Please note that our galleries will be closed for installation until Wednesday, March 6

In Conversation: Form and Innovation in the Art and Writing of Kahlil Gibran

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Claire Gilman:
Welcome everyone to The Drawing Center. Good evening. I am Claire Gilman, Chief Curator at The Drawing Center and organizer of the exhibition, "A Greater Beauty: The Drawings of Kahlil Gibran," on view through early September in our main and lower level galleries. And I am thrilled to welcome you here tonight for the first of three programs dedicated to the exhibition and to exploring the work of poet, artist and legendary cultural figure, Kahlil Gibran.

I want to mention that also currently on view in our back gallery is incredible installation by the New York based artist Naudline Pierre. And we have a walkthrough with Naudline coming up this Thursday and a few more programs in the works. So if you go to our website, you'll see all the programs we have planned, but if you have not had a chance to see that exhibition, I encourage you to come back and spend time with both shows.

So tonight I am joined by Anneka Lenssen, Associate Professor of Global Modern Art at UC, Berkeley, and by Huda Fakhreddine, Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at Penn. And I'm not going to go through bios because you have those there, but I'll just say a little bit about each of them. So Anneka was an invaluable resource when I was putting together this exhibition. So small digression about that. I came to Gibran by chance really, four years ago. I was in a private museum called the NABU Museum outside of Beirut, and I was immediately drawn to an image of a veiled head hanging on the wall, which struck me as both timeless and strangely contemporary. And that's actually that drawing in the ornate gold frame in the middle of that wall [Kahlil Gibran, "Untitled (A Vestal), 1916. Watercolor on paper, 11.7 x 8.7 in (29.6 x 22.2 cm) NABU Museum Collection].

And so I went up to look at the label to see who this drawing was by. And lo and behold, it was by Khalil Gibran. And someone who I knew something about, but really not very much about and had no idea that he made drawings or art of any kind. So there began my investigation into, as I said, an artist I knew very little about who wrote for the first part of his life in a language I didn't know at all.

So returning to an Anneka, Anneka is an expert in Syrian art and art of the Arab diaspora. She is the author of "Beautiful Agitation: Modern Painting and Politics in Syria," and a contributor to our catalog. And she served as a much needed academic advisor on this exhibition, helping us sort through primary source material and Arabic language texts so that we could present the background material that is so essential to this exhibition and to our understanding of Gibran. So I just want to say I'm so thrilled to have Anneka with us tonight. This is actually the first time we've met in person, even though we Zoomed many, many times over the last four years, but I just want to acknowledge her contribution to this show, which was truly invaluable.

And I'm also joined this evening by Huda Fakhreddine, as I said, Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at Penn, and the author of numerous books on Arabic literature, including the Arabic prose poem, "Poetic Theory and Practice" published last year. And Huda is also a noted poet in her own right and translator of Arabic texts and we are thrilled to have her here with us as well. So together, Anneka and Huda will discuss form and innovation in the work of Gibran, with particular attention to the way in which Gibran challenged traditional models both in his art and in his writing, paving the way, especially in his written work for new modes of expression.

So many of you in the audience tonight may know Gibran primarily as an author and primarily as the author of "The Prophet," one of the best-selling and most translated books of all time. But he was in fact, as some of you may know, much more than that. He was a passionate and dedicated artist producing drawings and paintings alongside his written work, which he intended both for inclusion in his books and as standalone images. Notably, Gibran abandoned painting in 1912, claiming that he was a much better draftsman than a painter. This might be something that we touch on later. And he was also a foundational member of the Arab American diaspora at the turn of the 20th century. He was the second Arab American to publish in English, following his friend Ameen Rihani, whose novel, "The Book of Khalid" was published in 1911, and for which Gibran provided illustrations.

And that book, you can see that book and a couple of pages of that book in the vitrine directly in front of me there. And he was instrumental in bringing attention to the plight of the Syrian people in the Eastern Mediterranean and in his adopted home country, the US. So a theme of today's discussion is in-betweeness, something Huda explained to me in an earlier conversation that is all the more remarkable given what she described as what a finished language Arabic is.

So instead, everything that Gibran produces or invokes is in a state of becoming, a state which reflects his own journey as someone who was between art forms, as we've discussed, between nations. Gibran never became a US citizen, although he probably could have between languages. Arabic was Gibran's first spoken language, but he didn't know actually how to write Arabic. So he returned to Beirut as a teenager or as a nearing an older teenager to study. And he published his first books in Arabic and then shifted in 1918 to publishing primarily in English and between faith. So Gibran was Christian, but he was anti-church and incorporated numerous faiths, both eastern and western into his art and writing.

So it was this sense of in-betweenness and longing that attracted me to Gibran's work when I saw his drawing at the Nabu Museum back in 2019. In particular, it's unfinished quality and the tension between materials that he explores in so many of his drawings. And in putting together this exhibition, I wanted to convey the multiplicity at play in Gibran's work and life. So many people, I think if they know Gibran, know only one Gibran, and most people know Gibran the writer, Gibran the mystic writer.

But in fact, in my opinion, there are at least three Gibrans. There's Gibran the writer, Gibran the artist and Gibran the cultural or historical figure. And my goal with this exhibition was to put those three Gibrans in dialogue. So the different Gibrans are present everywhere of course in a sense, but also each has a focused space. So Gibran the artist is really presented on the outer lighter colored walls where you can go and absorb the drawings without too much text, without too much context. And then Gibran the historical cultural figure is represented in the front space and also on this center wall where you see portraits of the individuals with whom he dialogued throughout his life, as well as four vitrines that take up each take up a different theme. One takes up his relationship to politics and his role in the politics of the time, his relationship to religion and universalist spirituality, his experimentation with language and then his relationship to his patrons.

And then downstairs, I don't know if everyone was able to get down there, but we have a reading room where we have a lot of first editions and other important publications in vitrines, but also books that people can sit down and read. So Gibran the writer has his space as well. So we will perhaps talk more about the exhibition later this evening. And of course, when we get to the question portion, feel free to ask questions. But before that, I would like to turn things over to Anneka, who will give a short presentation, followed by Huda. And then we will have a bit of a dialogue between the three of us and finally open things up to questions from the audience. So thank you all for coming.

Anneka Lenssen:
Thank you Claire for the invitation and for the collaboration, now for months and months, maybe even a year, and to friends and colleagues and comrades for coming this evening.

All right, so I opened my remarks in the same way that I opened my essay in this exhibition catalog with a quote from Gibran. On October 1915, Khalil Gibran mailed a letter and a drawing of some kind, now lost to his friend and interlocutor Mary Haskell. "I am sending you a drawing," he wrote, "Put it under glass if you can. The paper on which it is drawn is not strong enough to stand many things." The passage is striking to me for a number of reasons, many of them germane to this show, an exhibition that after all places all of Gibran's drawings under glass.

