This essay explores visual reading and its colonial aspects by analyzing the novel Ze ʿim ha-panim elenu (The One Facing Us, 1995), by Ronit Matalon, an Israeli Jewish author of Egyptian descent. In this novel Matalon displaces the dramas of Mizrahi Jews (Jews originating from the Arab and Muslim world) to Cameroon, thus stressing her protagonists’ uneasy positioning within the colonizer-colonized, West-East divides and connecting Zionist racialization to broader, global processes of colonial capitalism. By exploring her elaborate readings of photographs in the novel, the essay reveals two rival traditions of reading the visual: the first involves what might be described, following Matalon, as a certain “intending toward” the photograph—a colonial reading practice through which a subject converts her absence from the photographic moment into a visionary, intentional presence. In this Barthesian tradition, the image is an empty land to be colonized, and Oriental subjects are racialized by being fetishistically associated with both authentic matter and theological aura. The second tradition, typified in the novel by the protagonist’s Egyptian mother, is a laborious collective practice of reading photographs that is attentive to subtext, nonverbal communication, and social codes. The essay argues that this reading practice has nothing to do with postcolonial or Levantine hybridity or with a “migratory state of mind”—concepts that govern scholarship on Matalon—and that its subsistence requires in fact a solid, counterdiasporic sense of home.

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