The Palestinian Living Cemetery: ‘Empirica’l Serendipities

Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh, Birzeit University; Associate Professor of Philosophy, and Cultural and Arab Studies

Title: The Palestinian Living Cemetery: ‘Empirica’l Serendipities

Abstract: In the ‘minefields’ of partitioned landscapes, contemplating one’s fieldwork, unless retroactively, is a luxury—for leaving the ‘minefield’ alive is, literally, one of the supreme research objectives. Ironically, while fieldwork within historic Palestine minimizes the proximity between life and death, the work in cemeteries—as morbid as it could be—instigates two songs of life: hope and freedom. This talk narrates some of the empirical serendipities of my project, The Palestinian Living Cemetery, through which ‘hope’ and ‘freedom’ are qualified anew. Given the theoretical paradigm shift from biopower to necropolitics during the last decade, my project aspires to initiate scholarly interest in the highly subversive spatio-temporal epitaphs within the Palestinian cemetery. Situated at the heart of the intersection between necropolitics and necrosemiotics, my project utilizes the conception of the cemetery as both a heterotopia and a heterochronia, within which people are capable of re-constructing not only their geography, but also their history—whereby making hope possible and freedom attainable, for the living and the dead. After building an extended audio-visual archive of epitaphs and related materials from Palestinian cemeteries (within historic Palestine and the diasporas), my aim is to establish a methodic taxonomy to study the “subterranean Nakba,” that is, unearthing the concealed features of the political, social, and cultural histories of modern Palestine through cemeteries.