Lebanon’s urban landscape, littered with derelict houses, bullet-scarred walls, sectarian war symbols, posters and effigies of fallen fighters/martyrs, continues to be one of the most enduring reminders of the country’s violent and bloody past. For Lebanese author Jean Said Makdisi, ‘physical landmarks’ evoke memories of personal pain and sorrow, and provide intimate spaces in which the past can be inhabited and relived. Yet equally, for sixteen-year-old high school student Alain, generational distance does not lessen the power or salience of these remnants of war. In his mind they still evoke images, narratives and emotions that bring the past to life. While Aristotelian tradition affirms the practice of transferring memory to solid material objects and places, it may be more accurate in historian Robert Bevan’s words, to understand the built environment as ‘merely a prompt, a corporeal reminder of the events involved in its construction, use and destruction’ (2006: 15). Visual prompts therefore are invested with mnemonic power and meaning through the interpretative forces of narrative tradition (the story) and spatial practice (the lived experience and use of space), which remain subject to contestation and reinvention over time. These historic traces cannot be limited to what can be seen; for Alain they are also to be found in the silences, empty spaces and voids that dominate Beirut’s downtown and still punctuate the Khutut al-tammas (line of fire), or ‘Green Line’ delineating east and west. Sites of displacement are just as salient as the
visible traces of the war and indeed offer creative space for forms of emplacement through which Lebanese can redefine themselves and their relationships to others (Flynn 1997). Both tangible sites and spaces of absence help establish a dynamic memoryscape of multilayered social histories and personal (re) imaginings. In this chapter I will explore how Lebanese youth negotiate and interpret the visual legacy of war. How are physical sites of memory and displacement significant in the construction of identity, boundaries and ideologies of difference? How are remembrances affected by space, interaction and intimacy, and how are they mediated and understood across changing social spheres?