From the Archive: Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Memoirs of Everyday Sorrow’ (September 1979)
“When I ask for a permit to dwell in the wind, they smile…”
While it has been one of my intentions in this blog series to draw out the contemporary relevance of the issues and themes dealt with in many of Westerly’s special issues, it is nonetheless the case that it is often too easy, especially in an academic setting, to treat such issues as historically confined rather than as an ongoing process.
Popular treatments of colonialism and imperialism (or their euphemisms: globalisation, neoliberalism, et al) often acknowledge the impact dispossession and genocide have had on the development of the (since liberated) colonised parts of the globe, and yet neglect to draw direct parallels between these historical examples and processes ongoing today. Indeed, it is the drawing of these parallels that is essential to forwarding the project of decolonisation, whether in international relations and political economy, or in the study of literature itself.
In Westerly’s September 1979 Indian Ocean issue, ‘Memoirs of Everyday Sorrow’ by legendary Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Darwish deals with the last settler-colonial state left standing in the wake of post-Bandung revolutionary anti-colonialism (excluding somewhat arbitrarily that is the older and more established settler-colonies of Australia, the USA, Canada, and New Zealand), namely Israel.
Each part of Darwish’s narrative begins with his narrator expressing a simple intention or desire (“I hire a taxi-cab to go home…”, “I want to travel to Jerusalem…”, “I want to rent an apartment…”) and then detailing the way in which the architecture of Israeli colonialism – whether military occupation, the judiciary, or structural racism – frustrates those intentions or desires. It is a moving story, exposing the day-to-day violence of an oppressive system in a short sequence of elegant vignettes that alternate between Kafka-esque hilarity and the pain of permanent tragedy. Underneath it all, of course, is the pervading sadness of the dispossessed, always strangers and exiles in their own land.
I’ll end with a particularly excellent excerpt from Darwish’s story in which the narrator addresses a court in Haifa, but I encourage you to read the whole piece:
‘“I would like to make a grave confession, gentlemen, since I have become aware of the law. I swim in the sea, but the sea is part of Israel and I do not have a permit. I enjoy the weather of Haifa, yet the weather is the property of Israel, not of Haifa. Likewise the sky above Haifa is not part of Haifa, and I do not have a permit to sit under the sky.”
‘When I ask for a permit to dwell in the wind, they smile…’ (15)
Henry Ward is a writer and researcher from Perth. In 2016, he will be researching Westerly’s archive, focusing on its engagement with the Indian Ocean region, before moving to the USA to undertake a Phd candidature at the University of California, Irvine.