Margaux Taylor Myriam Fitoussi
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationColumbia U.
Grant numberGr. 9994
Approve DateAugust 26, 2020
Project TitleFitoussi, Margaux (Columbia U.) "The Lives of Quartier Lafayette: A Historical Anthropology of French Colonial-Era Architecture in the Tunisian Present"
MARGAUX FITOUSSI, then a graduate student at Columbia University, New York, New York, was awarded funding in August 2020 to aid research on “The Lives of Quartier Lafayette: A Historical Anthropology of French Colonial-Era Architecture in the Tunisian Present,” supervised by Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj. Renamed “The White Wolf: Jews and Jewishness in Tunis, Tunisia,” this project in Tunis, Tunisia examines people, places, and things that are not Jewish or may be Jewish and explores their relation to Jews and Jewishness. Jewish heritage, a fundamental category of cultural and religious belonging, is often considered to have a hard semiotic and material boundary. It’s an either/or, yes/no question. However, the adjective Jewish has become attached to a variety of people, ideas, people, and things in Tunisia. The lines of distinction between Jew and Muslim, Arab and Jew are more scrambled than we would expect. If the historical Jew has come to index a past Tunisian El Dorado, then the contemporary Jew is perceived as an anachronism, a relic of a bygone era, someone to be suspicious of but also, for some, a subject of fascination. This dissertation examines the suspicions, appropriations, and fantasies of Jews and Jewishness among the non-Jews, the maybe Jews, and the Jews themselves. This work examines a spectrum of embodiments and attitudes that range from the non-Jewish students of the Tunisian-Israeli artist Rafram Haddad’s Hebrew class who actively seek out someone who can teach them about Jewish history in Tunis to the boxers in the Turki Team boxing gym who are largely indifferent to the gym’s Jewish history despite being surrounded by what may be considered signs of Tunis’ Jewish past: photographs and posters of former Tunisian Jewish boxers. Even in a context where institutions like the Chief Rabbinate of Tunisia determine who can receive a “certificate of Jewishness” and the Tunisian police monitor who can enter Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, the religious boundaries of Jewishness are not as cemented or exclusionary as one would expect. This is a dissertation about uncertain identities, continuing identities, transferring identities, exploring identities, and mistaken identities. What are the doubts, concerns, and hopes linked to the Jewish presence in Tunisia? In the absence of a visible local Tunisian Jewish community, what does the Jew and Jewishness stand for today? The Jew or Jewishness as spectral?