An Aesthetic Occupation: The Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestine Conflict

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Overview

In An Aesthetic Occupation Daniel Bertrand Monk unearths the history of the unquestioned political immediacy of “sacred” architecture in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Monk combines groundbreaking archival research with theoretical insights to examine in particular the Mandate era—the period in the first half of the twentieth century when Britain held sovereignty over Palestine. While examining the relation between monuments and mass violence in this context, he documents Palestinian, Zionist, and British attempts to advance competing arguments concerning architecture’s utility to politics.
Succumbing neither to the view that monuments are autonomous figures onto which political meaning has been projected, nor to the obverse claim that in Jerusalem shrines are immediate manifestations of the political, Monk traces the reciprocal history of both these positions as well as describes how opponents in the conflict debated and theorized their own participation in its self-representation. Analyzing controversies over the authenticity of holy sites, the restorations of the Dome of the Rock, and the discourse of accusation following the Buraq, or Wailing Wall, riots of 1929, Monk discloses for the first time that, as combatants looked to architecture and invoked the transparency of their own historical situation, they simultaneously advanced—and normalized—the conflict’s inability to account for itself.
This balanced and unique study will appeal to anyone interested in Israel or Zionism, the Palestinians, the Middle East conflict, Jerusalem, or its monuments. Scholars of architecture, political theory, and religion, as well as cultural and critical studies will also be informed by its arguments.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A revelatory history of the architectural construction of the Israel/Palestine conflict that is also a stunningly original contribution to critical theory in the tradition of Adorno and Benjamin. Monk shows how both sides—thanks in part to the British—became trapped in a deadly quicksand of sacralized geographies and imagined histories.”—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

“Why is the question of Israel/Palestine so intractable? Why, in this supposedly enlightened, secular age, does there seem to be no exit from a conflict that has focussed obsessively on the material features of this tiny country for millennia? How is it that the very stones, monuments, and landscape have become so invested with conflicting values that they seem to have ‘lives of their own’ that are not simply shaped by historical events, but themselves play the role of causal agents in those events? Daniel Monk’s brilliant and profound meditation on these questions eschews all the easy alternatives: it avoids the temptation both of one-sided polemics (on the one hand) and Olympian neutrality (on the other); it refuses to pass over the fetishizing of monuments and places as a mere symptom that could be dispelled by critique; above all, it insists on looking steadily at the objects themselves in all their paradoxical, conflicted formulations, their positioning in events, memories of events, and fantasies of a final event to come. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to think about the Holy Land, or about the way objects make and are made by history.”—W. J. T. Mitchell, University of Chicago, Editor, Critical Inquiry

Middle East Journal
Bertrand Monk takes an unorthodox look into the history of the 'sacred' architecture in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
Shofar
The author unearths the history of the political immediacy of 'sacred' architecture in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, examining in particular the Mandate era. While examining the relation between monuments and mass violence in this context, he documents Palestinian, Zionist, and British attempts to advance competing arguments concerning architecture's utility to politics.
Gabriel Piterberg
[An] ambitious excavation of 'the career of architecture' in the prehistory of the Palestine conflict. . . .—New Left Review
Columbia College Today
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, even the stones are invested with meaning, and 'sacred' architecture can take on a devastating political significance for both sides in the conflict.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A scholarly look at the role of architecture in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, An Aesthetic Occupation: The Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestinian Conflict shows why controversies over monuments (like Ariel Sharon's infamous visit to Haram al-Sarif, which touched off the current intifada) can explode into violence. Focusing particularly on the British Mandate period and using examples like the Wailing Wall riots of 1929 and the restoration of the Dome of the Rock, Daniel Bertrand Monk, a SUNY-Stony Brook art and architecture professor, explores how holy sites were transformed into political symbols. Academic in tone, this unusual study offers a new perspective on a still roiling dispute. ( Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
A scholarly look at the role of architecture in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, An Aesthetic Occupation: The Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestinian Conflict shows why controversies over monuments (like Ariel Sharon's infamous visit to Haram al-Sarif, which touched off the current intifada) can explode into violence. Focusing particularly on the British Mandate period and using examples like the Wailing Wall riots of 1929 and the restoration of the Dome of the Rock, Daniel Bertrand Monk, a SUNY-Stony Brook art and architecture professor, explores how holy sites were transformed into political symbols. Academic in tone, this unusual study offers a new perspective on a still roiling dispute. ( Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822328032
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Bertrand Monk is George T. and Myra W. Cooley Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director, Peace and Conflict Studies Program [P-CON] at Colgate University.

