The Paris Review

On Beirut, the Unsung Capital of Arabic Modernism

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Arabic Modernism was a literary movement of exiles and émigrés who planted their flag in West Beirut during the mid-’50s, when the Lebanese capital became a meeting ground for intellectuals from across the region. West Beirut, a neighborhood known as Hamra, was “the closest the Arab world could ever get to having its own Greenwich Village.” For a brief twenty-year period, until the outbreak of civil war in 1975, Hamra was a contact zone for artists and militants from the far Left to the far Right, nationalists and internationalists, experimentalists and traditionalists. In this highly politicized , journals of ideas flourished, and each coterie had its own café. Local banks were flush with deposits from the newly oil-rich states of the Gulf, helping to finance a construction boom that quadrupled the built area of the city in the decade following World War II. This intellectual and economic ferment turned Beirut into a magnet for disaffected thinkers from within Lebanon as well as from neighboring countries.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review9 min read
Emeric Pressburger’s Lost Nazi Novel
In her monthly column, Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes the out-of-print and forgotten books that shouldn’t be. Today, the words “written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger” are considered a stamp of genius. The mid-twe
The Paris Review2 min read
Nick Tosches in a Trench Coat
Nick Tosches, music writer and biographer, died at the age of sixty-nine on Sunday. I spent an awful lot of time around Nick Tosches in the late seventies. We’d wind up in the same places, we were published in the same crummy magazines, and we’d stu
The Paris Review5 min read
Women Who Enjoy Pleasure
Novelist Lucy Ellmann’s perennial and revolutionary subtext is that women should enjoy pleasure. Lucy Ellmann’s great theme is the grim impossibility of proportion: emotional, moral, cosmic. Her 1998 novel Man or Mango? begins with a disbelieving la