Trotsky’s Speech before Brest Litovsk Peace Talks


I am inspired here to relate a beautiful moment in the history of political speeches, and surely it follows, the history of biographical narrative. Isaac Deutscher’s biographical narrative of Trotksy is amazingly comprehensive and well-rounded, and without lack in criticism.

In today’s historical moments of fragile ceasefires and lead-coated peace talks, it has been inspiring to go over the speech Trotksy gave in anticipation of the Brest Litovsk peace talks; an all-too-important moment for the newly established Bolshevik government, coming after their seizure of Petrograd and Moscow, and importantly, after the withering away of the Russian army (the next chapter in the Autobiography details how Trotsky’s military strategy in rebuilding the Red Army and fighting the counterrevolutionary White Army in the civil war of 1918.) The peace of Brest Litovsk was short-lived, but this post is not about the success of peace talks, but about the attitude of a revolutionary in the face of fateful moments in history.

Without further delay, Trotsky’s speech (in italics), as narrated by Isaac Deutscher:

On 8 December, the day before the inauguration of the actual peace talks at Brest Litovsk, Trotsky addressed a joint session of the government, the Central Executive of the Soviets, the Soviet and town council of Petrograd, and leaders of trade unions. This was one of his most remarkable speeches, not only because of its rhetorical excellence and its soaring revolutionary humanitarian ethos, but also because it vibrated with his own mental wrestlings:

Truly this war has demonstrated man’s power and resilience, which enables him to endure unheard of sufferings. But it has also shown how much barbarity is still preserved in contemporary man… He, king of nature, has descended into the trench-cave, and there, peeping out through narrow holes, as from a prison cell, he is lurking for his fellow man, his future prey. … So low has mankind fallen. … One is oppressed by a feeling of shame for man, his flesh, his spirit, his blood, when one thinks that people who have gone through so many phases of civilization—Christianity, absolutism, and parliamentary democracy—people who have imbibed the ideas of socialism, kill each other like miserable slaves under the whip of the ruling classes. Should the war have this outcome only that people return to their mangers, to pick the miserable crumbs thrown from the tables of the propertied classes, should this war finish with the triumph of imperialism, then mankind would prove itself unworthy of its own sufferings and of its own prodigious mental effort, which it has sustained over thousands of years. But this will not happen—it cannot happen.

Having risen in the land of Europe’s former gendarme, the Russian people declares that it desires to speak to its brothers under arms … not in the language of guns, but in that of international solidarity of the toilers. … This fact cannot be eliminated from the mind of the popular masses … of all countries. Sooner or later they will hear our voice, they will come to us and stretch out a helpful hand. But even if … the enemies of the people were to conquer us and we were to perish … our memory would still pass from generation to generation and awaken posterity to a new struggle. To be sure, our position would have been much easier if the peoples of Europe had risen together with us, if we had to parley not with General Hoffmann and Count Czernin but with Karl Liebknecht, Klara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg. This has not happened. And we cannot be blamed for that. Our brothers in Germany cannot accuse us of having communed with the Kaiser, their sworn enemy, behind their backs. We are talking to him as to an enemy—we do not soften our irreconcilable hostility to the tyrant.

The truce has brought a pause in hostilities. The booming of guns has been silenced, and everybody is anxiously waiting to hear in what voice the Soviet government will talk with the Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs. You must support us in this that we should talk with them as with freedom’s enemies … and that not a single atom of freedom should be sacrificed to imperialism. Only then will the genuine meaning of our strivings penetrate deeply into the consciousness of the German and Austrian peoples.

This appeal was followed by a curious passage in which he was thinking aloud before his large audience and gave free rein to his hesitation and indecision. ‘If the voice of the German working class … does not exercise a powerful and decisive influence … peace will be impossible’, he stated abruptly. Then came a second thought: ‘But if it should turn out that we had been mistaken, if this dead silence were to reign in Europe much longer, if this silence were to give the Kaiser the chance to attack us and to dictate terms insulting to the revolutionary dignity of our country, then I do not know whether—with this disrupted economy and universal chaos entailed by war and internal convulsions—whether we could go on fighting.’ As if feeling that his audience was stunned by his cry of despair, he turned abruptly and exclaimed: ‘Yes, we could.’ This brought forth stormy applause. Spurred on by the response, he added:. ‘For our life, for our revolutionary honour, we would fight to the last drop of our blood.’ Here the verbatim report records ‘a new outburst of applause’. The audience, which consisted of the leading groups of the two governmental parties, thus demonstrated its emotional opposition to separate peace.

