Every time I have approached writing for the past twelve months, I have consumed that time in writing and editing a very long, and very technical project proposal. It has embedded in me the need to —of not knowing what i am writing about before writing it—at the beginning. In those twelve months, my encounters and landscapes underwent major shifts. I had moved back to after spending two years outside the country. I was experimenting with , something I dealt with in my previous work as hints and gestures much more than infrastructure.I had an opportunity to collaborate with a major political party to design alternative/parallel modes of conduct for their work in my hometown of Tripoli, north of the country. And in parallel, I was approaching cultural institutions for potential collaborations with The Khan, my newly registered NGO for a [perhaps] more nuanced toolkit for political work, nested in the established shadow of art funding.
This text outlines and negotiates survival tactics of existing and re-existing as many [things/options], , and lubricating transitions between opinion and another. Speaking of the experience, the back and forth between , this text assumes that the reader will adapt the presented notions with their scenarios and problematics. For the sake of clarity, these are mine: 1. I believe that it is imperative to build over existing forms of logic, and them, as the process to render them obsolete with minimum friction 2. In my practice, I work towards building transnational networks, mainly in the Arab World, to create venues where we can contest imposed geopolitical borders 3. I do not believe the nation state is a good governance model 4. 5. My practice must not be pinned within a professional field, and the success of my work depends on my fluid embodiment(s) in different/necessary scenarios.
I have written earlier about the technicalities of moving from one [political] state to another, around the peripheries of the infrastructure of cultural production through what I call Active and Dormant Fictions. I will use these as the starting point for this conversation.
My is meant to officiate writing as a form of architecture, to understand that perceived realities are not “non-fictions” but . Simply put, perceived realities are like , and at the time of perception, their sustainability as active, continuous projects
What differentiates Active Fictions from Dormant Fictions is not much their content as much as their practice, and how they are used. Active Fictions are those that have been desired by a power structure able to perform, develop, sustain and protect them. A relevant example of an Active Fiction is a Nation State, its constitution, image and moral structure.
History shows that things that are considered real enough, like the presence of a nation, can change if overpowered by more potent fictions. Geopolitical maps organizing geographic terrains as political territories have always been in flux based on ever-changing global power systems. A country could dissolve into another, grow, shrink or disappear while the land that once hosted it remains. These political organizations, as prescribed fictions, have tangible weight—real consequences—on their subjects. A city, for example, could become a non-capital overnight, and its developmental future will change once its privileges are revoked. It can no longer be the center of commerce, political life, or the first image representing its nation any longer. This conceptual structure sets the framework by which the writing as architecture does not seem implausible, but rather the actual historic model of radical change.
The second type of fiction is Dormant Fiction, a system of logic that has not yet been activated by a power structure, and remains suppressed intentionally or unintentionally by an Active Fiction’s operation. Myth. Legend. Narrative. Literature. Histories of minorities become fictions. Truths of women become fictions. Rights at the margin become fictions. Weightless.
