AUTHOR: Noy, Chaim
TITLE: Narrative Community
SUBTITLE: Voices of Israeli Backpackers
SERIES TITLE: Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology
PUBLISHER: Wayne State University Press
Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
This book by Chaim Noy illustrates the theatrical performances of storytelling
by Israeli backpackers. It is based on forty-five narrative interviews with the
backpackers and those interviews are represented in a non-authoritarian quasi
direct discourse. He divided his book in three parts with nine chapters.
The first part includes two chapters on the critical introduction on the ''who's
who'' of the backpackers and the methodological aspects (sampling, individual
non-quantitative interviews, ethnomethodology etc.) of the survey, where Noy
describes his own involvement as a backpacker as well as a researcher with
The second part deals with the ''Quotations and Voices'' and is divided into six
chapters. In this part Noy structures his corpus collected from different
domains (from the ''real'' site of mountains, roads, hotels to the virtual reality
of the television station) and he deals with different modes of representations.
The journey begins with floating quotations and ends with the problematic
question of self-transformation. This self-transformation comes as a ''comic
relief'' in the context of the whole theatrical representation by Noy, as he
himself calls this an ''intermezzo''. Thus, this very term places the whole text
within the semantic world of 18th century musical opera. Though, ''intermezzo''
refers to a transitional moment in between two musical movements in the 19th
century use of the term, I have stipulated the meaning of the ''comic relief''
taking cue from Noy's description of his experience of smoking marijuana
(''Arriving at the Destination: No Transcendence'', pp. 24-5).
And again in the third site, the question of self-transformation is depicted
with a summary of the previous chapters in the epilogue and appendix. Noy
self-consciously reports the ''no transcendence'' phenomenon as emancipation is an
''impossible real'' in the world of cursed Sisyphus.
This book typically reflects the instances of double writing(s): an academic
performer looking back on his own research on backpackers and simultaneously, as
a performer of the backpacking rite, the author describing his own experiences
as a participant. Thus, there are two experiences, which are articulated by Noy
as a member of an institutionalized academic community and a member of
backpacking community as well. This type of discursive formation needs both
introspection and retrospection, and in that case, Noy is at once an insider and
outsider - he is swinging to and fro to his exterior and interior with an
exceptional command. While the retrospective introspection in the realm of
academic ritual (say, as for example, preparing and submitting a Ph. D. thesis
on Israeli backpacking) has been done by maintaining a low profile, Noy is
excellent in re-representing his experiences on backpacking. And in all these
cases, he is like a stalker (cf. Andréi Tarkovski's film ) - he is
stalking/interrogating his own wis(h)dom(s) as it is found in two realms of
rituals: institutional academic and institutional (in)voluntary traveling - a
traveling from the mechanical solidarity of the military experience to the
joyous and blissful riding with supposed organic solidarity. This type of
structured polyphonous writing with epistemological intervention and
self-reflexivity (similar to that of some feminist writings, cf. Donna Haraway),
of course, needs another type of alienation, especially alienation in the
Brechtian sense of the term.
Noy himself deployed Turnerian (or Gennepian) structure to depict the
performance of backpacking with a tacit as well as covert critique of global
consumerist tourism. As readers, we could also build up a parallel structure to
articulate Noy's double as well as parallel journey. If Turnerian formula is
just ''initiation-liminality-incorporation'', Noy's introspective double journey
(as a member of academic society and as a backpacker) and his post-Ph. D.
retrospection might be structured as follows: initiation (to the academic
socialization)-alienation (from both domains of institutional academics and
backpacking)/estrangement - writing a book on prior two-tier experiences.
