Excavating Criticism from the Archive of the Left

By Samer Frangie
Submitted to Session P4844 (Archives, Excavation, and the Arab Present, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In 2000, the Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué and novelist Elias Khouri performed Three Posters, a video-performance weaved around three takes of the final videotaped message of a communist soon-to-be suicide bomber. Through the repetitions of the last words of the martyr in the making, Mroué and Khouri explored the final days of the left in Lebanon, raising historiographical questions at to the manner of excavating a lost ideology for a postlapserian present. Against the background of this video-performance and its questions, the paper examines the notion of excavation in relation to political ideologies or moments. How do we remember political ideologies, their temporalities and modes of embodiment? In what archives do we look for traces of these political moments? And in what critical projects are these acts of excavation folded? These are the questions that this talk will tentatively examine.
The paper follows Mroué’s excavation of the left in his various performances, reading into the changing modalities of this return to the past different attempts at answering these questions. Building on David Scott’s notion of the present as the temporality that emerges in the wake of political catastrophe, the paper suggests an exploration the aftermath of the left in Mroué’s work. From Three Posters (2000) to Riding on a Cloud (2014), Mroué engaged with the past of the left experimenting with different manners of excavating it, from drawing on a visual public archive to delving into family archives. What emerges from this work is the multi-faceted nature of the act of excavation, and the changing political meanings associated with it.
From the perspective of a post-revolutionary Arab present, the talk concludes by reflecting on political criticism in the wake of past political time, taking the work of Mroué as an interlocutor to think through the relationship of these acts of excavation to the strategic practices of criticism in which they are folded.