February 24, 2008

The Aesthetics of Occupation

I heard Mahmoud Darwish is in town. M.Darwish, one of the best contemporary Arab poets. A Palestinian who has been in exile for so long...surely he knows all about aesthetics -- the sublime, the ugly, the comic and the beautiful...surely he knows all about occupation, misery, loss, longings and tragedies...

I cancelled whatever appointments I had this evening and rushed to hear him recite his latest. By the time I arrived to the old hall, it was so packed they would not let anyone in, anymore. Over 500 people were already in there...

I tried squeezing in, and felt my dissapointment rising as I realized it was impossible for me to see or hear M.Darwish in person.

I looked at the crowd, mainly young adults, in their late 20's, and a few from the older generation...That gave me a slight surge of hope. If Arabs can still appreciate poetic words streaming from one occupation, then maybe all is not lost.

Or, maybe words are the only thing left...

Words to compose poetry, words to convey the tragedies, words to subtitle the pain...

Unsure of the crowd's intent, I just bought his latest prose and walked out.

I did not get to hear M.Darwish. He wrote hundreds of poems. But since when do poets change realities ?

They are just transmitters of truths, ordinary truths that ordinary people can't express in aesthetic forms. So they read or listen to poetry instead. Giving themselves a temporary feeling of "we're in it together" -- finally united by words.

I was sort of relieved to be out in the fresh air. The staleness of waiting for a possible seat, place, grew denser - mingled with the odor of expectant bodies, thirsty for words. All this was making me dizzy...

A trap, I felt to myself. Another trap of raising hopes and be let down, once more...

As I breathed in the crisp cold air, I felt a presence a few steps behind me.

"It's a pity we were not given a chance to hear his sublime poetry"

"Yes it was" I replied abruptly and continued walking...

"You must be an Iraqi" he said

I stopped, looked at him and saw a very thin man, with deep lines creasing his hollow face.

"Yes,I am an Iraqi. How did you guess?"

"I detected a very faint accent when I heard you talk to one of the ushers. I am an Iraqi too."

"Yes, I can tell, from your accent of course."

"I am a poet as well. Had to escape Baghdad."

"So do you write poetry on Escapism ?"

He laughs.

" No, I write poetry on Love"

"Love? Is there Love under Occupation?"

He looks at me, pauses for few minutes and says

"I write about where to find Love under Occupation"

"I thought so too" I replied. Saluted him and walked away...

So what do you do if you are in my place ?

What do you do with the torrents of words that I hear daily from seekers of Love under Occupation?

What do you do with sentences like -- "How will I survive?", "I have no future",
"I can get over the grief", "The memories follow me everywhere", "I am lost",
"We are in a tunnel","I have no hope"," This will never end ","We have been abandoned","No one wants us","We have been forgotten","We don't count anymore",
"We have no more country","My home has been destroyed","I am ill and can't work and have no money","They killed my son, husband, wife, daughter, parents...",
"They raped me. I will never be the same again","I've been tortured and no one understands and I don't even understand myself","We are worthless in their eyes..."

And I can go on and on...

What do you do with these words? How do you turn them around ? What do you say to them ?

What do you do with the pain that accompanies these sentences ?

What poetry would you write?

More words handed out as props, as crutches for the crippled and you say "be patient, endure more, persevere, things will change, God is generous..."

And you and I know these words are empty, they have lost meaning a long time ago. They have become like some worn out, tattered cloth whose colors have faded away from being exposed for too long, in a scorching sun...

And where do you find Beauty and Love ? In which experience? In which setting? In which memory? When all previous memories have been erased leaving nothing but a void, to fill with more worn out, tattered cloths...

What do you do with the ugliness that remains stuck to you, like some second skin, deforming your vision, perverting your perceptions, settling in your mind, like some unwanted visitor who refuses to leave. Colonizing your being.

What do you do with the Ugliness ?

What do you do with the Ugliness you've witnessed, seen, felt, heard ?

What do you do with the Ugliness of what you thought to be a human face unmasking itself only to reveal the most hideous traits ?

What do you do with the Ugliness of mass genocide, cruelty, hypocrisy, indifference, abandonment, poverty, survival...?

I keep asking myself these questions, and the questions that naturally follow -- Will we ever heal from all of that ?

And where do you find Beauty ? Except in tarnished souvenirs maybe - turning us into a people that keep digging in a past, since a future is so out of reach.

And what do you do with the Present? How do you accomodate it? Or more aptly how does it accomodate you, from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute...?

Will you keep trying to squeeze in as I tried doing in that old poetry hall or will you simply give up and walk out into the unknown? And if you opt for the latter, where will you go ?

This is no defeatism. This is Reality. A Reality you know nothing of.

A parallel reality that can drive anyone absolutely insane. A form of schizophrenia as this reality has become our bubble. A bubble that no one addresses or even looks at.

And where do you find Love in a bubble ? A survival bubble.
You attach yourself to a bubble ? Or maybe you attach yourself to people living with you in a bubble ? In a mental, physical, emotional ghetto, where Space keeps shrinking and becomes a point.

And you stand in that point and that point becomes your vital space, and all you're concerned about is to be able to keep standing on your feet, in that precise point.

A desperate point. And where does one find Love in a bubble tainted with despair?

A myopic, ignorant, Westerner wrote to me and said:

"How do I hook a worn out, patriotic old rag? How do I reel in an unwanted, rusted Iraqi tin can? More to the point, how do I manage carnal knowledge of its contents? How can you say you are unwanted? How can you think you have no future?"

Why can't people conceive of the personal and the collective as one ? A common destiny, that we carry inside of us, like some collective gene pool.

This is not about me, this is about us.

And us, as we stand today, have no future. We have been robbed of a vision of a future. That is fact.

And if someone can still come up with so much ignorant "philosophical" crap -- then they have understood nothing at all about occupation, mass genocide, torture, rape... loss of reference, loss of trust, loss of meaning...loss of Life in a philosophical sense, since you are all so bent on philosophy.

They have not confronted that deep existential abyss of occupation with no end in sight. A hideous occupation with all of its facets and consequences...

But then I can offer nothing but words...even these slide away into a pool of cold detachment, or bump against a brick wall made of "humans."

So again, I ask you, where does one find Love, when one's personal and collective experiences are brushed off with so much flippancy ? Is that not, yet another form of despair that we have to confront daily ?

There is only one way out - Fury.

A collective fury that will set ablaze all your notions, all your philosophies, all your analysis, theories and concepts...

A gigantic fury, like some wild fire that will burn and wash away the tragic ugliness, hatred, indifference that have flooded us through your Presence.

Yes, that is the only way out from the aesthetics of your multi-layered Occupation -the Aesthetics of a sublime Fury.

Painting:Iraqi artist, Salam Jaez.