Towards a poetics of the black hole : trauma, memory and language in Samir Naqqash's Shlomo Al-Kurdi, Myself and time
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Samir Naqqash (1938-2004) is best known as one of the last holdouts among Jewish Israeli authors from Iraq, continuing to write in his native Arabic in Israel despite immense social and market pressures to switch to Hebrew. This thesis reads Naqqash's last novel, Shlomo Al-Kurdi, Myself and Time in light of theories of trauma, specifically Cathy Caruth's structure of trauma, Dori Laub's notion of belatedness of trauma, and Dominick LaCapra's foundational trauma. It posits that the novel employs a poetics of the black hole, manipulating trauma, memory and language in order to narrate the forgotten fate of the protagonist's hometown of Ṣablākh, in Iranian Kurdistan, during World War I. Like a black hole, the texture of the novel's prose possesses an infinite density of traumatic affect as the characters are haunted by the ahwāl, or terrors. Also like a black hole, there is no way to measure the novel's mass, no way to authoritatively and thoroughly grasp the details of its plot since said details remained sequestered deep within. The structure of trauma in the text depends both on trauma's repeated returns in the first part of the novel, and a type of prophetic projection that speaks of the approaching moment of calamity in the second. Each of these two parts end where the other begins, creating an infinite loop where traumatic memory and prophecy alternate towards infinity, each awaiting the arrival of the other in a dizzying dance that contributes to the black hole's gravitational pull. The presence of three narrators allows the text to employ chronicle, affect, and artifice at one and the same time. Language, namely a rich allusive fabric, allows Shlomo to inscribe himself in the wandering minstrel position of the Islamicate tradition, casting himself as the most articulate Shahrazād of the Thousand and One Nights and the most adventurous and mobile Sindibād the sailor. In this way, Shlomo is able to recover the (non-Hebrew-) speaking subject position, and mobility in the Islamic(ate) world canceled by virtue of the restrictions placed upon holders of an Israeli passport. Similarly, by staging visitations by well-known apparitions -- a ghūl in Ṣablākh and the Prophet Nahum in Qosh, the text inscribes these sites of speechlessness within the larger cultural geography of the Islamicate literary tradition. At the same time, by selecting the unraveling of Ṣablākh as foundational trauma for all that follows, Shlomo confounds the genealogies of trauma of both Zionism and Arab Nationalism(s). And with Ṣablākh, Shlomo also mourns the collapse of the city's multi-confessional social fabric. What was once a testament to the possibility of a home that flies the banner of humanity is now nothing more than a haunting memory, lost but not forgotten within the depths of the black hole.