The weary and the old ones’, Trotsky continued, ‘would step aside … and we would create a powerful army of soldiers and Red Guards, strong with revolutionary enthusiasm. … We have not overthrown the Tsar and the bourgeoisie in order to kneel down before the German Kaiser.’ If the Germans were to offer an unjust and undemocratic peace, then ‘we should present these terms to the Constituent Assembly and we should say to it: make up your mind. If the Constituent Assembly accepts such terms, the Bolshevik party will step aside and say: Look for another party willing to sign such terms. We, the Bolsheviks, and I hope the Left Social Revolutionaries too, would summon all peoples to a holy war against the militarists of all countries.’ It hardly entered his mind that one day the Left Social Revolutionaries would rise against the Bolsheviks with the cry for this ‘holy war,’ and that he himself would then suppress them. ‘If in view of the economic chaos’, he concluded, ‘we should not be able to fight … the struggle would not be at an end: it would only be postponed, as it was in 1905, when Tsardom crushed us but we lived to fight another day. That is why we have joined in the peace negotiations without pessimism and without black thoughts. …’ His speech worked up his audience into an exalted state similar to that in which before the insurrection the crowds of Petrograd repeated after him the words of the revolutionary oath.




calling out the proper name


so central and all-qualifying.
the giver of all accounts and form.
the proper name is the linguistic site of a formidable yet necessary lack, pointing sporadically and always towards the unconvincing fiction of everyday life.

vermin so unimaginatively accepting of this violence disgust me.

the proper name is a reminder of the violence that is the condition of possibility of being.

we all would rather just remain adjectives, evading random checkpoints and pat-downs.

beautiful dazzling sour sharp bitter red

Called upon, I shudder.

in a moment a name strips one of all relation.
a weapon like no other on the lips of the other;
in one moment of utter banality, boxed up and defined.

searing, heavy.

the proper name is the instance and instant of our fall.
forever babylonian. forever non-relatable.

“The subject, as much as he is a slave to language, is he not even more so that of a discourse in a universal movement of which his place is already inscribed at birth in the form of his name?” (Lacan, Écrits: A Selection 2002[1957], p.140).

Are you [Checkpoint] Charlie?


[Thinking/Work in Progress]

The history of Fortress Europe; A checkpoint.

The checkpoint functions not only to control the flow of migrants, illicit goods, and insurgents/terrorists, but also to divide continuous lands and to reproduce politically and legally encoded distinctions between “us” and “them”. Thus performing sovereignty, the checkpoint appears to be symptomatic of fears of catastrophe, whether economic, political, or social, in various national and global context. [Karim Mattar and David Fieni, “The Global Checkpoint: ‘Rights’ of Passage, Performances of Sovereignty”]

Checkpoint Charlie By Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

On this basis, no wonder Israel considers itself part of Europe; it shares with it the fascination with a mobile checkpoint that at once constitutes its borders and gives the (false) appearance that whatever is inside this border is free to roam, homogeneous:

The discontinuous lines of fences, ditches, concrete walls and high-tech sensors–referred to by the Israeli government as the “seam-line obstacle,” by the general Israeli public as the “separation fence,” and by those Israelis and Palestinians opposing it as the Wall or sometimes as the “Apartheid Wall”–are only the most visible mediatized barriers built in a frenzy of fortification construction that has pockmarked the entire West Bank since the beginning of the Oslo Process in 1993, with the aim of separating Palestinians from Israelis at every opportunity.

When one checkpoint is removed, another checkpoint is being fortified as a strategy of expanding the homogeneous territory of the state. The endless plight of refugees trying to get beyond the checkpoints, most of the times not even reaching it, is a continuation of the statist logic of zoning, bordering, and enforcing embargoes; a logic whose limits are easily strained and shown to be meek and weak by Khaled Jarrar:

In 2007 and 2009, Khaled Jarrar, an artist from Jenin, installed At The Checkpoint, a project consisting of photographs ofeveryday life in Palestine arrayed on the fences of the Huwarra and Qalandia checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Making explicit references to “Checkpoint Charlie”, Jarrar drew a contrast between checkpoints that have become defunct or repurposed as tourist sites and those, like the ones in occupied terrotires and border-zones, that remains actively militarized, surveillant tunrstiles of human triage.

The rituals of being checked at the border; of not having permission to cross the line; and of risking subjection to interrogation, harassment, and incarceration were taken up in a subsequent work called Live and Work in Palestine… Using the logo of the Palestinian sunbird, Jarrar fashioned a “State of Palestine” passport seal (in English, Arabic and Hebrew). He proceeded to invite people at the Ramallah Central Bus Station to have their passports stamped… The project’s riskiness was enhanced in September 2011 in the weeks leading up to the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations when a number of travelers who opted for the stamp (among them ten Israeli citizens) were detained at Israel’s airports. [Emily Apter Against World Literature]

Sovereignty is immanently and momentarily blighted: if the checkpoint had enforced the border of a state, then a stateless checkpoint undermines this authority to write the law and draw the line.

Žižek with a “State of Palestine” stamp.

