Because sexual content is funny

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It seems the Lebanese intellectual society never ceases to insult itself ad infinitum. I went to see a play last week at Monot Theater. It was a Lebanese production with a compendium of star actors. My rant will exclude the level of professionalism of the said actors or how good the play itself was. I will thereby focus on the audience. It was a full house with the play entering its last week. No curtains opened and no audience applauded when the renowned and well-deserving Lebanese actor, Talal al-Jurdi, stepped on stage. I found that to be weird and even weirder when actress Rita Hayek came out and the audience roared. Funny! But no judgment. 

 

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The play exuded of sexual tension played out by all four actors. That in itself reflected brilliantly on the audience, specifically on the 60-something man in the row in front me. This was supposed to be a classy, well-cultured and well-read audience. Or so I thought. The brief tacky comments can be overlooked, it is the noises and the facial expressions of most of the men present which shocked me – and I still did not mention the old ladies present. We are a people still unable to take a work of art as art. We laugh whenever two kiss, turning each scene of one devoid of meaning save that hung to a kiss, a look, a gesture and an orgasm. That is the reaction by which we have received the introduction of man’s most natural of relationships into our art scene: a frustrated laughter. Let us all take lightly what is still a burden to us, what is still a taboo so much so we can do nothing when confronted with it other than burst in laughter. Let us dumb-down our cultural productions, by all means. 

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I was perplexed. Seriously? The old lady seated next to me gripped the seat then burst out laughing when the tormented free but lost soul, Georgie (played by Rita Hayek) jumps on the socially awkward and shy professor Andre (played by Talal al-Jurdie), trying to kiss him, trying to tell her own teacher that she wants him, trying to incite him to cheat on his fiancé, but most importantly attempting to simplify his reality to him and prove to him that he is no longer in love with his fiancé, that he is fighting the truest of his feelings and desires. It was a play between morality and desire and it was well-played. I will deny that the scene did hold something comical but the message was not to be responded to by a nervous exaggerated laughter. It was funny, period. Not that grip-the-seat-shift-position-cough-or-burst-out-laughing-funny. No! not at all. It was as if the audience was awaiting these kisses and sexual encounters more than the actual development of the plot. I was disappointed and in fact was most of the time preoccupied with the audience’s reaction than with what was going on on stage.

Then he messaged her feet and what does the old do? He moaned. And let your imagination crawl on the walls if it has to. You can only imagine what he did when he rushed to the bathroom during intermission.

What I am trying to say, and I do not know whether I was justly able to do so, is that that audience was no way short of being termed idiotic, ignoramuses in suits and heels. I might be exaggerating but I am commenting on what I had seen that night. I insist that last week’s audience should not be and is not to be representative of the whole cultured Lebanese society. I refuse to be associated with this type of audience as I believe most of today’s theater-goers would, at least I hope so. 

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Aside

review of sense of ending

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I had heightened expectations for Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending following my reading of his 1989 novel History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. I won’t deny that I was a bit disappointed. I had expected it to contain a bit more of something I am yet unable to name. All what I am certain of is that there is something missing and this feeling of lack only increases along with the number of pages. What I can admit, without any doubt or reluctance, is that the Barnes who had written History has changed so much today. I will not get into the controversy around him winning the Booker Prize in 2011; that is a different argument altogether.

The Sense of an Ending is a story about history and time. One senses a perpetual effort throughout the book to define time or history; the protagonist, Tony, even narrates backwards.The book starts with a memory and before Tony sets out to tell us what really matters, what the story is really about — there are constant moments which he evokes only to assert that they are not part of the story — he takes us back to his childhood. He seems keen on asserting his “incompetence,” if that is an accurate word to use in his case, at understanding or comprehending other people’s behavior and attitude. However, he does accentuate an intellectual tick, especially as an adolescent:intellectual his conversations with his friends, his impression about Adrian, his analyses on situations, which are sometimes “philosophically self-evident, as he keeps saying, his choice of books and so on. However, there is a perpetual feel throughout the book that the three friends live in Adrian’s intellectual shadow, they feed off of him, compete for his attention and approval.

