Mahmoud Darwish: “…In Defense of Little Differences”

Mahmoud Darwish spent his life as a poet, a public intellectual, and a politician ‘in defense of little differences.’ Read by almost all Palestinians and celebrated as the god of their idolatry, Darwish is often quoted by his fellow compatriots to explain their seemingly inexplicable history. Since the Nakba of 1948, the nightmare of the Palestinians and the beginning of the ceaseless provocation of a dream to end it at once, a lot of ‘little differences’ were subjects of defense when an entire defenseless nation became subject to one of the harshest colonial conditions ever. This talk focuses on the poetic rendering of war, victory, defeat and enmity as it moves between the catastrophe of Palestine and the historical record of wars. A panoramic reading of Darwish’s contemplations about Palestine’s tragedy under Zionist occupation reveals two proximities of the enemy, and, therefore, of victory and of defeat in wars. While the first manifests a strong desire to reconcile with the enemy at the expense of redefining the self, the other insists on transforming the identity of the enemy by refusing reconciliation so as to rid him of bestiality. Both, however, draw on symbolic historical events and, in the process, rearticulate them in an effort to redefine the self and the enemy, as well as the meanings of victory and defeat. Such a dichotomy is mediated by an earnest and well-versed intellectualism that interrogates and often challenges, Jewish ethics from Hillel the Elder to Paul Celan, and beyond, to defend yet other ‘little differences.’ Throughout such a history of ever changing rules-of-engagement, Aden, Troy and Andalusia were not only terrains of poetic metaphor and political rhetoric in Darwish’s lexicon, but also fleeting heterotopias, congested mirrors, heavily employed in his public intellectualism constructing the phraseme of ‘little differences.’ Accordingly, in their recitation of past violence and wars, victories and defeats, both proximities exercise a form of violent (dis)placement against both the past and the present. To represent the two proximities, respectively, this talk examines Darwish the poet vs. Darwish the politician, always mediated, and intimidated, by Darwish the public intellectual. This talk argues that the violence of (dis)placement is a higher order of symbolic violence that does not eternally celebrate politics of triumph, mourn poetics of defeat, but rather tames both so as to master the temporal game of succession, and to carve out a space of political and ethical life in the midst of destruction—a Trojan syndrome that Darwish and his fellow Palestinians were fated to endure.

Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh is a poet, a cultural critic, and an academic who was born and raised in Jerusalem. He is the head of the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, and the director of the Graduate Program in Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University. He is also a fellow at the Institute of Palestine Studies and Muwatin-The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy in Ramallah. Al-Shaikh is the author of: Sharon’s Golden Heart: A Mythical Trial (2007); Palestinian Textbooks: Issues of Identity and Citizenship (2008); and the translator of Hussein Barghouthi’s autobiography al-Daw’ al-Azraq (The Blue Light) into English (2003) and Oz Shelach’s Picnic Grounds (2011). He has published three collections of poetry: Ash Wheels (1998), City Remnants (2003), and Departing Narratives (2010). Al- Shaikh’s work is focused on cultural representations and politics of Palestinian identity; in addition to his works on Arab poetics, art criticism, and translation.