Trial by Ink


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“There are at least three aspects of this collection of essays which are both singular and superb. First, not surprisingly, the prose is incisive and yet evocative; Lababidi moves from the aphoristic and the epigrammatic to the suggestive, the lightly hinted, the nuanced, with impressive ease. This is a rare gift, more associated with European writers than with American. This striation of tone, of register, of mood, gives a sense of surprise to his sentences; they spring back to the touch. Sometimes they even seem surprised at themselves. Secondly, Lababidi covers a huge range of subjects. From Nietzsche to belly-dancing, indeed! What is impressive, however, is not so much the range itself as the aplomb with which he disports himself there. Kafka, Kierkegaard, Montaigne, et al., rub shoulders with Michael Jackson and “Ramadan TV.” But I like the fact that he don’t blur distinctions either. These writers or entertainers are treated on their own terms. I’m not a fan of Michael Jackson, or of Susan Sontag, for that matter, but Lababidi persuades me to an unexpected sympathy with them, at least while I’m reading his essays. The ability to reveal or to create affinities is the secret gift of the greatest essayists, in my view, and Lababidi does this impressively often in Trial by Ink. There is also a finely calibrated sense of the absurd, the whimsical, the slyly surrealistic throughout. And this has the unexpected but quite genuine effect of strengthening and emphasizing not only the literary but the moral seriousness of the essays. Finally, there is something which is difficult to express: this book has a distinctive flavour, the unmistakable flavour of a sensibility. This unites the essays, however disparate in topic. But this “taste” is what draws the reader into the book and entices him from one essay to the next. The book becomes an exploration on which the reader embarks. This is one of the elements in collections of essays I most appreciate--this secret invitation au voyage which the author holds out--and Lababidi does this extremely well--with courtesy as well as cunning. The reader is like Bartleby (in my favourite of these essays) who prefers not to but here is persuaded otherwise.” —Eric Ormsby, author of Ghazali (Makers of the Muslim World) “A handsomely written set of re ections on philosophy, literature, and popular art, with some rare insights into everyday life in Egypt and Lebanon.” —Arthur C. Danto, author of After the End of Art “Lababidi has apprenticed himself to some of the most exacting thinkers of the West in order to become that rare thing, a cultural critic who has arrived at original opinions without becoming opinionated. Using critical reason as a kind of peace-keeping mission, his essays about the contemporary Middle East provide some of the freshest commentary I have read on the subject. A beginning so illuminating as this one stands warrant for a major career.” —Alfred Corn, author of Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007 “Lababidi’s mind has a far-ranging quality. These essays show a remarkable talent and originality that would make any intelligent person aware of his considerable intellectual voltage.” —Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider “Nothing human seems alien to Yahia Lababidi, and he essays as naturally and insistently as he thinks. Intellectual obsession never seemed so elegant as when the extreme, the taboo, the performed life and its cultural artifacts pass by Lababidi’s gaze.” —David Lazar, author of Body of Brooklyn “Lababidi brings his polymath attentions to bear on our world in the manner of all great essayists: with curiosity, connection, compassion. Trial by Ink is a beautiful, intelligent exploration, an opportunity for readers to think along with a vibrant mind.” —Patrick Madden, author of Quotidiana