Though their relationship with Adrian is integral to understanding Tony in the first degree, it is not the whole story. The reader finds out that Tony is a confused person, attempting all the while to understand why people treat him the way they do, amid feelings of doubt, remorse, and self-pity. He simply does not want to hurt anyone ever again, as he exclaims toward the end of the book.

I don’t know how accurate it is to claim that the level of depth with which Barnes handles the concepts of time, history, and memory is capricious, in a constant flux, once in depth and at other in complete naivety. There were also instances where I felt it to be rather too cheesy, resembling those highly emotional self-help text books. At some point toward the end of the book, as Tony starts to understand what he has been missing, or made to miss thereof, he wonders, “How often do we tell our own life story? How often we adjust, embellished, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fever are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but –mainly — to ourselves” (95).

In one sense or another, his perpetual state of self-pity irritated me, and at times made me wish him the worst, as if he deserved everything that is happening to him; it was expected that such a character would have such an ending. We anticipated his ending, we felt that sense of ending from the start. Maybe that was Barnes’ intention, though I believe there is a different and deeper side of the story.

“It seemed to me that we ought occasionally to be reminded of instability beneath our feet,” he says. This line definitely caught my attention. It is beautiful! Yet, Tony’s instability gets to the reader as fast as it gets to him.

In school, their history class debated the most accurate definition of history.

We could start, perhaps, with the seemingly simple question, What is History? Any thoughts, Webster?’

‘History is the lies of the victors,’ I replied, a little too quickly.

‘Yes, I was rather afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated. Simpson?’

Colin was more prepared than me. ‘History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.’

‘For what reason?’

‘It just appears, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this year. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.’

‘Rather a lot for a sandwich to contain, wouldn’t you say?’

[…]

‘Finn?’

‘‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’’ (17)

As the story unfolds and the older Tony starts narrating his present in view of his past, rather than his past, his view of history changes. “I survived,” he writes. “He survived to tell the tale’ — that’s what people say, don’t they? History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (56).

Then still further into the novel, Tony gives a more personal perception of what constitutes history and time:

Perhaps I just feel safer with the history that’s been more or less agreed upon. Or perhaps it’s that same paradox again: the history that happens underneath our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent. We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history — even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it? (60)

However, it seems rather ironic, or maybe predictable, that Tony would reach a conclusion such as the one he proclaims at the end of the book. He says, “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (150). Should I take this statement sarcastically? A huge part of me wants to consider this conclusion a cynical and witty one, but there is a tiny voice battling that.

I think it is worth mentioning, that Tony’s instability which the reader feels and touches is demonstrated, not only in the events taking place or his internal monologues or even his own actions and their consequence, in other words, not only through the plot, but also through the form of the narrative itself. From page 56 onward (part two of the book), I felt that the narrative became more broken, more fragmented than it was before. The fragments were shorter and jumped from one place to another in a different manner than they did in the first part.

Tony’s remembrances and the way he invokes his memories in a mixture of nostalgia and defeatism. He seems to be berating himself and the lifestyle he has led.

I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when i grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However … who said that thing about ‘littleness of life that art exaggerated’? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.

But time … how time first grounds us and then confound us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical. (93)

The second kind of memory present is tinged with nostalgia and a constant doubt that memories are truly memories rather than a recreation of a nostalgic and emotional subject. Tony exclaims, “We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time” (63).

Not quite the end

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The city is not as gloomy as it seems, the head held up high whenever one walks to lift one’s heart.
It’s humid and sticky this time of year around, such weather seems infested with skirmishes and quarrels,
A myriad of collective misunderstandings and edginess during the day, endless laughter and drunkenness during the night.
The rest is spent suspended on swings of mood, slumber, and sometimes helplessness.
There is always space for dreams and nightmares alike, depending on your temperament, attitude, and judgment — and occasionally, belonging.
In a city so laden with history, its inhabitants live in time;
Some are frozen in it, others captivated by the fact that it either goes too fast or too slow. And there are some who are haunted by it, by the past which they’ve internalized and now mistake it for a present, by a present which is never present and a future they are fighting for, for its visibility before its contingency.
Such is the case of many and the narrated story of few.

