the fire these times

14. Revolution, disenchantment and the Lebanese New Left

This is a conversation with Dr Fadi Bardawil, Assistant Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and the author of the book “Revolution and Disenchantment: Arab Marxism and the Binds of Emancipation“.

I wanted to have this conversation with Dr Bardawil because his study of the 1960s Arab New Left, and especially the Lebanese New Left of that period, evoked curious comparisons to what protesters in Lebanon are having to face today as well.

The experience of the Lebanese New Left offers insights into how intellectuals struggled with the questions of theory and practice and of how to transform societies despite all their contradictions.

As you’ll hear in the conversation, Dr Bardawil, who is of the civil war generation, is very much in conversation with the generation that came before his. At the same time, and for different reasons, I, as someone from the postwar generation, am in conversation with the war generation. As such we managed, hopefully succesfully, to have three generations of Lebanese briefly conversing with one another.

I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Here’s the abstract:

“The Arab Revolutions that began in 2011 reignited interest in the question of theory and practice, imbuing it with a burning political urgency. In Revolution and Disenchantment Fadi A. Bardawil redescribes for our present how an earlier generation of revolutionaries, the 1960s Arab New Left, addressed this question. Bardawil excavates the long-lost archive of the Marxist organization Socialist Lebanon and its main theorist, Waddah Charara, who articulated answers in their political practice to fundamental issues confronting revolutionaries worldwide: intellectuals as vectors of revolutionary theory; political organizations as mediators of theory and praxis; and nonemancipatory attachments as impediments to revolutionary practice. Drawing on historical and ethnographic methods and moving beyond familiar reception narratives of Marxist thought in the postcolony, Bardawil engages in “fieldwork in theory” that analyzes how theory seduces intellectuals, cultivates sensibilities, and authorizes political practice. Throughout, Bardawil underscores the resonances and tensions between Arab intellectual traditions and Western critical theory and postcolonial theory, deftly placing intellectuals from those traditions into a much-needed conversation.”

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