The print version of Lital Levy, “Nation, Village, Cave: A Spatial Reading of 1948 in Three Novels of Anton Shammas, Emile Habiby, and Elias Khoury,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 18, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2012): 10–26, erroneously appeared without endote references 1 and 3–9 on pages 10–12 of the text. The corrected paragraphs are printed below. We sincerely regret the error.
Though written decades apart and in two different languages (namely, Arabic and Hebrew), Emile Habiby’s The Strange Facts in the Disappearance of Sa‘id the Unlucky Pessoptimist (1974), Anton Shammas’s Arabesques (1986) and his Hebrew translations of Habiby’s work, and Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun (1998)1 are interrelated participants in the broader literary dialogue on post-1948 Palestinian identity. The three novels are thematically connected, depicting the massive rupture of the Nakba and the residual threads of continuity with the Palestinian past that their characters maintain under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Moreover, these three novels engage themes of collective memory and storytelling through narratives that self-consciously destabilize the relationship between narration and truth and between history and memory. Finally, all three are transnational novels in the sense that they transgress borders between Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. They do so both within their narratives and in their extranarrative lives as social texts: through the personal relationships of their respective authors and through their histories of translation.
In the three novels, as we zoom inward from the wider geography of Palestinian experience spanning the Galilee and Lebanon into the interior space of the village, we find that each narrative focuses on an even more intimate, internal spatiality: that of the cave. Indeed, the eponymous Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun) is the name given by the novel’s hero to the cave he imagines is his true “home.” Alternately a site of hidden “treasure,” a locus of collective memory, and a refuge from the harsh realities of post-1948 Palestinian existence, the cave in these novels is transformed into an alternative Palestinian space. As a symbol, it may represent the lost Palestine, the promise of a better future, or true knowledge of the self. Following feminist critic Luce Irigaray’s reading of Plato’s cave as an allegory for the womb, we [End Page 149] can also consider how the three authors mobilize the cave to portray the Palestinian experience as a multigenerational story, one with Oedipal dimensions.3
Caves have a rich history in literature and philosophy and in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystical traditions, offering numerous intertextual possibilities. For example, “The Cave” is the title of Surat al-kahf, chapter 18 of the Koran, which contains the parable of Ashab al-kahf, the Companions of the Cave. Other famous examples include the caves in Plato’s Symposium and in Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In Arabesques, Shammas invokes the famous caves of The Thousand and One Nights through references to hidden treasure and to the magic word that opens the cave.4 The geography of historical Palestine is dotted with caves, many of them man-made shelters that date back to antiquity.5 In contemporary Hebrew literature, caves appear in David Grossman’s Hiyukh ha-gedi (The Smile of the Lamb, 1982)6 and Meir Shalev’s Roman Rusi (Russian Romance, 1988; published in English as The Blue Mountain),7 and in Avot Yeshurun’s 1952 poem “Pesah ‘al kukhim” (Passover on Caves).8 Whereas Grossman’s novel depicts, in orientalist fashion, a half-blind, demented Arab hunchback living in a cave in the West Bank, Yeshurun’s iconoclastic poem ties the cave to the suppressed Palestinian presence within Israel.9 Despite their different political valences, however, both works present the figure of the Palestinian Arab as a “native” of the Palestinian landscape, represented metonymically by the cave. Each in its own way thus essentializes the figure of the Palestinian as Other in part by associating him with the other-worldliness of the cave. In contrast, the three novels use the cave not as a marker of Palestinian autochthony, which they hardly need to prove, but as a multidimensional spatiality that is at...