Since the mid-1970s, Lebanon has been at the center of the worldwide rise in sectarian extremism. Its cultural output has both mediated and resisted this rise. Standing by the Ruins reviews the role of culture in supporting sectarianism, yet argues for the emergence of a distinctive aesthetic of resistance to it.
Focusing on contemporary Lebanese fiction, film, and popular culture, this book shows how artists reappropriated the twin legacies of commitment literature and the ancient topos of “standing by the ruins” to form a new “elegiac humanism” during the tumultuous period of 1975 to 2005. It redirects attention to the critical role of culture in conditioning attitudes throughout society and is therefore relevant to other societies facing sectarian extremism.
Standing by the Ruins is also a strong intervention in the burgeoning field of World Literature. Elaborating on the great Arabist Hilary Kilpatrick’s crucial insight that ancient Arabic forms and topoi filter into modern literature, the author details how the “standing by the ruins” topos—and the structure of feeling it conditions—has migrated over time. Modern Arabic novels, feature films, and popular culture, far from being simply cultural imports, are hybrid forms deployed to respond to the challenges of contemporary Arab society. As such, they can take their place within a World Literature paradigm: they are cultural products that travel and intervene in the world.