When we seek to study and understand other cultures, where do we turn? Often, we look to a culture’s history to learn more about it–an understanding of the origins and beliefs of a group of people often sheds light on what that culture means to the individuals within it. But to gain another level of understanding, one can look at a culture’s art–so many times we find that art reflects the feelings and thoughts of a culture.
In the past on Walif-Chbeir.com I have touched on numerous facets of Lebanese art from the history and architecture found throughout the country to the visual art and artists of my home country. Now, what better a way to learn about the history of Lebanon than by examining some written works.
Poetry is an interesting form of written art in that it is the bane of many a school students’ existence, but is often immensely appreciated later on in life–much like vegetables. If you’re forced to write poetry then the meaning and purpose is sapped. Luckily, many Lebanese poets have brilliantly captured the history of Lebanon and its people.
One of the most common forms of Lebanese poetry is zajel in which two or more “voices” or characters within the poem will exchange dialogue, effectively verbally sparring with one another throughout the piece.
Much of the theatre in Lebanon are passion plays–plays revolving around the life of Jesus Christ–beginning with Maroun Naccache, the man whose plays helped to form the foundation of Arab theater. One of the most well known Lebanese playwrights is Georges Schehade, who also spent time writing poetry, mostly earlier in his career. His first play “Monsieur Bob’le” (Mister Bob’le) premiered to somewhat mixed reviews; as many people very much disliked it as liked it, it seemed. He went on to write various other plays and a collection of poems.
Much of the credit for the breakthrough of Arabic literature in American culture can be attributed to the Pen League, the first Arab-American literary society, brought to prominence by Kahlil Gibran in the 1920s. Gibran wrote an extensive list of works in both English and Arabic, some published after his death, many dealing with spirituality, love and religion.
Amin Maalouf is another notable Lebanese writer, though he wrote primarily in French, often about the perils of war and the migration it causes throughout the world. Maalouf is, to this day, considered to be one of the prominent Lebanese writers and scholars.