Monday, October 27, 2008

The New Draft Proposal Is Done

See? You thought I wasn't working. Well, I was! HA!

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Problem of Inspiration

This passage in Talal Amin’s essay “What Might an Anthropology of Secularism Look Like?” triggered a visceral emotional response in me:

Johann Sulzer, a theorist of the fine arts, wrote in more general terms: “All artists of any genius claim that from time to time they experience a state of extraordinary psychic intensity which makes work unusually easy, images arising without great effort and the best ideas flowing in such profusion as if they were the gift of some higher power. This is without doubt what is called inspiration. If an artist experiences this condition, his object appears to him in an unusual light; his genius, as if guided by a divine power, invents without effort, shaping his invention in the most suitable form without strain; the finest ideas and images occur unbidden in floods to the inspired poet; the orator judges with the greatest acumen, feels with the greatest intensity, and the strongest and most vividly expressive words rise to his tongue.” Such statements, Flaherty argues, are strongly reminiscent of accounts of shamanism—in this case of a shaman described not skeptically but in wonderment. They employ the idea of inspiration metaphorically—as control of an “instrument” from outside the person, or as a “gift” from a “higher power.” But these remain metaphors, covering an inability to explain a this-worldly phenomenon in natural terms.

My problem after multiple sclerosis is that I cannot have this experience as a writer. The experience of exaltation when one is flooded by imagination and converts that imagination into a structured, final product was my primary motivation to work. Charisma is the experience of exercising transformative, creative power. You have to see transformation and creativity in real time for it to be charisma.

The difficulty is not that I cannot be flooded with imagination anymore. That will still happen all the time if I don’t work to control it. The problem is that my organizational skills have been so badly compromised by the brain damage that I can’t keep up with an intense flow of imagination. I can’t organize the flood of images quickly enough to experience imagination as a high, because the high is the product not only of pseudo-religious awe at the flow of images flooding one’s consciousness, but also of mental power in processing it all. Instead, the result is distress. I’m still flooded with sight, but I can’t shape it effectively. Trying to do it in real time, I write disasters like the damned Lebanon paper.

The obvious solution is to let in less at a time and developing means of putting the pieces together slowly. The problem isn’t that the processor is bad (low intelligence) or the hard drive is bad (compromised long term memory problems, like Alzheimers), but that I’m running on too little memory (short-term recall problems) and simply can’t keep and manage all the images flooding into my conscious mind all at once.

The problem is that working on turning imagination into theory bit by bit just isn’t a high. Remember, I have to see the creative transformation in real time, i.e. “right before my eyes,” to experience that exalted high. If creative transformation happens incrementally, there’s no euphoria at all.

Is it any wonder I’m not getting anywhere?




Financial incentives

Regular if scanty pay at regular intervals when I teach.

The vague possibility of gainful employment without regular pay interruptions that seems to recede into an impossible to attain future.

Time constraints

Structured allotments (the course meets at regular times) with immediate selective incentives that force efficient use of off-schedule time (if I walk in unprepared I die of embarrassment). Top prioritization because I must teach to receive an income.

Chronic fatigue greatly reduces my “off schedule” time outside teaching and real life (funerals, doctor’s appointments, family crises, etc.) eats away at this time. Writing is consistently interrupted.

Pleasure in the work

Immediate high of watching the students experience new ideas they’ve never experienced before.

Slow boring of hard boards. Perspective erodes passion. Lack of self-confidence, as I can’t see the results happen in “real time.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Scaling Back

The proposal writing is coming along. As with so much else in my life, survival requires scaling back. Although, for once, scaling back in this instance has nothing to do with multiple sclerosis. My imagination has always been too grandiose. Both in writing exam and essay questions for students and in framing my own research, I have tended to forget how quickly simple things placed in matrices become insanely complex. I’m not a very mathematical person. Naturally, I would need reminders that multiplication is not addition.

The old table was this—

—and the new table will be this:

This will reduce the case load from this—

—to this.

Needless to say, I’m not thrilled. I felt I had a whole theory before. But the fact that the new version feels “merely adequate” to me is probably a good sign. The case load looks far more manageable and far more likely to fit under 250 pages, which is the goal size for publication. The new proposal does not require Hebrew, which is definitely my weaker language. There’s no reason I can’t scan the sample needed for the cases I’m cutting. I may be able to incorporate them in the dissertation, or may be able to keep the material for later. This smaller version looks more fundable to me. And the bottom line is if I can’t haul my ass to Tel Aviv to get the sample and don’t get some time off from teaching, this dissertation isn’t happening.

I really want to graduate. I want a real job, one that pays all year long and with a decent salary.


Grading was okay last week. I whipped through. I’m starting to re-write my proposal this weekend. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Reconstructing/Lessons Learned

I learned a lot last term. Anyone who’s been reading can see that my life fell apart in Week 7 of the term. Craig and I went to Vegas for Nelly and Simon’s wedding (she was radiant, he was dashing and the ceremony was beautiful, I’ll write some about it on the other blog when I get a breather). I turned my grading back a weekend late (June 3, Week 10, not May 29, Week 9). Thursday I gave the kids a three-hour review. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that night. Saturday of Week 10 we had a lovely brunch at Jamie Mayerfeld, the course’s prof. I was so tired by that point, I didn’t even try to pick up any research that weekend. I slept most of it and helped Craig clean for the rest. The final exam was on Monday, June 9 and grades were due on Monday, June 16. “Ah!” you’re saying. Finally, the galaxy cuts Talal a scheduling break. No comments are needed for final exams and you have a whole week. Even with 68 of them, you ought to be fine.

Well, Monday June 9 was also the arrival date of my mother, my niece and my aunt (the reason we cleaned). I wasn’t done grading until about Thursday. The visit was absolutely wonderful, but a fortnight long. My aunt stayed only ten days, leaving Seattle on Thursday, June 19. Much to our shock, my beloved Auntie Char died in her home that night. There was a fire in her bedroom and she died of asphyxiation. Her body was cremated last week and I am flying to New York on Friday, July 4, to attend the memorial service on Saturday.

Real life, folks. As a multiple sclerotic in graduate school, it’s my biggest allergy. In terms of research progress, I’ve been out of commission for nearly a month. Real life events happen. The universe won’t go on hold just because my life is on hold writing my dissertation. I won’t get any work done over the weekend in Connecticut and New York and the next weekend, I’m grading again (wheee!) for the 26 students in Arab-Israeli. I get one weekend to do real work and then the next weekend, I grade for my other course (Global Ideologies at Antioch). That’s only eight or nine students, but they get rough drafts, so each assignment has full comments, then a grade sheet for the final draft. Certainly this is much less demanding than the 68 student load I had last term. We’ll see if I have learned to be more efficient over the past two terms and can crank these out quickly. Maybe I can squeeze research work in.

Although I’m thinking that I should postpone actual research (again) and work on grant proposals over the summer. I didn’t get that job at the McNair program I applied for, so grading will be a big part of my life next year. If I actually get a grant, I’ll have time to write. And I’ll have money to go to Tel Aviv and get my newspaper sample.

