Sunday, July 27, 2008

Solid Signifiers

After presents a question about identity that continues to provoke diverse thoughts in me. The wife whose husband dies in a terrorist incident, views video of the husband being questioned before he is killed. She describes the situation:

"When those men asked my husband if he was a Jew, he said, 'Yes, I am a Jew.' He didn't say, 'No, I'm an individual ... An individual. What's that? Individuals are all the same, you know. Cut off from what they are. They are nothing at all. It's the context that matters ... I wonder could you do that? Give up everything, your family, your life, just for once to be completely what you are?" (132-133).

The wife believes that one needs a solid identity marker to define ones character. She believes that the husband's unwillingness to shy away from his identity is valiant, even though he is depicted as "Not a good Jew," whatever that means (133). I simply question the validity of that type of overarching identity signifier in today's world. Is there one thing that defines any of us that we hold onto completely and would give up our individualism for? Is that called patriotism, loyalty, fanaticism....? The context she speaks of seems to be a large identity affiliation, but don't we more actively identify with smaller more localizes identities which we inhabit on a daily basis? Things like community, family, ethics formed based on experiences within a more localized context? Is the solid marker of religion or culture what we truly "are" more than family, relationships, community? Could you, would you, give up your family for the sake of some more grand narrative?


Monica said...

To say "I am a Jew" is not simply an identity marker of some sort--it is a display of resilence in the face of historical persecution. When a group of people is plagued by threat of death and destruction for centuries, there are two ways to respond, and perhaps both are forms of survival. Some will deny their shared cultural heritage and try to move on and blend into mainstream culture; others cling more tightly to the identity. I suppose if it's worth being killed for, it's worth having. I think that a denial of where one comes from, particularly in the moment described in this book, is a transgression of serious proportions.

Drc said...

Do you really think that each individual act of resilience is an act of survival for the identity group, in this case Jew? I don't disagree, but I am noticing that there is an opposition the author sets up between master signifier and individual. There are things the individual gives up, i.e. family, community, etc, that she misses. In the age of floating identities, where the idea of Jew is as fluid as all other identities, is it worth dieing for a single idea of what that means? It seems to me that that is a fundamentalist idea, not a contemporary one.