In my practice, I have engaged with writing The Perfumed Garden, a serial novel whose publication as a full text is yet to be decided. While initiated as an opportunity to write the autobiography of another Arab world—as a novel— The Perfumed Garden became a laboratory to create and liberate Dormant Fictions that have been oppressed by those that have been activated. Instead of competing with Arab titles on World Literature shelves, The Perfumed Garden competes with international resolutions as a generator of public policy. Versus Sykes-Picot. Versus The Memorandum for Palestine. Versus the Arab League. Versus postcolonial democracy.Warm, warmer, warmest in the opposite direction from knowing everything, from the ability to summarize, from consistency, from cynicism, rooting, elevator pitches, and expectations towards the secret place where thoughts are made, forgotten, experienced, trusted and distraught. Towards that secret place that is as sought as it is unsought, known as it is unknown, and presents itself as an incubator of being to beings that by their existences not consume but rather adjust the public
When she starts writing in the new language the world is born anew to the writer. Yet the most spectacular rebirth is her own. For this is a project of total reconstruction of the self, where no stone is left unturned and nothing will look the same again. Your native language – what you were before – appears as less and less familiar to you. But that doesn’t bother you at all; 1
In the trick of politics we are insufficient, scarce, waiting in pockets of resistance, in stairwells, in alleys, in vain. The false image and its critique threaten the common with democracy, which is only ever to come, so that one day, which is only never to come, we will be more than what we are. But we already are. We’re already here, moving. We’ve been around. We’re more than politics, more than settled, more than democratic. We surround democracy’s false image in order to unsettle it. Every time it tries to enclose us in a decision, we’re undecided. Every time it tries to represent our will, we’re unwilling. Every time it tries to take root, we’re gone (because we’re already here, moving).2
Politics rests on the possibility of a shared world. Flat out. Politics rests on the possibility of being accountable to each other, in some non-voluntaristic “I feel like it today” way. It rests on some sense of the way that you come into the historical world encrusted with barnacles. Metaphorically speaking, I imagine a historical person as being somehow like a hermit crab that’s encrusted with barnacles. And I see myself and everybody else as sort of switching shells as we grow. (laughter) But every shell we pick up has its histories, and you certainly don’t choose those histories – this is Marx’s point about making history but not any way you choose. You have to account for the encrustations and the inertias, just as you have to remain accountable to each other through learning how to remember, if you will, which barnacles you’re carrying.3
Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.4
I am of the opinion that the word transculturation better expresses the different phases of the process of transition from one culture to another because this does not consist merely in acquiring another culture, which is what the English word acculturation really implies, but the process also necessarily involves the loss or uprooting of a previous culture, which could be defined as a deculturation. In addition it carries the idea of the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena, which could be called neoculturation. In the end, as the school of Malinowski’s followers maintains, the result of every union of cultures is similar to that of the reproductive process between individuals: the offspring always has something of both parents but is always different from each of them.5
Can we be comfortable understanding the secret place without explaining it?
And so that secret place moves warm, warmer, warmest, towards us as we move towards it for temporary wisdom and silence, to explore activating it without leaving it, to stutter and after saying secret, secret, secret, secret, secret, so many times, start saying sacred, and enjoy the slur and decide secret and sacred can be one and the same only if they can also not
Entering a mosque after you have believed and then unbelieved, and then [maybe but necessarily become] able to see yourself as a non-integral part of mosqueness, that you don’t owe it anything, and that it owes you nothing. And then inside each other, in this secret place, you semplice6 and perform a complicity, hiding in plain sight, as you stand amid bodies that are visiting for different reasons, guised in belief.
Writing in a mother tongue after having left it for another language, and then in all seriousness reach out to her [usually without asking permission, only acceptance (sometimes)] to say things you could not have used it for before, as if in complicity with her children that bear her name, but not exactly her, and also her, because you both know that she won’t be there, in her same form, forever. And then inside each other, you perform a sacred camouflage.
This secret place, the collision of secret and sacred, a method and enamored slur, becomes a generator. Ortiz’s Transculturation. Breton’s Point. Haraway’s barnacles. Harney and Moten’s moving. Bradatan’s rebirth. Reading. Writing. Reading as a lover’s public secrets. Writing as a lover’s secret publics.
Fiction as a lover’s [sacred] discourse mediates and embodies the motions between reading, writing— motions between the real and unreal, motions between what had happened and what is yet to come, motions of agency in the studied [under the radar] meandering between languages. Pickpocketing. Moving in secret. Stealing fractions from fictions and encoding them into everyday.
Let’s take a deep breath.
How will we survive the trickiness of the physical?More so, to be invincible, we need to be invisible. This is a statement (or more specifically an orientation) that is left to be discussed, not advocated. The I talk about is one of collective reckoning, not of hiding. It is that secret place as an incomprehensible existence, rather than one that is tame.
He walked its streets much like water, with complete ease, with complete honesty about the seams and the curves that make it and make him flow within its crumbling alleys. He had a certain reserved respect to the world, and that made him more generous than others. He was too reserved to ask for anything, and that made him look even more generous – the all-giver. Mohamad grew into someone that spoke the bare minimum. He followed water streams, like water itself, and found in that an inexplicable splendor of being.7
The secret place is .8 It is not the work itself. It somehow is an export from labor capital into social capital. It is politics.
