Fetish Systems is the debut novella by Raafat Majzoub, published in 2010.
Review by Karim Sultan originally published in Kalimat, Issue 04, Winter 2012
It was the writer Italo Calvino that suggested a writing that—rather than pointing at or recreating an object or character—envelops, surrounds like a fine mist. This suggests their existence rather than attempts to simply recreate them, allowing the reader a measure of engagement and creation with the text. The writing in Fetish Systems, a new written work by multi-talented Lebanese author Raafat Majzoub, warrants this comparison. His bio alone which adorns this slim volume is merely suggestive: “he is trained as an architect, yet refuses the title – he is currently working on several construction projects, a few books, something that might be a painting, a table and would like this bio to end with an et cetera.”
“To live in Beirut, is to know that one must accept circumstance. We have become numb—all of us—numb—in a state of trance, where ‘elastic’ would describe our functional execution of our everyday…”
The work begins with curious jump-starts into a loosely shaped narrative that can be described as extremely subjective. There is no clear and formal introduction of characters or plot, but rather the text quickly makes it clear to the reader that this is more akin to the highly personal literary experiments of the past century than anything else. The language resembles somewhat the erotic poetic sketches of Georges Bataille, although more cohesive, more drawn out, but similar enough in near-destructive exploratory eroticism to draw the comparison. The fragmented flow of the narrative often times resembles poetry, with alliterative flurries of words provide rough outlines of occurrences that bring to mind a defective photography which only hints at shapes, colours and movement, with the Majzoub’s Beirut always vaguely in the background.
“It has become instinct to absorb, shock, absorb, trauma, react, trauma, shock, absorb shock. It is something, a trait that we contain—for so—we all are nothing…We claim that we have lost our identity, we claim the right to construct a holistic monotone remedy to unite us—to homogenize us.”
This work is certainly not for the casual reader; there is no quick drawing-up and resolution of characters and plot. Rather, this work has something intensely therapeutic, describing personal relationships with mysterious “others” and places in intimate detail in a way that is, once again, acutely subjective. One gets the impression that even the most innocent of exchanges between the narrator and a lover will show up on the page as darkly dissatisfied, anxious graspings for understanding and rejection of understanding, spiralling outward and inward simultaneously. Majzoub’s language, word choice, and cadence is curiously playful, vacillating within single sentences between the vulgar and the academic, sometimes with seeming deliberate focus on the rhythm and the sound of the passage rather than the written meaning, making it somehow visceral and physical and something that attempts to refuses rational deliberation.
“We are only afraid of our naked bodies in the mirror. We define our curves from our audience’s point of view, from their eyes, from between their eyelashes—so we struggle to title us, to make it easier for them to comprehend, easier for us to make them believe—for our actions and words—not the same.”
The success of Majzoub’s experiment is difficult to gauge. Yet as a text, the sustained formal and subjective effort makes this author one to keep an eye on in the coming years.