Dedicated to Walid Raad
The section that follows complements my video by the same title: it seems that just as multimedia becomes prominent, we will witness in some experimental works a separation that will not be (just) between the sound track and the image track, but (also) between the audiovisual work and the written section, the latter two distanced not only spatially, but also temporally, since a considerable time may elapse between the broadcast or screening of the one and the publication of the other.
If the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, are a surpassing disaster then beyond not only the immediate death toll and the manifest destruction of buildings, including museums, libraries and temples, and of various other sorts of physical records, but also the long-term hidden material effects, in cells that have been affected with radioactivity in the “depth” of the body, and the latent traumatic effects that may manifest themselves après coup, there would be an additional immaterial withdrawal of literary, philosophical and thoughtful texts as well as of certain films, videos, and musical works, notwithstanding that copies of these continue to be physically available; of paintings and buildings that were not physically destroyed; of spiritual guides; and of the holiness/specialness of certain spaces. In other words, whether a disaster is a surpassing one (for a community—defined by its sensibility to the immaterial withdrawal that results from such a disaster) cannot be ascertained by the number of casualties, the intensity of psychic traumas and the extent of material damage, but by whether we encounter in its aftermath symptoms of withdrawal of tradition.
In the case of surpassing disasters, the material loss of many of the treasures of tradition not only through destruction but also through theft to the victor’s museums is exacerbated by immaterial withdrawal. Basing themselves on what has been resurrected, some of those who belong to the community of the surpassing disaster can contest the version of history edited by the victors, who, not being part of the community of the surpassing disaster, have the advantage that the works and documents are available to them without having to resurrect them.
What have we as Arab thinkers, writers, filmmakers, video makers, painters, musicians, and calligraphers lost after the seventeen years of Lebanese civil war; after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982; after the symptomatic Anfāl operation against the Iraqi Kurds; after the devastation of Iraq; and after Hafez al-Assad’s regime’s symptomatic brutal repression of Hama in 1982? We have lost tradition (we leave it to teachers—with all due disrespect?—to propagate “it”: in the aftermath of the surpassing disaster, tradition is in some cases totally withheld from the thinker and/or artist; in other cases, it is withheld from him or her as a thinker and/or artist, but not as a teacher or historian or a person—is this partly why a year after writing the previous words of this paragraph, I began teaching?). We do not go to the West to be indoctrinated by their culture, for the imperialism, hegemony of their culture is nowhere clearer than here in developing countries. Rather, we go to the West because it is there that we can be helped in our resistance by all that we do not receive in developing countries: their experimental films and video art, their ontological-hysteric theater, their free improvisation, etc.; and because we can there meet people who can perceive, read or listen, and genuinely use pre-surpassing-disaster art, literature, music and thought without having to resurrect them. At this juncture in Arab history, John Barth, the author of the intricate The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991), is a foreigner to me, an Arab writer, precisely because of his proximity to and his ability to use, as if it were completely available, A Thousand and One Nights, a book to the other side of the surpassing disaster. If, following the devastation of Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and earlier of Arab Palestine, etc., I can have the same close relation with one of the most beautiful books of the Middle East and North Africa, A Thousand and One Nights, as Barth and Pasolini (Arabian Nights, 1974) can, then I will know that I am either a hypo-critical Arab writer or already a Western writer (in the section of Over-Sensitivity , the book in which the original version of this essay appeared, on one episode from A Thousand and One Nights, the latter is accessed and addressed through Pasolini’s film). Rather than a common language and/or racial origin and/or religion, being equally affected by the surpassing disaster delimits the community (is it legitimate to consider the Lebanese as one community when those of them who were living in East Beirut and other Christian-ruled areas were implicated in the desertion of besieged West Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon?).
