Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 26 (Melani McAlister)

Epic Encounters
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McAlister, Melani
Epic Encounters:
Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests
In the Middle East 1945-2000

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books. Or possibly online.

It was recommended to me by Ammiel Alcalay. It's one of the best pieces of cultural studies writing I've ever read. It takes as its subject the various ways the Middle East has been constructed in American culture and creates narrative that examines how these constructions get mixed in with U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Covering everything from Hollywood biblical epics in the fifties to the use of islam in black nationalism in the sixties to the potent intermingling of American evangelism and Israeli nationalism that began in the early seventies, it carries the narrative through to the end of the millennium.

We all know what happened then.

Epic Encounters was published prior to 9/11, yet when the final chapter closes, those attacks feel like the inevitable next chapter of the book. It is spookily prophetic. I think a new edition came out after the fact that included another chapter or afterward or something discussing the attacks, but I can't imagine adding any information after the fact would be more useful than just reading the original. It paints a pretty compelling portrait of the cultural interchange that's created the present we currently inhabit.

from Epic Encounters

This is a book about the cultural and political encounters that have made the Middle East matter to Americans. It chronicles how, in the years between World War II and the turn of the twenty-first century, Americans engaged the middle east, both literally and metaphorically, through its history as a sacred space and its continuing reality as a place of secular political conflict. Thus people in the United States encountered the Middle East through war, but also on television shows; as art of the struggle over oil, but also in debates over ancient history; in discussions of religion, but also in constructions of race. This study, therefore, aims to expand the idea of "encounters" to include those that happen across wide geographic spaces, among people who will never meet except through the medium of culture. And like so many encounters that cross social or spatial divides, those chronicled here were often ambivalent and confusing: the were fraught with tension and ripe with possibility.

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