I dunno. Anyway, here’s what the month ahead looks like:

I'm beginning to realize that my previous value set has to be further revised beyond my initial expectations. In my previous life, I organized to achieve efficiency. I now have to accept that efficient work is patently impossible. I now have to organize to improve recovery after regular disruption. My previous standard was not getting derailed. Regular derailment is the new story of my life. I can, perhaps, ameliorate this problem, but I cannot solve it. I must accept that. The most I can achieve now is organizing to recover from regular derailment. Simply put, ordinary life is not going to go away. I'm going to go off track regularly. I need to become good at getting back on the track, with minimum time lost and reduced emotional cost in terms of frustration.

The difficult part is managing the process of acceptance. Working the way I work will simply never be inspiring or exciting. I do enjoy the work itself, but working this way does not offer much motivation and offers ample frustration. I need to figure out the motivation.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fallen off the Wagon

Wow! The past two weeks have been a bad time for this blog as an ordering device. First week of grading, I was feeling under the weather. Aches, pains, slight fever here and there. Sinus headaches, no phlegm or post-nasal drip though. The next weekend Craig and I had to fly to Vegas for Nelly and Simon’s wedding. This weekend, I’ve been grading. Being a low-energy person with weak attention span means that it doesn’t take much to throw me off.

I’m already late returning my grading. I’ve made good progress this weekend, however, and hook or by crook, the papers go back on Tuesday. Then I can start thinking about Lebanon for a little while. My mom is visiting at the end of term, however, then I start Arab-Israeli again.

I’m getting a really clear picture about why my dissertation is going nowhere fast. I need to find a way out of teaching for a while. That’s easier said than done and I miss it when I’m not doing it, though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Once More unto the Breach

In the morning, it all starts again. Gotta get some shut-eye.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Post-Grading Strategy

Student papers are turned in once again on Thursday. This weekend will be hellish. Simon and Nelly’s wedding is the weekend after, so I must do everything I can to have the papers done within a single week. I need to be hyper-productive Friday-Monday. I think I’m going to cancel my office hours on Wednesday and stay home to grade. I’m hoping I don’t have to turn back any papers late. Taking papers with me to the wedding is ridiculous.

Anyway, after Craig and I get back from the wedding, that gives me two weekends of work before I grade finals. Our final exam is on the first day of exam week. The final exams require no comments, so I’m hoping I can crank those out in a few days.

I’ve decided that the next book on the timeline list is Raghid El-Solh’s Lebanon and Arabism: National Identity and State Formation. I’ll put off the Great Arab Revolt for a while. I’ve also picked up a few books on French colonialism. I need to photocopy these excerpts:

Persell, Stuart Michael. The French Colonial Lobby: 1889-1938. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. 1983. pp. 97-114, pp. 140-158.

Thomas, Martin. The French Empire at War: 1940-1945. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1998. pp. 62-63, pp. 100-129,

Martin, Thomas. The French Empire between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society. New York: Manchester University Press. 2005. pp. 40-45, p. 115, pp. 162-163, pp. 185-208, pp. 218-226, p. 295, pp. 323-326.

Those will provide snippets for the timeline, but they can wait, too.

I’m embarrassed to say that the Solh is the only thing on my list by an Arab. But Arab writers are not publishing on the subject in English and I’ll be damned if I slug through books in Arabic for what we’ve determined is already an unpublishable conference paper. Truth be told, I think that this paper is a lot like my lone grant application this year. It’s not so important that it get me very far. It’s just important that I write it to prove that I still can still produce a paper. Baby steps.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fromkin's Been Nailed

I finished extracting what I needed from Fromkin. I’m not sure he was a good choice now. The problem is that he loves long, dateless descriptions that skip back and forth across time. Usually descriptive texts that are useful, I scan into the timeline. But that can realistically be one or two paragraphs, maximum. Fromkin will give interesting descriptions with nothing at all to date and the descriptions go on for several pages. I simply can’t scan in whole pages, especially when it’s clear that he’s skipping back and forth over time, even while not dating a damned thing. What I need to read is a book that’s more like Zamir about the Great Arab Revolt (which looks really not so great after reading Fromkin!). I think my future timelining has to rest on ferreting out which book is date-rich. That one always has to come first. If nothing else, having the chronology already done for me would have allowed me cut and paste more out of Fromkin.

I’m thinking of adding another book on the Great Arab Revolt, Eliezar Tauber’s The Arab Movements in World War I. The book was reviewed by Philip S. Khoury, Jeffrey A. Rudd and Charles D. Smith and sounds a great deal like the Zamir—a book short on interpretation and long on mind-numbing detail. Smith, the author of what has become the standard textbook for courses on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, points out his errors, but on the other hand praises the book as the state of the art. The weaknesses tend surround issues of ignoring Rashid Khalidi’s work on Palestinian identity and Arabism, especially when he is so anxious to stress local nationalisms prominence at the expense of pan-Arabism. Khuri was the most lukewarm reviewer. Rudd was much more positive. Smith, interestingly, while the most critical, was also the most enthusiastic as well. All three reviewers stated that they would have liked to see Tauber both develop his own argument and engage the arguments of other scholars.

Do I need another book on this list? It’s a good one to read. I dunno. I probably should send the last blog to Ellis and ask him if he thinks this is a viable conference paper. Maybe I should just punt the idea. It’s late. I need to crash.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Plan So Far

I don’t want to lose more time, especially since I don’t get much down time before the next onslaught of grading. I basically get this weekend and next weekend to work on the timeline. The weekend of the 16th, I have to grade like the wind. Normally, I’d be able to plug and chug over the weekend of the 23rd as well, but Nelly and Simon are getting married and Craig and I will be in Vegas for the wedding.

I had a chat with Nelly just before I went on my little grading hiatus. I think it helped me clarify the issues I’m having with the paper. And the comment that Gretchen made was quite to the point—I need a clear explanation of how hierarchy plays into creating an institution. We can play checks and balance games forever. I’ve said that the hierarchy don’t need to all be true believers. How is the discipline maintained? Let’s see if I can spell this out clearly.

A state becomes institutionalized when:

(1) A hierarchy exists to impose order under among the depoliticized under pain of violence. This hierarchy is the minimal organizational requirement the state.

(2) The capacity to impose violence is effectively monopolized by the state so that all other hierarchies with a capacity to impose violence, whether internal or external believe that it is unrealistic to attempt to do so in the given space. This is often called sovereignty, but due the juridical meanings that have cropped up around this word, making it some sort of “right,” instead of an empirical phenomenon, I’d rather not use it.

(3) Existing politicians have selective incentives to enforce the rules upon one another, typically because individual politicians perceive that forcing other politicians to obey the rules enhances their own individual capacity for increasing or maintaining power and opens avenues for imposing policy preferences.

(4) There is no realistic means for a politician to practice within the space except by playing by the established rules. This may, in essence, be covered by condition 2.

Now the important questions that follow are

(1) How do these conditions emerge?

