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Session R5886 (Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia), 2020
"Archive Wars," among its many accomplishments, offers the reader a powerful reminder that the production of historical knowledge (archiving) is never neutral but emerges at the intersection of historical imaginings, state building, and material life. Moreover, it powerfully demonstrates the extent to which historical preservation is always accompanied by forms of ruination, whether at the hands of state institutions, real estate speculators, or members of the ulama. But the question of "ruination," those vestiges of histories left in tatters in the wake of Saudi state formation, also give pause to consider what it means to "dwell" among ruins, especially in (other)worldly landscapes. I would like to take this opportunity to return a slightly earlier episode of "ruination:" the destruction of the Mualla/Baqi' cemeteries in Mecca and Medina. How do we shift our understanding of "ruination" if we think instead in terms of "athar," both as material remains, but also as the (meta)physical "traces" of pious forbears? What does it mean to dwell in such spaces that, in spite of their place in a history of destruction, seem to exceed the secular reason of state that produces abstract urban space and bare life? Drawing on material from my current book project, "Meccan Variations: Islam and Politics after the Caliphate," I'd like to make some tentative observations about living in ruination in the time of the Saudis.