One of the many delights of doing The Generalist is being contacted out of the blue by readers all over the world. Particularly when it is a writer of the calibre of Yahia Lababidi, who wrote:
‘It is heartening to discover your thoughtful Generalist, so full as it is with curiosity and compassion. Please allow me to take this opportunity to briefly introduce myself and my work.’
He was kind enough to send me a copy of his book of essays ‘Trial by Ink’ [Common Ground Publishing] which I have been devouring over the last week. What a stimulating pleasure that has been.
Yahia is of Lebanese/Egyptian extraction, born in 1973, currently living in Washington DC. He is a man of deep thoughts who, unusually, is best known for his aphorisms, which have been widely reprinted.
These stem from his background. He writes; ‘In the culture I come from, a saying is a magical thing. It was something people were always happy to hear or recite…I grew up with grandmothers, both maternal and paternal, who spoke almost exclusively, at times, in sayings. A string of proverbs. Singy-songy, witty-wise remarks. When I found myself writing such things, it made sense for me to share them.’
‘Trial by Ink’ is his first collection of essays. He informs us in the intro that the form was minted by de Montaigne and the word derives from the French essai, which means ‘trial’. He views his essays as ‘ a sort of mental autobiography and a collection of judgements…a catalogue of interests, concerns, possessions, exorcisms and even passing enthusiasms’ written over a seven-year period.
There is great deal here to digest, material that will pay rereading. I will try and summarise to give you a flavour of his work and range of interests.
The collection begins with a number of essays - Literary Profiles and Reviews - about the ‘fiery intense spirits’ who have inspired him – Rimbaud, Kierkegaard, Rilke, Kafka and, most significantly, Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche. He writes one of his longest essays comparing the latter duo and a further one on Wilde himself. There is also an excellent piece on Susan Sontag, from which I learnt a lot.
[These collectively took me right back to when I read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider’ when I was in my teens, my first discovery of a whole range of creative spirits)
The section ends with ‘Reptiles of the Mind’, which examines Herman Melville’s first short story, ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, written in 1853, and ‘Souvenirs of Death’ a profile of Brian Turner, an American soldier ‘who served as a conscientious objector in Iraq.’
Part 2 is entitled Studies in Pop Culture. It begins with ‘Meditation on Murder’ about the pop fascination with serial killers. Then two essays on Michael Jackson (his teenage fascination) and a short piece ‘Monks of Los Angeles’, linking Morrissey and Leonard Cohen. ‘Feast of Fantasies’ discusses celebrity. FInally, ‘Notes on Silence’ and ‘Crises and Their Uses’ – interesting meditations.
Finally, in a section called Middle Eastern Musings, comprising seven essays,Yahia writes about Egyptian and Lebanese culture, giving a very different picture of these sensuous and vibrant cultures to the one we receive from the western media.
Yahia has a rich, elegant style and is a great phrase-maker. His text is peppered with striking allusions and choicely selected quotes that make up a stimulating brew. His work touched me deeply and is highly recommended for all seekers after truth – and for generalists with open minds.
Examples of his aphorisms: www.bu.edu/agni/essays/online/2009/lababidi.html
‘The Prayer of Attention’ www.bu.edu/agni/interviews/online/2010/stein.html
An Interview with Yahia by Caroline Leavittville http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2010/10/yahia-lababidi-talks-about-trial-by-ink.html
Yahia on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/jadkfja
A wonderful collections of videos inspired by Yahia’s poems http://btxmusic.com/index.php?key=Yahia+Lababidi