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Reviewed by:
  • Becoming Palestine: Toward an Archival Imagination of the Future by Gil Z. Hochberg, and: Networked Refugees: Palestinian Reciprocity and Remittances in the Digital Age by Nadya Hajj
  • Dina Matar (bio)
Becoming Palestine: Toward an Archival Imagination of the Future, by Gil Z. Hochberg. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021. 208 pages. $94.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.
Networked Refugees: Palestinian Reciprocity and Remittances in the Digital Age, by Nadya Hajj. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021. 146 pages. $34.95 paper.

Two new and different books related to Palestine and Palestinians, published in 2021, are important contributions to the growing interdisciplinary field of Palestine Studies. The books approach their subject matter from different angles and conceptual frameworks but converge to a certain extent in their approach to "imagination" as a creative practice of recovery and as a productive space for thinking about the present and future. Both books are shorter than the average academic study, and both focus on Palestinians and their practices in different contexts. Both books are timely, particularly given the prolonged impasse in relation to Palestinians' lives and futures amid continued settler-colonial Israeli practices against them. [End Page 283]

In Becoming Palestine, Gil Hochberg engages in a conversation with Palestinian artists and their work to address how they approach the concept of the archive by shifting attention to archiving practices. This shift, she proposes, offers an alternative way of thinking of the archive as a space for imagination, thus moving beyond dominant approaches to addressing the concept of the archive as a space and practices of preserving and remembering the past. In fact, Hochberg goes further to articulate the archive as living and productive, rather than dead and closed. Inspired by the work of contemporary Palestinian artists in diverse genres, Hochberg sees the archive as opening the future to imagination and possibilities but also as a productive temporality. This is evident in artists' archiving practices not to preserve the past but to subvert the present and offer ways of thinking of the future beyond nationalism and the global market.

What sparked Hochberg's interest in rethinking the archive is clear from the beginning, particularly Palestinian artist Jumana Manna's film A Magical Substance Flows into Me (2015) in which she examines an obscure German Jewish ethnomusicologist named Robert Lachmann and the archive he left behind. Manna's work, as Hochberg shows in the first chapter of the book, creates a different kind of living archive that runs counter to the very logic of archiving as a process that encloses something within a past sealed off from the present. Hochberg suggests that Manna's subversion of folders in the Israeli national archives by presenting their contents is part of a different story than the one obsessed with the prehistory of Israel and is a story that offers a completely different approach to the relationship between the past, present, and future.

The interrogation of the concept of the archive continues throughout the book as Hochberg engages in a conversation with other Palestinian artists' art, which she proposes is a form of creative reflection around the present, rather than simply subversive as Palestinian art has often been addressed. In fact, the main theme that comes across throughout is the variety of ways that these artists do not simply adopt a celebratory attitude toward the subversive possibilities of archiving and the archive, but, using a concept from a famous Palestinian novel by Emile Habiby,1 the artists become quintessential "pessoptimists" in the sense that they imagine the possibility of alternative access to knowledge while realizing their freedom from the market and the nation-state is only relative. In making us consider the possibilities of imagination, Hochberg, of course, is playing with archive as a word and archive as a verb—in other words, to make, to create, and to imagine beyond the dominant frameworks of global and national politics.

In enriching our understanding of the archive, Hochberg offers a response to what historian Beshara Doumani has called an "archive fever"2 and a response to the oversaturation of archival information mobilized by nostalgia for a fixed past as well as a utopian, nationalist-dominated vision of a Palestine...