Abbas Baydoun - Culture and Arts: Re: The Actual
Duration: 01:00:13; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 36.656; Saturation: 0.096; Lightness: 0.084; Volume: 0.073; Cuts per Minute: 0.647; Words per Minute: 78.064
Summary: About the lecture:
We pass, along with the rest of the world, on to a post-modernity, silently, with no preliminaries and as if divorced from the cultural; a mere development, direct, literal and technical.
In these parts modernity carries a load of theoretical and intellectual pronouncements for us. It started as a project for change, albeit unclear. At that time, it seemed that modernity was not a historical process, but rather a value in itself, actually by mere faith, in itself an instigator of social transformation and not their result. Modernity was held as a private myth and a contemporary religion, while the transition to a post-modernity remains on the other hand unfounded in that which precedes it. It is a leap, unconnected to a cultural memory. One can say that the frustration of modernity returns. Yet, the philosophical preliminaries to post-modernity loom as more difficult. For the difficulty lies in finding an intellectual project for post-modernity; in finding a culture of post-modernity that is not simply an array of disconnected domains, techniques, and artistic manifestations which would constitute a situation that is contrary to the principle of post-modernity.
About Abbas Baydoun:
Abbas Baydoun was born in 1945 in the village of Ch'hour in the region of Tyre, south Lebanon. For a period, he was preoccupied with leftwing political activities, which prevented him from publishing. He was incarcerated and tortured. He wrote and published successively: "Tyre, time in Big Gulps", "Visitors of First Rain" followed by "Hunting Proverbs", and preceded by "Glass Cemeteries" then "Critique of Pain", "Rooms", "This cup's vacuity", "Brothers of our remorse", "To a patient that is hope", "Uttered in the cold". Aside from poetry, he also writes literary and art criticism, and is finalizing a novel to be published by Al Rayess Press. He edits the cultural supplement of the daily Al-Safir in Beirut. His poetry has been translated into English, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Catalan. His collection Tyre has been translated into french and was published by Actes Sud.
Audience coming in the theatre attending the lecture and the opening of The Home Works I.
Christine Tohme the curator of The Home Works and the director of Ashkal Alwan presenting The Home Works and Abbas Baydoun.
C: Beirut 2002, Ashkal Alwan with its 5th project, a forum on cultural pratices in the region, The Home Works.
Many of you got to know Ashkal Alwan in its previous activity based on the public space and the cultural exchange between Lebanon and the neighboring countries.
Today, after the experience of 7 years, we're entering through a different phase, starting from a which is trying to create links with the neighboring countries, living now excatly a state of total ceasure due to the political situations that controlled us for a long time and for several years.
This forum, for Ashkal Alwan is an attempt to create an exchange network between those countries that may share the same worries or may have common questions.
I welcome all the presence, the forum guests and participators, especially Issam Nassar who came from Ramallah, Jad Barzakhian from Jerusalem, Khalil Rabah from Ramallah. Thank you.
Good evening. Abbas Baydoun is a Lebanese writer, to specify, from the South, who gave many goods to the culture with many books like, Tyre, Visitors of First Rain, Glass Cemeteries and Critique of Pain.
Aside from poetry Abbas Baydoun writes literary and art criticism; of course we can read his writings in Assafir paper since he's editor of the cultural page. The title of our encounter today with him is:
"Culture and Arts; Re:The Actual",
Good evening. I thought i was going to be the only person in here, because i wrote this text and because it was agreed that i'll be here. Since there's many people that came, we can share the mistake and its reward
or to exchange something, i don't know what it may be, but most probably all together we can exchange something starting with friendship and ends with incapabilty, two things that are the same in this moment.
And to all our feelings (...) i don't know if talking about art is the appropriate thing to say yet i don't find another appropriate talk, i'm not sure if the moment is right or the wrong one, probably the appropriate moment is the one we decide, and since we all came to listen to something about art (...) and it may be right. Thank you.
Culture and Arts; Re:The Actual
Once, while visiting an exhibition of the work of a well-known Lebanese artist, I saw an assortment of paintings some inspired by Pissarro and Monet, some which flirted with Cubism and abstraction, and others reminiscent of the Cobra.
