Abstract

This article argues that the ideological blockade in the U.S. academy against any assertion of pan-Arab nationalism is most transparent when it comes to Palestinian writers. A consequence of more than forty years of pro-Israel propaganda aimed at discrediting and silencing the Palestinian right of self-determination, the Pale stinian abyss in American academic cultural studies and also its twentieth-century world literature curricula is best illustrated by the invisibility of Emile Habiby's internationaly celebrated novel The Secret Life of Saeed, the Ill-Fated Pessoptimist. Written in Arabic and originaly published in Haifa in 1974, Habiby's self-ironic and wickedly sarcastic postmodernist pastiche quickly became a classic in the modern Arabic literature tradition and, after translation into English, named by critics a Palestinian masterpiece. For the Palestinian people themselves, from the Diaspora and those living inside Israel to the milions still under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Habiby's Pessoptimist signifies the beginnings of a distinctive Palestinian national literary form. The purpose of this critique is to appreciate Habiby's logic on its own terms, but it is also to liberate his masterpiece from the Zionist corral—to project it outward into the world of other nations, peoples, and intellectual styles. In this task, a special emphasis is placed on the Arabic trickster figure, Juha, who, while completely singular in origin and meaning in Arabic folklore, has several compelling counterparts in world literature, in particular the African American Signifyin' Monkey. From this double-critique—establishing at once the singularity of Habiby's trickster figure and opening it up to other worldly comparisons—a new concept is offered, what the author terms "the blues people of Palestine." The concept is used to illuminate Habiby's iconoclastic narrative style, and to understand the extremely complex multi-voicedness of the text itself.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4286
Print ISSN
0093-3139
Pages
pp. 110-128
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-13
Open Access
No
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