(2) Where do the rules come from?

My answer to this question is that due to the importance of human agency in the creation of institutions, the origin of an institution can only be understood genealogically; they cannot be understood theoretically. The idea is that you and I and everyone else are all different people. All things being equal, we will all behave to identical stimuli in different ways. If we respond in uniform ways, it is only because the situation is structured. That is, it has a set of practical limitations that privilege certain responses over others. The more structured the situation, the more uniform the response.

There can be no theory that explains where an institution comes from, because structure is created, however unintentionally. We can only understand how a state comes into being by means of genealogy. That is, all we can do is trace the relevant sequence of events. We may know that human beings tend to impose political order on other human beings, but beyond the knowledge that we tend toward order, we can only trace how any specific order came into being with the understanding that the content of the specific order, its rules, was entirely unpredictable. If one could “run time five times over” as if our study were an experiment in which every random variable might conceivably work out differently, each time we would probably have different results.

So institutionalization, the means by which a set of rules seem to take on a life of their own, can be understood theoretically. Simply put, for as long as the four rules above hold true, then the institution will be institutionalized. When they do not hold true, one should expect continuous change in political context. The four conditions may become true in any number of ways. That road is probably different for every institution in every time and place.

I’m still saying all of that badly. But it’s a little better now than it has been. I apparently am having trouble with inferences as a result of the brain damage, so I stumble around what I mean to say for a while before the right words come out of my mouth. It’s quite irritating.

Testing the Theory (in Thirty Pages)

Now of course, we come to the writing challenge. My theory suggests that prior to the establishment of order in a given time and space, things should be fairly chaotic. We can, however, trace the genealogy of events to show how exogenous and unpredictable factors transformed political context. In short, we argue convincingly that neither the emergence of the four conditions of institutionalization nor the set of rules that make the institution were predictable. The strategy

(1) Provide a genealogical narrative tracing the emergence of the rules of the institution and the four conditions above, which led to the rules’ institutionalization

(2) Counterfactual analysis of the genealogy. I have to draw on the reader’s imagination to show exactly how things might have worked out utterly differently at several different points in the narrative. Otherwise the claim that we can understand the events only by means of genealogy isn’t credible. Obviously, one can’t prove a negative, but one must at least put forward credible reasons to believe that the negative is true.

This seems to be daunting, but it turns out to be nothing compared with subsequent tasks. To show that at a given point the institution becomes institutionalized, one has to go over the subsequent history and show that:

(3) All four of the rules are in force for the period in question. Obviously if all three rules are in place and the institution’s rules are in flux, the argument is not causal.

(4) The rules of the institution are taken for granted in the rhetoric of the period. This is the process tracing for the project. The way we know that there is a psychological change in the way individuals treat the institution is seeing if their rhetoric changes. Before “institutionalization” other ways of organizing the space should very commonly be part of discussion. Afterward, whie such discourse probably won’t disappear, it ought to drop markedly.

This is, of course, not a project that can be churned out in thirty pages if I intend to prove all of this. The genealogy alone would (and, in the first iteration of the paper, did) go on forever. Then I would have to skim through the rest of Lebanese history to show that the dynamics of political action were institutional and were shaped thereafter by the emergence of the institution that we traced in the genealogy.

Nelly suggested that I might just present the paper as a “think” piece—a direction for future research that I’d like to get feedback on. I can’t publish it, but I could at least present it at a conference or two. So that’s the plan so far.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ding Dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead!

Rejoice in Munchkinland! Grading is over. Fuck, I’m so tired. I gotta be up at the crack of dawn to print their comment sheets out, too.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Setback (Again)

I’m a little behind. I had a setback. One of the annoying things about having little ability to suppress my emotions is that when irksome things happen, I need to take time to get over it. Even when I know what the correct emotional response to the situation is and I have developed the proper strategy with dealing with it, I’m pretty helpless to “just get over it.” That is the reason we suppress emotion. Well, not being able to suppress emotion, I have to be “good” with things before I could move on.

I’ve come to realize that before I was 26, I rarely was ever “good” with any of the shit that life threw at me. I just stated, “There’s nothing I can do. I won’t let this slow me down,” and then suppress the hell out of any negative emotions. Yeah, I’d whine and bitch to my friends, but I’d always get the job done. I’d adapt. My rule was I felt what I wanted to and suppressed the rest of my feelings. And negative feelings had their uses. I could channel them into other tasks. Emotional conflicts were rarely resolved. “Emotional resolution” was for the weak. Victory justified any annoyances along the way.

All of that is now completely beyond me. I have to be “good” with anything I have to deal with or I’ll fall apart dealing with it. This means when the emotional shit storms come, I have to clear the shit before I go on. So I lose a day or two. As my focus is shit, it may be a while longer before I regroup, if something else hasn’t turned up in the meanwhile. Well, at least my desire to post progress here helps me refocus on the task faster. Plus, if this were a normal class, my current progress would have been sufficient for finishing on time. As it is, I’m turning back papers on Thursday instead of Tuesday. And I am ready to teach Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality tomorrow. So things aren’t so bad. Plus, the Wings beat the Avs 5-1. Life is good.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Oh! I just discovered that my dear friends Gretchen North and Nelly Samoukova have left comments on the blog! Twit that I am, I didn’t set the comment feature to require me to approve the comments before they post, which is the only way I can find to get to notification that there is a comment waiting. I have fixed this and will undoubtedly reply more quickly. Expect me to post replies before the weekend is out!

Going into Halftime

Week 4 is done. Goodbye Locke; Hello Rousseau! Although I am a liberal, I’ve just never cared for Locke much. He’s just so clumsy.

This blog seems to be working. I lose focus when I’m grading. I did timeline a little on Wednesday during my office hours. I miss it. I’m doing fairly well this term. Jamie Mayerfeld, my prof, doesn’t make us come to lectures if we’ve already done the course with him once before. So I skip Mondays and Fridays so I can work. I teach three sections on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I attend the Wednesday lecture and have my office hours on Wednesdays. I have done pretty well for timelining when I’m not grading. If I had previously been as disciplined about grading as I had been in the past week, I think I’d have performed far better. I’ve gotten roughly 30 done in a week’s time. The difficulty is that I need the “at-home” days if I’m to actually get anything done. The three days I’m on campus are very unproductive. My focus is shot by the time I get home. I also see that without the blogs to force me to see the pattern of my progress is that when the grading is done, my mind will wander to something else before I return to timelining. I need to make sure I hit timelining immediately after grading is over.

Grading is my biggest distraction. I really understand why we’re seeing such a rush to the bottom in terms of education quality. Without good grading, the students can’t improve. But the students themselves don’t really care if they improve. They just want to be entertained. So the dominant, if utterly unethical strategy, is simply to be an entertainer. Make the grading easy, be entertaining, and you’ll get good evals with minimal work. You’ll have plenty of time for research. Well, I don’t have the heart for that. I just don’t.

