The Writing of Night is Erased by Day
My first memory of a city is also my first memory of writing. Since then the two have never been separated. The city and writing, writing and the city. I know from memory that it was either a Friday or a strike day, when we arrived, because everything was closed. It was in 1991, in the midst of the first intifada. I don’t remember anything from that trip back home, I don’t remember crossing the bridge, the taxi ride, how my parents looked or felt or what they said. What I saw. Whether I was scared or excited about the unknown. The sight of soldiers. The remarkable difference between Berlin, from where we had flown, and Palestine. The house we moved to. Nothing at all sticks in my memory. The only image held my memory, the first image of what I will learn to call Palestine, is the image of graffiti writing on a store front next to what would be our house. Graffiti covered every wall, every gate. I was (and for a long time remained) mesmerized by this writing, how it spilled over, how it looked like it had a force of its own, how it couldn’t stop itself. And the way it kept moving over gates, over walls, over stores fronts, sometimes extending to the pavement. It pulled the city with it, and made it move. It moved. Made everything move. For a long time in my recollections the writing will surface before the place, replace it, or take over its place completely. Who did I meet first? The writing or the place?
What kind of encounter is this? why a “who”?
I was asked to talk about my work and my writing with you. But when I was told that I’d have to talk for an hour I became very anxious. I’ve always had difficulties talking about my writing in the past tense. It has always felt dishonest, like cheating, like I am an imposter. I think it is because to talk about writing in the past tense is to accept that writing, something that seemed in the beginning, when one starts to write, as if it could not be finished, as if it could not be exhausted, that this writing could have about it a finality. In fact, I think it is this aspect of writing, the feeling that it there is no final word, that keeps the writing going, that charges it. This sense of unresolution has its most concrete form in what I think of as the encounter. The writing is driven by the unresolution of the encounter, and proposes other possibilities where what can’t be resolved can be meditated on.
The notion of the encounter is very important for me, in reflective sense, in the way it helps me create a space of reflection, the way it informs my practice as a writer, and in the way it allows me to reflect on my engagement with the world. To think about the encounter is to think about what moves me? What has the potential to keep moving through me, through the world, through what is around me. Back and forth. It keeps a specific moment fraught with tension. The encounter is completely different from the Event. Because the encounter doesn’t have a sense of resolution. In that sense it moves outside time itself. The encounter is continuously being made and unmade. In the way it is imagined, and remembered. In the way it makes and unmakes us. The encounter is the possibility of the emergence of another world, and therefore other selves. I believe that writing even when it looks forward to the future, even when it dreams about a new possible world, that it is in these instance always also an act of reckoning. Of looking back,
in the sense also of meditating on an image, a scene. This is the scene of something or someone continuously fleeting, and fleeing.
When love dies there is a moment when the experience of loss separates itself from the lost object, in the sense that you are no longer attached to the person. You don’t desire them anymore, but if you come across an old memory or a book you’d feel a sense of grief or sadness at the loss of that love. Yet it is a landless grief. It has no home, no object. I think writing starts with a sense of grief that has no land, no home. I think I write when something invites me to mourn it even before I know it. Last year a friend told me stories about a lake that dried up in his village. Then few months later I started writing a play about a village where a lake disappears. Maybe writing is a history of disappearances, of how a disappearance is never complete an anti-history. To remember a piece of writing is to remember what it said, but rarely what it looked like. If it struck you, it’s because it opened up a world of imagination or made a connection between two things that haven’t emerged yet. But we don’t think of writing in terms of shapes. If anything, writing has no shape, though it can create shapes in our mind. I can only think of graffiti writing, the writing I first saw as a child, and describe it as writing, in its literal sense, when I think of it as shapes. If I think about what it tried to say it becomes something else. The writing that finds its way to paper starts slowly and silently, taking the form not of a story, but of an image or sentence. Mostly an image of something in the process of disappearance, which puzzles you, with the power to force reality to flee.
The encounter doesn’t have a history it does not have a place in history. Because history doesn’t consider the possibility of more than one world happening and existing at the same time. It doesn’t consider the human as something continuously in creation. Theatre teaches us the opposite, that the world is full of contradictions and that we carry these contradictions inside us. Literature reminds us of what is being changed even if the thing still looks intact changed in what it carries within it, as something immanent, not that which happens, but which could happen. It is about a contraction or expansion of possibility. The only place for the encounter is poetry, the poetic that which forces together two hitherto disparate scenes, two disparate worlds, and from this makes another world possible. The American playwright Adrianne Kennedy’s write a play called “He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box.” It is set in 1941 in the American South, under the rule Jim Crow, and tells the story of an impossible love between a black teenager and a white boy whose father is the architect of the segregation system in their town. In the play, the two characters exchange love letters. She talks about her mother, about not knowing whether her mother committed suicide or was murdered. He talks about his father, who designed the town in which they live, they reality of segregation which they inhabit, so that they can’t meet, see each other, touch, or be together. He talks about all that this father owns in this town. The two voices speak past each other, as if there is no hearing each other, yet they are in love. One speaks of ownership and history, the other from an unknown place, outside of history. One wants the other to recognize what he owns and one wants the other to share with her the unknown, to hold with her the shape of the unknown.
