Venturing into a Vanishing Space: Representations of Palestine in Jewish-American and Arab Novels
Aljahdali, Samar Hameed H
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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This study explores the literary representation of Palestine by Jewish American and Arab novelists within the emergent geopolitics of settler colonialism, thus challenging the notion that Palestine presents a unique situation that largely defies comparative approaches. It illustrates how postcolonial theory proves necessary but insufficient to engage the cultural and political specificities of the Palestinian situation, both as fictional representation and as otherwise knowable history. Here, recent developments in theorising settler colonialism provide a useful starting point. Drawing on the work of Patrick Wolfe and Lorenzo Veracini, with its revisionary challenge to postcolonial theory in relation to the need to distinguish between settler colonialism and metropole colonialism, this thesis argues that the case of Palestine problematizes the settler colonial paradigm. Overlaps and entanglements between the supposedly distinct forms of colonialism on the ground complicate the discreteness of the settler model. Hence, the focus on Jewish-American novel serves to suggest that the Zionist settler enterprise is inseparable from American imperialism, and therefore challenges conceptualizations of a purely settler phenomenon in Palestine. The study draws together New Historicism and postcolonialism, suggesting that engagement with the intersection of these two approaches is both valid and timely. The New Historicist return to history proves central to appraisal of the forms of power that continue to condition the authority accorded to a particular version of events, and to the evaluation of the writer’s responsibility to reality as well as the measure of truth embedded even in most fictionalized versions of history. Accordingly, the structure of the thesis identifies key historical moments in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, juxtaposing Jewish-American renditions of the Zionist settler project with Arab counter-narratives. The emphasis in the thesis on historicising rhetorical appropriations and restoring a Palestinian version of events challenges the perception transfer of settler narratives, which, to the privilege of settlers’ self-origination, has long relegated Palestinian people, land, and narratives to the peripheries of history and postcolonial debates. The first three chapters focus on three signal events: the 1948 nakba, the 1967 war, and the 1980s uprising. The first chapter compares and contrasts two versions of the 1948 events as represented in Leon Uris’s The Haj (1984) and Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun (1998; trans. 2005). Drawing on the revisionary work of the Israeli new historians, together with Palestinian commentators, the chapter explores the 1948 Palestinian exodus in terms of settlers’ violence and logic of elimination, which Uris’s narrative conceals behind a Western civilizational discourse. Against Uris’s legitimation of the master Zionist narrative, Khoury’s novel suggests an instance of ‘writing back,’ narrating the unspoken and replacing the monologism of the official line with the multiplicity of oral history. The second chapter extends this cross-cultural research to the 1967 war, suggesting the centrality of this event to paradigmatic shifts in Palestinian historical experience and self-representation as well as in the Jewish American writer’s relation to the state of Israel. Literary representations of 1967 Palestine, including Edward Said’s Out of Place: A Memoir (2000), Halim Barakat’s Six Days (1961; trans. 1990) and Days of Dust (1969; trans. 1986), Sahar Khalifeh’s Wild Thorns (1976; trans. 2003), and Saul Bellow’s Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970) and To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976), articulate liminality, ambivalence, and the enabling of new possibilities and fresh perspectives. Each of these writers reveals a shared concern for the politics of the local in order to escape the burdens of diasporic existence, attempting to redefine what seems to be a borderless and geographically vague existence. While post-1967 narratives affirm the rise of a new focus for Palestinian writers, the third chapter shows how the greater visibility of Palestinians in the aftermath of the 1980s uprising finds literary form in US fiction. Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993) illustrates the cultural limits that restrict a dialogic engagement with the emerging heteroglossia in US media following the appearance of a Palestinian voice and an anti-Zionist stance. However, this failed dialogism reveals how silence and dissimulation become forms of expression, unveiling the dynamics that manipulate the space permitted for Palestinians in Jewish American fiction. Recovering Palestinian literature from the margins of postcolonial studies, the final chapter charts ways of representing Palestinian (post)coloniality by drawing on the temporal and spatial specifications conceptualised in Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope. Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks (2008) and Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin (2011) reinvent the traditions of walking and returning, previously manipulated in Zionist settler narratives, in order to articulate a political protest against settler colonialism and assert the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ claim to the land. Although focusing on the Palestinian case, this study seeks to open up the postcolonial to the historical and rhetorical specificities of the literature emerging from contemporary settler colonial situations, and the possible enactment of postcolonial passages in not-yet-postcolonial contexts.
AlJahdali, Samar H. 'Venturing into a Vanishing Space: the Chronotope in Representing Palestinian Postcoloniality.' Journal of Postcolonial Writing 50.2 (2014): 216-229.
Maclean, Gerald Jr
PhD in English