On the other hand, there’s quality teaching time and shit teaching time. Being a TA is shit teaching time. I’m willing to teach any of the courses I’ve already designed. I’m willing to teach Arab-Israeli or Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict. Unlike being a TA, I don’t have to absorb any new material—the courses are designed. I get a grader and only have to grade 30 papers at a shot. I do a commitment matching thing with the grading. Students who participate in class get put in my stack the first time around. Then students who participate and students who made above a B+ get put in my stack the second time around. Then students who participate, students who improved from the first paper to the second and then students who made above a B+ get graded by me for the final. For the most part, those who care get a lot of attention. Those who don’t, don’t. The grader gets paid a completely ludicrous wage of $600/term. So I try to give them as low a comment burden as possible. First cut, everyone gets comments. As students fail to meet teacher commitment in terms of comment output, they get downgraded. It’s a time-efficient deal for me. I get maximum satisfaction for my efforts.

I’m thinking I need a respite from being a teaching assistant. There’s a job that’s come up with the graduate school, being a graduate student advisor for a program to advise minority undergrads to help them get into PhD programs. It’s twenty hours a week and the shifts are eight hours, so I could pretty much guarantee a three-day week. If I got the job, if the department wants me to teach independently, I’ll take it during the unpredictable, off-term when they offer it. Otherwise, I’ll be out of the TA loop.

I don’t know if I have a shot at the job. But I think I’ll shoot them an application and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The rest of the weekend didn’t work out as well as I’d have liked. Craig needed to move offices at work and, with the commute, that took about six hours. We were moving file cabinets, desks, etc. I’m a pretty low-stamina guy and I was feeling low energy anyway, so it wiped me out for Sunday. I had to go into campus today (Monday, I just posted after midnight) to deliver two graded papers to Jamie and I stayed for the lecture since I had to go in. I crashed and had a three and a half hour nap. With making dinner, I only got five papers done on Monday.

So I’m fifteen behind. Let’s see if I can handle five a night over the next three nights. That will give me the weekend again for the last 29 papers.

I miss timelining. It’s been too many days since I thought about Lebanon. Grading is such a bitch. But, damn, the extra pay is handy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another Ten Bite the Dust

Wow. I seem to be doing this faster. I’ve noticed a few changes in grading over the past two years. While I’m as concerned with helping to write comments that can lead students to actually improve, I’ve gotten better at standardizing comments. At first I was just standardizing comments like “Excessively colloquial language” or “Writer does not present prima facie case—essay does not draw on reason to advance its thesis.” I realized though, that in writing individual comments, I would often repeat myself as well. So I made a rule this year that any good individual comment I wrote, I would keep and integrate into the comment sheet. If you want to see what the whole thing looks like, follow this link.

I notice that my feelings are changing as well. I used to suffer quite a bit when they wouldn’t get it. Now it doesn’t bother me quite as much. I still work like the dickens to get them to get it; it’s not that I don’t care. But I guess I don’t look at it like it’s my personal failing, especially when I have given them a lot of support and structure. I’m really a lot better at matching the student’s level of commitment. Moreover, the tension of dealing with the same set of problems with a new group after having struggled so hard to get the old group past it used to depress me. It doesn’t anymore.

Posting the meter to this blog seems to help. I know nobody reads this silly dull blog, but it at least makes me accountable to myself. I realize a great deal of my problem has been that I get lost in the fog of my mind. Having a graph seems to keep me focused and in context. It ties me to time usage.

Anyway, more papers tomorrow, Insha’ Allah!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ha! I Did It!

Ten down. Fifty-nine more to go!


Okay, I have 69 papers to grade. The gradesheet was all ready to go last week, so I can start plugging and chugging this afternoon. The goal: ten per day on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday for a total of forty this weekend. I don’t know if I can be this consistent, but I’m hoping this “post the chart so the world can see your progress or lack thereof” approach can keep me focused. If nothing else the method is providing documentation for exactly when and in what kinds of circumstances I fall off the wagon with the timelining. I hope this will help me improve. I really want to graduate and I need progress.

If this method (ten at a shot on weekend days) works, I should be done grading by Sunday of next week and be back to timelining again. I have to go to campus on Monday and that may throw me off. I have to give Jamie Mayerfeld, the prof running the lecture, two graded papers and if I go to school, I might as well stay for the lecture. But, we’ll see what can be done.

Nelly and I had a productive talk about the “Institutionalization” paper. More on that soon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Peace to End All Peace

Okay, I’ve decided which parts of Fromkin to timeline. I’m going to do chapters 23-28, chapters 35-37, chapters 41-44, chapters 46-48 and chapter 57. Basically this surgical reading emphasizes the diplomacy that lead to the Great Arab Revolt, the revolt itself, and the peace settlement in the Middle East focusing on Syria and Lebanon and a little side voyage into the Turks’ s slaughters of the Armenians and the rise of Mustafa Kamal’s Turkey.

The last two parts are important because the Maronites are quite mindful of the slaughter of the Armenians and see this as a primary motivation behind the expansion of the borders of the autonomous sanjak of Mount Lebanon into the Greater Lebanon of today. Given that this choice was a demographic disaster that has guaranteed that Lebanon will never be the Christian state the Maronite Church had hoped for, the paranoia that led to it needs some explanation. Moreover, France’s need to re-fight its war with Turkey and to eventually abandon the Treaty of Sèvres is important for our story. Re-fighting the Turks made the French vulnerable to insurrection in Syria as they had to deploy their men northward. Moreover, losing this small war meant that the French had to cede to Port of Alexandretta to the Turks. As Alexandretta was the only decent port in the Syria mandate that had not found its way into the borders of Greater Lebanon, the outcome of this war was one of the stressors that plagued the French Mandate in Syria.

Fromkin isn’t too dense, so let’s hope I can do this quickly. I have grading to do next week. Yippee.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Have You Been, Talal?

I know. No progress posted for over a week. We had a birthday party on the weekend of April 5-6 for my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. That kept me busy. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my teaching days. I find I have shit for focus after commuting, teaching three sections, attending a teaching meeting (Tuesdays only) and commuting back. I tried to timeline on Thursday, but my concentration was shot and it went nowhere. Wednesday, a friend had some personal career stuff to discuss, so I was busy with her that afternoon. I only left the U District at 4:30, so I was pretty tired that day, too. Sometimes I can timeline if I’m tired, but Zamir loves to shift back and forth across time and can be awfully vague with dates (despite being the most detailed historian in the group). When he’s in his back and forth mood, I can’t follow him if I’m tired.

I miss the Old Talal’s sense of focus. The Talal 2.0 (MS Version)© Operating System crashes way too easily.

But enough bitching! Zamir is finally done. What’s the strategy from here? Well, I was hoping to fill in the chronology from 1910-1926. That way I could start posting some interesting blogs about the creation of the mandate. I hate to keep this so boring.