Gibran's notes serves as a reminder of the relatively casual attitude that he and Haskell otherwise maintained toward drawings in 1915. The artist residing in New York at that time and his patrons still based in Boston, exchanging correspondence about the cataclysmic suffering of the First World War, as well as aesthetic tropes of survival and beauty. And as you will see from the items gathered for the exhibition, when Gibran and Haskell met up, they made frequent use of sketches as thought aids to work through ideas of symbols and sign systems, which they saw as shuttles within nested realms of duration and existence. Yet equally, they would've shuffled and stacked those scraps of images rather than putting them under glass and used them or related to them as temporary resting points for ideas.

Second, I would say that the definition of Gibran's practice as an artist is that he always asked too much of his drawings. The paper was rarely strong enough to stand his method. Take this watercolor completed 1925 and likely given as a gift, you can see the inscription of Christmas in the lower right-hand corner. And it's one of at least two drawings in the exhibition that carry that kind of designation. Not a single color in this image has been left unmodulated. By the way, the actual drawings exactly behind the screen so you can come afterward and look at it.

For every pink purportedly flesh tone, a layer of complimentary blue has been added to float and to bloom like a circulatory system of potential oxygenation capable of converting stone to flesh. And he has a lot of drawings that play with bodies becoming stone. We see networks of pigmented edges. The line of the figure's breast bone glows almost red with accumulated pigment, a sim that marks elemental difference. At the same time it proposes the possibility of its dissolution.

Toward the bottom of the drawings, Gibran's pigment sits so thickly that areas of the image start to crease. Or maybe he pushes too hard on the pencil and it leaves a craggy impression. From the standpoint of technique alone, it's a terrible watercolor. The paper is really ill-suited for the medium. It's a bond paper produced for typewriters and it will buckle at the first touch of water. As the paper starts to buckle from wet washes, color settles into the valleys of the surface. At points, pigment speckles and sits as an accumulation. And we can see myriad instances in the exhibition and here in the drawing, specifically where uneven application of water produces internal resistance. A dry patch forces the wet patch to bloom into what watercolor instructors, that you can watch on YouTube, referred to as cauliflower edges.

So how then to understand this method of drawing that I would urge us to celebrate? Images so latent with desire to communicate or to bear witness to forces that they collapse into indeterminacy. Combinations of pink and blue actually recur in Gibran's oeuvre. You'll see it in the whole show, as do heads and eyes that have a kind of amnion effect or veil of pigment that fuses them shut. And I think one way to begin to approach the oddity of such drawings is to recall the artist's early training in pictorialist photography.

So you can see here a platinum print by Fred Holland Day, a Boston based publisher and photographer who recruited a very young Gibran to his studio. At the turn of the century, Day rose to prominence as an advocate for the important, also famously short-lived American School of Pictorialist Photography, which aimed to marshal all available techniques of camera and dark room and display to transcend the humdrum quality of photographic details that the camera just captures and to invoke instead ideas of the infinite and of emotion.

So this particular photograph presents an image of the mythical figure of Orpheus, a musician and a poet. And rather than rely on the iconographic liar to establish the identity of Orpheus, Day uses a double exposure to fuse man in nature and another facet of man into a dreamlike environment of cave and forest. The location of the body of Orpheus is doubled and therefore left indeterminate. The small male nude may be the stirrings of the subconscious of the thinking head in the sky.

And as a quick note, this is called, "Reclining Nudes." And this idea of doubling bodies or overlayered bodies. I think we can think of in this kind of technique of layering the photograph. So these kinds of photographs understood the image as always under development. Day sometimes adjusted his prints beyond the purity of nature writing itself onto the photographic emulsion. So not only would he interrupt the exposure to make it double. He would apply color directly to the surface and the chosen technology, the platinum print proceeded by exposures that fuse salt crystals in into a metal surface image that's absorbed by the paper. It's very permanent, but the paper can degrade and fall away. So the image specimen, in other words, continued to transform across multiple conjunctions of material.

For the whole of Gibran's career, he espoused a conceptual commitment to images as developing entities. It was a view that put him at odds with many modernist schools of the time, which he fully knew and invited. We see here a semi satirical sketch that he made after visiting the Armory Show in 1913. It's a depiction of Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase." For Gibran, the painting had departed so fully and regrettably from nature that it had become a picture of a mechanistic worldview. So he gives us a series of photographic frames of kinesthetic motion that ceased in his view to testify to anything like motion. And as we here, he positioned the painting at the Acme of Western empiricism. So you see these Greek meanders and an idea of the determinist ethos of that approach to the world. By contrast, the image that I opened with, these drawings are produced through actions of development in place. So rather than a series of snapshots, it's a density of being that develops on the surface.

Over the period 1914 to 1918 in particular, again, a period that is happening for him during the First World War, a time of great activism for him on behalf of the communities of Mount Lebanon who were starving and Gibran was organizing ways to bring relief to those communities at home in New York because Gibran made watercolor after watercolor concerned with capturing the presence of a greater self, composed out of all the lesser selves that manifest themselves in humankind's multiplicity. Notice how in this drawing, blue pigment becomes crystalline on the surface. It doesn't get absorbed, it just sits there as a speckled texture. And equally, the pencil line here is used to indicate muchness, just as much as it's trying to designate fixed anatomy. So we have many outlines of a body or of all anatomical possibilities. So that line is not actually fixing a presence, but instead giving us a sense of how it might unfold or become bigger or develop, and thereby suggest a greater presence.

We can also consider the image "Centaur, Woman and Child" also made in 1916 and exhibited in January 1917 in New York at Knoedler Gallery. The Centaur figure in Gibran's oeuvre seems to work to thematize the impossible dualisms of gendered bodies within his idea of a greater nature. So as scholars associated with the Gibran Museum in Bsharri, Lebanon would have it, the addition of the Centaur to an image of maternity, a mother's body and a child or to an image of paternity, a father and a child serves to introduce the idea of an evolutionary schema from human existence and reproduction into mythical eternity, and this idea of the cosmos reproducing. The Centaur is not precisely sext. Gibran barely ever does that. It's both and neither, and it sustains existence beyond reproduction.

I have a detail here of that Centaur drawings on the other side of the wall. And here I'm really interested in how Gibran, again using this blue on top of pink where the blue sits there, to think about the separation between entities, the Centaur and the human body separation is achieved by this watery membrane that catches the blue pigment along the line. It's an imperfect surface tension. It holds it there, but it gives us the sense that that division might also be overcome.

Or one more example. In this great painting that's in the MET's Collection, I've come down the ages. We have a central body that, especially if we think through the photographic origins of Gibran's thinking about an image, appears reflective as if it hasn't developed enough. But it sits within these scrubbed tones of pigment, not on unlike F. Holland Day's use of emulsion going back into the exposed image in order to bring out a scrubbed sense of texture. Aspects of this drawing then seem to reprise the hazy logic of Day's pictorialism.

