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Communing with Darwish’s Ghosts

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Absent Presence in Dialogue with the Palestinian Moving Image

image of Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

In his prose poem Absent Presence (published in English translation in 2010), the revered Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish identified a source of tension that resonates through much Palestinian creative expression: a tension not between Arab and Jew, nor between Israeli and Palestinian but between presence and absence. Drawing on the many motifs of presence and absence, and by extension, of visibility and invisibility, spectrality and haunting that surface in Absent Presence, this article seeks to translate Darwish’s poetic meditations into a visual context by placing his work in dialogue with two pieces of Palestinian video art, Sharif Waked’s To Be Continued … (2009) and Wafaa Yasin’s The Imaginary Houses of Palestine (2010), which share Darwish’s preoccupation with ideas of the spectral, and of present-day Palestine’s complex relationship with its past. Mobilizing a range of critical concepts including Abu-Lughod’s theorizations of ‘postmemory’ and Derrida’s notion of ‘the spectral’, this article explores the ways in which various forms of absence arising from Palestine’s fraught national history haunt contemporary Palestinian video art, and argues that the presence of the ‘spectral’ within such works also reveals a vibrant creative present in motion.

Affiliations: 1: Department of English, Cultural and Media Studies Nottingham Trent University, UK


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