That strategy, however, is riddled with problems. I was thinking of reading the first few chapters of the Ziadeh. I was hoping he’d be my complement for Zamir. While I have other sources in the timeline for 1910-1926 that aren’t in the chart, they’re mostly books about French imperialism and the Treaty of Versailles. Zamir is basically my detailed source for Lebanon itself during that period. The Ziadeh piece, being a book of Lebanese constitutional history from the 19th century until the roughly 2005, likes to skip. He really doesn’t cover the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the war. Moreover, only one chapter of his book (chapter 4 covers 1920-1943) really covers the meat of my paper. He really has a gap between 1915 and 1920. While without a doubt, I’ll read his chapter 4 for the paper, I’m wondering if I need to add a book that can give me at least 1910-1920 coverage.

It seems almost like cheating, but I was thinking of selections from David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. It was published back in 1989 and is a bit dated now, but it has several elements that make it appealing. It has chapters on the Ottoman Empire during the war, on the Great Arab Revolt (yes, I know it wasn’t really all that great a revolt and mostly involved British troops. But I’m a Jordanian-American. I’m trained to call it the Great Arab Revolt), and The French war with Turkey and the Turks genocide of the Armenians. I could use a little more of all those elements to contextualize the situation in Lebanon just before the start of the mandate. It would be nice to have another source for the period that is focused on Lebanon, however. I hoped that Ziadeh would do the trick, but I don’t think he can do much for me in that period.

After that, I think I want to deal with the Gaunson. It’s a full book of facts about five years I can only rely upon Zisser for. I wrote in an earlier blog, Firro covers the period, but you never want Firro to be your fact book. Zisser is not as bad as Firro, but he isn’t as fact-rich as Zamir. Gaunson looks like he might do the trick. After Gaunson, then finally to the Solh. He looks Firro-esque in terms of his style. I figure waiting until later is the best I can do with him.

I need to timeline this week. I’m grading for three sections after Thursday. It’ll be a nightmare.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Mission: To Debunk the Theory of the Velveteen Rabbit

If you are not to die of boredom reading about my adventures in timelining, it would probably help to tell you what the paper is about. The question I’m trying to answer is “What makes a state real and not just a bunch of people you could ignore?” Steve Hanson, one of my teachers, defines an institution as a standardized pattern of behavior. Well, how does the pattern of the state become standardized, so much so that institutional practices can appear to be as inevitable a fact of life as gravity? Clearly, people don’t always go along with all attempts to create institutions. I tell my students, “I proclaim the Hattarian Empire! Join me and together we shall rule the world!” and yet no one bats an eyelash. Much to my disappointment, they don’t cry out, “No! I’ll never join you!” They just give me that impossibly jaded and bored look, waiting for my lame attempt at a joke to end so that they can jot the next real point down in their notebooks. Clearly, they have no difficulty separating the real from the imaginary.

We all know institutions are imagined in the sense suggested by Benedict Anderson when defining nationalism. A nation he says, is an imagined community, “an image of communion.” We don’t know most of the people in our community. Yet, the group has a distinct sense of entity. Because this “image of communion” is shared by many individuals and had rules that serve as a reference point for their political discourse, it is real. The same is true for the state.

We know there is no superentity, no artificial deity in the sky. Rather, as Timothy Mitchell suggests, this image is anthropomorphization of the coordinated, disciplined practices of many discrete individuals. The effect of the disciplined coordination of individuals across time and space evokes this sense of an entity. This is especially true as the coordinated pattern of behavior, when successful, can subsist years after all those who originated the pattern have perished. The pattern seems, like Frankenstein’s monster, to be alive. The state, then, is imagined, but it is no means imaginary. This is Hobbes’ description of the state in Leviathan:

For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.

Here is Hobbes’ original conceptual sketch:

This is always a fun passage to teach in intro political theory classes, because while Hobbes claims that by art he hopes to create an artificial man, Hobbes later admits what I believe any honest reading of the description makes clear—what he really hopes to create is an artificial god—one that comes with no annoying problem of theodicy. Hobbes’ artificial god exists to enjoin good and prevent evil. While Hobbes does not delve into theology, one imagines he sees such a deity as an improvement on the original, from a purely pragmatic and political standpoint.

So the state is imagined as an artificial god. We know the state is real when the impact of the coordinated, disciplined actions of the discrete individuals involved in this pattern of behavior leaves us with this sort of powerful image of god-like action. Yet all imagined but real institutions were once purely imaginary. How is it then that the United States, once imaginary, became a real, imagined entity, with power over millions, whereas my Hattarian Empire is doomed for all eternity to be a comical figment of my imagination? How do states become real?

Huntington’s Definition of Institutionalization

Well, naturally, before I take a shot at answering the question, you will want to know what’s in the existing literature. The last answer is relatively old. A guy named Samuel P. Huntington calls the process of “the state becoming real” by the name institutionalization. Here’s his definition:

Institutionalization is the process by which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability. The level of institutionalization of any political system can be defined by the adaptability, complexity, autonomy, and coherence of its organizations and procedures. So also, the level of institutionalization of any particular organizations or procedure can be measured by its adaptability, complexity, autonomy, and coherence. If these criteria can be identified and measured, political systems can be compared in terms of their levels of institutionalization. And it will be possible to measure increases and decreases in the institutionalization of the particular organizations and procedures within a political system (Political Order in Changing Societies, p. 12).

Note that there’s not much “there” there. Institutionalization is a process, however the process is not defined. To the extent it offers any substance, the definition is practically circular. An institutionalized state is valued and stable. Is it stable because it’s valued? Is it valued because it’s stable? Is there a causal relationship between value and stability, or indeed are both caused by one or more other variables? All we know is that we can measure institutionalization by the institution’s adaptability, complexity, autonomy, and coherence. Clearly Huntington knows the effect when we he sees it. And the effect is the state is like a living, breathing person, and a fairly dynamic one at that. Adaptable, complex, autonomous, coherent—would I did so well for myself! He doesn’t quite know how the set of rules crosses the boundary between “imaginary,” on the one hand, and “imagined, but real,” on the other. But he’s sure he knows what the institutionalized state looks like. Huntington definitely sees Hobbes’ Leviathan.

The only thing that Huntington keeps coming back to in the text is legitimacy. The state is institutionalized because it is valued. My advisor, Ellis Goldberg, once wittily called this the theory of the velveteen rabbit. You might recall the touching exchange from your own reading:

“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.

“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one.”

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

So Huntington’s basic dictum, to the extent we can ferret it out, is, “If you love it enough, it will become real.” Well, my basic response echoes the words of a woman with eminently more life’s experience than me:

“What’s love got to do with it?”

Tina Turner

My basic theory is that the reason the state appears as a god-like autonomous entity in our imaginations is due to the discipline imposed by a hierarchically organized staff of individuals. I can hear your now. “Ah,” you say. “That’s very clever. But haven’t you really just removed the problem to a different level? It’s all well and good to say that we obey because there is a special staff of organized individuals who apply both rewards and sanctions to us. But what about the staff? Why do they maintain the pattern, especially when they have the opportunity of doing things like siphoning off all the state revenues to Swiss bank accounts and leaving their piss-ant country to live in the French Riviera?”—don’t laugh, this happens quite frequently in the states at the bottom of the global per capita GDP pecking order—“Could it be that the state is real because the staff loves the state and work hard to make it real for the rest of us by bribery and whip-cracking?”