But notice too, and this is the other aspect of Gibran's drawings that I'm trying to pull out in this brief 10-minute presentation, underlying tracings of a sense of propulsive possibility. So you can actually see in that this drawing is over here. You can see little hints of feet and other bodies that the artist had initially drawn in and then gone back into the image to rework to give us this craggy setting. So what began as an exercise in capturing the latent possibility of presence in line, becomes over the duration of the process sedimented and physically dense.

So to return to my opening injunction or directive, put it under glass if you can, one last time. This exhibition offers us a full catalog of the many things that Gibran attempted to enact in on and through his drawings, almost all of which exceed the poultry material means of pigment and paper. But equally, I think that his process or his thinking about images and drawing might enjoin us to participate in a care taking as well. For to put an image under glass for Gibran and Haskell circa 1915 was to protect its continued development in relation to the world, rather than to establish its fixity as a representation.

It was in other words, to engage in the kind of care work that we now talk about all the time as a balm for the era of exhaustion from traded commodities and endless equivalences, as is so often cited in contemporary writing about curatorial work as we now all know, to reflexively point to the etymological origin of the verb to curate is the Latin verb, curare, meaning to attend to, take care of or to look after. And within the organized Christian Church with which Gibran was very familiar, this involved stewarding a soul to salvation.

When it comes to Gibran's drawings, the care work required would seem to expand beyond hierarchical dreams of salvation, and this is something he wrote about often, to instead involve recognizing the interdependence of lives. So his is a code of conduct defined by modesty and the negation of authorship. The title of our conversation today, "Promised Consideration of Innovation As Well As Form." I've so far focused on highlighting Gibran's distinctive treatment of form. He produced specimens of dissolving and beating up inks and excessive muchness meant to point at greater unities beyond our standard representational realms.

Importantly, in so doing, Gibran pursued relatively few claims to stylistic innovation. I'm not sure what I have to say about innovation, but I'm looking forward to the discussion. I don't think he was particularly interested in singular creative practice, and that's my final point here as the exhibition really helps to highlight, Gibran sustained his drawings through techniques of reproduction. So these drawings were going to go right into print and I would argue he knew that and he thought about that and how that bore upon the status of the surface of the image.

So as you'll find in this corner of the gallery, my favorite, Gibran's work right over there troubles the usual distinction between ostensible originals and ostensible reproductions, where in one version of a drawing, the density of pigments such as this before it goes into reproduction, the density of pigment intensifies the tone, so blues become bluer. In another, once printed in the book, the same tone becomes this super high contrast of black and white. It makes me think back to the photographic processes that Gibran was trained through.

So as pigments play across media and their status is information multiplies, that's what makes Gibran's version of an in-between subjectivity, especially surprising and compelling. Rather than slimmed down existences that fit in intercises, the drawings are unexpectedly excessive and his drawing practice and indeed his identity indifference as an artist and a poet proceeds by doubling, blooming and enacting co-presence and interdependency. Thank you.

Huda J. Fakhreddine:
Hello. Thank you all for joining us and thank you Anneka for this presentation. I was very much looking forward to your part, not mine. And I thought that I was going to go first and then were we were going to sit with your part longer, but yeah, let me say a few things. First of all, thank you Claire for this invitation to come here and do this, but also to think about Gibran. I've been thinking of him obsessively for the past month or so and it's an uncomfortable thing to do. I was sharing this with Aimee when I walked in. I grew up in Lebanon and those of you who are Lebanese in the audience, maybe share this experience, you grow up avoiding Gibran because he's everywhere and I'm looking him straight in the eye now. I had a copy of "The Prophet" with that portrait on its cover and it haunted me.

It's a book I read but did not really read. He's an author I know very well, but I don't really. I know that he was also an artist but was never really interested in his art. So there's this relationship especially for people like me who care and live and spend their lives thinking about Arabic literature where we glaze over Gibran, but once we get a chance to sit with him, we realize how important the unfinished, the still developing, that risk taking of just throwing yourself into something that could fail terribly. The power of all of that, especially when it comes to contributing or intervening in a tradition that is so full and long and rich and a language like Arabic, and I don't know how many of you are Arabic speakers, don't be afraid. That was exactly my point.

A language that is probably, this is my personal opinion, the most beautiful thing ever, but it is intimidating. And for Arabic speakers, natives of Arabic, for whom Arabic is the first language, there's always a fear of making a mistake. And for those who learn it later, a greater fear of making a mistake. So this is somebody who was not afraid of that, and Anneka described the first slide as a terrible watercolor. I think that really sums him up. Terrible mistakes that paved the way and shake things up and a tradition that is really an institution, it allows air to go through and things to be shaken up, to either fall apart, come crashing down or to be material for something new to be built.

I have some prepared remarks, but I've been a bit overwhelmed walking through, and I have to congratulate Claire and Anneka for putting this together because it does bring so many dimensions of this figure that are usually either one of them is present and the others are absent together. And again, for Lebanese, it is emotional to have to face him in all of his facets, but here are some remarks about where he stands in the Arabic literary tradition and especially as a precursor, he's often celebrated as a precursor of the modernist movement in the first half of the 20th century. And then we're going to turn to project some texts because I'd like to read out loud to you some of his poems, we're looking at him here as a poet, so you hear the sound of Gibran, the many sounds of Gibran.

Yeah, so we'll get to that. But as I was saying, I'll try to read and I'll try to be brief because I really think the conversation is the highlight of this event. Literary historians claim, so academic literary historians claim that modernism in Arabic poetry began in the 1940s and some of them are bold enough to say 1947 is the year the first modern Arabic poem was composed, and they understand the movement in many ways as a reaction to or an emulation of Western modernist movements. The view of modernism as something that suddenly happens in a specific year is limited, reductive and very academic, I have to say. It's a very limited and reductive way of understanding how the poetic unfolds and how poets in a certain tradition wrestle with the past as they imagine a new literary language and a new... And think about the imagination of their language both past and future.

It's an orientalist approach and I'm going to try to avoid this word because it's overused and again intimidating, but Orientalism is downstairs the copy of Edward Said's Orientalism is in Gibran's reading room, that's very fitting. If we're not going to call it orientalist and not open that door, I think a good way to describe this perspective or this approach of understanding modernism in the Arabic tradition, it's a perspective that privileges history over poetic imperatives and influences. It's a perspective that privileges the circumstances, the historical circumstances of the Arab world in the first half of the 20th century, thinking of the colonial and the post-colonial condition which places Arab writers in a position of weakness as they look towards the languages of hegemony for models and inspiration.

And this narrative of modernism, which is I argue false, requires for its own integrity a break with the Arabic literary tradition. It views the Arabic literary tradition as something that's backward looking and archaic and that needs to be graduated from or overcome in order to join the world. It is motivated by an anxiety to become contemporary as Salma Khadra Jayyusi puts it in her introduction to "An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry." And in this context, Gibran is often portrayed as somebody who made it. He overcame the Arabic literary tradition. He broke away from it and therefore, that's the logic, gained global recognition and became universal.

