Dima Saad is a researcher and writer currently based in Amman, Jordan. She recently completed her M.A. at the University of Toronto, where she wrote her thesis on the material culture of Palestinian exile, and looks forward to expanding her work in upcoming graduate studies
Materializing Palestinian Memory: Objects of Home and the Everyday Eternities of Exile
For many generations of dispossessed Palestinians, the distance between 1948 and everyday exile is furnished with the personal belongings that were forcibly left behind. Doorbells, keys, curtains, books, plates, carpets, blankets, and photographs—particularly those that accompanied their owners into the dark labyrinths of forced displacement—crowd currents of longing; they orchestrate plots for daydreams, they offer clues to a past that refuses to end.
In this paper, I ethnographically examine how Palestinians living in Jordan exalt these objects as they refuse the enclosure of Palestine in the times and spaces of a concluded past. I consider, at the same time, how the objects themselves haunt, ensnare, and enchant their owners as they reconstruct lost worlds. By focusing not on what is remembered, but on the relationship between people and (the memories of) their things, I hope to afford a closer examination to the unrehearsed practices of recollection and the refracted temporal unravelings that characterize the daily logistics of coping at (and away from) home. I seek, in other words, to track the overlooked modes and idioms of remembering by which Palestinians imbricate fragments of home with the everyday eternities of exile.
To this end, I posit memory an ever-changing practice which the past is iteratively entangled with the material conditions of the present. I suggest that this approach may allow us to elaborate a departure from normative paradigms of memory-work, where the commitment to structured, chronological, and coherent narratologies tends to silence alternative modes of remembering that adhere neither to testimonial genres of telling nor to the plotlines of event-centered histories. Here, I critically survey Palestinian oral history initiatives, arguing that some rely too closely on paradigms of event-centered history that doubly silence inasmuch as they attempt to recover the tracks of the unheard. I conclude by recommending that such initiatives must shift their attention to the material textures of Palestinian exile, to the stories—though unaligned with national scripts of catastrophe—that Palestinians may wish to tell.