History interrupted: form in contemporary Palestinian literature

By Amanda Batarseh
Submitted to Session P4939 (Representations of Struggle and Horizons of Freedom, 2017 Annual Meeting
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In Palestinian Resistance Literature Under Occupation, 1948-1968, Ghassan Kanafani was among the first to examine the fraught relationship between contemporary Palestinian history and both the content and form of its literature. My research continues this project by focusing on the Palestinian novel and its recent transmutations. The Arabic novel is a relatively recent phenomenon, born into the realist tradition and imported from the West in the early-twentieth century. That the Palestinian novel has assumed a historical function is not surprising. The novel form was, after all, the product not only of socio-cultural circumstance, but developed in Europe out of historical narrative itself. Therefore, while the tangled relationship between history and the novel is in no way unique to Palestine, the Palestinian engagement of literature as a means of countering a predominantly Western historical narrative - rooted in an ideological and national project dependent upon the erasure of Palestinian history itself - deserves critical analysis

The Palestinian author’s preoccupation with history has been a foregone conclusion since 1948. While this history has weighed heavily on Palestinian writers, the nature of this relationship is beginning to change in the post-Oslo era. One cause for this shift may be located in the establishment of the Palestinian Authority following the Oslo Accords. The legitimization of a state body allowed for limited research and archival activities, subsequently relieving authors in part of this responsibility and the perceived obligations both to and of the novel form. Furthermore, over the past two decades, the Palestinians’ ever more liminal existence has conversely become increasingly visible on the world stage via social media, alternate modes of publishing, and writing in English. These changes in the very modes of production have impacted the form of Palestinian writing in a departure from the novel. Works such as Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah (1997), Leila El-Haddad’s Gaza Mom (2010), and Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats With Me avoid genre categorization. The authors move away from Edward Said’s assertion of the exilic status as a “fundamental condition of Palestinian life”- whose lynchpin is 1948 - towards an insistence upon the particularities of Palestinian existence and the rejection of reified notions of Palestinian experience, identity and history. In this paper, as such, I explore how contemporary Palestinian authors are moving beyond the historical novel, developing mediums capable of expressing Palestinian contemporaneity.