Curating a Body by Matt A.H.
"Body of Work" is an exhibition of 15 manuscripts by Menahem Ali, including digital collages by the late author, which he used to visualize his creative process. "Body of Work" is the result of Ali's lifelong efforts to produce a body of artistic, literary work.
Ali was concerned with the visualization of the letter, and saw literature as a visual art. Born into a Palestinian-Jewish family prior to the founding of the State of Israel, Ali grew up in a household where both Arabic and Hebrew was spoken. He received a simultaneous education in both of these languages, and came to speak a creolization of early Palestinian Hebrew and the Judeo-Arabic of his Levantine-Jewish parentage.
According to Ali, the meanings inherent in prose narrative, be it of fiction and nonfiction, and linear or nonlinear verse, could be seen and read, simultaneously, as a kind of calligraphy, both visible by the chosen font of their letters, no matter the mechanical repetition of their form, but also invisible, by the structures of thought that accompanied their metaphorical complexes.
The 15 books included in “Body of Work” represent the sum total of Ali’s life work, and by virtue of that, can be understood as a microcosmic expression of his life, out of his body, following his death. The books encompass fiction in the form of a surrealist novel, a bricolage of thought, memory and dream, titled, “Arson in the Scriptorium”. There is his nonfiction study of poverty in America, titled, “The American Hallucination: Poverty under HyperCapitalism”, which he wrote at the end of his life, having lived in poverty himself upon his arrival in Brooklyn, NY after his forced exile from Palestine on the eve of Israel’s founding in 1948.
Most of Ali’s books are verse, a term that he preferred over “poetry”, because he did not see them as poetry, but more like the basic elements of the universe, based on the logocentric myth of verbalization at the origin of creation, which can be understood as nonnumerical, or linguistic. The 13 books of verse that Ali wrote chart the author’s path to clarity of vision in writing, another indication of his conviction that writing was an act of seeing, and that it constituted the material and substance, even visuality, of art.
Unknown, or unseen in his lifetime, his example is, finally, a demonstration of the concordance between knowing and seeing. It was this anxiety that caused him to produce collages out of his manuscripts, in order to visualize the writing process. He wanted to be able to see his writing as a whole image, a reference to the cabalistic notion of the fragmentation of the universe into letters, in which a book is a symbol of its wholeness in the human mind.
Menahem Ali was a Palestinian-Israeli writer who fled to America at the age of 18 during the outbreak of war in 1948. He lived the rest of his life in exile, mostly as a paper-hoarding recluse in Brooklyn, New York before passing away in 2020. He never published a word in his lifetime, but left behind 15 manuscripts handwritten in a creole of Judeo-Arabic Palestinian Hebrew, including thirteen collections of free verse, a study of poverty in America and a surrealist novel.
Matt Alexander H. was born in 1986 in Northampton, Massachusetts by the Holyoke Range and Connecticut River Valley. He was raised in the Atlantic coastal town of Mattapoisett, which, in the Algonquin language, means, “place of rest”. He lives by the Sea of Marmara.