Experimental Voices

Pierre Menard and the State of the Object

Introduction to

Ok I’ll Show You My Work, By Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, translated by Jalal Toufic and first published in Al Adab in 2001 and Discourse, 24.1, winter 2002.

Compiled and written by Renuka Sawhney

“My general recollection of the Quixote, simplified by forgetfulness and indifference, can well equal the imprecise and prior image of a book not yet written. Once that image (which no one can legitimately deny me) is postulated, it is certain that my problem is a good bit more difficult than Cervantes’ was. I have taken on the mysterious duty of reconstructing…To compose the Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable undertaking, necessary and perhaps even unavoidable; at the beginning of the twentieth, it is almost impossible. It is not in vain that three hundred years have gone by, filled with exceedingly complex events. Amongst them, to mention only one, is the Quixote itself.” – Pierre Menard (Borges, 1999)

The exhibition, Wonder Beirut by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut, July 1998) revolves around a photographer who, along with his father, was commissioned by the Lebanese State in 1969 to do postcards, and who four years into the civil war and while shutting himself off in his studio takes down all these postcards, “which no longer referred to anything” since what they showed—Martyrs’ Square, the souks, policemen on camels, etc.—either was destroyed or no longer existed, and “burns them patiently, aiming at them his proper bombs and his own shells … thus making them conform better to his reality. When all was burned, it was peace.” At the end of the exhibition [Wonder Beirut], 6452 rolls of film were laid on the floor: rolls containing photos taken by the photographer but left undeveloped” (from Hadjithomas and Joreige’s text “Ṭayyib raḥ farjīk shighlī” [“OK, I’ll Show You My Work”], Al-Ādāb [January-February 2001]). “We wanted to return to an ontological definition of these images: the inscription of light by burning” [Al-Ādāb (January-February 2001): 37]) but is also a reaction to the incendiary wars that were going on in Lebanon; and that the substitution of textual descriptions for the photographs is related not only to the problematic relation of words to images in audio-visual works, but also to the withdrawal of many images past a surpassing disaster. I had not expected the intermediary step of Latent Image between exhibiting rolls of undeveloped films in Wonder Beirut and a possible future exhibition of developed photographs. This intermediary step can be considered a contribution to the resurrection of what has been withdrawn by the surpassing disaster. The intended effect of the work of the one trying to resurrect tradition past a surpassing disaster is fundamentally not on the audience, except indirectly; it is on the work of art—to resurrect it. Such resurrecting works are thus referential. It is interesting to see when—if at all— Hadjithomas and Joreige will feel the impulse to develop those photographs, this signaling the resurrection of tradition. (Toufic, 2009)


Wonder Beirut and The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer are echoed in the concept note of this issue. While Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer shows the constructed process (a non-linear process) of a the state of the object (in this case a dual object, the postcards (whose previous state and its attributes is the past and is past or passing)  and the city of Beirut (whose state is both physically being altered, and attacked and in realpolitik terms is under attack ) as it changes within the construct of fiction/real (the subject the photographer, and the real the city) and even while these two objects/subjects dovetail and flow together and separately they continue to exist in prior forms concurrently. In contrast, the act of marking the postcards to reflect the changed topography of the city, or the corresponding images, is the point at which a recorded act takes place, which travels from the symbolic into the real, and back again. The act of marking the postcards is then both symbolic and real and creates a recording; a visible change in the state of the city is recorded on the symbolic representation of the city, or at least one aspect of it. This then forms a series of markings, which also follows the same recording, in different forms. In effect the works are archives of both moments of capture as well as the process of capture that comes about through the change in the state (not only the form) of the postcards. Their previous purpose has been reconstituted to the present, and a recording has been made of that present. When displayed, exhibited and represented as a work, together this forms a secondary recording, and an accumulation takes place.

Laterally, the text, Ok I’ll Show You My Work, comes after and constitutes a different form of recording, of the work, which after its period of exhibition lays dormant. This is something that is addressed at the beginning of the text, where a re-visitation is difficult to articulate, and thereby a return to a former state is mediated by an outsider, by a third fictional catalyst. This publication constitutes an activation of a state of the text and the original recording, but also is an attempt to destabilize the archive of the work a bit further. Subsequently, the text destabilizes those archives, and that seems important to the underlying states of the postcards, as well as the context they capture through their marking as well as the forms of their subsequent iterations.

Jalal Toufic in his book, The Withdrawal of Tradition past a surpassing disaster wrote on Borges,

In 1941, in Buenos Aires, Borges published a collection of eight short texts, one of which is titled: “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.” What surpassing disaster could Pierre Menard have felt and that made him attempt to write the ninth, the twenty-second and the thirty-eighth chapters of Part One of Don Quixote? What surpassing disaster could Borges have felt for him to think of writing such a text, specifically in September 1934? (Toufic, 2009)