What I'd like to do here is argue against that and actually claim, and I'm not the only one or the first to do this, that Gibran was influential precisely because his investments were deeply rooted and dedicated to the Arabic literary tradition and more so to the Arabic language and its future. I think his explorations and his experimentations stem or originate from this dedication, and it is precisely because of this deep investment in the tradition that his legacy of risk taking and pushing boundaries endures more prominently in Arabic poetic practice today than they do in English, for example.

It is hard to imagine just how much Gibran continues to be influential, and we'll get to that in a minute. He gave generations of Arabic writers after him the courage to open their projects onto possibility and to confront the institutions of literature and language in the Arabic tradition. And I really want to focus on the term institution, which might be intimidating and might somehow sometimes discourage innovation.

Gibran gave us a literary language and an attitude to literature, which even though it might not have led to masterpieces, and I personally think it did not, it played a pivotal role in maintaining the dynamism and vitality of poetic form in Arabic literature in general and especially in poetry. His influence lies not only in his individual achievements and that's something that Anneka mentioned describing his work. It's not individual achievement, but it is what happened in the aftermath of his intervention in a certain art or form.

Many pioneers of the modernist movement which began in the late 1940s credit Gibran and admit their indebtedness to his experimentation in intervention. The Gibranic style as Adonis, whom some of you might know, one of the pioneers of the modernist movement who is still with us alive and well, he coined term Gibranic style to point to that paving role that Gibran played, allowing for the rise later on of the Arabic free verse movement of the late 40s, and the ultra modernist form that rose to challenge that the prose poem of the 1960s.

From his biography and from Gibran's biography, and I encourage you to look at these rooms and the way they've been curated and connected for you as a journey in his life, but also look at the catalog. Again, another great achievement of this project. There are many important pieces there which will give you an idea of his journey in life, his life experience, and that wall when you first come in, his life on a flat surface. From his biography, we know that Gibran rebelled against power in three main facets of life. Again, Anneka mentioned this, he rebelled against social institutions. He wrote in his short stories and in his essays about the injustices of feudalism. He also talked about the limitedness and backwardness of some social expectations or norms. If you notice in some of his short stories, women feature as major characters. Of course, inspired by his mother who traveled across the globe with children and raised them alone as a single mother in America.

He also rebelled against organized religion. As Anneka mentioned, he critiqued the church openly. He was also politically active in his historical moment and played the role of a public figure and an organizer and an activist both in Lebanon and here in the United States. So this rebellion manifests itself, as I mentioned earlier in his writing as a divestment from language, as an institution and the literary tradition as an institution. He recognized the power dynamics embedded in the Arabic language. And for those of you who don't know, the Arabic language of reading and writing referred to as Fusha is standard or standard Arabic, is different from the spoken dialects across the Arab world, and as I mentioned, the Fusha standard Arabic or the language of writing is nobody's mother tongue.

Arabs learn it in school. It doesn't come naturally and that's why the fear of mistake, of making an error is always there and this is why over the years, although brilliant things have been done in the Arabic language, it did become a power that needed to be challenged in order for breakthroughs to happen. And Gibran was a master at doing that, fearless of criticism and of falling into error or putting out terrible works.

His biggest achievement, and this is what gave him the title of precursor of the modernist movement, is blurring the dividing lines between genres and Arabic, and especially poetry and prose. The Arabic literary tradition has a very clear line between what is prose and what is verse. And that has become established because of the intervention or the presence or the later appearance of the Quran as a text that cannot be poetry and cannot be prose. It's somewhere in-between. And that's why humans write literature as either poet verse or prose, but not that blurry genre in-between. That is a specific text, it's only one and it's the Quran.

Many Arab poets and writers challenged these divisions and wrote poetic prose or poetry that came close to the spoken language, but nobody as influentially and as confidently as Gibran in the first half of the 20th century. And again, for those of you who read Arabic or have a relationship with Gibran's works, they're not great works of literature. They're not overwhelmingly amazing. You read them and you feel the discomfort. It feels like it's a language that it's unsettled and therefore it probably inspires the reader to write, and I think that is the effect of Gibran. The idea that he makes a language that is really an institution walled off makes it immediately available and possible for anyone to think that it can be used as a tool to express things that are intimate and small and probably flawed and not finished.

I'd like to also jump to another point which informs his posture or his positionality. This has been mentioned before. He learned both Arabic and English as second languages. To him, these two languages in which he wrote did not come naturally. They required effort and those of you who are language learners in the room will identify with this. There's a lot of deliberation, a lot of consciousness, effort. It's exhausting to think in the language that doesn't come to you naturally, and both languages in writing did not come to him naturally. And I think that is what tempts the poetic because poetry is a second language. Poetry is a language that's unlike itself. That's how a poem happens. And the fact that he engaged or lived with these two languages from that perspective, as having to make an effort to write in them or to express using them, I think allows him to exist poetically in relationship to both of them, and to create that space that is generative and productive in-between these two languages. Again, we use the words in-between too much, referring to him.

And this leads me to his enduring legacy today. Of course he is, I think The Wall said one of the first Arab Americans. Today we talk about Arab American literature, Arab American poetry and Gibran offers generations of Arab American writers in this country, a lineage, a model to look back to and learn from. He presents a model that transcends the noise of identity politics and performative gestures. He embodies a writer who sincerely embrace the two traditions he exists between or within, avoiding the trap of merely playing a part or pandering to expectations. Instead, he remains steadfastly true to his esthetic commitments, even if they appear to be out of place or to extend sometimes a little bit too much beyond the line.

He is also influential and his legacy lives on today among writers who write in Arabic and think, who are the young people today? They're almost all bilingual or multilingual. They all make grammar mistakes. This is a writer, a major figure who made grammar mistakes and that is so endearing. It's actually inspiring to think that the mistake can be curated or packaged in a way that opens doors into the stuffy room of a tradition or a cannon, and that is Gibran's effect. He was able to achieve. If we look back at all of what he's done for the Arabic language and in the Arabic tradition. He was able to achieve what all artists, I think hope for, a language of their own, distinct, recognizable in a tradition or more than one tradition with which he engaged. And here I think of a title of one of his very famous articles published in the Egyptian magazine, Al-Hilal, titled "You Have Your Language and I Have Mine."

And he really liked the phrase. He also is known to have said, "You have your Lebanon and I have mine." And again, it's up on that wall. It's a great statement that sums him up. He recognizes the language, but he creates his within it. He recognizes your Lebanon, which is going to be messy and problematic as history has proved, "And I have mine," and it's interesting to remember that this phrase, the very composition of it comes from the Quran, from a verse in the Quran which ends, "You have your religion and I have mine." He liked the phrase and used it a lot. And again, speaking to him existing between religious traditions and divesting from all of them really, the language of the Quran is definitely an inspiration, although he would avoid something as finished and as closed off as that.