All these observations might be subscribed by Noy himself as he confesses at the
moment of building up a semiotics of performances: ''Note that these semiotics of
performance are true of academic discourse as well: alas, this book, too offers
you - the reader - ritual accesses, a souvenir of sorts...'' (p. 197). Thus, in
writing this book, Noy took a post-modern turn, though that was not sufficiently
articulated due to his over-dependence on the structural theory. Though, his
tensed struggle for reaching the so called post-modern turn within his third
journey (the first one is his academic journey, the second one is backpacking,
and the third one is writing the present book) is important in many accounts as
this struggle to write this book may lead Noy to write a travelogue on his
journey in the institutional academic loci and that yet-to-be-written book may
take cue from Gouldner (1979, who did work on the neo-Hegelian interpretation of
sociology of Academics), Galtung (1980, who did extensive work on Scientific
Imperialism), Phillipson (1992) or Foucault. If Noy would take this project in
the near or far future, he might quite firmly tackle the metamorphosis of
material capital to cultural or narrative capital as he has repeatedly referred
to this particular transformation in his book in the context of backpacking, but
I emphasize this same phenomenon in the case of academics, where cultural
capital is re-produced (Gouldner, 1979) instead of being produced by the members
of the technical intelligentsia. And Noy is in no sense a member of that
community, technical intelligentsia; rather, he is an organic intellectual in
becoming. Noy did not fully develop a culture of critical discourse (Gouldner,
1979) as commonly used by the members of the technical intelligentsia in this
work; instead he has used non-authoritarian quasi direct discourse (Volosinov,
1986) in italicized parallel texts that matches with his transcriptions of
interviews. The pseudo marginality of those italicized texts is fore-grounded
bypassing the foreclosure of self-reflexivity as it is found in usual academic
texts. Thus the self-reflexivity of the analyzer and analyzed, subject and
object are merged together to constitute an ultimate book. I, as a reader, have
enjoyed my journey in reading this book as I have received at least a breathing
space in linguistics, where this type of self-reflexive discursive formation is
However, the ambivalence on the part of Noy, or his swinging between modernity
and post-modernity, or structuralism and post-structuralism leads me to brood
over a question: what happens if Noy would deploy Foucauldian or Derridean
anti-method or their discourse on power in this text? This problematic question
may lead to a writing of another book, where the well-known problems of
ethnomethodology and participant-observer may be eradicated by pointing out the
metonymic (thus a case of condensation) transformation of the interviewees.
Though Noy mentions the names of Foucault and Derrida, two master initiators of
discourse, and even Derrida's book in the bibliography, their respective
approaches to texts is insufficient in the author's tackling of the textual
situation. In the case of discourse analysis, Noy prefers structural
representation rather than that of deployment of post-structural (non-)analysis.
Peculiarly enough, although he mentions Foucault's name in relation with the
discourse on power on page 15, his name is excluded from the index and
bibliography. This is, to me, not a mistake, but is a Freudian slip, which might
be returned as a repression in his future projects. In fact, traces of so called
''post-modern'' discourses are acted as rem(a)inder ( a la Lacan) for his present
and future work on the theatrical performance of backpacking as well as academic
Surprisingly enough, there is no reference to Benedict Anderson's (1983)
imagined community. As the author is building up a hypothetical notion of
'narrative community' in Diaspora, where stories are traveling, a dialogue with
Anderson is much expected. Readers of this book might be enriched if there were
a sustained dialogue that could be performed with Anderson regarding the
traveling narratives and formation of an imagined community in Diaspora. I will
be waiting for this dialogue to link it with the Lacanian triad
''Real-Symbolic-Imaginary'' in the context of imagined/real/symbolic narrative
community. Moreover, the hypothetical conditionality of the host-guest
relationship (Noy himself initiated this relationship, cf. p. 79) or politics of
friendship in the context of searching for sacred geography may also be
philosophically elaborated. Sometimes, I am disturbed by the Orientalist gaze of
Noy as he, in a few instances, represents India as an exotic world of
''mysticism''. However, we are thankful and obliged to Noy for writing such an
exceptional book related to many inter-disciplines.
Anderson, B. 1983. _Imagined Community: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism_. London: Verso.
Derrida, J. 1998. _Monolingualism of the Other; or The Prothesis of Origin_.
Stanford California: Stanford University Press.
Foucault, M. 1968. _The Archaeology of Knowledge_. New York. Pantheon Books.
Foucault, M. 1973. _The order of things: An Archaeology of Sciences_. New York:
Foucault, M. 1977. _Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings_.
Ed. Gordon, C. Random House, Inc.
Galtung, J. 1980. _The True worlds: A Transnational Perspective_. New York: The
Gouldner, A.W.1979. _The future of Intellectuals and the rise of the New Class_.
London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Lacan, J., Granoff, W. 1956. ''Fetishism: The symbolic, the Imaginary and the
Real''._Perversions: Psychodynamics and Therapy_. New York: Random House.
Phillipson, R. 1992. _Linguistic Imperialism_. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Volosinov, V.N. 1986. _Marxism and Philosophy of Language_. Cambridge, Mass.:
Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay is a faculty member of the Indian Statistical
Institute, Kolkata, India. He has published more than 175 research articles,
papers, and popular writings in Bangla and in English in reputed journals and
academic magazines. He is now working on Silenceme, and on the concept of
''error'' in mad(wo)man's language.