Beyond the factor of the language in which one speaks and/or writes, it is in part whether pre-surpassing-disaster tradition is still available to one irrespective of any resurrection that reveals to one whether one is still part of one’s native culture or whether one should consider oneself already part of the culture to which one has emigrated. But for certain musical pieces, books, and miniatures, it appeared that the many disasters that befell their countries of origin in the Middle East and North Africa completely severed Arab exiles’ links with these countries and cultures. But this proved not to be the case, for when these countries and cultures were devastated by an additional series of disasters adding up to a surpassing one, these musical pieces, books, and miniatures were immaterially withdrawn even for some of these exiles—this revealing that these exiles were still attached to these countries and cultures and not only to the music, miniatures, and calligraphy, and now need to resurrect the latter if they desire them to be available again. Resurrection takes (and gives) time. Pending their resurrection, such music pieces can show at most in the credits; although at no point is Munīr Bashīr’s performance of Maqām Kurdī heard in my video Credits Included, it is listed in the music credits.
Although many artists, writers and thinkers are viewed and/or view themselves as avant-garde (for example Nietzsche), considered to be in advance of their time, when the surpassing disaster happens their works are withdrawn as a consequence of it, this implying that, unlike the vast majority of living humans, who are behind their time, artists, writers and thinkers are exactly of their time (the future component of their work, which maintains its relevance far into the future, comes to them through their untimely collaboration with future thinkers, writers, artists, etc.). Was my writing my first two books in English (Distracted, 1991, and (Vampires): An Uneasy Essay on the Undead in Film, 1993), books thus withdrawn from those in the Arab World who are not proficient in English, a symptom of a withdrawal of tradition past one or more surpassing disasters affecting the Arab World? A translator who sets out to translate such a work to Arabic would first have to decide whether writing in English was a symptom of a withdrawal past a surpassing disaster, for in that case to translate into an Arabic that does not itself present a withdrawal in relation to Arabs who are not proficient in English would be a mistranslation.
Concerning a surpassing disaster, collateral damage includes much of what those who are insensitive to such a disaster view as having been spared. A filmmaker, thinker, writer, video maker, or musician who in relation to a surpassing disaster still considers that tradition has persisted, never has the impression that he has to resurrect even some of what “survived” the carnage; who can ask, “Why have I survived and why has this building been spared while so much else was destroyed?” without any suspicion that the building in question as well as many books and artworks that had the good fortune of not being destroyed materially have nonetheless been immaterially withdrawn by the surpassing disaster, is hypocritical, that is, hypo-critical, still this side of the critical event of the surpassing disaster.
I have to do my best to physically preserve tradition, while knowing that what I will save physically from the surpassing disaster still needs to be resurrected—one of the limitations of history as a discipline is that the material persistence of the documents blinds it to the exigency of the resurrection. In rare cases, I feel that a film is not trying to adapt a book to another medium with its own specific parameters and/or to another historical period and hence another temporality, but to resurrect it—after the resurrection, it may still be in the judgment of some filmmakers in need of adaptation to new contexts. Similarly, remakes are not always to be viewed in terms of adaptation to other times or reparation occasioned by the failure of a filmmaker or video maker to heed his or her untimely collaborator who happens to be (also) a filmmaker or video maker. Herzog’s remake of Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) can be viewed not so much as a sound and color version of a silent film, but rather as an attempt to resurrect Murnau’s film after its withdrawal following a surpassing disaster, the Nazi period. In which case, there are two ways of considering whether it was a successful film: did it succeed as a film irrespective of its relation to Murnau’s Nosferatu? In case it did not, did it nonetheless succeed as a resurrecting film? Nosferatu, one of the nine extant films out of the twenty-one Murnau made, was twice withdrawn: in 1925 it was withdrawn by court order because it violated the copyright for Stoker’s Dracula—copies of it were back in circulation by 1928; past the surpassing disaster of the Nazi period, and although it was still circulating, it was withdrawn from the filmmakers of the following generation (Herzog: “We are trying in our films to build a thin bridge back to that time”). Herzog’s Nosferatu: a vampire film trying to resurrect an extant film about the undead, about what simultaneously is and is not there, as is made clear by the mirror in which the vampire does not appear notwithstanding that he is standing in front of it; but which, because of the surpassing disaster of the Nazi period, is itself there and not there for the generation following that surpassing disaster. Godard and Herzog, who have influenced many filmmakers, producing, in Vertov’s expression, “films that beget films,” have also produced films that resurrect films. In his first films Hal Hartley, who knew then nothing about surpassing disasters, could imitate Godard, while Godard himself makes some of his films in the manner of someone who can no longer access his earlier ones (including his films of the New Wave, as the title of Godard’s film about resurrection, New Wave , implies) as a result of some surpassing disaster(s), for example the one alluded to in his King Lear. One of the surest ways to detect whether there’s been a surpassing disaster is to see when some of the most intuitive and sensitive filmmakers and/or writers and/or thinkers began to feel the need to resurrect what to most others, and to the filmmaker and/or writer and/or thinker himself or herself as a person or teacher, i.e., in so far as he or she remains human, all too human, is extant and available.