They only meet temporarily, and the form of that meeting is a tragedy. But because the world which they inhabit has no place anymore for the subject of tragedy, as Greeks understood it, which is to say the collective fourth person “we” or “one,” the tragedy that is Kennedy’s play must end as a melodrama. In other words, a drama full of excess emotions, excess because the real and practical world, the world hitched to the singular relentlessness of History is not a world in which these emotions can find a home. In the encounter you cannot look at the Other with them looking back at you. And you are both being unmade by this exchange, by this looking and looking back.
We live in a world where notions of love and care are talked about all the time, but in which our understanding of love doesn’t open itself up to consider the question of who we are? What I like about the idea of an encounter is that it keeps alive the place for the Other. This is the Other not merely a mirror of the “I”, in the way that the figures of Orientalist fantasy, like the terrorist, is but a negative inversion of the West’s image of itself. This figure is precisely a kind of object, a thing. This is not to say that it is should necessarily be a bad thing, to be a thing. But in a certain, let’s say modern way of feeling and being, the ability to encounter things has been lost. In coming to believe that only we could move the world, and be moved, we turned the world into something mute and stationary. Because we have to come believe that this world is entirely knowable, we don’t need to imagine it. This is why the position of the cynic and also the critic, which is now felt to be the position from which one challenges the world is so unproductive, so mute. And Muted.
This other is defined by their opacity rather than our ability to see and comprehend them. The other is the work of interpretation not its product. In the encounter the other is undefined, absent, looking back from an unspecific place, impossible to locate or point at. It is an other that sometimes does not even share the same temporality. For these reasons its forces you to make a shift, to change the coordinates of your body. This was the effect of the encounter with the graffiti, the other is there as writing. In order to be addressed should I also become writing? To imagine the other as his opacity and to be moved by his opacity is to propose other ways of relating to people. Because they hold the possibility of a new self.
What we need is dangerous love, dangerous, in the sense that it stops being mere sympathy, which is always an emotion on guard against itself, and rather becomes a possibility of forming new ways of being together. This is precisely what any good play or good art tries to do. To help us understand that your body, your life, you reality, your condition is not separable from what could constitute an impossible object of relation, of kinship.
Lately I have been finding it difficult to write. Writers dramatize phases of dormancy and can’t but see them as a sign of something bigger: The loss of the capacity to write. That the writing that happened before was a mere accident in many ways, it doesn’t belong to me. So what options do I have, to talk about my writing as something that belonged to the past, or to talk about it as something that belongs to the future? I think this is why many writers prefer to write at night, because only at night time stops being time and becomes a place. In its stillness the writer finds their voice, their tense. I have been thinking for some time about how our nights have disappeared. I tried to think of why, but maybe there is no because. Maybe that is the problem, the ability to move without a reason, to drift, without explanation. All I know is that night as a place has disappeared with the occupation, and with it all the possibilities of being at night.
The night for me is the image of togetherness. We all know the experience of staying up all night talking with a friend or a lover, in a conversation that doesn’t seem to end, which has no boundaries, drifting along and taking us along with it. We are completely oblivious to what is around us, reality has fled, what remains is only the world that we are building right now, that we are making right now. A special bond is created but this bond is often forgotten in the morning, or quickly discarded. It is difficult to imagine these situations happening at a time that is not night, because there is something about the night that makes possible the story. My plays always have a scene set at night. And in it something unknown, something that is already there, emerges, if only for a short duration. The night doesn’t remember. And we don’t remember the night. The night has a connection to the future because it gives shape to something that is
there but still unarticulated, it is connected to the future because momentarily the world that we are making right now takes precedence. The night envisions and forgets at the same time. Scenes at night don’t bring the resolution, but they enhance the encounter by pushing the characters to not only face, but experience what could be. My play, Fireworks is about the experience of two families who instead of fleeing a war, remain in their apartment block, and I wanted to set this play entirely in a night. It seemed like the right time and space for what was the central action in the play, which is the development of a friendship between a girl and a boy that was not possible in other circumstances.
The writers of graffiti during the first Intifada live in the night, and write the night. At night under curfew they take to the streets and fill the walls with messages, announcing protests, strikes, and declaiming in slogans. The slogans people remember most vividly are things like, “we passed through here.” The graffiti that was written at night and emerged in daytime preserved something of the night. It kept the night alive in the city. It kept alive a sense of the possible. The writers often wore plastic bags over their shoes, and put pillows under their jackets. Because in a small village, where everybody knew each other, people were recognizable by their shoes, by the shape of their shoulders. This image haunts me. The image of the writing body being deformed in a very literal sense. Transformed and distorted.
