sábado, 22 de noviembre de 2008

The Decolonization of Jewish Cultural Identity in the Works of Marcos Aguinis

Palabras clave: Marcos Aguinis, judaísmo, novela argentina

Por Ignacio López-Calvo
Publicado en castellano en Revista Iberoamericana 66.191 (2000): 393-405

Marcos Aguinis’s works deal with the problems of oppression, identity, and cultural borders of the Jewish people. This is the case of his novels Refugiados (Refugees; 1969), La gesta del marrano (The Marrano’s Exploit; 1991), or La matriz del infierno (The Matrix of Hell; 1997), as well as his short stories “El profeta de Nínive” (“The Prophet from Ninive”) and “Capítulo excluido” (“Excluded Chapter”)[1] or his essays included in the collection El valor de escribir (The Value/Courage of Writing; 1985). While his oeuvre covers many other themes, this particular issue can be framed within the emergence of a Jewish-Argentinean literature that, as Lindstrom states, is encouraged by the efforts of the Delegation of Argentinean Israeli Associations: “With the emergence in the 1930s of fascism and renewed anti-Semitism, a number of Jewish leaders and intellectuals began to show a greater readiness to admit publicly that the Argentine Jewish community needed special care and advocacy beyond the general protection offered by the pluralism of the national melting pot” (22-23). In fact, Aguinis is one of these authors who openly admit their origin and concentrate on matters that are relevant to the Jewish people.[2]

In the aforementioned texts each historical moment, no matter how remote it might be, makes us question our present, a time that is still far from erasing the hate for the Other. While they problematize the territorial frontiers of Israel, the historic expulsions and persecutions or the closing of borders to refugees, they give even more emphasis to the cultural or mental boundaries of the Jewish people. Frequently, the characters’ identity stays hidden or alienated and, paradoxically, only persecution, suffering, or death unveil the roots and connections between the different Jewish individuals and communities. Despite the variety of time and space coordinates, as well as the diversity of issues in these accounts, there is such a coherence among them that the reader feels that she is always reading the same novel, which spreads through different historical periods: from the times of the Inquisition in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, through the Holocaust (or Shoah), the creation of the State of Israel, and the confrontations between Arabs and Israelis.

Antisemitism is, undoubtedly, one of the oldest and most durable prejudices suffered by humankind. Throughout this dramatic odyssey, Jewish people have created a sort of portable national home that is substantiated in their sacred book. Until the relatively recent creation of the state of Israel, the Jewish community—along with the Gypsy or Romany community—has been perceived as distinct not because of its national territorial borders, but due to its continuous Diaspora that ended up characterizing them as a people.
[3] Even though they can count on their own territory today, this view has not changed.

In Aguinis’s first novel Refugiados (1969), which was reedited in 1976 under the title Refugiados: crónica de un palestino (Refugees: Chronicle of a Palestinian), one can observe the separation and the creation of internal borders in the bosom of the Jewish community. According to the Palestinian refugee—who serves as a spokesman of the author in passages such as this one—there should be a dividing line between the Jews inside and outside of Israel:

I believe it is fair to differentiate the Jews in Israel from those who do not live in Israel. The first ones fought a war against us and expelled us from Palestine. It is true that Jews all over the world supported this action and rejoiced at their triumph over the Arab armies. But the usurpation was carried out by the Israeli Jews and they are the ones who should stanch our wounds. (Refugiados 29)

