It is mid-May, a sunny afternoon in Bethlehem. I have arrived here from Ramallah, driving in the midday heat through what the Palestinians call Wadi al-Nar (‘The Valley of Hell’): the steep, tortuous road, accessed through a hard checkpoint, reserved for Palestinians. The road eventually leads up to a ridge where the old Orthodox Monastery of St Theodosius, near the town of al-Ubeidiya, overlooks the valley: in the midday glare, far out across the hills, I can make out the Dome of the Rock, shimmering from its high seat atop the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, in East Jerusalem. Further in, past the town of Beit Sahour and on the way to Bethlehem itself, you can see the Israeli settlement of Har Homa eating into the valley, ever closer to the Palestinian residences. Right across from the The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, stencilled amid the graffiti hanging like creepers onto the concrete slabs of the Israeli separation wall, is Bobby Sands’ celebrated legend: Our revenge will be the laughter of our children. Beneath it, an image of the door key, the ubiquitous popular symbol of Palestinian dispossession, also stencilled.
A few hours later, I am at an educational institution that has Muslim and Christian students – more Muslim than Christian, more women than men, all in their late teens and early twenties – living side by side and studying together. One of the educators grabs me by the elbow and draws me into a corner. We do our best, he says in a hoarse voice. We do our best. He does not want his students to notice the tears welling up. Or perhaps he just does not want to dampen the quality of their laughter, as they bask in the midday glare. Either way, the afterword, for the time being, may only be composed in a corner, and made out of tears. Out of the politics of tears, out of its grammar that stretches as far as the eye is allowed to see.
In more ways than one, the present issue of CounterText sets out to address some of the voices that characterise such a ‘grammar of tears’ today, in its various political complexions and contexts. The rationale for Afterward / Afterword, was, in its initial stages, inspired from Jean Laplanche’s thought around the question of ‘afterwardsness’ (1999: 234–65). In his psychoanalytic work, Laplanche reads the afterwardly as being bound to a work of decoding the ‘enigmatic’ signals (265) that it receives from the past. Equally important is the question Laplance raises in relation to how losses arising from that past are received: ‘what is it, in loss, that can be metabolised, and what cannot?’ (245) The grammar of tears, the many ways in which the fallout of historical loss is worded (or ‘wept through’), instigates this special issue to explore the question of the afterwardly more broadly, by thinking through its resonances across issues that characterise our political world now.
Together with its intriguing line-up of essays and an insightful CounterText Review, this issue features an in-depth interview with leading Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh, as well as a previously unpublished sequence of poems – in the French original and in English translation – by the eminent Tunisian poet, Moëz Majed.
Written by Norbert Bugeja
Norbert Bugeja is Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Studies at the Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta. He is the author of Postcolonial Memoir in the Middle East: Rethinking the Liminal in Mashriqi Writing (Routledge, 2012). He has published widely in the fields of postcolonial theory and literature in the Mediterranean, cultural politics, and memorial-historical dialectics and life writing in the Middle East and North Africa. He is the author of various forthcoming peer-reviewed publications, and has also guest-edited the first, ‘Postcolonial Springs’, special issue of CounterText (April 2015), as well as the ‘Mediterranean Fractures’ special issue of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies (2017).
Enjoy more CounterText blogs, including an interview with Judith Butler, here.