History Via the Unconscious in Miriam Cooke's Hayati, My Life

By Driss, Hager Ben | The Middle East Women's Studies Review, Spring-Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

History Via the Unconscious in Miriam Cooke's Hayati, My Life


Driss, Hager Ben, The Middle East Women's Studies Review


"One cannot not speak of the scandals of an epoch. One cannot not espouse a cause. One cannot not be summoned by an obligation of fidelity." This is the way Helene Cixous (1989:11) has tried to answer "And history?" in her article "From the Scene of the Unconscious to the Scene of History." This answer permeates Miriam Cooke's narrative Hayati, My Life. One cannot not feel Cooke's engagement to denounce injustice, her espousal of a just cause and her fidelity to `truth'. Helene Cixous makes it clear in her article that "when it is a question of writing, it is always a question of, and can only be a question of, truth" (1).

Whether Hayati, My Life is remindful of Cixous' article or it is the other way round depends only on what text one has read first. But what is more important than the question of beginnings is that a theory of creativity, as articulated by Cixous, is not an idiosyncratic matter; it goes beyond individuality. Cixous' article deals with the moment of writing which stems from the unconscious to become history. The unconscious is where dwells the darkness of the inside. Writing is an act of exploration where "one doesn't know. One goes. I follow eyes closed, what I feel. Feeling does not mislead" (1). Hayati seems to be written according to this proviso--groping one's way in the somber recesses of the self. Between Cixous' text and Cooke's narrative there is a subtle affinity. But the metaphorical spatial line demarcating the unconscious from history in Cixous' article disappears in Hayati. For the unconscious in Cooke's text folds history, envelops it.

Because, as Cixous warns, "writing is in the end only an anti-oubli," Cooke narrates history as a strategy of remembrance "not in order to mourn the past, but to become a prophet of the present" (Cixous 1989: 7). Indeed, history in Hayati defies chronology, hierarchy and logic. History is not only poking in dirt, an institutionalized voyeurism, and an academic gossip about the past; it is also a writing/reading of the present. Hayati, My Life is a journey in history via the unconscious towards the present.

Cooke's narrative is a fascinating textual puzzle, somewhat remindful of Toni Morrison's Beloved not only in its fragmentation, but also in the poignant use of history/ `her-story' to explore the inside. Actually the title itself, Hayati, is an Arab word of endearment to a beloved person, `my life.' To sum up My Life is to enforce on the text a linear order that the whole narrative resists. After all, whose life is the text really narrating? Polyphony as well as cacophony in Hayati resists a center, a beginning or even an end. It is the life/history of a whole population whose destiny is to live homeless in their own home, in the last colony of the world, Palestine. Cooke treats their history "poetically." For, according to Cixous (1989:12), history "had to be sung, ... it should be an epic like the Iliad. History with its human face: Destiny." The possessive adjective "My" in the title, My Life, is a diffident, challenging stand to appropriate a life, a story, a history in the absence of a stolen land, a stifled past and a hazy present. Cixous's (1989:7) definition of writing matches to the letter Cooke's fight against oblivion or the surrender to indifference:

   Writing is (should be) the act of reminding oneself
   of what is, in this very instant, of remembering
   what has never existed, remembering what
   could disappear, what could be put off limits,
   killed, scorned, remembering the far off, minimal
   things, turtles, ants, grandmothers, the good,
   first and burning passion, women, nomadic peoples,
   peoples who are exiled little by little, fights
   of ducks.

Hayati is a remembrance of all these and much more. It is a re-collection of dreams, nightmares, hopes, fantasies, odors and tastes of the lost land.

History in Cooke's narrative is mobile. It is articulated by several voices from different points of view. …

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