Jana Vella


From Anti-Historicity to Historicity: How Sergio Atzeni and Almog Behar Shift the Modern ‘Presentist’ Gaze Back to the Past

History is a discipline that has been subject for debate since its professionalization in the nineteenth century. As Michel Rolph Trouillot explains in Silencing the Past, Power and the Production of History, some of the first discussions it sparked revolved around whether it could claim scientific status or not and later its dichotomous nature, that is the discrepancy between real events and their representation, was brought to the forefront.[1] Towards the second half of the twentieth century, the focus shifted from this dichotomy to another issue: the steady fading away of historical sensitivity in all aspects of life, including the arts and literature. The concern for this declining interest in history is first voiced by historians themselves. In 1970, for instance, David Hackett Fischer writes: ‘many of our contemporaries are extraordinarily reluctant to acknowledge the reality of past time and prior events, and [are] stubbornly resistant to all arguments for the possibility or utility of historical knowledge’.[2]

With the publication of Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, the issue takes on a larger political dimension, as he argues that anti-historicity in postmodernity results from the advent of the third stage of capitalism, that is, the spread of capitalism in all areas of life.[3] Jameson remains consistent in his claims on the matter and solidly defends his position in all his later works.[4] However, it would be a mistake to think that his claims do not go unquestioned, with scholars, such as Linda Hutcheon and Michel Rolph Trouillot, taking the opposing side. In A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, Hutcheon suggests that anti-historicity is a quality of modern rather than postmodern literature and in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Trouillot passionately argues that he finds it difficult to ‘harness respect’ for those who believe that postmodernity ‘allows us to claim no roots’.[5] Furthermore, he adds that he is suspicious of the motives behind such arguments and writes: ‘We are never as steeped in history as when we pretend not to be’.[6]

This research treads a path that starts from Jameson’s anti-historicist claims and leads to the analysis of Bakunin’s Son, by Sergio Atzeni, and ‘Ana min al yahud’ (I am one of the Jews) by Almog Behar, whose engagement with history proves that historical thought is still possible in postmodernity.[7] The first section of this essay considers the question of historicity in the light of Jameson’s arguments on the matter, in order to show the crisis that history is facing in this age of late capitalism. The research will then move on to a close reading of the texts by Atzeni and Behar, relying mostly on Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting.[8] This is done in order to prove that historical engagement is still possible, and to identify four ways through which history operates in these texts, namely individual will, agency of the past, memory and testimony. The final part of the research draws from Jameson and Trouillot as it seeks to explain why preserving a historical sense is essential to the well-being of the individual, and consequently, of society as a whole.

Frederic Jameson and Historicity

In the preface to Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Frederic Jameson argues that postmodernity is ‘an age that has forgotten how to think historically’.[9] A decade later, in A Singular Modernity: an Ontology of the Present, he reasserts the same point, claiming that ‘it is best to accustom oneself to thinking of ‘the modern’ as a one-dimensional concept […] which has nothing of historicity or futurity about it’.[10] Again, when in a 2016 interview he is asked whether he has changed his outlook on what defines our age, he replies that what has remained is a strong belief in the ‘presentism’ of the times which haunts all areas of cultural production and of politics.[11] This, he explains, is coherent with his previous writings about ‘the disappearance of history [and] of historicity’.[12] The consistent nature of Jameson’s arguments throughout the years makes it so that one can discuss his analysis of anti-historicism without risking being out of time. It does not make much difference in this context whether one believes we are still in the postmodern age, or in a post-postmodern one, or in a completely different era.

