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,
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
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
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
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