The Map of Love and Misreading

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Within the tissue of the narrative, Omar is clearly a contemporary update of the exotic, fearless, and tribally dedicated Sharif, as if Soueif were enacting a parody of the primal scene of Freudian repetition, or in Bloom’s terminology, as if she had invested in “the compulsion to repeat the precursor’s patterns” in an attempt “to recover the prestige of origins…since such mediation holds open the perpetual possibility of one’s own sublimity.” Omar’s sublimity, however, is not persuasive; it is simply posited by authorial fiat. Indeed, Soueif’s stock in trade seems to be a manufactured glamor painted onto wooden characters.

But beyond the boundaries of the novel, as we have noted, Omar is intended to suggest Edward Said. He represents Soueif’s deceptive and largely untenable effort to valorize a literary and cultural giant who is now coming increasingly to look like the petty, hypocritical and mendacious doyen of a generation of leftwing postmodern intellectuals. The Map of Love is, finally, little more than a pulpy yet insidious piece of Islamic and Palestinian special pleading and a sorry attempt to rescue the endangered reputation of a morally tainted and intellectually dishonest scholar.

I wish to avoid Bloomian technicalities. Simply put, apophrades is the mode of thought which brings a dominant, commanding and idealized past into the given moment in order to create an even greater and more ennobled present. This imaginary time-transfer, Bloom warns, creates a present which subsequently vanishes between the two antithetical poles of the “past-in-the-future” (e.g., a projected restored Caliphate) and “the future-in-the-past” (e.g., a wished-for 7th century revival), which is the exactly the historical dilemma of contemporary Islam and, mutatis mutandis, of the Palestinian dream world. The Palestinian nomenklatura presupposes an ancient people and an idealized nation that never existed but which is taken as a past reality. This bogus construct is then elevated into a conceptual present which promises to be a restoration, a fulfillment and, ultimately, an even grander and more resilient political fact. But the possible and sustainable present—a viable, democratic and prosperous sovereign state living in peace with its neighbor—is lost in the gap between an apocryphal memory and a spurious future.

In The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif is playing the apophradic game, conjuring the Return of the Dead—or the Return of the Illusory—to affront the living with impossibility. On one level a literary artifact, it is on another, deeper level a subliminal political manifesto. She establishes an equation or “revisionary ratio” between 19th century England and Egypt on the one hand and modern Israel and “Palestine” on the other, all the while touting Edward Said as the visionary leader and prophet who labors for a desired future. As Egypt eventually triumphed in its quest for independence at the expense of imperial Britain, so “Palestine” will presumably realize its successful struggle against Israeli oppression, as Said urged and assumed in The Question of Palestine and other books.

That the equation is invalid, that the Palestinians never constituted a coherent and hereditary people, that their past and their future have no common boundary in a feasible or workable present, and that Israel, according to international law, the laws of war and facts on the ground, is not an occupying power—all this has no purchase on what is essentially, to cite Bloom again, a phony substitution of “early for late and late for early.”

Meanwhile, Soueif has done her tawdry and clandestine job, to nobody’s advantage except perhaps her own and those who gain from pushing the Palestinian fable. The map of love is really a map of misreading. A false prophet is given messianic credibility and a rich and productive present falls between the antipodes of a corrupted past and an anterior future.

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  • Larry

    Okay, so she's a malignant charlatan. Now that's something she can be proud of.