Becoming Lebanese

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Note: I apologize for the long quote and thank a friend for inspiring the title (I borrowed it from one of his tweets).

We often hear that we tend to take life too seriously, that we are uptight and should relax, chill, take it easy, be more down to earth.

But after yesterday, I do tell you we are definitely taking life lightly; we belittle what it means to ‘live.’ We quote out desire for life in colored slogans instead.

We made life cheap.

It sounds sort of pathetic, vulgar and pathetic even that no amount of words or volumes thereof would give it justice.

That promise of patriotism we convince ourselves we have taken is nothing more than a farce.

Patriotism is neither in this camp nor in that.

Patriotism does, in no way, entail the willingness to fire a bullet at random, or to turn against a friend, or a neighbor, or sell our souls, minds, and bodies to the devil, be it Israel, Iran, Syria, KSA or whatever country, just fill in the blanks there.

Patriotism does not entail founding and operating your own military squad, or appointing yourself the guardian of security and peace, or naming your camp a nation. We are not in an American movie. It does not make you own the right to grant life or give it away, to terrorize and plunder, to exterminate our finest men then belittle their worth. Patriotism does not favor the life of a high status figure over its citizens and it certainly does not leave those hundreds of traumatized homeless and injured children to pause (or is it pose?) for reflection and retrospection, for calculations and political gimmicks.

Patriotism is not a mind game nor does it entail underestimating anyone’s intelligence. No one is stupid anymore.

Patriotism is not a mutated and brainwashed belief in one’s country; it is not the obliteration of thought and the eradication of values.

It is definitely not turning against your own kind, your own species; it is not becoming inhumane.

It is a disgrace what we have come to.

But it is also our fault.

In Arabic there is a saying: كما أنتم يولّى عليكم, which means you are only ruled by the likes of you.

We vote, each year.

We participate in political festivals, meetings and celebrations. We belong to political and religious groups.

We are blindly driven by beliefs, creeds and ideologies.

We follow. We never were leaders of our own selves, minds and sentiments.

Now tell me, objectively, where did we go wrong?

Instead of revolting against a system you have made, revolt against the selves which bore them, revel against who and what you were when you chose to forgo who you really are because you’re too lazy to ‘think’ and be yourself; because it is easier to follow the crowd.

Maybe it is high time we educate ourselves and tame our animalistic  temperament and remember a few words Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself, all others are taken.”

It is time you revel and expel the clutter of selves infested within you. It is time we ‘become’ Lebanese, to quote my intelligent friend.

 

 

 

Another masquerade

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A word. Countries have lived and died, were built and destroyed, by one word. Respect for human beings and their intelligence in the first degree constituted the politics of many a powerful nation.
But today, we do things differently. Modernity have proclaimed that we lose our values alongside our humanity, we either become barbarians or mere comatosed sheep – robots in either option.
Today, we no longer have the patience to make leaders kneel through silence and pacific protests, we no longer believe in the power of the word. I confine my statement today to the case and context of Downtown, Beirut today, Oct. 21, 2012. Facing a silent assassin, a camouflaged murderer, we will not turn into thugs, that will only make us no different from the very low-lives we are fighting against.
In 2005, I was among those who called for the truth, who chose life. It took me a year after that to realize that the side I have taken does not represent me. Today, especially today, neither side represents me still. But I do have the intelligence and the brains to know what is right. How to act? I want lots of things. I do want to bring this government down, but I do not want the proposed alternative. I do want change but it is not through the potential of either camps.
Today I was ashamed to say I belonged to a people who turned a funeral procession (a tragic occasion) into a festival, a celebration of political muscles, a stage for speeches of hate and accusation. I might agree with who March 14 believes is doing the killings. But I certainly do not agree with how they choose to act their beliefs out, how each politician manages his affairs or how their followers refuse to think and merely choose to follow. I am not even mentioning March 8 for apparent reasons within the context of what I am saying. I have always refrained from posting political entries. But today might have changed things. I do believe there is no grey area in politics. It is either black or white. I still believe so. I do however believe that politics is a dirty game and all politicians are liars, counterfeiters and corrupt par excellence, no matter the side they belong to. This is simply what they do. I refuse to be anyone’s Frankenstein, anyone’s herd or experiment. I refuse to rent out, or even sell out, my mental capabilities to any political figure. I am smart and intelligent and refuse to give that up. I refuse to allow anyone to label me anything other than a free thinking Lebanese. So all I am trying to say today, is shame on everyone who threw not a stone or a stick but a wrong glance at the ISF protecting the Serail, on everyone who selfishly helped turn a sad moment into a despicable riot. We all want justice and freedom, but not like that. God bless the martyrs who paid the price of external and internal conspiracies and all the innocent civilian souls who always pay the price. What is even worse is that this time, the wrong time and place were home.

