De Anza College Week 4 Communications Function of Maps Paper

How do maps frame ways of seeing? What does a map provide? What does it hide?

For this week’s discussion post, think critically about the function of maps. Rather than taking maps as given set of instructions for “understanding” space, think of them as advancing particularized ways of seeing. You can think about maps as communicating cultural values, as tools for cultural resistance, as justifications for increasing state power, as advancing imaginative geographies.

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Invention, Memory, and Place
Author(s): Edward W. Said
Source: Critical Inquiry , Winter, 2000, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 175-192
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1344120
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Invention, Memory, and Place
Edward W. Said
Over the past decade, there has been a burgeoning interest in two ove
lapping areas of the humanities and social sciences: memory and geogr
phy or, more specifically, the study of human space. Both of them hav
spawned an extraordinary amount of interesting work, work that has i
effect created new fields of study and inquiry. The concern with memory,
for example, has branched out to include such increasingly prevale
forms of writing as personal memoirs and autobiography, which near
every fiction writer of note has attempted, to say nothing of the out
pourings of academics, scientists, public figures, and so forth. The na
tional fixation on recollection, confession, and witness has run the who
gamut from public confession-as in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal-
various studies of the meaning of collective memory, extended reflecti
and analyses of instances of it, plus numerous chronicles embodying it.
shall have more to say about that later. In addition, and somewhat on t
margins, has been a serious, sometimes bitter inquiry into the authenti
ity of certain memories, as well as, at the other, calmer end of the spe
trum, a remarkable academic analysis of the role of invention in such
matters as tradition and collective historical experience.
Some examples of intense and even anguished controversy are the
following: Was Anne Frank’s diary really hers, or was it so altered by pu
lishers, members of her family, or others in its published form so as t
conceal the disturbances in her domestic life? In Europe there has bee
a great and often acerbic debate over the meaning of the Holocaust, wit
a whole range of opinions as to what happened, why it happened, and
Critical Inquiry 26 (Winter 2000)
? 2000 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/00/2602-0009$02.00. All rights reserved.
175
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176 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
what it tells us about the nature of Germany, France, and several other
involved countries. The celebrated French classicist Pierre Vidal-Naquet
wrote a powerful book some years back called Assassins of Memory about
French deniers of the Holocaust, and more recently the Papon trial in
Bordeaux raised uncomfortable questions related not just to memories of
the Occupation but the centrality of French collaborators with the Nazis
and what it said about French selective memories of the Vichy regime. In
Germany of course debate on the testimonials of the death camps and
their philosophical as well as political meaning periodically receives new
infusions of controversy, fuelled most recently by the publication of the
German translation of Daniel Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. In the United States consider the anger provoked by representatives
of the official culture and members of the government by the Smithsonian Institution-seen correctly as a sort of embodier of official memory
in the country-in its unsuccessful attempts to mount exhibitions, one
about the Enola Gay and another on the African American experience.
Earlier there was a furor over an impressive exhibition at the National
Gallery of American Art, America as West, which set out to contrast repre-
sentations of the land, the Indian natives, and the conditions of life in the
Western U.S. during the 1860s with the way the land was being forcibly
settled and the Indians destroyed, and the transformation of a once
peaceful rural environment into a predatory urban one. Senator Ted Ste-
vens of Alaska decried the whole thing as an attack on America even
though he avowed that he himself had not seen the exhibit. In any event
these controversies raise the question not only of what is remembered
but how and in what form. It is an issue about the very fraught nature of
representation, not just about content.
Memory and its representations touch very significantly upon questions of identity, of nationalism, of power and authority. Far from being a
neutral exercise in facts and basic truths, the study of history, which of
course is the underpinning of memory, both in school and university, is
to some considerable extent a nationalist effort premised on the need to
construct a desireable loyalty to and insider’s understanding of one’s
country, tradition, and faith. As is well known, there’s been a robust debate in the U.S. on the matter of national standards in history, in which
issues such as whether George Washington or Abraham Lincoln should
be allowed more time than they have at present in history curricula have
generated very angry arguments. Similarly, as Howard Zinn has suggested in his work, there has been skepticism expressed as to why the
study of American history should glorify only the big deeds of big people
Edward W. Said is University Professor of English and comparative
literature at Columbia University. Out of Place: A Memoir appeared in
1999.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 177
and neglect to mention what happened to the small ones, the people who
built railroads, worked the farms, sweated as laborers in the enormous
industrial companies that lie at the heart of this country’s immense wealth
and power. (He redresses this imbalance in his impressive People’s History
of the United States, which has already sold well over half a million copies.)’
In a recent article he goes even further. Having been asked to participate
in a symposium on the Boston Massacre, Zinn reflected to himself that
he wanted
to discuss other massacres because it seemed to me that concentrat-
ing attention on the Boston Massacre would be a painless exercise in
patriotic fervor. There is no surer way to obscure the deep divisions
of race and class in American history than by uniting us in support
of the American Revolution and all its symbols (like Paul Revere’s
stark etching of the soldiers shooting into the crowd).