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Read an Excerpt

AN AESTHETIC OCCUPATION

The Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestine Conflict
By Daniel Bertrand Monk

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2002 DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-2803-2


Chapter One

A HIEROGLYPH DESIGNED BY GOD

When an ordinary preacher of to-day uses the traditional phrases of religion-when he speaks of hell, of Jerusalem, of union with the Body of Christ, of the warfare between flesh and spirit, and the contrast between earth and heaven -he is at once understood to be dealing merely in metaphors. But to [General Gordon] ... such phrases as these have a meaning as literal as they had to Dante. Hell for him is a veritable abyss of fire; the new Jerusalem is a veritable city in the heavens; and the Jerusalem of the earth is a spot so sacred, that the configuration of the ground it stands upon is a hieroglyph designed by God. -W. H. Mallock, "General Gordon's Message"

The Bleak Confusion of Golgotha ... is not just a symbol of the desolation of human existence. In it transitoriness is not signified or allegorically represented, so much as, in its own significance displayed as allegory. -Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama

IN JANUARY 1883 General Charles Gordon (1833-1885) arrived in Ottoman Palestine with the intention ofidentifying the precise topographic position of Golgotha (derived from the Aramaic gulgulta, meaning "the place of skulls"), the place of Christ's passion on the cross and presumed by Victorians to be close to the vicinity of his tomb. One of those select figures whose careers were irreverently chronicled by Lytton Strachey in his Eminent Victorians, this same "Chinese Gordon" had helped to quell the Taiping Rebellion in 1864, had reconstructed England's fortifications along the Thames, and, directly prior to his arrival in Palestine (while posted in the Seychelles), had engaged in a series of bizarre researches on the exact position of the Garden of Eden. In the year following his investigations in Palestine, Gordon met his end in the Sudan, where, after seeking to quell the Mahdist revolt of Muhammad Ahmad, he was killed, and then posthumously beheaded during the siege of Khartoum. From that moment onward he was assumed within the pantheon of English imperial martyrs.

This "Warrior of God, man's friend and tyrant's foe," as Tennyson's epitaph dubbed him, was a religious visionary so consumed with spiritual fervor that he was seemingly incapable of committing his thoughts to script without initialing "the apotropaic initials D.V. [Deo volente] after every statement in his letters implying futurity." Yet, with both seriousness and deliberation, Gordon transposed the seventeenth-century English cleric Joseph Hall's (1574-1656) devotional articulation of an allegorical union between the body of Christ and the "members" of his religious fellowship into an ecstatic pantheism: a kind of fetishism premised upon a belief in the actual, phenomenal "in-dwelling" or penetration of Christ within the corpus of his followers. A general hermeneutic strategy presented itself to Gordon in consequence of the symmetries established by this concrete union. As the elements of material reality-the landscape, the specific aspect of objects in the natural world, the geographic position of Golgotha itself-necessarily were the coded signs of divinity, then it was also apparent that the divine (or the position of divinity) could quite literally be surveyed. It has been said of Hall's own original hermeneutic that it presumed "a sermon lay behind every stone," but it would be equally fair to say that the inverse was true of Gordon, who sought to petrify the figures of Scripture into actual marks on the land.

Though generally interpreted as a particularly colorful and quixotic episode within the history of that brand of evangelical imperialism inaugurated by Shaftesbury and ending, perhaps, with Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour, and Wyndham Deedes, General Gordon's private excursus into the scriptural geography of Palestine in 1883 marks instead a significant turn in the history of those conjoined aesthetic, discursive, and epistemological imperatives that Edward Said has aligned with the term "orientalism"-the "Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." Marked by a "distribution of geopolitical awareness" into the space of representation, orientalism as a discipline establishes dominance over an imaginary domain and rehearses there, within the space of representation, the West's historical cathexis with the actual Orient of material history. Gordon's eventual "rediscovery" of Golgotha and the manner of his proof for discerning its location signal a critical moment in the restructuring of orientalism's discursive and figural practices. Though still deeply imbricated in what Said has termed the "imaginative geography" of nineteenth-century pilgrimage literature, Gordon's mission stands on the brink of the performative and "instrumental" imperatives that would dominate orientalism in its modern forms. As with the instrumental orientalists whom he anticipates, the aim of Gordon's unusual cartography is to impress the Orient into "urgent actuality." More specifically, immanent within Gordon's science of manifestations-built into the insufficiency of his efforts to resolve the material world into a form of magical inherences-are the workings of a way of talking about history that would dominate modern Palestine during much of the period of British dominion there.

