Inheriting Exile: Transgenerational Trauma and Palestinian-Australian Identity

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Sabawi, Samah (2020) Inheriting Exile: Transgenerational Trauma and Palestinian-Australian Identity. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Inheriting Exile is a creative-critical exploration into the Palestinian-Australian experience of trauma, exile, identity and belonging. Through the personal and generational lenses of two writers, father and daughter, it sets out to navigate various modes of transmission of trauma and memory, primarily building on and going beyond Edward Said’s conceptualisation of exile (2001) and Marianne Hirsch’s theorisation of postmemory (Hirsch, 2012). My thesis has two components. The first is the exegesis, in which I utilise an array of critical and autoethnographic strategies in order to engage with and interrogate Edward Said’s theorisation of the nourishment of the Palestinian identity in exile and Marianne Hirsch’s conceptual framework of postmemory - the transmission of trauma to second and third generation Holocaust survivors who may not have experienced it first-hand. Through bridging together Said and Hirsch’s works, I introduce the notion of ‘inhabitation’. I define inhabitation as a term that reflects the internalisation of both place and displacement, highlighting the myriad of ways in which Palestinians in exile, denied the right to return and to inhabit their homeland, might subsequently become imaginatively inhabited by both desire for the homeland and its denial. The second component is the creative project: a biographical novel with the working title Coffee with George, based on my father Abdul Karim Sabawi’s life in Palestine. My father is a celebrated Palestinian poet and novelist who was exiled from Gaza in the aftermath of the 1967 War and emigrated to Australia in 1980. In writing his story, I offer an intimate portrayal of the lived experience of first-generation displaced Palestinians: their past traditional way of life in the homeland, the social and cultural environment they were uprooted from and the traumatic memories they continue to carry with them. This research adds new knowledge to global understandings of what it means to be an exiled Palestinian, or a Palestinian born or raised in diaspora. It also contributes to the ‘trauma genre’ that has so far largely neglected the experience of al-Nakba and its impact on subsequent generations of Palestinians. Al-Nakba literally translates to ‘Catastrophe,’ and is used to refer to the 1948 systematic expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population and the establishment of the state of Israel on what was the territory of Palestine. The research also contributes to Australian literature through the creation of new literary work in the form of the biographical novel Coffee with George. Currently, very few creative works by Palestinian-Australians have been published or performed. Literature – theatre, fiction, film and poetry – by offering us insights into personal experience, can provide powerful vehicles to engage our diverse communities and to build cultural and artistic bridges between Australians of all ethnic backgrounds.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society
Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > FOR Classification > 2103 Historical Studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords trauma; exile; identity; belonging; exegesis; postmemory; Palestinians; Australians; Palestinian-Australian; biographical novel
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