And Kung said ...
It is easy to shoot past the mark,
It is hard to stand firm in the middle.
Ezra Pound, Canto XIII
Recognition is the basic notion of dialogue. Even in ordinary encounters, dialogue itself must be brought into consciousness, and direct itself, even if ritually, to the very fact of participation. In every handshake and in every greeting there is a quintessential recognition, an acknowledgment of the other as an origin and site of the real. The obligation to recognize is the first ritual law and the basic condition for human communication. The televised ceremony on the south lawn of the White House in Washington on September 13, 1993 was a blown-up staging of that ritual. The historical handshake between Rabin and Arafat pertained not only to the resolution of a local feud, important as it may be, or to the personal resentment overcome by both sides, but to the basic human drama of recognition. This may partly account for the success of this drama as a spectacle on television.
Recognition is a resource, like territory, water, or military power. It is fought for. The historical handshake was an occasion not only of granting recognition but also of winning recognition. It is not the mere magic word, peace, that will bring the parties to renounce rage and fantasy. Recognition requires much work. The handshake on the lawn perhaps eased the way for numberless handshakes that will follow suit, but it is a prototype of a paradigm rather than a conclusive state.
Personally, I took part in an Israeli-Palestinian mini handshake ritual in 1988, a few months after the outbreak of the Intifada, on a visit to a small village near Ramallah. From the slopes of a hill, children threw stones at us and stopped when the Palestinian who escorted us shouted to them that we come as friends. We climbed the hill, and at the top, two or three representatives of the village stood under a waving Palestinian flag and welcomed us with a handshake. All the tension, comprising of much more than the immediately evident fear, pride and anger, found its way into this handshake. It was a brief, intense shot of recognition. It had to be translated, however, into the system of relations. Indeed, during the visit to the village that followed the ceremony, there were incidents which proved that the handshake could not contain all that it perhaps meant to. A ritual presents a figural complete act. When it unfolds into action, things are more complex.
Yet no conversation I had ever held with a Palestinian had been as charged and had shaken me, as this half-anonymous handshake. On that occasion I faced the threat of the Palestinian stripped of one-sided illusions. The power of the Palestinians' presence under the flag dictated for me at that moment my own position. For a troubled moment the Palestinians stood facing me victoriously, claiming independence. If I indeed wanted to stay and withstand the visit, I could not but be an Israeli against Palestinian, flag against flag, hand-shaking. It is a forced engagement which cannot turn from enmity to love. It is merely an expression of will- to hold and contain the almost unbearable tension, with its bitter opposition and rage within the tight grip of the two right hands.
This grip means an agreement to accept a new set of rules, and a new agenda. Simply put, the shift is toward dialogue. Even if the double reading of the sign is viable; the decision to talk is the name of the new phase. In Washington, in Taba, in Cairo, in Tunis, as the television screen shows, political representatives on the two sides talk. This implies more than specific matters at hand. It says, "Talk," "turn to talk!" This is the new imperative ¬to talk.
The Duel for Recognition
The prospective reality is replete with enmity, suspicion, fear, rage, confounded with feelings of superiority and inferiority in the power game of military, economic, and cultural and moral spheres. To enter a dialogue does not mean to leave all these heavy sediments behind, and walk out of our armor naked of memory. When we strike up a conversation, we strike many matches at once. The description I insist upon resembles more a duel than a lovers' nest "There is more substance in our enmities than in our love," wrote W.B. Yeats (about another war). This substance is what should be worked through.
The point of beginning goes back to where the alternative agendas were tom and thus bound to each other - to a painful memory, split into two histories, each one strewn with pain, sadness, hatefulness. What is common in the two histories is the knowledge of being tied to each other in a Gordian knot. No one can throw the other out of his world and have a clean place for himself. This is the revolution - the two sides solemnly declaring that they lay down this fantasy.
At this point, however, there is another fantasy, imported from its previous, more ambitious one. The drama becomes that of recognition - a forceful demand for recognition from our compulsory partner. The name "dialogue" can be given to that duel for recognition. The dependence of the two sides creates the dialectics of a duel. Each one fights for recognition from the other whom one aspires to kill, and cannot. This is the hard, perhaps tragic sense of the peace that is being born between Israelis and Palestinians. The forces that make peace are exactly the same forces that have made war. Interestingly, it is Rabin and Arafat who shake hands - those who are identified not only by others but probably by themselves too (as was made clear on the lawn), as leaders of war. They are the ones to make the shift - gradual shift, some argue; a radical shift, argue others - that has made them into credible messengers of dialogue, which remains, in this sense, an inverted version of war. It is a change of code from kill to talk.
The situation changes, but the asymmetry does not disappear. The desire for recognition is immense, not only for a political recognition of existence as an entity, but for recognition in one's suffering and the other's direct responsibility or former disrespect for it. Both parties claim recognition and both sides must give it. In fact, the difficult part of the game is to recognize each other together, so that one will not be caught recognizing, but unrecognized.
Both parties realize, and the handshake signifies that double realization, that it is impossible to solve the contingent equation without admitting the existence of the other side. This inevitably implies a partial renouncement of oneself, either a renouncement of power and control, or of the fantasy of victory or vengeance. This brings both sides at the same time to alternate in giving and forgiving, having sympathy, empathy, generosity and understanding. Here, too, the point of asymmetry between the two sides of the seesaw becomes the center of gravity of the relationship. It is this equal point at the center of asymmetry which makes dialogue work. The fight turns from positing one-sided victory as the aim, to fighting for a middle ground and its terms, the terms of peace.
