The Ephemera of Revolutionary Transformation

Zeina Maasri

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Witnessing and participating in revolutionary times in Lebanon while finishing my manuscript on the heady days of Beirut’s long 1960s is an exercise in Gramscian schizophrenia: ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’.
    For studying the successive repressions of revolutionary promises in Lebanon’s post-independence history raises a fundamentally pessimistic question: how could any radical political transformation possibly succeed? Uprisings have been repeatedly and brutally met with repression and co-option by the Lebanese state and its surrogate paramilitaries; contained by geopolitical interests; crushed by successive foreign invasions and occupations, some ‘invited’ by the Lebanese state, others not; and ideologically (and historically) reduced to episodes of sectarian violence.
    Yet despite the endless chronicles of failed revolutionary projects, people rise up time and again against the ruling political and financial class and sectarian system. They remain optimistically committed to social justice and the possibility of political change; and in doing so, emancipate themselves in and through the performative acts of collective protest. Reckoning with the cultural processes of revolutionary transformation as they unfold before us allows us to expand our historical framing of revolutionary change beyond only its successful or unsuccessful materialization in political institutions. The present moment instead prompts historians to probe more widely the underlying cultural dimensions of political struggle and to redirect our history-writing to capture people’s revolutionary imaginations and experiences.
    How did political subjectivities emerge and transform in the everyday space and time of revolt? How have these transformations been articulated in and through public culture? And how have revolutionary cultural forms and aesthetic practices travelled and inspired protestors and militants across national borders? These are questions that scholars of the recent decade of Arab uprisings have been grappling with, shifting our attention to the cultural politics and aesthetics of dissent. In the registers of Lebanon’s political history, however, the cultures of past revolutionary times remain invisible; historians have yet to address these questions and engage seriously with the aesthetics of hope that have transformed political imaginations despite our knowledge of their severed material realization. Such a project requires both digging into and building alternative archives of the past, ones that record what appear as the cultural ‘ephemera’ of revolutionary transformation but whose impetus is integral to Lebanon’s history.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2020
    EventMiddle East Studies of North America: Annual Meeting - , United States
    Duration: 10 Oct 202013 Oct 2020


    ConferenceMiddle East Studies of North America
    Abbreviated titleMESA
    Country/TerritoryUnited States


    • Lebanon
    • Middle East conflict
    • Aesthetics of protest
    • visual and material culture


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