Fleeting Heterotopias: Troy, Andalusia, and the Whirling Darwish of Palestine

Prof. Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh
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While Palestine, Andalusia, and Troy masterly evoke an everlasting circular time of loss and defeat, they seem to mirror a linear space of heroism and triumph—that simultaneously exists and does not exist—in the literary artifact of Mahmoud Darwish. This esthetical paradoxicality, coupled with several political aporias in Darwish's informal locutions and formal political stands, brings to fore two striking phenomena in shaping space and time in a manner that any genealogist of modern Palestinian culture has to decode. On the one hand, space seems to defy classification within the conventional models, both modern and pre-modern, archetypal abstractions have dictated (i.e. geometrical, existential, and socially constructed). Throughout Darwish's literary artifact, space—albeit seems as a conceptual field, inherently imbued with historical and cultural occurrences, and is inscribed by the particular contingencies of the time, place, reality, meaning, and power—reflects a higher order of the Nietzsche-Freudian atavism of the ‘unhomely.’ This affinity, frequently lamented for being overly nostalgic, fails to categorize Palestine, Andalusia, and Troy as 'space(s) as implementation of power.' They rather construct a unique placeless space, constantly antithetical to the former conception: a fleeting heterotopia that is endowed with the 'noble' distinctive features of the Foucauldian ‘untamed exteriorities’ and extraordinary 'heterotopias.' On the other hand, time does not seem to be tarnished by postmodern condition(s) in which Palestinian meta-narrative declares its bankruptcy.

Problematisation of time does not seem to be a replica of that of space, for it does not fall through the conformist notions of being 'mind's reaction to substance,' or the 'organizer of change.' Time, rather, seems to be presented as apolitical in itself, yet charged with highly sophisticated political codes. For Darwish, 'times of victory and defeat master the game of alternation,' and 'heroes often get bored to tears of heroism,' hence, 'they should be dismantled, so that the circular time shall be shattered.'

Read by almost all Palestinians and considered as the god of their idolatry, Darwish called upon them to stop the absurdity of sharing the myth with the Israelis and just to share the land of the myth, Palestine; to pragmatically distinguish between their historical homeland and a possible national state on the 'liberated' parts, and to differentiate between the geographical Palestine as a territory, the political Palestine as a land, and the aesthetic Palestine as a Lost Paradise. In parallel, Darwish signaled to the Israelis to right the wrongs by acknowledging the ‘original sins’ of the 1948 War and the consequences of the Israeli occupation, urging them to stop claiming monopoly on suffering and victimhood. These signals were positively received within the Palestinian cultural scene. However, after his return to Palestine, Darwish was harshly criticized for a statement he made that was interpreted as a call for ‘normalization’ with the Israeli other and altering the Palestinian master narrative. While most of the radical Palestinian intellectuals adhered to the anti-normalization principles, regurgitating the 1960s mottos of ‘liberating the entire soil,’ Darwish, instead, choose to provide a counter-discourse stemming from his visionary, aesthetic perception of writing. He depicted the self and the other with a new terminology that he coined to lament the classical, dogmatic, and often, stereotypical views. On the one hand, Darwish urged the Palestinians to assume that once the Israeli occupation had ended, and once the state of Israel did not anymore exist, then, they would produce a normal writing about a normal life, like writing about love free from allegories of Palestine as a beloved, and the Palestinian fighter as a major theme of the poet’s chanson de geste. On the other hand, Darwish cleared the periphrasis of this manifesto when he published four collections of poetry dealing with the subject matter of romantic love and several existential concerns of the individual self, mostly stripped off its 'national commitments.'

Darwish's suggestion, albeit evasive and irresolute, was a brilliant enhancement of the Palestinian discourse and a necessary trigger for furious debates over the questions of identity and otherness in the Palestinian post-Oslo culture. He meant to free Palestinian literary discourse from the shackles of its meta-literary conditions and to de-glorify the dance of death, most of the Palestinian poets have been performing in their poetry. Darwish’s assumptions, although seeming Copernican, remained with no substantiation on the ground after the outbreak of the second Intifada. It was Darwish’s anagnorisis that brought to an end his endeavor to elevate the Palestinian literary discourse to his guilt-ridden preference of prioritizing the political over the aesthetic. The second Intifada proved that the ‘hero’ is still refusing to be dismantled; the assumption that Israel does not exist and the occupation has gone was a castle in the air; and Darwish’s prophecies of the rising Troy and the victorious Achilles were a mere fantasy. The articulate rage erupted in the Palestinian street; the official iron-fist and unofficial apartheid policy adopted by Israel; and the international community questioning of the moral equivalency between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli military actions, all together had a strong impact on changing Darwish’s tone, but never stopped his whirling dance in time and space. My paper aspires to render a meaning of this dance.

Keywords: Palestine, Troy, Andalusia, Space, Place, Time, Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian Literature
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Prof. Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh

Professor, Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Birzeit University
Birzeit, Palestine, Occupied Palestinian Territory

Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh is a poet and writer who lives in Jerusalem and teaches cultural studies, Islamic thought, and Arab intellectual history at Birzeit University. He published two collections of poetry, Ash Wheels (1998), and City Remnants (2003), and a third, titled Departing Narratives is forthcoming in (2006). Al-Shaikh got his graduate training in Palestine and the United States studying Palestinian literature and contemporary Arab thought; and carried-out his post-graduate research in Germany focusing on Islamic hermeneutics and cultural mobility in near eastern literatures. Among his works during this training: The Other and the Transformations of Mahmoud Darwish’s Literary Discourse (1999), and Beyond the Last Twilight: A Critical and Annotated Translation of Barghuthi’s Autobiography al-Daw’ al-Azraq (The Blue Light) (2003). Al-Shaikh's other fields of interest include politics of identity, educational politics, and the pseudo-democratic transformation within the colonial condition of Palestine. He has published several articles, commentaries, and translations in these areas. Currently, he is working on two books: Reaction and Origination: Comparative Approaches on the Rise of Palestinian National Identity (forthcoming, June 2006), and From Shanfara to Said: A Genealogy of the Arab Intellectual.

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