The Refugee

In 1943, Hannah Ardent writes an essay called “We Refugees” “in order to propose this condition as the paradigm of a new historical consciousness” (Agamben “We Refugees” 114). The refugee arises as the (a)political person that undermines the very treatises and legal-political categories that the world of nations is built upon, the rights of man: “the refugee is the sole category in which it is possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come… to reconstruct our political philosophy beginning with this unique figure” (Agamben 114). The refugee then “throws into crisis the original fiction of sovereignty” (Agamben “We Refugees” 117). The refugee lurks in a liminal position, between object and subject—the refugee is the abject whose existence is a threat to the foundations of the nation-state. Exactly for this reason, however, the refugee is the only person who can hold the banner of political hope, of a democracy-to-come. As a Syrian refugee by the name of Sami Hallisso says,

We can’t wait till the war is over; we have to start from now to build a society that lives in dignity and independence. There’s an opportunity for something to be that is not the regime and not Daesh,” says Hallisso, using the Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We don’t see ourselves as only an emergency response. We will return. (Malek)

The refugee emerges from the liminal space as the figure to which recent Arab tragedy points towards, the political figure for alternative political realities, puncturing and undermining standing understandings of sovereignty. The refugee does not wait, but lives, and in doing so, lives differently.

And for all that, to be “Charlie”, even fleetingly, is to give credence to a paranoid criminal sovereignty…



[A quickie]

Consolation comes in many forms, but you must never get caught. Randa opened the newly-purchased novel, one about scissors that talk as they cut through the vital and inanimate. Next to her was a bottle of wine that would last her as long as the first four chapters, one glass for every chapter. The night was still young and she shared a relationship of indifference with the world outside her apartment. She considered herself sagacious and her isolation a sign of prudence – an elderly spirit if ever there was one. She did what she needed to do and never bothered with wants and desires; besides her daily work in the university library, time was available to be organized neatly and precisely into separate and repetitive past-times: a promenade along the coast line, a recipe from a cookbook of joy as she followed the fast hands of a chef on a cooking channel, or a visit to her mother, who, tip-toeing her way to senility, still treated Randa as a young girl, following her every step and remarking with sharp, old eyes the darkness beneath her eyes. She did all that, however, in the solitary confinement of a life trod with careful precision and all the right choices, mistaking freedom for conformity, comfort and safety. So as she gulped down the second glass of wine and closed the second chapter of the sadistic scissors, she felt secure in the empty calmness of her home. She was not in a hurry, but  it would be her mother that would wash her corpse and bury her.

The story of Randa’s death is in part my fault. Yet in the eyes of the law, partly at fault does not give you half an indictment or half an acquittal, and from where I’m writing these words, I feel closer to Randa than ever before; I feel her absence striking me and my hide hardens at this irrational proximity, and over all things tenderness spreads. I face the silence and calmness that she sought from a life trod with fatal inaccuracy and all the wrong choices, mistaking flouting for freedom, rebellion and independence. This apposite description of my life in contrast to hers may be the intentional wit of its author, yet our parallel lives makes it more the work of an undecidable nature sought to be conquered separately by Randa’s self-determining organization and the detrimental die in my fist.

“Now perforce in tears and sadness
Learn a mournful strain to raise.” The Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius 

“The proximity of things is poetry.” Levinas

[To be Continued]

Free Safy


Help us pile pressure for the immediate and unconditional release of Internet activist and blogger Mohammed Hassan, aka Safy.

Share your pictures here:

نحتاج دعمكم من أجل حرية المدون البحريني محمد حسن (صافي).

“Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent.” – Audre Lorde

On 31 July, our friend Mohammed Hassan (also known as Safy in the blogging sphere and social media) was arrested from his parents’ house in the Bahraini town of Sitra without an arrest warrant. According to Amnesty International, the twenty-six-year-old blogger is still at the Criminal Investigation Directorate in al-‘Adliya located in the capital city of Manama.

Friends of Hassan and his lawyer stated that the blogger has been tortured by security officers. Hassan’s lawyer Abdulaziz Mousa was also arrested on 7 August for disclosing names of detainees and details of the investigation without permission. Hassan is accused of “promoting a forced change of the regime.” It is believed that the arrest of Hassan (and others) in the past few weeks is part of the regime’s crackdown against the upcoming protests that are planned on 14 August to call for freedom, justice, and change.

As bloggers from all around the world, we issue this statement in solidarity with our friend Mohammed Hassan. Bahrain continues to expand its record of crimes against bloggers, journalists, and social media users, among others. As the country’s press fails to escape state-censorship, the internet has become a powerful tool for oppressed Bahrainis to expose the crimes practiced against them on a daily basis. Collective efforts such as this have caused great embarrassment for the Bahraini regime, which subsequently hired public relations companies to troll activists and spread propaganda. The regime does not shy away from spying on internet users and hacking their accounts in order to find cause to arrest them. The regime’s electronic war on Bahrainis is only a fraction of the widespread persecution they face.

We call on the international community and all organizations and bodies dedicated to defending freedoms to pressure the Bahraini regime and demand the release of Mohammed Hassan. We ask all journalists, bloggers, and activists to stand in solidarity with Mohammed Hassan and to highlight his case. Our blogging community cannot rest until our fellow blogger Mohammed Hassan, and others like him who have been arbitrarily jailed, are back with their family and friends.