I suggested to the people assembled at Faneuil Hall (the wall
around us crowded with portraits of the Founding Fathers and the
nation’s military heroes) that there were other massacres, forgotten
or dimly remembered, that deserved to be recalled. These ignored
episodes could tell us much about racial hysteria and class struggle,
about shameful moments in our continental and overseas expansion,
so that we can see ourselves more clearly, more honestly.2
These remarks immediately transport us to the vexed issue of nationalism and national identity, of how memories of the past are shaped in
accordance with a certain notion of what “we” or, for that matter, “they”
really are. National identity always involves narratives-of the nation’s
past, its founding fathers and documents, seminal events, and so on. But
these narratives are never undisputed or merely a matter of the neutral
recital of facts. In the United States, for example, 1492 was celebrated
very differently by people who saw themselves as victims of Columbus’s
advent-people of color, minorities, members of the working class,
people, in a word, who claimed they had a different collective memory
of what in most schools was celebrated as a triumph of advancement
and the collective march forward of humanity. Because the world has
shrunk-for example, communications have been speeded up fantasti-
cally-and people find themselves undergoing the most rapid social
transformations in history, ours has become an era of a search for roots, of
people trying to discover in the collective memory of their race, religion,
community, and family a past that is entirely their own, secure from the
ravages of history and a turbulent time. But this too has provoked very
sharp debate and even bloodshed. In the Islamic world, how one reads
the orthodox tradition (sunnah) is being debated, as are the questions of
1. See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York, 1980).
2. Zinn, “The Massacres of History,” The Progressive 62 (Aug. 1998): 17.
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178 Edward W. Said Invention, Memory, and Place
how one interprets stories about the Prophet, which are, basically, memories reconstructed by disciples and friends, and how one can derive an
image of contemporary Islamic codes of behavior and law that is consonant and in accordance with those precious, early, in fact aboriginal,
memories. Similar questions arise in interpretations of the Christian Gospels, as well as the Judaic prophetic books; these questions have a direct
impact on matters of community and politics in the present. Some of this
lies behind the much-touted controversy over family values that have been
vaunted by political candidates, moral philosophers, and public scolds.
To this whole matter of memory as a social, political, and historical
enterprise has been added a complication, to which I referred above,
namely, the role of invention. In 1983 two distinguished British historians
Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger edited a book of essays by various
other well-known historians entitled The Invention of Tradition.3 I won’t try
to summarize the ideas in this subtle and rich collection except to say that
what was being studied was the way rulers-social and political authorities in the period since about 1850-set about creating such supposedly
age-old rituals and objects as the Scottish kilt or, in India, the durbar,
thereby providing a false, that is, invented memory of the past as a way
of creating a new sense of identity for ruler and ruled. In India, for ex-
ample, the durbar-whose status as “tradition” was a total fiction-was
said to be a great ceremonial pageant designed to be implanted in the
Indian memory though it served the British colonial authorities to compel Indians to believe in the age-old history of British imperial rule. “In
Africa, too,” writes Ranger, “whites drew on invented tradition in order
to derive the authority and confidence that allowed them to act as agents
of change. Moreover, insofar as they were consciously applied to Africans,
the invented traditions [such as compelling Africans to work as laborers
on European gentlemen’s farms] of nineteenth-century Europe were seen
precisely as agents of ‘modernization.””4 In modern France, according to
Hobsbawm, the demise of Napoleon III’s empire and the emergence of a
politicized working class as evidenced in the Paris Commune convinced
the “moderate Republican bourgeoisie” that only it could head off the
dangers of revolution by producing a new kind of citizen, “turning peas-
ants into Frenchmen … [and] all Frenchmen into good Republicans.”
Thus the French revolution was institutionalized in education by developing “a secular equivalent of the church … imbued with revolutionary
and republican principles and content.” In addition, there was “the invention of public ceremonies. The most important of these, Bastille Day,
can be exactly dated in 1880.” Thirdly, there “was the mass production
of public monuments,” of two main kinds-images of the Republic itself
3. See The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge, 1983).
4. Ranger, “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa,” in ibid., p. 220.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 179
such as Marianne-and images of the “bearded civilian figures of whoever local patriotism chose to regard as its notables.”5
In other words, the invention of tradition was a practice very much
used by authorities as an instrument of rule in mass societies when the
bonds of small social units like village and family were dissolving and
authorities needed to find other ways of connecting a large number of
people to each other. The invention of tradition is a method for using
collective memory selectively by manipulating certain bits of the national
past, suppressing others, elevating still others in an entirely functional
way. Thus memory is not necessarily authentic, but rather useful. The
Israeli journalist Tom Segev shows in his book The Seventh Million that the
Holocaust was consciously used by the Israeli government as a way of
consolidating Israeli national identity after years of not paying much attention to it.6 Similarly, historian Peter Novick, in a recently published
study of the image of the Holocaust amongst American Jews, shows that
before the 1967 war and the Israeli victory against the Arab states, American Jews paid very little attention to that appallingly horrible episode
(and in fact tried consciously to deemphasize it as a way of avoiding antiSemitism).’ It is a long way from those early attitudes to the construction
of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Similarly the controversy surrounding the memories of the Armenian genocide is fuelled by the Turkish government’s denial of its role.