In this sense, reacting to that which the anonymous protagonist of Refugiados terms the “Zionist territorial usurpation” (38), another character, Doctor Freytag, tells him that his problems are mainly a mental condition. Then, he presents himself as an example: “—You are a refugee, just as I have been one and...” (67). When the protagonist shows his surprise about that use of the Present Perfect tense, Freytag foretells that after some time, he too will stop feeling like a refugee, and it will not be because of a homecoming. In Freytag’s opinion, one can feel at home and find his identity in the Diaspora, by means of the solidarity with those who are also suffering. Happiness can be attained—according to him—through compassion for the other and his consolation. Otherwise, the sentiment of uprootedness increases and the refugee runs the risk of becoming a hypochondriac, ailing from imaginary and incurable illnesses. Dr. Freytag does not even look forward to returning home, because that would provoke the expulsion of the families already established there, thus continuing the spiral perpetually. He also questions the protagonist’s use of the term “refugee from Palestine” when, in reality, most of them are still living in Palestine, although in a different area. In his opinion, Arab countries have used the Palestinian internal refugees as a political instrument against a country that was able to assimilate its own refugees: “Israel showed the world that refugees, far from being a burden, are a factor for progress. Thus, almost half a million displaced people have been absorbed, hence losing a valuable political instrument that Israel could have used now to neutralize the dishonest propaganda of the Arab governments” (Refugiados 148). Another character in the novel, Ignacio, questions the very essence of Arab nationalism: “To accept that the only effective binding factor of the Arab countries is their common hate against Israel is doubting the real possibility of such unity” (128). According to him, leadership in the Arab community comes from being more aggressive to Israel than the others. Ignacio proposes the annexation of six thousand kilometers of Palestinian territory by Jordan as a proof that there were very different interests from that of Arab fraternity. In his opinion, it was not the Arabs who wanted the war but their kings, and that is the reason why they lost it. Curiously, in that problematization of the nationalism of Jews as well as of Arabs, Aguinis seems to coincide with Edward Said (who used to be one of the spokesmen for Palestine’s self-determination and member of the Palestinian National Council) when he denounces: “in Post-colonial national states, the liabilities of such essences as the Celtic spirit, négritude, or Islam are clear: they have much to do not only with the native manipulators, who also use them to cover up contemporary faults, corruptions, tyrannies, but also with the embattled imperial contexts out of which they came and in which they were felt to be necessary” (16).

Returning to the novel, Dr. Freytag argues that, after the armistice, instead of accepting the defeat, “the desire to erase with blood the blood stain, keeps the Arab hate against Israel alive, which has already overwhelmed the economic interests and the political possibilities and has entered the field of obsessive, psycopathic fixations” (129). These comments coincide with Neil Lazarus’s idea of the reductionism of African anti-colonialist rhetoric:

It implied that there was only one struggle to be waged, and it was a negative one: a struggle against colonialism, not a struggle for anything specific [...] Their heavy emphasis on fraternalism blinded them to the fact that within the movement there were groups and individuals working with quite different, and often incompatible, aspirations for the future. (5)

In the heart of the novel, the love/hate relationship between the Israeli Myriam and the Palestinian symbolizes the Arab-Israeli conflict. Myriam is born in a ship of Jewish refugees in front of the coast of Palestine, and her life summarizes the epopee of her people, with their struggles and desperation. It emblematizes the protest against England’s ambiguous imperialist politics and the very limited number of immigration licenses to Palestine granted to the Jews. Myriam, however, is one of the most optimistic characters in the novel: her dream is seeing a Palestine state of Arab majority by an Israeli one of Jewish majority. In contrast, the protagonist is the standard-bearer of the Palestinian desire to turn back the hands of time, of the frustration of a people that have been exploited and deceived so many times. The transformation of the concept of Otherness in the Palestinians’ mind thanks to his conversations with Myriam, is presented as an optimistic omen for a future reconciliation between the two antagonist peoples.

Several critics have questioned the argumentation made in this text. While Martha Paley Francescato argues that the novel is “written from the point of view of the Palestine, and is an attempt to be on his side, show his emotion, loyalty and suffering” (21), Judith Morganroth believes that it appropriates the Palestinian discourse and is “an apologetics seeking to convince the Palestinian (and the reader) of Zionism’s definition as a movement of national liberation, of Israel’s right to exist, of the willingness of liberal Israelis to establish the solution proposed by Myriam” (140). Yet, in defense of the plot in Refugiados, Morganroth explains that it is the result of the application of the following psychoanalytic theory to social and political relations: “processes that define the self overlap with processes by which we project ourselves into images of the Other” (140). In fact, that seems to be Aguinis’s interpretation. The unveiling of hidden identities shows that a person’s motivation may sometimes have a questionable origin, such as the feeling of guilt caused by the disappointment with one’s father’s attitude. That is the case of the Arab character Omar Dakajni, whose choleric and fanatic behavior responds to the shame he feels for the anti-Nasserism and anti-belligerence advocated by his father at the end of his life. Likewise, Naomi Lindstrom states that this novel provides an articulated number of arguments for the defense of the existence of the state of Israel, at the same time that it sympathizes with the Palestinian cause (35).

