Knowledge, Tradition, and Domination: The Parallels of Colonial Discourse in “Development” Projects

“The effects of the theoretical work done by ‘development’ discourse on Lesotho are far- reaching. The constitution of Lesotho as a suitable theoretical object of analysis is also, and simultaneously, its constitution as a suitable target for intervention.”

–Jim Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine (73)

In his case study of the World Bank’s 1975 report on Lesotho as a “less developed country,” Jim Ferguson defines the notion of “development” through a comparison to the foundation of colonial discourse. He writes, “Like ‘civilization’ in the nineteenth century, ‘development’ is the name not only for a value, but also for a dominant problematic or interpretive grid through which the impoverished regions of the world are known to us” (xiii). Through a certain form of knowledge production that defines and containerizes its subjects’ identities, modern “development” projects find deep roots in the patterns, strategies, and structures of colonialism. By understanding the significant parallels between these two endeavors of domination, we will illuminate the similarities in these projects’ concrete political effects. Colonial and “development” discourses both operate through the depoliticization of intervention, the homogenization of native identities, and the insistence upon the inferior native as “traditional.” By tracing these comparable manifestations, we will discover the tangible consequences shared between the two projects–stronger governmental power within the subjected nations, and the sustained hegemony of the “civilized” or “developed” nations over the rest of the globe.

Colonialism and “development” projects share an impulse to seek knowledge. In his book Saviors and Survivors, Mahmood Mamdani explains,

“Modern colonialism usually began with a comprehensive assessment of the prize that had been won. When possible, a variety of surveys were carried out—geological,ecological, economic, and so on—to assess the colony’s potential and decide how best to tap it” (146).

The necessity of studying the colonized land and subject is illustrated in H.A. MacMichael’s advice to British colonizers in Sudan: “The administrator…should learn all he can of the customs and beliefs of the people who are in his tutelage and utilize these customs and beliefs to the full extent of which their nature permits” (9). Colonizers rewrote the histories of the colonized, named and categorized the social and political units of the natives, and analyzed their psychology and rituals, employing scientists, anthropologists, and economists. “Development” projects also rest upon the production of knowledge. The 1975 World Bank report on Lesotho is just one example of many quantified analyses on African histories, economies, social structures, and political landscapes.

While much scholarship has proven colonial and “development” scholarship to be factually inaccurate, the effects of this knowledge production are far more interesting. Yusufu Bala Usman asserts that, despite the “objective” claim of such studies, knowledge is formed through specific perspectives and assumptions, creating a “conceptual framework” that informs all collections and reports of so-called fact (22). The conceptual frameworks structuring colonial and “development” knowledge create substantial effects, concealing political assumptions and objectives while simultaneously transforming the native subject into a certain political mold. Ferguson describes this, “’Development’ institutions generate their own form of discourse, and this discourse simultaneously constructs Lesotho as a particular kind of object of knowledge, and then creates a structure of knowledge around that object” (xiv). The same process occurrs in colonialism – the native subject takes on a new identity, shaped by the “conceptual framework” of colonialist study.


A common effect of both projects’ knowledge production is the depoliticization of intervention through a claim of moral and technical justification. Both discourses are rooted in a standardized ideal of “modernity” and “progress”—whether this takes on the teleology of “civilization” or “development,” all knowledge of the native subject is organized in relation (and opposition) to this ideal. The ostensibly scientific study of the colonized or the “less developed” subject serves to “prove” the inferior condition of the native in contrast to the colonizer or the “developed” nations. With this framework, the hegemonic party positions its intervention as a beneficent moral project, a “mission” to help the inferior natives attain “modernity.” This direct link between seeking knowledge and the moral justification of intervention is evident in MacMichael’s paper Arabic and the Southern Sudan:

“Instead of running gratuitous risks and simultaneously robbing our officials of half the incentive to study the local languages and organisations, encourage them by every possible means to acquire a fuller and more intimate knowledge of all that pertains to the great negro tribes and devote a whole-hearted enthusiasm to ‘the cultivation’ of their language, conservation and sublimation of all that is of value in their customs and institutions, frank recognition of the measure of truth contained in their religion” (4).

With this reasoning, MacMichael and his colonialist counterparts depoliticize their colonization with a claim of an altruistic “cultivation” toward the prescribed ideal of “civilization.” This theme is deeply embedded in “development” discourse as well. With scientific knowledge testifying that the “less developed” countries need “cultivation” in order to “catch up” to the superior nations of the globe, the “developed” countries become morally justified in its intervention. But the foundation of colonial and “development” knowledge in so-called objective disciplines even further depoliticizes the intervention. This knowledge constructs a narrative of progress that relies only upon technical, apolitical improvements “proven” to bear economic and social “progress.” Explaining this phenomenon in the case of Lesotho, Ferguson writes,

“For an analysis to meet the needs of ‘development’ institutions, it must do what academic discourse inevitably fails to do; it must make Lesotho out to be an enormously promising candidate for the only sort of intervention a ‘development’ agency is capable of launching: the apolitical, technical ‘development’ intervention” (69).

By rooting the projects in a certain production of knowledge, colonialism and “development” work conceal the political nature of their interventions by constituting the ventures as justified, objective instruments of moral and technical progress.


A common method utilized by both colonial and “development” discourse in order to establish this effective, apolitical mode of knowledge is the categorization and homogenization of native identity. Winston Churchill’s account of Sudanese history, The River War, is a salient example: “The Soudanese are of many tribes, but two main races can be clearly distinguished: the aboriginal natives, and the Arab settlers” (7). Usman challenges readers to question the divisions and containerizations of identity in the colonial historiography of Sudan. He argues, “The way that [these categories] are used in most of these writings as given, fixed, and historical entities, blocks our comprehension of the extent, nature and significance of this diversity” (23). In other words, colonial knowledge produces categorizations that conceal plurality. A comparable incident of the homogenization of identity arises in Ferguson’s work, as he describes the trend in “development” analysis to insist upon the central role of agriculture in “less developed” countries. Ferguson explains,

“In ‘development’ discourse, Basotho are, by decree, ‘farmers.’ Even people with no land and no animals are ‘farmers.’ There are no unemployed in Lesotho, according to the table on employment in the USAID Country Strategy Statement, since anyone without a job is defined as a subsistence farmer” (59-60).

Homogenization and categorization of native identities are not only strategies of convenience. They work to create and sustain a binary opposition between the colonized and the colonizer, or the “developed” and the “less developed.” This opposition, founded in these certain forms of knowledge production, contributes to the crafted legitimacy of hegemonic intervention.


The categorization of colonized and “less developed” societies as “traditional” is integral to the process of domination. Both the projects of colonialism and “development” use this label to maintain the subject’s status as stagnant, incapable of progress, and in need of external intervention. Mamdani explains how the formation of a homogenized native identity as “traditional” in colonial scholarship furthered the project of political domination:

“The political objective [of colonialism] was to reorganize colonized populations around narrower identities. Sometimes, this involved a benign acknowledgement of existing identities, but at other times, it involved a wholesale reidentification of peoples … At the heart of the political objective was a compact with fading elites: propping them up as ‘traditional’ in return for recognition of colonial tutelage as ‘legitimate’” (145).

Colonial knowledge finds “scientific” evidence to assert this homogenized, “traditional” identity upon the colonized populations. This category exists in direct opposition to the concept of “modernity,” as if native societies have not changed or evolved in any way throughout time. Churchill writes of Sudan, “Strong, virile, and simple-minded savages, [the natives] lived as we may imagine prehistoric men” (7). The perception of the subject as a “primitive” society, as illustrated by the colonial constitution of the native, is found in “development” discourse as well. Ferguson, quoting the World Bank, identifies the “assertion that Lesotho in 1966 was ‘a traditional subsistence peasant society,’ ‘virtually untouched by modern economic development,’” (25). Labeling a society as “traditional” through ostensibly apolitical knowledge, colonial and “development” projects create a colonized and “less development” subject that requires external intervention to make “progress” toward “modernity.” In this way, the projects’ employment of depoliticizing knowledge and construction of homogenized identities become the primary political tools for intervention and the imbalance of power that the projects produce and preserve. “Traditional,” a marker of stasis and inferiority, is an identity produced by both colonial and “development” discourses, but the two projects utilize the notion in differing ways. As prescribed by the colonial system of indirect rule in Africa, colonizers sought to define and preserve native “tradition” in order to protect colonial rule from any native uprisings or challenges. In Maffey’s 1924 memorandum about British indirect rule in Sudan, he writes, “Under the impulse of new ideas and with the rise of a new generation, old traditions may pass away with astonishing rapidity. It is advisable to fortify them while the memories … are vivid still and while tribal sanctions are still a living force” (2). Colonialists wanted to preserve “traditional” systems of authority so that tribal chiefs and administrations would govern on behalf of (and below) the colonial power. The aim was to ensure a smooth transition of power without resistance from the natives, who greatly outnumbered the colonial settlers. MacMichael writes, “The whole crux of the matter lies in gaining understanding [of the native] and winning confidence and even affection” (5). But, since the “understanding” gained by colonial knowledge is shaped by the political need to define and containerize the native as primitive, isolated, and static, the “tradition” that indirect rule preserves is not authentic but is instead a new system and phenomenon constructed by “apolitical” colonial scholarship. The type of “traditional” rule crafted by colonial rulers excludes the true mechanisms and plurality of authority in precolonial Africa. Mamdani expounds upon this,

“Like all colonial powers, the British worked with a single model of customary authority in precolonial Africa. That model was monarchical, patriarchal, and authoritarian … One needs to realize that notions of a precolonial tradition are far more constraining than illuminating” (39).

The homogenized identification of natives as “traditional,” as corroborated by “objective” colonial study, is deployed as the foundation of colonialism’s political strategy of domination, indirect rule. While colonialists claim to conserve native “tradition,” the epistemological systems employ the new definitional category to further their political interests.

“Development” projects, on the other hand, which also produce and maintain this “traditional” identity of the subjected society, fortify its claims of political superiority and justification by proclaiming its intent to dismantle the primitive hindrance of “tradition” and replace it with “modernity.” Ferguson illuminates this trend in “development” discourse:

“One final feature of the ‘aboriginal’ portrait drawn by ‘development’ discourse is that the less developed society is ‘traditional.’ People’s attitudes and values are not yet in harmony with modern economic life. Whether they take the form of backward land tenure laws or reluctance to sell livestock, ‘social/traditional constraints’ stand in the way of change… Achieving ‘development’ is thus largely a matter of changing value and attitudes” (58).

In colonial and “development” discourse, “tradition” is something stagnant, ahistorical, and primitive. While colonial indirect rule aimed to preserve this constructed category, “development” projects want to overturn it to help the “less developed” country progress. This notion of needing to convert the native to modernity parallels an earlier form of colonial authority, direct rule. Direct rule manifested the West’s “civilizing mission,” which lives on today in “development” discourse. Ferguson asserts, “The premise of all ‘development’ analysis of Lesotho is that it is a stagnated agricultural peasant economy which requires only the correct technical inputs to become ‘developed’” (58). By rendering the society as “traditional,” the “developed” countries simultaneously render the “less developed” nations as logical candidates for apolitical intervention, which will ring in “modernity” and “progress.”