Upon delving deeper into his work, it is apparent that Jameson’s concern is not that history has disappeared from modern times, but rather that the nature of man’s relationship with history has changed. Jameson writes:

[At] the very moment in which we complain, as here, of the eclipse of historicity, we also universally diagnose contemporary culture as irredeemably historicist, in the bad sense of an omnipresent and indiscriminate appetite for dead styles and fashions; indeed, for all the styles and fashions of a dead past.[13]

According to Jameson, history is still present but has been downgraded from a concept which used to envelope all human activity to a shallow show of nostalgia.[14] He compares the attempt of modern artists to connect with history to the struggle of the man in Plato’s cave, who does not realise he is only seeing shadows on the walls of the cave, and not the real thing.[15] History is reduced to a series of ‘pop images and stereotypes about the past, which itself remains forever out of reach’.[16]

Another facet of this lack of historicity is the difficulty of conceiving of the present era as an age in history. Jameson explains that this is perhaps the most important aspect of historicity: that of society’s ability to detach itself from the present and of looking at it critically as an age that is part of a larger history.[17] This level of abstraction is essential if one is to judge the conduct of humanity in relation to the past and to an imagined future. In fact, in A Singular Modernity, Jameson states that history contains within itself both past and future ‘dimensions’, which means that a lack of historicity is automatically also a lack of futurity.[18] Jameson comments that it is difficult for the present to see itself as following a ‘past’ because of the way modern media operates. Retaining the past becomes increasingly harder in an age where news bulletins flood our homes with different news each day, relegating into a distant past what might have happened only a few days before and thus leading to this ‘historical amnesia’.[19] Jameson’s point perfectly represents current affairs, where the memory of one protest is fast replaced by that of another, and where what holds the attention of the public is volatile. That is why social change is increasingly difficult, and why Jameson refers to the ‘persistence of the Same through absolute Difference’.[20] Although things seem to change, all that really happens is a sort of recycling whereby the system remains untouched, and what is altered are the superficial nuances of everyday life: a new fashion, a new technological gadget, a new tourist destination.

Despite the bleakness that this vision suggests, not all is forsaken. In an interview called ‘Revisiting Postmodernism’, Jameson claims that he sees a ray of hope emanating from the non-Western world (and one cannot but think back of T.S. Eliot’s conclusion to ‘The Waste Land’, where the rain of life is seen approaching from the East).[21] Presumably, what the non-Western world has to offer is an economic system that is not yet in the third stage of capitalism, meaning that its relationship to history can still be genuine. Where is this non-West then, and what are its exponents?

There are no definite answers, and for all we know, this ‘non-West’ might as well be in the West itself. It is difficult to generalise on such a large scale, and Jameson himself does not exclude the possibility.[22] However, one example of a possible non-West could be certain areas of the Mediterranean region, where capitalistic commodification has not yet taken over every aspect of life, and where ties with a distant and not so distant past are still strong. Two such regions are Sardinia and Israel, the first being the country of origin of Sergio Atzeni and the second that of Almog Behar. Both authors engage with history on a deep level, proving that true historicity is still present in contemporary times. The following sections are meant to explore the relationship between these pieces of literature and historicity and to emphasize the challenges that historical recollection faces in terms of socio-politics and the gaps in human memory. The analysis seeks to identify four main processes through which history operates in these literary texts, namely: ‘individual will’, ‘agency of the past’, ‘memory’ and ‘testimony’.

Individual Will 

So far this essay has dealt with Jameson’s claims that postmodernity is anti-historicist and has endorsed most points that were brought up. However, there is one important subject that has not been breached, namely that what really makes an age is its people. Although the individual’s actions are of course limited by the social system one finds themself in, there is still some freedom at the level of thought, which must be taken into consideration when talking about the relationship between modern man and history.

To embrace the argument in all its possibilities, one should therefore not only speak about the anti-historicity supported by society’s power system but also about the counterforce provided by the agency of individual will. The individual, according to David Carr, has the inherent ability to connect to the past a priori, no matter what social context they find themselves in, no matter what education they receive.[23] In Time, Narrative and History, he states:

[…] in a naive and prescientific way the historical past is there for all of us, […] it figures in our ordinary view of things, whether we are historians or not. We have what the phenomenologists call a nonthematic or pre-thematic awareness of the historical past which functions as background for our present experience, or our experience of the present.[24]

It would be a mistake to overlook this point, especially since it is of great importance to the way historical reconstruction occurs in Bakunin’s Son and ‘Ana min al yahud’. In both instances it is one individual out of a larger community of people that has an encounter with history, although the circumstances in which this happens vary greatly between the two.