Well, my response runs something like this: It undoubtedly helps if the staff love and believe in the state, especially when you are first trying to get the state “off the ground.” But, in any society, politics is deeply attractive to those individuals who seek pre-eminent status. Owing to this less than congenial company, the desire to practice politics very rarely afflicts those individuals who are deeply principled and selfless. If the pattern is to be maintained consistently, it seems quite unlikely to me that it can always be the result of a deeply ethical staff. Even the most committed of us are only human. Corruption is a constant temptation, which is one of the central reasons we need the state in the first place. Self-discipline undoubtedly helps, but I doubt it is the answer.

Our dilemma at theorists, then, is (1) we know the staff isn’t a group of incorruptible true believers and (2) the staff sticks with the narrative as if it were what they really and truly believed it most of the time and (3) we really can’t take recourse to another hierarchy watching our first hierarchy, as this would simply defer the question another level. We know the state works in practice. How do we make it work in theory?

I’m still trying to hammer it out. This is the fuckin' messy part.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Timelining Problems

It’s been a rough slog. Chapter Three of Zamir’s Formation of Modern Lebanon is a messy, descriptive text that zips back and forth across 1920-1925. Sorting it out has not been easy.

You see, I love timelining when it yields organized data. It’s a useful way of understanding a history, as historians are often quite giftless in their organizational ability. Without imposing my own order on the facts, I often won’t get at the meat of their argument. It’s also a useful way of preparing to synthesize several secondary sources. I get a high off of seeing the product grow and develop. It can be amazing.

Nonetheless, the method has some limits against which I’m struggling. Timelines are event driven. There are two types of narrative that can easily accommodate:

1. Event-oriented narrative: This type of narrative deals with temporal sequencing and causality of events. These are ideal for timelining because you can locate events relatively precisely. Even when precise dates aren’t given, one can often contextualize. The results look like this excerpt from the year 1921

March 4: De Caix and Catroux conclude an agreement granting the Druze of Jabal Druze local autonomy with minimal French intervention in their affairs (Zamir, Formation, p. 168, 134 in passing).

March: The High Commissioner issues an arrêté to unify all taxes and duties throughout the Greater Lebanon on the basis of the Ottoman legislation that had been in force in Beirut. The affect of this decision is most keenly felt in southern Lebanon’s tobacco-growing regions, as a monopoly tax existed on tobacco dating back to 1876. (Firro, pp. 79-80)

Sometime before April: Kamal al-As`ad tries to instigate a Shi`i rebellion in Jabal `Amil (Zamir, Formation, p. 135).

April 21: Gouraud pardons Kamal al-As`ad and gives him the Légion d’Honneur. This crude buy-off is apparently enough to win over the support of Jabal `Amil for the mandate. The Shi`a of the Biqa` Valley remain unenthused, as they had closer relations with Faisal (Zamir, Formation, pp. 135-136).

April: The High Commission holds a trade fair to encourage French trade and investment (Zamir, Formation, p. 104—Location of trade fair in unclear).

April: Gouraud holds a reception for Greek Orthodox leaders and notables (Zamir, Formation, p. 133).

2. Descriptive narrative to contextualize an event: These also are easy, as you can simply enter an excerpt of the original text beneath the event with its date. This is greatly simplified with a text scanner.

April: Albert Sarraut’s colonial program becomes French government policy, (Andrew, p. 226). Andrew and Kanya-Forstner on the Sarraut program (pp. 226-227):

In April 1921, the enormously ambitious colonialist vision of the Empire’s economic development also became government policy. Amidst exuberant colonialist fanfares Sarraut presented to the chamber a huge programme of infrastructural development covering every part of the Empire. The programme was intended to end the uncertainty and lack of continuity which had hitherto characterized attempts at colonial development and to provide the ‘clear, stable and precise plan’ which had been lacking in the past. From ‘museums of samples’ the colonies would be transformed into ‘centres of production’. ‘The progressive execution of a large and creative programme of action, carefully and conscientiously elaborated’, Sarraut declared, ‘will ensure, through the increased strength and prosperity of the whole of France d’Outre-Mer, the future strength and prosperity of the Mère-Patrie’.

The Sarraut programme, however, was not so much a development plan as an imperial fantasy. Ever since the war years, the popularity of mise en valeur had been based on the illusion that it would provide instant, or almost instant, solutions to the economic problems of the metropolis. But colonial government could never be other than very long-term and tremendously expensive. The very economic crisis which the Sarraut plan was intended to solve made its implementation impossible. The deficit on external trade in 1920 was 20.4 milliard francs, even higher than in 1919. During the year, the value of the franc fell by almost half against the pound and the dollar. The even more precipitate fall of the German mark made the prospect of reparations on the scale originally envisaged increasingly remote. Unable to balance the metropolitan budget, France was in no position to spend several milliard francs on the Empire. The most fantastic part of the Sarraut plan was its funding. Both Simon and Klotz had vaguely envisaged a state-financed Crédit National d’Outre Mer to provide an annual credit of 450 million francs over a ten-year period for colonial development. By 1920, however, it was unthinkable for parliament to approve colonial expenditures on this scale, and Sarraut abandoned the idea in favour of issuing bonds on the open market. By 1921, this idea too had been abandoned. Sarraut later admitted that he had counted on German reparations to balance the metropolitan budget and free private capital for colonial investment. Without reparations, he could think of no other solution. Incredibly, his Bill contained no financial provisions at all; these, he promised, would be submitted later. It did not even include an estimate of the total cost.

Harder than these first two, but still manageable is:

3. Narrative relating a compressed series of events: This is often used to summarize demographic and economic changes. Typically this narrative method describing a series of events as a general trend, locating endpoints of the process. One solves the problem by marking the endpoints in the timeline, each with a note dating the complementing endpoint.

Where I am having genuine trouble is dealing with a fourth type of narrative:

4. Descriptive narratives not tied to an event: Here’s an example:

Zamir on the malaise that begins to grip French imperial policy at this point (Zamir, Formation, pp. 103-104):

For the French, the disappointment was particularly acute. They had hoped that with the removal of Faisal and their occupation of all Syria their troubles would be over, but the following years found them faced with an exhausting war against Turkish nationalists in the north and continual unrest in Syria which culminated in the Druze revolt. The majority of the Muslims resented the French mandate, and Arab nationalist leaders in exile in the neighbouring countries and in Europe waged a bitter anti-French campaign in which they demanded the complete independence and unification of Syria. Fur­thermore, the French were soon disabused of their hopes for eco­nomic advantages stemming from their control over Syria. Having poured millions of francs into Syria and Lebanon, they had expected to reap the benefits of their investment, but it soon became apparent that Syria's economic potential and importance for France had been greatly exaggerated. Without the oil of Mosul and the rich agricultural region of Cilicia, and with the port of Alexandretta under continual threat from the Turkish nationalists, Syria could fulfil very few of their expectations. The French government and public then realised that Syria was not a second Algeria, but an economic burden that would have to be continually financed from Paris.