When I asked the artist about this, he answered by saying that, for him, different situations and various moments push him to Impressionism, while others push him towards Cubism and the Cobra.
The work of the past 150 years lies before him; and he has only to consult his whim to know what to choose and how to approach it.
Of course, not all exhibitions are like this; and, this comic scene does not occur frequently. Nevertheless, we have heard artists saying that they have painted similarly to Matisse and Miro, without their knowledge, and without the knowledge of Matisse and Miro.
Neither they nor their audience is naïve, but such an issue is like a secret bank account that cannot be revealed;
there is a secret account between the world and us, and it had better stay like this.
Though this comic scene does not occur frequently, its logic is prevalent. There's a feeling that the world is our country, and that we are born and begin as internationalists.
Our painters hold dialogues with Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard and Rauschenberg; our poets hold dialogues with Perse, Lorca, Eliot, Ritsos and Nietzsche; our novelists hold dialogues with Kundera, Suskind and Rushdie; and our critics are the brothers of Bakhtin, Genette and Barthes.
We are born internationalists, by international standards and international conditions and with an international outlook.
This internationalism of ours is instinctive, and is perhaps akin to the Lebanese ability for adaptation and movement.We are cultural nomads, never settling in a single place, ceaselessly wandering among the oases of modern art and culture.
This is the instinct of our internationalism, as much as it is an extreme lightness and transience.We are unique among the Arabs in not possessing a constrictive local self;
and we are nearly alone among those whose local self is playful and uninhibited, marrying and adhering to whatever it encounters, and not finding difficulty in accepting the fragrances and colours of others.
We can talk here with a certain measure of respect about a snobbish disposition. I say with a 'measure of respect' if we understand snobbism as the capacity of playing with many faces and adhering to different types and models,
a capacity for being estranged from the self or considering it an outfit like any other outfit, a face like any other face, and in the end, a role like any other role.
I neither reject nor rebut this snobbish disposition, which I might find healthier than an obsessive neurosis that grips the self and the world with endless reinstatements, repetitions and fixations.
I do not rebut because I am not dealing here with the duality of identity and alienation, although I may appear to be doing so.
I am talking about a psychological, rather than an ideological, difference.
I speak of the difference between happy wandering and obsession – a difference between two dispositions, the first for play, reincarnation and identification;
and the second for repetition and fixation. Wandering is probably not alienation, for alienation is a more serious affair than this rapid movement that does not bear inquiry, scrutiny and comprehensiveness, and pursues instead disarrayed images and titles.
It is satisfied with trademarks and labels, and is not concerned with structures and particularities, while repetition and fixation are involuntary urges that are incapable of producing an identity,
as long as they are negative to the extent that they do not produce anything, and as long as identity is a designation for the future and not just an invitation for the past,
a work-in-progress more than a ready-made, a complex idea more than a self-repeating movement.
For we often forget that identity, like nationalism, is a contemporary requirement and a modernist attitude.
For the moment, and only for purposes of classification, I speak of two dispositions, one of which crowds us with images, methodologies, styles and suggestions without necessarily making a place.
For this crowdedness is a product of the touristic intellect and the distinct imagination, and a consequence of unstoppable movement and of ceaseless roaming.
The second disposition leans more towards isolation, minimisation, confinement and solitude.
What it singles out and insists upon becomes, through repetition, insistence and corroboration, an impassioned sentiment... and becomes elevated to gems, pillars, glorifying appellations, totems and taboos.
Two dispositions: The first playful and roaming, fascinated by the world, by beauty and by appearances;
the second inclined towards settlement, economy and dryness.The first is frequently connecting and disconnecting, getting attached to styles, methods and modes under the influence of a fleeting fascination that rapidly gets bored and fulfiled and moves to other places;
and the second is loyal and persistent. For loyalty and persistence also entail heaviness, boredom and sluggishness.
The first does not find a medium between itself, the world and the other; the second is more firmly established, slower in its movement.
The first is creative because of levity and instant improvisation; and the second makes more than it creates, and makes with capable hands and established custom, practice and skillfulness.
The first, colourful, phosphorescent, embellished, elegant and stylised; the second, more materially substantial and less seductive.
The first, promiscuous and playful – having the air as its horizon, the wind as its imagination; the second, earthly, with a fondness for mud and details.