Naked Lunch

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“He was in a great cone spinning down to a black point.” Allow me to make an exception and start my mini review with a quote. So far, 42 pages of Makes Lunch by William S. Burroughs are enough to prepare me for the kind of read I have waiting for me. To be more accurate, the title alone and the fact that Burroughs wrote this while high were a cue by themselves spiking my interest in this book. This is no Alice in Wonderland . Psychedelic par excellance in vulgar terms, it “messes,” to avoid using an uncivil word, with your mind. Certainly not an easy read, but one that should not be missed.

From one bibliophile to another…

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Jacques Bonnet lives up to his reputation as novelist, translator and a manic bibliophile through his book Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Originally written in French, this book expands the tale of one bibliophile to many others, allowing the readers hearty peeks into their bookshelves, their patterns and habits of collecting, buying and selling, and obtaining books as well as the art of reading them. Reading in this book takes the very act into a different level, the jouissance inherit in reading itself. No longer is the term reading self-evident; rather  it is orgasmic, addictive. It is a life and a career of its own, it is writing and breathing and living. And I relate.

Bonnet satiates the thirst of literature and book lovers through valuable literary anecdotes. His accounts are both informative and charming (if you are a book lover, expect a few Goosebump-y episodes every now and then). Bonnet tells it all: from organizing your bookshelves and creating an exclusive system, to the difference between real/fiction characters and the author, to the tales and habits of reading, writing, record-keeping and library collections. The book is an easy, fast and enjoyable read of 123 pages distributed among 9 chapters.

Bonnet tells us that reading is a conversation with the past, a walk down a Borges-ian labyrinth or a Zafon-ian cemetery of forgotten books. It is a lively experience, a meeting with the dead and the great, (not in such a disturbing manner as this sentence conveys).

Bonnet quotes the author of Les Fous Litteraires (Literary Madmen), Andres Blavier in a splendid quote which reads:

“What bliss it is, after a day in a city you have always meant to visit, as you sit in your hotel room at the end of the afternoon, working through the books, postcards and brochures destined to find their way to your bookshelves, all giving you the comforting feeling that you are taking home some tangible elements of what has already become the past! It gives you the impression of lost time, whereas everything else, the emotions and sensations of the journey, will be fleeting memories.”

On another note, Bonnet also shares his own experience with writing, reading and book-collecting, allowing us to trace the contours of that obsession and relating it, in its manifold of layers, to our own, hidden or explicit. He admits that he would never have compiled the amount of books he has now had he been born in the internet generation. He writes:

“Oddly enough, the infinite source of information which the internet provides does not have the same magical status as my library. Here I am in front of my computer, I can look up everything I want, jumping even further in time and space than through my books but there’s something missing: that touch of the divine. Perhaps it’s something physical: I’m only using my fingertips: the whole process is outside me, going through a screen and a machine. Nothing like these walls lined with books which I know – almost – by heart. On one hand, I feel as if I have a fabulous artificial arm, able to move about in that interstellar space outside, while on the other, I am inside a womb whose walls are my book-lined shelves – the archetype in literature would be inside Nautilus [sic.] 20,000 leagues under the sea. As you see, it is not always a rational matter.”

