Between Disorder

21.05.2010


Balagan.

You can now view or download the conference paper that I presented at the University of Coimbra on 7 May here (in Portuguese). The following is the abstract of the paper that I read at the 1st Spring Colloquium, a multi-disciplinary event organised by the Centre of Portuguese Literature (CLP) in association with Minho University and the University of Santiago de Compostela. It is titled “Entre a Desordem: Balagan como Mapa Intersticial de Identidades e Histórias” (“Between Disorder: Balagan as Interstitial Map of Identities and Histories”, in English).

Acre is a city in the coast of Israel. Between 1993 and 1996, the Acre Theatre Centre, which gathers Jews and Arabs, performed Arbeit Macht Frei fun Toidtland Europa, a controversial play where the past was enacted as a present that revealed the marks of memory. The controversy was due not only to the thematic strings that the performance interwove—the Nazi regime, Israel, Palestine, the Holocaust, the concepts of occupation and aggression—but also to the grotesque and confrontational scenes of the performance.

Two documentaries were made about the play: the video Al Tigu Le B’Shoah (Don’t Touch My Holocaust, 1994) and the film Balagan (1993). This paper focuses on the second. In Balagan, which means mess, other contexts where the play was presented are absent and only the original context is shown. Through the interplay of different elements, the film reveals interstices, that is, spaces in between actions, words, persons, and viewpoints. The play and the film are a product of the second generation of Arabs, Jews, Germans, after World War II, and follow a “recent tendency to privatize and ethnicize the memory of the Holocaust”.[1] The documentary centres around a place and around people, people who look for and negotiate a place, people who come together and come apart in a place. It can be seen as an interstitial map of identities and histories.

The singularity of Balagan lies in this intersection that shows the Holocaust as an event of rupture that is neither fundamentally public nor exclusively Jewish—relation substitutes opposition, between what is private and what is public, Jewish and non-Jewish. To demonstrate how the film examines these intervallic spaces, it is productive to analyse its conflicting and unsettling elements that build a dialectic relationship, a dialogue, between four levels: performances, statements, lives, and gazes. The plurals of these four strata reflect the plural portrait of this documentary work.

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[1] Yosefa Loshitzky, “Hybrid Victims: Second Generation Israelis Screen the Holocaust”, in Visual Culture and the Holocaust, ed. Barbie Zelizer (London: Athlone, 2001), p. 156.