1- Mona Kareem – Kuwait
2- Mahmoud Omar – Palestine
3- Joey Ayoub – Lebanon
4- Leila Nachawati – Spain
5- Mosa’ab Elshamy – Egypt
6- Imad Stitou- Morocco
7- Hayder Hamzoz – Iraq
8- Ali Abdulemam – Bahrain
9- Ali Alsaffar – Saudi Arabia
10- Ebaa Rezeq – Palestine
11- Youssef Cherif – Tunisia
12- Lilian Wagdy- Egypt
13- Sarah Naguib – Egypt
14- Mohammad Almutawa – Kuwait
15- Wael Abbas – Egypt
16- Mohamed ElGohary – Egypt
17- David Ferreira – United States
18- Ziad Dallal – Lebanon
19- Yusur Al Bahrani- Canada
20- Sara Salem – Egypt
21- Mehreen Kasana – Pakistan
22- Nasser Weddady – Mauritania
23- Tarek Amr – Egypt
24- Mohamed Ali Chebaane – Tunisia
25- Zeinab Mohamed -Egypt
26- Ellery Roberts Biddle – United States
27- Nada Akl – Lebanon
28- Sarah Carr – Egypt
29- Solana Larsen – United States
30- Elizabeth Rivera – Chile
31- Marc Owen Jones – United Kingdom
32- Dima Khatib – Palestine
33- Fazel Hawramy – Kurdistan
34- Samia Errazzouki – Morocco/D.C
35- Raafat Rahim – Egypt
36- Ahmed Mansoor – UAE
37- Anas Qtiesh – Syria
38- Ruslan Trad – Bulgaria/Syria
39- Nora Abdulkarim – Saudi Arabia
40- Afrah Nasser – Yemen
41- Salam (Pax) Abdulmunem – Iraq
42- Ahmed Awadalla – Egypt
43- Budour Hassan – Palestine
44- Yasser Al-Zaiat – Syria
45- Mohamed Mesrati – Libya
46- Hasna Ankal – Belgium/Morocco
47- Ghazi Gheblawi – Libya
48- Rebecca MacKinnon – United States
49 – Marcia Lynx Qualey – United States/Egypt
50 – Jillian C. York – United States


Once Again…For Hatred


No. 9 Ola Hejazi
In the idle situation of smoking a cigarette in the summer sun, memories surface like scenes seen from a scratched and scarred wooden windowpane. The heat radiates from the cement buildings, and from the windowpane the memory of the mountain breeze amplifies my fiery stillness on the flared sidewalk. An army convoy creeps its way across the street, its wheels are steady, a soldier mounts the gun on top of the truck, his eyes scan the panorama in front of the convoy, people indifferent to his presence, beggars following fast maneuvering shoes, cars honking at them from all sides, and in front of him a secret line he knows the convoy must follow stringently even though the gun he rides offers neither solace nor threat.

…But to go back to the mountain where my aunt would take me for indefinite weeks away from the blaze of Beirut; I take another drag from the cigarette and through the mind’s windowpane I see a cloud of dust in the distance approaching me, the pebbled road beneath me shaking. I am strange on this road, my aunt’s house is still unfamiliar to me and it’s just across the street, yet the cloud of dust entraps me within it from far away, and soon it is as if I am the one who is approaching it, even though its inevitable danger, this ominous taupe billow, freezes me in place. In the moment of immanent peril my legs respond again, but it’s too late, already midway on the road, I’m cloaked in a rough taupe mist…

They call me inside to the sound check. It’s midday, the chairs are still neatly arranged, ashtrays are clean and the smell of the detergent still fills the air with its thin sharpness. I pick up my violin as Hazem starts playing, waiting for my queue to start. Hazem’s oud picking syncopates between western rock and eastern melodies, my violin keeps to the eastern, alternating between different maqams depending on Hazem’s use of scale.

I started my violin playing as a child with a private teacher, a friend of my mother. She was a hoarder who lived alone; her house smelled like mold, and dust particles would mushroom after every step. My mother thought of it as a perfect arrangement: I’d learn the violin, and her friend would have someone to talk to, but I came to hate her after I joined the conservatoire. Her left hand had a nervous disorder forcing her to perch up the wrist  of her fretting hand more than usual, a condition I needlessly emulated because it was the only way I was taught to play. As long as my left hand fretted awkwardly, the teachers at the conservatoire separated me from the rest of the students.

“The person who looks at you playing will think this is a circus show,” Hazem says sternly, still giving me shit about my perched up left hand.

“If you were born after me and I before you, it would be you on the violin now”

“Me, unlike you, would have adapted.”

“What can I say, see what only one year of learning can do? Less, eight months. But no matter, I play as if I can’t wave my hand to saw hello in real life, I play for myself. You’d play with your hand extended, for others.”

“So existentially deep, as always. Next thing you’ll tell me is that some people pray with their hands on their sides, other with the right hand over the left.”

“Well, yes, they do. And they play the same game equally as good. The difference is I don’t play God and judge who is better. You do.”

