The Last Men in Beirut

Jalal Toufic

Chouf member of parliament Walid Junblat, a former civil-warlord and the leader of “the opposition” in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafîq al-Harîrî, said in encouragement to the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, among whom were a significant number of students, who demonstrated on 14 March 2005: “The Lebanese youths have initiated the race towards a free and sovereign Lebanon. They are the future of the country, and they have decided how they want that future to be.” Other sham politicians, especially from the movement of assassinated former prime minister Rafîq al-Harîrî, The Future, repeated this locution when addressing Lebanese youths. Like Junblat, they must have heard it from their parents at commencement addresses, and were in turn repeating it to their sons (and daughters?), meaning by it to say what goes without saying: that the present youths are the ones who, in a few years, are going to fill positions in politics and administration—with the implication that in yet more years to come, when middle-aged, they are going to say it in turn to their sons (and daughters?), and the latter in turn to theirs. Given that they are largely the product of their retarded country and are lagging behind the time in which they are living, they definitively should not be telling anyone about the future. Beyond being a statement one should introduce with such expressions as “needless to say,” could “You are the future of the country” be, at this epochal juncture, true in a sense that none of these backward, mostly old parochial “politicians,” who otherwise and for the most part alternated between platitudes, outright lies, “religious” incitement of their various sectarian constituencies and order-words (mots d’ordre)1 from their global overlord (the USA, therefore the order-words globalization and democracy—how can there be democracy in the Arab world when, as any genuine Arab writer and thinker and artist feels, the people are missing [Deleuze]?) and/or regional masters (the ba’th regime in Syria...), fathoms? Yes. Terry Grossman and Ray Kurzweil write in their book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (2004): “Do we have the knowledge and the tools today to live forever? ... According to models that Ray has created, our paradigm-shift rate—the rate of technical progress—is doubling every decade, and the capability (price performance, capacity, and speed) of specific information technologies is doubling every year. So the answer to our question is actually a definitive yes—the knowledge exists, if aggressively applied, for you to slow aging and disease processes to such a degree that you can be in good health and good spirits when the more radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies become available over the next couple of decades.... The goal of extending longevity can be taken in three steps, or Bridges. This book is intended to serve as a guide to living long enough in good health and spirits—Bridge One—to take advantage of the full development of the biotechnology revolution—Bridge Two. This, in turn, will lead to the nanotechnology-AI (artificial intelligence) revolution—Bridge Three—which has the potential to allow us to live indefinitely.” It is preposterous that the two authors should use the term “bridge” in the sense of step with regards to the goal of living indefinitely, i.e. of treating man as a goal, when Nietzsche had used it, on the contrary, regarding the task of overcoming man, viewing man as a bridge to the superman: “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal” (“Zarathustra’s Prologue,” Thus Spoke Zarathustra); “There it was that I picked up the word ‘Superman’ and that man is something that must be overcome, that man is a bridge and not a goal” (“Of Old and New Law-Tables,” Ibid.); “Truly, you may all be Higher Men, (Zarathustra went on): but for me—you are not high and strong enough.... You are only bridges: may higher men than you step across upon you! You are steps...” (“The Greeting,” Ibid.). Present-day youths may well become what Nietzsche has dubbed the last men in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, 1885: “Thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: ... Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man.... Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
      “‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and he blinks.
      “The earth has become small,2 and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest.
      “‘We have invented happiness,’3 say the last men and blink.”4
      How inopportune to try to make people live indefinitely when one has not prior to that tackled, if not solved the problem of nihilism5 (Nietzsche: “What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism”)6—unless this indefinite extension of life be the ultimate avatar of nihilism. More specifically, how inopportune it is to extend the life of the Lebanese indefinitely, when, having come out of a devitalizing civil-war, they are zombie-like:7 according to Deleuze, one of the characteristics of “the crisis which has shaken the action-image [and which] has depended on many factors which only had their full effect after the [second world] war” is “events which never truly concern the person who provokes them or is subject to them, even when they strike him in his flesh: events whose bearer, a man internally dead, as Lumet says, is in a hurry to extricate himself.”8

Jalal Toufic, Undeserving Lebanon (Forthcoming Books, 2007; available for download as a PDF file at, pp. 39-42.


  1. “We must define an abominable faculty consisting in emitting, receiving, and transmitting order-words.... We see this in police or government announcements, which often have little plausibility or truthfulness, but say very clearly what should be observed and retained. The indifference to any kind of credibility exhibited by these announcements often verges on provocation. This is proof that the issue lies elsewhere.... Information is only the strict minimum necessary for the emission, transmission, and observation of orders as commands. One must be just informed enough not to confuse ‘Fire!’ with ‘Fore!’...” Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translation and foreword by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. 75-76.

  2. Paul Virilio: “We are confronted with the phenomenon of confinement. Michel Foucault analyzed the great imprisonment in the eighteenth century.... But the Great Enclosure isn’t behind us... it is ahead of us with globalization.... Besides the ecology of substances, the green ecology, there is an ecology of distances. The telluric contraction of distances... will make the Earth uninhabitable. People will suffer from claustrophobia on the Earth.... The day is not far off—just a few generations, or so they say—when the world will be reduced to nothing, both on the level of telecommunications and on the level of supersonic transportation. Then the world will implode in the soul of humanity. They will be totally trapped, totally asphyxiated by the smallness of the world on account of time and speed.” Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Crepuscular Dawn, trans. Mike Taormina (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext[e], 2002).

  3. Cf. Slavoj Žižek: “In psychoanalysis, the betrayal of desire has a precise name: happiness,” Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (London; New York: Verso, 2002), p. 58.

  4. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, translated and with a preface by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1966), p. 17. I think that Nietzsche is here unheeding an untimely collaboration with Blanchot, that in describing this figure he should not have used the singular, last man, but only the plural, last men. Last men is not a plural of last man; the last men are described negatively and critically by Nietzsche in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, while the last man is portrayed by Blanchot in his book with that title. The Lebanese filmmaker Ghassan Salhab failed to portray the last man in his third feature film, whose title he misappropriated from Blanchot, ending up rather with a “last man” made largely to the measure of the last men (and women) with which Lebanon is packed—the Lebanese last men include the dogmatic religious “martyrs,” who want to live forever in Paradise.

  5. “All the formal traits of the crime of New York [the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center] indicate its nihilistic character: the sacralization of death; the absolute indifference to the victims; the transformation of oneself and others into instruments... but nothing speaks louder than the silence, the terrible silence of the authors and planners of this crime. For with affirmative, liberating, non-nihilistic political violence not only is responsibility always claimed, but its essence is found in claiming responsibility.... There is none of that today. The act remains unnamed and anonymous just like the culprits. There lies the infallible sign of a type of fascist nihilism.
          “Opposite it we find another nihilism for which an old name is appropriate, ‘Capital.’” Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, translated and edited by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (New York; London: Continuum, 2003), p. 160.

  6. From an entry in the projected preface, dated November 1887-March 1888, to The Will to Power. See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will To Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 3.

  7. See Jalal Toufic, (Vampires): An Uneasy Essay on the Undead in Film, revised and expanded edition (Sausalito, CA: The Post Apollo Press, 2003), pp. 101-105.

  8. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 207. Now that they are beginning to stir politically following the assassination of Harîrî, I expect the ghosts of the war that were repressed and banished to return (preposterously, the Lebanese filmmaker Ghassan Salhab chose this very moment to make a film whose protagonist, ostensibly a vampire, is a zombie who happens to have an attraction to blood).