Balancing Nostalgia With Future Vision

An important point from Karl:

There’s a wider debate that we never properly had about the reconstruction of the city centre […] If the alternative on offer is the heritage lobby’s nostalgic and naive fantasy of historic preservation, then we stand little chance of coming up with any creative and original ideas. A good starting point is to think what kind of city we aspire to have, not be obsessed with preserving all that we inherited.

It is important to grasp the nuance in this point. He is not saying: “Let’s replace classic pieces of architecture with boring, soulless, office buildings”. He is saying “Let’s make our own stamp on history by creating new designs that reflect a vision of who we are and who we aspire to be”.

→ Respond to this post On Twitter
  • Jad

    The thing is: Karl’s rational argument misses the real crux of their emotive argument: anger at loss of control. Being open to the process of change etc, that’s all well & good — perfectly reasonable and correct; we do get used to innovation and we shouldn’t cling to things religiously. But this misses the source of place-based resistance; identities are clung to in reaction to dehumanizing policies.

    So yes, we should leave a mark but the people who are actually doing this mark-leaving in the here & now of Solidere-Beirut are, in the eyes of many, leaving nothing but scar tissue. I take these (largely youthful) reactions from people like Save Beirut Heritage as necessary historical correctives.

    • Karl Sharro

      Jad, I am sympathetic to your views, but I think you’re using them in the wrong context. First thing to remember is it wasn’t Solidere that destroyed the city centre but the Lebanese people themselves. As such, the obsession with heritage is a lame attempt at writing the history of that war and our actions during. It’s very convenient to ignore all of that and focus on the aftermath, but wrong.

      Furthermore, this is not place-based resistance, it’s defending a mythical past. As you point out, it’s largely youthful, people who never knew the city centre. They have no lived relationship with it but an artificial narrative that weaves together architectural fragments into an illusory ‘heritage’. We can’t compensate for our inability to write our own history with architectural fetishes.

      None of this is to defend Solidere, I have already made my position on it clear. The point here is to unmask the heritage impulse as the a-historical naive project that it is.

      • Jad

        The Lebanese people have had many a hand in the mess they’re in, for sure, but I’m not talking about anger at the destruction. I’m talking about an anger at the loss of control over what came after this destruction. Furthermore, as you say yourself, this is anger from people who never knew the city, so I don’t think they bear responsibility for what that generation of Lebanese people gifted them (whether by destroying Beirut or by allowing it to be rebuilt the way it was). It is a-historical to expect this generation to see the city through the lens you see it through, because that’s how history works; reactions and counter reactions, not ‘rational’ marches forward.

        There’s a deeper disagreement here because I don’t see a problem in myth; all place-making is mythical and all heritage is constructed. The very fact that their relationship with the pre-war city center wasn’t lived is all the more reason to support their claim on the city now even if it is romantic or nostalgic. It’s up to this generation to decide how they write their own history, ‘fantastical’ as it may be (and since when is nostalgia about accuracy? Perhaps you just have something against nostalgia itself?), or as Bjork would put it: “it’s not up to you…” :)

  • Dania

    I say lets all buy shares(even in small nbrs) in solidere and get a majority and impose our vision of what our city should look like instead of just bitchslapping solidere this and solidere that :)

  • Karl Sharro


    I don’t believe in collective guilt, so I definitely won’t hold this generation responsible for the destruction. By the same token, I don’t believe in collective memory either. It’s a bourgeois narrative used to justify a certain world view, and in this instance in stems from a very specific social/confessional context. It’s not anger mind, it’s frustration and lack of agency but devoid of political content. As such, it’s a pure exercise in identity-making, a luxury for those who can afford it. You can have a go at rational marches but the truth is the ‘movement’ we’re discussing has no vision whatsoever, it’s entirely self-referential and self-obsessed.

    It’s not nostalgia in itself that I’m criticizing but its ideological use for a reactionary purpose, that of stifling change in the name of defending heritage. You’re talking about an artificial political category defined along generational lines, as if that’s the operative divide. In reality, social, confessional, political and regional variations are much more important in this context. Not nuances that that heritage group wants to address. I doubt that the young people in Akkar or Hermel give a toss about what happens to the Egg, and I think they have bigger problems to solve. Leaving us with what this activism is about: a hobby for bobos to show their cultural credentials.

    Let’s be very clear: they are not making any claim to the city, that would require an active engagement not a constant state of defensiveness against change, which is the case here.

    • Jad

      Again, as was the case with ManTowNHuman, I agree with your starting point and overall analysis, but I don’t agree with the conclusion. Everything you say to describe the activists is correct but dismissing them does not follow.

      Yes they are apolitical cultural elites (I have called them hipsters on several occasions), yes this kind of sepiatone urbanism is a luxury, yes the defense of a single building in Beirut is a tiny issue in the grand scheme of things, but none of that is sufficient reason in my view for us empty out the political content of their actions — think architectural movements; they are a form of politics within a single (elite) field. And even ruling classes have challengers within.

      As for active engagement, as I said in my first comment, I do believe this moment of defensiveness is historically necessary. You speak as if the period after the war wasn’t a time of ‘the new’ — we had that. Now we have a necessary reaction to that period (which won’t last forever) which is important for breaking the hubris of Solidere. Personally, I’m not for constant antagonism (I recall the conversation with Lina about ‘creative’ appropriation of the new spaces like Beirut Souks), but we have to go through this first before fair dialogue with the hegemon (in that tiny patch of Lebanese territory, yes, but hegemonic nonetheless) can start. We need a countervailing force even if it is elitist, insular, annoying, whatever.

      Even hipsters have a use :p

      As for collective memory, etc. — that’s a huge debate that I’ll think about and save for those pints you keep promising 😉

    • Craig

      By the same token, I don’t believe in collective memory either. It’s a bourgeois narrative used to justify a certain world view, and in this instance in stems from a very specific social/confessional context.

      I know little about Lebanon, and I know nothing about this specific issue, but that statement there seems very backwards to me and yet you offer it up as a something that’s progressive. Insulting somebody’s cultural/ethnic heritage is civil rights violation here in the US, and I assume in most democratic countries. It wasn’t always that way, of course. It used to be just fine to run somebody down one side and up the other demeaning everything about their self-identification and their people. This is something new. Something progressive :)

      I’m not saying you’re wrong on this issue – I don’t know enough to be able to even offer an opinion – but I do have an issue with your baseline argument.