When art claims agency in mediating between worlds of fiction and reality, it is its potency to leak into parawork that would be the measure of its success, and doing so invisibly the measure of its sustainability. Two factors build the secret place. First, it must be scalable, growing outside the economy of the medium by which it was born. For example, a novel is not a secret place, but rather the effect of a novel on its readers’ relationships and actions is. Second, it must learn to effortlessly occupy two languages, one that is the language of its policing power, and the other is its own. The secret place can grow when it can not be policed.
What is left after leaving a secret place?
The secret place is fleeting. It will draw its archive as a flexible body. It will need to appropriate contradictions. It needs to thrive in them. Leaving a secret place could be likened to leaving a trace, only more embedded within the agent than the host — and [obviously] less traceable.
While the initial direction of writing The Perfumed Garden was to write a text (in fiction) that would affect the reality of the Arab World (somehow), for the past five years, and continues to change as I reconcile with politics, strategic development and real estate from a fundamental perspective. The Perfumed Garden was born in The Outpost, a magazine I co-founded in Beirut. In our first issue of The Outpost, I wrote the first chapter of The Perfumed Garden . I consider this the first weave of real versus possible.
In this first chapter, real characters meet in
unreal fictional scenarios to do things in a propositional narrative manner. Impossibilities are dealt with nonchalantly. We walk to Palestine from Lebanon. We meet people that have passed. We survive.
The second chapter of The Perfumed Garden moved out of the novel format and was written as a public art installation, The Wishing Fountain in Beirut,9 harvesting characters from the street in exchange for a propositional experience, “What if money was a public medium?” moderated by street children.
Following chapters continued in performance, public readings, commerce and politics. One chapter prompted the registration of The Khan: The Arab Association for Prototyping Cultural Practices in Beirut.10 Another chapter put The Khan as a series of sharing spaces on Airbnb. The action — writing a novel — became an action outside of itself. If writing the novel was work, its secret place, its parawork, was its tentacles in different places, or the barnacles it installs on shells of cities and people to perhaps change them.
But it also goes further, to experiment/exploit the medium and infrastructure of contemporary art. A camouflage so to speak. Through these ongoing experiments, I postulate that if art is viewed and practiced within the economy of art, or literature within its economy, the fictions of each have less chance to be activated. It is not safe to claim the finite territory of the market, because then the market will have the liberty to set the value. And the policing agent will have the clarity to police within that territory
Training someone to do something. Training something to be something else. For one year, from August 2017 to August 2018, The Khan opened in Beirut as a non-public place. It was a training for an apartment to become a prototype for a private cultural space. A training for myself to operate a grounded “institution”. A training for a cultural institution to host as an apartment.
Horeyya was in a small audience of failed martyrs, future ones, leaders of tomorrow, Mohamads, and superwomen like her camouflaged as cocktail waitresses and sidekicks in one of the Khan’s small cabarets waiting for Mahmoud to get on stage. Amidst the smell of homegrown weed and imported liquor, Mahmoud appeared, walking to the center of the stage from a slit in a worn out velvet curtain, wearing his large glasses holding a worn out paper with a handwritten first draft of what will eventually be one of his most known poems.
“We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September,
A cloud imitating a swarm of creatures,
And tyrants’ fear of songs11
Due to the lack of available funding for operational costs (rent and salaries), The Khan’s apartment model allowed for Airbnb to be a source of income. We also rented out rooms to several creative ventures that—likes us—needed space to work. While operating on our own projects, The Khan assumed an inquiry on the right for land—the right to manage physical space, to set its rules, to host and not be hosted.
Today, as shared spaces are becoming less inclusive, either through force, privatization projects, right wing political victories and an increasing acceptance of police states through the entry point (under the guise) of safety, it remains peculiar that running a space and claiming physical territory is considered a thing of the past, frowned upon in comparison with the trending nomadic nature of contemporary work. Cannot safety be assumed as a collection of safe spaces? Is safety a nozzle or a landscape? While the answers to these questions can be easy, they must be asked until their answers yield plausible scenarios.
