Beirut is a city, a memory of a place, a place in memory, stories told and untold. Beirut is a slippery idea, a concrete reality, a liability, an abstraction. This project begins by asking what Beirut might be other than the name of a populous city on the eastern Mediterranean and how, by what means, in what shape, it has arrived in Sydney and in other cities in the world. It is not the sociological or demographic dimensions of these questions that matter most, but the possibility that asking these questions might enable certain as yet undefined processes to unravel, allowing Beirut to invent its own concepts and tell us something about the life of the city and the memory of place.
The project is not only about being lost and found in Beirut, it is also about losing and finding Beirut’s trajectories on global maps of knowledge. In the aftermath of Edward Said’s landmark Orientalism, it is time to mark the space between Beirut as an object of knowledge and an Orientalist construction, and Beirut as a city and a lived space. It is necessary to approach the city from a perspective that does not enclose it in a discursive formation that would be at once a historical past and a spatial void. The question of writing about the city and of inhabiting the everyday spaces of the city is no doubt inextricably entwined with the question of knowing the city and of constructing knowledge about the city. The project takes this doubling as a cue by unfolding from the space between these two ways of knowing and writing. In writing the city, Beirut emerges as a knowing subject and as an imaginary that is embedded spatially and historically in knowledge itself.
The project is constructed as a series of seven ‘plateaus’ in reference to Beirut’s seven ancient gates. The term ‘plateau’ is borrowed from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. A plateau is at once an area of intensity and a formation that is loosely connected to other intensities. In forming these intensities, each chapter explores a particular theoretical concept in relation to Beirut’s cultural, historical, spatial and political dimensions. The seven central concepts examined by the thesis are narrative, distance, aspect, tactility, memory, knowledge and place. Beirut is at once the subject of the work and the method through which these concepts in cultural theory are opened up and examined. The plateau structure unravels a contingent landscape in which it is possible to see Beirut without allowing the work - the text itself, to become an image that could replace Beirut. The text follows Beirut’s trajectory on the maps of knowledge, or rather takes Beirut as a guide. We could say that the result is a journey and not a map since the journey is a spatio-temporal contingency and not a fixed object that could ever fill in for the city or replace it. Yet, there are multiple ways of mapping a journey, and this text is one such experiment.