Despite the fact that enterprises utilize knowledge production to buttress apolitical justifications for intervention, colonialism and “development” projects create far-reaching political effects by strengthening governmental power. Colonial indirect rule fashions a decentralized despotism, and “development” projects augment the reach and degree of the state’s bureaucratic control. Claiming to be “preserving” “traditional” forms of authority, the colonialist project actually formed an entirely new system of power, one that dismantled the power restraints in place in pre-colonial governance. Mamdani explains how the colonialist containerization of the native society as “traditional” transformed authentic modes of authority into decentralized despotism: “From African tradition, colonial powers salvaged a widespread and time-honored practice, one of a decentralized exercise of power, but freed that power of restraint, of peers or people. Thus they laid the basis for decentralized despotism” (48). By shaping the history and identity of the native, colonialists directly shaped the political reality of the colonized. In other words, as Mamdani writes, “More than reflecting a slice of reality in the collage that was nineteenth-century Africa, the colonial notion of the precolonial was really a faithful mirror reflection of the decentralized despotism created under colonial rule” (39). After rendering the native society as static and primitive through a teleological framework of “modern civilization,” the colonial project employed the newly crafted category of “tradition” as a form of rule. This system deconstructed checks on political power and produced decentralized despotism among the tribal authority. In this way, it is clear that the theoretical constitution of the native is the foundation for the concrete political constitution and reality of the native.


Bolstered political power is also an effect of “development” interventions. In its insistence upon the enclosed unit of the nation-state, “development” discourse operates on the “governmentalist assumption,” which Ferguson describes as “the assumption that whatever economic changes have or have not happened in Lesotho are to be explained by reference to Lesotho or Colonial government policy” (36). In this way, the state government becomes the “machine” for implementing “development” projects to spur “progress.” Ferguson demonstrates that “development” discourse positions the state as an “apolitical tool for delivering social services and agricultural inputs and engineering economic growth” (65). Armed with new bureaucratic instruments, “development” programs, the state government becomes a point of the concentration of power over the nation’s population, economy, and society. According to Ferguson,

“The growth of state power in such a context does not imply any sort of efficient, centralized social engineering. It simply means that power elations must increasingly be referred through bureaucratic circuits… The ‘developmental’ state, then, is a knotting or a coagulation of power” (274).

In producing the identity of the “less developed” country as “traditional,” the “development” discourse creates a subject that requires technical intervention for “progress,” which may only be implemented through a powerful and expansive political bureaucracy of the state. The goals for this centralization of power (“efficiency” and “modernization”) are not actualized, but the expanded reach of state bureaucratic control becomes a concrete political reality.

The drive underlying these projects is the maintenance of global power imbalances. Claiming to do the opposite, colonizers and “developed” countries preserve the inferior status of the subjected society in efforts to buttress their own dominance. Colonialism arose from the expansion of capitalism. Walter Rodney explains in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that the “technological and economic gap between Western Europe and Africa was part of the trend within capitalism to concentrate or polarize wealth and poverty at two opposite extremes” (136). In other words, capitalism requires this binary relationship between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. In order for wealthy European capitalist nations to remain powerful, they need to fashion this oppositional binary by producing and sustaining the poverty of others. Rodney continues,

“[Imperialism] meant that European (and North American and Japanese) capitalists were forced by the internal logic of their competitive system to seek abroad in less developed countries opportunities to control raw material supplies, to find markets, and to find profitable fields of investment” (136).

Aiming to ensure capitalist wealth, colonialists defined the native as “traditional,” producing a candidate for capitalist intervention that would maintain Western dominance. Many colonialists denied this political and economic motive behind their conquest, as is illustrated by the case of King Leopold, who masked his violent, profitable exploitation of the Congo as a diplomatic mission for human rights (Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost). But many colonialists did admit their economic motivation to control resources and gain profit from colonies. Still, their success in extracting wealth and sustaining domination was rooted in colonial knowledge production and maintenance of the native identity, which concealed the expanse of the colonial political project. The vast effects of such theoretical constitution of the colonized society and the intervention of capitalist expansion created and preserved the poverty and “inferiority” of the colonized, in direct opposition to the wealthy and powerful colonizer.

“Development” projects also work to preserve this imbalance of power, containerizing the “traditional” society to remain in its “less developed” state and ultimately failing to achieve the “development” it preaches. Samir Amin explains this phenomenon:

“This ‘traditional’ society was not, therefore, in transition to ‘modernity’; as a dependent society it was complete, peripheral, and hence at a dead end. It consequently retained certain ‘traditional’ appearances which constituted its only means of survival” (405).

Like colonialism, “development” discourse defines and traps the “primitive” society in a binary opposition to the “modern” and “developed” countries, whose superiority is dependent upon the inferiority of the “less developed.” Unlike colonialism, the admission of the developmentalist’s economic motives is not common. Instead, the teleological narrative of a “developed” country injecting certain moral, apolitical, and technical programs to usher “modernity” into a barbaric, “traditional” nation continues to operate in contemporary discourse.


A close analysis of the parallels between colonialism and “development” projects reveals the widespread effects of the knowledge, identities, politics, and hierarchies produced by these discourses. Operating in a certain conceptual framework, colonial and “development” knowledge creates and containerizes native identity as the ideal candidate for intervention. Through the preservation or manipulation of constructed “tradition,” the projects strengthen the native government authority and simultaneously blockade the “progress” promised. Emblematic of the tangible, political effects resulting from theoretical, conceptual framework, colonizers and “developed” countries employ these strategies to sustain economic and political hegemony.

By Lucille Marshall. Written for Major Debates in the Study of Africa with Professor Mamdani at Columbia University


Works Cited

Amin, Samir. Imperialism and Unequal Development. Hassocks: Harvester, 1977. Print. Churchill, Winston Spencer. The River War an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan.

Mengeš: PeBook, 2013. Print.
Ferguson, James. The Anti-politics Machine: “development,” Depoliticization, and

Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.
H. A. MacMichael, “Indirect Rule for Pagan Communities,” Sudan Archives, University of

Durham, SAD 586/1/1
H.A. MacMichael, MacMichael Papers, “Arabic and the Southern Sudan”

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

J. L. Maffey, Khartoum, 1st January, 1927, ‘Minute, His Excellency the Governor General,’ dated 1:1:27, in SAD 695/8/3-5

Mamdani, Mahmood. Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. New York: Pantheon, 2009. Print.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington: Howard UP, 1974. Print.

Usman, Yusufu Bala. Beyond Fairy Tales: Selected Historical Writings. Zaria, Nigeria: Abdullahi Smith Centre for Historical Research, 2006. Print.


Ghassan Kanafani’s Novellas: Constituting Palestinian Identity and Resistance

At twelve years old, Ghassan Kanafani entered exile, along with thousands of other Palestinians in 1948. He became an editor for the magazine Al-Hadaf of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine in 1969. As a leader in Palestinian literature and activism, Kanafani called for a social revolution across the Arab world to achieve national liberation. Kanafani’s novellas Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa embody the hopelessness, instability, and despair that continue to haunt the Palestinian quest for nationhood. An analysis of these two narratives reveals the power of Kanafani’s literature to illustrate the complexity and profundity of the Palestinian condition through time. Three major thematic binaries unite across both stories – temporality/space, passivity/resistance, and particularism/universality – to construct a powerful and living representation of the Palestinian’s histories, hopes, and struggles. Weaving these experiences together into a narrative fiction, Kanfani’s novellas constitute a tangible Palestinian identity and, ultimately, a distinct mode of resistance in reality.

Kanafani employs complex notions of time and space as distinctive components of the collective Palestinian experience. In Men in the Sun, differentiation between levels of temporality is almost entirely dissolved. Often sparked by a sensory experience, characters abandon the present and become enveloped in the past. Readers cannot always distinguish the boundaries of where and when the narrative is located. One of many incidents of this phenomenon is found in the chapter “Assad.” Standing before the smugglers, Assad becomes completely engrossed in his past, imagining his harsh journey through the desert years before: “Even when the earth turned into shining sheets of yellow paper he did not slow down” (18). His vision of the past fuses seamlessly with the reality of the present, as Kanafani continues, “Suddenly the yellow sheets began to fly about, and he stooped to gather them up” (18). Kanafani’s experimentation with time echoes Faulkner’s breakdown of linear temporality in The Sound and the Fury. The intimate, overlapping connection between past and present in Men in the Sun is also pronounced in Returning to Haifa. While the author includes clearer narrative barriers between past and present in this story, these characters also overwhelmingly inhabit their painful memories of the past as their defining mode of existence in the present.

In both novellas, the past defines each character. Readers differentiate between the protagonists in Men in the Sun based on their darkest memories. Said and Safiyya are introduced and characterized by their traumatic experiences 20 years earlier. The author collapses the distance between these personal histories and the contemporary narrative. Kanafani writes of Said in Returning to Haifa, “So he made the whole thing appear, to himself and to his wife, perfectly natural, as though the past twenty years had been put between two huge presses and crushed until they became a thin piece of transparent paper” (161). The blending of past and present in Kanafani’s works illustrates the Palestinian struggle to erect a stable existence in the present and ultimately gain momentum for a future. Edward Said describes this phenomenon: “If the present cannot be ‘given’ simply (that is, if time will not allow him either to differentiate clearly between his past and his present or to connect them, it is because the disaster … prevents continuity), it is intelligible only as achievement” (53). While the past entraps the characters in a present of paralysis and uncertainty, it also works to unite them in a quest toward the future. In this way, Kanafani renders the past as both a powerful barrier to Palestinian stability and a potent foundation of collective identity.

Like temporality, space is endowed with significant agency in both novellas. The desert in Men in the Sun represents the isolating, tumultuous, and unforgiving path toward a fruitful Palestinian future. The desert is ultimately the villain, killing the three men in the midst of their journey of suffering. Geography is closely connected to memory, as the scents and sights of the environment continually invoke characters’ past hardships. The desert is a placeless space, without any markers or borders. The narrative constantly repeats the same imagery of a blazing sun, expansive sand, and lonely black birds circling above. With such repetition, readers feel as if the protagonists have gone nowhere, made no progress in their journey. By positioning the desert in center stage, Kanafani cultivates the connection between placelesssness and hopelessness. This connection adds another layer of collective identity to the Palestinian selfhood that the author fashions in his narrative. In her introduction to Men in the Sun, translator Hilary Kilpatrick identifies Kanafani’s portrayal of the Palestinian peasant, like Abu Qais, as an indicator of the Palestinian’s political condition. She writes, “The nature of Zionist colonization, with its stress on acquiring land, struck at the existence of the peasants, the largest section of Palestinian society” (4). Kanafani animates space in order to centralize the role of displacement and landlessness in the creation of a collective Palestinian identity.

Returning to Haifa further enunciates the agency of space and its participation in a shared Palestinian identity and past. The city of Haifa and Said and Safiyya’s house are as much actors in the story as the characters themselves. Said thinks, “I know this is Haifa, but it refuses to acknowledge me,” and later repeats the same thought about his former home (150). Said can only understand these spaces in the context of the past, so he insists that Haifa and his home remain the same as they were 20 years ago. Kanafani writes, “For him, the street names had never changed” (152). For Said, place is past. That is why it is so hard for Said to accept the new street names, the new branches on the trees, and the missing feathers in his home. Said’s son, a symbol of the land of Palestine itself, embodies this notion perfectly. The name that Said calls him, Khaldun, comes from the root meaning “to remain” or “to last forever.” But his name does not last forever – it is changed by his Jewish adoptive parents. So too have Haifa, Said’s home, and all of Palestine been captured and altered by new ownership. When Said is forced to inhabit the present, his struggle to deal with the differences between the past and present of the city and his house signifies the struggle of the Palestinian refugee, placeless and instable.

