at violating a parent of a family’s guarded secret, even though the secret’s text and content are inscribed in the [patient’s] unconscious. The horror of transgressing … is compounded by the risk of undermining the fictitious yet necessary integrity of the parental figure in question.”[22] As such, the phantom’s return points to a gap, to a buried fact in the subject’s history that is at once real and unspeakable.

Analogously, the JRMiP is defined by the phantom that haunts it. However, just like the delegate to whom I referred at the beginning of this essay, the JRMiP is self-reflexive, founded, as it is, at the interstice of the real and the unspeakable. Consequently, Bartana encourages her collaborators to challenge the very structure that gives them the authority to participate, which lends the JRMiP its ambiguous character. We must then ask: Is the JRMiP anti-Zionist in calling for millions of people to leave Israel, or is it pro-Zionist in its call to establish a new Jewish homeland in Poland? What about the question of sovereignty? In its propagandistic call for a nationalist homeland, is the JRMiP emulating fascist propaganda, or is it anti-fascist in its socialist ideals? As Bartana notes: “Nationalism is an imaginative and manipulative way of creating a sense of belonging, and I think the JRMiP employs that as well. But I’m criticizing fascism even as I use elements that originate in fascist aesthetics.”[23] Such ambiguity sets the stage for the phantom to appear. But in conjuring one up, as in a séance, the JRMiP interrogates its participants’ ambiguous relationship to the unspeakable secrets of the past by literally exposing this ambiguity to the light of day.

In this way, the phantom that entered the theater collectively haunted the Congress. Abraham’s phantom could thus also be described as a cultural phenomenon, whereby an eclipsed secret is handed down for generations – from one unconscious to another – ambiguously provoking conscious ideological formations followed by fits of jouissance. In such a case, the phantom’s formation is akin to that of an automaton in the unconscious of those who inherit it, where it “works like a ventriloquist, like a stranger within the subject’s own mental topography.”[24] Correspondingly, it could be said that the ›children‹ of the Congress inherited the neurotic symptom of a repressed trauma that isn’t truly theirs beyond their conscious reconstructions of it, the latter of which serve to cover up the repressed secret remaining in the unconscious of their deceased elders. This secret, in turn, constitutes the gap that Abraham articulated. Stunningly, at the Congress on Day 3, just such a phantom arose from this gap, pointing us to contradictions of Israel’s primal scene both real and imagined.

Enter Theodor Herzl.

Grandfather to the modern-day Jewish state, Herzl converted to Zionism after being shaken by the rising anti-Semitism surrounding the Dreyfus affair in France.[25] As a response, he penned his manifesto The Jewish State in 1896, elaborating his vision for a national homeland for the Jewish people, one he articulated in detail, from the organization of a Zionist congress to the establishment of national funds, schools, a flag and even an anthem. In Herzl’s mind, this roadmap would lead to the eventual ›redemption‹ of land by a “Jewish Company” that, in counter-distinction to a Jewish Society, would be a “liquidating agent of the business interests of departing Jews” and would “organize commerce and trade in the new country.”[26] Even with these practicalities, Herzl’s vision was utopian. Writing from the perspective of assimilated European Jewry, the proposed state would not be a theocracy, nor would it be unified by a national language such as Hebrew. Rather, citing Switzerland, he argued that “every man [could] preserve the language in which his thoughts are at home.”[27] And yet Herzl’s dream for this multi-cultural state was always rooted paradoxically in militant German nationalism. In his diary he admitted “German is par la force des choses quite likely to become the official language. Jewish German!”[28] In his plea to the German-Jewish philanthropist Baron de Hirsch to financially back the state, Herzl argued:

Men live and die for a flag; it is indeed the only thing for which they are willing to die in masses, provided one educates them… [T]he policy of an entire people…can only be made out of imponderables that float high and in the thin air. Do you know out of what the German Empire sprang? Out of reveries, songs, fantasies, and black-red-and-gold ribbons.[29]

Herzl went so far as to argue the moral imperative of this Germanic foundation. If the Jewish State were to be defined by its eternal “Will to Good,” it would be dialectically based on European anti-Semitism: “So too, anti-Semitism no doubt has within it something of the divine Will to Good, for it forces us to close ranks, unites us under pressure, and through our unity will bring us to freedom.”[30] From the start, then, a seed was sown for a secret to be passed down for generations: the paradoxical identification, on behalf of the Jewish State’s original architect, with the paternal nation that would cast his people out as an extimate object.

