In order to utter the double negative not, not Arab, a temporal dimension contrary to the one that dominates is implied: one that is other to the static identity claim of being or doing Arab and other than the discourse on Arabism as a set of founding and representational myths. Rather than the present of the actual, this essay proposes the contemporaneous as a present that gives the slip to the dominant and actual. The contemporaneous is argued as rupture with the dominant present and a temporality in which little is held in common and many tongues are spoken.
In the final quarter of the twentieth century, a number of signal events effectively placed Islam at the forefront of Western political consciousness and analytical attention. An explosion of academic, journalistic and popular talk about the ‘Islamic threat’ ensued, culminating in a complex set of discourses that help sustain imperial projects in the Arab world today. This essay critically examines the works of important contemporary political thinkers in search of transcending the banal liberal desire to study ‘Others’ in order to expand the terrain of tolerance, and posits instead a necessary and complex reconsideration of ethics and politics as a way to provide models for future studies of political action.
The translation into Arabic of Robinson Crusoe by Butrus al-Bustāni, a leading figure of al-Nahḍa al- c Arabiyya – commonly referred to as the Arab Awakening – opens up the question of incommensurable and indeterminate relations between an original text and its errancy, the fraught desires of communication and the dismal relationship between language and history, as well as between language and nation.
The social relations that a photograph emits and suppresses are not limited to those relations at the time and place of its composition but are indebted to the social relations that precede photographic image-making. The studio photographic image throughout the Ottoman Arab provinces performed discourses of bourgeois subjectivity, state power and market capitalism. Through its production, exchange, circulation and deployment, photographic portraiture participated in the naturalisation of a signification system that had already made the subject intelligible within modernity's new social order. This article offers a broad, theoretical analysis of indigenous photographic portraiture, demarcating it as a site of inquiry into both subject formation and photographic representation within the contexts of al-Nahḍa al- c Arabiyya or Arab Renaissance.
Submitting all relationships to the logic of possession is the chief impelling force of dispossession. That is why photographs of Palestinian refugee camps do something more than look lovingly at people who try to recreate their ‘at home’ abroad. But in the photographs of Ahlam Shibli one begins to see the price Palestinians had to pay in order to obtain the right and means to build a house in their own occupied homeland.
How is one to think an art practice within a double space-time which is neither in Beirut nor in Montréal, but partially in both? On one side, a time ‘at a distance’, diegetic, reiterating the occurrences of a war embanked by sectarian discourses and, on the other, a multicultural time made of girded cultural differences managed by the neo-liberal discourse in Québec and dominated by the neo-conservative discourse in Canada. These parameters characterise a new space-time which the author qualifies as interstitial.
To ask about a double negative, as in not, not Arab, one is stirred by not one, not two, but three negations. For an Arab artist is not really an Arab – or an artist for that matter – unless one is able to imagine both these personas inhabiting a third space that one would call the ‘text’. This essay proposes that if writing one's autobiography is a way of identifying, responding to and constructing meaning, of establishing specificity through the self, and of creating interstitial points and lines in the reader, then writing one's text inherently sits on a plane outside the immediate experience of the narrator and the narrated.
The films of the Tanjawi Moumen Smihi elaborate the need for an Arab cinema that critically engages its cultural and political environs not through the singularity of nationalist, postcolonial or religiously-driven identity but by exploiting and further exploding the contradictions and heterogeneity that mark cinema's existence in the Arab world. This article argues that in working toward an aesthetic of an Arabo-Islamic culture, Smihi's films evince his desire to build a history of the cinematographic image in the Arab world which is not commensurate with Euro-American or other cinematic traditions but instead raids them, transforms them, and ultimately addresses them from within localised traditions, of which Arabic language and culture is an important but not exclusive aspect.
Given a construction of the world with which we are infallibly (and involuntarily) complicit, renunciation remains a way of bringing into question that complicity and consciously assuming the alienation of the subject by dominant discourses and powers. This is the sense in which we can speak of exile as a figure: exile as the conscious exercise of an estranged gaze and position in relation to times and spaces.
Bilal Khbeiz is a journalist, critic and artist forced into exile under threat of assassination in early summer 2008, following a cowardly campaign to discredit his person and his work. Khbeiz's contribution to the intellectual life of Beirut over almost two decades remains vast and profound. In this extended long-distance interview he answers questions posed by friends who reside in Paris, London and Beirut.
In the attempt to gather and defend a stable national identity, culture, language and religion are vertically employed to maintain continuity through time, and horizontally deployed to extricate the self from the other. The contiguity of Iran and the Arab world and the overlapping of Islam with Persian culture make for a particularly thorny case in point.
On the southern border of Lebanon, on the edge of the nation state, tobacco is the crop which tells the cycles of nature and war. Cultivated in an area where pastoral nomads once moved freely, the brief life and flexible storage of tobacco are temporally and spatially attuned to the spatio-temporal parameters of the warscape. Premised on poverty and acclimatised to war, this ‘bitter weed’ is the sprout of war-in-time success.
The presence of the corpse is a call to reconsider the work of mourning in Lebanon and a means of challenging the protracted temporality, indeed protracted now, maintained by politico-sectarian factions structurally capable, through the deployment of intermittent bouts of violence and tenuous truces, of renewing the conditions of civil war and maintaining their prolonged dominance. The author argues that the presence of the corpse provides a condition for stripping the protracted now of civil war of its wishful discourse, exposing it as the time of a flagrant abuse of political representation and economic resources by a ruling coterie of powerful beneficiaries. The presence of the corpse marks a refusal to part with what, in certain situations, constitutes the only remaining evidence of violence, a refusal to allow for indifference, or the feigned amnesia that holds sway when the body is surrendered to inhumation.
The music of the Levant – from the lands of the Fertile Crescent, the plains of ‘blessed Egypt’ and the edges of Turkey's mountains to the border of Mosul – when for a moment it glimmered, for a mere half century between the last quarter of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries, left behind almost nothing except a few musicians, reciters of the Holy Qur'ān and muṭribīn all living at the margins of the official story and televised publicity of what is known as Arabic music. The author writes of a music before which we can still sense beauty, strange and unfamiliar, capable of reviving in us that experience which Arabs have named ṭarab and in their language have defined as a levity which seizes in happiness or in sadness.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.