The Presence of Absence: The House in Palestinian Exilic Writing


  • Alexander Hartwiger Framingham State University


Palestine, Darwish, Alyan, exile, materiality of the house


This article explores representations of the home in exilic Palestinian writing focusing on Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “The House as Casualty” and Hala Alyan’s 2017 novel, Salt Houses. The examination of the texts in this article builds on the psychoanalytic discourse of home in literary analysis but adds to that a focus on the materiality of the house to consider the role of the house in broader struggles of national identity and claims to place. In the case of exilic Palestinian representations of displacement, the concern is that reliance on models that only focus on the psychological ramifications of unhoming and / or limit the material world to a metaphor for a person’s inner world diminishes the role the built environment plays in politics surrounding Palestine. This approach privileges the role the house plays in retaining memory and cultural practices that constitute the fabric of the nation. Ultimately, these texts necessarily engage with the deterritorialized nature of Palestinian identity and the psychic trauma of displacement, but they also fight against erasure by utilizing the materiality of the pre-al-Nakba house as the manifestation of displacement and its memory as a claim to place.

Author Biography

Alexander Hartwiger, Framingham State University

Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Hartwiger is an Associate Professor of Contemporary World and Postcolonial Literature at Framingham State University. Before joining Framingham State University, he was an Assistant Professor of English at American University of Beirut. In 2011-12 he was an International Fellow with the Center for Online Learning (COIL) at SUNY. His work has been published in collections by MLA and Routledge and The Journal of the African Literature Association, Matatu, Postcolonial Text, Africa is Country and New Global Studies.