The Derivative is a bi-annual online publication launched in October 2020, in the midst of unprecedented political, social, economic, and environmental collapse in Lebanon. It is an attempt at building collective vocabularies, registers, and practices able to account for and run against the systemic onslaught we are faced with.

The Derivative is a student of the uprising of Oct 17, 2019; it is first and foremost a rhizomatic object around which to mobilize a diversity of praxes. Experimenting with collective editorial models, each issue is above all an excuse to think and make together and a way to expand and strengthen networks of friends and allies through divergent modes of address, thought, and action.

Every issue of The Derivative starts with three guest editors, each assigned a theme in the form of a three-letter root word (جذر) in Arabic. Each editor then collaborates with five contributors to help unfold the various facets of each theme, as well as an artist contribution responding to each text.

Bone Insurrection

Rabih Mroué

Ali Cherri, from the "Dead Inside" series, watercolor. 2021

The Dream I Didn’t Dream, Part 1

In my dream, I was taking inventory of the bones in my body, only to find one missing.

I must have miscounted, I thought at first.

So I counted them all over again only to find, this time round, two missing.

A smile drew across my face, certain as I was of the implausible scenario.

Impossible.

I decided to count them a third time; and, to my surprise, three bones were missing.

It was unbelievable…

I was certain that there was some mistake in my counting.

So I took to counting them a fourth time; but this time extremely slowly, bone by bone, with caution.

And it turned out that four bones were missing.

I was stunned.

I took to counting them again, and with every count–a fifth, sixth, seventh time–one less bone.

It was terrifying; I got really scared and didn’t know what to do. I was scared to try counting again because I was fairly certain that, if I kept on counting over and over and over again, I’d lose all my bones.

So that’s why I stopped. And didn’t take an inventory.

Anyway, now I know that there are at least seven bones missing in my body.

The Never-Ending Construction Site

I don’t usually remember my dreams when I wake up, but there are sounds that do continue to ring in my head. It doesn’t seem like the sounds have anything to do with the dreams I dreamed–even though I don’t remember the dream, I know there’s no relationship. What I remember are sounds of clamor coming from within my own body. They’re always the same sounds, with some variation, as if on the same theme: cracking, shoveling, hammers banging, crashing, gravel being poured into a landfill, clicking into place, welding, a chainsaw, the rumble of refrigeration, a rolling boulder, compressor, drilling, someone getting knocked around, sintering, scratching, rustling. It all sounds like a construction site, or a destruction site, or both. And it’s all happening inside my sleeping body. Strange how, when my eyes open, the sounds vanish, only the echoes reverberating in my head.

Hardest of all is trying to get out of bed. My bones make these strange, piercing noises as if it’s the first time they move. They creak and crack and grind against each other–the pain is of course tremendous, the agony severe. When I come to sit up straight on my bed, it feels like it’s the first time in my life I’m doing so. When I stand up, it’s like the first time I stand up. When I walk, it’s like the first time I walk. Day after day, I have to re-learn all these movements that I presumably know well and that I do every day, that we like to call “routine.” In other words, every day, I have this job of working to tame my estranged body, to render it a domesticated person.

That’s right: every day, I have to learn all over again how to stand, walk, sit, cross my legs, wave to my friends, bend over, run, jump, squat, kneel, rise up, be defeated. Sometimes, I’d be victorious, sometimes I’d fail. By the end of the day, I’d always be tired and exhausted, ready to crash. And thus to sleep I’d go, only to get thrown all over again into the pit of construction, or of destruction, or of them both.

Please Take Note

There are two types of people: those of sturdy build, others supple. I’m of the first type. I mean that literally not figuratively, which means that I am of a dried-out-and-crusty form of sturdy build. It’s all empty inside–necrosis by worms–and brittle. The faintest shock and it breaks apart, fractures.

In that sense, I’m of the second type: the people with supple build, but in the figurative sense. Which means that my build can’t keep up pace, it can’t endure. It’s weak and needs scaffolding to prop it up and keep it in place, standing upright, so that–should it snap–it won’t all crumble down to the earth.

