"Salem provides insightful and fruitful close readings of fictional, poetic, and theatrical texts as well as pop culture that have been generally ignored in English-language scholarship. The research is a superb introduction to Lebanese cultural production and the struggle to define and confront the contradictory elements of Lebanese national identity."--Stephen Paul Sheehi, Duke University
"In this study of 100 years of literary and cultural production in Lebanon, Elise Salem poses very real and very difficult questions about how Lebanon's future will unfold in the postwar era. Her insightful work is also an urgent call to Lebanese and non-Lebanese people to study and engage with literary and cultural production in order to expand the ways in which we conceptualize Lebanon."--Michelle Hartman, McGill University
Through an examination of Lebanese literary narratives and musical theater, Constructing Lebanon offers a vehicle for understanding Lebanon's cultural and political evolution as a nation over the last century. It redresses the lack of scholarship on the symbiotic relationship between nation and culture, especially in Arab studies, by presenting both descriptive and prescriptive models of how a nation can be "read" through literary productions.
Elise Salem provides valuable close readings of many Lebanese literary texts written in Arabic, including lesser-known fiction, popular culture narratives, and plays written and produced during the Lebanese civil war and postwar period. Using this framework, Salem examines the construction of nationalist mythology in Lebanon and illustrates how nationalist and regional politics influence cultural productions. Rereading Gibran Khalil Gibran, for example, with the idea of nation in mind reveals that his works are replete with formative ideas on Lebanese identity. Besides analyzing an extensive body of literature from the 20th century, Salem also draws from cultural productions, especially the popular Rahbani and Fayruz musicals that proved to be central to Lebanese consciousness.
This pioneering attempt to propel the study of Lebanese nationalism beyond the confines of ideology and political parties sharpens our understanding of this evolving nation, from its early inception and development to its demise and current reconstruction.
Elise Salem is professor of English at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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"The best research, to date, for the uninitiated. Theoretically and historically informed, Salem exposes the reader to the leading mainstream artists of the 20th century and their struggle with the rich contradictions of Lebanese identity before, during, and after 'the war'. "
--Middle East Journal
"A groundbreaking analysis of the literary narratives that have contributed to constructing Lebanon as a nation in the 20th century….Neither a political history nor a literary history of Lebanon in the 20th century, it nonetheless, cleverly weaves both together with skill and a vast scholarly documentation, and presages the importance of culture and literary narratives in the constructing of Lebanese national identity."
--Digest of Middle East Studies