Hazem, my older brother; he is playing football behind the house in the mountains. A stampede of bicycles, young kids, thinking whatever lay in their way on the road is a necessary victim; an unmerciful army sparing no reserves seeing no defeat in site marches to a steady rhythm. They ride together and form the taupe cloud; metal bodies collide with mine, one after the other they trip over me, scrubbing my body on the mountainous pebbles. But I feel nothing, floating, as if this moment is eternity, painless. I’m motionless on the ground, lying like a lie waiting to be found out, the blue sky slowly recovering from the taupe invasion. Then the discovery, hands over me, carrying me frantically, my body almost slipping from their hands, my blood spilling on the ground, and the bolts of pain…I think, the only way out of this is death.

I go back home after a long night of noise, music and smoke. I open the door of the garden full of mint roots that spread as other roots died of neglect. Brown and yellow roots rest wilted on the ground, begging for a modicum of water to remain motionless, but I decide to uproot them all. Mint roots spread crazily wherever you plant them, and uprooting them is as hard as forcibly forgetting what binds you. What’s left of them reforms them, as embers are promises of fire.

I dig in with my hands, insects crawl on me and I feel the tingle of necessary human transgression. Every root is a memory that I pluck for a momentary period of clarity.


My aunt sits me on the porch, my elbows patched and a faint red slowly seeping through the most elemental form of a patch. She tells me to show the bikers what they have done to me, as if my lacerations are to be a source of my pride and a wellspring of their shame. I tell her to bring my violin, but my request is refused. This is not a time to flaunt my talent, but my soon-to-be scars. Don’t read. Don’t play. Simply be as if in the hoped-for state of perfect. A charade that I’ve been adopting ever since, even when in play.

One of the basest feelings you can ever feel is hatred for someone or something unknown to you. But to hate them exactly because you don’t know them, because you want to know them, that is to love them, these phantom foes and their phantasmal plans.

A wreath of paranoia adorned my mother’s head ever since, one that translated itself into a mortal hatred of my absence. She’d threaten and curse whenever I gave myself to the umbra of her sight. “Be late once again, and I’m never letting you back in,” she’d say, “I’ll never speak to you again,” she’d say, “I’ll close the door on you and forget you,” she’d say. But she’d never uphold them. Late and negligent, I always found the door open. Her threats functioned more as promises of endless acceptance and forgiveness. And I adopted them. I can no longer uphold a threat, neither as a promise to myself nor as a method of negotiation.

I pluck as much mint roots as I can in a performance of forgetting, even if only momentarily in the drunken rage of soiled fingers and bonds. But any act of uprooting is also a commemoration of a tragic event, so that one can always sense the last gasp approaching again and again…

…I know, something must happen now, someone must appear, or at least recognized, so that I can cease to hate and continue again in the state of play…



“Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust” 

A broken hand frets on a violin
and violently tells me that it does not aim
for the song of birds.
Intentionally fingers press wrongly on metal strings,
with the disconcerting intensity of the strike of a bow
exposing us as bats in the light of
a pop of a gun or the bang of a bomb.
We scurry upwards and
downwards to
keep close to the Lazarus darkness

As children’s feces smear on each other like paint on a palette.
There’s no innocence in this colored nightmare,
and no remorse in this black death.
There shall be no ringing of bells or screams –
but an announcement to bring out our dead
and die for them once again.


Arabesque – Excerpt


A beautiful excerpt from Anton Shammas’s Arabesque.

Nearby, the men who had fled to the fields in the morning began to gather, as the rumor reached them that the capitulation had proceeded peacefully. And thus they stood, the soldiers of the Jaish El-Yahud on the one side and the inhabitants of Fassuta on the other, until from somewhere a mijwez was whipped out and to its strains the men who had come back from the fields arranged themselves in a semicircle and their feet responded as if of their own accord to the rhythm of the melody. They broke into the “Dabkeh Shamaliyeh.” A wild Galilean dabkeh, which had in its something of the joy of those who had been passed over by a fatal decree, and something of the pleasure of submission by the weak, and something of the fawning before the stranger, and something of the canniness of the villager who draws the most unexpected weapon at the most unexpected moment. It also had in its just plain capriciousness and frivolity. One way or the other, by the time the feet tired of the dance and the capriciousness of the defeated had cooled down, all those present in the ceremony were covered with a thin white layer of dust, and as is the way of all dust, it did not distinguish between the conquering soldier and the conquered villager. After which the official part of the ceremony began, and the celebrants were gently commanded to hand over to the army any weapons in their possession, including the ones concealed in the haystacks and the ones stashed in the fields. (pages 121 – 122)

A Gob Of Spit


Origingally Published in Rusted Radishes as A Prolonged Insult

By Youssef Rached Doughan

By Youssef Rached Doughan

“No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will. I am  going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse…” Herny Miller, Tropic of Cancer

Jamal waited in a café and sucked on his nth cigarette. He didn’t usually smoke more than three cigarettes a day, always after a meal, always systematically. His face was tired and bloated from an excursion down the ruins of a bottle of wine.

In the building across the street, two sisters released a barrage of vitriol from behind closed curtains. The familial screams echoed throughout the café, and the cat waiting on the café door was alarmed. It only took a minute for the gazing eyes to stop searching, for ears to habituate, and for the horny traffic to dilute the shouts.

