Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Geography of Poetry: Mahmoud Darwish and Postnational Identity

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Geography of Poetry: Mahmoud Darwish and Postnational Identity

Article excerpt

Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me rest my road against a stone.

Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me see an end to this journey. (Unfortunately 11)

Mahmoud Darwish, acclaimed as "the saviour of the Arabic Language" (Saith 1), is perhaps today the best known Arabic language poet. Darwish was considered the poet of his people, the Poet Laureate of Palestine, and a voice for the voiceless. His work contains a universality born from specific suffering that reaches across the boundaries of language and nation to "inscribe the national within the universal" (Darwish, Unfortunately xix). The dual project of Darwish's work is simultaneously anti-colonial, concerned politically with the establishment of an independent and self-determined Palestine free from imperial occupation, and postnational in the sense that Said hints at in his introduction to Culture and Imperialism. Said describes "new alignments made across ... nations" which "provoke and challenge the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism ... by which one is defined by the nation, which in turn derives its authority from a supposedly unbroken tradition" (Said xxv). This gesture beyond identity defined in national terms requires a movement beyond the structures of postcolonial identity.

If post-colonial identity is founded in the anti-colonial establishment of an historical nation, projected linearly through time by means of narrative, postnational identity is loosed from the bonds of causal time. Said takes this point from Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" writing:

"Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and, in the totally idea sense intended by Eliot, each co-exists with the other. What Eliot proposes, in short, is a vision of literary tradition that, while it respects temporal succession, is not wholly commanded by it." (Said 4)

The postnational relies on the destabilization of temporality and territory, and strives to create an identity capable of engagement with universal systems. Contextualizing and demystifying the national narrative, the postnational collapses time from a progressive movement along points on a line into a momentary eternity, a "fluid ever-changing present" (Zamorano, 106 in Friberg). In this postnational scape, imagining becomes a kind of agency, constructing oneself, and one's place in the world as well as the possibility for political and cultural interaction and reproduction. This occurs especially through poetry: narrative forms, as context-driven, reproduce cohesive communities, while poetics, as context-generative, produce ruptures leading to new possibilities. It is the postnational and context-generative nature of Darwish's poetry that focuses my reading throughout this paper, which by no means should be understood as minimizing his anti-colonial political agenda, but rather as situating the two moves as simultaneous and mutually informing.

Darwish writes in "I Belong There," "I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home" (Unfortunately 7). This statement, as pure in its elegance as it is in its raw desperation, not only speaks to a commonality of suffering but stands (without necessarily demanding) deeper analysis, yielding a richer understanding of the relationship between words and place. It is not the physical location but the word " Home" that the poet has created, and the word has been created only through the destruction of all words. Paradoxically, one assumes the word " Home" was among "all the words," and was therefore learned and dismantled along with them, only to be reborn from the understanding of all the words, which is to say all the world. As words are signifiers for the world, so they symbolize what they represent, and from words an understanding of what they represent is created. But it is only by "dismantling" all the words, which is to say the world, that Home (and what it signifies) can be found--as the driving motivation behind all action, and that to which everything returns. …

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