The Poetics of Shoe-Throwing

There has been much speculation about social media’s potential in bringing about social change. The discussion has been brought to the fore by the upheavals sweeping the Arab world. As previously reported in the Dailies, social media has played a central role in organising protests in Egypt - to the extent that the parents of one little girl born during the revolution named their daughter Facebook. In 2010, Malcolm Gladwell was doubtful about social media’s potential as an agent for change, but other commentators disagree.

But in today’s The Conversation, UNSW Professor in Modern Film and Literature Julian Murphet writes that social media wasn’t the catalyst for change. If anything, he argues, social media is simply the endpoint of a process that begins with literature: “What appears simple and “in the moment” — the inexplicable imperative to act — has in fact been elaborately prepared for by generations of writers.”

We’ve previously looked at the role poetry has played in the events that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime, and Murphet develops the theme. To illustrate his point, he reminds us of the Iraqi journalist who hurled a shoe at George W. Bush as an act of political protest - Murphet calls him “the famous shoe-thrower of Baghdad”. Quoting a 20 year-old poem by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Murphet writes, “The spontaneous hurling of footwear, and the polished cadences of Darwish’s sombre yet defiant elegy, are two aspects, two velocities, two moments, of the same fundamental movement.”

Murphet argues that the light of political liberation is one that is passed down from one generation to the next: “This is a labour of infinite patience, often life-long obscurity, of thankless and punishing self-scrutiny and criticism … But it waits its time. And when that time comes, suddenly those shadowy, indefensible, whispering words are shouted in the streets to topple tyrants and install the basic conditions of human decency.”

Related posts