Jamal lit another cigarette and scanned the surrounding. He was supposed to meet a former student of his, but the little rascal, he thought, was late, as always. The cigarette neared its end and he silently muttered, “I need a death. I need to write.” A small cockroach crawled out of the newly dug sewer; a domestic disturbance.

Last night the lady he took home told him that she wouldn’t sleep with him unless he shaved his beard. “Shave your beard,” she demanded, without even a shred of seduction. As an unadorned man, who grew a beard out of laziness, he indifferently obliged. He now smiled at the event. He looked down and grazed the shiny red and black tie he had worn; any other man, he thought, would have hesitated and deprived himself of the most beautiful moment he could experience. The girl he took home, she was still in his apartment. He kept her there. “I need a death,” he thought, “I need to write.” The cockroach crawled up the table and quickly crept along its surface, settling on the Jamal’s white paper. The cockroach stood still, giving its side to Jamal.

The little rascal finally arrived. Jamal licked his lower lip and grazed the bottom of his teeth with his rough tobacco-tinged tongue. His lips were hued with wine. The little kid sat in front of him, the cockroach still between them on the paper. Jamal did not move. The little kid did not move. Eyeballs were transfixed in a moment of stillness authored by the exoskeleton of the cockroach. A sudden mood overhauled the invading decadence of the city; the universe was reduced to this deuce-ace scene. A teenager, an adult, and a cockroach.

No more cigarettes. Jamal found himself to have crawled to the lowest form of beggary, in search of nothingness. Deepest abjection manifested itself in a still cockroach and a youth he wanted to kill. This youth, a former student, had come to give him praise. Praise the Lord, the encomium encounter was interrupted by an insect.

“Hello,” Jamal said, not allowing his eyes to deviate from the sacred arthropod, making it seem as if he had begun a conversation with the would-be carcass of reason.

The youth too did not allow his eyes to drift. He did not answer. There was no need to. He felt a tinge of shame at the way this event had begun. His spine tingled because of the transfixed gaze; all the different scenarios he had imagined of this encounter ran through his head, echoed through his ears, but he couldn’t close his eyes.

Last night, as Jamal and the lady slept naked next to each other, she’d come near him as if to kiss him, but she would only smell his after-shave. Her inspiration started at his chin and went up to his ear. And he’d felt a need to write, preceded by a need to experience death.

Last night, words did not matter as much as the thoughts that blew like fierce winds between the streets of Hamra, blowing curtains, exposing damp rooms with wet whores and angry sisters. The thoughts blew through Jamal’s head like savage and ferocious winds without enunciation. Or to put it differently: a wave of thoughts trapped him in its undertow; he found himself unable to speak, unable to distinguish his necessity to write from his necessity to break free from the inspiration of the lady next to him. His ear trembled and cold shivers travelled down the side of his body. He lay in paralysis until the morning when the wind calmed; the bottle of wine beckoned in the absence of a rooster; he wore his tie like a tight noose and went out the door to meet his former student.

“Hello,” this time he said it in his mind. And he imagined his student’s reply.

“Hi,” his student would smile, “it’s been a very long time,” his student would say.

“Yes, six years to be exact,” Jamal would say, “You were younger, I was still fresh.” But no, too bleak. “You were younger, we were both younger.” Realism invades the imagination.

“I’m really glad I’m meeting with you today, I have amazing news to tell,” his student would say, and Jamal’s desire to kill him would grow strong with such a gleeful remark of the obvious.

“I figured so, I’ve heard rumours,” Jamal would say, ruining his student’s surprisal, ruining the crescendo his student had engineered, taking into account the random variables of human action.

“Oh,” the surprise would turn on his student, but the smile would not vanish, it would only lessen. “Then I guess you know, this will be my last summer here,” the student would say with sudden recalcitrance.

Jamal would nod and force a smile.

“I want to express my infinite debt to you,” the student would academically exclaim, but Jamal’s face would shrivel as if faced with a sublimely appalling nightmare. And Jamal would wonder, What happened to him? How did it ever come to this?

“Please don’t say this,” Jamal’s face would metamorphose into that of a therapist threatened with a knife by his patient. The student’s face would also turn rough, waiting for his mentor to continue speaking, perhaps another lesson? But when do we ever learn?

“Don’t look up to me,” fear into the eyes of the therapist. “Just do not. You did not reach where you are by looking up to me, but by doing the complete opposite.” A lesson would formulate: “The problem with our generation was that we looked up to people, and after the people left us or betrayed us, we still followed with still-born idealisms. Don’t be inspired by people. Be inspired by events, by happenings, by acts and performances. Do not follow, participate. Do not stand on the corner and wait. That’s all they do here. They stand still in anticipation, waiting to be given, never giving, never initiating, always following. They wait and then—


A waiter smashed the arthropod on the page; its limbs squashed resembling a gob of spit. It became formless on the page and its potential now became multiple: a spider, a cockroach, a caterpillar, a worm, goo…the mixture of all creation from which the universe takes its shape.