The general's recovery of a topographic feature that could give meaning to the Gospels' designation of Golgotha as the "place of the skull" (actually grounding Golgotha in the landscape as a motivated feature) was formulated in a simple sketch. Gordon prepared an image-in-plan so startling that, once understood, it would not only redeem the scriptural past, but explode into his present, forcing it to "become the now [Jetzt] of contemporary actuality." Relying on original topographic surveys of Jerusalem prepared by Charles Warren of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) upon the close of the Crimean War, Gordon traced the peculiar pattern of contour intervals in Warren's plan of the city (as it would appear) without what the general referred to as the cumulative "debris" of oriental history-that is, architecture. Beneath the shroud formed by the contemporary Ottoman city of Jerusalem, Gordon claimed, lay the previously concealed anamorphic figure of Christ on the cross. And at the head of this strange topographic rune, on a hill to the north of the city, lay Golgotha, the actual place of the figure's skull (figures 1 and 2): "I refer to Sir Charles Warren ... for the explanation of the plan of Jerusalem without debris.... His plan shows very clearly the human figure, and only wants the skull hill to be considered with it to complete it.... I think the cross stood on top of the skull hill, in the centre of it."

Several strands of a vast historical project converge upon, merge within, and are in a sense fulfilled with Gordon's "revelation" of the anamorphic figure of Christ on the cross. In the passage of time spanning the publication of Chateaubriand's Travels (1812) and Volney's Ruins of Empire (1806) at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the subsequent topographic descriptions of Palestine outlined in Daniel Clarke's Travels in Various Countries (1812), James Fergusson's The Holy Sepulchre and the Temple of Jerusalem (1865), Claude Reignier Conder's Tent Work in Palestine (1878), and culminating with Gordon's own posthumously published Reflections in Palestine (1884), Golgotha became the site of a geopolitical contest over its own figuration. In the space of a century, English and American scriptural geographers dislodged Golgotha from its firmly established geographic position-the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was and remains a monument firmly in the possession of Eastern and Catholic Churches-and, by questioning the identification of the site with Golgotha on scientific and topographical grounds, successfully sublimated Calvary to the landscape itself. Moreover, this displacement both signaled and was effected through a systematic effort to supplant the privileged tropic function of Golgotha as the archetype of allegory, the very place where, as Benjamin has noted, "transience is rendered allegorical," and to represent the "petrified primordial landscape" of Jerusalem itself in a redemptive fashion, as symbol.

Architecture appears at the nexus of this contest over Golgotha. During the course of the nineteenth century, the Calvary of Chateaubriand and Lamartine passes over from an established emblem of "mournful loss" (that sign of irretrievable history perpetually reconfirmed by the relation of a fixed monument to a petrified oriental landscape surrounding it) into something qualitatively different. If, for Chateaubriand, who, significantly, represented himself as the last of the pilgrims, the features of Jerusalem-the terrain and the architecture of a city marked by "flat terraces or domes ... [that] resemble sepulchers"-presented themselves only as functional fragments of an allegory intended to forever recapitulate the significance of events on Golgotha through the perceived rigor mortis of contemporary oriental forms, then for Robert Curzon, James Fergusson, Claude Conder, and their English and Protestant compatriots, the same perceived immutability of the Orient potentially reaffirmed Golgotha's symbolic function. It was precisely the "petrified unrest" of the landscape and the architecture of Jerusalem (to paraphrase Benjamin once again) that confirmed, not simply "the desolate confusion of the place of skulls," but also a Golgotha of historical redemption.

I have no wish to fold the Golgotha of Walter Benjamin's theory of allegory onto the Golgotha of Gordon as an end in itself. Instead, I would like to point out the historical relation between them. For Benjamin, the decisive distinction between allegory and symbol, was not, as Goethe had argued, a distinction between particulars and universals, but one of time. Referring to the work of Friedrich Creuzer, whose emphasis on the "momentary quality," of the symbol, approached what he called "the real state of affairs," Benjamin related the symbol and allegory to each other in a dialectic that pointed, by way of its abstraction, to the abstraction of history itself: "Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified primordial landscape. Everything in that history that, from the very beginning, has been ultimately, sorrowful, unsuccessful, is expressed in a face-or rather in a death's head." In working through his own temporal distinctions, however, Creuzer, in his Symbolik und Mythologie der altern Volker (1810), had been attempting to arrive at a lexical differentiation between Orient and Occident. The former, for Creuzer, was a "symbolic world," and the latter, its "syllogistic" counter. (Efforts at this type of distinction would continue unabated throughout the nineteenth century, as Edward Said has convincingly shown.) In summary, the spirit of romanticism's assault on allegory and baroque figural convention that Benjamin subjected to a dialectical critique in his Trauerspiel study, also extends to the orientalism, or "practical" romanticism, from which it is in many respects indistinct.

