Posted by: Dawud Israel | November 8, 2010

Min al-Dakhil: The World Within and Without

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This will be last post of Edward Said Week. I hope it was of some benefit! 🙂

The phrase min al-dakhil, “from the interior,” has a special resonance to the Palestinian ear. It refers, first of all, to regions of the interior of Israel, to territories and people still Palestinian despite the interdict ions of the Israeli presence…The second meaning of al-dakhil is slightly more complicated. It refers to privacy, to that region on the inside that is protected by both the wall of solidarity formed by members of the group, and the hostile enclosure created around us by the more powerful. Within a minute or two, and with no explicit questions or answers, they can determine each other’s original residence, their type of work, their political persuasion (even the deviation or current within that), and their value system– all of them conveyed in a set of specific words or phrases, names, inflections, and emphases, known only to Palestinians.

In “Interiors,” Said talks about the inner world of a Palestinian. You see from the eyes and everyday experiences of Palestinians. Its amazing how powerful the descriptions are. Think about how this relates to the life of Muslims in the West, African Americans, other minorities.

We keep recreating the interior–tables are set, living rooms furnished, knick-knacks arranged, photographs set forth–but it inadvertently highlights and preserves the rift or break fundamental to our lives. You see this if you look carefully at what is before you. Something is always slightly off, something always doesn’t work. Pictures in Palestinian houses are always hung too high, and in what seem to be random places. Something is always missing by virtue of the excess. I do not mean that the result is tragic or sad; to the contrary, the rift is usually expressed as a comic dislocation, the effect of too much for too little a space or for too uninteresting an occasion. Too many places at a table; too many pictures; too many objects; too much food. My own rather trivial version of this tendency toward disproportion and repetition is that I always carry too many objects–most of them unused–when I travel, which I do frequently. Every time it occurs, the repetition introduces an almost imperceptible variation. Each of us, I believe, recognizes the pattern in her- or himself, and in others…Yes, the oddness of these excesses, and asymmetries, their constitutively anti-aesthetic effect, their communicated insecurity seem to symbolize exile–exile from a place, from a past, from the actuality of a home. But there is yet another problem being expressed in this form of repetition.

But the map, like the land itself, or like the walls of our houses, is already so saturated and cluttered that we have had to get used to working within an already dense and over-worked space. Far from being innovators, we are latecomers, a people in the late twentieth century trying to gain the right of self-determination that everyone else has (even the Falklanders, juridically at least, have what we still seek). We do what everyone does, therefore; there is no novelty about us. Our efforts seem like adornments to what is already adorned…The most we can hope for is to find margins–normally neglected surfaces and relatively isolated, irregularly placed spots–on which to put ourselves. We can only do so through much perseverance and repetition (so many have already done this ahead of us) and in the knowledge that our distinction may well appear at the end and after much effort as a small nick, a barely perceptible variation, a small jolt. Irony. Imposition. Odd decorum.

Palestinians, especially women engage in ritual-like behavior, setting up tables and preparing for guests. The excessive generosity Said notes, is unnecessary and yet so common. “The impression one gets of this almost frighteningly concrete expenditure of energy is that it sustains life in ways that are just below the threshold of consciousness.” I wonder if this pattern and this behavior will become more common, especially among war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc. Is this how we will cope? I notice min al-dakhil is present among immigrants in how they talk and speak…and there is an element of displacement in their lives that they can never get over until they finally give up and go back to their home countries. It is difficult for some immigrants to relate to the average white person because they prefer the intimacy of min al-dakhil interior space. It requires more effort and learning.

I can’t help but think if Muslims in the West will develop along the same trajectory as Palestinians. What disjunction, and what rifts and jagged edges will we deem to be more tolerable until too much has been compromised? How will we know when it is too much? If you look at how practicing Muslims behave, it becomes obvious that everything about us is of a psychological basis…its not economic, religious, nor political. We appeal to religion and culture to pacify some unease, and thats probably why we seem to fail at economic, social and religious areas. We are like the Palestinians and perhaps that is why we feel such a unusually strong kinship with them- because their physical reality is much like our psychological reality.

“Interiors” by Edward Said, 1986

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