Ahead of her talk, Moore answered a few questions about reading dystopia in (and into) a Palestinian literary context.
As the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour noted in a recent interview, the situation in Palestine is already dystopian (not just in the sense of a bad situation, as the word is colloquially used, but in the specific sense of an inverted utopia). How does the writing of speculative fiction — and specifically dystopian fiction — differ in a landscape like Palestine’s from how it’s written (and consumed) in countries where dystopia is a “warning” genre of ways “things could possibly get if we don’t do XYZ”?
Lindsey Moore: ‘Dystopian’ does function as shorthand for an alliance between totalitarianism, technocracy, and technology that threatens radically to alienate and atomise us. But who is this ‘us’ at once repelled and attracted by the precipice? Palestinian writers deal with a dystopian present reality – the wearying, dehumanizing, everyday struggles of life in a carceral non-state.
Palestinian dystopia is also specific in the sense you suggest. In Thomas More’s paradigmatic text of 1516, Utopia is artificially isolated from neighbours that it forcefully subdues and disenfranchises. Sound familiar? Palestinian writers evoke dischronotopia: multiple, hierarchized time-space configurations in one tiny geographical place. You can’t go to the West Bank — if you’re privileged enough to get in — and miss the managed discrepancy: there’s a refugee camp on one side of the road and an Israeli settlement on the other; the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv are visible from the hills of the West Bank.
If, then, ‘this is what we really don’t want to become’ is a fantasy already foreclosed to Palestinian writers, in what ways might they speculate on the future? I mean speculation in a strong sense – as a wager – because the future of the Palestinians is far from assured.
Some commentators have suggested that speculative or science fiction is a genre largely being imposed on Arabic literature from outside, or something that Westerners are seeking in the folds of Arabic literature. What do you make of these potential pressures and how they affect Palestinian writing and its reception?
LM: This is a tricky question, though one we need to keep asking. I don’t want to second-guess writerly or readerly motivations, which are not one-dimensional and not always fully conscious. There has been important work on the sophisticated advocacy work that Palestinian (and Israeli) literature does: there are pressing political, as well as economic, motivations for reaching an international audience. Also, the majority of Palestinians live outside Palestine/Israel: many read in English or other European languages.
If we look at recent developments in the reproduction of Palestine across various cultural domains, the established nationalist tropes and narratives are being challenged, or at least extended in innovative ways. Larissa Sansour mentions, in that interview you cite, her resistance to a documentary imperative when it comes to the representation of Palestine: she asserts agency over the language of representation — not only linguistically; she plays with genre codes and uses high-spec media. Why shouldn’t Palestinians do Sci Fi?
Comma Press offers new ways of entering this debate about authenticity versus marketability. They maintain credibility as a small, independent press whilst marketing Palestinian (and other) stories very effectively, and their anthologies network from the ground up, as it were, bringing together local and diaspora writers, translators, and editors.
LM: Comma’s Palestine+100, superbly edited by Basma Ghalayini, is a richly diverse collection in all the ways: geographically, generically, thematically. This, alongside Azem’s Book of Disappearance, allows us to grasp some of the range of Palestinian speculation on a possibly impossible future. Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Harb al-kalb al-thaniya, the translation of which is still forthcoming, will further unsettle a fixed sense of Palestinian futurism.
Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats With Me resonates here too because its particular characteristics, as a diary that witnesses and documents, suggest textuality as resistant networked technology. And Larissa Sansour is a huge influence on how I conceive of Palestinian speculation — not only her short films but also the collaborative text The Novel of Nonel and Vovel that she produced with Oreet Ashery.
What ties these things together for me are specifically Palestinian paradoxes: commitment to the future even when the present is untenable; grounding in local environments and experiences whilst projecting out to and inviting in the world, even other worlds.
Can you give us some idea of the questions you plan to raise/interrogate in the talk, the sort of questions you’d like your audience to come with?
LM: I want us to think carefully about what genre enables: what sorts of writerly communities and reading publics are being forged through Palestinian speculation.
I’m very interested in the manipulation of temporality — or rather, as I’ve suggested, time-space configuration — that we see in Palestinian SF across different media.
We should also dwell on how these texts position themselves in history: similar imperatives, and commodifying tendencies, are also shaping the heritage industry.
Moore’s talk will be followed by the last in PalREAD’s “Relocating the Map” series: Palestinian women’s stories with Nemat Khaled.