Disaster films that are not exploitation ones sometimes include a resurrection of artworks, books of literature, and/or films. In Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990), a section showing the explosion of six nuclear reactors in Japan, the variously-colored radioactive fumes forming an eerie aerial palette resulting in the decimation of the population, is followed by a section where the late-twentieth-century protagonist enters, walks and runs in various Van Gogh paintings; in order to allow his protagonist to do that, Kurosawa had to digitally recreate the paintings (using the services of Industrial Light & Magic’s post-production visual effects), and this recreation functions as a subtle resurrection. In Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), whose events take place for the most part after the nuclear destruction of much of the world, including presumably Chris Marker’s favorite film, Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), during the Third World War, while standing in the company of his female companion in front of a cut tree trunk, the time-traveler to the past points to a spot beyond its perimeter and “hears himself say”: “I come from here” (how subtle is this hint of quotation [of Vertigo’s Madeleine]!). Should we view this shot as an attempt to resurrect the shot in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (and by implication the film) where Madeleine, in the company of Scottie, points to a section of the cut trunk of a sequoia tree and says, “Somewhere here I was born”? Wim Wenders’ film work, although it includes many references to ends, for example the possible end of the world in Until the End of the World (1991), and the possible end of cinema in Chambre 666 (1982) (one of the questions he poses to the interviewed filmmakers is: “Is cinema becoming a dead language?”), nonetheless rarely attempts to resurrect or evinces resurrections. Two possible exceptions: in Tokyo Ga (1985), a film that mourns the possible irretrievable loss of the Japan of Ozu, the 50-millimeter shot of an alley can be considered a resurrection of an Ozu shot. In Until the End of the World, the fact that the diegetic writer’s narration that begins the film, “It was in 1999 ...”, and goes on to relate the events that the film shows, focusing on a special camera that allows the blind to see the images it recorded, is part of a novel he began writing after the presumed nuclear conflagration of the (rest of the) world wiped his earlier novel-in-progress off his computer indicates that we are viewing these protagonists and events from the post-surpassing-disaster standpoint and requirements. The blind woman, whom we meet for the first time after the presumed nuclear conflagration, embodies the inclusion in the film of the loss of images and of the attempt to resurrect them: we hear her say jubilantly, “I see a blue ... a yellow ... a red ...”, as the Vermeer-like shot of her daughter sitting by the window and wearing a blue headband and a yellow dress begins to assemble again and become clear (taking into account that, as (Vampires): An Uneasy Essay on the Undead in Film points out, it is dangerous to resurrect if one is alone, felicitously the special camera requires for its efficient functioning that simultaneously with the blind person whose brain is linked to a computer simulation of the recorded image, the one who originally recorded the image see the latter by recall in his/her mind’s eye). In Godard’s Passion (1982), the failure of the diegetic director to finish his film is not to be ascribed to an inability to come up with a story and to attain the right lighting; rather the inability to tell stories and to produce the right lighting is in this case merely a symptom of his obscure feeling that he has failed in his unconscious attempt to resurrect what has become withdrawn due to a surpassing disaster, which task he was trying to accomplish by producing a series of tableaux vivants of either the whole or part of paintings from earlier centuries, for example Delacroix’s The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840). As far as those who commissioned Godard to do a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear that was to be ready in time for the following year’s Cannes Film Festival, the Cannon Films producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, were unconcerned, the play was obviously available. It was available too for the screenwriter, Norman Mailer, for whom “the mafia is the only way to do King Lear,” and whom we see finishing his cinematic script of King Lear at the preliminary section of Godard’s King Lear (1987). It was also available to the filmmaker Godard, who remarks that he said to Mailer, who at that point was not only the screenwriter but was also still contracted to play Don Learo, “Kate [Norman Mailer’s daughter] enters your room and kisses you when she hears you finished the play—not your play, but the play.” But then we hear, over the intertitle “No Thing,” a