Aguinis reexamines the Arab-Israeli dilemma in his essay The Jewish question from the Third World and also in his chapter “Arab fear and Jewish fear,” included in his collection of essays The value/courage of writing. In this last one, he attempts to reach the etiology of that mutual fear through a brief historical study of the oppression and frustration of both communities. The Arabs, oppressed and humiliated by the Tartars, Spanish, French, Turkish and British, choose the Jews as an escape goat for their frustration. The accumulated wrath throughout centuries of disaster is concentrated on Israel, the new enemy that threatens their land and culture. This minute adversary, however, manages to defeat them. Next, Aguinis compares the troubled histories of the Jewish and Arab peoples:
[5] the Jews were betrayed by the international community during the Holocaust and afterwards by the United Nations, that had promised the protection of Israel. Once again, however, they survive the Six-Day war, impelled by the fact that losing it would have brought their disappearance (The Value of Writing 110-5). We have another etiologic effort in the essay Un país de novela. Viaje a la mentalidad de los argentinos. (A Country for a Novel. Voyage towards the Mentality of the Argentines), where Aguinis states that the hate of difference and the desire to make the Other disappear are general traits of humankind, not only of a particular culture. It is, in his view, an outlet for self-hate. When it is not achieved, the condition of inferiority is accepted.

Following the path outlined by Las genealogías (The Genealogies; 1981), by Mexican Margo Glantz, A estranha nacão de Rafael Mendes (The Strange Nation of Rafael Mendes: 1983), by Brazilian Moacyr Scliar, and Mestizo (1988), by Argentinean Ricardo Feierstein, in another novel by Aguinis, La gesta del marrano, the protagonist recovers his lost memory and cultural identity, when his father reveals their Jewish origin to him. Leonardo Senkman has explained how until recently, the novels written by Jewish Latin American authors celebrated America as the land of the future, and dealt with present or future time, but rarely with the past. In contrast, one generation later, Jewish writers abandon those utopian dreams and focus on the tragic social reality of their countries (Senkman 33-34). Undoubtedly, Marcos Aguinis belongs to this new literary cycle, even though he prefers not to be catalogued under the label “New historical novel,” as he thinks that while this genre tends to violate historical data, he is usually very careful with it (Barnabe). In fact, Juan Torres-Pou does not include La gesta del marrano within the frame of the “New historical novel,”
[6] but because of a different reason: its monoglossia. As he elucidates, the new historical novel and the postmodern novel question “the ultimate meaning of every discourse,” while “any novel that uses an ideological discourse of the ethnic-nationalistic type and defines itself according to it, by its very essence, cannot use irony, question or doubt the ideological discourse that functions as its substratum” (40).

