[P2011] Kuwait's Irreconcilable Knots

Created by Mai Al-Nakib
Tuesday, 11/24/09 8:00am


In his conclusion to *Humanism and Democratic Criticism*, Edward Said writes, “Overlapping yet irreconcilable experiences demand from the intellectual the courage to say that that is what is before us” (143). He adds, “[O]nly in that precarious exilic realm can one first truly grasp the difficulty of what cannot be grasped and then go forth to try anyway” (144). Such irreconcilable knots demand two things of the intellectual: first, a robust capacity to endure the initially difficult realization that some things can’t be remedied; and second, a canny ability to identify in the impossible, and despite it, a way through.
Said arrives at his notion of the irreconcilable in part through his assessment of the Palestinian/Israeli impasse—the elusiveness of any fair resolution to this conflict. His own remarkable work exemplifies how the intellectual tries anyway and, in the attempt, manages to locate viable potentials and to create opportunities again and again. That such chances are often ignored or, in the worst case, bring punishment to those who dare to produce them, does nothing to diminish their exigency. Said’s proposition, while not quite optimistic, remains intransigently persistent.
Although by no means as catastrophic as the “overlapping yet irreconcilable experience” of Palestine/Israel, the State of Kuwait is riddled with irreconcilable knots of its own. Some of these irreconcilables include: an increasingly monolithic religious force and the secularizing lure of “global consumerism” (Bryan Turner, *Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism* 204); tribalism and modernity/postmodernity; sectarianism and nationalism; theocracy and democracy; xenophobia and pluralism; atavism and development at any cost; etc. There has been no real resolution to these oppositions for decades, and the effect on Kuwait’s system of education, urban planning, cultural production, demographic, environment, and economy has been crushing.
How is it possible to persist actively and productively in a Kuwait strewn with irreconcilables? How, for example, can notions of democracy and citizenship be taught in a school system preaching religious intolerance and practicing segregation? How can a sense of historical awareness be cultivated in an urban environment dominated by systematic demolition? How can cultural or intellectual singularities be encouraged in a generally monovocal society? How can human rights—especially those of women, children, and low-wage workers—be protected in a judicial system that does not recognize them? These are a few of the questions this interdisciplinary panel will engage.


Anthro; Archit & Urb Plng; Educ; Hist; Lit