Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish
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In a series of exquisite close readings of Arabic and Arab Jewish writing, Jeffrey Sacks considers the relation of poetic statement to individual and collective loss, the dispossession of peoples and languages, and singular events of destruction in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Addressing the work of Mahmoud Darwish, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, Elias Khoury, Edmond Amran El Maleh, Shimon Ballas, and Taha Husayn, Sacks demonstrates the reiterated incursion of loss into the time of life-losses that language declines to mourn. Language occurs as the iteration of loss, confounding its domestication in the form of the monolingual state in the Arabic nineteenth century's fallout.
Reading the late lyric poetry of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in relation to the destruction of Palestine in 1948, Sacks reconsiders the nineteenth century Arabic nahda and its relation to colonialism, philology, and the European Enlightenment. He argues that this event is one of catastrophic loss, wherein the past suddenly appears as if it belonged to another time. Reading al-Shidyaq's al-Saq 'ala al-saq (1855) and the legacies to which it points in post-1948 writing in Arabic, Hebrew, and French, Sacks underlines a displacement and relocation of the Arabic word adab and its practice, offering a novel contribution to Arabic and Middle East Studies, critical theory, poetics, aesthetics, and comparative literature.
Drawing on writings of Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, Avital Ronell, Judith Butler, Theodor Adorno, and Edward W. Said, Iterations of Loss shows that language interrupts its pacification as an event of aesthetic coherency, to suggest that literary comparison does not privilege a renewed giving of sense but gives place to a new sense of relation.
to wage war against any nation but to help the Sultan bring back to obedience subjects blinded by a fanaticism from another century” (115). Nafir Suriyya desires—if differently, and if still in relation to the legacies pointed to in these documents and the juridical, colonial violence they impart—to install order and unity through a generalization and reorganization of terms. A complicity in language and in relation to form and an understanding of time is remarked. Yet it is not that this
experience that these rhetorical figures and flourishes, with which so many authors are so careless, preoccupy the reader with what is apparent, with the linguistic utterance [lafz] at the expense of reflection on what is most intrinsic: meaning [ma‘na]” (12–13). Al-Shidyaq writes of his learning about language in relation to his experience as a reader (“I’ve learned from experience,” he writes), but to write of himself as a learner, and to write of language in relation to sound, he must borrow
certain violence, underline the question of being and its relation to language, which al-Shidyaq asks us to read in the words ma huwwa. Below, in chapter 2, I follow the title of the work, al-Saq ‘ala al-saq fi ma huwwa al-Fariyaq, to read language in al-Shidyaq in relation to the form of the body and the grounding of world. In al-Saq ‘ala alsaq “man” is both promised and interrupted as the subject and the ground of language, as an older understanding and practice of language—one indexed in the
their historical existence [la yakfi li ithbat wujudahuma al-tarikhiyy]. Not to mention the story which speaks to us of the migration of Isma‘il the son of Ibrahim to Mecca and the settling 138 Philologies of the originally non-Arabic-speaking Arabs there. We are forced to see in this story [qissa] a certain deception in the affirmation of the connection between the Jews and Arabs, on the one hand, and Islam and Judaism, on the other” (F, 38). The division of literature from history points to
further linked to Cherkaoui’s training at the École des Métiers d’Art in Paris, where he had earned a diploma in 1959, and to labor, effort, practice, and meditation. “These were years of slow, laborious effort to master his craft as a painter, but also and above all constant meditation on painting, against a background of the Moroccan reality which was the very stuff of his life” (43–45). Excursus 153 Calling attention to the matter of painting and its practice, it is as if in writing of