I want to turn to the readings. Okay, so this is a piece called Earth. This is a translation from Jayyusi's anthology, which was published in 1989. Just let's read the English first and then read the Arabic so that you can follow if you don't read Arabic, but this is the Arabic 1930. This was published in 1930, and if you look at it here, it does not look like Arabic poetry because Arabic poetry is very formal, right? And there's an expectation even in the layout. Yes, the two hemosticks. So this is early on. This is before the modernist revolution or the breaking up of the traditional form.

So this would've annoyed many people. If it were published with the title Qasida poem. And it did, but he did publish it and called it a poem. I'm going to read this part the beginning and then read the Arabic. The translation by Adnan Heider and Michael Biard reads as follows, ""Earth issues forth from earth, forcibly, reluctantly. Then earth struts on earth, arrogantly, proudly, and earth fashions from earth, palaces, towers, temples and earth, founds upon earth, legends, dogmas, laws." And then at the end, "Then the earth called out to the earth saying, 'I am the womb and the grave and I shall remain so until the stars fade and the sun settles to ashes.'" Listen to the Arabic. And again, if you have a reference, I think it would be more impactful, but there is no measured music here. There is no meter at all and meter in Arabic, at least before the first half of the 20th century, more or less was the mark of poetry. If there's no meter, then we're going to call this piece prose. But here he is publishing it in a journal, calling it Qasida.

[Reads in Arabic].

There's a rhythm that forms as the sentence unfolds. His own music within the music and also this expansiveness. The sentence starts and then gathers the entire universe. That is something that happens only when a writer is taking huge risks. And remember, he wrote, "You have your language and I have mine," because he was harshly criticized for doing things like that. It was thought as a conspiracy against what it meant to be an Arab.

This is one example. The other example, and if you roll your eyes, it's okay. This is Fairuz... This is a poem, probably is one of the most well known texts by Gibran in Arabic because Fairuz, the well-known Lebanese... What is she? Singer? Much more than that. She is the Ambassador, officially the Ambassador, Lebanon's Ambassador to the stars. She selected, she and her team selected some verses from this really long poem. And again, Wail Hassan in his piece in the catalog discusses it again. I invite you to look at that amazing object, the catalog.

This was the last major work in Arabic before Gibran then shifted to focus on writing in English. It's a long poem that is metered. It follows the rules of classical Arabic prosody. So those who accused him of rebelling just because he didn't have the skills, this is an example of him being deeply invested in the classical rules or systems of prosody in Arabic. So he could scan a verse. He knew when meter was there or when it was not.

Well, I'm going to try reading it without breaking into song, and then we'll play the link. Again, thematically, this is a very romantic piece that would remind you of Shelley in Wordsworth, more Shelley because of the dejection and the depression and the retreat from the human to nature, to find a refuge and just to give up on living among people for better companions in nature. Listen to music here, listen to what he does with rhyme. Again, a classical Arabic poem will have a mono rhyme. It can go on for a 100 verses all ending with the same sound. Whereas here, even if we're not reading, just looking, he is writing the poem in couplets and varying on rhyme.

So he has multiple rhymes and this is something not unprecedented. We have examples of it. So he is drawing on earlier experimentations in the tradition and presenting us with classical Arabic prosody, but in a way we've never seen before here when he writes this in 1919. I'm going to read just a few verses and we'll see if Fairuz can join us.

[Reads in Arabic]

And if we're reading the translation, "Give me the flute and sing. Forget all that you and I have said. Talk is, but dust in the air. So tell me of your deeds." This doesn't match up exactly because the translators chose different lines to translate. As I said, Fairuz selects lines from a longer poem, but the second one is the same. "Have you like me, spurned palaces and taken the forest as abode, followed the brooks in their courses, climbed the rocks?"

It's fine. I'm not going to sing, don't worry. But this is one of the most famous Fairuz songs. It's very easy to look up and it's in... Remember that these are Gibran's words. Fairuz, for those of you who know or don't know, selected many of or curated and arranged many of Gibran's texts into lyrics for her songs. And again, this is a note, we can discuss this later. He is deeply, tightly woven into the narrative of Lebanese nationalism. So he and Fairuz, those are irresistible Lebanese superpowers when they come together.

Finally, I'm going to turn to an example of "The Prophet" which we're celebrating. This is the 100th anniversary of the publication of "The Prophet," published in 1923. This again is one of the most well known sections where he, the Mustafa, the chosen, The Prophet talks about women. He's asked... Oh, sorry. He talks about children. A woman asks him to talk about children. It's famous because also Fairuz sings it in a long curation from "The Prophet" that she calls "Love." The song is called "Love." And we're going to look at a translation done by his friend and mentor, Mikhail Naimy, who was with Gibran when they were both in the United States and they were both members of the Penn League. This organization that gathered Arab writers from Syria or the Sham, and Mikhail Naimy lived much longer than Gibran. He died in 1988 at the age of a 100, but he took care again, caretaking and curating Gibran's work and oversaw the translation of almost everything that was written in English into Arabic.

In his introduction to the Gibran Encyclopedia, he says, "I always wondered why Gibran never translated his own work. He would've done a much better job, but I guess he wanted it that way," and I think that's exactly true. Leaving a text there as a trigger for someone else to then lay their language on top of it, the layeredness of a work and what it then leads up, the tradition it builds of translating and reading and rereading. And "The Prophet" was translated many times and often poets with an agenda turned to "The Prophet" and translate it to make a statement about their own projects. And I mentioned two notable translations.

Of course, Mikhail Naimy has his own and we're going to look at it, but there's also Yusuf al-Khal, who is Adonis' sidekick or the other way around. I don't know. They launched the modernist movement and they both were pioneers of the modernist movements. And they founded Shi'r Magazine, Poetry Magazine, which was a major platform. Yusuf al-Khal translated "The Prophet," and then later, Sargon Boulus, a prose poet, Iraqi also offered a translation or a reading or a curation or a conversation with "The Prophet" in his translation.

So we're going to end by reading parts of this and then pausing a little bit at the final image. "And the woman who held a baby against her bosom said, 'Speak to us of children.' And he said, 'Your children are not your children.'" This is why we all got a copy when we were teenagers because this is proof that I can do whatever I want. "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

And look at the end of that section, "Let your bending," speaking to parents. Now I'm a parent and it's terrifying, but okay, that aside, "Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness. And even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable." And the Arabic of that, in Naimy's translation, which is not the most well known. I think people think or hear Fairuz's voice when they think of this section.

And notice, this is poetry, but it's also very much prose. And when it's translated into Arabic, it's a translation that's both poetry and prose. So very unsettling, but also inspiring.

[Reads in Arabic].