In Bakunin’s Son, it is the narrator who actively goes in search of the past. The novel follows his feat to recover memories of Tullio Saba from the people of Guspini. This effort leads to the preservation-in-writing of a life that would otherwise have been forgotten. The motive behind this search is unclear and his fascination with the past seems to be stemming from an innate call rather than anything else. In fact, it is only in the very last interview that the narrator is told that Tullio is his biological father, meaning that the whole enterprise stemmed from something much larger than a search for one’s roots. Even the mother is surprised at his hunger for the past, when she says: ‘Do you want me to tell you his story? How we met? You’re curious about [me]… your father was never this curious’.[25] 

In ‘Ana min al yahud’, individual will has a slightly different role since the narrator initially has no conscious role in the revival of the past. On the contrary, it is the past that comes to him in a surrealistic scenario wherein his grandfather’s Arabic accent gets stuck in his throat (something which will be discussed in more detail further on). Despite the fact that in the beginning the past takes on a life of its own and manipulates the actions of the narrator, towards the middle of the story there is a shift in the dynamics between the two. The reader sees the narrator become more assertive as he reveals to his romantic partner that he has ‘started to write [his] stories in Arabic letters’.[26] The narrator revels at the thought of the shock of ‘the important departments’ at his transgression, and is pleased when he hears that others, like him, are engaging with the past.[27] Later on he falls into a silence of protest, which is also freely willed. Towards the end, the narrator takes on a larger role in the revival of the past, showing his stories to his parents, and revealing to them that what they think is merely history is what actually shapes their present:

Take them, read my story, Mother Father, read all my stories that I have hidden from you for many years, you too are the same exile, the same silence, the same alienation between heart and body and between thought and speech, perhaps you will know how the plot will be resolved. […] And my parents did not know that I had returned to their heart, they did not know, and they did not know that all of their fears had returned to me, they did not know.[28]

These texts also explore how the connection of individuals with the past is often seen as subversive, due to history’s implications for the present: political or otherwise. For this reason, the individual that tries to reconnect with history faces multiple challenges. Trouillot tells us, in fact, that historians rarely get involved in weighty issues, partly because of the ‘guild’s traditional attachment to the fixity of pastness’, but partly, I suspect, since that is the surest way to avoid backlash.[29] He says: ‘academic historians tend to keep as far away as possible from the historical controversies that most move the public of the day’.[30] The reluctance of historians to engage with the past in important matters means there is even more responsibility on the shoulders of the individual to make sure history lives on.

This ‘backlash’ is featured in both literary texts to different extents, mostly because the memories they uncover weigh differently on the political scale. In the case of Bakunin’s Son, his search for the past rattles a few individuals who had personal clashes with Tullio Saba, and who wanted to leave things buried as they were. One such instance is the interview with the ex-director of the coal mine where Tullio worked. His wife, Edvige Zuddas had slept with Tullio the day before they got married. When he is asked about him, the director angrily retorts: ‘That Communist? They talked about him too much while he was alive, and now you want to dig him up? Forget it, get out of here!’[31] In other cases, the stakes are higher as the fifteenth interview shows. To the fifteenth interviewee, a self-proclaimed ex-Fascist, it is important that Tullio Saba is remembered as anti-Italian due to his communist sympathies. He says: ‘[…] in those years in Italy, apart from a few shitheads, we were all Fascists, and we did just fine. The war was a lurid infiltration of Americans […] and Italian traitors like Saba’.[32] In this case what is at stake is the representation of Italy during the second World War, and therefore the hostility of the interviewee is greater. By saying that everyone was a fascist and that communists at the time were traitors he absolves himself from all guilt, claiming, as it were, that there was no choice but to be a fascist, when in reality there was, and Tullio was proof of it. His anger turns threatening as he exclaims:

[…] why do you want to dig up that man’s past? Wouldn’t it be better to leave it buried? You know what happens when you stir up shit? I think you do, you seem intelligent enough. […] leave out the garbage, especially when it comes to Tullio Saba, who was nothing but an ignorant slob. [33]

Nonetheless the stakes are not as high as those for the narrator in ‘Ana min al yahud’, whose engagement with history risks to ignite a revolution. The return of the narrator’s grandfather’s accent is particularly problematic in the social context of Israel due to the ethnic tensions that exist between Ashkenazim Jews (descendants of Jews from Germany and Northern France) and the Mizrahi (descendants of Jews from Iraq, Iran and Yemen).[34] In an article entitled ‘Paradoxes of Jewish and Muslim Identities in Israeli Short Stories’, Ranen Omer-Sherman explains that there is an effort from the part of the government ‘to undermine the prospects for healthy civic attitudes toward Israel’s multicultural complexity’ by discriminating against the Mizrahi, or Arab heritage in general.[35] This explains why the return of Grandfather Anwar’s Arabic accent is incendiary in the eyes of the authorities: it disrupts the dream of homogeneity. Furthermore, the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis (who are both vying for the same land) adds to the tension of the narrator, whose Arab accent makes him suspicious in the eyes of Israeli officers wary of Palestinian activists.[36]

This explains why the narrator suddenly becomes targeted by the police after gaining the accent of Grandfather Anwar. Initially they start stopping him in the street, asking him for identification, and later they start arresting and inspecting him. The inspections, which are prompted due to his Arab heritage rather than any misdemeanour take on a frightening materiality, as the police are described as if they were physically probing his body in search of the ‘Arabness’ inside him:

And then they’d check me slowly, rummaging in my clothes, going over my body with metal detectors, stripping me of words and thoughts in their thorough silence, searching deep in the layers of my skin for a grudge, seeking an explosive belt, an explosive belt in my heart, eager to defuse any suspicious objects.[37]

His family also doesn’t support him, with his mother and father standing ‘staunchly against [him]’ and hinting ‘strongly to [him] to cease and desist’.[38] In the end they forsake him completely, his father claiming ‘this is not our son’, while his Mother says ‘this is not the beard we have raised’.[39] The use of metonymy in the latter statement is absurd, and almost encompasses the meaning of the whole story. Just as a beard does not say anything about the soundness of a person, neither does a race, an accent, or an ethnicity.

The Agency of the Past

The second way in which history features in these novels is through the agency of the past. In both texts (although once again, to different extents), the past is presented as having a will of its own, independent of the people who are engaging with it. It is important to note here that although the irrepressibility of the experienced past is widely accepted and was also theorised by Freud, the return of an unexperienced past, as in the case of Behar’s narrator, is slightly more uncanny. Vladimir Jankélévitch makes a striking observation about the persistent presence of the past that is worth quoting. He writes, ‘he who has been, from then on cannot not have been: henceforth this mysterious and profoundly obscure fact of having been is his viaticum for all eternity.[40] This is the case for both Tullio and Grandfather Anwar, whose death does not keep them from having once existed, and from having left their mark. In fact, not only do they leave a trace, but they are the ones who seemingly initiate engagement with the present by willing the narrators to connect with them. In the case of Bakunin’s Son, for instance, it all starts when Tullio appears in a dream to the narrator’s mother and is grieved that ‘everyone’s forgotten [him]’.[41] Significantly, she wonders why it is that this ‘something’ has ‘return[ed] from the past’ out of its own volition, and wonders whether it is a bad or a good omen.[42]

In ‘Ana min al yahud’ the will of the past is accentuated even more in a magic-surrealist twist wherein the accent of grandfather Anwar (whom the narrator has never met before), suddenly gets stuck ‘in [his] mouth, deep down in [his] throat’.[43] No matter how much he fights against this return of the past, there is nothing the narrator can do to extricate himself from it, so much so that it is presented as a sort of possession. This possession spreads over more people, until the authorities start referring to it as a ‘plague’ from a ‘dybbuk’.[44] This is interesting as it enforces the interpretation of the past as having a life of its own, since in Jewish tradition a ‘dybbuk’ is the soul of a dead man which returns to possess a living body.[45]

