On Self, Specters and Seeds: Poetics of Potentiality and Female Diasporic Subjectivities in Lisa Suhair Majaj’s Geographies of Light

By Merve Tabur
Submitted to Session P4991 (Poetics of the Political, 2017 Annual Meeting
North America; Palestine;
19th-21st Centuries; Arab Studies; Comparative; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Gender/Women's Studies; Identity/Representation;
In Geographies of Light (2009), Palestinian-American poet Lisa Suhair Majaj embarks on a poetic journey that breaks through linear temporalities, artificial boundaries and insurmountable distances to dream of an alternative way of dwelling in the world that is not partitioned by national borders. Her poems mobilize the imagery of light to discuss topics ranging from women’s experiences in the diaspora, exile and loss to identity, motherhood and nature. In its mobilization of metaphors of light, nature and landscape, Majaj’s poetry conjures up memories of different geographies and people while offering an imaginary and a language—an alternative to nationalist discourse—through which claims to justice can be made.

In this paper, I provide a close reading of selected poems from Majaj’s Geographies of Light to expound on the ways in which she mobilizes nature imagery to formulate an imaginary that resists borders, immutability and amnesia. In Majaj’s poetry, nature is often portrayed as a site of potentiality and as a unifying presence that resists human-made borders. This is an imaginary that sees the transformative potentiality that lies within both the memories of the past and the experience of the present. Unlike static, nostalgic yearning for a lost past, Majaj’s poetics is fluid and mobile, geared toward a future to come.

In my reading, I focus particularly on Majaj’s narration of female diasporic subjectivity and the role nature imagery plays in marking this subjectivity as a site of becoming, filled with potential. The poetics of potentiality that emerges from her weaving together of nature imagery is suggestive of a politics of potentiality that acknowledges the continued spectral presence of the past in the present and seeks to discover its relevance for the future.

Drawing from my close reading, I offer a transnational feminist interpretation of the concept of diaspora as propounded by Majaj’s poetry and argue that transnationalism and multiculturalism are not sufficient frameworks to understand women’s experience of exilic diaspora. A transnational feminist framework both challenges the term’s heteronormative assumptions and exposes the hegemonic forces of globalization, capitalism and nationalism that collaborate in shaping diasporic formations. Driven by the scarcity of studies tackling the question of female subjectivities in the Palestinian diaspora, this paper contributes to discussions in literary and diaspora studies.