An absolutely exhilarating read. Reading propositions 6.4 thru 7 is a mind-bending intellectual experience, and yes, that is exactly where Wittgenstei...moreAn absolutely exhilarating read. Reading propositions 6.4 thru 7 is a mind-bending intellectual experience, and yes, that is exactly where Wittgenstein gets strangely mystical. But that is also where Wittgenstein shows that he can make even mysticism seem compelling and actually reasonable. It is also where the debate over the Tractatus' ultimate meaning emerges. The last statement before the famous closer: "what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence" is, in true Wittgensteinian manner, both profoundly clear and profoundly puzzling. I would go as far as to say that this notion of transcendence in 6.54 must ground every discussion of what the Tractatus is about and how it relates to later Wittgenstein works, and especially Philosophical Investigations.
But regardless of the larger picture of the book's point, the Tractatus is nevertheless fascinating even though wrong. Wittgenstein's writings on logic and mathematics lack the sexiness associated with the opening and closing sections of the book (and those are the sections that the book is famous for outside of philosophy departments), but are profound and remarkable pieces of philosophical work.
Most of the Tractatus is brilliant, philosophically. It is a seriously important work, and a fascinating one. Its wrongness does not reduce it to a work of no value. Read it at the risk of it taking over your life.
Few works of philosophy, correct or incorrect, are more compelling and mesmerizing than this, which despite being wrong still contains nuggets of capital-T Truth. One of those few works is Philosophical Investigations, but that, after all, is the greatest work in philosophy, and maybe the best book ever written in or outside of that realm. (less)
Palestinian literature has emerged as an unlikely star of world literature. It is likely the most widely read and critically acclaimed and studied lit...morePalestinian literature has emerged as an unlikely star of world literature. It is likely the most widely read and critically acclaimed and studied literature of the so-called Arab world, and is also marked by a fascinating and unique claim to universal, worldwide status. Palestinian literature is often not written in Palestine and not even set there, an inevitable consequence of the state of Palestinian national identity, which exists everywhere from the desolate refugee camps of the Arab world to the relative comfort of Arab-Israeli cities to the affluent elite of Santiago, Chile. Palestinian literature has been written in Arabic, Spanish, English, even Hebrew, and translated into dozens of languages.
Its chief mark is, first of all, a sort of pitch-black ironic sensibility only approximated in other national literatures, a deep existential uncertainty and anguish, a real doubt about the validity of the underpinnings of being Palestinian, being part of a nation freely called imaginary by major political figures (imagine calling African-American consciousness an imaginary one, for instance). Palestinian and Arab-Israeli film, also almost surprisingly well-regarded and widely acknowledged, frequently asks the chief question of Palestinian identity: whether to accept it or not, and what the consequences might be. The question of what it is to be Palestinian is contingent. The most important question in the Palestinian consciousness is a question about a question. When presenting a collage of representations of the Palestinian, Elia Suleiman titled the documentary film "An Introduction to the End of an Argument." The beginning is inaccessible. Palestinians have no way of beginning the argument.
The common misconceptions about Palestinian identity are too numerous to mention, but the chief misconception is that Palestinian identity is something that is prized by Palestinians, that they are invariably an endlessly proud, resilient people who define everything by their patriotism. This misconception is even more extreme than that uniquely American sentiment that criticizing Israel amounts to anti-semitism, a claim Israel's left-wing half appears consistently bewildered by.
Ghassan Kanafani, killed when his car was bombed in 1972, was a vehement activist, journalist, writer, and critic, and a spokesman for the radical Marxist-Leninist group the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which did not seek a simple overthrow of Israel or establishment of a Palestinian state, and did not focus its blame merely on Israel, endorsed a revolutionary social upheaval of the entire region's political system and makeup as the only solution to its woes. The group's views are now an eerie premonition of the Arab Spring, though that movement's ameliorative power is still suspect.
Another misconception about Palestine is that it is a proudly religious nation in the same sense as, say, Egypt; Hamas was a fringe movement started by foreigners and initially funded by Israel that gained support mainly through its philanthropic and charitable acts in Gaza and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank. Before the last decade or so, Palestine was defined by a leftist, Marxist notion of power struggle, and the major political groups of the nation were all to varying degrees leftist, progressive ones. Even now, Hamas and Islamic resistance groups cannot be said to represent in any true way the Palestinian consciousness, which is in turns founded by Christianity and Islam to some extent and also deeply suspicious of them, a suspicion that emerges in tragedy and rarely disappears.
Men in the Sun neatly ties all these interesting threads, together with others, into a seamless whole in one of the most powerful, brilliant novellas I've ever encountered, a work so formally assured and brilliantly uncompromising that it reveals more truth than a thousand news reports.
And it is no gung-ho nationalist piece. The novella explores the horrific mistreatment of Palestinians by the Arabs both metaphorically and literally, with the culmination of the novella sadly still relevant to the state of Palestinians in the Arab world today. The novella also stands as a terrific treatment of the differences between Palestinians and Arabs. Palestinians speak Arabic, but share little commonality with Arabs. The Arab environment, the desert, is the alien villain in the piece, not the Jews, who are mentioned exactly twice; they only disrupt and displace. The desert, on the other hand, consumes our men in the sun, shredding anything and everything about their existence. The text openly questions the notion of Arabs as hospitable, in a passage detailing the horrific treatment of Palestinians by them.
The text also repeatedly questions blind patriotism, material opportunism, superstition (attached to religion), and Palestinian habits like swearing by one's honour. One, especially if ignorant of the Palestinian consciousness, might imagine that Kanafani was viewed with outrage by Palestinians, that his work is an outlier in a conservative society that holds patriotism, religion, and tradition dear.
The truth is that Kanafani is considered one of the great Palestinians, named "the voice of Palestine," and considered an immortal symbol of Palestinian culture. What little outrage existed at the time of the publication, largely founded in the end of the novella, which I will not spoil, has faded over time, as the shock faded and the importance of the symbolism emerged more clearly.
This is a perfect distillation of the unique sort of desperation, self-deprecation, irony, existential anguish and uncertainty, and sense of injustice that comprises the Palestinian consciousness. And it does this by focusing not on politics, but on people and their realities. The vicious attack on Arabs and Arab countries is an inevitable consequence of the state of Palestinians in the region. The novella is no less relevant today than it was when initially published, and fully deserves its status as a classic.
I by no means which to suggest that the novella's qualities are limited to a reading of it as representative of a national consciousness. It is a formal masterpiece, blending and balancing the consciousnesses of several characters, juggling dozens of thematic concerns and existential (and practical) questions and concerns, all in a short piece of stark fiction with barely a plot to serve it. It is a masterclass in short fiction, and while this translation makes the text more dry than it needs to be (or really is) at times, it is competent enough for the English-language reader to grasp its brilliance. (less)