My point in citing all these cases is to underline the extent to which
the art of memory for the modern world is both for historians as well as
ordinary citizens and institutions very much something to be used, misused, and exploited, rather than something that sits inertly there for each
person to possess and contain. Thus the study and concern with memory
or a specifically desirable and recoverable past is a specially freighted late
twentieth-century phenomenon that has arisen at a time of bewildering
change, of unimaginably large and diffuse mass societies, competing nationalisms, and, most important perhaps, the decreasing efficacy of religious, familial, and dynastic bonds. People now look to this refashioned
memory, especially in its collective forms, to give themselves a coherent
identity, a national narrative, a place in the world, though, as I have indicated, the processes of memory are frequently, if not always, manipulated
and intervened in for sometimes urgent purposes in the present. It’s interesting to contrast this more modern and somehow loosely malleable
form of memory with the codified, rigorous art of memory in classical
antiquity described by Frances Yates.8 Memory for Cicero was something
organized and structured. If you wanted to remember something for a
5. Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914,” pp. 271, 272.
6. See Tom Segev, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust, trans. Haim Watz-
man (New York, 1993).
7. See Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (New York, 1999), pp. 146-203.
8. See Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago, 1966).
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180 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
speech you were about to give, you imagined a building with all sorts of
rooms and corners, and in your mind’s eye you subdivided the parts of
the memory you wished to recall and placed them in various sections
of the building; as you spoke you walked through the building in your
head, so to speak, noting the places and the objects and phrases as you
went along. That way order was maintained in the memory. The modern
art of memory is much more subject to inventive reordering and redeploying than that.
As for geography, or geography as I want to use the word, as a socially
constructed and maintained sense of place, a great deal of attention has
been paid by modern scholars and critics to the extraordinary constitutive role of space in human affairs. Consider, as an easy instance, the word
globalization, which is an indispensable concept for modern economics. It
is a spatial, geographical designation signifying the global reach of a power-
ful economic system. Think of geographical designations like Auschwitz,
think of what power and resonance they have, over and above a particularly specifiable moment in history or a geographical locale like Poland
or France. The same applies to Jerusalem, a city, an idea, an entire history, and of course a specifiable geographical locale often typified by a
photograph of the Dome of the Rock, the city walls, and the surrounding
houses seen from the Mount of Olives; it too is overdetermined when it
comes to memory, as well as all sorts of invented histories and traditions,
all of them emanating from it, but most of them in conflict with each
other. This conflict is intensified by Jerusalem’s mythological-as op-
posed to actual geographical-location, in which landscape, buildings,
streets, and the like are overlain and, I would say, even covered entirely
with symbolic associations totally obscuring the existential reality of what
as a city and real place Jerusalem is. The same can be said for Palestine,
whose landscape functions in the memories ofJews, Muslims, and Christians entirely differently. One of the strangest things for me to grasp is
the powerful hold the locale must have had on European crusaders despite their enormous distance from the country. Scenes of the crucifixion
and nativity, for instance, appear in European Renaissance paintings as
taking place in a sort of denatured Palestine, since none of the artists had
ever seen the place. An idealized landscape gradually took shape that
sustained the European imagination for hundreds of years. That Bernard of Clairvaux standing in a church in Vezelay, in the heart of Burgundy, could announce a crusade to reclaim Palestine and the holy places
from the Muslims never fails to astound me, and that after hundreds of
years of living in Europe Zionist Jews could still feel that Palestine had
stood still in time and was theirs, again despite millennia of history and
the presence of actual inhabitants. This too is also an indication of how
geography can be manipulated, invented, characterized quite apart from
a site’s merely physical reality.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 181
Simon Schama’s book Landscape and Memory chronicles the to-ing and
fro-ing between specific geographical locales and the human imagination. Surely the most compelling aspect of Schama’s book is that he shows
in dozens of different ways that forests, villages, mountains, and rivers
are never coterminous with some stable reality out there that identifies
and gives them permanence. On the contrary, as in the example he gives
of his family’s original village in Lithuania, most of its traces disappeared;
he finds instead through the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz how Jews and
Poles “were snarled up…. in each other’s fate” despite his contemporaries’ belief that they were “necessarily alien to each other.” Geography
stimulates not only memory but dreams and fantasies, poetry and painting, philosophy (as in Heidegger’s Holzwege), fiction (think of Walter
Scott’s Highland novels), and music (as in Sibelius’s Finlandia or Copland’s
Appalachian Spring).9
But what specially interests me is the hold of both memory and geog-
raphy on the desire for conquest and domination. Two of my books, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, are based not only on the notion of
what I call imaginative geography-the invention and construction of a
geographical space called the Orient, for instance, with scant attention
paid to the actuality of the geography and its inhabitants-but also on
the mapping, conquest, and annexation of territory both in what Conrad
called the dark places of the earth and in its most densely inhabited and
lived-in places, like India or Palestine. The great voyages of geographical
discovery from da Gama to Captain Cook were motivated by curiosity
and scientific fervor, but also by a spirit of domination, which becomes
immediately evident when white men land in some distant and unknown
place and the natives rebel against them. In the modern era Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is the essential parable of how geography and conquest go
together, providing an almost eerie prefiguration of historical figures like
Clive and Hastings in India, or scientific adventurers and explorers like
Murchison in Africa decades and decades later. These experiences enable
complicated memories for natives and (in the Indian case) Britishers
alike; a similar dialectic of memory over territory animates the relationship of French and Algerian accounts of the 130 years of French rule in
North Africa. We should never have left or given up India or Algeria, say
some, using strange atavistic sentiments like the Raj revival-a spate of
TV shows and films like The Jewel in the Crown, A Passage to India, Gandhi,
and the fashion of wearing safari suits, helmets, desert boots-as a way
of periodically provoking nostalgia for the good old days of British supremacy in Asia and Africa, whereas most Indians and Algerians would
likely say that their liberation came as a result of being able after years of
nationalist struggle to take hold of their own affairs, reestablish their
9. Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York, 1995), p. 30.
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182 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
identity, culture, and language, and, above all, reappropriate their territory from the colonial masters. Hence, to some extent, we witness the remarkable emergence of an Anglo-Indian literature by Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and many others, reexcavating and recharting the past from a postcolonial point of view, thereby erecting a
new postimperial space.
It is easy to see the fact of displacement in the colonial experience,
which at bottom is the replacement of one geographical sovereignty, an
imperialist one, by another, native force. More subtle and complex is the
unending cultural struggle over territory, which necessarily involves over-
lapping memories, narratives, and physical structures. No one has studied this more powerfully than the late Raymond Williams in his classic
book, The Country and the City. What he shows is that literary and cultural
forms such as the ode, the political pamphlet, and different kinds of novels derive some of their aesthetic rationale from changes taking place in
the geography or landscape as the result of a social contest. Let me explain this more concretely. The mid-seventeenth- to eighteenth-century
genre of the country-house poem, with its emphasis on the house’s calm
stateliness and classical proportions-“Heaven’s Centre, Nature’s Lap”is not the same thing in Marvell, Ben Jonson, and, later, in Pope. Jonson
draws attention to the way the house was won from disturbing, encroaching peasant populations; Marvell in a more complicated way understands
the country house as the result of a union between money, property, and
politics; in Pope the house has become a sort of moral center; and later
in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park it is the very embodiment of all that is
benign and actively good in England. Property in all four writers is being
consolidated; what we watch is the gradual triumph of a social dialectic
celebrating the virtues and necessities of a propertied class, which itself
seems to stand for the nation at its best. In each case the writer remem-
bers the past in his or her own way, seeing images that typify that past,
preserving one past, sweeping away others. Later writers, say, urban novelists like Dickens and Thackeray, will look back to this period as a sort of
rural paradise from which England has fallen; the beauties of the field
are replaced by the grimy, dark, sooty, industrial city. Both the retrospec-
tive image and the contemporary one, says Williams, are historical constructs, myths of the social geography fashioned in different periods by
different classes, different interests, different ideas about the national
identity, the polity, the country as a whole, none of it without actual struggle
and rhetorical dispute.’1
All of what I have been discussing here-the interplay between geography, memory, and invention, in the sense that invention must occur if
there is recollection-is particularly relevant to a twentieth-century example, that of Palestine, which instances an extraordinarily rich and in10. See Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London, 1973).
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 183
tense conflict of at least two memories, two sorts of historical invention,
two sorts of geographical imagination. I want to argue that we can go
behind the headlines and the repetitively reductive media accounts of the
Middle East conflict and discern there a much more interesting and subtle conflict than what is customarily talked about. Only by understanding
that special mix of geography generally and landscape in particular with
historical memory and, as I said, an arresting form of invention can we
begin to grasp the persistence of conflict and the difficulty of resolving it,
a difficulty that is far too complex and grand than the current peace
process could possibly envisage, let alone resolve.
Let us juxtapose some relevant dates and events with each other. For
Palestinians 1948 is remembered as the year of the nakba, or catastrophe,
when 750,000 of us who were living there-two-thirds of the population-were driven out, our property taken, hundreds of villages destroyed,
an entire society obliterated. For Israelis and many Jews throughout the
world 1998 was the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s independence and
establishment, a miraculous story of recovery after the Holocaust, of
democracy, of making the desert bloom, and so on. Thus, two totally different characterizations of a recollected event have been constructed.
What has long struck me about this radical irreconcilability at the orig
of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that it is routinely excluded from co
siderations of related subjects concerning ethnic or collective memory
geographical analysis, and political reflection. This is most evident
studies of the German catastrophe as well as of ethnic conflicts in form
Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Ireland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and elsewhere.
Take Germany first. There is little doubt that it is important to pr
vent assassins of memory from denying or minimizing the Holocaust
but it is also important not to forget to show the link, well-establish
in contemporary Jewish consciousness, between the Holocaust and the
founding of Israel as a haven for Jews. That this link also meant the dis
tablishing of the Palestinians from their homes and farms is practicall
never stated, although for Palestinians it increases the agony of their
plight: why, they ask, are we made to pay for what happened to the Je
in Europe by what was in effect a Western Christian genocide? The que
tion never emerges out of the debate in or about Germany, even thoug
it is directly entailed by such facts as the enormous amount of mone
paid by Germany to Israel in Holocaust reparations and has surfac
again in the claims against Swiss banks. I have no hesitation in saying
yes, Germany and Switzerland ought to pay, but that also means that
Palestinians over the past fifty years whose own losses are staggering d
serve a hearing, too, especially since to us these payments to Israel go t
consolidate Israel’s hold not only on what we lost in 1948 but on the te
ritories occupied in 1967. The Palestinians have never received even th
slightest official acknowledgement of the massive injustice that was do
to them, much less the possibility of staking material claims against Isr
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184 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
for the property taken, the people killed, the houses demolished, the water taken, the prisoners held, and so forth. There is also the complex,
almost equally dense and far-reaching matter of Britain’s responsibility.
