First Impressions and Inquiring Minds

For the first time, I’ve rounded up all of my books of Palestinian folktales in one place. It’s quite an experience. I have longed for just one such book for most of my life. I remember walking through the stacks in university libraries looking for just one and being disappointed every time. Now I own seven volumes, and more besides on the Kindle.

First impressions are fleeting but the ones I have for these new friends are peculiar. For each one, there’s the purest delight which is often followed by sadness or disappointment of some shade or another. The books run the gamut from collections by Orientalists and missionaries, to a Zionist geographer, to Palestinian collectors and poets.

An example of the densely loaded prefaces and cover copy you typically come across, from Zev Vilnay’s 1973 first edition of ‘Legends of Jerusalem. Sacred Land V.1.’

Leafing through each preface, reading over the cover copy, each one prompts a flurry of questions in my mind, hardly able to give them all direction. If I were still active in academia, no doubt I would begin the work of digging in for some extended analysis but as it is, I will have to leave that up to others. For my part, I can’t forget that my own position and approach to this work will have a great affect on it. For all that I could say about the racism, bias, the gendered angles and so on of these sources, I find myself turning to reflection.

The rough draft of the book is finished, but there is still time for reconsidering just what my aims are. This book will be in a conversation with these sources, after all, even if I didn’t read them beforehand; they are part of the story. I find myself defining this work negatively: what it won’t be is a shrine for relics, a museum, a political pamphlet, a memoir, a display of cleverness. I believe in the mutability of the oral tradition, and I intend to keep in mind that this is a living thing I’m working with and not dead material I’m shaping or preparing for display.

This has been a long-winded way of saying I have a lot to talk about here, on ye olde blogge.

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