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Downtown Beirut: A Sense of Disney

I urge you to check out the excellent article by Miriam Cooke, titled "Beirut Reborn: The Political Aesthetics of Auto-Destruction," The Yale Journal of Criticism, volume 15, number 2 (2002), 393-424.

She does a brilliant job at discussing the translocation of the war and its memory into downtown Beirut, which has become the center of Hariri's economic terrorism.

She provides a very interesting, innovative (although by no means comprehensive and often innocently (?) ignorant of the real politics and economics of the "reconstruction") analysis and critique of the translocation and transformation of the narrative of the war (or the wish to erase the memory thereof) -- through urban architecture. I will quote some bits and pieces which I have arranged thematically, but I recommend that you read the whole thing to make more sense of what she is trying to convey.

The Narrative
Stories were written to make sense of the chaos, to stand witness and thereby create conditions for the construction of a moral memory. Narrativity, Hayden White writes, is “the impulse to moralize reality, that is, to identify it with the social system that is the source of any morality that we can imagine.” That is why war stories are told and also why their authority has been so policed. Some, like male combatants, will be authorized, others, like female civilians, will not.
"Mobilized Amnesia"
After 1990, the fiction of morality was even harder to sustain. A tension arose between the need to forget this war, this bad patch in Lebanese history, and the need to remember in order not to repeat. Between forgetting and remembering comes a moment of crisis in representation. Such moments, Donna Haraway writes, can be both numbing and empowering because when “historical narratives are in crisis . . . something powerful—and dangerous—is happening. Figuration is about resetting the stage for possible pasts and futures.” The aftermath of the Lebanese war, stretching from 1990 until today, has produced just such a powerful and dangerous discursive moment that will dictate how the stage can be reset for possible pasts and futures.
Political-Economic Power: A Defensive Shield
The survival of this financial artery through the Burj “front,” both in fact and in memory ... complicates the telling of a moral story. It suggests that even in a place that was represented as the epicenter of lethal chaos there was control, and further, that those who made sure their buildings were spared might have other forms of power. These are the details that some want to forget.
Engineering Forgetfulness
First of all the extent of the war must be reduced and contained, even as the official war memorial is placed elsewhere. If the Downtown were to be remembered as the place of the war—its front—it would compel attention to that particular place, and it alone, as the site of immorality. With time and in the absence of a counter-narrative, this translocation of the war may succeed despite the fact that it was generally known that the Downtown was merely a stage on which confessional enmities were spectacularized while the real fighting happened elsewhere.
Silencing Collective Memories
If all the anarchy can be identified with this one location, it can be made to bear all the history.