Talking peace means to stand firm in the middle, to contain the double pull of the magnet. On the one hand, it means to go forward in an act of self-renouncement, listening, generosity, and change of heart. On the other, it means keeping in mind the duel for recognition, because it is there, and only through it, within the broadening horizon of the conversation, that more and more silence will turn into talk.
To shoot past the mark, on the other hand, is to falsify talk, to circumvent the hard nucleus of the encounter. The demand to have a conversation and to supply an incessant participatory self frequently tends to turn the arena into a detached, ritualistic stage.
In groups of Palestinians and Israelis which have convened for the purpose of conducting a dialogue, occasionally (from my own experience and according to other testimonies) what is achieved is not much more than ritualistic gestures, mimics of recognition. What is revealed and unfolds in such encounters, however, is that which makes recognition such a hard task. Recognition is a drama in its own right, notwithstanding territory, economic interests and political power to the attainment of which recognition can be deemed a medium and a vehicle. On the plane of conversation, each side tends to pull to its own trauma - Palestinians (usually from within the Green Line) to their expulsion in 1948, and (Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza) to events exemplifying oppression and humiliation. Israelis lead back to the terror and, interestingly enough, to the Holocaust. Both parties demand recognition of their suffering and accusation, as well as of their political rights. Individuals become in such dialogues a symbol of a collective, and the conversation becomes a site enclosed by the horizons of the conflict and its narrowed and harsh centers of identification.
But this locking into positions becomes a source of threat. The minimal peace agreement achieved by the very consent to be on speaking terms creates a fear of losing even that. Participants tend to avoid the painful heart of the dialogue by way of distraction. They move to less loaded subjects - personal issues (where participants do not represent except their own non-collective selves, and even avoid moments in which they have forcibly or voluntarily thought collective thoughts and become collective selves) or general issues like literature, folklore and so forth. Such attempts advance the dialogue forward to mutual acquaintance, and perhaps to friendship, but they cannot get rid of the sense of shooting past the mark, and of missing the main point for which the dialogue was called for in the first place.
To find an exit from this magic circle of understanding and open a way in the dialogic circumlocution, a radical shift must be made, from a supposition of understanding and familiarity to an active impeding of easy closure toward an ability-to-not-understand. This may evoke awkward or even paralyzing silence, but it is not the silence of repression and displacement, but the silence of recognition. To hear in this case would mean not only to stop wanting to kill the other, but to be ready to be killed by the other, that is, to acknowledge oneself from the other's perspective in the battle, as the bad, the ugly, the stranger, the oppressor, the monster, yet to come back to life, to the life of conversation. This is a difficult moment of listening in which the listener must withdraw, contract his movement forward toward the other, pull the rug under one's own speech and fall into silence in pain. There is no answer, no adequate response, no appropriate face.
Silence in opposition is the basic-condition from which conversation is the liberating force through communication, the creation of sociality, the marriage of opposites, binding together the focus which threatens to split and fall apart or wage into war. In consequence, to speak of recognition is to acknowledge the middle term - the topos constructed between the parties where the identities can be recognized in speech and in silence. In coming out of silence, we must change. This means a revision of our own self-conception. The difficulty to recognize the other is also the difficulty to change, to know ourselves differently, to thaw positions which have played center in the language game of the (collective) self. The change in the laws of the political game are changes in the laws of the language game, our concepts, notions, values. Without this change, the handshake loses its emblematic power.
The Territory Where Histories Meet
The connection between rereading one's own story and a conversational rereading and meeting of histories inevitably leads to the tear in the text. How can the two histories become one, a common, untorn, unsplit text? They cannot. The common text created in the conversation resists a conclusive unity of the two histories. All that can be done is construct in the conversation a third point reducible to neither one nor the other. It is a middle point not exactly at the center, but principally constituting the negation of the one, that is, of the possibility of total victory of one over the other. To lay down our history and jump into the third point, into the other, at least for a moment, is the task of the dialogic phase. This is a critical point, the point of critical thought in dialogue.
What is opened in this critical middle point, is something like a new place.
The middle place is a place between places, a confederative site, and its territory cannot be measured in terms of square kilometers. It is a topos, a place-of-speech. To the topos each side brings his speech with its text/place and each side may withdraw his speech, but as long as conversation takes place, it is the free, intermediate zone of speech where the third - not one, neither the other - expands in its articulations and silences, and opens itself to change.
Within the law of recognition, however, we should take into account that a truly historical hermeneutics must base itself on the ground of prejudice. We must take prejudice as our grounds, and not wish it away with false moral pretensions. Israelis and Palestinians should, I believe, historicize each other on the grounds of their prejudices. We should ask each other the question of recognition - "Where did you come from?" By that question I mean more than biography. It is a question of biography in ~e prism of conversation, namely, "What way have you gone through that has led you to the present encounter?"
To sum up, the revolution that is under way in Israeli-Palestinian relations is not a switch that turns memory off and immediately erases one text to create a new one, with new roles, new narratives, new selves. On the contrary, recognition works against detachment and denial, and thus we should regard speech as coming with memory and with the history that tells memory's story and fixes it as political and identity facts. In the coming phase, the harsh terrain of dialogue is still ahead. The shift from arms to words defines our dialectic as a conversational one, and thus defines our mission - to produce a new topos and a new confederative text which will become a historical fact with a true power of change. <