In La gesta del marrano, Francisco—an autobiographical protagonist
[7]—feels compelled to correct the betrayal committed by his father, who under the effects of the Inquisition’s torture,[8] denounced some fellow Jews, and was then “reconciled” and degraded by the sambenito. At least, the futile efforts made by the protagonist have a cathartic effect for his pride so many times humiliated. The action takes place during the tragic period of the Holy Office in the Iberian colonies. Francisco gains consciousness while listening to a debate between Diego López de Lisboa and José Ignacio Sevilla, in which they confess their fears and show their unhealed wounds: “They integrated a flaccid network of individuals in permanent flight. They had abject blood and they had to strive for obtaining men’s appreciation. It was not enough to seem Christian: they had to erase the impurities of their origin” (The Marrano’s 188). Francisco realizes, then, that there is a possibility that the religion of his people might not be the only cause of the persecutions; that it may have to do with their history: “We the Jews are the people of the Holy Scripts, of the Book. History is the book, written words. What a paradox!, isn’t it? No other people has cultivated history so much and, at the same time, is so obstinately punished for it” (The Marrano’s 330). Thus, the protagonist bases Jewish identity and the national home in the sacred text. The readings and analysis of the sacred text has been with them even in the worst moments, never abandoning them, and its presence has systematically saved them from disappearing as a culture. Although the interpretations may have been different, the mere presence of the text has served as a binding element that gives coherence to their tradition. Aware of this reality, the subjugating method used by the oppressor in the novel is annihilating the history, embodied in the Book. Christians try to erase Jewish history, as well as the indigenous one, their names, gods, and language. One of the characters, José Ignacio Sevilla, insists on the fact that one cannot erase memory at will, and that in the case that one could, he would run the risk of ceasing to be himself. In contrast, Diego López de Lisboa warns him that history is a useless burden that could mean death for a Jew. In reality, The Marrano’s Exploit is, besides a book of travels in the geographic sense (since the protagonist must flee from Ibatin to Cordoba, Lima and Santiago de Chile), the story of a travel from oblivion to memory. The protagonist’s life represents a song not only to the freedom of the Jewish people, but also of humankind—especially of marginalized groups—against religious obscurantism and totalitarianism. Throughout this voyage, Francisco progressively loses his innocence, and his personality is modeled by the image that society has of him and his religious group. Although Catholic institutions make him feel like an undesirable, he gains consciousness of the injustice suffered by his people, at the same time that the odyssey of his family and his Sephardic past opens before his eyes. The stories that he hears are his history and he learns to love it by contrasting two different perspectives: that of José Ignacio de Sevilla, who loves it with all its consequences, and that of Diego López de Lisboa, who has been forced to hate it, hence negating himself. Notwithstanding, he decides to go forward, though his common sense warns him that memory is a threat to his own life. In the first pages of the novel, the reader is warned of this danger: “His greatest pleasure—more than rest, more that interesting conversations—was to keep his memory fresh and exercising that of his children. The nursing of memory was not an innocent predilection and it was not free of risks” (The Marrano’s Exploit 19-20).

Francisco’s father, Diego Núñez da Silva, assures him that Judaism is much more than just a religion; it is something that possibly has to do with history or common destiny: ceasing to be a Jew is ceasing to be oneself. That is why—argues his father—Jews have been forced to pretend, to be fake, and to keep the appearances. Perhaps in this brief conversation, we can find the essence of the novel. Here the protagonist’s rebellion and his obstinate desire to take off his mask are born. Francisco realizes that obliging someone to forget his past is nothing but a canny and effective tactic of domination.

The characters in The Marrano’s Exploit characterize the Jewish people by their ability to retain historical information and to repeat in a specific moment. Yet, more than memory, what makes Francisco a unique character is not his retentive function, but his creative and imaginative capacity. Tired of storing and hiding information, he decides to utilize it to defend the freedom of his community, by sacrificing his welfare and that of his family. His creative imagination (which is born, precisely, from his remembrance of Christ’s deeds) makes him envision the future and allows him to create a liberation project. He soon stops being obsessed with the past and, after a learning period in the convent, opts for an active faith, thirsty for justice. He makes use of his mnemonic and mechanical education as a base to apprehend the sense of the abstract structure of his society. In contrast, other characters, such as Diego López de Lisboa, surrender and, instead of fighting for their freedom of conscience, they choose to forget in order to safeguard their own survival. López tries by all means to bury in his subconscious his ancestors’ teachings, as well as the injustice suffered by his people. Yet, following Freud’s theories,
[9] the total disappearance of all the remembrance is not possible. The forgetfulness motivated by repression becomes the base for the neurotic behavior typical of characters such as El Burguense who, obsessed with hiding his Hebrew heritage, turns into a fundamentalist Christian. This historical character, who shows the mysterious ramifications of oppressive power, chooses exactly the opposite way from the protagonist. He writes Scrutinio Scripturarum, a manual dedicated to debate the Jewish arguments, in which he puts his knowledge of Jewish religion at the service of Christianity. The narrative voice mentions other Jews who become Dominican monks, the closest order to the Inquisition, and even became bishops. The omnipresent fear that inundates the Jewish community makes them fluctuate from solidarity to coreligionist hate and self-hatred.[10] In this context, Francisco whips himself in his youth and despises himself for being Jewish. Through the years, however, his moral conscience and his sense of responsibility toward his community solidify, at the same time that he begins to unmask the manipulation that they have suffered. His people cannot be free because of their fear of punishment. Only once that Francisco manages to overcome his fear of reprisals, he is able to fight against his two greatest enemies: his people’s lack of religious freedom and his own fear. Progressively, he learns to conquer his inner freedom, which validates his struggle despite the fact that he never succeeds in obtaining his external liberty. In fact, his search for harmony and self-realization is not completed until the moment in which he is burnt by the Inquisition. Along with the sadness of the unfair end to the protagonist’s heroic deeds, the reader feels that his untiring motivation to carry out his ideals somehow obtains a reward. Francisco wants to be a martyr of the Jewish religion and therefore, his death in the bonfire is an experience of pain and pleasure at the same time. His education in the convent has allowed him to know the “benefits” of self-flagellation, the cilice, and other methods of self-punishment as a purification way. Physical and psychic pain will be the corrective that channels his efforts toward the salvation of his soul. At the same time, his long run to martyrdom gives him some incentives or stimuli, such as the special hearings granted to him by the learned clergymen of the Inquisition, which represent themselves a sign of perplexity and concern by his antagonists. Each act of defiance and insolence against the ecclesiastic hierarchy washes a portion of the stain inherited from the denunciations made by his father.