voice-over: “And then, suddenly, it was the time of Chernobyl, and everything disappeared, everything, and then, after a while, everything came back, electricity, houses, cars—everything except culture and me.” Taking into consideration Godard’s view that “culture is the norm, art the exception,” the protagonist later amends what he said: “I don’t know if I made this clear before, but this was after Chernobyl. We are in a time now when movies and more generally art have been lost, do not exist, and must somehow be reinvented.” What can be included among what was and continued to be lost, withdrawn, no longer available even after “everything” came back? Films by Robert Bresson (for example Pickpocket , Au hasard Balthazar , Lancelot of the Lake , L’Argent ), Carl Theodor Dreyer (for example Vampyr , The Passion of Joan of Arc , Ordet [aka The Word, 1955]), Pier Paolo Pasolini (for example Theorem , Arabian Nights ), Fritz Lang (for example M  and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse ), Leos Carax (Mauvais sang [The Night Is Young, 1986]), who plays Edgar in the film; Virginia Woolf’s book The Waves (1931), a copy of which we see on the beach in Godard’s film; Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows (1890); Giotto’s The Lamentation of the Dead Christ (ca. 1305); works by Shakespeare, including King Lear, the play Godard’s film was supposed to adapt! What about François Truffaut’s films? With the possible exception of La Femme d’à côté (The Woman Next Door, 1981), his films continued to be available past the surpassing disaster. Is the work of the American theater director Peter Sellars, who plays William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth, including his production of King Lear in 1980 and the Shakespeare plays he directed while he served as director of the Boston Shakespeare Company in 1983 and 1984, included in what was withdrawn by the surpassing disaster mentioned by Godard? No. Were Norman Mailer’s books published prior to 1987, as well as his script for Godard’s King Lear, withdrawn past the surpassing disaster announced by Godard? The script seems not to have been withdrawn, so that we end up with a give-and-take where Shakespeare’s play is itself withdrawn and requires the resurrecting efforts of William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth, but many lines from it are available to the two characters Don Learo (an aging mobster) and his daughter Cordelia through the script Mailer adapted from the play, and end up in the resurrected play: “Thanks to the old man’s daughter, I [William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth] had some of the lines.” Taking into consideration the withdrawal of tradition past a surpassing disaster, what is one of the tasks of an artist or a writer? “My task: to recapture what had been lost, starting with the works of my famous ancestor.... Oh, by the way, my name is William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth.” According to the protagonist, he was assisted by a certain Professor Pluggy, played by Godard, whose research, he had been told, was “moving along parallel lines to” his. Is Godard’s King Lear’s image of the joining of torn petals back to a dead flower, which resuscitates, a citation of Cocteau’s resurrection of the shredded flower in The Testament of Orpheus (1960)? Is it an attempt to resurrect the flower? Is it a resurrection of the image of a resurrection of a flower in Cocteau’s film about the undead? It is the latter. Godard’s King Lear tackles the three tasks of the filmmaker and/or artist and/or thinker and/or writer and/or video maker concerning a surpassing disaster: 1) to reveal the withdrawal of tradition, and therefore that a surpassing disaster has happened. King Lear: “I know when one is dead and when one lives” (William Shakespeare, King Lear 5.3.260); past surpassing disasters, it is important to know when something is available, and when it is no longer available since withdrawn: the play, which is ostensibly available to the producers of the film and to its screenwriter, Norman Mailer, is no longer available to the community of the surpassing disaster; 2) to resurrect what has been withdrawn by the surpassing disaster, which is the task assigned to the protagonist, a descendant of William Shakespeare, who rediscovers Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” while in Denmark, and manages to rediscover 99% of, if not the complete King Lear—yes, past the surpassing disaster, “the image will appear in a time of resurrection” (these words are attributed by Professor Pluggy to St. Paul); 3) and, in some ominous periods, to imply symptomatically by the timing of the film that a surpassing disaster is being prepared in scientific experiments in various laboratories and/or by governmental and/or non-governmental covert operations, etc., thus functioning as an alarming implicit appeal for thoughtful intervention by the minority of contemporaries to prevent the imminent surpassing disaster from happening.