What strikes me as more significant is the refusal in the Israeli official
narrative to take account of the state’s complicity in and responsibility for
the Palestinian dispossession. For years and years an assiduous campaign
to maintain a frozen version of Israel’s heroic narrative of repatriation
and justice obliterated any possibility of a Palestinian narrative, in large
part because certain key components of the Israeli story stressed certain
geographical characteristics of Palestine itself. Take the key notion of liberation: so strong was the story ofJewish independence and reemergence
after the Holocaust that it became virtually impossible to ask the ques-
tion, Liberation and independence from whom? If the question was
asked it was always answered as liberation from British imperialism. Or,
as the story got elaborated, it was defense against invading Arab armies
that wanted to crush the young state. The Palestinians thus faded into
the encircling and menacing obscurity of “the Arabs,” the fact that they
were actual residents occluded and simultaneously denied.
Perhaps the greatest battle Palestinians have waged as a people has
been over the right to a remembered presence and, with that presence,
the right to possess and reclaim a collective historical reality, at least since
the Zionist movement began its encroachments on the land. A similar
battle has been fought by all colonized peoples whose past and present
were dominated by outside powers who had first conquered the land and
then rewrote history so as to appear in that history as the true owners of
that land. Every independent state that emerged after the dismantling of
the classical empires in the post-World War Two years felt it necessary to
narrate its own history, as much as possible free of the biases and misrepresentations of that history by British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, or
other colonial historians.
Yet the fate of Palestinian history has been a sad one, since not only
was independence not gained, but there was little collective understanding of the importance of constructing a collective history as a part of try-
ing to gain independence. To become a nation in the formal sense of the
word, a people must make itself into something more than a collection
of tribes, or political organizations of the kind that since the 1967 war
Palestinians have created and supported. With a competitor as formidable as the Zionist movement, the effort to rewrite the history of Palestine
so as to exclude the land’s peoples had a disastrous effect on the quest
for Palestinian self-determination. What we never understood was the
power of a narrative history to mobilize people around a common goal
In the case of Israel, the narrative’s main point was that Zionism’s goa
was to restore, reestablish, repatriate, and reconnect a people with its
original homeland. It was the genius of Herzl and Weizmann to draf
thinkers like Einstein and Buber, as well as financiers like Lord Roth-
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 185
schild and Moses Montefiore, into giving their time and effort in support
of so important and historically justified a scheme. This narrative of reestablishment and recovery served its purpose not only amongst Jews but
also throughout the Western (and even in some parts of the Eastern)
world. Because of the power and appeal of the Zionist narrative and idea
(which depended on a special reading of the Bible) and because of the
collective Palestinian inability as a people to produce a convincing narrative story with a beginning, middle, and end (we were always too disorganized, our leaders were always interested in maintaining their power,
most of our intellectuals refused to commit themselves as a group to a
common goal, and we too often changed our goals) Palestinians have remained scattered and politically ineffective victims of Zionism, as it continues to take more and more land and history.
Just how deliberate and sustained has been the assault on the history
and consequently the dominant public memory of Palestine, and how
much attention has been paid over the years to the reconstruction of
Jewish history to suit the purposes of Zionism as a political movement, is
made stunningly clear by the Scottish historian of the ancient Near East,
Keith W. Whitelam, whose book The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silenc-
ing of Palestinian History is of paramount importance. Not being myself a
scholar of the ancient world generally, nor of ancient Palestine in particu-
lar, I cannot make a judgement about every one of the points that
Whitelam makes; but I am able to judge what he says about modern
scholarship on ancient Israel, and there I was very impressed with his
careful, but nevertheless extremely audacious argument. In effect Whitelam is talking about two things: one, the politics of collective memory,
and, two, the creation by Zionist scholars and historians of a geographical
image of ancient Israel that is shaped by the ideological needs and pres-
sures of the modern Zionist movement.”
As I suggested above, collective memory is not an inert and passive
thing, but a field of activity in which past events are selected, reconstructed, maintained, modified, and endowed with political meaning. In
her 1995 book Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli
National Tradition, the Israeli-American historian Yael Zerubavel shows
how before the late nineteenth century the story of Masada was unknown
to most Jews. Then in 1862 a Hebrew translation of the Roman sources
of Masada in Josephus’s Wars of the Jews was published, and in a short time
the story was transformed by reconstruction into four important things
“a major turning point in Jewish history, a locus of modern pilgrimage, a
famous archeological site, and a contemporary political metaphor.””12
11. See Keith W. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian
History (New York, 1996); hereafter abbreviated I.
12. Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National
Tradition (Chicago, 1995), p. 63.
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186 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
When General Yigael Yadin excavated Masada after 1948 the expedition
had two complementary aspects: an archeological investigation and “the
fulfillment of a national mission.”‘3 In time the actual place was the site
of Israeli army ceremonies, a commemoration of Jewish heroism, as well
as a commitment to present and future military skill. Thus was a dim,
relatively unknown incident in the past reformulated consciously as a major episode in the nationalist program of a modern state; Masada became
a potent symbol of the Israeli national narrative of struggle and survival.