The key then is to shape that history, transform it so that it will be useful and not continue to harbor unpredictable collective memories.
OGER & Solidere
The first level of destruction after the outbreak of violence was demolition work. Saree Makdisi writes that it is now known that between 1983 and 1992 there were cycles of demolitions in the Downtown, many of them unnecessary. The first demolitions were conducted in 1983 by Rafik Hariri’s engineering company, OGER. The pretext was to clean up the mess to enable reconstruction. The process “involved the destruction of some of the district’s most significant surviving buildings and structures . . . in total disregard for the then-existing (1977) plan for reconstruction, which had specifically called for the rehabilitation of those areas of the city center.” In 1984 fighting flared up again and destruction continued by other means.Two years later, a temporary calm allowed OGER to resume the demolition work they had started in 1983. In 1992, the year Hariri was first elected Prime Minister, the government called for further demolitions.
"A Sense of Disney"
The visitor to the new Downtown is struck first of all by a sense of Disney, or Epcot. SOLIDERE has created generic Arab Mediterranean facades. [The Master Plan] describes the Saifi and Jmaizi districts, the brand new pastel housing blocks, as “restored Levantine vernacular . . . carefully integrated.” [It] calls Saifi an “urban village” and although construction is clearly new, the Plan vaunts the “large number of existing buildings that have been retained.” The buildings in this formerly working class area resemble their antecedents. But not quite. And it is this “not quite” that is so important because it serves to cloud the memory. The slick lines and surfaces of housing blocks targeting the wealthy middle classes cannot harbor the unpredictable collective memories that lurked in the thick green of the weedchoked Downtown ruins.
Profit Without Guilt
SOLIDERE promised a return, a reversion to a pre-war past ... The promised return capitalizes on nostalgia for communal harmony and desire for profit without guilt or memory, in the hope that the repressed will not return.
"A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land"
SOLIDERE, too, is using the instrumentalities of the civil war to displace it from the country and scattered locations of its capital to the site of the Downtown and then elsewhere. It is erasing its traces by drowning them. SOLIDERE has bulldozed the debris into the sea, and is using the ruins to build a new foundation that no one can claim because the sea does not belong to anyone. According to Edward Said, the new colonizer claims, names, and inhabits the land said to be empty. The occupied land can then appear to be productive of culture. The new Downtown has been made to absorb the history of the war and in the process it has emptied it of meaning.
Resisting the Memory of the Forgotten
SOLIDERE’s inflated claims for a glorious history for the Downtown glosses over the war that is finished, and prepares a vision for a brilliant global future that will owe its regeneration to SOLIDERE ... It revives the regional past (Phoenician and Greek) to erase the local past (the war) and to launch this new Beirut into a global future. The war is over. A monument to a conventional (hence, moral) war has been built and installed somewhere in the mountains. The traces will soon be gone. It will no longer matter who was responsible for the war nor why it was fought.

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posted by Angry Anarchist @ 2/15/2007 06:56:00 PM,


At February 17, 2007 at 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Be careful in using Cooke. She is a complete reactionary. Most of the stuff she writes in this article is contrived (Disney) as well as stolen from other scholars. Whatever is redeeming about her article was already said by thinkers in the 1990s. She's a complete poser and like I said an UTTER reactionary in progressive clothes. Read her stuff closely. VERY pro-Lebanese nationalist. She uses VERY few primary sources and her relations to Solidere (despite her criticism of it) and those connected to it are very close. She really does not know much about Lebanon and few smart lebanese intellectuals respect her.

At February 17, 2007 at 10:12 AM, Blogger Angry Anarchist said...

Yes I am aware of her attitudes although I think you have gone a tad too far with the terminology you use to desscribe her.

That was not the point in the post though.

Sure, she does not even make a mention of the reality of Hariri's policies and solidere, however it was not for that aspect of solidere tht I posted this.

I think you did not get the point of the article -- or the reason I posted it. Perhaps you are not even aware of the terminology of the Humanities. ;) In which case I must recommend that you not call her reactionary if you did so for that reason.

Another thing-- something that "leftists" suffer from-- just because you don't agree with someone's general political views does not make EVERYTHING they say wrong/reactionary/etc.

At February 17, 2007 at 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the message. But be careful not to be too condescending. Indeed, she IS reactionary! I have a really radical friends who used to be there but if that is not enough ask the Anarchist group at Duke where she teaches. They have a lot to say about her. Their website is:
DON'T be patronizing and think just b/c someone is called a reactionary that this is a knee jerk response. That said, you might want to read the article a bit more closely yourself, including looking at the sources and HOW she got access to those sources!
I love your blog and keep up the struggle.

At February 17, 2007 at 7:31 PM, Blogger Angry Anarchist said...

I did not post the article as an "authority" on the matter. In fact, I would not need to post ANYONE's article on Solidere, I can do the bashing myself if that were the point.

I was not being condescending. However,I think you were being reactionary yourself ;) I did not say she was not a reactionary or that she is a great scholar. I already pointed out in the beginning of the post that she is ignorant of the realities of the Solidere (or is just ignoring them).

I have not read any of the articles that you say she plagiarized from, so I would not know frankly, and I have not read any articles on Solidere, but her approach is not economical nor is it related to social science, it is purely "Humanities" material. You might not have background in the Humanities, but I do, and I can say that this is the standard "style".

Thanks for the link btw.
And glad you like the blog.


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