This study of Maḥmūd Darwīsh’s Athar al-farāshah (The Butterfly Effect) (2008)—published in translation as A River Dies of Thirst (2009)—investigates the nuances of the word athar in Darwīsh’s text by focusing on its dual meanings in Arabic as “effect” and “trace.” The semiotic aspects of the butterfly prove to be an important signifier for Darwīsh, articulating a concept of proximity to the other as an overarching ethical and aesthetic aim of Darwīsh’s poetry. The essay ends on the concept of dwelling in the world as an embodiment of both athar (trace/effect) as well as proximity. The argument is supported by reference to Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Heidegger, and in particular the notion of “dwelling,” which helps to further elucidate the philosophical stakes of Darwīsh’s “butterfly effect.”
In Levinas’s view“one’s ‘death’ can be transcended through the continuous coming of ‘the other’ and the deity can be reached through the process of ‘being-for-the-other.’ What matters to Levinas is ‘futurity,’ ‘fecundity,’ and ‘otherness’ from which transcendence happens, through which ‘exteriority’ appears.” Shaoyang Zhang, “Seeking ‘Exteriority’ Through Transcendence: A Reading of Two Poems by Kevin Hart,”Antipodes—Poetry Review24.1 (2010): 67.
Najat Rahman“Interview with Mahmoud Darwish: On the Possibility of Poetry at a Time of Siege,” in Mahmoud Darwish: Exile’s Poet. Critical Essaysed. Hala Khamis Nassar and Najat Rahman (Massachusetts: Olive Branch Press2008) 322.
For Levinas“the caress had been exclusively human, [yet] ‘the caress of the sensible’ spreads out from the human to the world of things, where it is named ‘poetry.’ ” See Gerald Bruns, “Concepts of Art and Poetry in Emmanuel Levinas’s Writings,” in The Cambridge Companion to Levinaseds. Simon Critchley and Bernasconi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2004) 225.