Whitelam presents a remarkably analogous picture of how the history of ancient Palestine was gradually replaced by a largely fabricated
image of ancient Israel, a political entity that in reality played only a small
role in the area of geographical Palestine. According to Whitelam, ancient
Palestine was the home of many diverse peoples and histories; it was the
place where Jebusites, Israelites, Canaanites, Moabites, Philistines, and
others lived and flourished. Beginning in the late nineteenth century,
however, this more complex and rich history was silenced, forced aside,
in order that the history of invading Israelite tribes, who for a time suppressed and dispossessed the native peoples, became the only narrative
worth considering. Thus the extinction of the indigenous population of
Palestine in the late Bronze Age became an acceptable and gradually permanent feature of a sort of triumphalist Jewish history for scholars like
W E Albright, the leading historian of ancient Palestine during the early
twentieth century, and made it possible to silence native Palestinian history as it was supplanted by the history of the incoming Israelites. Albright goes so far as retrospectively to condone the destruction of the
native inhabitants of ancient Palestine in favor of superior people: “From
the impartial standpoint of a philosopher of history,” he says, “it often
seems necessary that a people of markedly inferior type [that is, the ancient Canaanite Palestinians] should vanish before a people of superior
potentialities [the Israelites], since there is a point beyond which racial
mixture cannot go without disaster” (quoted in I, p. 83).
In its remarkably frank expression of racist attitudes this statement
by a supposedly objective scholar, who also happened to be the most influential figure in modern biblical archeology, is chilling. But it suggests
how in its desire to overcome obstacles in its path, even to the point of
retrospectively condoning dispossession and even genocide, modern Zionism also imposed a sort of teleology retrospectively. Whitelam proceeds
to show how scholars like Albright and many others went on in their writ-
ing to construct “a large, powerful, sovereign and autonomous … state
[which was] attributed to its founder David” (I, p. 124). Whitelam shows
how this state was in effect an invention designed to accompany the Zionist attempt in the twentieth century to gain control over the land of Pales-
tine; thus “biblical scholarship, in its construction of an ancient Israeli
13. Ibid.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 187
state, is implicated in contemporary struggles for the land” (I, p. 124).
Whitelam argues that such a state was far less important than its champions in the present day say it was: The invented ancient Israel “has silenced Palestinian history and obstructed alternative claims to the past”
(I, p. 124). By inventing an ancient Israeli kingdom that displaced Canaanite Palestinian history, modern scholars have made it nearly impossible
for present-day Palestinians to say that their claims to Palestine have any
long-term historical validity. Indeed such pro-Zionist scholars have gone
on to assert that ancient Israel was qualitatively different from all other
forms of government in Palestine, just as modern-day Zionists said that
their coming to Palestine turned an “empty” desert land into a garden.
The idea in both ancient and modern cases is identical and of course
violently contradicts the far more complex, pluricultural identity of
place.
Whitelam is quite right to criticize my own work on the modern
struggle for Palestine for not paying any attention to the discourse of
biblical studies. This discourse, he says, was really a part of Orientalism,
by which Europeans imagined and represented the timeless Orient as
they wished to see it, not as it was, or as its natives believed. Thus biblical
studies, which created an Israel that was set apart from its environment,
and supposedly brought civilization and progress to the region, was reinforced by Zionist ideology and by Europe’s interest in the roots of its own
past. Yet, he concludes, “this discourse has excluded the vast majority
of the population of the region.” It is a discourse of power “which has
dispossessed Palestinians of a land and a past” (I, p. 235).
Whitelam’s subject is ancient history and how a purposeful political
movement could invent a serviceable past that became a crucial aspect of
Israel’s modern collective memory. When the mayor of Jerusalem a few
years ago proclaimed that the city represented 3,000 years of unbroken
Jewish dominance, he was mobilizing an invented story for the political
purposes of a modern state still trying to dispossess native Palestinians
who are now seen only as barely tolerated aliens.
Along with the idea of Israel as liberation and independence
couched in terms of a reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty went an
equally basic motif, that of making the desert bloom, the inference being
that Palestine was either empty (as in the Zionist slogan, “a land without
people for a people without land”) or neglected by the nomads and peasants who facelessly lived on it. The main idea was to not only deny the Pales-
tinians a historical presence as a collectivity but also to imply that they
were not a people who had a long-standing peoplehood. As late as 1984
a book by a relative unknown called Joan Peters appeared from a major
commercial publishing house (Harper and Row) purporting to show that
the Palestinians as a people were an ideological, propagandistic fiction;
her book From Time Immemorial won all sorts of prizes and accolades from
well-known personalities like Saul Bellow and Barbara Tuchman, who
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188 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
admired Peters’s “success” in proving that Palestinians were “a fairy tale.”
