The animal at the scene of writing : narrative subjectivities of the Lebanese civil war
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This thesis inquires into anti-humanist trends in Lebanese literature of the civil war and post-war period by examining the limit concept of the animal in three novelistic works: Beirut Nightmares [Kawābīs Bayrūt] (1976) by Ghādah Sammān, Yalo (2002) by Elias Khoury, and The Tiller of Waters [Ḥārith al-miyāh] (1998) by Hudá Barakāt. Marking a departure in previous critical work done on this body of literature, which has been dominated by trauma theory as an analytical framework, this thesis employs an innovative synthesis of narrative theory and affect theory to describe how the authors utilize narrative to humanize the war experience, thereby mitigating the effects of contingency and fragmentation on the narrative subject. After the collapse of the state, the human being is separated from its political form, leaving it perilously exposed to acts of violence. It may also, however, carry out aggressions on its fellow man with impunity. Both of these terrible aspects of man’s nature in wartime are understood conventionally as exposing a beast within man, since they radically undermine the precepts of moral value and self-sovereignty that constitute the pillars of humanism. Through acts of “composition” the first person narrators of these novels strive to insulate their affective core from participating in ambient currents of violence, which are viewed as a kind of contamination understood as “becoming-animal.” While implicating the subject in a participation that is other-than-human, these animal becomings are also, following Deleuze and Guttari, ways of attaining a new vitality and escaping the hierarchical symbolic power of logos. Use of this animal figure allows the authors to rethink the human in ways that does not assume a fixed humanist ontology. For Sammān, the animal represents a principle of vitality that allows her protagonist to overcome human sources of inertia, such as melancholic memories or ingrained habit, thereby preserving the authentic voice of the writerly self. For Khoury and Barakāt, the animal permits them to foreground the figure of the subaltern who stands in a minoritarian relation to logos. They also propose a post-humanist ethos of co-presence based on the affective subject’s receptivity and vulnerability; its capacity to both affect and be affected.