Your first works straightaway demonstrate  a desire to measure yourselves against the flaws and failures that run through this problematic territory like an open wound. Your subsequent work confirms all the interest you take in failure or the missing often at the center of your works. In this respect, we note all the importance given to the absence of writing about the Lebanese conflict in the contemporary history of that country, to the absence of pictures of the fearful prison that Khaim, to the absence of alternatives to the ever more spectacular media images of the war (Je Veux Voir [I Want To See], 2008), but also to the loss of those who disappeared during the conflict, the loss of oneself during episodes of sleep apnea ( A Perfect Day, 2005), and even the disappearance of one of your films (The Lost Film, 2003). One could think that you would set out to fill these absences. Well, that is not what you do. If you take on the role of archeologist or historian, it is rather to present this lack of image and open up a space for the “emancipated spectator” that we can be, “capable of seeing what he sees and knowing what to think of it and what to do with it”, according to Jacques Ranciere. – Dominique Abensour (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

For years, we thought about this state of latency in which we found ourselves, which in a way affected our photographs as it affected our films. We were struck by the omnipresence of that latency in our lives, by the fact that this notion is clearly related to the fact of making images in this city of Beirut. By definition, latency is the state of what exists in a non-apparent way, but can at any time manifest itself as something that is dormant and could perhaps wake up. Latency therefore has connotations that have to do with essence, but also with what is repressed, hidden unfathomable, invisible.  – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

The risk of latency is that the image may disappear, that it may not withstand the test of time, that too much time may have elapsed between the stimulus and the appropriate response. But some images come back to haunt us, as if certain representations did not vanish, like ghosts, traces of a mourning process that could not take place.  – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

Thinking about the images, their disappearance, their latency, the conditions under which they reappeared, preoccupied us for a long time, as the titles of our works indicate: Latent Images, A state of latency, Lasting Images, 180 Seconds of Lasting Images. But that preoccupation was disrupted by the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

After that war, we went back to see the Khaim detention camp; there wasn’t much left of it, as the camp had been totally destroyed. It was a scene of ruin and there, all of a sudden, the image became imperative. We took photographs; there was the need to produce images, to make them visible. The Khaim camp had only six years of visibility. In the first part of our film about the camp (Khaim, 2000), we worked on evoking the camp because we could not go there, we couldn’t film inside those walls. Today those walls no longer exist, the camp is only a souvenir. So this question then arose: would it be the right time to reveal some of our latent images, to develop at least the images taken at Khaim by Abdallah Farah, five years earlier?  – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige  (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

Is it definitive absence that makes it possible to bring back the past? But with the elapse of time, what state would we find those latent images in? Would the image return? And again, how would it return? In the end, no, it was nit time, we didn’t develop our images. – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige  (A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle, 2013)

I have reflected that it is permissible to see in this “final” Quixote a kind of palimpsest, through which the traces–tenuous but not indecipherable–of our friend’s “previous” writing should be translucently visible. Unfortunately, only a second Pierre Menard, inverting the other’s work, would be able to exhume and revive those lost Troys . . .

(Borges, 1999)

(Toufic, 2009)Pages 71- 77


Complied by Renuka Sawhney

March 2014

Notes: All citations made without alteration or editing.

Works Cited:

A Conversation with Dominique Abensour, Etel Adnan, Rabih Mroue, Jacques Ranciere, Michele Theriault, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle. (2013). In M. T. Clement Dirie, & M. T. Clement Dirie (Ed.), Joana Hadjithomas Khalil Joreige (pp. 97 – 111). Zurich: JRP|Ringier.

Borges, J. L. (1999). Everything and Nothing. (D. A. all., Trans.) New York: New Directions.

Toufic, J. (2009). The Withdrawl of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster. Forthcoming Books.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual artwork that interwine.

For the last 15 years, they have focused on the images, representations and history of their home country, Lebanon and questioned the fabrication of imaginaries in the region and beyond. Together, they have directed documentaries such as Khiam 2000-2007(2008) and El Film el Mafkoud (The Lost Film) (2003) and feature films such as Al Bayt el Zaher (1999) and A Perfect Day (2005).Their feature film, Je Veux Voir (I Want to See), starring Catherine Deneuve and Rabih Mroue, premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2008 and was chosen by The French critics Guild as Best singular Film 2008. In 2013, they have presented their feature documentary The Lebanese Rocket Society, the strange tale of the Lebanese space race and a series of artistic installations around the space project of the 60′s.Their films have been multi awarded in international festivals and enjoyed releases in many countries. Several retrospective of their films have been organized in venues as Tate Modern, Moma New York, Vision du reel, Nyon, Paris cinema, Institut Français, Tokyo….They have created numerous photographic and video installations, among them Faces, Lasting Images, Distracted Bullets, The Circle of Confusion, Don’t Walk, War Trophies, Landscape of Khiam, A Faraway Souvenir, The Lebanese Rocket society and the multifaceted project Wonder Beirut shown in solo or group exhibitions in museums, biennials and art centers around the world, such as lately:  SF MOMA, Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Beaubourg, Paris, Mori museum, Tokyo The Guggenheim, New York, la Triennale, 1rst Kochi Biennal, 12th Istanbul Biennal, 9th Gwangiu Biennale, ZKM Karlsruhe, KW Berlin, 10th Sharjah Biennal, 11ème biennale de Lyon, V &A,  UK, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Singapore art museum and many others….They are the authors of numerous publications and university lecturers in Lebanon and Europe, members of the board of Metropolis Cinema, and co-founders of Abbout Productions.


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This entry was posted on April 10, 2014 by in Essays, Volume 2 - April 2014 and tagged , , , , , .
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