A.B. Yehoshua’s short story “Facing the Forest,” written in 1963 and therefore contemporaneous with Kanafani’s works, also imbues much agency into the relationship between memory and space. In this narrative, an Israeli sits in a tower above a young Zionist forest comprised of trees foreign to the area (part of the Jewish Agency’s claim to land after 1948) to watch for and prevent a forest fire. In the end, he incites a mute Arab worker to burn down the forest. In the forest’s ashes, the remnants of a destroyed Arab village appear, and only the native desert plants remain. While much more nuance must be given to a true analysis of “Facing the Forest,” the centrality of space and temporality in the literary self-fashioning surrounding the 1948 occupation is clear. In Returning to Haifa, readers see the layers of space and memory embedded into the city of Haifa and Said’s house, similar to the layers of space and memory embedded in Yehoshua’s forest. Creating an unbreakable connection between time and place, Kanafani forms a distinct Palestinian narrative of trauma and displacement that must be shared and overcome to fashion a liberating future.

The binary relationship between passivity and resistance is another important theme at work in Kanafani’s novellas. These conditions are clearly explored in Returning to Haifa, in which the author draws a connection between temporality and action. This relationship characterizes the story of Faris al-Lubda. His brother Badr was a martyr who died as a resistance fighter in 1947. In his honor, the Arab man who inhabits Faris’s former home named his son Badr. He says about the picture of the martyr, “It helped me not just to resist but also to remain” (177). These two Badrs represent the possibility for Palestinian continuity from the past to a future. Faris’s brother, a symbol of the tragic history shared by the Palestinian people, inspires the man to act in resistance and therefore move toward a future of sustained livelihood, as symbolized by the young Badr.

Throughout the narrative, Said transforms from a passive condition into one of newly found resistance. At the beginning, Said tells his wife, “Let’s get out of here and return to the past. The matter is finished. They stole him” (172). In this moment, Said wishes to escape the present by inhabiting the traumatic memory that paralyzes him. In Dov’s rebuke against Said, calling him weak and passive, he says, “Don’t tell me you spent twenty years crying! Tears won’t bring back the missing or the lost. Tears won’t work miracles!” (185) Kanafani shows that tragic memories of the Palestinian past must be mobilized toward collective action, not passive lament. By the end of the story, Said realizes this too. He understands that a solution will only arise through fighting, as his departing words illuminate, “You two may remain in our house temporarily. It will take a war to settle that” (187). The novella ends with Said’s hope that his son Khalid had joined the resistance fighters. Once again, a son, a symbol for the Palestinian future like the young Badr, is correlated with the call for resistance. By weaving the notions of temporality and action together, Kanafani demonstrates that a shared identity over the past holds the power to ignite a shared pathway toward Palestinian resistance and liberation.

Men in the Sun further nuances this binary between passivity and resistance. In many ways, readers sense that the characters’ agency has been revoked. Each character expresses feelings of dejection, humiliation, and isolation. The deaths of Abu Qais, Assad, and Marwan are passive deaths. They do not knock or plea for help, and they do not even see their killer, the sun, from inside the closed water tank. But Kanafani does not simply portray these characters as men destined to be passive. Subtle moments of resistance complicate this reductive reading. For example, the fat man who runs the smuggling office repeatedly tells each of the three men, “I’m not forcing you to do anything, I’m not forcing you” (16). The reiteration of this line signals to the reader that the men were not passively stuck in the past but instead possessed the strength and courage to embark on the strenuous journey of resistance. The novella concludes with the desert echoing back Abu Khaizuran’s question, “Why didn’t you knock on the sides of the tank? Why didn’t you bang the sides of the tank? Why? Why? Why?” (56) This question asserts the character’s potential agency – their passive death was not fated, and it was not beyond their control. Rather, the passive quality of their death was a choice. In addition to this passivity, the cause of their death was time itself. Each minute spent in the tank was heavy with emphasis and calculation. But all too soon, the time for survival passed. Kanafani demonstrates the potential and the need for Palestinian resistance, asserting that the time for achieving liberation will pass if the people do not unite in resistance soon enough.

This call for resistance may be contextualized in a final thematic binary that is operative throughout the two novellas, particularism and universality. Kanafani’s political critique and activism specific to the Palestinian cause are balanced by his global representations of morality, human imperfection, and suffering. In Men in the Sun, Kanafani exposes the faults of Palestinian leaders. Kilpatrick writes that the novella is “an attack on the corruption of the Arab regimes which allow [Palestinians] to suffocate in an airless, marginal world of refugee camps,” as symbolized by the characters’ deaths in the water tank (3). The men die silently as they wait for the leader they trust, Abu Khaizarun, who is delayed by the bureaucracy’s indecent infatuation with gossiped sexual exploits. Abu Khaizarun fought for Palestine but lost his manhood in the process. Unable to accept his loss, he fled from the hospital before completely recovering, “as though his flight could bring things back to normal again” (38). With this, he loses faith in patriotism and instead turns to material gain. He tells Assad, “I want more money, more money, much more. And I find it difficult to accumulate money honestly” (40). As a representation of Arab leadership who lost Palestine, Abu Khaizarun abandons Palestinian resistance, indulges in indecency and corruption, and ultimately entraps and suffocates his men.

Such political particularism is also present in Returning to Haifa, which is set in a specific historical time and place. Like Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, this historical placement assigns particular politics onto a more general allegory. But the novella simultaneously touches upon universal human ideas, with the discussion of fatherhood, homeland, and Dov’s philosophical claim that “man is a cause” (181). Kanafani nuances his depictions of Miriam and Iphrat, the Jewish characters, with stories of their traumas, motivations, hopes, and sympathies. In this way, Kanafani’s renderings of political events and experiences are capable of incorporating subtleties and complexities that historiography often fails to capture. Karen Riley and Barbara Harlow name Kanafani’s literary achievement “the human dimension” that history alone cannot provide (13). This is true for Men in the Sun as well. The three protagonists in this novella represent different stages of life. Marwan is a symbol of youth, Assad is a young man, and Abu Qais is an old man. Kanafani illustrates an entire community and an entire life cycle through these three characters. While each of these representatives is rooted in his own distinct history, their stories and feelings “could be matched by the stories of thousands of displaced persons who have been uprooted in Europe and elsewhere,” as Kilpatrick explains. In partnership with the centrality of the distinct Palestinian narrative and experience in both novellas, the universality of human suffering persists in Kanafani’s works. Perhaps this duality of particularism and universality relates to Kanafani’s political vision for a widespread transformation of the Arab world that would prioritize the Palestinian cause. Kilpatrick describes this, “[Kanafani fought for] a pan-Arab revolutionary social movement of which the liberation of Palestine would be a vital component” (1). Read in this light, the novellas’ thematic balance between the particular and the universal is deeply rooted in the author’s value for pan-Arab agency and resistance on behalf of Palestinian nationhood.

In his essay “After Mahfouz,” Edward Said explains the major difference between Egyptian and Palestinian literature. Mahfouz’s novels, set as the norm for Arab literature, arise from and contribute to a “culturally compact” Egypt, whose identity is “never in doubt” (319). In contrast, Kanafani’s literature originates in and speaks for “a fractured, decentered, and openly insurrectionary place” (320). But in Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa, Kanafani succeeds in overcoming these destabilizing obstacles. The author constructs a foundation for a collective Palestinian identity, rooted in a shared traumatic past and a devastating condition of displacement. This self-fashioning creates a distinct Palestinian present and a mobilizing force toward a future of liberation. Through a literary exploration into the relationship between temporality and passivity, Kanafani articulates the potential and demand for Palestinian resistance. Rife with political critique specific to the Palestinian cause, Kanafani situates universal human needs and emotions into his accounts of history. By transforming these lofty concepts of time, space, agency, and politics into a tangible force of Palestinian identity, unity, and action, Kanafani performs a tangible and impactful act of resistance in his composition of Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa.

By Lucille Marshall. Written for Contemporary Culture in the Arab World with Professor Joseph Massad at Columbia University.

Works Cited

Kanafani, Ghassan. Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories. Trans. Hilary Kilpatrick. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999. Print.

Kanafani, Ghassan. Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and Other Stories. Trans. Barbara Harlow and Karen E. Riley. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000. Print.

Said, Edward W. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.

The Notion of Origin in the Historiography Of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Much is at stake in the historiography of slavery; to fashion a certain history of the Transatlantic slave trade is to produce certain tangible consequences. The debate concerning the origin of modern slavery operates within the same epistemological system as the modern, Western discourse about the origin of civilization. An analysis of this origin historiography will explicate the active role of such discourse in establishing and maintaining global hierarchies of power. With this agency, the notion of origin in histories of the transatlantic slave trade participates in preserving the imbalances of power between Africa and the West.

The impulse to identify an origin in history is entwined in the ideas of “modernity” and “civilization,” which derive legitimacy from a crafted narrative of linear progress. Such a historical narrative is only possible with the basis of an origin. This function is fulfilled by a myth of the West’s Greek ancestry. Said Amin explains that the West’s self-formation is rooted in a teleology that begins in ancient Greece, where the seeds of “Western” thought and rationalism were first sowed. “According to this view of history,” Amin writes, “These qualities of Greek thought are taken over by European thought beginning in the Renaissance and come of age in the modern philosophies” (91). This construction of an origin narrative is “entirely mythic,” but the falsities of its claims do not mute its power (92). Rather, by declaring ownership over ancient Greek “civilization” and asserting its inheritance of “universal” ideas and culture, the West imposes its superiority over the rest of the globe.

The West’s alleged origin in ancient Greece bolsters the claim that only Europe possesses the pure and mature form of “civilization.” The concept of civilization encompasses a mass of standards, ideas, and behaviors asserted as the ultimate goal for all of mankind. Importantly, civilization is only an inherent trait of the “West,” another formulated construct that is projected onto the past through dominant modern historiography. As Amin explains,

“This dominant culture invented an ‘eternal West,’ unique since the moment of its origin. This arbitrary and mythic construct had as its counterpart and equally artificial conception of the Other, likewise constructed on mythic foundations” (89).

When history points to the West as the singular inheritor of civilization, the narrative of progress implicitly excludes and diminishes all that is non-Western. In a history dependent upon an origin of civilization, the West is ascribed with the innate capability to develop and progress continually through time. The non-West, in contrast, is painted as static, undeveloped, and incapable of self-improvement. These two binary identities are self- constitutive; one cannot exist without the other.

Hegel’s work The Philosophy of History illustrates the productive agency of insisting upon an origin of civilization. In Hegel’s conception of the world, he judges the success and development of all nations compared to the ideal standards of Europe. He writes that civilization outside of Europe “is but an emanation from Europe” (82). Fastening onto the idea of ancient Greece as Europe’s ancestor, Hegel presents the “fact” that civil progress is native only in the West and must be transported to occur elsewhere. Within this construction of history, the inferior non-West remains primitive and static, dependent upon external intervention to reach civilized society. This is exactly how Hegel describes Africa. He asserts,

“Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained—for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World—shut up; it is the Gold-land compressed within itself—the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night” (91).

Hegel goes on to describe the African as “the natural man” who is “completely wild” and “untamed” (93). The teleology of progress in modern historiography is demarcated and exhibited by Africa and Europe at opposite ends. Africa is the child, and Europe is the man. The West is granted a monopoly over the project of internal development. Any sense of civilization in Africa is attributed to an import from the West, as Hegel writes, “Historical movements in [Africa] … belong to the Asiatic or European World” (99). With this analysis, it is clear that Hegel’s history of the origin and development of civilization produces an African identity that is directly opposed and inferior to the West.