When I think back to my image of graffiti, how it seemed to move everywhere, going in all directions at once, I think also that the writer of such writing should be an impossible figure. But my first thought was that the impossible figure is the reader. Maybe this is why it can feel as if the graffiti is being written while it is being read. I like to think of my plays as ways of talking about losses that are unrecognizable, and immaterial in every possible sense. In my play “There is No One Between You and Me” there is a scene of a coming back, a return, which happens at night. This kind of plot device sounds familiar does it not. We know it cinematically and narratively: there is a knock at the door, there are whispers and shocked questions. Who could it be? It is a stranger. There is a debate about whether to open the door. And after he is allowed to enter he never leaves. Everyday he becomes more entangled in the lives of the residents, as if he had always been a part of their lives, as he had always been there. In fact later it is revealed that this stranger is not a stranger, that he is actually kin, a lost family member, someone who was thrown out, someone connected by more than blood. And in fact, who knocks at the door in the middle of the night, but a person for whom this is the door to their home? When we think of the idea of return, for Palestinians, can we imagine in it, in the sense of picturing it? Some people imagine it happening in masses. I think only poetry creates an image for what seems like an impossible moment. What if the image is of a return in silence, at night, to return as if we had stepped out for a smoke outside, as if no time had passed. Because the night is not merely time. What if return is to walk together at night it is not a march it is more like a kind of sprawling, creeping, like the graffiti creeping across the walls and into each home. A movement in which everything moves. The city and people and the writing. Not a “we” but a “one.”
In 1991 I was a five years old and sitting in the backyard of our house, tirelessly copying the graffiti on the walls across the street. I didn’t know how to write and read, but I felt compelled to copy the writing.
When I finished I showed it to my mother. I remember telling her
Look, I wrote this.
She said, you copied it.
I said ya I wrote it.
She said no, this is not your writing, you copied it. And then she warned me
You should never copy what you don’t understand.
I said, Why?
She said, Because what if they were saying something bad about you, you’d be just copying that… I said, No, but I know my name. I’d know if it was about me. And it’s not.
I like to think of this moment as my first experience of writing. I like the idea that it was the first thing I wrote. It was my first encounter with the frustrations, ambitions, and fears of writing. It embodied the entire world tied up with writing. We write to impress, writing is dangerous, and we will always look for the “I” in what we encounter. like the idea that it can’t also be the first time I wrote, because it was just copying some. The copy always stands in opposition to the original. What it tells me is that the writing never has a beginning, and it is also in this sense that writing is in the mode of the encounter. If the encounter does not have an ending it also cannot have a beginning. This is why when you meet and fall in love with someone for the first time, you feel like you have known them for a long time, from a time before time.
About the festival
Connexion vzw (Brussels) and A.M.Qattan Foundation are proposing a focus on flemish-palestinian co-operation in arts and culture, inspired by the Government of Flanders and the Mission of Palestine in Europe, Belgium and Luxembourg who decided on a Flemish-Palestinian cultural project. Unlike the logic of events like Europalia, or even the Venice biennale which are a projection of the imagination of a country, Under Construction is based on reciprocity and aims to promote cultural cooperation, dialogue and exchange.
Instead of focusing on difference and alterity, the two organising partners focus on co-operation and solidarity, and give more visibility and value to forms of 'togetherness' that are already existing between Flanders and Palestine.
<img src='http://www.underconstructionfestival.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Flanders_horizontaal_naakt.png">More about partners
The Minard theatre is the festival centre.
The reception and the bar are open one hour before the start of the first show.
Access to all of the shows is Pay what you want : no fixed price, you determine yourself what you can/are willing to pay.
It is not possible to reserve beforehand. You can get your ticket starting from 1 hour before the first show. So: first come, first served.
This is also the case for Parcours, the guided walks that start from Minard.
You will find a shop of Disarming Design from Palestine in the entrance hall.
(GPS Walpoortstraat 15)
Festivalsites in Ghent
+ 32 (0)9 267 28 28
Bijlokesite, Bijlokekaai 3
contact via Vooruit
+32 (0)9 323 61 00
Reservations: Tu - Fr: 1 to 5 PM and 1 hour before the event
Jan Breydelstraat 5
+32 (0)9 267 99 99
Mo, Tu, Thu, Fr: 9:30 – 17:30
Sa, Su : 10:00 – 18:00
Holidays and school vacations: 10:00 – 18:00
Closed on Wednesday
Free entrance for the exhibition Disarming Design from Palestine.
KIOSK / KASK
Louis Pasteurlaan 2
Sa, Su : 11:00 – 18:00
Les ballets C de la B STUDIO S3
Bijlokesite, Bijlokekaai 7
Mo-Su: 11:00 – 18:00
Cirque anatomisch auditorium / KASK
Louis Pasteurlaan 2
DE EXPEDITIE vzw
Dok Noord 4F, 9000 Gent
Tel. +32 (9)324 36 63 (via MiramirO)
Sites out of Ghent
email@example.com (on weekdays till 6 PM)
+32 (0)15 20 37 80
Mo till Fr from 10 AM to 5 PM
Evence Coppéelaan 91
+32 (0)89 65 44 90
Mo: 1 - 5 PM
Tu till Sun : 10 AM - 5PM
+ 32 (0)2 201 59 59
Tu till Fr 11 AM till 6 PM, Sa from 6 PM (only by phone).