After the American Century The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East By Brian T. Edwards (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 288 pages.)

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Mojtaba Ebrahimian



Brian T. Edwards’ book boasts of an insightful interdisciplinary approach that
draws upon his expertise in anthropology, literary and cultural studies, American
studies, and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) studies. His approach
and overall argument can benefit both the specialists in these disciplines
and the non-academic audience interested in the MENA region’s contemporary
cultural history and connection to the United States’ international cultural politics.
Edwards introduces two principal concepts to formulate his arguments:
the “ends of circulation” and “jumping publics.” In his view, the former describes
“new contexts for American texts” and the latter explicates “the way
culture moves through the world in the digital age” (p. 27).
He offers four reasons why the circulation of cultural products “across
borders and publics” is important to the contemporary American audience.

First, “The U.S. Department of State has invested time and funding in propagating
the circulation of American culture.” Second, “American media venues
have a continuing interest in this topic, whether in the coverage of the
Egyptian revolution or in the popular fascination with books such as Reading
Lolita in Tehran (2003) that depict Americans or American culture displaced
in the Middle East.” Third, many “popular and influential writers,” including
“the developmentalist Daniel Lerner in the 1950s to Thomas Friedman in the
1990s and 2000s to media studies journalist Clay Shirky, assume a technocentric
or cyberutopian determinism,” and thus consider “access to new
technologies and media” and “modernization and freedom” inevitably intertwined.
And fourth, “In the fields of American literary studies and comparative
literature, the ways in which the American culture and literature are
taken up around the world puts pressure on the ways of doing things in those
disciplines” (p. 16) ...

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