With this text, I am able to assume fiction as a transnational physical culture, that in the orientation of “leaving a secret place” becomes a viable tool to build these plausible scenarios. And from there, to argue and advocate for furthering the physicality of fiction in this endeavor. Active Fiction is such when it is able to breed physical consequences. It does not only merely commute on the rails of ideas, it builds the rails of ideas that yield action. It activates spaces in between work (art, literature, performance, architecture, politics) and proliferates into the everyday as rituals and stories that can compete and meddle with the status quo.
This text, “Leaving a secret place”, started as an ode to The Khan— to the space that The Khan made, the space that it did not make, the trainwreck of funding proposal after funding proposal halted by rejection [a.k.a. incompatibility] after another. I was leaving that physical space that made me type “we” in emails instead of “I” and trained me to relocate my center of gravity from project to network. From art to method.Because The Khan only opened its doors to a few people. Did it amass less gravity than if it posed as public? Would it have been more potent if it invited more people that would eventually grieve it? Is it dead?
The Champollion Palace in Cairo, like the Piccadilly Theater in Hamra is an abandoned building to the outside world and one of the Khan’s main engines in secret. It originally served as a residence for Prince Said Halim, then temporarily transformed into a Secondary school for boys where they were hit if they showed each other what they thought made them men. On the streets of Cairo, and the adjacent Tak’eeba café, its ‘P’ became a ‘B,’ ‘Champollion’ became ‘Chambollion’ and ‘Penis’ became ‘Benis’ because such a request in English made much more moral sense to Arabs than if said in their native tongue.
‘Show me your Benis…’
Two boys stood behind a Rubber Tree in front of me. They had paused their busy days, one as a porter and another as an assistant at a juice stall to explore each other. They looked at each other as if they were looking at a mirror. They touched each other as if their reflections did not stop at the bleak surface of a mirror, as if they could reach in and touch themselves. They allowed each other to probe into their respective privacies with politeness that they did not use outside that moment. There was a certain calamity surrounding their little ritual, as if this was the only time that deserved it.12
I ask “Is it dead?” but I know it is not, for now The Khan is merely . Its current extraction from the ground allows it again to select its visibility and recalibrate its currency, one that does not depend on existing value systems, unless charmingly, with a , to show them their way out
Raafat Majzoub positions his work at an intersection between politics, intimacy & futurecasting—exploring fiction as a tool for personal and collective agency and an arena to construct new worlds. He is the founder of The Khan: The Arab Association for Prototyping Cultural Practices. http://www.raafatmajzoub.com/
- Costica Bradatan, ‘Born Again in a Second Language’. New York Times, 4 August 2013. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/born-again-in-a-second-language/ ↩
- Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013), p. 19. ↩
- Constance Penley, Andrew Ross, and Donna Haraway, ‘Cyborgs at Large: Interview with Donna Haraway’, Social Text, 25/26 (1990), 8–23, p. 10. https://doi.org/10.2307/466237 ↩
- André Breton, ‘Second Manifesto of Surrealism’ . In Manifestoes of surrealism, translated by Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor :University of Michigan Press, 1972), p. 123. ↩
- Fernando Ortiz, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar, trans. by Harriet De Onís (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995). ↩
- Raafat Majzoub, ‘Writing as Architecture: Performing Reality until Reality Complies’, antiAtlas Journal, 2 (2017) <https://www.antiatlas-journal.net/02-writing-as-architecture-performing-reality-until-reality-complies/>. ↩
- Rafaat Majzoub, The Perfumed Garden: An autobiography of Another Arab World (unpublished). ↩
- Parawork is used here to describe a situation that functions alongside—but mainly outside—of traditional work. ↩
- The Wishing Fountain hosted street music events to accelerate the production of public money. See Samah Abilmona’s performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z31Mxxi8RZ4&t=14s ↩
- The Khan is registered as an NGO based in Beirut. See https://www.the-khan.org/ ↩
- Majzoub, The Perfumed Garden. ↩
- Majzoub, The Perfumed Garden. ↩
07:15 18 Nov
the veil as the symbol of concealment: it signifies our desire for the imagined object behind the veil and reveals, instead, the very structuring of our desire through absence … reading as anamorphosis / latent desire in reading / do we constitute the author? what does it mean when you begin with the negation of this desire?