So back to the image of the bow and arrow. So if the bow is tradition, here he tells us you cannot really launch into the future of a literary tradition or a language without tradition. It is really what you stand on, but he was invested, in all of his risk taking and agitating, in the arrow, in the arrow of the Arabic language, the future of it. And he left us an Arabic language that is very intimate, that can be one's own, as well as the language of power and life and death and all the great masterpieces in-between. Thank you. I'll stop here and look forward to your questions

It's fine. I'm not going to sing, don't worry. But this is one of the most famous Fairuz songs. It's very easy to look up and it's in... Remember that these are Gibran's words. Fairuz, for those of you who know or don't know, selected many of or curated and arranged many of Gibran's texts into lyrics for her songs. And again, this is a note, we can discuss this later. He is deeply, tightly woven into the narrative of Lebanese nationalism. So he and Fairuz, those are irresistible Lebanese superpowers when they come together.

Finally, I'm going to turn to an example of "The Prophet" which we're celebrating. This is the 100th anniversary of the publication of "The Prophet," published in 1923. This again is one of the most well known sections where he, the Mustafa, the chosen, The Prophet talks about women. He's asked... Oh, sorry. He talks about children. A woman asks him to talk about children. It's famous because also Fairuz sings it in a long curation from "The Prophet" that she calls "Love." The song is called "Love." And we're going to look at a translation done by his friend and mentor, Mikhail Naimy, who was with Gibran when they were both in the United States and they were both members of the Penn League. This organization that gathered Arab writers from Syria or the Sham, and Mikhail Naimy lived much longer than Gibran. He died in 1988 at the age of a 100, but he took care again, caretaking and curating Gibran's work and oversaw the translation of almost everything that was written in English into Arabic.

In his introduction to the Gibran Encyclopedia, he says, "I always wondered why Gibran never translated his own work. He would've done a much better job, but I guess he wanted it that way," and I think that's exactly true. Leaving a text there as a trigger for someone else to then lay their language on top of it, the layeredness of a work and what it then leads up, the tradition it builds of translating and reading and rereading. And "The Prophet" was translated many times and often poets with an agenda turned to "The Prophet" and translate it to make a statement about their own projects. And I mentioned two notable translations.

Of course, Mikhail Naimy has his own and we're going to look at it, but there's also Yusuf al-Khal, who is Adonis' sidekick or the other way around. I don't know. They launched the modernist movement and they both were pioneers of the modernist movements. And they founded Shi'r Magazine, Poetry Magazine, which was a major platform. Yusuf al-Khal translated "The Prophet," and then later, Sargon Boulus, a prose poet, Iraqi also offered a translation or a reading or a curation or a conversation with "The Prophet" in his translation.

So we're going to end by reading parts of this and then pausing a little bit at the final image. "And the woman who held a baby against her bosom said, 'Speak to us of children.' And he said, 'Your children are not your children.'" This is why we all got a copy when we were teenagers because this is proof that I can do whatever I want. "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

And look at the end of that section, "Let your bending," speaking to parents. Now I'm a parent and it's terrifying, but okay, that aside, "Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness. And even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable." And the Arabic of that, in Naimy's translation, which is not the most well known. I think people think or hear Fairuz's voice when they think of this section.

And notice, this is poetry, but it's also very much prose. And when it's translated into Arabic, it's a translation that's both poetry and prose. So very unsettling, but also inspiring.

[Reads in Arabic].

So back to the image of the bow and arrow. So if the bow is tradition, here he tells us you cannot really launch into the future of a literary tradition or a language without tradition. It is really what you stand on, but he was invested, in all of his risk taking and agitating, in the arrow, in the arrow of the Arabic language, the future of it. And he left us an Arabic language that is very intimate, that can be one's own, as well as the language of power and life and death and all the great masterpieces in-between. Thank you. I'll stop here and look forward to your questions.

Q&A

Claire Gilman:
Thank you both for those incredible presentations. Anneka and I have worked a bit together, so I knew a little bit more about what you were going to speak about, but it was really a revelation to me, Huda, to hear your discussion about Gibran's writing and its relationship to the Arabic tradition, particularly because I don't read Arabic and I can't really understand that just from reading from his English. I feel like you miss in a way so much of him by only speaking English, only knowing English.

I feel like we could almost in a way open things up to the audience because we don't have a lot of time left. But maybe I'll just ask, one point that came up for me when you were both speaking is you talked about Gibran's modesty in a way. I thought that was quite interesting because often people or some people will criticize Gibran saying that he was actually an opportunist or trying to capitalize on the lure of the East in a way, as a form of self-promotion. But I almost think that that comes more from the legend of Gibran that came after him rather than he himself. Which again goes back to my point that I feel like people really do not not understand the complexity and depth of Gibran. If you read The Prophet and then you say, "Oh, he's trying to take on this robe of Eastern prophet," which actually he isn't because he himself is not The Prophet, which is something sometimes people say, "Oh, positioning himself as a prophet," which is not what he's doing.

But it's interesting that he's so willingly, I guess this fearlessness that you were describing, takes these chances and jumps between forms and in the same in his art as well, because he really is out there alone in the art that he's making, in the drawings that he's making. He's not inside, not in any tradition. And he was very, very well schooled in art by the way. He knew all the major artists of the period. He knew art history. He was working and studying in Paris, but he left the class that he was part of and the school that he was part of and studied on his own, and really just threw himself into this work independently in a way that I think what you're saying is modest in a certain sense, that he was serving, I don't know, some larger principle rather than his own advancement in a certain sense, his own advancements in his career as an artist or a writer. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that, either of you?

Anneka Lenssen:
I guess I'll go first. So thank you. Thank you for the presentation and for the question. And I suppose I'll say, look, Gibran had to make it as an artist, so he certainly promoted himself frequently. I'm an art historian. I first started thinking about Gibran while editing a book of artist writings, mostly in Arabic. And Gibran is to your point, interesting because he was working his way through language systems that he was uncomfortable in. But that included a large body of correspondence with supporters, where he uses a first person eye. He says, "You ask how I'm spending my days. Well, I'm staying up from morning till night, smoking my cigarettes, using my coffee and my images," and this narrative about, "I was trying to do this. I immersed myself in the labor of this work," was a distinctive set of claims for the time period he was writing in, in this particular book that I was compiling with co-editors is very early on and very divisive.

We were all excited by the text and showed others and they're like, "Oh, this guy," this insistence on a creative persona that is so recognizable and immodest, but I called him modest because the images as an artist. And it was really interesting to hear this idea of being willing to make mistakes, which I hope we can talk a little bit more about. As an artist, look, he was working in the '20s and '30s in a semi-automatic style. He did not want his images to be as inert as he felt that oil painting was, and the images are not bold. They're muddy on purpose, and they are offered there to register currents that we don't otherwise see.