We have to distinguish between, on one side, quotation, remake, “repetition” of oneself, and, on the other side of the surpassing disaster, resurrection. Sometimes, one accuses some filmmakers, writers and artists—indeed they themselves sometimes voice the apprehensive self-accusation (for example, Wenders in his Notebook on Cities and Clothes, 1989)—that they may be beginning to “repeat” themselves. In some cases, they are indeed beginning to “repeat” themselves (Wenders’ Notebook on Cities and Clothes); but in some other cases, they are actually attempting to resurrect their work and art in general following a surpassing disaster, one which may be explicitly invoked in their films or their interviews. Past a surpassing disaster, and taking into account the withdrawal of tradition, as a historian and archivist of myself, I can imitate myself, “repeat” myself, but as a filmmaker I cannot do so even if I wished since my previous work is no longer available—I have to resurrect it before being able to “repeat” myself. Preservation of an artistic film that was made prior to a surpassing disaster requires not only the actual conservation of the filmstrip in excellent condition, without deterioration of color, etc., but also the resurrection of the film. The surpassing disaster alluded to or explicitly presented in a film may remain just part of the latter’s diegesis or it may reach beyond the diegesis to the film itself or to a previous film or films or paintings, with the consequence that the spectators may then witness, as a countermeasure to the withdrawal, the apparition of resurrected images in the film. In Tarkovsky’s last film, The Sacrifice, the shot of the bedroom curtain flapping in the wind and modulating the light while the child sleeps is reminiscent of the scene in the hotel room in Nostalgia in which the advent, change in intensity, and then stopping of rainfall alter the light coming through the windows. Later, those gathered to celebrate Alexander’s birthday hear warplanes flying overhead, experience an unexpected power failure, discover that the phone is inoperative, then are informed by a radio announcement of the imminent threat of a nuclear disaster. Alexander prays to God, vowing that if the world is spared, he would willfully lose everything: his family, house ... When following his vow and the “averted” disaster, Alexander returns to his child’s room with its lightly-flapping curtains, I feel that there is “repetition” neither of the shot in Nostalgia nor of the shot’s earlier appearance in The Sacrifice, but rather that we are watching the latter shot’s resurrection. A beautiful differential coexistence of “repetition” and resurrection within the same film: to one side of the surpassing disaster, unfortunate “repetition” by the filmmaker of a shot from one of his previous films; to the other side of the surpassing disaster, a resurrection of a shot from the same film. Untowardly, after filming that shot as a resurrected one, Tarkovsky got sidetracked from the surpassing disaster by the script—the script should be delimited by the surpassing disaster. Nonetheless, in The Sacrifice, a sort of answer of the real made the camera break down in the middle of the shot in which Alexander sets fire to the house, leaving Tarkovsky with both an unusable shot and the burned-to-the-ground house (one more unusable celluloid strip in a film of the surpassing disaster, to join the one on the floor of the editing suite over which the protagonist crashes in Godard’s King Lear). Tarkovsky accompanied his character not just through identification and empathy, but also through this parapraxis, confirming that even though the house still stood there, it was withdrawn and had to be resurrected in order for it to be available for the shot of its burning by the protagonist. Past the surpassing disaster, Tarkovsky had to rebuild an exact copy of the house in order to film its burning, and this time he used two cameras to cover the event. A filmmaker who had contributed to rendering visible in his films Solaris (1972) and Andrei Rublev (1966) respectively instances of what was otherwise either invisible, the world of Stanisław Lem’s science fiction novel Solaris, or for the most part no longer visible, fifteenth-century Russia, had then to deal, in The Sacrifice, with what was materially present, the house, as unavailable to perception expect through a resurrection. Whereas in other Tarkovsky films an unworldly version of something that is no longer there sometimes repeatedly irrupts in a radical closure, for example Hari in Solaris, in The Sacrifice what is materially still there is immaterially withdrawn as a consequence of a surpassing disaster (that was seemingly averted). In this film which begins with Alexander planting a dry tree trunk in the sand and telling his little son about a monk who for three years daily watered a dead, dry tree until it blossomed again, and ends with the small child carrying two heavy buckets of water to the tree and watering it, Tarkovsky resurrects one of his shots and the house. Here cinema deconstructs what it ostensibly usually does, preserve what is disappearing (Bazin), what is withdrawing into the past: it shows us the withdrawal of what it preserved from disappearing (into the past).