09:40 17 Nov
from whose imaginary?
07:09 18 Nov
>does this carry the trace of the lover? A BDSM relationship to the institution? Is the secret and the lover already here?
07:17 18 Nov
reading as unfolding temporally: a negotiation of meaning with the reader – is this an authorial treatise of surrender: the gap between what we would like to say and what is said?
08:05 21 Nov
I really, really like that you are redeeming the “decency” (with or without those quotes) of hiding/concealing through disclosure <3
09:43 17 Nov
07:20 18 Nov
art as realised object and politics as potential agency
08:10 21 Nov
I am kind of mesmerized by the juxtaposition of “logic” (dry inevitable thing) and charismatic (pretty glitter), and I don’t know what’s up with that.
07:23 18 Nov
the insider / outsider dichotomy that seems to be the core problematic for all social movements
09:44 17 Nov
in turn, for you, i hope it does not.
08:41 19 Nov
I think this passage is very helpful in situating the reader for what is coming up next – i.e., it fulfills its promise for comfort – although it still has a very general stance and maybe does not capture the essence of the problematic you will be elaborating further on but i think that’s all the better. It suits your style in writing. By that I mean that regardless of what you say about disclosing secretes… It keeps that gentle veil hanging about, revealing only halfway, making things more exciting, more seductive.
08:43 19 Nov
even this sentence which reeks of blunt disclosure at first is indeed so general that it can’t really be one unless we keep reading.
08:10 21 Nov
Yeah, I guess this is why there’s “potential politics” earlier…
09:57 17 Nov
already with these gestures toward the administrative, the bureaucratic, the hardcore, and now the surgical, I wonder what has become of the lover. In turn I have, from the title, also been thinking of Georg Simmel’s “The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies” which makes the argument that in relationships the maintenance of the secret is essential to any given relationship’s vitality
10:00 17 Nov
“In contrast with the juvenile condition in which every mental picture is at once revealed, every undertaking is open to everyone’s view, secrecy procures enormous extension of life, because wit publicity many sorts of purposes could never arrive at realization. Secrecy secures, so to speak, the possibility of a second world alongside of the obvious world, and the latter is most strenuously affected by the former”
10:00 17 Nov
But what then is it to publicize the secret?
08:13 21 Nov
You know, this probably says more about me than about the text, but I find surgery – cutting, blood, flowing red velvet, but also steel and precision – pretty damn sexy.
07:25 18 Nov
and through legitimised forms of content and modes of reading: networking as inter-personal, social act?
08:21 21 Nov
The idea of reality as ‘legalized’ fiction, implies its life before the legalization. Back then, it was a non-fictional reality, or a non-yet-legal fiction?
08:20 21 Nov
I need to think more about this metaphor, but it’s a funny one – I immediately ask who funds and how? And sometimes those pesky (or lovely) realities seem to fund themselves, and sometimes you are suddenly in love – who funds that? And sometimes you go crazy and literally perceive a different reality – who funds that even still? So maybe it’s not “perceived realities” that are funded like this, but something else? I don’t really know.
08:50 19 Nov
very clear and concise. however, this is an introduction to how you came about to make the differentiation between Active and Dormant Fictions. So, maybe a linking sentence will make it easier for the reader to make the jump from this paragraph to the next?
08:12 21 Nov
07:28 18 Nov
Are we agents by complicity? Where is the space for resistance? To what extent are active fictions intertwined or mutually reinforcing (i.e. the family structure -> the geopolitical nation state) and how do we begin to disentangle them (do we need to?)