Part of the surrealism of the story stems from the way the past is given material presence. Grandfather Anwar’s Arabic accent is not only remembered figuratively, but it literally takes over the speech of the narrator. Furthermore, this spirit from the past is given an almost paranormal power, as it deviously makes the narrator displace his identity card, his driving license, and his military papers, all of which would prove to the police that he is ‘one of the Jews’.[46] The grudge that the spirit has against these papers is presumably the fact that all of them serve as a denial of the narrator’s Arab heritage. This returned memory from the past is more threatening than usual to the authorities because of its physicality. Trouillot gives some valuable insight on the significance of physical proof from the past when he discusses the manipulation of historical narratives for the gaining of power. He explains how physical traces, such as ‘buildings, dead bodies, censuses, monuments [and] diaries’ limit fabrication. These material artefacts, he states, prevent ‘“any fiction” from passing “for history” [as] the materiality of the socio-historical process […] sets the stage for future historical narratives […]’.[47]

The physical manifestation of the narrator’s past is therefore seen as an even greater affront to the supported narrative of an ethnically homogenous Israel that has no links to an Arab world with which they are in conflict. This fear of physical remembrances from the past is witnessed also outside literature and in real life, as pointed out by Omer-Sherman. There are efforts, he says, to efface physical remnants from the Arab world by removing place names stemming from Arabic, and even by removing certain words from school textbooks such as nakba.[48] Omer-Sherman explains:

On July 22, the Israeli Education Ministry announced that it would remove from school textbooks the Arabic term nakba, widely used by Palestinians to describe the events of 1948, in which 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as a ‘catastrophe.’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had long argued that the word ‘nakba’ in Israeli Arab schools amounted to disseminating propaganda against Israel. Yet previous Israeli governments embraced the teaching of comparative histories at least in the Arab sector.[49]

The existence of physical evidence of the past clearly makes it harder to efface its presence. In ‘Ana min al yahud’ there is another instance whereby the past is given physicality. This is the moment where the narrator speaks of an imagined alternate history as if it were reality. This shift is made possible through the magic-surrealist style of the narrative. On his walk back home from the police station, he suddenly notices that his surroundings have changed, and that the street signs are no longer in Jewish, but in Arabic, and the wealthy people are no longer Jerusalemites, but Palestinians.[50] And all this, he says, makes it seem ‘as though time has gone through another history’, as if ‘there had never been a 1948 war.’[51]

Memory and Testimony

The third way through which the past is revisited in these texts is through memory and testimony. Whereas in Bakunin’s Son it is testimony that shapes the whole narrative, in ‘Ana min al yahud’ it is memory that plays the greatest role. For this reason, it is best to look at these works separately with regards to these two topics.

‘Ana min al yahud’ and Memory

Towards the beginning of Memory, History, Forgetting, Paul Ricoeur makes an important remark about memory. Memory, he says, is an essential component in the process of historical recollection, because ‘we have no other resource, concerning our reference to the past, except memory itself.’[52] He then moves on to a discussion of the theories revolving around memory, going back to classic Greek philosophy and to the two conceptions of memory as articulated by Plato and Aristotle. Whereas Plato defines memory as the ‘present representation of an absent thing’, Aristotle sees memory as a ‘representation of a thing formerly perceived, acquired, or learned’.[53] Although the Platonic conception of memory is the most debatable in a sense (as it puts memory and imagination on the same plane) it is also the one that most fits ‘Ana min al yahud’. In this work, the narrator’s memory of his grandfather does not stem from an experienced event, since the narrator never met his grandfather, who ‘died before he was born’. [54] His memories are instead a projection of an unexperienced entity from the past into the present.