Bonnet’s Phantoms of the Bookshelves also credits the genius of great writers, collectors and thinkers, while all the while, intentionally or not, sharing valuable titles and recommendations. After 123 pages, I came to be reminded of another similar and valuable book about books, reading, collecting and the internet age by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere, This is not the End of the Book; is a conversation curated by Jean-Philippe De Tonnac. Both books are a must on every bookshelf.

I own a chair with wheels and I know how to use them!

I  have no wish, nor do I possess the temper, to sit straight in my chair, without fail, un-doubtful, un-fidgety, unnerved. My chair has wheels which demand attention. And I will never deny them their rights. So if you may, you might want to consider moving sideways just a little bit as I roll past.
I will refrain from hurtful jargon, but I do wish to make a point here. As un-unique and mundane an idea it is to possess a chair on wheels, I beg  to argue that my chair is nothing close to blekh-ness. I do not mean, God forbid that it is trendy or funky, or even fashionable. No. It is far from stardom or the tedious life of a celebrity. What it is however is much much simpler than that; it is wild (as in its wheels run out of control every time you feel gracious enough to give them a little bit more liberty), comfortable, and convenient. What it is not is cheap. While it does roll out of control most of the times to be fair, my rolling chair is something of a genius. But enough of that. Let us talk about those wheels. I am dying to talk about those wheels.
With the new trend of tire-burning and tire-blocking the streets and highways of Lebanon, every minute someone sneezes in the wrong direction, I feel invincible in my chair on wheels (size does not matter after all, though we might face what you might call an inconvenience regarding a miscalculated road length vs. tire-coverage, my statement still stands). Yup! I am invincible.

In Italiano, per cortesia

Qualche volta, sento il bisogno di avere una conversazione con il mio specchio. 

Non sono matta! Lo faccio con una convizione di sanita` mentale; un monologo interno che scelgo di fare ad alta voce. 

Oggi, il mio specchio non e` contento. Dice che per lui ho dei problemi. Penso che abbia ragione, ma non ho detto niente. Ho guardato bene il mio viso, in silenzio. Ho voluto sentire cio` che il mio specchio voleva dirmi. 

“Ho, solamente, una cosa da dirti,” mi ha detto. “Ascolta bene.”

“Ascoltare che cosa?” gli ho risposto. 

“La piccola voce dentro la tua testa.”

“Quale voce?”

“Ascolta bene e basta.”

Per questa ragione, ho passato tutta la mattina ad ascoltare ogni piccola voce che potevo sentire: nel parco mentre leggevo, mentre facevo un giro in bicicletta, mentre guidavo la mia macchina nel traffico, mentre pranzavo con i miei amici, e anche mentre guardavo le notizie alla TV.

In altre parole, quando ero sola o con qualcuno, facevo del mio meglio per seguire il consiglio del mio specchio. 

Ho ascoltato, ma non ho sentito neinte. 

Alla fine della giornata, ho avuto un enorme mal di testa per aver ascoltato, contemporaneamente, tutte le voci del mondo. 

In quel momento specifico, ho odiato il mio specchio, e anche parlargli. Stasera e` la sera nelle quele ho deciso di romperlo a pezzi, o forse solamente stoccando del muro per non vedere piu`. 

A million little pieces

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Picture taken at Tate Modern, installation by Japanese Artist Kusuma. 

And if it were a moon-lit night and your face shone beneath the velvet that were my eyes, would you still call it a romantic cliche?

Would you still halt to ponder the right from the desire, the light from the fire, the sir from the sire, the maiden from the squire?

Would you still assume ignorance in matters of the heart and declare the victory of your wit?

Would you not surrender for at least a while before you discover that you have done so for your lifetime?

But you are immortal, and matter merely dissolves to be absorbed by another as your memory stretches till the end of time and back. You have created a cycle and you fell prey to your wit. For you have achieved so much and drawn the course of a lifetime for little minuscule chemicals running wild within all gray and white matter; those you thought you were protecting, defending, fighting for against two or three million atomic and molecular attacks.

You have failed and in your failure you have triumphed.