France was then undergoing a serious post-war economic crisis and lacked the resources necessary to establish control over Syria and Lebanon. The French public began to resent the large govern­ment expenditures in areas where they felt France had no vital inter­ests. As the difficulties confronting France in Syria became more apparent, nearly every aspect of the government's Syrian policy came under attack in the National Assembly and in the press. Moreover, after the enormous loss of life during the War the French were reluctant to send soldiers abroad to fight Turkish nationalists or Arabs for objectives that remained obscure. During the first few years of the mandate the formerly strong emotional drive for French control over Syria rapidly gave way to increasing opposition to French involvement there, particularly in the National Assembly. The Syrian mandate became a much-debated issue in French poli­tics, and proposals for a reduction in the Syrian budget an annual phenomenon. There were still many deputies and senators who felt the need for a French presence in Syria and Lebanon, but increasing numbers of them, particularly those of the Left, who from the start had opposed France's involvement in the Levant, criticised the government's policy and the large expenditure it entailed. The opposition was centred in the Finance and Foreign Affairs Com­mittees of both chambers; it eventually succeeded in exerting a strong influence on the government's Syrian policy.

Zamir gives no dates in this passage. Clearly the context makes clear that he is talking about attitudes that are forming over the early twenties. But it looks like the optimism of the Sarraut program gives way to this program of “empire on the cheap” fairly quickly. I stuck Zamir’s passage in 1921 in my timeline because it seems that the volte face was fairly quick. They’re making drastic cuts as early as 1921, and General Gouraud resigns as High Commissioner over these cuts by November 1922. But the Sarraut program becomes policy in April 1921! This is a very rapid turnaround. My problem is that Andrew and Kanya-Forstner, the authors of the source that tell us about the Sarraut program, don’t really cover how the volte face occurred. Zamir doesn’t give us nearly as much as Andrew and Kanya-Forstner on just how grand French ambition was (although to his credit, he does discuss this—you can rely on Zamir for detail, if not always for good contextualization).

What I imagine happened empirically is this: Sarraut and the many French interest groups that favored the colonial program had a very “neo-con” bent, where they imagined France as far more powerful than it actually was. Sarraut, the other French diplomats who favored the Syria policy and the interest groups who clamored for it simply assumed it would be easy to make Syria into an Algeria. I don’t know much about how Algeria became such a profitable colony for France, so I can’t compare and contrast. However, it’s pretty clear that Sarraut and company didn’t compare and contrast, either, and it was their empire!

The grand program has many interest groups backing it, but the appropriations committees in France take one look at the funding and say, “Mais non.” But the program is popular, so they give it some funding. It never dawns on our luminaries down at the Quai d’Orsay that they’re going to get back so little, so two or three years into the occupation, they suddenly have to retool and scale way back.

It’s my guess that all this goes down in 1921. But there’s no historical backing in my secondary sources.

Needless to say, Syria never became an Algeria for France.

In the third chapter of Formation, Zamir is in what I like to think of as his “high descriptive mode.” He does this a lot in his next book, Quest. He describes trend, giving dates only for examples or quick reference points. So instead of a chronology, he’ll talk about things thematically, going back and forth across the history taking examples from 1925, then back to 1918, etc. I try to order everything chronologically. It’s a pain in the ass. But when I’ve done the timeline a clear narrative emerges that makes his thematic discussion make sense. But it’s difficult to contextualize the thematic discussion without the chronology. This leads me to believe that al, good history must be based first and foremost on strict chronology. One builds the analysis over the chronology as you relate events in order. Zamir does this sometimes, but other times, he doesn’t. Those times are a huge pain in the ass.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Slogging through Zamir

Progress isn’t bad, actually, considering that I really didn’t work on the timeline on Thursday. I spent some time writing about the model. I have two-thirds of a blog entry written about how the revision should look and what my problems were the first time through. I wrote until I got stuck and mulled it over the rest of the day. That’s really the hard part about the theoretical part in a comparative politics paper. You’ve got to mull things over until you solve your problems. It’s work, but it doesn’t look like work. It looks like loafing and, until you solve the problem, you have nothing to show for the time, so you feel like you’re loafing. In a sense, mulling can be depressing, because you don’t see incremental progress. I like to see reward for my labor. It encourages me. Hence, the timelining chart. See? Two squares of grey turned yellow. Talal did good.

As you can see, after I’m done with Zamir, I’ll only have the shorter excerpt left from Hanna Ziadeh before I’ll have finished reading all the early stuff. I may try writing some postings on World War I, the end of the Ottomans, early Lebanese history, French imperialism, Versailles and that epic dipshit Woodrow Wilson at that point. It’s rich stuff.

Today, I needed to feel more progress going on, so I spent time with Meir Zamir. I like Zamir. He’s a good chronologist and it’s always good to start with a good chronologist. There’s no getting around the need for mastering a slew of facts to get at the heart of what’s really going on. Plus, it’s a messy, messy time. Messy times are filled with all sorts of idle dreams. Going in to World War I, the world looked like this:

What emerges, in retrospect, to us, can only look like this, which is pretty much, but not quite, our reality:

But what’s glaringly obvious leafing through Zamir is that the only way we can trace the development of the second map from the first is by genealogy. What? You didn’t take MAAS 501 at Georgetown and get forced to read Foucault’s neigh near incomprehensible essay, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History?” Here’s my crash course in the concept. It’s loaded with what I hope are witty graphics and little jokes. I’m told it’s generates a few chuckles. The students in POLS 436 seemed to like it, anyway. But to get on with it:

GENEALOGY: An historical technique that tracks a concept or type of action as it changes from moment to moment, revealing discontinuity over time.

The idea is that certain events don’t really have one cause. Indeed, certain events are the cause of random confluences of other events that are really in no way predictable. You can’t understand the event using theory, only by tracing its genealogy in its specificity. People try things and fail. Roads that you’d never imagine working wind up paying off. In retrospect, we assume that the attempts that failed were doomed to fail and the attempts that worked were the only thing that could have worked. Foucault dislikes that bias.

What I like about the Zamir text is that he tends to track all of the lines that went nowhere. Now, tracking all those lines doesn’t necessarily prove that they could have gone somewhere. But it is stunning to see how many different trajectories were out there and amazing to see them all die off as the field of possibilities closes in response to the increasingly structured situation.

Side Note: Author Identity

I find it quite deliciously odd that the history of Mandatory Lebanon is being written by Israeli scholars. Both Zamir and Zisser are Israeli professors. Kais Firro’s first name is Arabic. His last name seems like anyone’s guess, but he teaches at the University of Haifa. So he works in Israel, even if he’s an Arab. Oh, wait! You know what? I bet he’s Druze. I can’t find an on-line bio, but he writes on the Druze extensively. That could be it.