Jamal looked at his former student looking at him, realizing just now that they have not yet said a word to each other. He had lost track of time only to realize that now there was no time to lose. He saw the defilement he needed; the waiter granted him his desired death. He grabbed the white paper on which the formless death-rattle held the potential of a new idea, the mark of a painful birth, and went to the see the lady he left sleeping.

With trembling fingers his student turned the page.

by Alia Al Wahab

by Alia Al Wahab


Some Thoughts on Remembering the Lebanese Civil War, Literature, and History

  • The Civil War 

Fifteen years ravaged Lebanon under the unwitting clouds of a mindless civil war fueled by sectarian violence and geopolitical struggles which found their perfect battleground in the small patch of land on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. From 1975 to 1990, “144,000 killed; 184,000 injured; 130,000 kidnapped; and at least 17,000 missing…175 towns were partially or completely destroyed” (Ghosen & Khoury 382). Fifteen years and it ended in a hasty reconciliatory settlement named after the Saudi city in which it was agreed upon: the Ta’if accord. The consequences, however, of the Ta’if accord would include an amnesty law forgiving all (war) crimes committed before its date; and consequently, all the war lords, with large powers and larger egos now in their grip—they did not “lose” the war after all— constituted the political spectrum after the war, controlling the tripartite division of power. All will be well, it was thought. In other words, all shall be forgotten. This aim to forget shall not be read in any way other than an attempt to erase debt in an economy of guilt. If Nietzsche taught us anything, it is precisely that the interplay between debt and guilt are preserved through a strict mnemonic strategy for remembering.

The attempt to wipe out the restricted economy of debt failed. Residues—waste matter—were discarded and only came to sting back in the inevitable recoil of a general economy that subsumes exactly that which we wish to exclude. The assassinations and killings have since come back sporadically, like spasms of a revisiting trauma; simultaneously, a waste-garbage problem grew in the city in the form of large mountains of garbage along its seacoasts; if the nation could be read psychoanalytically, then calling-cards would’ve been an apt description of this phenomenon. In all cases, something was owed; something was forgotten, or better yet, repressed. (Is this not also the excessive charge which returns with Nada Sehnaoui‘s 2008 installation: “Haven’t 15 Years of Hiding in the Toilets Been Enough?)

Nada Sahnaoui

However, while politicians favored the suppression of the civil war, a budding civil society including artists and writers were challenging the forceful impression of collective amnesia supported by the unchanging political landscape. Experimental media and writing have emerged to challenge the status quo and present the subject of the civil war in strategic ways so as recuperate and fill the gap in Lebanon’s recent history: “This body of experimental media provides a critical historiography of Lebanon’s recent past, particularly in regards to the country’s fifteen-year civil war” (Westmoreland 176). These new ways battle the general status quo of Lebanon’s history as a land based on erasure and reconstruction:

Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk notes, the mythology of Lebanon’s history is premised on a recurrent destiny of destruction and revival. North of Beirut at Nahr al-Kelb (“Dog River”), “inscriptions, steles, cuniform reliefs and plaques” commemorate 2500 years of conquesting armies, from Nebuchadnezzar II to the British army in 1941 (53). The Lebanese spirit of rejuvenation that is quick to say “Beirut will rise again” fails to mention that by the same premise it will likely fall again, too. (Westmoreland 177)

This new trend of art readjusts the switchboard so as to disable an erasure and enable a re-memberance of the events of the civil war, a remembrance which disallows another famous dictum in Lebanon from happening: “history repeats itself.”

  • Architecture, Writing and Memory

“Both the novelist and the architect,” says Khoury in “The Memory of the City”, “sculpt the relationship between a space and its living memory” (142). This relationship is based on the Arabic literary tradition which etymologically links the word bayt—Arabic for house—with the verse of a poem. Accordingly, the rebuilding of the city is linked directly to writing. In other words, writing after the war in itself becomes a bildungsroman. However, the direction of architecture and that of the writer do not necessarily parallel each other, for as Khoury remarks, the reconstruction of Beirut involved an erasure of the past and a look to the future which forsake the present. Consequently, architecture effects a kind of cultural amnesia. On the other hand, writing emerges after the war as the only viable way of survival during as well as after the war. Therefore, even though there’s a relationship between architecture and writing in Arabic literary tradition, this relationship is an antagonistic one:

Where an architect works to establish differences, organize relationships, and define limits, a writer works to tear down these limits, to transcend definitions, to open spaces onto one another. As literature tries to carve doorways between the declared and the undeclared, architecture seeks to hang the doors which come between them. (Khoury, “The Memory” 139).

If architecture needs to destroy the ruins of the past in order to rebuild a future and/or a simulacrum of the past, writing, in a mythic sense, becomes the harbor for the memory of the past: “In this city systematically ravaged by civil war, the only space left for memory is literature” (Khoury, “The Memory” 139). In this distinction between architecture as the space for the future-to-be or the past-that-never-was and literature as the space for memory, Khoury is presenting his own critique of the reconstruction project of the post-war years: Given the polemics of reconstruction and deconstruction that the city’s architects and urban designers have introduced, Beirut may return, not as a city, but as a jail” (Khoury, “The Memory” 140). Architectural re-building becomes associated with a prison system to which writing stands in opposition. His argument is pivoted on this difference which subtly argues that the re-building of the city regenerates a myth which disregards the present and the recent past, namely the civil war and its remembrance. Faced with such an effacement of a traumatic period, the writer emerges as a survivor of and for memory. In other words, whereas architecture re-builds, literature re-members.  The very act of writing, however, should be done in a mythic discourse in order to allow the “civil war and its remembrance” to play a “role in the regenerated myth” (Khoury, “The Memory” 142).