The notion of origin operating in Western historiography has been so effective in asserting Western superiority (and therefore maintaining Western dominance) that historians who seek to prove African agency have aimed to reappropriate this concept and claim African ownership over the origin of civilization. Cheikh Anta Diop is one of these historians. As the title of his book, African Origin Of Civilization, demonstrates, Diop works to corroborate the historical claim that “civilized” ideals and behaviors are, in fact, inherent to Africa’s character. In this way, Diop reverses the teleological narrative of Hegel. He writes, “Greece borrowed from Egypt all the elements of her civilization, even the culture of the gods, and [Egypt] was the cradle of civilization” (4). Rather than civilization “emanating” from the superior West to the inferior East as Hegel asserts, Diop seeks to ascribe intrinsic agency, uniqueness, and capability for progress to Africa. Diop’s argument, although, continues to operate within the same epistemological system as Hegel’s. Both authors position a narrative of development from an origin to a civilization, resulting in a hierarchical structure of power across the globe.

In order to successfully advocate for Africa’s agency and historical contribution, a historian must break down the dominant system of knowledge legislating the world’s imbalanced power. Martin Bernal attempts to do just this. Bernal identifies the dangerous effects of an origin history of civilization and instead presents a heterogeneous, non- teleological history of ideas, behaviors, and mixed influences. Recognizing two mainstream understandings, he describes an “Ancient Model” and an “Aryan Model” of Greek history. Bernal writes,

“According to [the Ancient Model], Greek culture had arisen as the result of colonization, around 1500 BC, by Egyptians and Phoenicians who had civilized the native inhabitants. Furthermore, Greeks had continued to borrow heavily from Near Eastern cultures” (1).

In this mode of knowledge, ancient Greek civilization was a result of diverse, external influences and confrontations. On the other hand, the Aryan Model of Greek history, which developed in the nineteenth century with the rise of Western ideas of modernity, denies Egyptian and Phoenician influence. This newer model claims that the original civilization was “the result of the mixture of the Indo-European-speaking Hellenes and their indigenous [Greek] subjects” (2). Clearly, the Aryan model produces the idea of an origin that is internal to Western history, justifying the West’s inherent predisposition for internal development, in contrast to an inferior Other. Instead of this Eurocentric perspective, Bernal proposes a “Revised Ancient Model,” which combines elements of both histories to paint a narrative of continual, heterogeneous influence. Bernal refutes dominant claims that Africa requires external intervention to achieve development not by reversing the argument, but by stepping out of that debate entirely. In Bernal’s construction of history, readers learn that African society produced its own unique set of cultural structures, which continually changed and morphed with migrations, invasions, and influences from diverse groups, including Semites and Phoenicians. The author describes Greece’s “cultural mix” with “fundamental linguistic [and] cultural links between Egypt” and many other groups (15). By tracking the heterogeneous nature of history, Bernal breaks down the notion of a single civilizational origin, ultimately discrediting the hierarchical, binary relationship between the West and the East that modern historiography prescribes and maintains.

In parallel to the history of civilization, the history of slavery is also marked by a fetishization of origin. An analysis of several historical constructions of the transatlantic slave trade will illustrate the same productive agency of the notion of origin in creating a hierarchal relationship between the West and the East. Walter Rodney, in his book West Africa and the Atlantic Slave-Trade, characterizes the transatlantic slave trade as an imported phenomenon with an origin external to Africa. His version of history renders Europe as the unique incubator of certain economic strengths that gave rise to the ideas, systems, and operations of the transatlantic slave trade, which were then forced upon a passive, undeveloped Africa. Rodney narrates,

“In fact, the Atlantic slave-trade should be seen as the first stage of the colonial domination of Africa by Europeans. In that period, the domination was purely economic, based on the difference between Europe’s growing commercial and capitalist economy and the subsistence economy of the Africans. Because of this advantage, Europeans called the tune and made the Africans dance” (21).

Rodney’s claim that only Europe possessed the economic “advantage” strong enough to innovate the project of the transatlantic slave trade echoes notions of European exceptionalism, or “Eurocentrism,” as Samir Amin calls it. Like Hegel, Rodney shows that the economic genius and power of the transatlantic slave trade was “but an emanation from Europe,” an external development imported into static, undeveloped, and childish Africa (82). By locating the origin of the transatlantic slave trade outside of Africa, Rodney participates in the same system of knowledge governing modern Eurocentric historiography, which produces the West’s superiority in contrast to its Other. Rodney portrays Africans as wholly inferior to Europeans, writing,

“Certain goods were made only in Europe. Africans were told that if they wanted those goods they would have to supply human beings. One of the most tragic aspects of the Atlantic slave-trade as far as West Africans were concerned lay in their increasing helplessness in the face of what amounted to economic blackmail… No single African ruler could prevail against the economic power of Europe… In the end they were not so much the partners of the Europeans but rather the servants” (21).

The modern notion that Africa is incapable of internal development lives on in this history. Rodney’s work serves as an exemplar of the tangible productivity in the transatlantic slave trade’s historiography. By employing the origin concept, his construction of history outlines a teleological narrative of Europe’s inevitable superiority and dominance over Africa during the slave trade and beyond. Even while Rodney condemns such domination, his history maintains the ideas present in Hegel’s work that Europe is innately superior and Africa is innately powerless.

With this understanding, it becomes clear that history’s narrative of the transatlantic slave trade must escape the notion of origin. Like Bernal, John Thornton seeks to demolish the oppositional identities of a West that is capable of internal advancement and a helpless Africa that is dependent upon external intervention. Thornton’s Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World restores agency to Africa by describing a heterogeneous mix of influence and power that built and operated the transatlantic slave trade project. To begin, Thornton directly refutes Rodney and his colleagues by asserting the inherent capabilities of Africa’s economy during this period:

“Africans played a more active role in developing the commerce [of the transatlantic slave trade], and they did so on their own initiative. On the one hand, the Atlantic trade was not nearly as critical to the African economy as these scholars believed, and on the other hand, African manufacturing was more than capable of handling competition from preindustrial Europe… Perhaps one of the most interesting facts of the early Atlantic trade was the Europe offered nothing to Africa that Africa did not already produce” (44).

Such arguments dismantle visions like Rodney’s and Hegel’s that portray Europe as the exclusive inheritor of “advanced” economic power. Additionally, Thornton refutes Rodney’s representation of Africans being helplessly blackmailed, asserting that Africans participated in the commerce as a willing and powerful agent and partner. His narrative does not portray the transatlantic slave trade as an externally imported project. Thornton discredits the notion of origin in the transatlantic slave trade’s history by illustrating the heterogeneous combination of influence in its establishment. He explains that Europe’s capitalist understanding of private property merged with Africa’s capable commerce industry (which already recruited and sold slaves) to create a new phenomenon of the transatlantic slave trade. In this way, Thornton’s historiography resembles Bernal’s concept that the process of “cultural mix” innovates new behaviors, ideas, and structures. Similarly, Thornton steers clear of inserting a hierarchical relationship between Africa and the West into his construction of history, because he abandons the notion of origin, the opposition between internal and external forces of progress, and the dichotomy between the powerful West and the powerless East.

In her essay “Discourse and Distortion: Critical Reflections on Studying the Saharan Slave Trade,” E. Ann McDougall demonstrates how the representation of slavery in history, politics, and culture plays an active role in the West’s imperial project, even after the fall of the transatlantic slave trade. She writes that the positioning of “the trans-Saharan trade in the story of the Atlantic slave traffic ”solidified conceptions of Africa’s dependency on the West and therefore “gave re-invigorated legitimacy to nineteenth-century discourses structured in dichotomies of West-East, Christian-Muslim, free-slave and us-‘other’” (210). Illustrating the infiltration of Orientalist discourse into the naming and description of the “Islamic” slave trade, McDougall identifies the power of hierarchical binary relationships produced by historiography. These constituted identities grant inherent superiority to the West over a primitive Africa, creating tangible consequences of imperial expansion and cultural domination.

McDougall’s discussion reveals the high stakes in the world’s contemporary understanding of the historiography of slavery. If the notion of origin continues to characterize narratives of civilization and slavery, the West will maintain its self- identification with an inherent exceptionalism, in opposition to an under-developed and dependent Other. The maintenance of such identities will conserve the lasting power imbalance of Western hegemony over the rest of the world. This exploration into the diverse historiographies reveals that our understanding of history is directly correlated to the world’s material reality. Armed with this realization, we must question and dismantle historical notions of origin that produce the West’s hegemonic dominance over Africa.

Written by Lucille Marshall for Major Debates in the Study of Africa with Professor Mahmood Mamdani at Columbia University.

Works Cited

Amin, Samir. Eurocentrism. New York: Monthly Review, 1989. Print.
Diop, Cheikh Anta, and Cheikh Anta. Diop. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality.New York: L. Hill, 1974. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of History. Trans. John Sibree. New York: Colonial, 1900. Print.

Thornton, John K. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

Walter Rodney, West Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade, Historical Association of Tanzania Paper No. 2

The Arab as a Mirror: The Vulnerable Zionist Collective in The Prisoner and Facing the Forests

S. Yizhar’s story The Prisoner and A.B. Yehoshua’s novella Facing the Forests offer comparable representations of a generally silent and passive Arab. In both works, the authors’ render the Arab as a mirror upon which to project, reveal, and critique the Zionist self. Yizhar and Yehoshua utilize the Arab character to expose the struggles, imperfections, and threats within the Israeli collective. By appropriating the “other” as an articulation and criticism of selfhood, the authors usurp Arab subjectivity in order to express anxiety about the Zionist dream. The Prisoner and Facing the Forests confront the Zionist collective with difficult assertions and critique, but their dissent remains within the dominant consensus and ultimately works to define, contain, and limit critical discourse.

Yizhar projects the psychological crisis of the Zionist collective identity onto the Arab character in The Prisoner. The author blurs the distinction between soldier and prisoner, emptying the Arab of his own subjectivity in order to reveal the struggle of the Israeli individual self. Throughout the story, the soldiers are characterized as trapped, blinded, choiceless, and abused, just like the Arab prisoner. The soldiers complain of “the trenches, the troubles, the disorder, no leave, and all that,” depicting their army base as a prison filled with restless, confined, and hopeless soldiers (298). Echoing the description of the blindfolded Arab prisoner, the narrator repeatedly signals to the soldiers’ blindness, with phrases like “we did not notice,” “nor had we looked,” and “we were stuck by an intense blinding light” (297). In addition to these parallels, the Arab character often resembles the Israeli soldiers. During the interrogation, the narrator describes the acts of violence without an actor—“The barrage of questions continued…The kicks landed like lighting…” (303). While it is clear that the soldiers perform the questioning and the kicking, the subject ambiguity underscores the obscure distinction between Israeli and Arab. This merging between Arab and Israeli characters continues, as the prisoner imitates the soldiers’ actions:

“[The prisoner] struck his left palm like a hatchet against his right shoulder and then against his wrist: from here to there. He beat himself incessantly, unstintingly, to remove any trace of doubt. Even then he was uncertain whether he had done enough or must continue, and around his mouth was the expression of a blind man who had lost his way” (304).

In this incident, the author utilizes the Arab character as a tool to critique the Israeli psychology. The reader is surprised, confused, and disturbed by the prisoner beating himself. With such clear similarity to the preceding moments of violent interrogation, the Arab’s irrationality ultimately reflects the irrationality of the soldiers. In mirroring the Arab prisoner and the Israeli soldiers, The Prisoner highlights that the soldiers, too, are blind men who have lost their way.

