This essay offers a materialist reading of the canonical Palestinian novel from the nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 to the early 1980s by adapting a Lukácsian periodization to the Palestinian context. The essay connects praxis and historical developments with changes in aesthetic form and delineates the links between Palestinian revolution and realism and between collective defeat and modernism. Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa (‘A’id ila Haifa, 1969) and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Abdelrahman Munif’s untranslated World without Maps (‘Alam Bila Kharai’t, 1982), among other texts, are read as symptomatic of a broad cultural and historical shift. While realism registers the knowability and transformability of the present, modernism captures anxiety and the disintegration of agency. As decolonizing and emancipatory hopes shrink in the Middle East, Palestinian modernism emerges—in Adornian manner—to embody defeat and register utopian desire.

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