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The Performative in Ilyās Khūrī’s Bāb al-Shams

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AbstractThis article focuses on Ilyās Khūrī’s engagement of performative aspects within his 1998 novel Bāb al-Shams (The Gate of the Sun).The novel utilizes different forms of the performative—the most transparent being oral narrative, but also video representations, television appearances, Jean Genet’s essay-turned-play Quarte heures à Chatila, and street performances—to show the collapse of nationalist myths in Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camps and to comment on the near impossibility of collective historical memory under the difficult conditions prevailing in the Palestinian diaspora. The failure of the epic genre in the context of the Shatila camp is the failure of the nationalist project and of historical memory; with the camp’s inhabitants severed from both their land and their history, nationalist myths based on ideals of heroism cannot hold, the collective memory is acutely compromised and Palestine becomes little more than a simulacrum. The logical result of the narrator’s failed epic cycle is a dislocation on the part of the camp’s inhabitants from authentic forms of representation. The Palestinian experience is performed through the tools of modern media—video cassettes, television programs and Western theatre—by which the residents of Shatila lose both whatever remaining connections to Palestine they may have held as well as their ability to build a collective memory for their own history as an exiled community. The way in which the 1982 Shatila massacre is remembered and performed takes on particular importance. The only hope Khūrī offers is through a street performance which allows Shatila’s residents the chance for reconnection to the tradition and an alternative to the simulacra by which they find themselves surrounded.

Affiliations: 1: Amideast, Rabat Morocco


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