Through symbolism and muddled layers of narrative perspective, Yizhar highlights the Israeli struggle for individual selfhood from within an overwhelming sense of collective identity. With the Arab character as an instrument of self-reflection, The Prisoner exposes the crisis of Zionist selfhood. The author renders the soldiers as a flock of sheep, with no possibility for individuation. The Arab prisoner, on the other hand, is one. He is the only character with a name, establishing his autonomous selfhood in opposition to the soldiers. This juxtaposition is evident when the prisoner leads his sheep and the “flock” of Israeli soldiers:

“He immediately began clucking and grunting to his sheep as if nothing at all had happened, dropping from rock to rock through the brush with accustomed ease, the bewildered animals behind him. We followed after with hoarse yells, our rifles slapping our backs as we stampeded along and descended with wanton abandon to the valley” (297).

Their “hoarse yells” like bleating cries, the soldiers will “stampede” wherever their leader brings them, always together and without a thought, like “bewildered animals.” The fact that the prisoner, the enemy and victim, leads the flock of soldiers points to the ignorance bred by the Zionist collective in its ideal of united obedience.

The layers of narrative perspective in The Prisoner further develop the struggle between Israeli individual selfhood and collective identity. Short, fleeting moments of the narration present a singular first person perspective, offering a glimpse into the individual world of a vaguely defined protagonist. Just before the prisoner leads the sheep and the sheep-like soldiers, a moment of individual perspective occurs: “I don’t know what our prisoner thought upon seeing daylight again, what he felt in his heart, whether his blood whispered or roared, or what stirred helplessly in him. I don’t know” (297). Following this short passage, the narrator again returns to the perspective of “us” and “we.” At the end of the story, the reader is absorbed in the soldier’s inner-dialogue. Because of the overwhelming power of his collective sense of self, the soldier is incapable of disobeying orders and freeing the prisoner. While this reading harbors sympathy for the loyal, tortured conscience of the Israeli soldier and for the helpless Arab victim, a deeper analysis finds that this story is not about the need for Arab liberation—it is about the need for Israeli psychological liberation at the expense of Arab subjectivity.

The Arab prisoner, as the singular named character, is ambushed, trapped, and beaten by the Zionist collective. By blurring the distinction between Arab prisoner and Israeli soldier, Yizhar renders the Arab character as a representation of the imprisoned Israeli selfhood. Descriptions of the prisoner as he lay in the jeep echo descriptions of an Israeli individual engulfed by the Zionist collective: “Perhaps he is a victim of the intrigues of his people” and “Is that what you really think? Is he a soldier?” are two examples (308). At the height of the soldier’s indecision, he thinks,

“The abducted man, the stolen sheep, those souls in the mountain village—single, living strands that can be joined or separated or tangled together inextricably— suddenly, you are the master of their fate” (306).

The “abducted man” may refer to the Arab prisoner, but its deeper meaning suggests that this man, a “single, living strand,” is truly the Israeli selfhood. This reading is especially supported by the phrase “the stolen sheep.” Yizhar challenges the Israeli to break away from the collective flock and embrace individual freedom. As a symbol of Israeli individual selfhood, the Arab prisoner offers psychological liberation to the overbearing Zionist collective that smothers “independence of thought” (308). In this way, the inner-dialogue at the end of the story does not reveal a conscience torn between duty and righteousness— instead, the Israeli conscience struggles to liberate its own individual selfhood. If he were to succeed in this, “all would end well, one could breathe freely again” (308). By rendering the Arab as an empty screen upon which to project Zionist struggles, the author erases Arab subjectivity. Just as the protagonist proclaims “Oh, Hasan Ahmed… who are you and what is your life, you who can cleanse from our hearts all this filth,” so too does Yizhar appropriate Arab subjectivity in an effort to repair and liberate the Zionist psyche.

A.B. Yehoshua’s Facing the Forests features another Arab character whose subjectivity only exists in relation to the Israeli protagonist. Like Yizhar, Yeshoshua utilizes the Arab character to expose the illusions and threats within the Zionist dream. The Arab belongs to a buried village, “a thing of the past” (222). The author warns of the potential for relapse—for the past to rise up into the present—by the hands of those on the fringe of the Zionist collective. The protagonist is a failing scholar, weak, passive, and bald. He sleeps with his friends’ wives; he wanders aimlessly with no purpose. The fire watcher feels no ideological connection to the Zionist narrative of building up the land, as he exclaims, “’Forests… What forests? Since when do we have forests in this country? What do they mean?’” (204) As a traitor, a bookish weakling, and an apathetic outcast, the protagonist defies all characteristics of the New Hebrew Man. This character is alienated from the Zionist collective, removed from the flock of sheep-like soldiers that Yizhar illustrates. The free indirect style and third person psycho-narration in Facing the Forests underscore the protagonist’s status as an outsider by producing a sense of distance between reader and character. Even with access to his inner thoughts, the third-person narration inhibits a sense of proximity to or identification with the fire watcher.

Even before the fire watcher hears about the buried Arab village under the forest, he yearns for some kind of destruction, as readers learn, “No longer does he trouble to caution against fire. On the contrary. He would welcome a little conflagration, a little local tumult” (219). Out of boredom and a base human desire for rebellion, the fire watcher attempts, in multiple instances, to set the forest aflame. Yehoshua writes,

“He wakes with a start. He lights a cigarette, tosses the burning match out into the forest, but the match goes out in mid-air. He flings the cigarette butt among the trees and it drops on a stone and burns itself out in solitude” (223)

The solitude of the failed match recalls the solitude that the protagonist pursues as a cure to his unproductivity. Despite his craving for “local tumult,” the fire watcher is not capable of burning down the forest in his solitude. So when he learns of the Arab’s demolished village, the protagonist latches onto this “thing of the past” as his own. He begins drawing a map of the area, and the story reads,

“What interests him in particular is the village buried beneath the trees. That is to say, it hasn’t always been as silent here. His curiosity is of a strictly scientific nature. What was it the old man had said? ‘A scholar’” (223)

As a “scholar,” the opposite of the New Hebrew Man, the fire watcher works to excavate, seize, and control the Arab’s vehemence to fulfill his own personal objective, the excitement of destruction.

In an effort to resist against the Zionist project, the Israeli protagonist appropriates and manipulates the passion of the Arab. The narrative signals this possession over the Arab’s agency when the fire watcher stumbles upon the Arab’s stash of kerosene:

“Small tins filled with kerosene. How wonderful! The zeal with which someone has filled tin after tin here and covered them up with the girl’s old dress. He stoops over the treasure, the still liquid on whose face dead pine needles drift. His reflection floats back at him together with the faint smell” (224)

In this moment, the fire watcher discovers the Arab’s great “zeal” that has hitherto been hidden away. In the Arab’s fervor, the protagonist sees the potential for the destruction of the Zionist project, the forest, signaled by the “dead pine needles.” The fire watcher takes ownership over the Arab’s passion, symbolized by “his reflection [floating] back at him.” From here on, the protagonist manipulates and controls the Arab through calculated maneuvers. Seeking to “impress his own vigilant existence upon the [Arab],” the fire watcher spends more and more time with him. Soon the Arab follows him everywhere and even “goes down on his knees” before him (223, 228). The protagonist sets a small fire in the forest, inciting the Arab’s “lunatic hope,” and concludes, “Thus far it was only a lesson” (227-228). This manipulation is successful, as it is written, “Together, in silence, they return to the forest, their empire, theirs alone. The fire watcher strides ahead and the Arab tramples on his footsteps” (227). The protagonist decides on their path, leading the Arab and blazing their trail. The Arab loyally covers up any trace of the Israeli’s involvement, leaving only his own footsteps behind. By the time the Arab finally sets the forest on fire, the Arab is no longer himself. Like the Arab prisoner in Yizhar’s short story, the subjectivity of Yehoshua’s Arab character is erased. While the Arab expresses agency by igniting the fire, he is actually under the influence and control of the Israeli protagonist.

Yizhar reveals the brokenness of the Israeli self, and Yehoshua reveals the fragmentation with the Zionist collective. Neither story exudes hope or sympathy for Arab liberation. The destructive fire in Facing the Forests begins with “the loneliness of a single flame in a big forest” (231). The alienated protagonist is just one flame, but he is a serious threat to the Zionist enterprise. The dissent of those on the fringe of Israeli society can revive threats of the past. The fire watcher even facilitates the possibility for total renewal of this past–“In order to soothe his conscience he sits the [Arab] girl in his chair. It has taken les than a minute to teach her the Hebrew word for ‘fire’” (229). As a new generation, the young Arab child represents the ultimate threat to Zionism, displacement. Yehoshua expresses fear that the Zionists will resemble the Crusades (the protagonist’s area of study) in their bloody and temporary reign. Through the representation of Arab characters, the author illustrates the imminent vulnerability and disintegration of the Zionist collective. In both The Prisoner and Facing the Forests, the Arab figure is an instrument to expose the authors’ anxieties about the Zionist dream.

Neither Yizhar nor Yehoshua idealize the mythical Zionist narrative. Both admit complexities, mistakes, brutalities, and vulnerabilities of the Zionist project. Still, these authors participate in the ideological and political consensus of Zionism. Ammiel Alcalay describes this phenomenon in his book After Jews and Arabs, which reads,

“The existence of a certain mold can determine the range of possibilities open for writers who become difficult to place within the accepted terms of the discourse. The mold, both self-created and externally constructed and promoted, is generally that of the engaged liberal” (232).

Performing as “the engaged liberal,” Yizhar and Yehoshua produce boundaries in the discourse prescribed by Zionist ideologies of power. With these authors as the chosen representatives of dissent and criticism, other narratives that lay beyond their limits are silenced, discredited, and labeled “extremist.” An exploration of The Prisoner and Facing the Forests reveals the authors’ investment in the Zionist ideology and contribution to the dominant consensus of the Israeli narrative. Their stories participate in Zionist power structures by usurping the agency and subjectivity of their Arab characters. Both Yizhar and Yehoshua represent the Arab as a mirror upon which to reflect and expose the vulnerabilities of the Zionist collective, calling for self-awareness, improvement, and fortification. In accordance with the “engaged liberal” mold, The Prisoner and Facing the Forests create barriers of containment within Zionist literary discourse.

By Lucille Marshall. Written for Independent Study with Professor Gil Anidjar at Columbia University.

Works Cited

Alcalay, Ammiel. After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1993. Print

Yehoshua, Abraham B. The Continuing Silence of a Poet: The Collected Stories of A.B. Yehoshua. Trans. Miriam Arad. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin, 1991. Print.

Yizhar, S. Israeli Stories; a Selection of the Best Contemporary Hebrew Writing. Ed. Joel Blocker. Trans. V.C. Rycus. New York: Schocken, 1962. Print.

The Business Benefits of Family-Friendly Policies

In today’s evolving familial landscape, American workers increasingly struggle with work-family conflicts. With a rise in dual-earner families and an increase in single-parent households, caregiving responsibilities are shouldered by more than half of all American workers.1 Family-friendly workplace policies allow employees to better balance their obligations at work and at home. These policies do not only improve workers’ lives. Family- friendly workplace policies are also beneficial for businesses. Paid leave grants employee access to family leave and sick leave without compensation losses, and workplace flexibility offers helpful arrangements like adaptable work schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, and alternative work locations. Such policies improve productivity without imposing burdensome costs on employers. To demonstrate the value of paid leave and workplace flexibility, common objections will be considered and countered, prompting a justified conclusion that family-friendly workplace policies benefit businesses.

