Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

Synopsis

One of the Arab world's greatest poets uses the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the shelling of Beirut as the setting for this sequence of prose poems. Mahmoud Darwish vividly recreates the sights and sounds of a city under terrible siege. As fighter jets scream overhead, he explores the war-ravaged streets of Beirut on August 6th (Hiroshima Day).

Memory for Forgetfulness is an extended reflection on the invasion and its political and historical dimensions. It is also a journey into personal and collective memory. What is the meaning of exile? What is the role of the writer in time of war? What is the relationship of writing (memory) to history (forgetfulness)? In raising these questions, Darwish implicitly connects writing, homeland, meaning, and resistance in an ironic, condensed work that combines wit with rage.

Ibrahim Muhawi's translation beautifully renders Darwish's testament to the heroism of a people under siege, and to Palestinian creativity and continuity. Sinan Antoon's foreword, written expressly for this edition, sets Darwish's work in the context of changes in the Middle East in the past thirty years.

Excerpt

Mahmoud Darwish died in 2008, leaving behind an astoundingly rich oeuvre. Although predominantly remembered and celebrated for his poetry, his prose works are equally unique and incandescent. His absence has only intensified the reverence and respect his writings command all over the world. Just as he himself wrote in his poignant self-elegy, In the Presence of Absence, “a second life, promised by language, continues” in us, his readers, as we return to his words again and again.

Memory for Forgetfulness is one of three major “prose” works Darwish wrote. “Prose” here is not the most satisfactory category, but rather the most convenient, to classify these works. These texts are teeming with poetry, in form as well as in style and spirit, and the boundary between poetry and its others is blurred and effortlessly transcended. The first of these three works was Yawmiyyat al-Huzn al-‘Adi (1973) (Journal of Ordinary Grief) beautifully translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, who also translated Dhakira lil-Nisyan (Memory for Forgetfulness) (1986). The last was Fi Hadrat al-Ghiyab (In the Presence of Absence), Darwish’s own extended self-elegy written in 2006, two years before, and in anticipation of, his own death. While these three works share . . .

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