Archive for May, 2010

Joining the World?

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I wrote a critical response to a one-man contemporary dance show, which then turned into an interrogatory commentary on the state of art in Beirut. And I pined… do I have a right to write this? Who am I to complain about a famous flamenco dancer who came to Beirut, who raised the audience off their feet for what I thought were superficial or obscure reasons? And I answered this question with more questions about art and its purpose: shouldn’t artists be more concerned about communicating to their audience? And though it may have been slightly thought-provoking (maybe to no one but myself and a friend who told me so), I started feeling self-conscious and invalid about my writing about art, and art it in Beirut, no less. This hesitation is dangerous, I know. It implies that an “outsider” cannot see things clearly, or meaningfully. Or that an individual’s perception of her environment is inferior to the general view. Or that writing is a perfect, invariable thing. However, it was reasonable to consider my shortage of knowledge on the subject. I put the piece aside, waiting for a nugget of information to fill in any apparent ignorance on the subject, but very little in the way of “truth” brandished itself. This is the hard thing about writing “true” things. They are temporary and fleeting. And subject to change at any second. On the other hand, there are some “truths,” that become common knowledge – Lebanon is full of racists; Lebanon is the most “liberal” country in the Arab world. For example. These particular “truths” imply we have work to do. Noam Chomsky was in Beirut this week, and he emphasized the work we – Lebanese, Americans, Israelis – have to do. During the open question-answer session after his talk, EVERY person who stepped to the podium attacked him. For example, he was contextualizing his talk (which had no title or direction, really) by going through the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict starting with 1967. So, the first questioner leaned over the podium into the microphone and asked: “You started recounting the history of Palestine-Israel with 1967. What about 1948?” Assumingly implying that Chomsky perhaps was not only remiss but purposeful in excluding the year of the creation of the state of Israel. This man, the owner of a popular leftist café in Hamra, got a spray of applause from the audience. Chomsky replied to this and the other defensive questions/attacks with even answers and an equally defensive classification of these comments as “feel-good seminar talk”; that is, he explained, what is designed to incite emotional solidarity, but very little in the way of progress – very little outside the walls of the seminar room. In other words, his worldview is a practical one – work with what we have rather than idealistic dreams that are virtually impossible or involve mass destruction. You can guess what this implies. He echoed this sentiment in a grilling interview he had with an Israeli journalist, who pointed out his Jewish heritage and connection with Israel. He admitted that he had a fond love for Israel, but that in the past few years it had harmed itself too much, and thereby harmed those who stand/stood by it, leaving him in animosity towards the state. What has happened here now? I needed to tell you that I was feeling uncomfortable writing about Beirut. Mainly because of the nature of this blog – that it focuses on our dizzying disposition as a city, as a country at a time where we are viewing ourselves, products of thousands of years of civilization, through Prada glasses – the negative is often highlighted. And I don’t want to be negative, but it’s impossible to avoid. I just want to contribute to revolutions, ones that are not cross-eyed. Ones that are not confined to a seminar room, or a computer screen, for that matter. Ones that are not simply feel-good, applause-inducing rants. They are ones that take a lot of screwing up, thinking and re-thinking, and a consciousness of what is futile and a realistic vision of what is fertile. And they require action, confidently forward, while knowing that we may be wrong along the way and accepting that. Most importantly, let’s respond to what we believe are lies and misconceptions and injustice not with defensiveness, but rather an intention to “Join the World,” as Chomsky urged the U.S. to do – so that we may communicate, and be taken seriously, by the rest of the world. And so here I am, writing about not knowing how to write, then writing about not only Beirut, but all of us. One thing just leads to another.