Southern counterpublics: The poetics and politics of south Lebanon's ruinscapes

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This article explores the commemorative poetics of Shu'ara' al-Janub, a group of South Lebanese poets who interpellated the classical Arabic tradition of ruin-gazing known as al-wuquf 'ala al-atlal (stopping at the ruins) into their laments over Israel's protracted occupation of South Lebanon (1978-2000) as well as their marginalized positioning within the nation's literary landscape. I argue that Shu'ara' al-Janub can be seen as creating "counterpublics," a new texture of memory expressive of an understudied swathe of Lebanon's population that faced occupation and neglect on the literary, national and humanitarian front. Ard al-Janub (the southern earth) stands in for the pre-Islamic talal (ruined site), gripping the imaginative poetics of its memory practitioners who conceive of the land as a repository for their personal and collective memories of forced migration and war. Rather than the qasidah's amorous site of return, however, the ruined southern landscape is reconfigured as an impossible port of entry and unwelcoming host to war. South Lebanon's recurring seasons and cycles of war and occupation place it in a blind spot of historical and cultural memory for the larger part of its occupation. By imbricating ruins and memory into their poetic meditations on the deformation of this once enchanted landscape they called home, Shu'ara' al-Janub attempt to reposition the South as not a liminal space in the nation's cultural imaginary, but rather a deeply central one by calling into question issues of belonging, war and the art(ifice) of commemoration. By delving into this rural periphery, I examine its separate fate from the rest of the nation through its poetic landscapes of war. I argue that this new school of poetry entwines the performance of returning to and beholding ruined spaces with a critical and political form of witness. The sometimes spectral, sometimes enchanted and sometimes scarred poetic landscapes of Shu'ara' al-Janub suture together a discourse that galvanizes nature, memory, myth and pre-Islamic motifs into a counterpublic discourse that sits in uneasy tension with the historical context of war and occupation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-217
Number of pages49
JournalJournal of Arabic Literature
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Atlal
  • Counterpublics
  • Landscape
  • Pre-Islamic Poetry
  • Ruins
  • Shu'ara' al-Janub
  • South Lebanon
  • War


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