Coffee With Hezbollah

Here’s a strange and sparkly, jumpy and tightly-packed little book by PULSE’s own Belen Fernandez, in which our heroines (Belen and the photographer Amelia Opalinska) hitch-hike through Lebanon and Syria a few weeks after the war of summer 2006, consuming far more caffeine than is good for them.

Beyond Gonzo, it doesn’t pretend to be journalism at all. Instead it recounts a fairly lunatic, fairly random sight-seeing tour towards ‘the dark force’ Hezbollah. The setting, of course, is an Israeli-devastated landscape, and the ‘dark force’ tag, like all the book’s other appropriations of mendacious political language, is ironic. “Coffee with Hebollah” is, as Norman Finkelstein writes in his recommendation, “simultaneously serious and silly.” It’s also quick witted and very well informed, sensitive to the discourses and stereotypes of Lebanon’s 18 sects, the country’s tortured history, as well as the fantastic representations of Lebanon that have emerged from Israeli and Western power centres. This makes the book a new kind of journalism as well as a parody of the mainstream version.

The satire is harsh, and nobody escapes the treatment, including the author. The absurdity of the material is pointed up further by the mock-formal language of negotiation and diplomatic report in which encounters are narrated, the supposedly transparent language of perfect sense. So, for instance, labelling somebody by sect is described as conducting  an “exhaustive religio-spatial analysis.” Such phrasing mirrors the pompous pretensions of the thinking it describes. There is also a great deal of translation comedy, natural territory for irony, which lies in gaps, in the distance between reality and representation.

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