Employers who do not adopt family-friendly policies often argue that paid leave and workplace flexibility policies lower productivity. On the contrary, enabling work-family balance advances employee recruitment and retention, improves worker productivity, and reduces absenteeism. When considering a position, workers evaluate a job’s bundle of compensation benefits, which may include paid leave and family-friendly flexibility. These policies attract workers and support businesses in recruitment to secure the best employees, improving firm productivity. (1) Many job seekers value family-friendly policies so much that they are willing to accept lower salaries in return, since workers conceive of family-friendly accommodations as an important component of their compensation bundle. (2) Evidence supports the fact that higher compensation increases business’ recruitment and retention, in addition to improving employee performance. (3) Family- friendly employers may also attract workers who would otherwise not participate in the labor market at all. (4) Businesses with policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility may select from more employee candidates, attract valuable human capital, and ultimately enhance the productivity of the company as a whole.

Not only do family-friendly policies improve the recruitment of skilled workers, but they also aid in retaining these employees. Work-family conflicts often force employees to decline a position or quit their jobs. The 2015 Economic Report of the President announces that almost 50 percent of working parents have declined a job offer because the position was not compatible with their family life (159). Research shows that many organizations experience a repeated pattern of women resigning after maternity leave as a result of the company’s schedule inflexibility, which conflicts with the new parents’ caretaking responsibilities. (5) The employee turnover that results from work-family incompatibility can be very costly. According to case studies, the median cost of replacing a worker is 21 percent of that employee’s annual salary.6 Policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility help companies avoid such common and expensive turnover. In a study of First Tennessee Bank, “supervisors rated by their workers as supportive of work-family balance retained employees twice as long as the bank average and kept more retail customers. Higher retention rates contributed to a 55% profit gain over two years,” BusinessWeek reports. (7) Researchers surveyed 120 New York employers and found that companies with flexible leave policies benefited from significantly lower turnover. (8) When Google extended its paid parental leave to five months, the rate of women employees leaving the company decreased by half. (9) Family-friendly benefits encourage the work-family balance that employees need to remain in their positions. Family-friendly policies harbor employee loyalty. To minimize the loss of firm-specific skills and costly turnover, businesses may improve their retention, and therefore their productivity, with accommodations that support work-family balance.

A worker’s efficiency is directly impacted by family responsibilites. Research finds that conflicts between family and job responsibilities are closely related to lower employee productivity. (10) If a company aims to boost its efficiency, the adoption of family-friendly policies may be the solution. In fact, studies show that firms offering benefits like paid leave and workplace flexibility are more productive overall. (11) Important research assures that employees do not abuse such benefits.12 Paid sick leave encourages employees to stay home when sick, which decreases the likelihood of infecting other workers and furthering business losses. Flexible work schedules are proven to be associated with less absenteeism and greater job satisfaction. (13) Unexpected absences are waste time and money and cause problems with uncertainty over daily workforce composition. Absenteeism due to conflicting work and family obligations costs employers an estimated $500-$2,000 per employee every year. (14) Dalton and Mesch (1990) discovered that work schedule flexibility reduces employee absences by more than 20 percent. These researchers suggest that flexible scheduling increases employee motivation by improving basic working conditions, since workers are better prepared to handle conflicts and inconveniences. (15) The 2014 US Council of Economic Advisors reports, “In a 2002 survey, researchers from the University of Cambridge determined that businesses with family-friendly policies, which includes either paid or unpaid leave, were more likely to have above average labor productivity than those without such policies.” Family-friendly policies enable employees to come to work healthy, energized, stress-free, and on time, creating a more productive workforce and business environment.

Those who object to family-friendly workplace policies commonly argue that paid leave and flexibility generate unsustainable, burdensome costs on employers. However, in addition to the productivity benefits discussed above, family-friendly policies prove to be cost effective and yield significant positive externalities. Results from current programs demonstrate such advantages. Of the 253 surveyed employers impacted by California’s paid family leave initiative, more than ninety percent reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, morale, and turnover. (16) After Connecticut implemented a paid sick leave program, 47 percent of employers experienced no increase in cost, and 19 percent reported an increase of less than two percent, (17) a minimal cost relative to the long- term advantages of improved recruitment, retention, and productivity. In a 2002 study, researchers discovered that 92 percent of employers with workplace flexibility policies considered their entitlements cost effective. (18) Cisco’s extensive telecommuting options, which offer employees better work-family balance, save the company more than $275 million each year. (19) Wall Street Journal published a study on Fortune 500 companies. The study found firms’ stock prices rose in the days after the businesses announced family- friendly initiatives. (20) Investors value the increases in worker productivity and employee work-life balance that result from policies like paid leave and flexibility. In addition, family- friendly accommodations promote positive community relations and customer loyalty, (21) especially since polling data show that the public overwhelmingly favors these policies. (22)

When considering the cost effectiveness of family-friendly policies, it is important to account for positive externalities. Paid leave and workplace flexibility are beneficial for America’s economy, labor force, and future. The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave reports,

“[A] study examining the implementation of San Francisco’s paid sick leave law in 2007 found no evidence of a negative effect on the economy. Unlike surrounding areas that did not have a paid sick leave law, San Francisco saw an increase in total employment after the implementation of the law” (17).

Family-friendly policies open the labor force to those who would otherwise not be able to work due to their caregiving responsibilities. Research shows that California’s paid leave policy increased hours worked and total earnings for mothers with one to three year old children by 10 percent, especially among lower-wage workers who could not have afforded unpaid leave.23 Family-friendly policies sustain employment options for caretakers, boosting the economy on a wide scale level. When potential workers can foresee long-term career options in their futures, they will likely attain higher education, increase their skills, and maintain attachment to the labor force.24 The 2015 Economic Report of the President exhibits the positive externalities of widespread family-friendly policies:

“If flexible arrangements were coordinated across firms or part of a Federal program, costs would be spread out among employers, making such offerings more beneficial for them. In addition, it would prevent employers who refuse to provide flexibility to their workers from pricing their goods and services lower than competitors who do provide flexibility” (200).

Broad adoption of family-friendly policies can help small businesses that may struggle to match the generous leave and flexibility policies of larger firms. (25) Finally, family-friendly policies are proven to benefit family function and stability, improving child development. (26) Healthier and happier children promise a better American future, a stronger prospective workforce, and a general improvement in societal well-being. Such significant positive externalities illustrate the advantages of family-friendly workplace policies in America.

If family-friendly policies benefit businesses, why do some companies not offer paid leave or workplace flexibility? The likely reasons may include employers’ unawareness of the potential advantages of such policies, firms’ incapability of successful implementation, and reluctance to revise traditional work organization. Economic research shows that lack of information plays a significant role in the incomplete adoption of best management practices. (27) With dramatic labor force changes in recent years, managers may not yet recognize the evolving needs of employees and the downfalls of an outdated system. As more and more businesses continue to adopt family-friendly policies, competition in recruitment, retention, and productivity will likely encourage other firms to incorporate work-family accommodations as well. But responses to outside pressure and labor market competition take time. Implementation of new policies requires reorganization, training, and financial revisions. These first steps may be challenging or costly, preventing businesses from launching family-friendly initiatives. With a deeper understanding of the short- and long-term business benefits of policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility, employers will more readily invest in family-friendly improvements for their organizations.

Cultural obstacles may prevent certain businesses from adopting family-friendly policies. Distrust of their employees is a major reason why some employers are wary of granting flexibility. (28) Research finds such policies are most effective when paired with “favorable organizational culture” that is open to, aware of, and considerate about work- family balance. (29) All staff must fully understand and respect family-friendly policies in order for the policy benefits to arise, and this favorable culture requires quality training and communication. Often, a “workaholic” mentality marks work-family balance initiatives as too lenient or unprofessional. By spreading awareness about the immense need for family-friendly policies throughout America and the widespread benefits they foster, more businesses will embrace a culture welcoming work-family accommodations.

Barriers to family-friendly policy implementation may vary among different industries. Certain policies may not be compatible with every type of occupation. For example, retail clerks and food servicers likely could not work from home like a financial service employee could. Technological difficulties prevent many manufacturing workers from flexible work arrangements—the on-site nature of these jobs and formal shift schedules may make telecommuting and individual schedule flexibility especially difficult. (30) For all industries, an expanded training program allows employees to gain a wider skillset so that they may better substitute or compensate if a worker is not present. Some small business owners argue that family-friendly policies can only succeed in large firms, since every team member in a small business is essential in regular operations. But data shows that small firms actually provide more flexibility to workers than large firms do. (31) Small business managers may surpass other employers in their ability to understand the work- family needs of their employees and find solutions that benefit workers and business productivity. In general, family-friendly policies challenge traditional work organization, demanding business creativity, adaptability, and training. Difficulty in administration, schedule reorganization, and positive cultural shifts are natural bumps in the road leading to work-family balance. Businesses overcome these challenges by incorporating family consideration into work processes, job design, and organizational composition, as comparable to other concerns, like marketing or technological improvements. (32) A deeper understanding of the common barriers to implementation reveals that such obstacles do not overshadow the lasting benefits of family-friendly policies.

As work-family balance becomes harder to achieve for all Americans, businesses must respond with creative accommodations to recruit and retain workers. Paid leave and workplace flexibility improve employee morale and productivity. These benefits reduce expensive turnover and absenteeism. Family-friendly workplace policies prove to be cost- effective and yield transformative positive externalities, promising a stronger American economy, labor force, and future. As more employers continue to embrace the need to promote work-family balance, American firms will overcome the challenges in revising traditional work organization. Addressing the common arguments against work-family accommodations displays the clear advantages of family-friendly workplace policies, which widely benefit workers, families, and businesses.

By Lucille Marshall. Written for Introduction to American Politics with Professor Judith Russell at Columbia University.

End Notes

1 “The 2015 Economic Report of the President.” The White House, 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

2 Work Group for Community Health and Development. “Promoting Family-Friendly Policies in Business and Government.” Chapter 25. Changing Policies. Community Tool Box, 2014. Web.

3 Cappelli, P., and K. Chauvin. “An Interplant Test of the Efficiency Wage Hypothesis.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 106.3 (1991): 769-87. Web.

4 Boushey, Heather. “To Grow Our Economy, Start with Paid Leave.” Cato Institute. Cato Institute, 14 Nov. 2014. Web.

5 Can Der Velde, Marjolijn. “Family Friendly Policies and Women at Work.” UMI. University of Illinois at Chicago, 1999. Web.

6 The White House. “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave.” The Council of Economic Advisors (2014): Web.

7 Hammonds, Keith. “Balancing Work and Family.” BusinessWeek. 16 Sept. 1996. Web. <;.

8 The White House. “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave.” The Council of Economic Advisors (2014): Web. 9 Obama, Barack. “Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills — They’re Basic Needs.” The Huffington Post., 23 June 2014. Web.

10 Kim, Jungin, and Mary Wiggins. “Family-Friendly Human Resource Policy: Is It Still Working in the Public Sector?” Public Administration Review (2011): 728-39. Wiley Online Library. Web.

11″The 2015 Economic Report of the President.” The White House, 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

12 Ibid, p.193

13 Frye, N. Kathleen, and James A. Breaugh. “Family-Friendly Policies, Supervisor Support, Work-Family Conflict, Family-Work Conflict, and Satisfaction: A Test of a Conceptual Model.” Journal of Business and Psychology 19.2 (2004): 197-220. Web.

14 “After School for All: A Call to Action from the Business Community.”Corporate Voices for Working Families Web. <;.

