Theses Doctoral

Memory in Ruins: The Poetics of Atlal in Lebanese Wartime and Postwar Cultural Production

Khayyat, Yasmine

This dissertation examines the convergence of ruins and memory. It is an inquiry into the role ruins play in indexing, impeding and enabling memories of war through literary and non-literary media. My analysis is informed by a classical Arabic literary tradition of contemplating ruins. I question the nexus between the ruins motif and contemporary Arabic literature and culture by analyzing how the motif is reworked in the contemporary Lebanese prose, poetry and memorial sites under study.
At the heart of this study is an attempt to explore the multivalent nature of war memories in Lebanon--their inscription, mediation, and transformation--through the framework of ruins. Drawing on the classical Arabic literary tradition of contemplating ruins allows me to analyze the way ruins are interpreted and represented in contemporary Lebanese vernacular, literary, museological and poetic matrixes of memory. I argue that these modern works invite us to contemplate ruins in new and challenging ways that exceed the classical regard and longing for an ephemeral past. This is to suggest that the classical Arabic ruins motif in its modern guise is not an organic offshoot of its pre-Islamic predecessor. Through their evocation of the past via its ruin-traces, the modern works under examination effectively transform the poetics of nostalgia to new affective and alternative imaginary spaces. It is precisely in the creative tension between the traditional and the modern, the real and the imagined ruins, where a contemporary poetics of memory lies.
Central to my analysis, then, is the issue of memorialization in its aesthetic, textual and material dimensions as it informs the critical practices of writers, artists, poets, museum curators and inhabitants of war. Ruins emerge as a major trope that ties together divergent artistic, literary and cultural and oral practices, constituting complex forms that generate public and private memories of war. Hence ruins as temporal anchor, is both the portal and the substance of my inquiry into the dialectics of war and memory in Lebanon. How are ruins, in their material and aesthetic dimensions, enfolded into the discourses of textual, vernacular and literary landscapes of memory? This question is answered by commencing a textual and ethnographic journey through museum sites, derelict spaces, narrative and poetic constructions of memory.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Al-Musawi, Muhsin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 27, 2017