Palestine and the Archive to Come

It is hard to know what to say. It is hard to know whether one should say anything at all. Forget “doomscrolling”, genocide-scrolling is how I’ve spent most of the last few days, retweeting people on Twitter who are far more eloquent, far better informed, far more personally affected than I.

But what are tweets worth? All feels impotent.

I think about the public record, the ephemerality of Twitter. Will any of these tweets survive once Elon Musk finally drives that platform into the ground? I think about the general function of this blog as a diary, as a journal, as a public notebook, as a space to comment rapidly on current events. I think of a time in the near future, which is already so foreboding, in which I or anyone else may look back on this time and find silence.

Let it be said: this fear of silence is not out of self-concern, but out of a more abstract concern for the archive; not just my archive, but our archive. I want to do my part, even if this post is just a miniscule drop in the ocean of an archive to come. So, how to make an adequate record? That is impossible, no doubt. But to make a mark, any mark, no matter how small, is better than none at all.

Taking breaks from the horrors of Twitter, I turn to my bookshelf and begin to leaf through the fragmentary archive in my possession. I glance through Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love, look up Deleuze’s condemnations of Israel as a colonial project, and read Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail with new intent. It is Shibli’s book that affects me the most in the present context. (She was due to receive an award at the Frankfurt Book Fair; the ceremony was postponed.)

A woman becomes obsessed with a “minor detail” in the historical record — the rape and murder of a Palestinian woman in 1949. It is a “minor” incident when placed within the full frame of the Nakba, and yet all the more affecting in its singularity. To designate it as “minor” is doubly disturbing in this way. Minor as in insignificant? But insignificant how? Insignificant as in unimportant? Or insignificant when held up against a totality of atrocities? This is the tension of the archive.

I put everything way and get back to another job at hand. I am proofreading a book about science fiction. But even this becomes relevant, as scenes of subjection linger in the back of my mind. Deleuze’s famous comments in Cinema 2 make an appearance, which likewise resonate with an Israeli propaganda machine. Israel strengthens its claim on the past, whilst Palestinians hope for a liberated future. Deleuze writes of the importance of “story-telling”, of “fabulation”, in this regard. He writes that “story-telling is itself memory, and memory is invention of a people… Not the myth of a past people, but the [fabulations] of the people to come”; it is the people, the author adds, who “must be fabulated into existence, through processes of revolutionary struggle and transformation.”

Memory, for Deleuze, is so wonderfully nebulous, so evocative. Remembering is a creative act; Proust shows us it may even be the highest creative act there is. Unforgetting is revolutionary. But the media at present not only manufactures consent, it manufactures future memory as well. It seems to insist on what will be remembered: an oneiric authoritarianism; a Zionist realism.

Israel obliterates Gaza in the present whilst waging a infowar to thwart any Palestinian futurity. To read the archive as it is being written is to become anxious as uncertainties and speculations are prematurely concretised by a media complicit in a feared genocide to come. Complicit not only in its unwavering support of an apartheid regime, but complicit in the narratives it spins on Israel’s behalf. How do you erase people, after all? Not only through the destruction of bodies but also of memory, culture, thought.

I wonder if we will remember anything more than the conjecture of open conflict. Looking back on this historical record from an imagined future, will the headlines bellow back at us louder than any public dissent?

When people speak of the “Anthropocene”, the necessity of naming this new epoch as such, they often point to the fossil record. Future archaeologists, should any exist, will know us by the sedimented chicken bones. The unfathomable slaughter of little birds for consumption will be our legacy when all else has decayed. This fossil record is measurable, of course. There is physical evidence. What will the archive tell us? Will future historians dig beneath the genocidal headlines? How many voices will not be heard? But all the more reason to say something, to place your tiny brick in the wall of a narrative that must be actively constructed and fortified whilst Gaza is demolished indiscriminately.

Earlier today, following an announcement that they will stop Gaza from receiving water, food and electricity, Israel declares it will shut down Internet access for those who might still have some battery left on their devices. This is so they can stop the rest of the world from witnessing their war crimes in real time, one commentator suggests. Again, my thoughts turn to an archive to come.