Slowly, however, the book lost credibility despite its eight or nine printings, as various critics, Norman Finkelstein principal among them, methodically revealed that the book was a patchwork of lies, distortions, and
fabrications, amounting to colossal fraud. The book’s brief currency (it
has since practically disappeared and is no longer cited) is an indication
of how overwhelmingly the Zionist memory had succeeded in emptying
Palestine of its inhabitants and history, turning its landscape instead into
an empty space that, Peters alleged, was flooded in the middle 1940s with
Arab refugees from neighboring countries attracted to the place by the
hope of prosperity under Jewish settlers.’4 I remember my rage at reading a book that had the effrontery to tell me that my house and birth in
Jerusalem in 1935 (before Peters’s flood of “Arab” refugees) to say nothing
of the actual existence of my parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and
my entire extended family in Palestine were in fact not there, had not
lived there for generations, had therefore no title to the specific landscape of orange and olive groves that I remembered from my earliest
glimmerings of consciousness. I recall also that in 1986 I purposefully
published a book of photographs by Jean Mohr, After the Last Sky: Palestin-
ian Lives for which I wrote an elaborate text whose effect with the inter-
connected pictures I hoped would be to dispel the myth of an empty
landscape and an anonymous, nonexistent people.’5
All along then the Israeli story, buttressed both subliminally and explicitly with memories of the horrors of an anti-Semitism that ironically
took place in an entirely different landscape, crowded out the Palestinian
history taking place in Palestine and out of it because of Israeli geographi-
cal and physical displacement of the people. The justified feeling of
“never again,” which became the watchword of Jewish consciousness as,
for instance, the massively publicized Eichmann trial revealed the scope
of the awfulness of the Holocaust, pushed away the deepening sense of
the need for Palestinian assertion that was developing in that community.
There is something almost tragically ironic about the way in which the
1967 war on the one hand intensified the assertiveness of a triumphal
Israeli identity and, on the other, sharpened the need among Palestinians
for organized resistance and counterassertion. Only this time Israel had
occupied the rest of Palestine and acquired a population of almost two
million people that it ruled as a military power (20 percent of Israel’s
citizens are Palestinians). Newly excavated memories from the Jewish past
emerged-the Jew as warrior, militant, vigorous fighter-and replaced
the image of the Jew as scholarly, wise, and slightly withdrawn. The
14. See Edward W Said, “Conspiracy of Praise” and Norman G. Finkelstein, “Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’s From Time
Immemorial,” in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, ed. Said
and Christopher Hitchens (New York, 1988), pp. 23-31, 33-69.
15. See Said and Jean Mohr, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York, 1986).
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 189
change in iconography is brilliantly chronicled by Paul Breines in his
book Tough Jews.’6
With the rise of the PLO, first in Jordan, then after September 1970
in Beirut, a new Palestinian interest arose in the past, as embodied in
such disparate activities as organized historical research and the production of poetry and fiction based upon a sense of recovered history, formerly blotted out but now reclaimed in the poetry of Zayyat, Darwish,
Hussein, and al-Qassem, in the fiction of Kanafani and Jabra, as well as
in painting, sculpture, and historical writing such as Abu Lughod’s collection The Transformation of Palestine. Later work such as the compilations of
Walid Khalidi-Before Their Diaspora and All That Remains-Rashid Khalidi’s study Palestinian Identity, Sabry Jiryis’s The Arabs in Israel, Bayan al
Hout’s study of the Palestinian elites, Elia Zureik’s The Palestinians in Israel,
and many others, all by Palestinian scholars, gradually established a line
of dynastic descent, between the events of 1948 and before and after the
catastrophe, that gave substance to the national memory of a Palestinian
collective life that persisted, despite the ravages of physical dispossession,
military occupation, and Israeli official denials.”7 By the middle of the
1980s, a new direction had begun to appear in Israeli critical histories of
the canonized official memories. In my opinion their genesis lay to some
considerable extent in the aggravated, but close colonial encounter between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories. Consider that
with the accession to power of the right-wing Likud in 1977 these territor-
ies were renamed Judea and Samaria; they were onomastically transformed from “Palestinian” to ‘”Jewish” territory, and settlements-whose
object from the beginning had been nothing less than the transformation
of the landscape by the forcible introduction of European-style mass
housing with neither precedent nor basis in the local topography-gradually spread all over the Palestinian areas, starkly challenging the natural
and human setting with rude Jewish-only segregations. In my opinion,
these settlements, whose number included a huge ring of fortresslike
housing projects around the city of Jerusalem, were intended visibly to
illustrate Israeli power, additions to the gentle landscape that signified
aggression, not accommodation and acculturation.
The new trend in Israeli critical history was inaugurated by the late
16. See Paul Breines, Tough Jews: Political Fantasies and the Moral Dilemma of American
Jewry (New York, 1990).
17. See The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-
Israeli Conflict, ed. Abu Lughod (Evanston, Ill., 1971); Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A
Photographic History of the Palestinians (Washington, D.C., 1984); All That Remains: The Palestin-
ian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, ed. Walid Khalidi (Washington, D.C.,
1992); Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness
(New York, 1997); Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, trans. Inca Bushnag (New York, 1976);
Bayan al Hout, Political Leadership and Institutions in Palestine, 1917-48 [Arabic] (Beirut,
1984); and Elia Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism (London,
1979).
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190 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
Simha Flaphan, but then continued in controversial scholarly monographs and books by Bennie Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe,
and Beni Beit Halahmi. Much of this work I believe was fuelled by the
Palestinian intifada, which laid to rest the idea of Palestinian silence and
absence. For the first time a systematic critique of the official version pro-
grammatically revealed the crucial role played by invention in a collective
memory that had ossified into unyielding, almost sacralized, and, with
regard to Palestinians, dehumanized representation. Far from Palestinians having left or run away because they were told to do so by their
leaders (this had been the prevalent argument for the suddenly depopulated landscape in 1948), these historians showed that according to Zionist military archives there had been a cold-blooded plan to disperse and
exclude the native population, spiriting them away so that Palestinians
would not clutter Israel with their non-Jewish presence. Far from the
Jewish forces having been a small, outnumbered, and truly threatened
population, it was shown that these forces were greater in number than
the combined Arab armies, they were better armed, and they had a common set of objectives entirely lacking among their opponents. As for the
Palestinians, they were effectively leaderless, unarmed, and in places like
Jerusalem-which I recall vividly myself, since I was twelve at the timecompletely at the mercy of the Hagganah and the Irgun, whose undeflected purpose was to clear them out unequivocally, as we were indeed.