Any building that was not razed to the ground during the surpassing disaster, materially subsisting in some manner; but was immaterially withdrawn by the surpassing disaster; and then had the fortune of being resurrected by artists, writers, and thinkers is a monument. Therefore, while many buildings that were considered monuments of the culture in question are revealed by their availability, without resurrection, past the surpassing disaster as not monuments at all of that culture, other buildings, generally viewed as indifferent, are revealed by their withdrawal to be monuments of that culture.
It is highly likely that the artworks and literary and thoughtful texts that, past a surpassing disaster, imply the withdrawal of other artworks and literary and thoughtful texts; and/or the messianic movements that, past a surpassing disaster, reveal the withdrawal of the religious dispensation and law would have themselves been withdrawn past the surpassing disaster had they existed when it happened. The two kinds of artworks and literary and thoughtful texts or of religious movements, the withdrawn and the one that reveals the withdrawal, are part of the same tradition.
Past the surpassing disaster, tradition is inaccessible by traditional, “legitimate” means. In 1941, in Buenos Aires, Borges published a collection of eight short texts, one of which is titled: “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.” What surpassing disaster could Pierre Menard have felt and that made him attempt to write the ninth, the twenty-second and the thirty-eighth chapters of Part One of Don Quixote? What surpassing disaster could Borges have felt for him to think of writing such a text, specifically in September 1934? Had this something to do with the recent congress of the Nazi party at Nuremburg in the same year and month? One of the manners of looking at Sherrie Levine’s (re)photographs of the work of other photographers, for example “After Walker Evans,” 1981 (the Evans photograph dates from 1936), “After Edward Weston” and “After Eliot Porter,” is to view them as a resurrection of the works of these photographers (it may be that as a postmodern artist, she can resurrect only in series: the six “After Andreas Feininger,” 1979 ...). A title like “After Walker Evans” is really “After the Surpassing Disaster—Walker Evans.” What surpassing disaster(s) separate(s) Sherrie Levine from these works? In her later work, the After takes place in parenthesis (The Bachelors (After Marcel Duchamp), 1989), implying that the appropriation (the casting of the fountain in bronze in Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), 1991; the change of the painted billiard table of Ray’s painting La Fortune, 1938, into an object made of felt, mahogany and resin, and multiplied six times in La Fortune (After Man Ray)) is occurring on the basis of the prior resurrection that made the works available again (such Sherrie Levine works as “After Walker Evans” and “After Edward Weston” may have contributed to resurrecting what has been withdrawn past the surpassing disaster in question, so that there was no need to try to resurrect the aforementioned Duchamp and Ray works specifically). That is why the critics’ anachronistic commentary on the earlier rephotographs in terms of appropriation and the questioning of originality and authorship should be displaced to the aforementioned later works—one cannot appropriate if one is resurrecting, for prior to the resurrection the works are no longer available ... for, among other things, appropriation (and this irrespective of the mode of producing the post-surpassing- disaster work: Levine often uses tracing of copy-book prints of the works in question). Since I view the earlier Levine work in terms of resurrection of what was withdrawn past a surpassing disaster rather than in terms of appropriation of available past works, I am surprised by “Untitled (After Alexander Rodchenko),” 1987: what nerve to do this minimal appropriation, making a work by merely re-photographing another! What would have been appropriate following the “After Edward Weston,” 1981, is, rather than “After Edward Weston,” 1990 (a bad repetition of her earlier work—granted re-photographing another photograph, but the gesture is the same), an “Untitled (After Edward Weston)” with the same photograph as in the 1981 Levine work—the placement of the After in parenthesis implying a move from resurrection to appropriation.