This book being proofread also contains a notable reference to Saidiya Hartman’s method of “critical fabulation”. In the essay “Venus in Two Acts”, she writes of “straining against the limits of the archive to write a cultural history of the captive, and, at the same time, enacting the impossibility of representing the lives of the captives precisely through the process of narration.” Here Hartman is discussing the reconstruction — the critical fabulation — that is necessary when looking at historical records of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

As in Shibli’s novel, Hartman hopes to reconstruct the life of a murdered girl, when all that she has at her disposal are horrifying records of her death. “It is a history of an unrecoverable past; it is a narrative of what might have been or could have been; it is a history written with and against the archive.” Her attempt “depends upon the legal records, surgeons’ journals, ledgers, ship manifests, and captains’ logs, and in this regard falters before the archive’s silence and reproduces its omissions.” She is aghast by “all the stories that we cannot know and that will never be recovered.”

In the present, the arguments made in the media centre on accusations of disregard for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Commentators tiptoe around the anxiety of drawing false equivalences, or any equivalences whatsoever. Mainstream pundits run in fear from context whilst Palestinians run from white phosphorus. They steer clear of privileging narratives and ultimately say nothing. Propaganda is repeated thoughtlessly. “Israel has the right to defend itself” is asserted so frequently to lose all signification, but is nonetheless called out online for what it is: a cowardly complicity in war crimes. The dissent grows louder in towns and cities across the world, as if everyone has come to the same realisation: without voices of dissent, it is clear that only one set of atrocities will be recorded and remembered.

Yes, all deaths are a tragedy, but why do the overwhelming number of Palestinian deaths, which will far outnumber those of Israelis, as they always have done, feel so diminished? Decades of violent rhetoric have already dehumanised an entire people long before this fateful moment — that much is clear. We have already forgotten the humanity of those living under apartheid, such that any mention of their historical circumstances, of the colonial oppression that has led to this violence, is an offense to mention.

So much else is suppressed with shocking ease. So much else must be re-remembered. One of the most eloquent voices of dissent I hear from the UK media belongs to James Schneider, who comments on the current situation on TalkTV. He is immediately admonished by one of the show’s presenters, Jeremy Kyle, whose previous daytime show was described as “human bear baiting” by a British judge in 2007. How is this man allowed anywhere near the present discussion? It is a sickness; a cultural amnesia.

Those who remember the early 2000s hear echoes of Western warmongering following the declarations of War on Terror. Dissent then is disregarded now. The “Million” march of 2003 is memory-holed, much like the 2018 March of Return. All dissent is forgotten because the record — the dominant record — is deafening in its hegemony.

I add my voice regardless. But what is to be recorded? What is to be recorded here? Only my own anxieties? At the very least, I want any readers to know that all of my thoughts are with them. I stand with you and wish I could hug so many of you. I wish I could offer more than “thoughts and prayers”. But what am I left with if I do not want to make a list of atrocities? I am bearing witness to horrors, but I do not wish to catalogue them. Someone must; many are. There are far better sources available for rally cries and analysis; I have shared many of them. But here?

Central to Hartman’s work is the tension of remembering, of recalling scenes of subjection from the historical record:

What are the kinds of stories to be told by those and about those who live in such an intimate relationship with death? Romances? Tragedies? Shrieks that find their way into speech and song? What are the protocols and limits that shape the narratives written as counterhistory, an aspiration that isn’t a prophylactic against the risks posed by reiterating violent speech and depicting again rituals of torture? How does one revisit the scene of subjection without replicating the grammar of violence? … Do the possibilities outweigh the dangers of looking (again)?

I wish I had other stories to tell. Like Deleuze’s catalogue of world cinema, I gather and read the tales of Palestinian life and resistance in my possession,

through trance or crisis, to constitute an assemblage which brings real parties together, in order to make them produce collective utterances as the préfiguration of the people who are missing (and, as Klee says, ’we can do no more’).

We can do no more.

In Deleuze’s text, this declaration seems so positive. But so many are missing; so much is missing. It does not feel like enough… I hope new voices will join the cause. I hope, in another future, for new stories too: stories of love, joy and return. I hope the archives to come record more than just destruction and exile. I hope to hear more of beauty again, from the river to the sea.

Free Palestine.

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