And far from there being a policy of “purity of arms,” the stock-in-trade
phrase for Israeli military policy, there was a series of massacres and
atrocities designed specifically to terrorize the greatly disadvantaged Palestinians into flight and/or nonresistance.
More recently, the distinguished Israeli social historian Zeev Sternhell has revisited the official state archives to show with extraordinary
force that what was presented to the world as a socialist democracy was
not in fact that at all, but what he himself calls a nationalist socialism
designed above all to create a new community of blood, to redeem the
land by conquest, and to submit the Jewish individual to a collectivity of
almost messianic fervency.18 Thus in fact Israel was profoundly antisocialist and, rather than encouraging individual rights and an egalitarian
concept of citizenship, in fact created a theocracy with a rigorous limit to
what the individual was and could expect from the state. The Kibbutzim-long heralded as a unique social experiment in egalitarianism
and innovative sharing-were, says Sternhell, window-dressing, extremely limited and circumscribed in their membership (no Arabs were
ever allowed to be members). Israel is now the only state in the world
that is not the state of its citizens but of the whole Jewish people wherever
they may be. Not only has it never had until the present any international
18. See Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State, trans. David Maisel (Princeton, N.J., 1998).
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Critical Inquiry Winter 2000 191
boundaries, Israel also has no constitution, but a set of Basic Laws, one
of which, the Law of Return, entitles any Jew anywhere the right to imme-
diate Israeli citizenship, whereas Palestinians whose families were driven
out in 1948 are allowed no such right at all. Ninety-two percent of the
land is held in trust by an agency for the Jewish people; this means that
non-Jews, especially Palestinian citizens of Israel who constitute a population of one million people and are almost 20 percent of the state, are
simply forbidden to buy, lease, or sell land. One can imagine the outcry
in the United States if land was only permitted to Christian whites, for
example, and not to Jews or nonwhites.
Thus the dominant pattern in thought about the geography of Palestine, for a millennium and a half inhabited by an overwhelming majority
of non-Jews, has been the idea of return: to return to Israel for Jews who
have never been there was to return to Zion and an earlier state from
which Jews had been exiled. Carol Bardenstein notes in a sensitive stud
the way the same images of prickly pears, oranges, trees, and return
thread their way into discourses of memory for both Jews and Palest
ians. But the Jewish discourse eliminates from the landscape the form
Palestinian presence:
I had the opportunity to visit a number of sites of former Palestini
villages that have been variously reshaped through tree-planting an
related JNF projects, in ways that would appear to promote “collec
tive,” if selective, forgetting. If one visits the site of the destroye
village of Ghabsiyah in the Galilee, for example, upon closer scrutin
the trees and landscape themselves yield two very different and co
testing narratives converging on the same site. One has to rely o
landscape readings, because little else remains. What is most readi
visible to the first-time visitor are the JNF trees planted on the sit
the recognizable combination of pine and other trees that hav
grown over the past four decades in a manner that makes it seem
if perhaps that is all that was ever there.’9
Let me note in a very brief conclusion what the interplay among
memory, place, and invention can do if it is not to be used for the pu
poses of exclusion, that is, if it is to be used for liberation and coexiste
between societies whose adjacency requires a tolerable form of sustain
reconciliation. Again I want to use the Palestinian issue as my concret
example. Israelis and Palestinians are now so intertwined through his
tory, geography, and political actuality that it seems to me absolute fo
to try and plan the future of one without that of the other. The probl
with the American-sponsored Oslo process was that it was premised on
notion of partition and separation, whereas everywhere one looks in th
19. Carol Bardenstein, “Threads of Memory and Discourses of Rootedness: Of Tree
Oranges, and the Prickly Pear Cactus in Israel/Palestine,” Edebiydt 8, no. 1 (1998): 9.
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192 Edward W Said Invention, Memory, and Place
territory of historical Palestine, Jews and Palestinians live together. This
notion of separation has also closed these two unequal communities of
suffering to each other. Most Palestinians are indifferent to and often
angered by stories of Jewish suffering since it seems to them that as subjects of Israeli military power anti-Semitism seems remote and irrelevant
while their land is taken and homes are being bulldozed. Conversely most
Israelis refuse to concede that Israel is built on the ruins of Palestinian
society, and that for them the catastrophe of 1948 continues until the
present. Yet there can be no possible reconciliation, no possible solution
unless these two communities confront each’s experience in the light o
the other. It seems to me essential that there can be no hope of peace
unless the stronger community, the Israeli Jews, acknowledges the most
powerful memory for Palestinians, namely, the dispossession of an entire
people. As the weaker party Palestinians must also face the fact that Is
raeli Jews see themselves as survivors of the Holocaust, even though tha
tragedy cannot be allowed to justify Palestinian dispossession. Perhaps
in today’s inflamed atmosphere of military occupation and injustice it is
perhaps too much to expect these acknowledgements and recognitions
to take place. But, as I have argued elsewhere, at some point they must
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