Individualism, Collectivism, and Identity Politics in Palestinian Life Writing

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This article examines the tensions, (dis)continuities, and precariousness of postcolonial identities in the autobiographical writings of Palestinian authors Ghada Karmi and Raja Shehadeh. The question of identity will be examined considering Gayatri Spivak’s conceptualisation of strategic essentialism and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s collective identity politics in the texts, as well as concepts of multiple affiliations by Amin Maalouf and Chantal Mouffe. Through the textual and contextual analysis, I demonstrate that emphasising an individualist sense of identity is a vital means of empowerment for the subject in a patriarchal and collectivist culture. Simultaneously, identifying with the national collective emerges in these texts as an indispensable means of anti-colonial resistance and steadfastness. Particularly in a context of ongoing settler colonialism, collectivist affiliation becomes inevitable to safeguard Indigenous identity and to challenge the hegemonic colonial discourse that aims to eliminate the native collective. Therefore, a conflict arises between the authors’ desire for nonconformity and individualist expression on the one hand and the imposed collectivist affiliation due to the urgent anti-colonial cause on the other. I argue that the individual author finds him/herself trapped in an unresolvable predicament of identity that dramatises questions of belonging and affiliation. These personal narratives are thus paradoxically and unavoidably relational, dependent, and speak to the collective experience of the Palestinian people. The article concludes that identification in contexts of colonial struggle challenges both the binary opposition of individualism and collectivism, and the notion of a unified and autonomous selfhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalLife Writing
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2023

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