Darwish and Arab intellectualism -Marwan Asmar

Darwish and Arab intellectualism -Marwan Asmar

Postby montada » Wed Aug 27, 2008 1:07 pm

Darwish and Arab intellectualism

By Dr Marwan Asmar

Obituaries are for the dead. Generally they don’t appeal, only in so far as they give a final “send off” to the person who has just died. To put it crudely, once people go, it is the end!

The idea of writing obituaries, extolling the person and contributions they made seem pointless, since the first stage of their existence in life is completed and by death, they are being prepared into another more mysterious phase: The after-life. This is the case for humanity, Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Europeans, Americans and so on—an inevitable road we all go through.

Pointless to dwell on also because society goes on developing, transforming itself, twisting through different persons who will also be born, live their lives, progress, die and be replaced by others who will in turn become part of long ended process of “temporary evolution” that has been going on since time immemorial with much philosophers, intellectuals and contributors.

When Mahmood Darwish died recently the Arab world—and rightly so—cried for his poetry, intellect and nobility. He was the quaint-essential poet intellectual who formulated words to give action and meaning, to lower the pedestal from the highbrow to the man-in-the-street.

Through his poems, he devoted his life to fighting the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the injustices brought on by that through his words, semantics, genre that had a rallying symbolism to the masses.

His death prompted many to hold their hands up and say all our modern intellectuals and leaders of thought, philosophers, political thinkers, sociologists, literary essayists are dying.

It’s as if the intellectual, ideological, thinking framework and infrastructure in the Arab world is coming to halt and it is not being replaced, but this is far from the truth and applies not only in the Arab world but beyond. The problem is that the emerging new intellectuals take a long time to come on the scene, bear fruit, sometimes not even in their life-time.

This gloomy trend might have been started with the passing away of the world-famous Edward Said who was voted as one of the greatest 100 minds of the 20th century, novelist Abdel Rahman Mounif, cultural academic Hisham Sharabi, and Abdel Wahab Al Missiri, the writer of the first “Zionist Encyclopedia” in Arabic to name but a small number.

Important though they were, these were mere mortals, their contributions ended once they died, what stays however, is their achievements, intellect, contributions, and the schools of thought they may have built and consequently become part of our legacy and heritage. Their sum totals of their thought become our public property.

But then it becomes up to us, as individuals to build on that intellectualism, and use it in the evolution for our own contributions to society. The deceased become part of the accumulated process of experiences and thought, part of our traditions, built from say Ibn Khaldoun, the claimed father of modern sociology and the great Islamic philosophers before him and the latter theorists Mohammad Abdu and Rashed Rida and literary writers like Taha Hussein, Najeeb Mafouz and even Hani Al Rahib who wrote the Zionist Character in the English Novel.

But even with these deaths society continues to progress forward with new thinking, perceptions, dialectically arguing with the purpose of finding solutions to existence, development, evolutions with intellectuals like Samir Amin for instance, who has his own school of thought in explaining the structures of the unequal nature of the international system and which subsequently became adopted as an explanation to the mechanism of imperialism and exploitation.

No single person for instance will replace these intellectuals that died or the current ones, Mahmood Darwish included. But they will continue to look on his poetry with inspiration and eventfulness as something not only to emulate, but use as part of the national struggles. His focus lay in the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination but his works must inevitably be used in a comparative perspective because of the symbolism and yearning that is invoked.

Everyone loved Darwish for his poems, even his detractors Israeli Zionists like former Prime Minister and ideologue hawk Ariel Sharon, who continue to lie in a coma in a Jerusalem hospital, made no secret about admiring the poetry of the late Palestinian.

In his life Darwish always sort to build a “broad front”, national and international, against occupation, oppression, subjugation and injustices, be it in Palestine, by Israel and on the world level where such practices are preached.

These characteristics found in his poetry or literary text may have actually set him apart from the other Arab intellectuals and activists that have since died except say for Edward Said, who built a intellectual school of thought regarding westernization, “Englishness”, a subject of his comparative literature classes, historical and contemporary stereotyping as well as his views and personas on Palestine and Palestinianism which was visibly expressed in his The Question of Palestine, and his articles most prominently in Al Ahram Weekly.

Darwish’s broad front included making acquaintances with Israeli intellectuals and perhaps like-minded poets like him who he believed could make an impact on the political, cultural and social scenes in Israel and create a new fusion of intellectual expression were Palestinian determination could become the new modus operandi to solving the Arab-Jewish conflict and the creation of a two-state solution where a Palestinian state would exist beside an Israeli state.

He read ferociously, and was open to all world traditions because he believed this would feed into his own poetry, make it more didactic, eclectic and open while sharpening its expression, and diction, believing the intellectual, Arab or otherwise, has a purpose in life, to create, improve, build upon for a better future.

Darwish was also a rare intellectual breed—strengthened by his cultural window on the world—in his constant strive to rejuvenate his words, and actions. He never allowed “staleness” to set in but would always seek to revive, modernize, ‘expressionalize’ to given new momentums.

‘Staleness’ is something that is always leveled against intellectuals and not necessarily Arabs only with they foci being is that they cease to be innovative in their expression.

Because of the contemporariness of the situation and its aspects of seeming blandness of continuing conflict, exploitation, recurring issues, intellectuals, poets, novelists, storey-tellers, writers, creative artists reach a situation where writing becomes dull and monotonous replacing liveliness, novelty and vicissitude. It becomes end in itself rather than a means to change and transform.

Darwish, and critics writing on Darwish has never believed that, with him mastering the pen to the fullest, pulling it, stretching it, dabbling with it till the last word, and expression drops out on paper. Not only did he become Palestine’s poet laureate, but his poetry recitals attracted thousands from all over the Arab world and those living abroad.

Poetry is for the elite, a statement not only applies in Palestine, in the Arab world and internationally, but for Mahmood Darwish poetry was for the masses, the educated, middle classes and the elite, where ever they came from, it refreshed, and inspired. Darwish was a poet, thinker, an activist, politician, and someone who was definitely interested in real change that criss-crossed societies, standing as a vanguard to alter the occupied situation in Palestine, and outside it, change that would reform states and powers, and change that would bring about more egalitarian societies.

His work would continue to live on, being no doubt an inspiration to others who would take on the new challenge, and continue in their own way to find new means of expression to change, alter, continuing need for better end. No doubt the work would also have to end the occupation, rally for more equal social structures, less dogmatic relations between states, respect for one another rather than putting-down the other.

These are legacies which continue following death. They should be taken up by new personalities who become more dynamic making their own imprint, they become the new vanguards and torch-bearers for new steps forward, the new intellectual fight as it were. Despite the deaths of our intellectuals, new revivalism must be born.

The author is a free-lance writer living in Amman.
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