With the passage of time, tradition loses much of its potency and relevance not only due to the advent of new kinds of temporalities, but also because following surpassing disasters one continued to treat it as still available (this is the other disaster: that one does not discern the extent of the disaster), this preparing for yet another, future disaster; in the case of a work like A Thousand and One Nights, which with its tales within tales within tales is certainly not outdated in this era of fractal self-similarity and hypertextuality but actual, it is the latter cause that is paramount in the curtailment of its potency and relevance. In many instances, a good part of what unconsciously motivates the attack on tradition is the intuition that a surpassing disaster occurred before one’s birth or in one’s childhood and that no attempt was made to resurrect tradition, this leaving it a counterfeit of what it was.
A distinction has to be maintained between an understandable “willful” rejection by some of the defeated of what they associate with the defeat, and an objective withdrawal that has nothing to do with the intentions of individuals or communities, although the latter can sometimes be read as a symptom of the objective withdrawal. Following a surpassing disaster, one should in no way confuse those who are trying to resurrect what has been withdrawn, and which functioned as a counter to the state of affairs that led to the surpassing disaster, assisting thinkers, writers, artists, filmmakers, and messianists in resisting such an ominous state of affairs; with those who, as a cheap reaction, are advocating a return to tradition without noticing that it has been withdrawn—a withdrawal that largely accounts for the widespread ignorance and forgetfulness of tradition in all these post-surpassing-disaster returns to “it.” All returns to tradition in the aftermath of a surpassing disaster have to be fought because tradition has been objectively withdrawn, and hence the “return” would be to a counterfeit tradition, one characterized by reduction to the exoteric and lack of subtlety. From this perspective, invoking tradition as the domain of the genuine is derisory, since in many cases tradition did at one point or another undergo a surpassing disaster (for the Jews, the destruction of the temple, the expulsion from Spain, and the Nazi-period extermination; for Twelver Shi‘ites, the slaughter of imām Ḥusayn, as well as of many members of his family and scores of his relatives and companions at Karbalā’; for the Ismā‘īlīs, the delay in the answer of the Second Emanation in a Gnostic drama in Heaven, which delay produced its retardation to the 10th rank; for the Armenians, the 1915-17 genocide; and for the Turks, who, in the first decades of the twentieth century, exemplify one of the clearest cases of the withdrawal of tradition, for instance of the Arabic script, Sufi lodges, Sufi music and Ottoman art music—well, it is for the Turks to answer “this question mark so black, so huge it casts a shadow over him [or her] who sets it up” [Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols]), and hence is, in the absence of the resurrection of what has been withdrawn by the surpassing disaster, rather the arena of the duel with the double and of the suspicion of usurpation by the counterfeit (prior to the Mahdī’s/messiah’s resurrection of tradition, there is the danger that his double, al-Dajjāl/the Antichrist, will be mistaken for him). Following the surpassing disaster, I am confronted with the counterfeit/double in one form or another: without the seemingly absurd attempt at resurrecting what for most people is extant and available, the succeeding generations will have received counterfeit tradition; but every resurrection by anyone who is not “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) is ironic, insinuates a distance between the one or the thing that has been resurrected and himself/herself/itself: in so far as I am not “the resurrection and the life,” I can never be sure that the one I resurrected is the one who was deceased rather than an other, his or her double (Godard’s New Wave). Coming to check on him as he lay very sick, covered with sores, in the dry, hot weather, his sisters saw that Lazarus had fallen asleep. They thought hopefully: “If he sleeps, he will get better.” He soon woke up, anxious, and, when questioned by his sisters, told them the dream he had just had: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate I, a beggar, laid, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked my sores. The time came when I died and the angels carried me to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with myself by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Later, many Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. One of them, their neighbor Abraham, a rich man, was dressed in purple and fine linen. He was accompanied by his five sons—the sixth had died recently. None of the rich old neighbor’s five sons were convinced by Lazarus’ rising from the dead that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.” Instead of repenting, did one or more of them go to the Pharisees and tell them what Jesus had done? Taking into consideration that Lazarus was resurrected by Christ, “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), it is felicitous that we no longer hear about him in John. But what would have happened had Lazarus been resurrected by someone other than the one who is the resurrection and the life? In that case, while it is possible that he would have gone back to his two sisters, been viewed by them as their brother until the end of their earthly lives, and was reconciled with his life, it is thenceforth also possible that, one hour, two days, three months, or four years later, on looking up from all her preparations for the supper as Mary poured perfume on her brother or sat on the floor listening to what he said, Martha would have had the apprehension that the man she was looking at is not Lazarus, not really their brother, and would have began to manifest the symptoms one associates with those suffering from Capgras syndrome. Indeed it is possible that a Lazarus who has been resurrected by someone other than the resurrection and the life would sooner or later apprehensively suspect that he is not Lazarus, suffering from depersonalization.