15 Bucshak, Mona, Christa Craven, and Robert Ledman. “Managing Absenteeism for Greater
Productivity.” Managing Absenteeism for Greater Productivity. IP Research and Commmunities, 22 Dec. 1996. Web.

16 The White House. “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave.” The Council of Economic Advisors (2014): Web.

17 Ibid, p.17

18 Dex, Shirley and Colin Smith. 2002. “The Nature and Pattern of Family-Friendly Employment Policies in Britain.” The Policy Press.

19 Obama, Barack. “Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills — They’re Basic Needs.” The Huffington Post., 23 June 2014. Web.

20 Arthur, Michelle M., and Alison Cook. “ILR Review.” “Taking Stock of Work-Family Initiatives: How Announcements of “Family” by Michelle M. Arthur and Alison Cook. Wall Street Journal, 2003. Web.

21 “How Your Business Can Support Family Involvement In Education — and Benefit.” Be Family-Friendly: It’s Good Business. Web.

22 “Encouraging Family-Friendly Workplace Policies.” Hearing before the Subcommittee on Education and Labor. Committee Publications, 3 Mar. 2009. Web.

23 “The 2015 Economic Report of the President.” The White House, 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

24 Ibid, p.201

25 “NC Families Care.” NC Families Care. Creating Healthier Families and Workplaces, Web.

26 Work Group for Community Health and Development. “Promoting Family-Friendly Policies in Business and Government.” Chapter 25. Changing Policies. Community Tool Box, 2014. Web.

27 “The 2015 Economic Report of the President.” The White House, 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

28 Newman, M., and K. Mathews. “Federal Family-Friendly Workplace Policies: Barriers to Effective Implementation.” Review of Public Personnel Administration 19.3 (1999): 34-48. Web.

29 Amah, Okechukwu. “Family-Work Conflict and the Availability of Work-Family Friendly Policy Relationship in Married Employees: The Moderating Role of Work Centrality and Career Consequence.” Research and Practice in Human Resource Management 18.2 (2010): 35-46. Web.

30 “The 2015 Economic Report of the President.” The White House, 19 Feb. 2015. Web.

31 Galinsky, Ellen, and Kenneth Matos. “Small Employers Lead in Workplace Flexibility.” Payroll Manager’s Letter 30.11 (2014): 8. Web.

32 Hammonds, Keith. “Balancing Work and Family.” BusinessWeek. 16 Sept. 1996. Web. <;.

Architectural and Spiritual Harmony in Riverside Church

Riverside Church stands as a landmark in the Upper West Side. Its soaring height, intricate decorations, and colorful windows declare its artistic magnificence to the whole city, but a close encounter with the space offers a meaningful, religious impression upon the visitor. Riverside Church’s exterior and interior architecture fosters a comprehensive spiritual experience that fulfills the church’s function to inspire a connection with God. Exploring the relationships between structure, personal encounter, and religion will reveal the interactions between space, sensation, and intentional symbolism in the church.

The impression of the church’s exterior is dominated by its single bell tower, which commands the neighborhood at 392 feet. The tower serves a functional purpose, housing over 20 floors for church programming. But its perceptual impact achieves arguably more influential goals of symbolism and illusion to communicate God’s glory, the church’s authority, and a call to elevate the soul. Located on the Hudson, the church tower soars as a high peak on the river’s skyline. With its great height, the tower proclaims the church’s superior importance to the surrounding natural and urban landscape. This architectural feat indicates extraordinary human accomplishment, but the visitor’s inability to fully discern the top of the tower when standing before the church yields a sense of awe and lowly humility. One feels small in comparison. The repetition of pointed arches and narrowing vertical columns draws the eye upward. The small size of the flying buttresses, which serve no real structural purpose, create the illusion of an even taller structure. The building’s limestone exterior reflects sunlight, creating a white glow that blends into the clouds above. With this engagement of nature and material, the church’s bell tower seems to cross into an upper heavenly realm. The exterior architectural design urges visual ascension, symbolizing Riverside Church’s role in elevating the faithful spirit.

The main entrance to Riverside Church is distinctive in its placement at the base of the tower with its elaborate decoration. This west-facing entrance features concentric Gothic arches that frame the large, metal doors. This composition forms a dramatic portal, as if the visitor transitions from one world to another. The pointed arches surrounding the doors increase in width and height, further shrinking one’s perception of human size in relation to the massive building. The symmetrical entryway and pointed arch draw attention to the tympanum centered above the doors. Throned in the middle of the tympanum is the seated Christ, who, if He were to stand up, would exceed the tympanum’s frame in height. The Christ image’s proportion to the structure conveys His authority over the entryway and, subsequently, the whole church. The collaboration between architecture and artistic decoration in the main entrance serve the church’s purpose in delineating the structure as the house of God, a space for men to interact with the Divine.

An examination of Riverside Church’s interior, specifically the nave, reveals much architectural and experiential continuity from its exterior structure. The strong impact of height continues inside the church, emphasized by repetitive structural and illusionary elements. Upon entering the nave, one stands directly below a wooden overhanging balcony. After a few steps forward, the above balcony ends and, suddenly, the soaring height of the ribbed vault ceiling becomes visible. One is struck by the immensity of the open, undivided space. This transition enhances sensitivity to the nave’s dramatic vertical span. Gothic arches are a consistent motif in both the exterior and interior architecture. Pointed arches and compound piers line each aisle and wall, which, similar to the experience outside the church, direct one’s sight upward. The illusion achieved by narrowing vertical structures is also prevalent in the nave. Above each large, foundational arch are four smaller arches that span the same width as one big arch. Functionally, these shorter, thinner arches create a second level for seating, but the perceived illusion contributes to the church’s symbolic intentions. The narrowing pattern of the structures produces the impression that each arch is even higher and farther away than it really is. The eye translates the arches’ repetition and shrinking size to indicate greater vertical distance, thus creating a forced perspective. Riverside Church’s awe-inspiring height symbolizes the institution’s capability to unite Heaven and man, both by yielding God’s grace on earth and by lifting the human spirit through faithful inspiration.

The interaction between light and material inside the nave differs greatly from the exterior experience. While the limestone radiates sunlight and camouflages into bright clouds outside, the interior lighting is much more varied, with moments of extreme darkness contrasting with areas of luminous color. Arches along the sides of the nave foster a pattern of dark shadows. Hanging lamps, centered above the pew rows, offer abrupt spheres of light, emphasizing the shadows with direct contrast and shining distinct beams of illumination onto the walls and pillars. The ribbed vault ceiling also displays such polarity. Shadows nestle in each ceiling arch, and every vault’s center point features a small, circular window. The sky’s white light pierces through the dullness of the vault. This forms a dotted line of light across the ceiling that mimics the center aisle in its thrust toward the chancel. Such eerie polarity in light and darkness marks the church as separate from nature, articulating the architecture’s intention to highlight God’s emanation from Heaven and His intimidating power. The nave’s phenomenal acoustics add to this experiential effect. Every step and every whisper echoes throughout the huge room. This sensation, in conjunction with the stark changes in light and darkness, hushes the visitor into an awed silence. The acoustics highlight the individual’s capability to disturb the space’s tranquility, but the dramatic interactions of sunlight, shadow, and structure impress the obligation for humbled, respectful silence before the all-powerful Divine.

The dark shadows resulting from the architectural structures frame the many stained glass windows. This contrast accentuates the windows’ lustrous shades of blue, red, and green. The lowest windows display colorful geometrical patterns that mimic structural elements in the church, like pointed diamonds that echo the shape of arches. The window panels themselves are in the Gothic arch form, augmenting the relationship between the nave’s decoration and structure. The sets of stained glass windows above the second floor balcony feature full-bodied representations of Christian figures, glowing with vibrant sunlight. While sitting in the pews, one can hardly make out these figures’ faces due to the stained glass windows’ towering height. It is as if these holy, elevated personalities enter the earthly realm through the church, but their unreachable loftiness is maintained by their great height above men. Their position above the congregation represents the role of these saints to mediate between the congregation and God.

The organization of the open, undivided nave produces a propulsive force toward the chancel. Three aisles divide four symmetrical pew rows, directing the eye straight down the main aisle to the elaborately decorated chancel. The arrangement of wooden pews on the chancel is also symmetrical, with a golden cross as the center focal point. Stone stairs and a surrounding railing delineate the chancel as a separate, higher realm to differentiate the elite from the average churchgoer. The walls around the chancel shape a semicircle. As the only side of the nave without a second level balcony, these walls are uninterrupted in their vertical reach. The viewer feels totally encircled and enveloped by the chancel’s lofty, round form. There is a stone chancel screen with detailed carvings that mingle architectural decorations with representations of important people in religion, philosophy, and science. This screen features thin, tall figures and narrowing vertical beams with pointed tips, guiding one’s sight upward. The symmetrical chancel screen grows in height toward the chancel’s middle arch and accents the cross’s centrality. This screen blocks visibility of the stained glass windows behind it. But the screen’s middle panel leaves an arch-shaped opening behind the golden cross, so the vivid stained glass highlights the cross’s radiance. The collaboration between light, artistic decoration, and interior architecture articulates an intentional religious message. The space creates a hierarchy of structure, art, and symbolism through its patterns, lighting, and visual thrusts. Even though the cross is not the largest symbol in the nave, these elements join forces to convey its dominance. The cross, as the pinnacle focal point of the entire nave, marks the church as Christ’s domain.

The exterior and interior appearances of Riverside Church foster both the senses of humility and of redemptive achievability. The visitor feels small and trivial in the face of such holy power, but the church simultaneously empowers its visitors by exhibiting the attainability of a connection with God. Through the intentional unification of architectural design and spiritual encounter, Riverside Church harmonizes the function and experience of space.

By Lucille Marshall

Written for Masterpieces of Western Art with Professor Caroline Mangone at Columbia University.

The Colonial Encounter: Culture Production through Binaries, Historiography, and Assimilation

“The most successful pedagogy that Orientalism and the colonial encounter would bequeath to these Arab intellectuals was not, however, the production of a nationalist historiographical response, although that was indeed part of it, but an epistemological affinity that would inform all their archeological efforts. These Arab writers would approach the topic at hand by adopting and failing to question these recently invented European notions of ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ and their commensurate insertion in a social Darwinist idiom of ‘evolution,’ ‘progress,’ ‘advancement,’ ‘development,’ ‘degeneration,’ and most important, ‘decadence’ and ‘renaissance.’ Thus Arab intellectuals accepted the thesis that the eighteenth century had been decadent and used it to legitimate their own culture production.

 -Joseph Massad, Desiring Arabs (5)

As the citation from Desiring Arabs suggests, the colonial encounter produced, defined, and sustained the phenomenon of culture. By synthesizing works by Joseph Massad, Mahmood Mamdani, and Partha Chatterjee, we may uncover the productive role of descriptive binaries in the formation of cultural subjects. These thinkers illustrate that such binaries are entrenched in certain theories of history and progress, which facilitate imperial control over cultural and nationalist identities. Culture as a tool and product of colonialism generates the inherent tension in declaring cultural uniqueness by accepting hegemonic standards of civilization. As the theories of Massad, Mamdani, and Chatterjee elucidate, cultural internalization of the colonial project remains present and productive today.