  • Survival and Memory

In Politics of Friendship, Derrida posits: “Surviving – that is the other name of mourning whose possibility is never to be awaited. Nor does one survive without mourning” (Derrida 13). Perhaps, one can better understand this sentence if we refer to another book of Derrida, Demeure, in which he explains that “Death is not impossible but necessary, nor is death impossible and necessary, no, the impossible and the necessary are neither connected by an ‘and’ nor disconnected by a “but.” Death is, in a single stroke, the ‘impossible necessary’” (Derrida 47). Speaking on Blanchot, Derrida goes on to connect this impossible necessary death to Blanchot’s “unexperienced experience”. Connecting these two passages from Derrida, surviving, as living on after the possibility of death (and in its triggering of the possibility of mourning) becomes implicated in a temporal order which fuses past and future. Surviving, then, becomes exactly the living-on after the unexperienced experience in both cases: the survival of the experience of the unexperienced as well as the survival of the unexperienced in the experience. In other words, survival emerges as a co-lapsing of the immediate experienced past with the possibility of the unexperienced future: the co-lapsing of mourning with the possibility of your own death. As such, survival is distancing and keeping away from death while at the same time keeping it in sight. Freud writes on this relationship between survival and death in “Thoughts For Times On War and Death”:

“Man could no longer keep death at a distance, for he had tasted it in his pain about the dead; but he was nevertheless unwilling to acknowledge it, for he could not conceive of himself as dead. So he devised a compromise: he conceded the fact of his own death as well, but denied it the significance of annihilation…His persisting memory of the dead became the basis for assuming other forms of existence and gave him the conception of a life continuing after apparent death.” (Freud)

Through this Freudian intervention, we notice that death and its survival (or mourning) traverse both directions of the temporal arrow: the dead and the re-membering of the dead forces a future projection of one’s own survival after one’s inevitable unpexerienced experience of death. In Blanchotian terms, it can be said that this unexperienced experience occurs in the space between the living and the dead. The witnesses of the war, the fighters and the citizens don’t merely become post-war survivors, but wanderers between the living and the dead: undead people with broken subjectivities.

  • The Subjective Break and Fictional Histories

The subject is dialectically fluctuating between the symbolic that forces him to repress—not accept—and the Real—the events of History which the subject cannot grasp. However, the dialectical produces the subjective break that Deleuze and Guattari describe: “Like all other breaks, the subjective break is not at all an indication of a lack or need (manque), but on the contrary a share that falls to the subject as a part of the whole, income that comes its way as something left over…That is because breaks or interruptions are not the result of an analysis; rather, in and of themselves, they are syntheses. Syntheses produce divisions” (Deleuze and Guattari 44).  The syntheses of the dialectical relationship which constitute the subject, produces a disjointed subject, an inevitable multiplicity. Moreover, this multiplicity is indicative of a residue, of “something left over”; in other words, the unaccounted for waste of memory, history—the waste of the city. However, if “In this city systematically ravaged by civil war,” as Elias Khoury claims, “the only space left for memory is literature” (Khoury, “The Memory 139), then this literature is a schizophrenic one (in which syntheses are Deleuzian divisions) and traumatic (in which the memories are those of a Blanchotian unexperienced experience). A literature as a result of the dialectic between the Real and the Symbolic—History and the Law. The only way to historicize becomes through the writing of fiction. A history that is no longer straightly referential also requires a novel which is not straightforwardly referential—the historical novel becomes replaced by the traumatic novels such as Yalo. The only way to historicize and re-member is to do so immanently: in a time of lost referentiality, it is the return of the unexperienced, the repressed which indexes history, however fictional this representation of history may be.

Lebanese criminals order Dan Mcullun to leave or die when he saw the body of a young Palestinian Girl.

  • Sources:
  1. Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1st ed. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
  2. Derrida, Jacques, and Elizabeth Rottenberg. Demeure: Fiction and Testimony. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2000. Print.
  3. ————. The Politics of Friendship. 1st ed. London: Verso, 2005. Print.
  4. Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud . 1st ed. 14. London: Hogarth Press, 1966. Print.
  5. Ghosn, Faten, and Amal Khoury. “Lebanon after the Civil War: Peace or the Illusion of Peace?” Middle East Journal. 65.3 (2011): 381-397. Print.
  6. Khoury, Elias. “The Memory of the City.” Grand Street. 54.Autumn (1995): 137-142. Web. 25 Dec. 2012. <;.
  7. Westmoreland, Mark. “Catastrophic Subjectivity: Representing Lebanon’s Undead.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics. 30 (2010): 176-2010. Print.