I do want to do something.


Workshops and other things
March 25, 2008, 7:51 pm
Filed under: 98 weeks research project

This is to say that the 98 weeks research project is definitely launched ! (www.98weeks.org). Our first workshop will be lead by the Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa and will revolve around the theme of the “ruin” in the city. The workshop will last 1 week and will take place at the beginning of September 2008 in Beirut To discuss the topic of the ruin in Beirut, we are organizing reading groups for people interested in participating to the workshop . If you are interested in the project and would like to take part in  the reading group or/and to the workshop, let me know.



Could it be…or is it just fucked up?
March 21, 2008, 2:06 pm
Filed under: Beirut notes


These are some fragments of thoughts and conversations I had with some people since I arrived to Beirut. Maybe I’m too lazy to develop them, but that is also because the article I wrote on Chantal Mouffe scared me, it is so boring. I guess that I haven’t found the balance yet (love libranation !), my thoughts are ahead and my body behind. I’m trying to bring things together, but it ain’t easy. So instead of developing  melancholic, long and boring texts, I’ll stick to these pieces, write them down.

Some of these notes also stand in the title’s three dots. Several fashionable academic texts and ideas I have come across during this last year became almost ridiculous when seen through particular contexts (I’m referring to Lebanon) and so clearly the thrills of bored academics looking for new challenge.

 

There is no distance; this is the challenge for critical thought

Boredom is so creative

Big time/ small time

You wish you had a normal life, but you are an artist

The time of your life, of your child, is the time

The relation between the practice of the everyday and the disaster

Who sets the time and the space?

Chronotopia/dystopia/utopia

Hegemonic artistic community

The artist as “state” intellectual

Elitist populist

What is a public sphere?

What else to do but to exploiting misery, says the cool architect, (I think she is right)

Laboratory for whom?

Multitude, self-organization, bottom top, blablabla

If it’s not linear time, then what?

“Cute” is necessary

Our intimacy is not forced

There is no ruin here

Smoking as a private act

Creating rituals and private chronotopias  

Thanking god that Sara is here

Missing u so much so much



Diplomatic meditations
March 18, 2008, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Beirut notes

 

(During the last French presidential election,I asked him why he didn’t vote. I don’t remember his answer but he meant to say it was pointless and asked me why he should do it. I answered him that he should do it as a romantic act).

My dad is a man of principles. That’s what they say. He served his country during 25 years, representing as well as he could. People would have talked about him as a refined, well-informed discrete and generous person. My father also stood for what he believed in.one of these things was his country Lebanon. Through the civil war, and whatever shaky regime was in place, through tribal violence and exacerbated confessionalism, my father tried to stand by the state. 20 years later, this   ridiculously ghostly word hasn’t become more tangible; I don’t think it will ever be, never was.

On the national day, the flag was on, no matter what. The first song he taught me was the Lebanese national anthem (to his great joy, I would sing in his office, next to his flag, my hand next to my front in a military posture, dressed in these lovely embroided dresses my mother would buy me). I now see my father’s attachment, his own religion, with a lot of tenderness; his adherence to the belief in a state, romantic (that’s maybe just a way of rationalizing what is not rational). Representing his country the way he did, high social exposure, linking with the super bourgeoisie and their life style, being always dedicated and respectful of the law, fulfilling a function because he had to. What remains are the friends he always had and country in protracted civil war.

So how do you represent a nation-state that does not exist? Again, one can question how does a nation state exist? Can the representation of a non existing state make visible  the ghostly nature of every form of nation state, can it provide a way to rethink the nation, its representation, constitution,  etc  etc, or is it just fuck up, because at the end of the day, you do need a nation state in order to “exist” for the country’s population as well as in the international arena

Again, here it becomes a delicate balance of power (I still think that diplomatic representation is however interesting because you represent an abstraction through your person, body, smile, suits and cocktail parties).

She said that Beirut should be on the map and that she didn’t sleep because of that. She wanted to make a point by carrying out this event. I follow this point. I follow that one should keep on doing whatever one is doing, until it gets impossible. I not only understand carrying this through, I find it necessary. Again I find myself in a liminal space, an almost stupid place where the carrying through can either be seen as a heroic act, or a blind act. For whom are you doing it? And for what? How would these reasons take shape and circulate? If there is love involved, what kind of love are we talking about and how does this love gets represented? (my father’s love for Lebanon, her love for Beirut, his love for a lost one).

(He said that he was fed up with his fancy furniture and that he wanted a comfortable place with a built in heater).

mad.jpg

 



Session II. (based on the reading “Every Form of Art Has a Political Dimension”, Chantal Mouffe interviewed by Rosalyn Deutsche, Branden W. Joseph and Thomas Keenan,Grey Room 02, 2001).
March 9, 2008, 6:18 pm
Filed under: The Reading Group

So, right now in Lebanon there is not really a “state”. There is a clear division within the country, a problem of representation, violent social fractures, and bodily reactions developed during the civil war (a sonic sense particularly acute to gun shots/ planes) resurfacing quite naturally. The lack of a centralizing and institutionalized power, of a “state”, renders manifest the different states people (The people? The population?) are in, schematically polarized by either an exalted euphoria or an entropic depressive state.

The state of something/ to be in a state of/ is a set of conditions that makes that particular state definable and singular.