Ricoeur also hits on another important point that is of relevance to Behar’s short story. In a chapter entitled ‘The Uncanniness of History’, Ricoeur speaks about the phenomenon of ‘transgenerational memory’, wherein ‘lived time’ is inserted ‘within the vastness of cosmic time’.[55] What he suggests is that living generations may only see themselves as part of the great scale of time by thinking of themselves in relation to previous generations, and thus placing themselves in the ‘threefold reign of predecessors, contemporaries, and successors’.[56] He goes on to say: ‘Supported by the narrative of ancestors, the bond of filiation comes to be grafted on the immense genealogical tree whose roots are lost in the soil of history’.[57] When these narratives fall silent, nothing ‘remains except the abstract notion of the succession of generations’.[58]

This is precisely the affliction of Behar’s narrator whose parents attempt to segregate him from his Arab heritage. In the final part of the story, he tells his parents: ‘out of so much shame you have not bequeathed me anything’.[59] The narrator finds that with such a huge gap in his personal history, he can neither relate to the present nor to the past. In the present his Arab accent prevents him from being accepted and when he visits the past, his Hebrew prevents him from connecting with his ancestors. ‘I had lost their language and they didn’t know my language’, he tells the reader, ‘and between us remained the distance of the police forces and generations’.[60]

Bakunin’s Son and Testimony

It is logical now to turn to the topic of testimony, which according to Ricoeur, ‘constitutes the fundamental transitional structure between memory and history’.[61] Testimony is the act through which the memory of a witness is communicated to an interlocutor via speech or writing (such as in a memoir, diary, or autobiography). In the case of Bakunin’s Son, testimony is given in the form of speech which is then transcribed after being recorded on an ‘AIWA portable’.[62]

The first point to notice about testimony is that it involves what Ricoeur calls a ‘triple deictic’.[63] This refers to the combination of the witness, the space which hosted the experience, and the time of the past invoked in the present.[64] This triple nature of testimony, Ricoeur explains, is compounded in the phrase ‘j’y étais’ (I was there).[65] In all thirty-one interviews that the narrator conducts in Bakunin’s Son,  this triple deictic is present, wherein the witness testifies to his own presence during the events narrated, or in some cases, testifies that he was not there, or that he does not remember. This lack of remembrance is a crucial problematic of testimony, and it makes it difficult for the historian or any other interlocutor to ascertain what is the truth, especially in the presence of more than one witness whose memories might not match.

The lack of concord between witnesses is presented almost humorously in Bakunin’s Son, as different people present widely different versions of the same event. There are, for instance, multiple opinions about Don Sarais, the priest of Guspini. In interview six, for example, the narrator is told that the priest was ‘always spying’ and this negative image is reinforced in interview seven, where he is described as a ‘famous woman chaser’ that was sent away because of his illicit romances.[66] However in the account given after that, another witness describes him as a ‘saint’ who was not sent away, but rather went to Africa as a missionary and was killed there.[67] Similarly, the death of Tullio Saba remains a mystery as different witnesses give different testimonies about it. In the emotional narration of the thirtieth witness, the reader learns that Tullio was struck by a disease which slowly killed him.[68] However, this is quickly discredited by the interview following that, where the interlocutor tells the narrator that Tullio ran off to Peru with stolen money and never came back.[69] The novel ends with a comment on the unreliability of a history constructed on testimony, as the narrator describes memory as a ‘veil’ that ‘slowly distorts, transforms and fictionalizes’ both the testimonies inside the novel, but also the ‘accounts given by historians’.[70]

The final point about testimony in this novel relates to Ricoeur’s contention that there are two dimensions to it, these being ‘reflexivity’ and ‘worldliness’.[71] Reflexivity refers to the person’s ability to remember himself in the past, and worldliness is the way these memories of one’s self are intricately connected to a series of memories about the outside world, whether they are memories of people or places. He writes:

I am speaking of the polarity between reflexivity and worldliness. One does not simply remember oneself, seeing, experiencing, learning; rather one recalls the situations in the world in which one has seen, experienced, learned. These situations imply one’s own body and the bodies of others, lived space, and, finally, the horizon of the world and worlds, within which something has occurred.[72]

In other words, one’s past can never exist in a vacuum, it is always intermeshed with the past of others. In fact, the narrator’s journey to find more about Tullio Saba leads him to do not only that, but also to discover a lot about himself, Sardinia, Italy, and the atmosphere of Europe at the time of the second World War.