For classification purposes only, there appear to be two; but, in reality, there are more than two dispositions. When simplified, they appear opposed to each other;
but in fact, they are two temperaments that attract, intersect and compliment each other simultaneously.
But if we go back to the 'internationalism of Lebanese art' that we call instinctive, we will find that the temperament and disposition of Lebanese art are closer to the first inclination;
for this art is open almost unconditionally to the world and is a direct inheritor of a century and a half of Western art.
It contains fluidity, a congestion of images and inspirations, continuous stylistic shifts, excessive stylisation, elegance, synthetic prudence and a symmetrical spirit.
It is also a colourful, clean art averse to the literary subject – indeed to every subject – to every odd expression and to every distinct idea.
The pretense of internationalism in Lebanese art relieves us from having to think about art.
We do not need to think about what others have thought about and have concluded upon, as we only need to rely on the result and the application and be satisfied with the resulting forms and not the driving questions, with styles, techniques and methods, without the theory and the philosophy.
And so, this internationalism sets a link made of forms and techniques between the world and ourselves and allows the import of these forms and techniques regardless of their culture and their concomitant questions.
We have become as skilled with these techniques and styles as if they were our own, even though we are unconcerned with their questions.
Thus, we can say that our arts are mostly technical and that they are based on skills and practice rather than on experiments and positions.
Craft is in one place and the question in another. Through this, we can understand how much stylistics, formalism, skill and technique there are in these arts. This willingness to reproduce the international trademark, without its questions and its requirements, is present not only in this art, but also in poetr y, novels, theatre and music.
We have often practiced forms and techniques in dismantling time, alienating narrations, composing in whites and reproducing display, without seeing in that more than free forms and formal suggestions that we practice as stylistic expressions only,
unaware of their philosophy, culture and vision, and unaware of what they embody in terms of requestioning the conceptions and purpose of art and its connection to the transformations of the world and culture.
If we acknowledge that the philosophy of art is an inseparable part of modern art itself, and that forms with their reasons to be and their cultural and theoretical justifications are in the end cultural responses – if we acknowledge that – then we would understand that we produce an art which is cut-off from its culture, thus transforming the international trademark into an art without a culture.
Silent, technical art is transformed into a stylistic contest, to an art that is less innovative and less daring than we think.The stylistic contest employs a measure of visual deception, using bedazzlement, elegance, symmetry and seduction as its tools.
There is an elegance, fluidity and kindness in every work, even those that appear, at the first instance, to be simply improvising or negligent.
Our art, which leans towards excessive colourfulness and synthetic balance, may find some justification in the Paris school.
But, it conceals its own convictions through that scarcity of its requirements and its immersion in its formalism. Contrary to appearances, this art is not disposed towards actual innovation;
the mark of innovation is stronger than innovation itself. The generosity with which forms and colours are dispensed often conceal excessive stylicism, synthetic caution and formal balance;
it conceals an obvious care in treating the eye kindly and a wariness of provoking it. To many
people, innovation appears to be an art that is synonymous with fluidity and bedazzlement;
and for that, we rely less on negligence, disorder and discolouration in our art.We did not celebrate Surrealism because it dealt with expression and ideas;
and expression and thought disrupt the balance and fluidity of our paintings.
We did not take interest in assemblage and pop-art; and we accepted them unwillingly and often sought in them a stylicism and an embellishment that do not fit with their initial principles and starting points,
wasting the idea of finding an art that iconises the ordinary, the ready-made and the artificial, and that draws on sources outside art. Our response to pop-art and assemblage seems to indicate that we did not really accept them, and sought to trim the non-artistic materials of their usefulness and ordinariness, and incorporate them into a composi-tional game that distances them from their origin and thus, transforms them into purely artistic elements.
Also, Lebanese ar t accepted installation art unwillingly and only in its margins, and is still experiencing a resident misunderstanding with conceptual art.
Let us say that the innovation that we hold dear allows us to demonstrate our skills in conditioning, identification and reproducing more beautiful, more polite, more fluid and more visually seductive techniques and forms than when they were originally produced.
This may not be the case in literature, theatre and music, but, even there, there is a recurring characteristic, a calculated contemporariness.
