Two new essays about Beirut have been circulating Twitter:
One is Dominique Eddé’s “‘The Compatibility of Opposites’: A Portrait of Lebanon,” translated from the French by Ros Schwartz, who is also co-translator of Eddé’s forthcoming Edward Said: His Thought as a Novel, which is set for release in August from Verso.
Schwartz also translated Eddé’s beautiful novel The Kite, which made the longlist of the Best Translated Book Award in 2013, and co-translator of her The Crime of Jean Genet, with Andrew Rubens.
Although there have been many, my favorite reaction to Eddé’s NYRB essay comes from anthropology professor Ghassan Hage:
no intelligentsia is able to hate and love its country, to be critical and celebratory, like the Lebanese intelligentsia. this piece is very Lebanese. it makes all the problems appear and go away at the same time. i hate it and I love it 🙂 https://t.co/sALM20te9a via @nybooks
— Ghassan Hage (@anthroprofhage) June 20, 2019
It’s interesting that the image they use to set the tone for the piece is in black and white.
A beautiful, hyperbolic, love-hate moment from the essay:
Speed is a reflex, second nature. When a driver is stuck in a traffic jam, his hand on the horn immediately takes over from his foot on the accelerator. It is less an attempt to move forward than a way of not giving up when everything is falling apart. That small difference encapsulates the fine line between Lebanese defects and virtues: anarchy and vulgarity on the one hand, and the courage never to admit defeat on the other.
Less shared, perhaps, but also a beautiful portrait of Beirut is Rima Rantisi’s “Days of Pearls,” which appeared in the publication Slag Glass City.
Rantisi is a professor at the American University of Beirut and a founding editor of Rusted Radishes. You can find her work in Arab Women Voice New Realities. From the opening of her essay:
I change the heels of my shoes regularly, as they wear down from walking on the rough surfaces of Beirut streets. They sometimes wear so low that the inner heel clicks on the sidewalks. That’s how I usually know it’s time.
Read them both:
NYRB: The Compatibility of Opposites’: A Portrait of Lebanon and the French original in L’Orient-Le Jour, Un portrait du Liban
Slag Glass City: Days of Pearls