Despite the issues inherent to memory and testimony, they are nonetheless tools that historical research cannot do without. As Ricoeur says, the ‘object of history’ is ‘not the past, nor is it time, it is ‘men in time’, and therefore it is unavoidable that human subjects should be called forward to give their accounts of history.[73] No matter how flawed they might be, they are our only link with the past; a past which should not be allowed to be lost and which must be cherished more than ever before.[74]


In the light of the analysis above, it is reasonable to confirm that the literature of Atzeni and Behar genuinely engages with history and explores the relationship with the past at a deeper level. However, one question still remains open, and that is: why does it matter that these novels embrace history? Why does it matter, that our age is not irredeemably anti-historicist, and that we are still capable of engaging with the past? In this final section of the essay, we return to Jameson and to Trouillot to investigate these questions.

If we take Jameson’s and Trouillot’s arguments in conjunction, there are two main reasons that stand out as to why a loss of history would spell disaster for modern society. The first one is related to the way man places his life in relation to the past and to the future. In his essay ‘The Antinomies of Postmodernism’, Jameson mentions that history is one of the ways through which humankind deals with death. The lives and deaths of individual people are placed within the larger framework of the continuous regeneration of man, and this gives meaning to one’s existence. Jameson explains: in ‘a world without time or history’, death becomes ‘inescapable and meaningless since any historical framework that would serve to interpret and position individual deaths (at least for their survivors) has been destroyed.’[75] Interestingly, this echoes Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending, written some years before, where history is seen as a ‘provider of significance’ to the ‘mere chronicity’ that would otherwise be human existence.[76]

The second reason why it is so important that novels such as the ones discussed in this essay are still engaging with history is that, according to Trouillot, historical narratives equal power, and logically, power should never be left in the hands of the few.[77] Thus, as literature engages with history, it prevents historical narratives from becoming the realm of the elite and ensures the heterogeneity of voices participating in their production. Jameson’s point, that connecting with history means ‘seizing control over [one’s] own destin[y]’ could be said to be very much relevant to Trouillot’s whole argument in Silencing the Past.[78]

The engagement of Bakunin’s Son and ‘Ana min al yahud’ with the past thus sheds a ray of hope on the bleak vision of postmodernity (and contemporaneity) harnessed by Jameson. Human society is still capable of engaging with history, especially in regions such as the Mediterranean which are still somewhat disconnected from the all-encompassing presence of late capitalism. Paul Ricoeur remarks that ‘we are in history as we are in the world: it serves as the horizon and background for our everyday experience’, and Atzeni and Behar’s texts both embrace this by fighting against the tyranny of forgetting the past.[79] This fight is rendered more significant by the fact that in our ‘presentist’ age the events of the previous day are too quickly dismissed as old news.


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Michaelson, Jay. ‘Demons, Dybbuks, Ghosts, & Golems’, in My Jewish Learning, <https://www.myjewishlearning.com> [accessed 28th May 2018]

Omer-Sherman, Ranen, ‘Paradoxes of Jewish and Muslim Identities in Israeli Short Stories’ in Peace Review, 22.4, (2010) pp. 440-452

Ricoeur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. by Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995)

[1] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995) pp. 4-5.

[2] David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

(New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 307.

[3] Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).

[4] Frederic Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998 (London: Verso, 1998).

Frederic Jameson, A Singular Modernity, Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London: Verso, 2012).

[5] Trouillot, p.xxii.

Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 88.

[6] Trouillot, pp. xxii-xxiii.

[7] Sergio Atzeni, Bakunin’s Son (New York: Italica Press, 1996). Almog Behar, ‘Ana min al yahud’, in Haaretz (2005) < https://www.haaretz.com/1.4852446> [accessed 28.05.2018].

