Edward Said: A Contrapuntal Reading
Feb 6, 2021 12:12 PM Feb 6, 2021 12:12 PM
Edward Said: A Contrapuntal Reading In a poem published in Arabic last month, Mahmoud Darwish bids Edward Said farewell ------------------ New York/ November/ Fifth Avenue The sun a plate of shredded metal I asked myself, estranged in the shadow: Is it Babel or Sodom? *** There, on the doorstep of an electric abyss, high as the sky, I met Edward, thirty years ago, time was less wild then... We both said: If the past is only an experience, make of the future a meaning and a vision. Let us go, Let us go into tomorrow trusting the candor of imagination and the miracle of grass/ *** *** I don't recall going together to the cinema in the evening. Still I heard Ancient Indians calling: Trust neither horse, nor modernity *** No. Victims do not ask their executioner: Am I you? Had my sword been bigger than my rose, would you have asked if I would have acted like you? *** A question like that entices the curiosity of a novelist, sitting in a glass office, overlooking lilies in the garden, where the hand of a hypothesis is as clear as the conscience of a novelist set to settle accounts with human instinct... There is no tomorrow in yesterday, so let us advance/ *** Advancing could be a bridge leading back to Barbarism.../ *** New York. Edward wakes up to a lazy dawn. He plays Mozart. Runs round the university's tennis court. Thinks of the journey of ideas across borders, and over barriers. He reads the New York Times. Writes out his furious comments. Curses an Orientalist guiding the General to the weak point inside the heart of an Oriental woman. He showers. Chooses his elegant suit. Drinks his white coffee. Shouts at the dawn: Do not loiter. *** On wind he walks, and in wind he knows himself. There is no ceiling for the wind, no home for the wind. Wind is the compass of the stranger's North. He says: I am from there, I am from here, but I am neither there nor here. I have two names which meet and part... I have two languages, but I have long forgotten which is the language of my dreams. I have an English language, for writing, with yielding phrases, and a language in which Heaven and Jerusalem converse, with a silver cadence, but it does not yield to my imagination. *** What about identity? I asked. He said: It's self-defence... Identity is the child of birth, but at the end, it's self-invention, and not an inheritance of the past. I am multiple... Within me an ever new exterior. And I belong to the question of the victim. Were I not from there, I would have trained my heart to nurture there deers of metaphor... So carry your homeland wherever you go, and be a narcissist if need be/ The outside world is exile, exile is the world inside. And what are you between the two? *** Myself, I do not know so that I shall not lose it. I am what I am. I am my other, a duality gaining resonance in between speech and gesture. Were I to write poetry I would have said: I am two in one, like the wings of a swallow , content with bringing good omen when spring is late. *** He loves a country and he leaves. [Is the impossible far off?] He loves leaving to things unknown. By traveling freely across cultures those in search of the human essence may find a space for all to sit... Here a margin advances. Or a centre retreats. Where East is not strictly east, and West is not strictly west, where identity is open onto plurality, not a fort or a trench/ *** Metonymy was sleeping on the river's bank; had it not been for the pollution it could have embraced the other bank. *** - Have you written any novels? ï I tried... I tried to retrieve my image from mirrors of distant women. But they scampered off into their guarded night. Saying: Our world is independent of any text. A man cannot write a woman who is both enigma and dream. A woman cannot write a man who is both symbol and star. There are no two loves alike. No two nights alike. So let us enumerate men's qualities and laugh. - And what did you do? ï I laughed at my nonsense and threw the novel into the wastepaper basket/ *** The intellectual harnesses what the novelist can tell and the philosopher interprets the bard's roses/ *** He loves a country and he leaves: I am what I am and shall be. I shall choose my place by myself, and choose my exile. My exile, the backdrop to an epic scene. I defend the poet's need for memories and tomorrow, I defend country and exile in tree-clad birds, and a moon, generous enough to allow the writing of a love poem; I defend an idea shattered by the frailty of its partisans and defend a country hijacked by myths/ *** - Will you be able to return to anything? ï My ahead pulls what's behind and hastens... There is no time left in my watch for me to scribble lines on the sand. I can, however, visit yesterday as strangers do when they listen on a sad evening to a Pastorale: "A girl by the spring filling her jar "With clouds' tears, "Weeping and laughing as a bee "Stings her heart... "Is it love that makes the water ache "Or some sickness in the mist..." [until the end of the song]. *** - So, nostalgia can hit you? ï Nostalgia for a higher, more distant tomorrow, far more distant. My dream leads my steps. And my vision places my dream on my knees like a pet cat. It's the imaginary real, the child of will: We can change the inevitability of the abyss. *** - And nostalgia for yesterday? ï A sentiment not fit for an intellectual, unless it is used to spell out the stranger's fervour for that which negates him. My nostalgia is a struggle over a present which has tomorrow by the balls. *** - Did you not sneak into yesterday when you went to that house, your house in Talbiya, in Jerusalem? ï I prepared myself to sleep in my mother's bed, like a child who's scared of his father. I tried to recall my birth, and to watch the Milky Way from the roof of my old house. I tried to stroke the skin of absence and the smell of summer in the garden's jasmine. But the hyena that is truth drove me away from a thief-like nostalgia. - Were you afraid? What frightened you? ï I could not meet loss face to face. I stood by the door like a beggar. How could I ask permission from strangers sleeping in my own bed... Ask them if I could visit myself for five minutes? Should I bow in respect to the residents of my childish dream? Would they ask: Who is that prying foreign visitor? And how could I talk about war and peace among the victims and the victims' victims, without additions, without an interjection? And would they tell me: There is no place for two dreams in one bedroom? *** It is neither me nor him who asks; it is a reader asking: What can poetry say in a time of catastrophe? *** Blood and blood, blood in your country, in my name and in yours, in the almond flower, in the banana skin, in the baby's milk, in light and shadow, in the grain of wheat, in salt/ *** Adept snipers, hitting their target with maximum proficiency. Blood and blood and blood. This land is smaller than the blood of its children standing on the threshold of doomsday like sacrificial offerings. Is this land truly blessed, or is it baptised in blood and blood and blood which neither prayer, nor sand can dry. There is not enough justice in the Sacred Book to make martyrs rejoice in their freedom to walk on cloud. Blood in daylight, blood in darkness. Blood in speech. *** He says: The poem could host loss, a thread of light shining at the heart of a guitar; or a Christ on a horse pierced through with beautiful metaphors. For the aesthetic is but the presence of the real in form/ In a world without a sky, the earth becomes an abyss. The poem, a consolation, an attribute of the wind, southern or northern. Do not describe what the camera can see of your wounds. And scream that you may hear yourself, and scream that you may know you're still alive, and alive, and that life on this earth is possible. Invent a hope for speech, invent a direction, a mirage to extend hope. And sing, for the aesthetic is freedom/ *** I say: The life which cannot be defined except by death is not a life. *** He says: We shall live. So let us be masters of words which make their readers immortal -- as your friend Ritsos said. *** He also said: If I die before you, my will is the impossible. I asked: Is the impossible far off? He said: A generation away. I asked: And if I die before you? He said: I shall pay my condolences to Mount Galilee, and write, "The aesthetic is to reach poise." And now, don't forget: If I die before you, my will is the impossible. *** When I last visited him in New Sodom, in the year Two Thousand and Two, he was battling off the war of Sodom on the people of Babel... and cancer. He was like the last epic hero defending the right of Troy to share the narrative. *** An eagle soaring higher and higher bidding farewell to his height, for dwelling on Olympus and over heights is tiresome. *** Farewell, farewell poetry of pain.