Anton Chekhov’s internationally renowned “Ward No. 6” in 1892 arose from despair over Russia’s collapse into the hands of ignorant rulers, perhaps comparing the decrepit hospital of his story to the state of the country. Over a century later, his story strikes a fresh chord — now more than ever following the Beirut Blast on August 4 that turned large parts of the city to ruin. In a recent Independent Arabia article, Lebanese poet and critic Abdo Wazen went as far as to compare the tragedy to Chekhov’s “Ward No. 6,” where the corrupted and negligent staff of a provincial mental asylum bear a painful resemblance to Lebanon’s highest office holders.
“Ward No. 6” describes the downfall of Andrey Ragin, the director of a mental asylum who turns a blind eye to the hospital’s filthy living conditions and the abuse of his patients by the guard, Nikita. According to Wazen, like the ward no. 6 of the story, Beirut housed its own “ward” — hangar no. 12, the site of the explosion of a huge volume of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. In a society where “miscreants” enjoy their corrupt lives while the “honorable” are marginalized, imprisoned, and tortured, while officials steal money and confiscate the food and medicine of the sick, Lebanon “lives in a state of insanity, delirium, blood and ruin, and on top of all this, our own hospital’s “ward no. 12.”’
“A Nation in an Expanding Mental Ward: Is Lebanon Now Chekhov’s Ward No. Six?” will appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No. 79, 2020.
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