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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being: The Suicide of the Intellectual in Rabīʿ Jābir’s Rālf Rizqallāh through the Looking Glass

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Abstract In the wake of the civil war (1975-1990), Lebanese novelists conceived of the literary text as a means to salvage Lebanese collective memory from the systematic process of erasure that the postwar state began practicing. Writers who voiced their anxieties about erasure and the interrupted work of national mourning celebrated the role of the intellectual as a guardian of collective memory and attributed to the written word the power of rescuing the wounded national community from the perils of oblivion. How was the intellectual’s tragic death commemorated and portrayed in a postwar cultural scene concerned about the erasure of collective memory? What forms of dissent from that dominant literary discourse do we identify in Rabīʿ Jābir’s Rālf Rizqallāh fī al-mirʾāt (Rālf Rizqallāh through the Looking Glass)? This article explores the ways in which Rabīʿ Jābir fictionalizes the suicide of the Lebanese scholar Rālf Rizqallāh and thereby departs from the objectification of the intellectual as the guardian of the nation’s collective memory. Jābir understands Rālf Rizqallāh’s suicide not as an altruistic act of protest against the erasure of collective memory, but as a narcissistic impulse prompted by a severe sense of personal and existential angst. The novel’s depiction of Rālf Rizqallāh, I argue, articulates Jābir’s detachment from the postwar discourse about amnesia and collective memory and ushers us towards an alternative representation of the Lebanese intellectual.

Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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