Dar al-Tali?a a Powerhouse of secular ideas

By Ahmad Agbaria
Submitted to Session P5012 (Literary Configurations of Secular Modernity, 2017 Annual Meeting
Middle East/Near East Studies;
In 1959, an obscure graduate student from Beirut hit on a great idea as he scrambled to find a job. The time has never been as opportune to embrace his idea of creating a publishing house to propagate his Ba?thist ideology. Bashir al-Daouk, a scion of a Sunni family whose members occupied high ranking positions in Lebanon’s government, was only 27-years-old when he set out to put together Dar al-Tali?a, one of the most esteemed publishing houses in the Arabic speaking world.
Between 1959-1999 Dar al-Tali?a printed more than 1100 titles, forging a place of honor among an expanding print industry. With clear-eyed judgement, Bashir al-Daouk was able to enlist the sharpest minds of time, young and established scholars, to get their works published in his newfound print. In its first decade Dar al-Tali?a emerged as an epicenter of revolutionary thought, marked by the affiliation of noticeable scholars: Nizar Qabbani, Nadim al-Bitar, Sadiq Jalal al ?Azm, Costantin Zuriq, Michael ?Aflaq, Sa?dun Hammadi, Yassin al-Hafiz, Ilyas Murqus and many other intellectuals with unmistakable Marxist bent.
While the place of Dar al-Tali?a is central to the formation of Arab thought especially in the wake of the 1967 war, it has been overlooked in the explorations of the intellectual life in the Arab world. Rather than narrowly viewing it as merely publishing house, this paper aims at elaborating on this print as a powerhouse of innovative ideas out of which secular sentiments emerged. Al-Tali?a’s remarkable translations were not the primary reason for its thriving; its role in shaping and defining the climate of thought for more than two decades set this publishing house apart. Looking at the history of the books and writers of this publication, Dar al-Tali?a opens before historian of intellectual thought new vistas through which to write and revisit Arab intellectual history.
Dar al-Tali?a created the most compelling corpus of works that fostered a secular impulse among Arab intellectuals. In its first decade, al-Tali?a had published works that undermined a longstanding tradition of writing, replacing it with writing practices teeming with ideological reflection. Much of these publications were not only transgressive but also tested the limits of the prevailing intellectual imagination. It was a striking departure from decades of writing orthodoxy. The study of Dar al-Tali’a becomes inevitable as an educational monument without which it is impossible to account for the dynamics that invigorates Arab intellectual landscape.