– Spring 2014

Tony Chakar: To Speak Shadow

Tony Chakar, Et in Arcadia Ego, 2012, collage. Courtesy the artist

Empires collapse. Gang leaders

Are strutting about like statesmen.

The peoples

Can no longer be seen under all those armaments.

So the future lies in darkness

and the forces of right

Are weak. All this was plain to you

When you destroyed a torturable body.

— Bertolt Brecht, ‘On the Suicide
of the Refugee W.B.’1

As survivors of the First War (1975—90),2 we know that we owe our survival to nothing but blind, dumb luck. We were not saved by divine interventions brought by our mothers’ prayers; we were not spared because of the amount of prudence and suspicion that we exercised during that day that lasted fifteen years; and our infinite calculations to remain safe did nothing more than help us pass the time. Sheer blind, dumb luck: that’s what it was.

As witnesses of the First War, all we can do now is witness. And we witness, and we see the head of the beast rising again, but we are powerless to stop it. We tried 
to speak, but our words fell in front of us,
 at our feet, and never reached their target. We tried to speak only to discover that the language we were using had been destroyed during the wars, but we persisted, and

  1. Bertolt Brecht, ‘On the Suicide of the Refugee W.B.’, Poems 1913—56 (ed. John Willett, Ralph Manheim and Erich Fried, trans. John Willett), London: Methuen, 1979, p.363; also available at http://khidr.tumblr.com/post/24504299179/on-the-suicide-of-the-refugee-w-b-walter-benjamin (last accessed on 12 October 2013).

  2. What is usually called the Lebanese Civil War is a series of wars and occupations that took place between 1975 and 1990. The war was declared officially over in 1990 after the Taif Agreement, signed in the winter of 1989. Nonetheless, the Israeli occupation lasted until 2000, and the Syrian occupation until 2005, and — more importantly — the period since 1990 is often referred to by local writers as a ‘cold civil war’. The Lebanese have still not agreed on how the civil war started, what caused and sustained it or how it ended. My expression ‘the First War’ anticipates a second war yet to come.

  3. Abū al-‘Alā' al-Ma‘arrī, lament for the Faqih Al Hanafi Al Halabi, available at http://www.sma-b.net/vb/archive/index.php/t-3456.html (last accessed on 12 October 2013). Translation the author’s.

  4. Translation the author’s from the Arabic, available at http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1173877 (last accessed on 12 October 2013). See also Muhyiddin Ibn ’Arabī, Kernel of the Kernel (trans. Ismail Hakki Bursevi), Sherborne: Beshara Publications, 1981.

  5. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), Illuminations (ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), New York: Schocken Books, 1968, p.255, also available at http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html (last accessed on 12 October 2013).

  6. Paul Celan, ‘Speak, You Too’, Selections (trans. and ed. Pierre Joris), Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, p.54, also available at http://somepoems.livejournal.com/9176.html (last accessed on
12 October 2013).