“Disobedient” Archives and the Postcolonial Poet as Decolonial Historian

By Anna Cruz
Submitted to Session P4918 (Intersectional Approaches to Critiquing Orientalism, 2017 Annual Meeting
Iraq; Spain;
13th-18th Centuries; 19th-21st Centuries; Andalusi Studies; Colonialism; Comparative; Historiography; Medieval; Mediterranean Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper proposes archiving the Emirate of Granada via Arabic literature and the works of Iraqi poet ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati in particular to document the historical moments preceding and following the Capitulation of Granada which took place on January 2, 1492 and brought about the end of Muslim rule in Spain. I argue that these works form the basis of a “methodologically and epistemologically disobedient approach” to the archive, to borrow Maria Elena Martínez’s phrasing, since a pre-1492 archive does not currently exist at the Alhambra.
The historical circumstances of al-Andalus, I argue, are fused with the poet’s subjective experiences either in Spain or Iraq to create multi-sensory images of human memory. In doing so, al-Bayati creates a poetic intervention of sorts with his work not only to reflect on historical and imaginative constructions of al-Andalus, but to compel us to think of alternatives to the way we historicize these very moments whether in a pre-1492 world or a modern one. While the notion of creating a historical archive with ephemera has been studied in the context of Latin American literatures, this has yet to be thoroughly explored in the Arabic literary tradition. Roberto González Echevarría, in the case of Latin America, posits, “[c]an one truly know the Other without doing violence to him or her and to his or her culture? Is contamination with Western culture desirable; will it not bring about destruction? It is possible to write about one’s knowledge of the Other without distorting his or her culture beyond recognition?” With this in mind, it is necessary to read these texts not just for the aesthetic and ephemeral qualities, but also as a type of historical document, allowing the “Other” to write about and for his/her own culture without fear of such distortion.
What effects would the creation of an “othered” archive that includes Arabic literature have in the way we approach and understand the events of 1492 and their ramifications in not only a postcolonial Arab society but in the formation of a decolonial history? By relying upon materials produced by the colonized, the oppressed, and the marginalized, we can rewrite history regardless of how “disobedient” such historical documents may be.