It is often the case that the thinker, writer, videomaker, filmmaker, artist or religious figure attempting to resurrect pre-surpassing-disaster tradition feels that he or she failed to accomplish such an incredible task. But while he or she may be the best judge as to whether there has been a withdrawal, he or she often proves not to be a good judge as to whether the resurrection succeeded or not. That is why oftentimes those insensitive to the withdrawal of tradition past a surpassing disaster have the last word against those sensitive to it since they can, after the latter’s acknowledgment of failure to resurrect, point out rightly that tradition is available—resurrection is often a thankless task. The vanity of some thinkers, writers, artists, and filmmakers is revealed not by their attempt to resurrect what has been withdrawn past a surpassing disaster but by their considering that they are the best judges of its success or failure (were I to try to resurrect but then consider that I failed to do so, I would most probably feel that the preceding words are unconvincing or do not apply to me!). In an interview in the May 1982 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard confesses to feeling slightly hypocritical in making Passion’s protagonist, the film director Jerzy, unable to film because he does not feel that he has achieved the right lighting for the tableaux vivants, when he, Godard, thought on the contrary that the lighting is right, filming these tableaux vivants. Rather than being viewed in terms of hypocrisy, this presence of double standards is to be attributed to the infelicity that the one doing the resurrection, in this case Jerzy, is not the best judge as to whether it succeeded or failed, which makes him continue to feel that his attempt has failed when it has succeeded for another. The coexistence in Godard’s Passion side by side in the same camera movement of different tableaux vivants from different historical periods is not so much postmodern as the one we expect in the case of the resurrection of the dead (on Judgment Day? Rather on the day of the critique of judgment [or should I write, critique of the power of judgment?] preparing one, albeit inadequately, to have done with the judgment of God). If one feels unequal to the attempt to resurrect what was withdrawn by the surpassing disaster, tradition, then it can be argued that at the end of the “season in hell,” one is to abolish tradition altogether: “absolutely modern” (Rimbaud). A modernism that willfully rejects tradition or is indifferent to it never really becomes absolute, but remains a relative one that quickly turns abstract when it attempts to become absolute—hence its tone of exaggeration then. Only those who fully discerned the withdrawal of tradition past a surpassing disaster, tried to resurrect tradition, but failed in doing so, may become truly absolutely modern.
Tradition is not merely what materially and ostensibly survived “the test” of time: in normal times a nebulous entity despite the somewhat artificial process of canon formation, tradition becomes delineated and specified by the surpassing disaster. Tradition is what conjointly materially survived the surpassing disaster, was immaterially withdrawn by it, and had the fortune of being subsequently resurrected by artists, writers, and thinkers. Many works one had taken to be part of tradition are revealed by their availability past a surpassing disaster as not really part of tradition; contrariwise, many modernist works of art that vehemently attacked “tradition” are, prior to any reluctant gradual canonization, revealed by their withdrawal to be part of that tradition.
Jalal Toufic, Forthcoming, 2nd ed. (Berlin: e-flux journal-Sternberg Press, 2014;), 78.
This version of “Credits Included” has been excerpted from The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster (Forthcoming Books, 2009). For the extensive footnotes accompanying the above excerpt, download the pdf from jalaltoufic.com.