The Calvary of scriptural geography participates in a politics of failed inherences that is similarly dialectical to the exclusion of its resolution. With the geographers' and travelers' efforts to dissociate Golgotha-as-allegory from Golgotha-as-symbol, a strange historical condition emerges. The moment of ecstatic recovery that is both desired and in some sense willed into existence by the romantic's invocation of a self-proximate symbol of redemption in a nature beyond history, cannot but be condemned to the status of a "second nature" (a "fallen nature"), in all its brutality, precisely because it enters into a chain of eternal samenesses that works through the very idea of a "natural history." In its own fate, then, the failure of a politics of intrusion against the established figuration of Golgotha becomes an allegory for history. Pointing to the most remarkable secular presentations of Christ's passion within an emblematics of history, Benjamin notes: "Where man is drawn towards the symbol, allegory emerges from the depths of being to intercept the intention, and to triumph over it." Conversely, the established emblematics of allegory of Chateaubriand and Lamartine not only ratify a status quo of territorial possession, but, as the negation of all that exists (of all that follows Golgotha), also stake a claim for the ownership of the name of redemption as well: "from the perspective of death, the product of the corpse is life," after all.

In Orientalism Edward Said has implicitly confirmed an allegorical politics of the monument, and more specifically, of Golgotha. For example, he notes that by the end of Lamartine's voyage to Palestine in 1833, when this human "bundle of predispositions" has "achieved the purpose of his pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, that beginning and end point of all time and space, he has internalized reality enough to want to retreat from it back into pure contemplation, solitude, philosophy, poetry." This is a significant point, because it was precisely in order to call into question this type of contemplative investment that, throughout the nineteenth century, the English scriptural geographer necessarily assumed a role akin to that of the intriguer in Benjamin's baroque dramas, willfully undermining the "earthly mournfulness of allegorical interpretation" through a rhetoric of "devilish jocularity" directed against the established emblematics of the monument. Clearing the path toward an alternative aesthetics of intervention, modern travelers to Palestine from Robert Curzon onward railed against what they perceived to be both the phenomenal and tropic cornerstone of allegory, the martyrium at the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Edward Clarke expresses this antagonism most clearly in his own description of the church:

Quaresmius, by an engraving for the illustration of the mode of burial then practiced, has shewn, according to a model familiar to the learned monk, from his residence in the Holy Land where such sepulchres now exist, the sort of tomb described by the Evangelists. But there is nothing of this kind in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.... In order to do away with this glaring inconsistency, it is affirmed that Mount Calvary was levelled for the foundations of the church; that the word ... mons, does not necessarily signify mountain, but sometimes a small hill; that the sepulchre of Christ, alone remained after this levelling had taken place, in the centre of the area; and that this was encased in marble!

This then was the modern skeptic's strategy: as he revealed that architecture necessarily confirmed that the presumed position of a Golgotha was artifice, he affirmed that another recoverable, latent, and authentic Calvary could be redeemed in an ever present topography that only needed to be brought "out of infinite distance into infinite closeness." Stating that, "from [the] elevated summit [of the Mount of Olives] almost all the features of the city may be discerned," the message of Clarke's own disbelief was that "the features of Nature continue the same, though works of art have been done away." And the same theme was elaborated in various and productive forms. Following the toponymic strategy employed by Edward Robinson in his Biblical Researches in Palestine, the massive Survey of Western Palestine conducted by the PEF not only produced accurate maps of the Holy Land (some of which were subsequently used by the British army in its conquest during the campaign of 1917-1918), but also compiled a series of indices relating contemporary Arabic place names to sites described in the Bible or the Gospels.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from AN AESTHETIC OCCUPATION by Daniel Bertrand Monk Copyright © 2002 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations
Glossary
Note on Transliteration
Preface
Introduction: The Foundation Stone of Our National Existence, without Exaggeration 1
Pt. I Stone
1 A Hieroglyph Designed by God 17
Pt. II Tile
2 An Unmistakable Sign 33
3 You are Blind to the Meaning of the Dome of the Rock 45
4 Cataclysm and Pogrom: An Exergue on the Naming of Violence 73
Pt. III Paper
5 Sir Alfred Mond's After-Dinner Eloquence 83
6 Designs on Our Holy Places 99
Pt. IV Celluloid
Conclusion: A Terrible Caricature 129
Notes 133
Bibliography 197
Index 229
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