Reaching for the Far-Fetched
Reaching for the Far-Fetched: Speculative Imagination in Israel/Palestine draws attention to an unprecedented phenomenon of the past twenty years: the remarkable proliferation of speculative fiction and art in both Palestinian and Israeli cultures. Within hitherto predominantly realist traditions, I trace the development of cultural production that reimagines this conflicted region through the prism of implausible futures, since the failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Why should this newly emergent interest in the future happen now, and across national and generic borders? I bring together contemporary novels and video art by Ibtisam Azem, Larissa Sansour, Dror Burstein, and Yael Bartana, and ground these pseudo-prophetic voices within past traditions of visionary thought, be they the nationalist utopias of the twentieth century or ancient prophecies, to show that these imaginative visions are unique in deliberately staging the improbable. In so doing they become literary ‘speech acts’ and artistic ‘image acts’ that aim not to reflect their reality but to disrupt it, opening up unthought-of political possibilities by imagining the currently implausible. In the face of a stagnant political reality, the art and literature of this region assume the cautionary and revolutionary role of the seer, whose words are meant to mobilize. As such, my research contravenes with the claims of theoreticians who define our epoch as distinctively bound to the present. Instead, I argue that the cultural products of this region are in fact greatly occupied with the unknown future because the political atmosphere of the present forecloses future viability.
Shatature: Mapping Palestinian Cultural Capital tackles the intrinsic difficulty of portraying diasporic literature (shatāt in Arabic means ‘diaspora’, or ‘dispersion’). How can we give a unitary literary account of a nation scattered around the globe, characterized by countless cultural intersections, writing its exilic experience in multiple languages? Established methods of literary scholarship are rooted in national and linguistic divisions that are often based on close-reading of a limited number of texts. Large data sets, on the other hand, can reveal local and global fluctuations in literary taste and production. This book project turns to the tools of Digital Humanities in order to trace the transnational dynamics of Palestinian literature. Ever since the mass-exodus of 1948, Palestinians hold various political statuses across the Arab and Western worlds. Shatature, both the book and the digital interface, demonstrates how in the case of displaced nations, the dissemination of ideas, metaphors, and genres cannot be fully grasped within the borders of one single language or national culture. Instead, I elaborate on the rise and decline of different cultural hubs – Beirut, New York, Jerusalem, Amman, and others – in terms of Palestinian literary production based on a database that includes hundreds of writers and thousands of texts, their translations, and adaptations. The database will enable questions such as: From where is Palestine written and in what languages? Which Palestinian authors are translated and studied across the globe and which authors remain locally read? Theoretically, this project builds on the disciplines of world literature and diaspora studies, while it offers a quantitative-based analysis of a multicenter literary network and its points of contact with other literary systems.