And the other interesting thing about him, and this was what I was also thinking about in terms of modesty, is that the metaphors that he spins as the career goes on are about media. He talks about the radio all the time, about wireless waves. There's a sense that these works are supposed to be tuning forks. So the modesty for me is the modesty of method and a sense of how an image fits into a world of images, at a time when there is to him, when he is in Paris, when he is back in the US, there's a debate over the status of the person and how a subjectivity gets formed. And he has a very clear view of that, that it isn't to... You are not self same from moment to moment and that a creative production should enact that or further that.

So when I use modesty, it's in a way to maybe correct the national heroics that get attributed to him, which of course, in my particular book, I put him into a Syrian lineage and his writings are brought forward into these other national literatures. He is a kind of persona that can spark other transnational or subnational modes of identification. So there's a modesty in how we might try to claim him. And then I think a real modesty of the material and the... What's the right word? How these works are not going to survive forever. So even when you look at them, they are hard to see, and we do have to put glass on them. They're very fugitive and I feel that that's constitutive of what he offers us as a draftsman and as an artist.

Huda J. Fakhreddine:

Yeah, I'd only add to that. He does come off as immodest and a loud voice and maybe a little bit obnoxious, but that's not his fault. That's the Lebanese people's fault, but that again, shows you the versatility of his project, that it can be co-opted and incorporated into other projects and other ideologies and systems of belief and worldviews. So he appears in cringe-worthy context a lot when it comes to a national narrative, and it's not his fault though, I think. I don't know, maybe, but you can see that he can be manipulated that way.

His voice in his Arabic writings, and we see that a little bit in his English, is the voice of the prophet, the seer, the poet, the prophet, but that's a trope that is deeply rooted in the Arabic poetic tradition. The poet is the tribes, his tribes, his prophets. He sees what they do not see, the unseen. And although often when you read about him in English, Blake comes up, William Blake comes up, but this is an older trope and a convention that I think Gibran as a poet, especially writing something like [foreign language 01:07:25], the affect of [foreign language 01:07:29] just lends itself to that. The idea of prophet like saying.

Within that, he was able to create a space for a language that challenged that tone and that affect, and that's where his contribution lies, I think. If you look at his Diwan, his collected poetry in Arabic, and there's a lot of it, most of it is mediocre and repetitive and imitative and just exercises in versifying and themes that repeat themselves, but in that tone that is expected of a [foreign language 01:08:02] written in that form, or a poem. I say [foreign language 01:08:05] which means poem in Arabic, but also refers to a very specific form of poetry.

So one has to step back and look at all of what he has done, especially his writing, to see what the punchline is. And the punchline is starting there in the room that's shot with no windows, and opening it up until you're out there in the wild and anything's possible. But you've brought with you the same tools. Again, for those of you who have a relationship with the Arabic language, it's a brilliant thing. I keep saying that, but it's very difficult to create something new with a tool you're afraid of. And I think that's what Gibran offered us, a more healthier relationship with [foreign language 01:08:49] in the first half of the 20th century.

Claire Gilman:
Yeah, I think it's also, just to get back to, we were talking about the possibility of making mistakes, what's fascinating, because we've talked about this moving between forms within literature or moving between forms between media, pencil and watercolor within his drawings. But also, it is so important the way in which he was all of these things. I think many people who know him as a writer but who don't know him as an artist, I think are missing a huge part in a way of who he is because he thought of himself as equally those two things. And I think that's also very much part of this idea of opening up that you're talking about, that nothing should ever be, that there shouldn't only be one solution to something. The sort of, "You are Lebanon, you have mine," all of that.

In a way, it's like a precursor to contemporary artists where you feel free to move between media. He really was doing that in a very unique way, I think almost at the time. And he also talked about how I think it was very important to him that he was illustrating his books later on so that it was giving two possibilities of seeing something, that you could see it in the written word, but you could also see it in the visual form. And again, taking risks by exploring so many different media, so many different languages was a very, I don't know, courageous thing to do, I guess, as you were saying.

Yeah. I think since we don't have a lot of time, maybe I will just open up and see if anyone in the audience has any questions.

Speaker 1:
You just made a fleeting reference to William Blake, and I have a prosaic question because I came here intending to pose this question. Was there any influence, a relationship of sorts between these two poet artists? William Blake? It was a hundred years earlier.

Huda J. Fakhreddine:
Yes. Yes. Blake comes up as a major influence both in the literature and in the artwork. Anneka will speak to that more than I can, but the mood of William Blake's writing and them being concerned with the metaphysical, with the body and soul, the dualities, those all come up in Gibran's work. I don't have a reference, I don't know more because it always is a passing or a fleeting mention of the many influences on him. Just as we also mention Nietzsche when we talk about The Prophet. So there's a multiplicity of influences, but I think to trace them does Gibran a disadvantage because his being influenced by them is always a little bit underwhelming. When you read Blake, if you're a fan of Blake and then you read Gibran in light of Blake, you won't be impressed.

Similarly, I think that's my opinion with Nietzsche and Gibran, but it's unfair. I think you should see him and all these bits and pieces that he gathers and then makes into something, that's not perfect but he is his own. It's like the language and the Lebanon. And I have my thing and it's made up of... And again, I'm thinking of the image you showed of the body parts that make up the platform. Yes. I don't know if that answered your question, but I'm sure you'll find many studies that compare them and would refer you to specific points of intersection between them.

Speaker 1:
Did Gibran ever make any reference himself that you're aware of to William Blake?

Anneka Lenssen:
Yes. So one of the reasons why I mentioned the Fred Holland Day photographic training is that in Boston... So this is part of Gibran's biographical surround in Boston as a teen, in this design studio Copeland and Day. He imbibed a rich symbolist literary training that was characteristic of that time of symbolist works. So Copeland and Day, for instance, do have early translations of Maeterlinck, the Belgian poet that was of huge interest to symbolists. He would've seen other symbolist art that focused on a disembodied head in profile, even in a photographic language of dodging and burning white flesh and dark backgrounds. And Blake isn't that, but Blake is part of this literary surround that Gibran literally trained in. We have notebooks where he went to the Boston Public Library and copied examples from this cannon that was part of the F. Holland Day Studio.

So Gibran certainly mentions Blake frequently. Not only that, and I'm trying to remember. One of the lovely joys of the show is we have these vitrines stuffed with juvenilia. So you can see Gibran's sketches, you can see him... I think there's a notebook that he kept when he goes back to Beirut and you can track him both in his pictorial language and in his literary language trying to take on these heroes of an early 20th century alternative aesthetic that really celebrated Blake as well as these other figures that I'm mentioning. So it's an outright reference from the start and everybody writes about it because Gibran encourages that comparison. It's not a secret, it's encouraged. That said, as not a fan of Blake, that's the extent of my ability to give you a really satisfying visual analysis. You might do better.