We deal less with innovation than with experimentation, because we always start from complete models and with studied forms, and because the trimming and softening of these forms are components of our art and literature.
The 'international training' appears sometimes to bring in disorder, since the attempt to balance the imported elements and the desire to cram in a number of international accessories throw us – contrary to our intentions – into a kind of imbalance.
Perhaps, this often appears to be the case in theatre and film; but, as poetry appears to be transformed into a secondary art, it has almost lost its adventurousness and now pursues a form of eloquent innovation or gets diverted into marginal positions.
Let us return to the story of the two dispositions or leanings. We may find Iraqi and Moroccan art closer to settlement, limitation, discipline, minimalism and skilled craft, but this does not relieve either of them from a burden of immutable elements that hinders them and prevents them from being launched properly.
It does not remedy a recurring obsession that transforms it into stereotyping and inactive stylicism and, sometimes, into a purely ideological expression.
We find, in plastic arts, the ultimate expression of this in the primeval art itself, that rapidly becomes a depressive and earthly material, which is stereotyped and melancholic.
We may be in between two dispositions: At one end, a lightness and at the other, an obsession. Between the two, is an adventure that is, at one end, without a particular question and at the other, without a particular motion.
Or, let us say that we are in the presence of an art that is about motion and another art that is gripped by a calcified question, as if gripping a smouldering coal.
For classification purposes only, I talk about two dispositions and leanings; and I talk about them no matter how little evaluation I appear to be doing.
Classification in general is general, in general; it does not apply fully to any single example and every example whose particularities we go into escapes it.
There is, of course, As- Sayyab, who settles and takes hold without ponderosity; and there is Al-Azzawi, who joins the two dispositions; and there is Hussein Madi, from the other dimension, who leans more towards strength and deeprootedness.
There is Adonis, who is comprehensive and seems master of both dispositions, as well as many others.
I am not concerned with listing or judging artists, I am just saying that what we think of as a conscious decision is, in fact, an internal disposition that we cannot frame or classify ideologically. It is mostly a temperament, or something akin to it.
We can sometimes find the same temperament with significant differences in painting, poetry, novels, theatre and music.
Its seduction in painting, for example, is less cautious. In spite of the fact that it is less durable, Lebanese painting may be the most beautiful – but remains the least established – art in the Arab world.
In poetry, additional caution succeeds more at balancing lightness, swiftness, seduction and
In film, the international trademark changes into an imagination, controls the work, prevents it from breathing and moving, and transforms it into inconsistent parts, a strangled language, a withdrawal and a crippling eloquence.
Maybe, theatre suffers from a contest that often ends with congestion, excessiveness and synthetic disarray – but we should not forget that instinctive internationalism is a characteristic, not a handicap;
and that stylicism is a characteristic, not a handicap; and that excessiveness and lightness are characteristics, not handicaps.
We should also not forget that internationalism is a style, a list of attributes, not a cultural depth, or civilisation or progress over others;
for the hotelier knows this brand more than the man of letters, as does the restaurant owner and the man who sells souvenirs.
And so, deeprootedness and fixation are merely temperaments; and we cannot describe them as regressive or reactionary.
Let us see, for example, what the discussion of modernism has yielded – this discussion that established figures are still delving into.
'Modernism' and 'modernisers' are two recurring words, today, that young people use without knowing that this attire once belonged to the generation of their parents, whose age did not allow them any other words.
Modernism has not changed in fifty years and, if anything has changed at all, modernism is today an accomplished model.
If you find fault with the fathers for retiring early, then what do you think of the sons who pick up the attire of fifty-year-old terminologies – as if half a century does not make any difference?
The poets, painters and dramatists often do not know where Western modernism or postmodernism has arrived at; but this is not the point, exactly. The point is that our modernism has not been affected by the last fifty years, and imports fragments of an artistic and literary modernism.
It is without a philosophical reserve and without social and political transformations, without universities and cultural institutions and without a modern economy.
It seems as if modernism, still suspended in art, did not pose a question, and still does not. We, here, still entrust art and poetry with what should be entrusted to culture and society, as a whole.
We still think that literature and art alone can escape what applies to society, economics, politics and architecture.
Why not? Modernism, like most of our possessions, is still beautiful and desirable in itself, and does not need more than discourse about it to be present and established.
If the conception of modernism is temporal, and if modernism was, in the beginning, a distance in time, we then made it eternal and lasting; and we divorced it from time.
The strange fact is that we are stepping into postmodernism with little change in our discourse, and without questioning the substance of our artistic and literary modernism.
Were abstraction and the connection to Brecht and Beckett, and reading T. S. Eliot and Saint John Perse enough to establish a modernism?
Was not, in all of that,the assumption of a renaissance, a second birth and a new age without any foundation except the strength of discourse and verbal recall?
Was that not a kind of special myth or special magic? Things materialise just by being named; and modernism and the future become as strong as a name.
Modernism was the anthem of the nationalist future for some; for others, it was a definition by negation: No to politics, no to the outside, no to traditions.
It was a search for a self that escaped the world, reality and the outside. Isn't this closer to a special romanticism than to an actual contemporaneity?
Isn't this completed with the claims of identity? The future gets completed with the past; for the future and the past, in claims like this, are not really different. They are two eternal times that do not move; yet, everything moves for and towards them.
The future is nominal and so is the past; for how could it be otherwise – and with what relics, what traces, real or assumed? That is, we are in the presence of a timeless 'modernism' so, there is really no wonder that it was rapidly transformed into a verbal utopia and a nominal type, unaffected by time; and it remained mired in the same discourse, repeating the same arguments.
The time of modernism itself was probably an apostasy, a discursive revelation of its fragility and utopianism; the more reality was allowed to appear and become present, the more its superficiality and its paradoxiality became visible.
It appeared beautiful by itself and for itself; and it became difficult to attach to any tangible outside.
It became legitimate to question whether it fed on any present or any circumstance, if there was any substance or any reality in it.
It revolves around itself, is born from itself and feeds on itself; and perhaps, our prevalent culture of discourse does only that.
Modernism is a culture in which conceptions are transformed into isolated, selfsustaining galaxies, and only immerses itself in its own myth and keeps repeating itself.
Thus, we can talk about argumentative islands and examine the extent to which argumentation through its language and vocabulary, at least – is a renewed generation of the intellectual and conceptual wreck itself.
Abdullah Al Arawi decided one day that we ought to start from a historicist Marxism, the 'Marxism of Alienation' and the German ideology.
He was, thus, countering Althusser who called for starting again from the Marxism of Capital.
Then, Al-Jabiri said that we should start from Ibn Roshd. In poetry, we did not start from Al-Nafri only, but also from Perse, Eliot, Ritsos and others.
We started from Al-Wassiti, and shortly thereafter, from Ibn Moukla; whereas starting from Matisse, Picasso and Miro did not need any declaration: "Starting and restar ting", as Waddah Sharara says.
I do not accuse beginnings, for they are legends that the artist cannot do without; but the ideology of beginnings always puts us before the start, waiting for it.
We do not find an Arab library, museum, theatre or concert hall. This does not mean that there is no accumulation or heritage, but that ours is a culture of suggestions.
Modernism is a cyclical affair without beginnings; it is fragments and shreds. We can only imagine our culture as fragments and pieces.
There is no real possibility of connection, continuity and order in units and climates. Everything that culture does is ruined by reality, a reality that is without character, forms, clear institutions or fixed structures.
This reality of "amnesia", if we use the Heideggerean concept of amnesia, is what transforms an aerial, paradoxical and selfsupporting culture into a kind of a continuous repression, or into separate points and labels with no connections, frames or overriding themes.
If we had started with a nominal modernism, then how do we move into what's after it?
Is the 'daily' poetry, the dark cynical installations, socalled Oriental jazz, the scenic bodily theatre or quoting Derrida and Huntington enough to establish anything more than fragments and impotent beginnings?
There isn't much behind us really, so how do we proceed from it into an empty future and continue, by that, a process that we can only imagine as separate leaps in the air?
If we distance ourselves from the details, we can imagine that this procession is silent to a large extent.
If Arab modernism began as a resonating call, what follows it begins as a crime or as a different, silent step. Postmodernism begins without a theoretical accompaniment, without a discourse and without a call.
It begins as a practical development or a technical adventure. If modernism was the anthem of a nominal future or a theoretical dream of a beginning, postmodernism is not concerned with settling any previous accounts;
but, it supposes that it can establish itself without settling accounts and with only technical and par tial inter ventions in special fields.