08:17 21 Nov
This is interesting – we can be partial agents within a fiction, agents in multiple fictions, part-fictions ourselves. At my dep’t (philosophy) a friend gave a talk about fiction today, and the point that all lines between different fictions are not clearly cut and also that fictions are used to produce knowledge/guide our actions all the time (even scientific hypotheses are fictions, medical diagnoses from a handbook are fictions, etc.) and it’s a damn tangled web.
10:02 17 Nov
critical slippage <3
07:31 18 Nov
Embodied in the contestation of “fake news” currently in the US esp. … news is always “fake,” a negotiation or representation of meaning – how do we come to ethically define material realities?
10:03 17 Nov
instead, in perfume-y wafts of traces
07:34 18 Nov
Do we need to stop looking for ‘truth,’ go against our desire as readers for the object behind the veil, and, through a recognition of the veil’s function and our agency in its function, create a new world of potentials? how do we create an ethics in this space of potentials?
Seyla Benhabib’s critique of Habermas’ ideal speech situation always sticks with me.
09:10 19 Nov
i like that sort of emotional turnover/build up these sentences have. They convey nicely the author’s frustration and need to find a solution to a problem that hasn’t been clearly mentioned yet (other than in the title perhaps). As always, true to the author’s style, they prepare the way, always so seductively.
10:03 17 Nov
so the lover is still here (surprise!)
09:12 19 Nov
on track and ready to learn more about the main subject
07:36 18 Nov
In a way, isn’t language always foreign?
09:13 19 Nov
04:28 20 Nov
This reminds me of a beautiful text written by Tarek Abi Samra غريبُ اللُّغَتَيْن
that I think you are going to love: https://www.almodon.com/culture/2018/7/15/%D8%BA%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D8%BA%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86
09:05 21 Nov
09:30 19 Nov
So yes, this reminds me directly of the notion of the “nomad” for Deleuze. I would highly recommend to check it out as it may also, therefore, be in tune with the notion of “secret place” – i suppose it could help move this concept even further.
09:40 21 Nov
There are many invisibilities. You can hide, you can be stealthy like a ninja, you can blend in with the environment, you can be so ubiquitous as to become functionally invisible, and there’s also, I guess, being transparent
10:06 17 Nov
why not anti-work? cause we still gotta be paid?
09:41 21 Nov
I think because its relation to work is not one of antagonism. It can harbour work. It can harbour anti-work. I like this word.
10:07 17 Nov
but it seems like this secret place overlaps with the place of work. that it is more method?
09:37 19 Nov
if practiced enough… sigh
09:51 21 Nov
You know, there is a text about this (a theory-fiction text), using Burroughs as an example, and how he was labelled as “fiction” although he was writing weird metaphysical prophecy, and his writing was downplayed because of that, but also remained hidden. Will send you.
07:42 18 Nov
at what moments is formalised opposition necessary?
04:23 20 Nov
I find this question or notion especially useful when talking about cultural institutions in Lebanon and the issue of permanence and “sustainability”. How can we develop different models outside the prescribed “family-style” institutions
10:08 17 Nov
but in this sense, is it possible, as your title states and you will shortly write, to ever leave? does the logic of the secret place not exceed our individual, perhaps fictionally willed movements?
10:08 17 Nov
10:09 17 Nov
I appreciate here that the transformative path here is not mistaken for the progressive one.
07:44 18 Nov
like Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, remembering the past as retelling the potential present?
09:49 19 Nov
good and healthy link/illustration to elaborating further the notion of “secret place”
04:21 20 Nov
I like the usage of NGO jargon, “training”, that wants to become something other than what it has become in late neo-liberal capitalism
08:14 30 Nov
10:12 17 Nov
i love you and i love the Khan. and I refuse to mourn something which remains even if it has transformed
10:13 17 Nov
is it invisible or illegible? and if illegible or in a state of transubstantiation unavailable to some must it remain only within regimes of visibility?
10:07 21 Nov
It’s beautiful that in the invisibility (behind a Rubber Tree) people (two boys) for a moment very penetratingly see each other.
10:03 19 Nov
an ending with a crown. Let our Khan be the secret place that it is. Invincible that it is.