Sunday, December 28, 2003

Shammas on Said
Novelist Anton Shammas has written a very subtle short essay on Edward Said for the annual New York Times Magazine stiffs issue. Shammas, who is an Arab-Israeli and who famously and publicly argued that, as an Israeli citizen, he was entitled to full integration into an otherwise Jewish state, is now considerably more pessimistic about a Palestinian-Israeli peace.

He writes:

At the memorial service, a reading from the Arabic translation of his autobiography, ''Out of Place,'' replaced his English original in a moment of sheer magic, giving his life a home of sorts, a posthumous place, a mandate inside his virtual mother tongue. ''In his text,'' the philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, in a passage that Said was fond of quoting, ''the writer sets up house. . . . For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.'' Arabic, that night in Beirut, was his house and his mandate.

It is interesting that when I first met Shammas, he felt that Hebrew would provide him with both his house and mandate, and indeed he told me how he did not want his Hebrew-written novel Arabesques to be translated into Arabic. Today I'm not so sure that he would agree with this. Language, for Shammas, may have become a source of betrayal and a symbol of expectations dashed, since it apparently was (as an exchange with AB Yehoshua suggested) and is (as his present pessimism confirms) insufficient to integrate him into Israeli society.

Shammas also writes:

In Said's essay ''On Lost Causes,'' he wrote that ''a lost cause is associated in the mind and in practice with a hopeless cause: that is, something you support or believe in that can no longer be believed in except as something without hope of achievement.'' But unlike some of us, Said never believed that Palestine was ''a lost cause.'' Rather, he believed that the intellectual has an ethical commitment to relentlessly and unflinchingly speak out, against all odds, against all grains and against all hegemonies -- real, imagined and self-proclaimed.

No comments: