Unarchivable Resurrections of War Trauma:

Bearing Witness through Aesthetic and Textual Representations in the Fiction of Lebanese Novelist Rabee Jaber

PROJECTOUTLINE

2017

© Dissonantnarratives

The Lebanese civil war resolution (1975 – 1990) indirectly asked Lebanese citizens to move into a new history as if no one had been displaced, killed, kidnapped, or traumatized. Against this political backdrop, Lebanese novelists emphasized a moral imperative to remember and developed a significant number of works about the civil war. My project takes three novels by Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber as its field of study to look at the forms that war-traumatic experiences might acquire in postwar testimonies by Lebanese fictional characters and by the artwork itself. The testimonies that characters and narrators provide in Jaber’s novels grapple with the unrepresentability of the traumatic event and with the state-sponsored policies of dismemory that were implemented by successive governments after the war. They accordingly bear witness to memories that are extremely vivid yet cannot be integrated through language, and to the difficulty of testifying to past experiences in the light of postwar state policies such as Beirut’s reconstruction project and the absence of a significant archive after the war. Each of the three novels is separately discussed in one of three chapters that respectively focus on: trauma transmission among a postwar generation of the disappeared in Al-I‘tirāfāt [Confessions] (2008), Solidereand the ruins with a labyrinthine temporality in Taqrῑr Mehlis [The Mehlis Report] (2005), and the intricacies of testifying, listening, and bearing witness through fiction in Birῑtus Madῑnah Taḥt al-Arḍ [Berytus a City Underground] (2009). The dissertation thereby contributes to trauma-related concepts, vocabulary, and approaches from the Lebanese context.

 

Each of the three novels is separately discussed in one of three chapters that respectively focus on: trauma transmission among a postwar generation of the disappeared

الاعترافات [Confessions] book detail, 2017

© Dissonantnarratives

The dissertation also participates in the dialogue on post-civil war trauma in Lebanese literature by presenting Jaber’s novels as an exceptionally enabling and creative channel through which testimonies might be produced and shared without becoming material for master narratives. It argues that testimonies in Jaber’s novels amount to a self-reflexive archive that questions its own credibility and potential to construct a master narrative for the war’s historical events. Unlike mainstream approach by other Lebanese novelists, Jaber’s narratives produce testimonies that challenge the truth-finding form of archival documentation and the claims of reliability ascribed to archival material. They are testimonies about factual ghosts in Birῑtus Madῑnah Taḥt al-Arḍ (2009), testimonies by ghosts in Taqrῑr Mehlis (2005), and testimonies by the disappeared who are alive yet missing after the war in Al-I‘tirāfāt (2008). In the Lebanese literary circle dominated by the suffering of real-like characters, Jaber’s ghost-based experiences present a less “serious” and less “legitimate” argument than other fictional documentations with real-like traumatic experiences. Moreover, the testimonies are constantly marked as unreliable by a vigilant self-reflexive narrator who relentlessly interrupts the narrative to lay bare the curation process at work. Thus, Jaber’strauma modelaccordingly recognizes the war “survivors” as “victims” of trauma who have the right for reparation at the psychological and social level, yet without any claim for juridical or political repercussions.

The dissertation thereby contributes to trauma-related concepts, vocabulary, and approaches from the Lebanese context.

REFERENCES

BIO

DANI NASSIF M.A.

After I finished my BA in English Literature, I did a Teaching Diploma and a CELTA and started teaching at a school in Dubai. After 3 years, I moved to Lebanon where I also taught for at the International School while continuing my Masters in comparative literature at the University of Balamand. My thesis title is “Narrative as a Means of Deliverance: The Bitter Experiences of Zahra and Invisible Man”.

It draws on Foucault’s notion of power relations and Bakhtin’s dialogism to explore the role of narrative as an emancipatory tool in Hanan Al-Shaykh’s novel The Story of Zahra and Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. From 2010 till 2016, I taught various courses at Notre Dame University and the University of Balamand (Lebanon) where I also acted as coordinator. I am currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Muenster, Germany. I have presented papers in a couple of conferences and helped organise a conference for young researchers. My publications are limited to articles and translations in Lebanese magazines and newspapers.

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