This reminds me of a story. Back in the fall of ’97, I was chatting with Elyse Semerdjian, who now teaches at Whitman College (in Walla Walla, Washington, of all places), and Kevin Martin, who I think now teaches at the University of Memphis, were chatting in the gilded lobby of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. I had just met Elyse, who shares an important link with me in our scholarly isnad (genealogy)—we’re both students of Denise Spellberg, who teaches Medieval Islamic History at UT Austin. Anyway, Elyse, as you might guess from her name, is Armenian, so I asked her if she were Catholic or Orthodox. Kevin did a double-take at this attempt to slot her and said, “Because her religion matters so much!”

Elyse laughed and said, “No, I don’t mind. It’s a question an Arab would ask.”

Kevin, an ardent secular liberal from Texas, is fairly unique among secular liberals in not being fundamentally hostile to religion. He came from Texas, so it’s a world he knows well. That said, he hates its intolerance. Back then, I had no clue that I was queer—dumb as a rock, I was. I lived near Dupont Circle and things like the Drag Queen parade there would make me quite uncomfortable. When Kevin discovered this he would do things like try to hold my hand in public just to watch me freak out (Kevin really loves women, by the way, not a queer bone in his body as far as I know). But he was (and I imagine still is) mischievous as hell, especially when he thinks you’re being an ass, which, admittedly, I was.

Russell Hardin relates an experience where he was sitting at a conference on political identity and one of the participants started the introductions by requesting each participant give their ethnic identity and say how it related to the discussion, because “no one is just an American.” Hardin thought he was. I no longer feel that I can give a safe answer to that kind of question

So does the slotting matter? Does the slotting not matter? Should the slotting stop? Can the slotting stop? The longer I’m at this, the more divided I am. Anyway, contemporary Lebanon’s early history is being written in Israel, but in English. And it’s all being published by I.B. Tauris in London. I have no idea what that means, if anything at all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Firro is Done! Hallelujah!

The event is not as exciting as if it were, say, raining men, but with due apologies to the Weather Girls, hallelujah, nonetheless!

That last chapter was brutal. Firro’s fatal weakness is that he really isn’t capable of writing the thesis statements and plans of attack that good writing needs to have if a reader is to keep up with a complex argument. Coupled with his assumption that his reader basically knows the history and he can spend most of his time interpreting it, the text is very difficult to follow. As Zamir’s Quest book runs out just before the fall of France, 1940-1946 on my existing timeline pretty much relied solely on Zisser. Zisser, while fairly comprehensible, is not a detailed chronologist. So unlike the other chapters I’ve timelined out of Firro, I didn’t really have a good chronology onto which I could graft Firro’s material in this last chapter. It was quite painful. I may have to go back to Firro after reading the Gaunson book, just to see if I missed anything useful.

But first, I need to read the first Zamir book. I have large parts of it already in the timeline, but because I wanted to “just bang the paper out” back in 2004, I did triage reading and timelining to fill in the blanks. But Zamir shows himself to be the most reliable chronologist in the bunch. I figure I should use him as a foundation. So to Zamir I go. I’d show you the picture of the cover, but the library copy doesn’t come with the cover and I can’t find a picture on the internet. It is mercifully slimmer than the second Zamir book. Sadly, though, as I explained earlier, it has Firro’s irritating habit of not translating French quotations. Yippee.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


A critical part of any project that uses narrative history is timelining. Presently, my timeline for Lebanon 1914-1946 is roughly 70 pages long. Yes, I know. I can hear you now. “Talal! You are writing a seventy-page timeline for a thirty-page paper! No wonder you aren’t getting anywhere!”

Well, hold on. Any research project takes in far more old data than it puts out in new interpretation. The digestion, after all, is what the reader wishes to be spared in favor of the slim, simplified, effortless answer it is the researcher’s job to provide. We must always know much more than we write. Sorry. My students hate this, but it’s how scholarship works.

That said, the timeline itself is priceless to the researcher, because it can grow. It is, if you will, a capital investment. A well-designed timeline is an integrated, pre-digested reading of many different historical sources that can be used for large numbers of projects. The timeline I am creating is not only fodder for one paper on Lebanon, 1920-1946. It is the foundations of future lectures and chapters, etc. I’ll be dealing with Lebanon for the rest of my career. This is an investment. Here’s a link to an older draft to give an idea of what’s involved.

Moreover, the problem isn’t so much that timelining takes so long. The problem is that I haven’t been timelining. Between 2005 and now, I’ve been dealing with exams, my prospectus and trying to relearn organizing myself out of a wet paper bag. I really haven’t been working on this since 2004. That’s a long time.

The table below summarizes the books that have to be included in the timeline. The shading shows what years the books cover, with gray showing the bits that haven’t been timelined yet and yellow showing the bits that have. The years delineate the line on the right, so the far right border of the chart represents 1950.

As you can see, I’ve got a bit of a slog to get through. Historians each have their own irritating foibles that must be accommodated. Zamir, for example, is quite fortunately rich in dates and data. But his writing style is not particularly chronologically disciplined. He’ll talk a little, rewind, tell you something else, fast-forward and jump to another city, etc. I found that I needed the timeline in order to make sense of the messy, if rich text. The dates, thanks be to God and Zamir, are mostly all there.

Judith Tucker, one of my profs back at Georgetown, was always much fonder of historiography than she was of history and Firro writes in a similar bent. He always wants to assume that you know the chronology and instead, if not focus on what other historians are saying, at least focus on broader, grander interpretations. He rather assumes that you have your facts down. Having timelined Zamir first, I could follow him, but I’m not all that sure that it would be the best book to pick up to get acquainted with Lebanon under the Mandate.

Major fun challenges. It’s irritating that in his first book (the one I’ve not really worked on yet) Zamir likes to make direct quotations of French text without translations. Firro does the same. I spend lots of time at the French-English translator plugging in text. I haven’t taken French in years. And let’s face it—je m’appelle Vincent. Je joue au tennis. Est-ce que vous jouez au tennis? doesn’t constitute a political vocabulary. It’s lots of fun.

Sadly, one gets this sort of treatment from francophile orientalists all the time. Back at UT, I had an adjunct Islamic political theory prof from the University of Chicago poly sci department who studied Morocco. It was the first political theory class I ever took. I didn’t get it and wouldn’t for more than a decade, but I knew the Middle East better than most of the people in the room. She was going to give me a B, then relented and gave me an A. I was grateful, even though I really didn’t know why I was getting the B or why it changed to an A. Anyway, she always lapsed into French, leaving me to try to translate the “smooth-drop-every-other-syllable” elision that is spoken French into my guess at what the written French, which had the missing syllables, must have looked like. I did this in the desperate hope of recognizing enough cognates to conjure what she must have been saying.

It especially irritated me that she never lapsed into Arabic, a language I actually understood. But, she studied Morocco, so I’d probably never have been able to figure out what she was saying anyway, even had she been comfortable enough with the Maghribi dialect to lapse into it, which obviously she wasn’t. But she gave me an A, so I should stop bitching.

Anyway, back to the grind.