By the same token, Aguinis’s The Matrix of Hell deals with the Holocaust, an event even more traumatic for the Jewish people than the successive expulsions or the establishment of the state of Israel. Here, the idyllic image of Argentina as the promised land for the European Jews as presented in the previous novels by Jewish Argentinean authors such as The Jewish gauchos of the Pampas (Los gauchos judíos), by Alberto Gerchunoff, is fulminated by presenting the violent antisemitism that contaminates the society. One of the protagonists is Rolf Keiper, an Argentinean adolescent whose impressionable personality has been deformed by his instructor Hans Sehnberg and captain Botzen. Those two characters, obsessed with justifying German supremacy and antisemitism, turn Rolf into a psychopath. His blind faith in authority and his devout discipline lead him to become a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguards and to deeply despise human life.
[11] Besides the sinister influence of Sehnberg and Botzen, the psychological degeneration suffered by Rolf Keiper has its origins in the painful evocation of childhood images. After the remembrance of the humiliation inflicted by Captain Julius Botzen to his father, Ferdinand, he comments: “The terribly cruel big man who would hit his wife and children had become a dirty baby” (The matrix 14). Later, when Botzen fired Ferdinand, Rolf had to see how his father, armed with a knife, tried to rape his own wife. Rolf also seems dismayed because he was present when four soldiers raped his mother. Like the characters in The Marrano’s Exploit, Rolf represses his feelings. He is not able to face those childhood stigmas and consequently, he continues the cycle of abuses and raping, until he impregnates Edith Eisenbach, a young woman whose father is Jewish. The contradictions seen in the romantic affair between Myriam and the Palestinian protagonist of the novel Refugees, here become even more twisted with the attraction mixed with hate that Rolf feels toward Edith in The Matrix of Hell. But Rolf is not the only one who threatens Edith’s life. Her boyfriend Alberto’s mother, manipulated by her confessor’s antisemitism, attempts to assassinate her by making her ride a dangerous horse. The origin of Rolf’s pathological behavior is in the social and historical context in which his personality develops. We see his tragic flaw when Captain Botzen asks him whether he would like to join a group of men loyal to the Kaiser, decided to fight for the return of monarchy. From this moment on, his personality corrupts progressively: he kills a man because he does not salute him the Nazi way, he furiously strikes a mental patient, rapes, and finally becomes a malleable psychopath.[12] When his two superiors, Sehnberg and Botzen disappoint him, he feels betrayed and murders them. In short, corrupt social structures have trapped and perverted him to the point of alienating his personality.

Yet in the midst of this depressing atmosphere, nazi antisemitism indirectly contributes to eliminate the differences that were causing the confrontations between German Jews and the Russian and Polish ostjuden. In other cases, it propitiates the recuperation of the lost cultural identity by some characters. Edith Eisenbach’s father, Alexander, had stayed voluntarily alienated from his Jewish identity, thinking that it was impossible for the Nazis to reach power: “The Nazis are gangs of delinquents that will be suffocated by the rest of the population. The people will get tired of them; they are brutes, ignorant and strange to our culture” (The Matrix 134). Only once he is attacked because of his origin does he decide to identify with his people and become an activist, despite the opposition of his wife Cósima. Alexander’s blindness motivates the reader to consider the possibility that the tragedy might happen again.

