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Nizar Milhem

PhD student


PhD Project: The Politics and Poetics of Space in Darwish and Kanafani


Summary of the project 

The work will analyze the ways in which space is conceptualized in contemporary Palestinian poetry and fiction. The representation of this theme is particularly relevant, partly due to the complex and shifting, unsettling political geography of the region. Against the backdrop of two thousand years of colonization and, since 1948, Israeli occupation and settler colonialism, the portrayal and conceptualization of space in contemporary Palestinian literature have become increasingly convoluted and paradoxical. One of the prevailing characteristics of Palestinian prose and poetry alike is the fusion between the geographical and the ontological, the physical and the metaphysical, the political and the existential– with writers trying to salvage, forge or maintain a coherent sense of identity without the affirmations of a homeland. The invocation of imagination and memory– political and ontological in their treatment– compensates for the absence of a sovereign, contiguous homeland. Thus, Palestinian literature embodies– but is not limited to or defined by– a compelling response to injustice. Imbued with a strong sense of space, Palestinian literary works testify to this peculiarity embedded in a nation hit hard by tragic events following the Palestinian exodus. 


The analysis of space, as a recurring theme in the works under review, will enable an exploration of the culturally and intellectually hybrid narrative strategies these writers use, giving expression to their experience of exile and diaspora. The analysis of space will help us better understand how exiled Palestinians construct their identity. In their narration of exile, Darwish and Kanafani represent themselves – in quite similar ways – as both physically and spiritually dissected; exile is not just a geographical or physical separation from homeland, it is a state of alienation and detachment, and this metaphysical dimension is typical of exilic literature. 


In short, the project will identify the ways in which space is conceptualized by Kanafani and Darwish; assess their works as Palestinian exilic literature; and discuss the literary portrayal of the political geography, political history, and aspirations of a colonized, dispossessed people as depicted in the works of Kanafani and Darwish as well as evaluate their countercultural potential by comparing them to hegemonic colonialist discourses relating to the region’s political geography.


This should be possible through a close reading that draws on narratological approaches to space (Marie-Laure Ryan), as well as postcolonial theories of space, in particular, Edward Said's "contrapuntal reading" and the concept of "imaginative geographies." While the former helps to better understand the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, the latter reveals how a colony is conceptualized by the colonizer and what homeland means and how it is represented by the colonized. Applying Said’s model to the writings of Darwish and Kanafani, the project will explore the potential of their literature for creating new spaces, or imagined geographies. 



Building B
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussels