Etel Adnan's book-length poem embraces the beauty and cruelty of a conflict born in the crucible of desert heat, the offspring of ancient myth and contemporary civil war. This essay maintains two goals: to render Adnan’s subject, fragmented style, and operating principles more accessible to the Western reader, and to examine how her unsentimental insights put forward the Palestinian Arab as a template of the current and continuing global impasse, from gridlock in domestic national politics to the intransigent hostility of competing nations. Slavoj Žižek describes the development of such counterproductive processes as a characteristic of end-times mentality, a “direct will to ignorance.” This mentality evolves as the defensive workings of ideology toward a normalization of the unthinkable, as coping strategies that mobilize the forces of self-deception. These policies become ever “more blinkered, rather than more focused on the crisis, as they fail”—thus foreclosing the possibility of negotiating a positive outcome. Adnan's work mirrors this ideological evolution by using strategies designed to address the inherent ethical and aesthetic challenges posed in the very attempt to represent war’s violence and cruelty. These tactics include a hybrid text, the intersection of history and myth, a self-generating and self-destructive creative principle, an ambiguously identified narrator, and a broadening of religious apocalyptic genre. These formal methods, both impartial and partisan, seem to condemn both author and audience for colluding in the perpetuation of obscene violence. The poem can be read further as a particularized case study for our own 21st-century obsession with end times instead of solutions. Adnan concludes that there appears to be no end in sight to our intractable habits of assigning blame and choosing sides, except for one that is beyond our control and impossibly far off—5 billion years away—when our sun explodes, mimicking in reverse the universal big bang and sealing our destruction.
|Keywords:||Art of Cruelty, Palestinian Conflict, Lebanese Civil War, Ancient Near Eastern Myth, Literature, Arab Identity, Apocalyptic Genre|
Instructor, Department of English, Eastern Arizona College, Pima, AZ, USA