Indeed, when the United Nations General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of a partition plan of Mandatory Palestine on November 29, 1947, the nationalist aspects of Herzl’s Zionism had become the established ideology, as Hannah Arendt had already noted in 1946.[31] So that on May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the establishment of a Jewish state to be known as the State of Israel, the ›education‹ of which Herzl spoke would immediately commence. In the most extreme instance, Israelis would see the horrors of the Holocaust revealed to them – and the world – by Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1962, a spectacular event that would subsequently serve as ideological validation for The Six Day War of 1967, when Israel annexed what are now the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.[32]

In Arendt’s coverage of the trial, she had anticipated (once again) that the proceeding’s rhetoric would form the ideological scaffolding justifying Israeli expansionism.[33] But that’s not what garnered her book its international controversy among the Jewish establishment. It was her assertion that a ‘banality of evil’ – a ubiquitous mode of bureaucratic collective non-thinking – was the essence of the totalitarian state founded by the Third Reich. Moreover, such bureaucratic modes of non-thinking and complicity – to the horror of her mentor Gershom Scholem – was something anyone was capable of, even the European Jewish elite during the enactment of the ‘Final Solution’ under the Third Reich, and afterwards within the Zionist rank and file itself.[34] For Scholem, the idea that the Zionist mission of the modern Israeli state – one that embraced enfranchisement and emancipation for the Jewish people through nationalist legitimacy – could have ideologically inherited and internalized the bureaucratic logic of totalitarian German nationalism was unspeakable heresy.

But if Israel is, in some abstract and literal way, the child of Germany and of Europe, then there’s a chiastic relation between the modern Jewish State and the demons of first colonialism and then totalitarianism. This much we know. But what remains unconscious as the phantom is what the subject does not want to know: that the relationship between National Socialism and Zionism is not dialectical – first one, then the other – nor are they the same as Scholem misunderstood Arendt as saying. Rather, these ideologies are reciprocally produced vis-à-vis one another and thus have only ever been relatively autonomous. It’s a family secret haunting what has come to be the militant revisionist logic that legitimates Israeli occupation of territories gained in 1967, a secret that can’t be spoken without controversy and consequence, which is to say, without jouissance.

Which returns us to the JRMiP.

When Arendt deconstructed Zionism’s ambiguous position vis-à-vis German nationalism, she was denied the status of the analyst, essentialized as a wayward daughter of Jewish people, and cast out for speaking the unspeakable. Bartana doesn’t back away from the controversial space Arendt inhabited. Rather, she candidly activates this space in the form of an ethical collective production aimed at self-reflexively ‘working through’ the secrets of the past. As a platform for aesthetic engagement and political action, this ethics of production continues to play out in the ongoing chapters of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland.

  1. Charles Esche, speaking as Chairman at the First International Congress of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) in Berlin on May 13, 2012.

  2. Nicolas Abraham, “Notes on the Phantom: A Complement to Freud’s Meta­ psychology,” in Critical Inquiry, Winter 1987, p. 288.

  3. Curated by Artur Žmijewski and Joanna Warsza, the 7th Berlin Biennale featured such participatory projects as Khaled Jarrar’s solicitation for people to have their passports imprinted with a ›State of Palestine‹ stamp at Checkpoint Charlie, and Lukasz Surowiec’s replanting of 320 birches taken from the area around the former concentration camp Auschwitz­Birkenau throughout the entire city of Berlin.

  4. Notably, even after the delegate’s demand was defeated, the speaker remained as a participant for the Congress’ duration.

  5. “The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland: A Manifesto,” in A Cookbook for Political Imagination, Sebastian Cichocki and Galit Eilat, eds., (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), p. 120.

  6. Alenka Zupančič, “The Fifth Condition,” in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, Peter Hallward, ed., (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 199.

  7. Brochure for The First International Congress of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland [JRMiP] in Berlin, May 11­13, 2012, Hebel am Ufer – HAU 1.

  8. Jacques Derrida, “Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism,” in Deconstruction and Pragmatism: Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, Ernesto Laclau & Richard Rorty, Chantal Mouffe, ed., (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 82.

  9. JRMiP Brochure.

  10. This derivation is based upon Althusser’s founding thesis: “Ideology is a ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real Conditions of Existence.” Louis Althusser, “Ideology and the State,” in Lenin and Philosophy, Ben Brewster, ed., (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 162, 164.

