Obituary of the Word: Excavating the Self in the Demise of Print Media

By Zeina G. Halabi
Submitted to Session P4844 (Archives, Excavation, and the Arab Present, 2017 Annual Meeting
The Levant;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In the last few years alone, dozens of newspapers, literary supplements, and magazines have had to shut down in the Arab world. The gradual demise of print media has been interpreted as a reflection of a deeper problem exacerbated by the onslaught of neoliberal policies and the suspension of the political from the public sphere. In articles similar to obituaries, writers have lamented the loss of defunct publications whose fate, they thought, was symptomatic of the collapse of a media tradition historically tied to enlightenment values. This loss has been experienced collectively in elegiac poetics that mourn, not only the demise of the material medium, but also of an idealized historical moment, in which the medium is imagined as an agent that created a field of meaning for the collectivity.

In this paper, I examine the discursive implications of articles commemorating the loss of Assafir, al-Mulhaq, and al-Adab. I argue that such obituaries of print media have generated a discourse that is both retrospective and introspective; retrospective because obituaries interrogate the past and return to specific junctures of imagined triumphs, where emancipation was both imminent and possible; introspective because they excavate the self in search of genealogies, cultural and political, that led to the construction of print media as a vessel for ontological questions and a receptacle for their answers. When writers of media obituaries mourn the loss of newspapers and magazines, what do they reveal about how the past is constructed and reified? How can moments of loss trigger a collective process of excavation, a practice of reverting to an early idealized moment of triumph? The question about how the demise of the print word, is interpreted, not as a contingent moment of loss but as a condition of greater defeat sheds light on how subjectivities are constructed, excavated, and mourned.