Affective Subjectivities as a Counter to Sectarianism: The Cinema of Maroun Baghdadi

By Jeremy Randall
Submitted to Session P4467 (Arab Culture and Politics in Times of Crisis, 2016 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Many works about Lebanon frame sectarianism as an essential category of being Lebanese. This recurrent trope appeared in academic, literary, intellectual, and artistic productions from the post 1860 strife in Mount Lebanon onwards. In this context, sectarianism becomes a hegemonic force that subsumes all other discussions and potential readings of history and being. Rather, Lebanese history becomes a story of unending sectarianism. With the advent of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), Lebanon supposedly descended into a sectarian conflict that ripped apart the country’s fragile system of coexistence between religious groups. Yet, a subset of Lebanese leftists sought to challenge the dominant discourse of sectarianism. In doing so, they confronted the linear narrative of Lebanese history as one careening from one episode of sectarian violence to another. To demonstrate that some Lebanese rebelled against the reductionist framing of their identity and history, I examine Lebanese director Maroun Baghdadi (1950-1993) who produced numerous films and documentaries challenging the centrality of sectarianism to the Lebanese national narrative.

This paper explores how Baghdadi disputes the notion of sectarianism as an inherent aspect of the country and its peoples. This does not mean that Baghdadi excludes religion but he treats it as only one component out of many for a sense of selfhood and belonging. As a result, he offers the potential of reading sectarianism as a construct born out of the contingencies of each era that it appears. Preceding moments of sectarian tension must be viewed as a result of the issues of that time rather than an ahistorical explanation of the crisis Lebanon finds itself in during his time. I argue that Baghdadi’s films achieve an anti-sectarian resonance through the circulation of affects between individuals on screen which thereby make possible subjectivities contingent upon class, age, gender, political affiliation, and location rather than on reductive sectarian identifications. Therefore, Baghdadi builds his characters around assemblages of various features that do not privilege sectarianism. Those subjectivities not only demonstrate a potential state of being outside of sectarian models but also a break from ahistorical readings of Lebanon as inherently sectarian. In doing so, this paper will explore how affective subjectivities resist linear temporalization while nevertheless providing insight into historical contingencies for the moments in which they exist.