There is no critique of modernism in Arab postmodernism, we come across attempts in installation art or conceptual art; but, we find declared or undeclared justifications for them.
There is no doubt that there is a critical significance in some of these works – some of which is self-referential, of course – but we cannot easily find what might establish movements or currents in a collection of works like this.
That is, we are witnessing ar tistic exercises in a field in which it is not enough for the work to be an artwork only, but is required to be a critique, a response and a protest in equal measure.
These are artistic exercises in which the protest against art is transformed into pure art, the technique and the craft alone without a concept, without having a culture and philosophy.
Art without culture, this is what we are sinking into, or what we might sink into. Of course, there are exceptions but, I have noticed the prevalence of a technical course and explanation, whereas art is supposed to exceed technicality.
This is probably one of the results of a complete cultural dislocation in which thought appears to be a private space, that is, a technical field also.
Politics, too, become atechnical field; and, the public field becomes a foggy image. It is even possible for reality, itself, to be seen as a private field that has its own specialists and experts.
Modern culture sometimes appears to be more fragmented than its precedent. Rather, it appears to have been born out of an immense fragmentation of reality, itself, and a quasipragmatic surrender to this fragmentation.
The transformation of art, itself, to a technical subject means taking it partially out of culture and causing it to exist without justification other than its own rules. In brief, it means a great schism between art and the outside (for these purposes let us call it 'the outside');
and, this way of mixing between different fields – like what happens in theatre – becomes only a method and a technical performance.
The importation of the ordinary and the popular becomes also merely a formal preference. We definitely find, then, in times, in styles, the artistic and the non-artistic, the artificial and the non-artificial, the personal and the impersonal – merely methods.
This is what an art that does not renew its protest and does not connect to a movement of protest ends like; and, it lives in a time when culture becomes a secondary issue, and maybe, an additional credit for the politicians and the bureaucrats, and even the priests and the mullahs.
This is a very important qyestion
Someone from the audience: Please repeat the question.
Abbas: the question is-first the person who was talking was Hassan Daoud, a friend, one of the most important novelists, and of course the subject interests him. He is asking if all these notes are related to the art in Lebanon or in general in the region or it is related to the art in the whole world?
Hassan Daoud: excuse me Abbas, i don't mean the whole world, it is obvious that the art is being centralised, in its production and in the creation of schools and its establishment. It is clear that we are receiving, us and other countries and other societies, since many long years, and this attraction between our own culture and the imported cultures, i think that we're not the only ones, but there's also many other societies and cultures having the same problem.
My question is: is the description you gave to the oscillation of our lebanese and arabic culture, was substantial, steady, strong and struggling with winds coming from abroad, is it a particular description to Lebanon and few arabic countries? Or is it the triumph and prevalence of the western culture and its repression to all the countries in the world to this same experience you talked about.
I tend to say that we are an aspect of many others and that many people share, and i mean the non western world.
Abbas: the friend Hassan said a problematic not a question, and then the discussion is between the audience, i am one of the participants to this discussion. There's no need for me to answer unless the discussion is between me and the audience/participants.
Pierre Abi Saab: i'm going to ask you a question. In your lecture there's postmodern accents, that are dear to my heart, it is possible to turn parts of the lecture against other parts of it, it is possible to turn your lecture against you, in other words this beautiful and faithful briefing, and this despair - how can i call it?- that is a declaration about a phase, its despair is new, makes the person talking in general. Why there's is no place for the individual in your vision, why the individual can't be a "becoming", the community you talk about...how can you judge individual experiences in this frame, -and let's be practical, in the frame of the Ashkal Alwan festival, that presented and will present artists that you know in person and you know their experiences- where do you locate them from the two dispositions you talked about in your lecture, straying and endemism. And if i want to follow your method, how i judge your poetic experience? How to classify Abbas Baydoun as a poet, and locate him between the straying and endemism.
Abbas Baydoun: In my opinin, in here there's something that looks like a question, at least there's something that requires clarification in the answer.
First, this lecture is constantly controversial and it is its the reality. And it is something to experiment, it is possible that its content is in a constant contradiction, and this way of writing, this way of