Claire Gilman:
Interestingly, I don't think that visually he is translating or channeling Blake in any direct way in his work, in the same way that he does say with Rodin's watercolors. I feel like you can see the presence, but he actually turns Rodin's head in a very interesting way. And I talk about that a little bit in my essay in the catalog. But you can definitely see Rodin in the watercolors on the far wall over there and the way that he's using watercolor and pencil. But again, as I said, he uses them very differently. But you can see he's directly inspired by Rodin. I don't really see Blake visually in his work, other than this more general interest in the-

Anneka Lenssen:
Maybe the tonality of his washes.

Claire Gilman:
Yeah. Possibly the tonality of his washes and the spiritual element to his work, but otherwise I don't really see him visually.

Speaker 2:
Thanks. I'll reveal that I know Anneka, but what I really appreciated about the conversation and the presentation all of you was the foregrounding of Gibran as someone who's really resisting what we would today call identity politics. In that in-betweenness, in that in-betweenness in the visual language, in that sense of process and [inaudible 01:17:31], as well as in the in-betweenness that you highlight in the literature between the traditional and that gestures away from the traditional risk taking. And that kind of imminence to me is a in your face to the... So I do South Asia, I do whatever, the Indian orient, although Edward Said was one of my teachers, that I can only think of [foreign language 01:18:02] as a parallel.

So the posing of the Eastern prophet, this in-betweenness, this imminence seems to me to be a performative in the anti-identitarian performative of that Eastern prophet that he's presented as, or that he's posed as. So with that, I just want to ask an empirical question. How is he received by Day and by other say collectors? Is he the Eastern prophet by collectors? Is this in-betweenness, quiet imminence in the face of what they want as a mystical transcendent figure?

Anneka Lenssen:
Yeah, that's a great question. F. Holland Day recruits Gibran when Gibran is young, which was F. Holland Day's practice. So he's based in Boston and he worked with charity driven programs to reach out to recent immigrants to recruit these participants in the studio. So F. Holland Day gives Gibran his first exhibition in Boston. And the promotional structure is as a young seer from the East, and the interviews are all about that and Gibran is a very mute subject in those promotions. They reproduced the drawings a lot and externalized and spectacularized the idea of this young artist.

But Gibran actually dies very young and he lives a life of great physical pain. We haven't given all of the coordinates of his otherness-

Speaker 2:
There's so much to give.

Anneka Lenssen:
Or his being cast out of a set of normative spaces, but Gibran leaves Boston and goes to New York and his status here in this city is a little bit different. His paintings get a ton of response, but it's not celebratory. I guess we've hidden those paintings. They're funky. The bodies are described as boneless.

Claire Gilman:
He stopped making them in 1912, I think. He stopped painting.

Anneka Lenssen:
Yeah, he does stop painting, right? It's not that successful.

Claire Gilman:
Because he decided he wasn't a good painter.

Anneka Lenssen:
But there's an illegibility of him and his figures and that's actually on this wall with his interlocutors where he does these fast portraits of everybody that passes through. He returns to this idea of not Swarmies but Eastern figures that are critiquing the militaristic power structure of the post-World War order. And Gibran starts claiming he was born in Bombay as his second birthplace, which nobody believes, yet everybody welcomes. So there's this interesting strategy of discursive dislocation that's I think different from how he was first brought in. And again, that's me assessing his US reception, I suppose.

Claire Gilman:
I don't know, there's a lot of tension I think between how scholars approach this phenomenon of his deliberately courting this Eastern sage because on the one hand, there's someone like Wahil Hassan who wrote for our catalog, who's very scathing or negative about it saying that... He's become a bit more nuanced, but I think in some of his earlier writing he sees it as something... He recognizes that Gibran gets rid of the privileging of one thing over the other thing, East over West or West over East, but he doesn't really approve of the fact that he maintains these hierarchies and separation. Whereas some other scholars like Steven [inaudible 01:22:32] acknowledge this as his greatest act of radicality, as his way of maintaining some sort of authority against Western domination.

And then the way to do that was to insistently appeal to this Eastern heritage. And so it's very, very complex I guess is what I would say. I think we probably are out of time basically. What'd you say? Oh, one more question. Okay, one more question and then I'm afraid we do have to wrap it up because it's past eight o'clock. But yes, I know. We got there so quickly.

Speaker 3:
I'll make it quick. Thank you guys, firstly, so much. This was super enlightening. My question is about self-expression. So to me, The Prophet is the best example of self-expression in the English language. And I don't read Arabic so I can't interact with it in that lens, but you mentioned the in-betweenness, in-between countries, in-between languages, in-between art forms. And I just wanted to get your thoughts on how that in-betweenness affects self-expression maybe to the level of elucidating and enlightening that ability to express oneself by virtue of being in-between? I don't know, just would love your thoughts on that.

Huda J. Fakhreddine:
Yes, exactly what you said. Being in-between is an advantage as opposed to being outcast from both. It allows a perspective on both things. And actually, to make my answer very short, I'm going to give you homework. Come back tomorrow when they're open and go downstairs to the reading room. There is a handwritten draft of a page from The Prophet where he writes two words in Arabic in the margin, [foreign language 01:24:33], which means armed with fear. But if you read the line, he says, "Armed against fear." So he mistranslates himself in one of them, I'm not sure which one. And in the same margin, he draws a very weird little doodle, skulls out of which flowers are growing.

So that page tells you a lot about The Prophet, where the influences are coming, which languages he's thinking of, the relationship of margin to the body of the text, the drawings on the edges of the page. And I think that's where expression happens without hindrances or prejudice or without fear, the risk taking that we talked about, is that on that draft, he acknowledges all the systems he's working with. We don't see that in the published page of The Prophet, so that's why. Come back and look at that. They can give you a magnifying glass. So even if you can't read the Arabic, just look at it and trace it and read the line and you'll see.

Claire Gilman:
And I would add that the letters are some of the most fascinating writing that I've read by Gibran. And so we actually include a lot of facsimiles of the letters which are reduced in size to fit them into the vitrine, hence the magnifying glasses. But also, this is actually very lovely, we did commission an actor by the name of Adam Bakri, who's very enamored of Gibran, to read the letter. So if you get our app, which is through Bloomberg Connects, you can actually click on the letter, you can actually hear the entire letter being read by Adam, which is really lovely.

But just to say that I feel like in those letters, you see this in-betweenness much more than you see it, or much more evidently and obviously than you see it in the writing itself. So again, just to talk about how in order to understand Gibran, I think it is so important to have all these aspects present and the letters and correspondence with Mary Haskell and her diaries are just a wonderful source of getting to understand who he is.

I also just want to give a shout-out to Izzy over here, Isabella Kapur, who created that fantastic text that's on the front wall that Hudu was talking about, and also wrote this absolutely phenomenal and much lengthier than that chronology of Gibran's life that is in the catalog. And I encourage you all to get the catalog if you would like to get the catalog. I think we have someone who can sell the catalog now. Okay. And check out our website for all the other programs we have coming up, but thank you all for coming tonight. [inaudible 01:27:23]