  11. This follows Allan Kaprow’s axiom that in Happenings audiences should be eliminated entirely. “All the elements – people, space, the particular materials and character of the environment, time – can in this way be integrated,” he concluded. The two groups constituting the Happening – audience and performers – would thus mirror each other, the reality of one being bound up in the other. See: Allan Kaprow, “Assemblages, Environments and Happenings,” in Art in Theory: 1900-1990, Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds. (Cam­ bridge: Blackwell Press, 1995), p. 708.

  12. At one point a delegate from the floor (where a couple of participants spontaneously offered to interpret) offered to swap places with any audience member in the balcony who, by virtue of not speaking English (the lingua franca of the Congress), might not feel properly represented in the Congress’ de­ liberations and voting process.

  13. See Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, Gregory Battcock, ed., (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968), p. 25. I thank Sabeth Buchmann for her thoughtful in­ sights on this point with regards to Bartana’s work.

  14. “Surplus of the Real” is Slavoj Žižek’s term. See: The Sublime Object of Ideology, (New York: Verso, 1992), p. 3.

  15. Žižek, pp. 21, 45.

  16. The term ‘Jewish Question’ was first used circa 1750, with increased anti­Semitic usage after 1860, and culminated with the Nazis’ employment of it as a concept legitimating first the mass deportation of Jews out of Germany – by Johann Leers and Achim Gercke – and eventually the systematic extermination of the Jewish people – by Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann and others at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942.

  17. As there is no translation, we retain the French word ‘jouissance.’

  18. Jacques­Alain Miller, “Commentary of Lacan’s Text,” in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud, Bruce Fink, ed., (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), p. 424.

  19. Slavoj Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World, (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000), p. 25.

  20. I borrow this formulation from Nicolas Abraham’s “Notes on the Phantom.” See note 2.

  21. Abraham, p. 289.

  22. Abraham, p. 290.

  23. Yael Bartana, ARTiT,­it. asia/u/admin_ed_ feature_e/JZcXnvrH5NC­ s2QyuOEGd [Last viewed, October 2012]

  24. Abraham, p. 290.

  25. Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer of Alsatian Jewish background, was wrongly accused of pro­ viding military secrets to the Germans. His trial and conviction in 1894 caused an international scandal. He was exonerated in 1906, but not without exacerbating bitter divisions within France concerning the so­called “Jewish Question.”

  26. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, (New York: Dover, 1988), p. 93.

  27. Herzl, p. 145.

  28. Theodor Herzl, The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Marvin Lowenthal, ed., trans., (London: Victor Gollancz, 1958), p. 41.

  29. Herzl, Diaries, p. 22.

  30. Herzl, Diaries, p. 62.

  31. Arendt, Hannah, “The Jewish State: Fifty Years After. Where Have Herzl’s Politics Led?” in The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age, (New York: Grove Press, 1978), p. 164.

  32. From Eichmann’s trial, Idith Zertal argues that “a transference of the Holocaust situation was made on to the Middle East reality, which harsh and hostile to Israel as it was…not only created a false sense of the imminent danger of mass destruction. It also immediately distorted the image of the Holocaust, dwarfing the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, trivializing the unique agony of the victims and the survivors, and utterly demonizing the Arabs and their leaders.” It is also her argument that this trivialization was the ideological seed of fear that was sown to legitimate The Six Day War and ultimately the legitimization of Israel as a Jewish State at all costs. See her essay, “From the People’s Hall to the Wailing Wall,” in Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 100.

  33. Arendt’s argument was that the Eichmann trial followed Prime Minister Ben­Gurion’s ideological agenda, through which: “The Jews of the diaspora were to remember how Judaism, ‘four thousand years old, with its spiritual creations and its ethical strivings, its Messianic aspirations,’ had always faced ‘a hostile world,’ how the Jews had degenerated until they went to their death like sheep, and how only the establishment of a Jewish state had enabled Jews to hit back, as Israelis had done in the War of Independence, in the Suez adventure, and in the almost daily incidents on Israel’s unhappy borders.” Eichmann in Jerusalem, (London: Penguin Books, 2006), p. 10.

  34. See “Eichmann in Jerusalem: An Exchange of Letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt,” in The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age, p. 248. The unspeakable question that Arendt raised was an obscene one Scholem could not help but repress: “… that of cooperation of Jewish functionaries during the ‘Final Solution,’ and this question is so very uncomfortable because one cannot claim they were traitors.”