On the other hand, the novel extends the responsibility of the Nazi genocide to countries such as the United States, France, and Poland, that offered and indirect backing to Hitler by not stopping him in time and by closing their frontiers to Jewish refugees. The novel also criticizes the antisemitism of the Argentinean church and the passivity of the Vatican that, except in isolated cases, opted for assuring its own survival instead of confronting the genocide.
[13] Moreover, it is suggested that the Church benefited from Nazism as “in the country there was a rebirth of the faith under the protection of authoritarianism” (The Matrix 187-88). Later, Marcos Aguinis lends his own opinion to a character in the novel, Bishop Preysing, who admits the Church’s errors:

The Nazis have the hideous merit of being sincere about it. Do you know what I’m talking about, Edith? They say without euphemisms, in a brutal way, that which our preaching was indirectly proposing: making them disappear. We did it through baptisms and expulsions, the Nazis through terror. (The Matrix 443-4)

Along these lines, in The Marrano’s Exploit Diego Maldonado da Silva coincides with the character in The Matrix of Hell, when he explains to his son: “The essence of the conflict is not a religious one. They are not looking forward to our conversion. No. That would be easy. They have already converted entire Jewish communities. The truth, Diego, is that they fight for our disappearance. They want it willy-nilly” (The Marrano’s 49). In a previous novel, The Inverted Cross,
[14] Aguinis contrasted the solidarity of the priests close to Liberation Theology, to that of the institutional Catholic Church, which appeared to be out of touch with the people and allied to the repressive power. Despite the conciliatory tone, in The Matrix of Hell, published twenty-seven years later, the criticism to the Church becomes even tougher. Their indolence with respect to social problems is symbolically represented by the description of the pompous coronation of Pious XII and by the enthusiasm with which the anti-Semitic priest Antonio Ferlic awaits the arrival of the International Eucharistic Conference that, according to him, will improve the image of the local Church and of the Government. Despite the fact the several clergymen were taken to concentration camps because of the subversiveness of their sermons, the Argentinean Church in the novel receives the Nazi ambassador with honors. Only some young priests and some lay people, such as Edith and Margarete Sommer, present some resistance. The Vatican limits itself to dictate shy protests that lack the necessary strength to exert its powerful influence.

The quest in the novel is not limited to the hidden truth in the past, but also—and mainly—to the truth in the present time. Its originality is not to demonstrate that history is written by the winners, or that discourse is an ally of power, but to propose the self-knowledge through historical reflection. The lack of neutrality of the historical discourse is secondary to the lack of objectivity with which we judge our own mentality. As Julia Kristeva argues in her book Strangers to Ourselves (1991), “we shall never be able to live at peace with the strangers around us if we are unable to tolerate the otherness in ourselves” (191). The other, the foreigner inhabits inside our own mind. Kristeva’s text offers a solution to Rolf’s trauma, a psychological explanation to the mixture of attraction and rejection that he feels toward Edith: “By recognicing our uncanny strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy it from the outside. The foreign is within me, hence we are all foreigners” (Strangers 192). Marcos Aguinis presents a similar view when he states in “Myth and counter-myth of the Jew,” included in The Value/Courage of Writing: “the anti-Semite ceases to hate the Jew to the extent that the manages to harmonize parts of himself that horrify him. Only when he attains peace with his own being does he stop needing the victim to unload his intense production of poison” (103).

Returning to his fiction, the novel develops the theories presented in the chapter “Never-ending inquiry” (Indagación interminable; The Value/Courage of Writing), where Aguinis analyzes the image of the mythical Jew in world literature. Alongside with the persistent myth created and maintained by powerful sectors, appears the counter-myth that, in its impetus to enlightening humankind about the values of the Jews and Judaism, ends up being counterproductive: “In its zeal to answer, to stop, to counterattack, is crippled by the same defects than the myth: simplification, sketching, Manichaeism. Before the Jew was evil, now he is good; before he was the devil, now the cherub” (The Value of Writing 102). For this reason, in The Matrix of Hell Aguinis makes sure to emphasize the internal tensions between German Jews and Russian and Polish ostjuden; Alexander Eisenbach himself used to make fun of the last ones, and stated that “altogether the Jews are neither so meritorious nor so saint” (The Matrix 171). Despite the fact that the action takes place in the 1930s, The Matrix of Hell is a novel projected to the future and has a prophetic intention. The development of historical events constitutes the radiography of an era that still affects our historical present, and must lead us to the deconstruction of our own psychology and everyday attitude. The text shows us that the regular man carries in his entrails the seed of oppressive tyranny, and he demonstrates it with his everyday behavior.

