Sunday, August 10, 2008

MAHMOUD DARWISH (1942 - 2008)

Hugo Garcia Manriquez sent out a message to the Poetics List shortly after the Associated Press announced that Mahmoud Darwish passed away at a hospital in Houston yesterday evening. AP reported:

Darwish died at a hospital in Houston following complications from an open heart surgery, according to Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Darwish is the world's most recognized Palestinian poet and became a Palestinian cultural icon. He was a vocal critic of both the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian leadership.

His poetry is considered to have given voice to the Palestinian experience of exile, occupation and infighting. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and has won many international prizes.

Passages from State of Siege, which Pierre Joris carried into English from Elias Sanbar's translation, are quite powerful, the poem a 90-page work first written when Darwish was holed up in Ramallah in January, 2002:

no homeric echo here.
the legends knock on our doors when we need them.
no homeric echo of anything whatsoever...
here, a general is searching for a state that sleeps
under the rubble of a Troy that is yet to come.

In Spring of 2006 I had the honor of including a small handful of Darwish poems in the fourth issue of Damn the Caesars' first volume, the work carefully translated by Rick London and Omnia Amin. These poems — with others previously published in Bombay Gin, Poetry Flash and Viz — were later brought out under the title Now, As You Awaken through Roger Snell's Sardines Press in an elegant edition of 200. The entire collection was then uploaded to the Big Bridge website.

There is one poem in the collection which, like the fragment above, concerns itself with the Homeric, the relation of war and the nation to epic or, more broadly, cultural production. There seems for Darwish to be little distance between poetry, the shifting borders of nations and the constant, unrelenting rhythms of war. But the site of conflict itself seems to become the site of a void, such that conflict, which is the very thing that would produce an epic poetry of nation in the Homeric tradition, discloses something which refuses or negates poetries of nation and war. These are moments of pause, gaps created through conflict which compel an evacuation of representation. It is the moment of contemplative silence after the roar of wreckage — a moment when "Homeric echo" gives way to "Homeric pause":

No flag flutters in the wind,
no horse floats in the wind,
no drums accompany the rise and fall of waves...
Nothing happens in tragedies today...
The curtain is drawn, both poets and audience
have left — there are no cedars or processions,
no olive branches to greet those coming by boat,
weary from nosebleed and the lightness
of the final act, as if passing from one fate
to another, a fate written beyond the text,
a woman of Greece playing the part
of a woman of Troy, as easily white as black,
neither broken nor exalted, and no one asks:
"What will happen in the morning?"
"What comes after this Homeric pause?"

Just as for Adorno there is no lyric poetry after Auschwitz, the hold epic poetry has over the imagination (include in this tradition: Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Jarhead) is negated by the very work of war which gives rise to epic imagination. The Homeric has always been the heroic — a heroism which, through its own work, negates itself, flees the tragic scene of its making.

The irony of passing away in exile, in the US — in Houston of all places — after submitting to the mercies of medical science in America is tremendous. Complications.