Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

(Ex)communicating Palestine: From Best-Selling Terrorist Fiction to Real-Life Personal Accounts

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

(Ex)communicating Palestine: From Best-Selling Terrorist Fiction to Real-Life Personal Accounts

Article excerpt

Introduction

Our thinking and experience as individuals or as part of a collective identity are to a large extent shaped by fictional and non-fictional stories, both those that we ourselves make and the stories that others make about us, that which may radically differ from our own. Divergent stories about our identity always have a deep impact upon our thinking and feelings; they might engender a productive tension but, if the divergence is too great, a schizophrenic sensation. With regard to national identities, there are presently few people who experience this conflict between identities as defined by themselves and by others as acutely, and with such serious consequences, as the Palestinians. Edward Said, the outstanding Palestinian intellectual who recently passed away, once wrote that the West denies the Palestinians "permission to narrate" (Said, passim). In fact, Palestinians presently struggle as much for physical survival in their land as for keeping their national story alive in a power-ridden arena of Western-dominated international communications.

In focusing on the Western-Palestinian communicative relation in this article, I am going to address and compare stories and representations of Palestine and Palestinians as they come forward in various influential, primarily narrative genres: on the one hand, semi-fictional Western bestsellers, largely stereotypical but with some significant exceptions, and on the other hand cases of "writing back" genres, one more activist-Internet blogs of internationals living in Palestine-and another more pedagogical, diary writing projects by Palestinians. My analysis will be guided by a narratively-oriented hermeneutics. I will use insights of major hermeneutic traditions about the conditions required for an authentic understanding of others, and will look especially at the moral role attributed to daily life. In doing so, I will focus on whether narrative representations elicit a dialogical or a reductively causal understanding (Bakhtin in Holquist, Bruner, Harre), and whether they evoke in their representations of identity a journey of moral development or rather a repetitive and mechanically enacted script lacking a sense of value-directed agency. In the final part of the article I will link this approach to a few critical-pedagogical questions relevant to the Palestinian educational context in which I presently work: How can the development of particular narrative genres create discursive space for Palestinians who up until now lack the opportunity to speak out? Where to find narrative options that encourage the expression of Palestinian identity (identities) in a liberating rather than a defensive or homogenizing manner?

Bestsellers

A discussion of specifically Western bestsellers is chosen because they have an effective and popular influence, while methodologically they yield rather well-delineated and recognizable narrative representations about Palestine and its relation with the West. Here I present the main conclusions of research about bestsellers between 1960 and 1986 that was conducted by myself some ten years ago but which I now reformulate within a hermeneutical approach. (1) Unsurprisingly, most Western bestsellers that (at least in part) deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are about terrorism. As characteristic of most popular literature in general, the terrorism bestsellers amplify and fictionally test uncertainties, anxieties, and dilemmas that are felt, or thought to be felt, among western reader constituencies at the time of publication. One well-known thriller formula is the (technological) disaster novel (Sutherland) that addresses, in the tradition of Gothic or science fiction disaster formulas, the concern of a technology going out of control and turning against its creators as well as against the world at large. A most dramatic instance of such an anxiety concerns nuclear proliferation; literally thousands of more or less popular novels written during especially the 1960s and 1970s focus on the (pending) outbreak of a nuclear war indicated to take place in the wake of an escalation between East and West (Brians). …

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