[ “1 The condition or situation of somebody or something. 2a a condition of nervous tension.” (The Penguin English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)]

The nervous tension is something that can collapse at any point, a movement stopped and stretched. It is a set of conditions that can change at any given moment, probably precisely at the moment it is enunciated “If we pause for a moment on the meaning of “states” as the “conditions in which we find ourselves”, then it seems we reference the moment of writing itself or perhaps a certain condition of being upset, out of sorts: what kind of state are we in when we start to think about the state?” (Judith Butler in Who sings the Nation State,2007).

Changing states

The “state” of a nation state is:

7 a politically organized community usu occupying a definite territory. 8 the body politic of such a community.” This body is modeled, amputated, dieted by the state apparatus. Still, underneath the stretched or aging skin, there is a nervous system; when a sensitive spot is touched it can react, on the surface, or even take over the whole body. A state (a nation-state), in order to exist, can’t consider and put into play all the present states it supposedly accounts for.

In “Every Form of Art Has a Political Dimension”, Chantal Mouffe. interviewed by Rosalyn Deutsche, Branden W. Joseph and Thomas Keenan, discusses Hans Haacke’s piece, Der Bevolkerun (To the population), 2000- where Haacke replaces the inscription on the Reichtag, Dem Deutschen Volke (The German People) by Der Belvolberun (the population).  Mouffe argues that the political concept of “the people” can’t be replaced by the sociological concept of “the population”. This would result in a depoliticizing move that would neutralize the struggle at the core of what defines defines/re-define the body of citizen standing for “the people”. According to her, democracy is a practice with a struggle at its core. The struggle responds to an inclusive/ exclusive dialectical relation. Not everybody can be part of “it”, there are some bodies that are not part of “the people”, but part of the population (immigrants, refugees, minorities for example). However, the idea of “the people” needs to be in constant redefinition. Haacke’s piece is interesting in this sense because it points to the gap between the “people” and the “population”. What makes the struggle is the line drawn between what is in and out. The forms of identifications, the passions and the collective imaginary that moves the people (and the population?) is what constantly redefines the line.

This would suppose that  passions need to be canalized and essentialized (in the worse cases, they fall into a love for the nation in a fascist sense). What I’m trying to say is that Mouffe’s struggle does not seem to allow for a multiplicity of states to exist. In the struggle, there must be one cause, towards which affects are mobilized, a symbolic realm where symbols are re-appropriated and actualized (“I want to defend some type of left wing patriotism, some link with the tradition of what it is for a German to be German, or for a French person to be French…” (p.112).

In Lebanon, there are too many passions, to much people arguing on the definition of what Lebanon or being Lebanese is and should be. Too many symbols and histories. In this case, passions can’t be canalized into a constructive debate. They are exclusive of each other in a life/death demarcation line. (can there be a multiplicity of states existing without this violence?) 

So, what do you do when you are an artist and you have to deal with all these passions? What position to adopt, and what “role” can you have ?

Strategic engagements (and a little less love ?)

One phenomena I have discussed in my dissertation on the artist Lina Saneh and her video pieces, I had a dream, mom…, 2006, is the risky institution of an “art sphere” in Lebanon. There is the question of urgency, of not knowing if there is going to be a war tomorrow, of having to take decisions implying nervous breakdowns, taking responsibilities on things that do not depend on you, and having all the work you do vanish in a single moment (This is besides the tragicity of the situation you can be faced with on a more personal level). These extreme conditions render artistic production a Darfour emergency syndrome (to use S.’s expression). You are carried in a whirling movement where all lucidity is lost because it is impossible to keep it (and what lucidity are we talking about? What does it mean to see clearly?). I will have a take on this.

It probably means allowing for things to be questioned, questioning our own positions and the seriouness it implies if we are talking about the intellectual and cultural life in Lebanon. This, I attempt, would mean creating a strategic distance (a little less love ?). It maybe means leaving or stopping. Doing nothing. Doing something that does not follow a fusional and unquestionable logic of engagement, just because interrogating and questioning your own position is not a luxury in this case, but a necessity that could open up other channels, making what is not Darfour, not Darfour.

Going back to Chantal Mouffe, it almost seems that the artistic and cultural sphere, with its emergency status, its Darfour syndrome, might be the first instances of a state in Lebanon?! In the sense that it draws a line, defines a community, institute its activity and allows me to position myself in relation to “it”. Would it be the case that cultural institutions have gained a paradoxical hegemony, and this, by their very fragility?

I don’t know. But I particularly like the lived paradox expressed in the presentation of this year’s Homeworks organized by the Lebanese Association for Plastic Art, Ashkal Alwan. The organization explains its own position in organizing a cultural event in relation to the region’s political instability:

“… it is no longer self-evident to assume that such a platform make for true dialogue and cultural exchange possible. What it allows for however is a productive space in which political, social, economic realities can be explored, reflected, made manifest as visual and verbal articulations that occur with some consistency. These articulations have become our obsession.” (www.ashkalalwan.org).

Obsessions that are reflected upon, thoughts defying reasonable borders, definitions, limits, inebriated critical practices. The questioning of the institutional distance and its role, the fragility of its attempts, is perhaps, a first expression of its consolidation.



The Reading Group
March 8, 2008, 4:23 pm
Filed under: The Reading Group

This series of articles is inspired by a reading group we have started in Beirut. We discuss topics that interest us and often relate it to life in Lebanon. I’m not going to cite my reading companions by their names, but there is M.A.S. and me. The reason I decided to write on and about what we discuss is because this blog is an intellectual diary and I think that ideas and thoughts essentially emerge through discussions with other people, and, what we say and talk about might interest other people. If it does, you can always post a comment : )