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Standing by the Ruins

Elegiac Humanism in Wartime and Postwar Lebanon

Ken Seigneurie

Publication Year: 2011

Since the mid-1970s, Lebanon has been at the center of the worldwide rise in sectarian extremism. Its cultural output has both mediated and resisted this rise. Standing by the Ruins reviews the role of culture in supporting sectarianism, yet argues for the emergence of a distinctive aesthetic of resistance to it. Focusing on contemporary Lebanese fiction, film, and popular culture, this book shows how artists reappropriated the twin legacies of commitment literature and the ancient topos of standing by the ruinsto form a new elegiac humanismduring the tumultuous period of 1975 to 2005. It redirects attention to the critical role of culture in conditioning attitudes throughout society and is therefore relevant to other societies facing sectarian extremism.Standing by the Ruins is also a strong intervention in the burgeoning field of World Literature. Elaborating on the great Arabist Hilary Kilpatrick's crucial insight that ancient Arabic forms and topoi filter into modern literature, the author details how the standing by the ruinstopos-and the structure of feeling it conditions-has migrated over time. Modern Arabic novels, feature films, and popular culture, far from being simply cultural imports, are hybrid forms deployed to respond to the challenges of contemporary Arab society. As such, they can take their place within a World Literature paradigm: they are cultural products that travel and intervene in the world.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

Figures and Plates

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book is the product of talk as much as it is of reading, watching, and writing. I am grateful to my many mentors and friends whose generosity and wisdom in conversation has made the research and writing of this book so enjoyable. Some have played a...

Note on Transliterations

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pp. xv-16

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Introduction. Shoring These Ruins against My Fragments

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pp. 1-34

Ruins are everywhere twenty years after the civil war of 1975–90. Some are preserved as monuments with commemorative plaques. People eke out livings in others among the cracks and shell-pocks. Some are covered in giant colorful advertisements four stories...

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Chapter One. Absence at the Heart of Yearning: Civil War and Postwar Novels

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pp. 35-95

In the introduction, I historicized the rise of the Lebanese war novel as a response to the failure of realist commitment literature. I traced this aesthetic transition to a shift in the narrativization of civil war from cold-war to ethnic-sectarian paradigms. I argued...

Image Plates

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pp. 96-95

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Chapter Two. “Speak, Ruins!” The Work of Nostalgia in Feature Film

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pp. 96-143

Nostalgia and Lebanese film have gone together since 1929, when Jordano Pidutti depicted an emigrant’s homecoming in the first Lebanese film, Mughamarat Ilyas Mabruk (The Adventures of Elias Mabruk).1 Cinema was ideally suited for capturing nostalgic...

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Chapter Three. Elegiac Humanism and Popular Politics: The Independence Uprising of 2005

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pp. 144-176

In the first two chapters of this book, I argued that the aesthetic of elegiac humanism that emerged in the late 1970s grew from within a structure of feeling stretching back to the known roots of Arab societies. These culturally conditioned feelings are associated...

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Conclusion. “We’re All Hezbollah Now”

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pp. 177-183

Throughout this book, I have made the case for the existence of a minority aesthetic in wartime and postwar Lebanon, calling it “elegiac humanism” and arguing that it provides a cultural framework for an alternative to the long-term sectarian revanchism that...

Appendix. A Selected Bibliography of Lebanese War Novels

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pp. 185-187


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pp. 189-222

Works Cited

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pp. 223-238


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pp. 239-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780823253678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823234820
Print-ISBN-10: 0823234827

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 801405199
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Standing by the Ruins

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Arabic literature -- Lebanon -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- Lebanon.
  • Popular culture -- Lebanon.
  • Lebanon -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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