[8] Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. by Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).

[9] Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. ix.

[10] Jameson, A Singular Modernity, pp. 214-215.

[11] Nico Baumbach, Damon R. Young, Genevieve Yue, ‘Revisiting Postmodernism: An interview with Frederic Jameson’, in Social Text, 34.2 (2016), pp. 143-160.

[12] Jameson, ‘Revisiting Postmodernism’, p. 145.

[13] Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 286.

[14] Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’, p. 9.

[15] Ibid., p. 10.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 284.

[18] Jameson, A Singular Modernity, Essay on the Ontology of the Present, p. 26.

[19] Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’, p. 20.

[20] Jameson, ‘The Antinomies of Postmodernity’ in The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, p. 60.

[21] Jameson, ‘Revisiting Postmodernism, an Interview with Frederic Jameson’, conducted by Nico Baumbach, Damon R. Young, Genevieve Yue. T.S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, in T.S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace &World Inc., 1971), pp. 37-50.

[22] Jameson, ‘Revisiting Postmodernism, an Interview with Frederic Jameson’, conducted by Nico Baumbach, Damon R. Young, Genevieve Yue, p. 160.

[23] David Carr, Time, Narrative and History (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991).

[24] Carr, p. 3.

[25] Atzeni, p. 1.

[26] Behar, part 3.

[27] Behar, part 3.

[28] Behar, part 5.

[29] Trouillot, p. 152.

[30] Trouillot, p. 152.

[31] Atzeni, p. 67.

[32] Atzeni, p. 41.

[33] Atzeni, p. 41, 42.

[34] Rabbi Rachel M. Solomin, ‘Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews’ in My Jewish Learning, <https://www.myjewishlearning.com> [accessed 28.05.2018].

[35] Ranen, ‘Omer-Sherman, Paradoxes of Jewish and Muslim Identities in Israeli Short Stories’ in Peace Review, 22.4 (2010), pp. 440-452, p. 440.

[36] Zack Beauchamp, ‘Everything you need to know about Israel-Palestine’, in Vox (2018) <https://www.vox.com/cards/israel-palestine/intro> [accessed 28.05.2018].

[37] Behar, part 1.

[38] Behar, part 3.

[39] Behar, part 5.

[40] Ricoeur, epigraph.

[41] Atzeni, p. 1.

[42] Atzeni, p. 1.

[43] Behar, part 1.

[44] Behar, part 3.

[45] Jay Michaelson, ‘Demons, Dybbuks, Ghosts, & Golems’, in My Jewish Learning,

<https://www.myjewishlearning.com> [accessed: 28.05.2018].

[46] Behar, part 1.

[47] Trouillot, p. 29.

[48] Omer-Sherman, p. 444.

[49] Omer-Sherman, p. 444.

[50] Behar, part 1.

[51] Behar, part 1.

[52] Ricoeur, p. 21.

[53] Ricoeur, p. 457.

[54] Behar, part 5.

[55] Ricoeur, p. 394.

[56] Ricoeur, p. 395.

[57] Ricoeur, p. 395.

[58] Ricoeur, p. 395.

[59] Behar, part 5.

[60] Behar, part 2.

[61] Ricoeur, p. 21.

[62] Atzeni, p. 80.

[63] Ricoeur, p. 164.

[64] Ricoeur, p. 164.

[65] Ricoeur, p. 148.

[66] Atzeni, p. 11, p. 14.

[67] Atzeni, p. 16.

[68] Atzeni, p. 77.

[69] Atzeni, p. 79.

[70] Atzeni, p. 80 (my translation; this line is missing in the English edition).

[71] Ricoeur, p. 36.

[72] Ricoeur, p. 36.

[73] Ricoeur, p. 170.

[74] Ricoeur, p. 169-170.

[75] Jameson, ‘The Antinomies of Postmodernism’, p. 61.

[76] Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 56.

[77] Trouillot, p. xxiii.

[78] Jameson, p. 37.

[79] Ricoeur, p. 395.