Radwa’s Specters, like Mourid’s I Saw Ramallah, stands on its own as an exceptional piece of prose, pushing the boundaries of genre. And yet, the shadow of these two extraordinary minds in conversation hovers, not intrusive but immanent. Ashour blurs the boundaries between memoir and novel, nesting stories within stories like the unfolding accounts of Shehrazade. Within the novel she narrates the process of writing Specters, a story about the fictional Shagar Abdel Gaffar, who is herself writing a historical work called The Specters about the massacre of more than one hundred unarmed Palestinian villagers on April 9th, 1948 by the Irgun and Stern Gang in Deir Yassin. Radwa muses that Shagar would disagree with Aristotle that poetry expresses universal truths whereas history is confined to the particulars. Shagar’s history of Deir Yassin, she writes, is “a paradigmatic event, enabling her readers to consider the general”—that is, to see the universal through the particular details of history.
Radwa’s contemplations on the act of writing, the imbrication of history in literature, the universal in the particular, and the public in the private all resound in Mourid’s I Saw Ramallah, just as Mourid’s provocations resound in Specters. “Can the defeated be let off politics?” Mourid asks, as a provocation to critics who expect literature (suggestively by all who suffer from systemic injustice) to be free from—to absent themselves from—the weight of history and the muddy waters of politics. Radwa and Mourid’s politics—grounded in the particulars of Palestinian lives—absconds with the reification of liberatory struggle in symbols, icons, heroes. While never aligning with a single political party, their writings evoke the demands of revolutionary socialism to bring around liberation through structural change; that is, through attention to the modular components of systemic oppression necessitated by the frameworks and ideologies of settler colonial and neoliberal regimes. Their liberatory poetics articulate a shared interest in examining not only loss, but also the author’s responsibility: what they write and how, and for whom. Their poetics center Palestine in a way that is never reductive or idealistic, always focused on the particular as a path to the universal.
In a provocative examination of acclaimed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Abdul-Rahim al-Shaykh asserts the repeated provocation of Darwish’s writing that Palestinian poetics “should not remain imprisoned within tragedy” just as “the Palestinians themselves should not be forever destined to present evidence that they are who they are, and not ghosts.” The spectrality of Mourid and Radwa’s writing is evocative of al-Shaykh’s reading: they do not express tragic imprisonment within the haunted narrative of ghosts, but rather something else. And yet, these two works of Radwa and Mourid are replete with the shadows of human loss. The specter of Mourid’s brother, Mounif, looms large. Following decades in exile, Mounif died after being denied entry into Palestine at the border. Mourid writes, “When I entered Deir Ghassaneh, his hand was in mine; we walked side by side to Dar Ra’d, our old house.” He is accompanied by other martyrs of exile, as well, including Naji al-Ali and Ghassan Kanafani. “They are here,” Mourid writes. But, they are not ghosts. While their fates may haunt us, they are not themselves haunting. Ashour dedicates a significant section in Specters to illuminating the ancient Egyptian concept of the ka—born with the body, attending it through its lifetime and, although immortal, accompanying it to a final resting place. This spectrality, then, reflects a kind of conversation—an afterlife—across space and time and beyond life and death.
In their works, I see Radwa and Mourid’s specters in conversation: the shadow of Radwa in I Saw Ramallah and of Mourid in Atyaf. When Mourid wrote,“We miss the dead as much as we miss the living […] Nothing equals one more hour with you,” he knew Radwa would read it—yes, because she was his wife, but also because she was the translator of Midnight. His first mention of Radwa in I Saw Ramallah recounts an intellectual companionship as university students, exchanging their work on the steps of the library. They nurtured this devotion and companionship in their son, Tamim, also a prolific poet who collaborated with Radwa for the translation of his 2008 poetry collection, Fil Quds (In Jerusalem). Although there is much to mourn in the loss of Radwa and Mourid, it is in the shadow of this loss that we can see it anew. Radwa’s atyaf, the ka, or its Arabic equivalent, qarin, are entities, she writes, of companionship. In this companionship we celebrate Palestinian life, the life-affirming practices of sumud—steadfastness, continuity, futurity and inheritance—that respects Palestine not as an idea, a ghost, or a lost paradise but as an embodied living place whose shadow, accompanying us in our respective exiles and displacements, is not only (or even most importantly) the shadow of loss but rather of an enduring, infinite love.