Judging by the aforementioned texts, the absence of a national territory and the expulsions suffered by the Jews throughout their history, far from eclipsing the affirmation of their identity as a people, seem to have reinforced their creativity and their cultural vitality. The Diaspora becomes in a way of life and inspiration, which does not mean at all that the Jew is a stateless and uprooted human being. Thus, in the short story “The prophet from Nínive” Aguinis problematizes this ancestral prejudice, which is belied in the rest of his oeuvre. Jews were deeply rooted to the land of Israel, to Spain in the times of the expulsion of the Sephardim, and to all the countries from where they were expelled, including Germany. Somehow, the premises of Aguinis’s text coincide with Shreiber when she affirms that is possible “to hear not the lament of perpetual exile but an active claim for a diasporic version of home and of identity” (274). The perpetual movement of the Jewish community throughout history has conceded its people with a wandering concept of national home. As has been demonstrated, another essential point in Aguinis’s works is the conception of History as an ambivalent element. It is the great source of problems for the Jews but, at the same time, it can be an asset for their survival. Tired of being discriminated for their cultural heritage and believes, some individuals decide to voluntarily forget, to the point of self-hate; others, in contrast, cling to their memories and use them for their liberation, which ends up creating internal divisions. Then, how can the differences in the bosom of the cultural identity be negotiated? Homi K. Bhabha wonders the same thing in the introduction to his book The Location of Culture (1994):

It is in the emergence of the interstices—the overlap and displacement of domains of difference—that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated. How are subjects formed ‘in-between,’ or in excess of, the sum of the ‘parts’ of difference (usually intoned as race/class/gender, etc.)? How do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claim of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual and even incommensurable? (2)

The answer offered by Marcos Aguinis’s works for the Jewish case is that throughout its history, the Hebrew community has managed to overcome the internal difficulties of its national and cultural identity when it has been required by adversity. That is, these works, rather than explaining how to overcome such differences, point out the situations in which they usually are overcome. When Jewish identity runs the risk of disappearing due to repression or genocide, the Jewish mind is decolonized and the social cohesion among its individuals is strengthened and made visible. In that moment, it stops making sense to talk about imaginary constructions of identity or about imaginary lands.

