Wandering dwellings: Diasporic architectures

Presented at: Diasporas: Exploring Critical Issues. 5th Global Conference 2012. Oxford UK.

Abstract: Historically, the Wandering Jew is perceived of as dehumanized and rendered eternally homeless through the Euro-Christian construction of the his self and his home as Other. Rather than a representation of the intrinsic existential condition of the Diaspora, the tragic homelessness experienced by the Wandering Jew is, I argue, a hegemonic construct of Euro-Christian ideology. According to what Daniel Boyarin calls “diasporic consciousness”, the Jewish people identify with a multiplicity of places simultaneously, carrying a sense of the familiar into the foreign. Following the Babylonian exile, the foundations of the place of Divine dwelling were translated from the site to cite – to an architecture that precedes architecture, i.e. the Divine plans of the Torah. Permanence and continuity were therefore relocated and maintained in the portability and flexibility of this architext. However, the symbolic relocation of dwelling in text does not condemn Home to an immaterial, indeterminate, or aspatial construct. Home does not become a purely metaphysical or metaphorical experience. Nor does it preclude a connectivity to place. Home is conceived of as a mediator in a nuanced existence between the perceived and constructed dualities of life, and navigating between seemingly contradictory states (interior/exterior, permanent/transient, mind/body, local/foreign). Home is a facilitator of transition – a journey rather than a rooted existence. Emmanuel Levinas’ definition of habitation as “the being’s sojourn in a dwelling” suggests a meeting between permanence and impermanence and a complex spatio-temporal relationship between the transient (meuble) and the stationary (immeuble). Home becomes the intersection of the transient self and the stationary architecture where the self is free to recollect in its interiority and simultaneously position itself in relationship with the exterior elements. Both the function and form of the architecture of home are understood as a (1) mnemonic device to evoke recollection and (2) facilitator of physical relationship with the other through its openings and transitional spaces. The Jewish home is therefore intrinsically tied to a re-collection of the fragmented cultural and tectonic memories of house images carried by the Diaspora.

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