I’m now 24 years old-er than 30, and my body still hasn’t gotten used to hardship. It can’t tolerate any sort of pain or hurt, nor can it withstand a sudden jolt of joy. All these years, and it hasn’t gotten used to anything. Not even the experience of life, not even the hardship of war has taught my body anything or strengthened its build.

My build is sturdy and feeble like the dried thistle we used to break apart with our soft hands when we were young. In its empty marrow, we’d look for the yellow worm crawling down and pull it out. We’d catch it, tie it up as bait in an iron trap, place it in the field, cover it up, and hide it well with dirt, leaving only the yellow worm still visible to the eye. There, it would wriggle in pain, dancing the dance of temptation for the birds luring one of them in. The bird would scrutinize it with its beak and then get stuck in the snare … and would eventually end up between the clean white teeth of the cute and innocent cherubs that we were.

Mass Grave

Eventually, I became convinced that there was a mass grave inside of me, that every night I was being thrown into it–my bones intermixing with those of other people. From the heap of bones, some bizarre something starts to take form: a bone from here, one from there; some long, some short; some thin, some wide. They start coming together to form a mongrel skeleton. I wake up dressed in it, or it in me–I wake up worn out as if returning from battle, war, famine, pandemic, and catastrophe.

That Same Night, Part 2

I found a human bone that wasn’t mine about five feet under the skin during an excavation of my own body. I tried to meet and greet someone from among those dead with no luck.

The bones were all mixed in a jumble.

So it wasn’t easy to know which bone belonged to which person or even which bone was for my own self.

I was able, nevertheless, to distinguish a few pieces of my own skeleton.

There was one particular bone that seemed to belong to my left foot.

There was also a wrist bone, about two-and-a-half inches in diameter, or about half an inch longer than my own wrist, that probably belonged to a man in his thirties.

I also found the pelvis of a young girl of about nine years old buried in a cavity within my own ribs.

I found a young guy’s leg, a child’s hand.

The jaw bone–and one gold tooth–of a forty-year-old woman.

The bones were scattered about inside my body.

I also found a skull among them, of an older man of at least eighty years old.

It seemed to me that he took a bullet in his skull.

Tonight, I would like to play the role of the left temple of this old man, who was no doubt murdered treacherously in a premeditated plot.

No matter that I have no idea who he might be or what he does.

If I were to think of who he might be… just maybe…

Kamal comes to my mind…

Tonight, I want to be his ten fingers.

If this person were someone really dear to me,

It would be Maryam.

Whose waist I want to be.

Someone else has come to mind–no need to say their name.

I’m going to be their torso.

I’m going to perform the role of the shoulders of the person who gave me this ring.

I was holding her right hand, my first time witnessing someone dying.

I’m going to be her right hand.

Tonight, I’m going to be his left elbow.

Her stomach.

One of his toes.

Her chest.

Her neck.

His respiratory system.

Her nervous system.

Their genitals.

Their heartbeat.

Tonight, I’m going to be the eyes of my beloved.

Name

I once read that, when you’re introducing yourself, you shouldn’t say, “My name is so and so.”

Instead, you should say, “My name was so and so.”

How many corpses am I? How many slain? How many deaths have I died? What memory remains of them?

Death by an armed clash, by a soldier’s bullet, by the rods of thugs, by the spray of bullets from the militia of the Sayyed and his lackeys, by bullets of celebration, by a sniper’s shot, in a protest, by an explosive, in a simulation, by accident, by surprise, by suicide, by assassination… So many deaths, and every time I wake up more dead than before.

(…)

My name was Rabih.

Translation: Eyad Houssami


Notes

1. The Dream I Didn’t Dream: this text is an excerpt from Water between Three Hands, a dance performance, written and directed by Rabih Mroué, with choreography by the director and Dance On Ensemble–Berlin. The performance premiered on April 23, 2016, at Kampnagel, Hamburg.

2. Tonight: this text comes from the same performance.