Cited Works

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- - -. La conspiración de los idiotas. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1978.
- - -. La cruz invertida. Barcelona: Planeta, 1970.
- - -. La cuestión judía vista desde el Tercer Mundo. Río Cuarto, Argentina: Librería Superior Editora, 1974.
- - -. La gesta del marrano. Barcelona: Planeta, 1992.
- - -. Y la rama llena de frutos. Todos los cuentos. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana-Planeta, 1986.
- - -. La matriz del infierno. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1997.
- - -. Refugiados. Buenos Aires: Losada, 1969.
- - -. El valor de escribir. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana-Planeta, 1985.
- - -. Un país de novela. Viaje hacia la mentalidad de los argentinos. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1988.
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- - -. Nuevos diálogos. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1998.
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Gutiérrez, Gustavo. Teología de la liberación. Perspectivas. Salamanca: Sígueme, 1972.
Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. Trad. Leon S. Rondiez. New York: Columbia U. P., 1991.
Lazarus, Neil. Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
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[1] Included in the collection Y la rama llena de frutos. Todos los cuentos (And the Branch Full of Fruits. All the Short Stories; 1986).
[2] Among many other Jewish Argentinean authors, we can include Marcos Ricardo Barnatán, Isidoro Blaisten, Aída Bortnik, Antonio Elio Brailovsky, Humberto Costantini, Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, Samuel Eichelbaum, Ricardo Feierstein, Manuela Fingueret, Luisa Futoransky, Alberto Gerchunoff, Nora Glickman, Gerardo Mario Goloboff, Jorge Goldenberg, Daniel Gutman, José Isaacson, Bernardo Kordon, José Luis Najenson, Pedro Orgambide, Samuel Pecar, Alejandra Pizarnik, José Rabinovich, Andrés Rivera, Germán Rozenmacher, Hebe Serebrisky, Ana María Shua, Alicia Steimberg, Mario Szichman, César Tiempo (Israel Zeitlin), Jacobo Timerman, Eliahu Toker, David Viñas y Bernardo Verbitsky. For a larger selection see Ana E. Weinstein's and Miryam E. Gover de Nasatsky’s Escritores judeo-argentinos. Bibliografía 1900-1987 (Buenos Aires: Milá, 1994) or Saúl Sosnowski’s article “Contemporary Jewish-Argentine Writers: Tradition and Politics” Echad: an Anthology of Latin American Jewish Writings (Roberta Kalechofscky y Robert Kalechofscky, eds. Marblehead, Massachussetts: Micah, 1980. 16-29).
[3] In this context, Ricardo Feierstein states: “We will not escape the anathema of errantry; the inner exile that we have under our skin has always been with us. The peregrination towards the origins and genealogies meets inevitably, at some moment, in Jerusalem” (Pluralismo 238). Similarly, Mexican author Margo Glantz affirms: “The feeling of exile, which is typical of the Jew, has followed me just the same—whether it is an exile from God, from the Promised Land of from oneself—as was the case with Walter Benjamin” (Tradition 19).
[4] Lindstrom argues that Aguinis’s effort “is not only about conflicts in the Middle East, however. It is also about how to sustain an Argentine position that might be considered Jewish or pro-Jewish in a political culture grown hostile to such an outlook. Aguinis was concerned that intimidation might prevent Jewish Argentines, and others who might support Israel’s right to exist, from stating their views” (35).
[5] In The Marrano’s Exploit and “Excluded Chapter,” the last short story in the collection And the branch full of fruits. All the short stories (1986), the suffering of the Jewish people is intertwined with that of the Black and indigenous peoples.
[6] As Seymour Menton defines the new historical novel in his study Latin America’s New Historical Novel. 1949-1979.
[7] Francisco is a Jewish character who studies medicine in Lima and who uses his deep knowledge of the Catholic faith and the Bible to point out the contradictions in the attitude of the ecclesiastic hierarchy. It would be difficult not to compare him with Marcos Aguinis, the neurosurgeon author of The Inverted Cross, and debater with Monsignor Justo Laguna in Dialogues about Argentina and the End of the Milennium and New Dialogues.
[8] The article “witch hunting,” included in his collection The value of writing, has connections to The Marrano’s Exploit, especially when he affirms that today’s torturer is born from the inquisitorial executioner. In both historical periods there is a similar motivation:: “The hunt is not only designed to kill witches, but also to impose the profound conviction that they exist, and that they are responsible for all the misfortunes. Finding and burning them calms down and gives an additional benefit: convincing that the repressive apparatus is more necessary than ever before” (The value 132). The need to create fictional enemies, characteristic of the paranoid protagonist Natalio Comte, is precisely the axle of the grotesque plot of The Conspiration of the Idiots.
[9] Aguinis is a medical doctor and a surgeon, specialized first in neurosurgery and then in psychoanalysis.
[10] As we can see in Aguinis’s short story “Consortium in the Tempest,” included in And the branch full of fruits. All the short stories, fear leads society into an inevitable lack of solidarity.
[11] His attitude is reminiscent of the protagonist of Robert Merle’s novel La mort est mon métier (Death is my Job).
[12] In his essay Hopeful Letter to a General, Aguinis explains that the authoritarian person needs to control, exteriorize his suffering on the other, submitting him: “he persecutes eternally and uselessly, with the aim of killing outside the Satan that inhabits his entrails” (110).
[13] In his book A Theology of Liberation Gustavo Guitiérrez protests: “Can it honestly be said that the Church does not interfere in ‘the temporal sphere’? Is the Church fulfilling a purely religious role when by its silence or friendly relationships it lends legitimacy to a dictatorial and oppressive government?” (65).
[14] In 1970 The Inverted Cross was the first Latin American novel to be receive the prestigious Planeta Award in Spain.

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