Massad, Mamdani, and Chatterjee emphasize the productive power of binaries in the creation, definition, and management of cultural subjectivity. In the above quotation, Massad points to the influence of Orientalism, a system of knowledge epitomized by the production of Oriental identity in contrast to the West. Desiring Arabs demonstrates that the cultural subjectivities of colonized peoples are rooted in the dissemination and institutionalization of binaries. Massad claims, “As civilization was the operative evaluative criterion, two antinomies would determine the representation and self-representation of the history and culture of the Arabs… the binaries of decadence/ renaissance and tradition/ modernity would govern all such representations” (3). Inherent within these binaries are evaluative hierarchies. The production and recognition of colonized culture in opposition to Western culture bears civilizational judgments. The binaries of decadence/ renaissance and tradition/ modernity produce mutual reliance on the Other to define, sustain, and evaluate the self. Massad demonstrates the hierarchal effect of the creation and management of categorical differences with his citation, “Islam was not to be evaluated as a theology, but as a culture… As culture was used as a synonym for humanity, reason and freedom, the European spectators of the Orient had to define Islam as ‘un- culture’” (4). While Western civilization epitomized progress, Arab culture, as a binary opposite, was demarcated by “dead time,” as Massad writes (23). These subjectivities are relational and mutually dependent, but the evaluative judgments are unequal. Determined by European standards of modernity and progress, the “un-culture” of the colonies is defined by its inferiority to Western civilization.

In his book Define and Rule, Mamdani also highlights the role of binaries in cultural production by the colonial encounter. Like Massad, Mamdani locates the colonial formation of productive binaries in the realm of culture, as he writes, “Thus was born a bifurcated notion of culture, said to be a walled, isolated, and unchanging affair in the non-West, as opposed to a transformative one in the West” (14). This antinomy parallels Massad’s description of the Arab’s “un-culture” with “dead time” in contrast to modern Western civilization. Mamdani illustrates that the contrast between the West’s progressive society and the non-West’s stationary society breeds an inherent interdependence between the two. Investigating the binary of settler and native, Mamdani explains that these political identities are constitutive of each other in their maintained opposition. Define and Rule reads,

“If the settler was modern, the native was not; if history defined the settler, geography defined the native; if legislation and sanction defined modern political society, habitual observance defined that of the native. If continuous progress was the mark of settler civilization, culture was best thought of as part of nature, fixed and unchanged” (6).

Mamdani nuances this binary, revealing the discrimination embedded within the evaluation of cultural identities through oppositions. He proves that intellectuals asserted Western civilization’s opposition to non-Western culture with intentions to produce and secure Western superiority. Mamdani writes that this West/ non-West binary was based on conception, not observation, “so much so that the same observations were interpreted in sharply opposite ways: developments ascribed to urbanization, cosmopolitanism, and progress in the West were seen as outcomes of impurity and miscegenation in the non-West” (104). These discriminatory contradictions demonstrate the effect of binaries in developing and maintaining evaluative hierarchies and power imbalances in the colonial encounter’s cultural production.

Partha Chatterjee, author of Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, offers additional attention to the productivity of binaries in the formation of subjectivity during colonialism. Insisting upon the mutual dependence of opposites in maintaining cultural identity, Chatterjee argues, “For Enlightenment itself, to assert its sovereignty as the universal ideal, needs its Other” (17). We should now consider Mamdani’s description of the native, which defines the non-West as this necessary Other: “Natives were attached to local custom, not universal ideas or ideals” (13). Chatterjee explains that anti-colonial nationalism was also rooted in this West/East binary. While the nationalist Oriental sheds passivity and gains apparent subjectivity, the “thematic” remains the same; “nationalist thought accepts and adopts the same essentialist conception based on the distinction between ‘the East’ and ‘the West’” (38). Like Massad’s discussion on cultural hierarchies, nationalist thought relies upon and assimilates to the European standards of modernity to measure the development of a national culture, according to Chatterjee (1).

The phrase “social Darwinist idiom” in the opening quote is helpful in determining the place of these e binaries in cultural production. Massad, Mamdani, and Chatterjee illuminate the European historiography of evolutionary progress that frames the formation of cultural subjectivity in a temporal scheme. In order to define, develop, and defend their culture in a recognized domain, colonized peoples must embrace and perpetuate this understanding of history. Deeply implanted in this historical theory is the binary opposition between the West and non-West, as measured by the standards of European civilization. Massad claims that this binary is justified in terms of a historical theory of evolutionary culture, as he writes,

“The reasons why Europe ‘modernized’ are found in an immanent cultural realm, as are the reasons for why the Arabs ‘have not’ …[Arabs] are late in their movement toward modernity, seen as the time of ‘democracy,’ and are located behind ‘Europe’ and its American extension, seen as the site of ‘democracy’” (27).

Arab intellectuals, the architects and preservers of culture production, accepted the Orientalist historical narrative about a decadent eighteenth century and assimilated to Europe’s notion of renaissance in disseminating the idea of a “Golden Age” of Islam. By doing so, the cultural product of the colonial encounter posits “the Western historical trajectory as the only course to reach the telos of modernity,” according to Massad (19).

Illustrating Europe’s imposition of historiography on colonized groups, Mamdani’s discussion of the historical theory of progress echoes Massad’s. Mamdani relays that Henry Maine, a central figure in the design of indirect rule, said, “A large part of ancient Europe survives in India” (10). Through their legal administration, colonizers institutionalized the belief that “backward” colonized societies lagged behind the exceptional West in the trajectory of evolutionary history. Mamdani argues that this Darwinian theory of history informed the legal practices of colonizers, which were rooted in two historical and theoretical principles: “One, that every colonized group has an original and pure tradition… and two, that every colonized group must be made to return to that original condition, and that return must be enforced by law” (50). Mamdani makes clear that the Western historical narratives of legal and social evolution justified the colonizer’s impetus to determine, authorize, and enforce tradition, thereby producing the colonized people’s cultural subjectivity.

Chatterjee applies this acceptance of the “social Darwinist idiom” to the emergence of anti-colonial nationalism. He explains, “In this new nationalist reinterpretation of the colonial impact, therefore, historical time itself becomes episodic. Every civilization, it is now argued, has its periods of growth and periods of decay” (137). The nationalist project identifies its culture’s present condition as antiquated and decadent compared to the Western standards of modern progress and aims to usher in a new “spirit of the age” (138). Just as Mamdani writes that modern states seek a unique past and future (46), Chatterjee demonstrates the universalization of the European theory of history. His argument reads,

“So every nationalism has invented a past for the nation; every nationalism speaks through a discourse, ‘historical in its form but apologetic in its substance,’ which claims to demonstrate the rise, progress and efflorescence of its own particular genius. Modern European intellectual fashion not only decrees that a nation must have a past, it also demands that it have a future.” (9)

With this account, Chatterjee illuminates the acceptance of the Western narrative of modernity and progress as an integral component in the principles and practices of national culture.

The above citation from Desiring Arabs claims that Arab intellectuals adopted an Orientalist epistemology to justify their own distinct culture production. Massad demonstrates the contradiction within the declaration of unique cultural identity, which assimilates to European notions of civilization in order to be produced and recognized. Massad describes how Arab internalization of the Western theory of history drove intellectuals to accept and fulfill the Orientalist diagnosis of civilizational stasis and decay. He writes, “The concern over what might have led to the Arab ‘decline’ increased the intensity of the ongoing intellectual battle between Arab writers engaged in producing the account of the Arab ‘cultural’ past…and Orientalists engaged in a similar task” (14). By evaluating and inventing their culture with Western ideals, Arab intellectuals complied with Orientalism’s hierarchal binaries. In defense against colonialist definitions of Arab “un-culture,” the emergence of the “’complete historical independence of the Arab self,’ which is freed from turathist and European authority and therefore inaugurate a temporal movement toward modernity,” paradoxically perpetuates the Western superiority that it seeks to refute (25). Massad highlights this inherent contradiction as he quotes Abdul R. JanMohamed: “On the one hand, there is a desire to define one’s ethnic and cultural uniqueness against the pressures of the majority culture and on the other hand an equally strong, if not stronger, urge to abandon that uniqueness in order to conform to the hegemonic pressures of the [white] liberal humanistic culture” (15). Massad informs us that culture produced by the colonial encounter is characterized by this contradiction between distinct culture and assimilation to hegemonic evaluations of cultural ideals.

Mamdani locates this contradiction within the subjectivity of the native. The native identity was a product of the hegemonic imposition of evaluative binaries and systems of law rooted in Western theories of historical progress. Illuminating the intrinsic hegemony in the management of cultural difference by arranging, enabling, and overseeing native “traditional” leadership, Mamdani writes, “Enforcing tradition became a way of entrenching colonial power” (50). While natives were apparently empowered to govern and define their own identities, their cultural production could only function within the realm of colonial permission and control. Mamdani presents this reality, explaining, “Colonial preoccupation with ‘restoration and rehabilitation of cultural heritage’ tends to reify culture, robbing it of historical dynamism. It ‘actually perpetuates the ethos of dependence which it is ostensibly intended to eliminate’” (101). Here we find a connection between the Orientalist diagnosis of the non-West’s stasis in progressive history and the acceptance of European authority in facilitating the native’s cultural subjectivity. “Though imposed from above, through colonial law and associated administrative measures, tribal identity became the basis of voluntary organization over time,” Mamdani writes, “Enforced from above, native identity begot a native agency” (72). The uniqueness of native, self-produced culture is distinguished by its adherence to Western hegemony and ideals.

This contradiction is essential to the production of anti-colonial nationalism that Chatterjee investigates. Chatterjee highlights the central tension between cultural uniqueness and assimilation in the nationalist project, as he proposes, “The search therefore was for a regeneration of the national culture, adapted to the requirements of progress, but retaining at the same time its distinctiveness” (2). Nationalist groups refuted their ascribed identity of backwardness by proving their ability to self-rule and preserve unique cultural identity. But nationalism could only articulate this argument by assimilating to ideals of progress—the same ideals upon which colonial domination was built. Chatterjee summarizes this penetration of colonial hegemonic epistomology into anti-colonialist nationalism, writing, “There is, consequently, an inherent contradictoriness in nationalist thinking, because it reasons within a framework of knowledge whose representational structure corresponds to the very structure of power nationalist thought seeks to repudiate” (38). These three thinkers stress that the cultural production of the colonial encounter is characterized by its internal contradiction between uniqueness and assimilation.

Massad, Mamdani, and Chatterjee illustrate the persisting influence and productivity of culture shaped by colonialism. Each author proposes the need for a radical reorganization of cultural, historical, nationalist, and capitalist discourse in order to finally disassemble the Western hegemony that is nourished by prevailing binaries, historiography, and assimilation. Massad claims that we must dismantle these binaries by transcending them culturally, as he states, “What is needed—not only for Arab intellectuals but especially for their European counterparts—is a view of turath and modernity that is located outside this dualism, one that is not subject to their temporal peregrinations” (29). Mamdani parallels this argument, asserting, “The only emancipation possible for settler and native is for both to cease to exist as political identities” (4). The necessary destruction of binaries is echoed by Chatterjee, who ends his book with a call to “replace… the old problematic and thematic with new ones” (170). Chatterjee recognizes that the thematic, which asserts and accepts the West/East binary opposition, must be destroyed to terminate the lasting effects of culture production in the colonial encounter.

A close analysis of Massad, Mamdani, and Chatterjee’s works illuminates the lasting influence of culture as a tool and product of the colonial encounter to form hierarchical subjectivities and maintain imbalances of power. With the institutionalization of defining binaries and the universalization of historical theories of progress, the internalization of Western ideals and superiority shapes and sustains the phenomenon of culture.

By Lucille Marshall

Written for Theories of Culture with Professor Gil Anidjar at Columbia University.

Works Cited

Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1986. Print.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity. London: Harvard UP, 2012. Print.

Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2007. Print