- Morocco Bound: Disorienting America's Maghreb, from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express
Given the (un)holy marriage of neo-imperial violence and orientalist rhetoric that fuels the current war in Iraq (and more generally the "war on terror"), it is of particular importance to know the history of such rhetoric in the United States. While as academic disciplines, history and indeed literary studies may seem less than relevant in times when history itself seems to be actively in the making rather than passively residing in books, it is precisely in such times that the historical long view becomes both guide and tool, arming us with rhetoric to combat the murderous conflation of rhetoric and armed violence that is practiced by the perpetrators of the war.
Given this context, the publication of Brian T. Edwards's Morocco Bound is particularly timely and welcome. Edwards's text traces the prehistory of present manifestations of U.S. orientalism and exceptionalist nationalism, focusing on the form of orientalism that preceded America's current murderous preoccupation with the Middle East: "Before 1973, when American popular attention turned more decidedly toward the Middle East coincident with the OPEC price hike and Arab oil embargo (which struck close to home because of its effect on domestic fuel prices), representations of the Maghreb played a leading role in the formations of American ideas about the Arab" (1). He charts this orientalist construction of the Maghreb in popular and literary texts ranging from Casablanca and editorials about/from the North African campaign during World War II, to the transnational writings of William Burroughs, Mohammed Mrabet, Paul Bowles, and Jane Bowles, to the "hippy orientalist" construction of Morocco in the 1960s and early 1970s.
In doing so, Edwards makes important and innovative contributions both to postcolonial theory and to the emerging field of transnational American studies. In the context of postcolonial theory, Morocco Bound fleshes out and adds historical depth to Edward Said's generative analysis of American imperialism in the concluding chapter to Culture and Imperialism. Morocco Bound thus restores an important link between early expressions of extracontinental imperialism that emerged out of the Spanish-American War and the forms of neo-imperialism that currently characterize the U.S. relationship to the Middle East (and many other parts of the globe). Indeed, Morocco Bound is the latest American studies text to suggest that the history [End Page 489] of the United States can be productively charted in terms of successive waves of imperial endeavor, from the early history of continental expansion to its present position as neo-imperial hegemon of the capitalist world-system.
In exploring an important moment in this imperial history and in examining American and non-American literary and cultural production in a transnational context, Edwards's text becomes the latest in a series of groundbreaking works to challenge an exceptionalist or exclusively national understanding of American culture. Texts such as José David Saldívar's Border Matters, Shelley Streeby's American Sensations, Rob Wilson's Reimagining the American Pacific, Amy Kaplan's The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture, and Kirsten Silva Gruesz's Ambassadors of Culture have produced a newly relational, yet critical, understanding of American culture that restores the transnational, imperial, global contexts that are obscured by the triumphalist and nationalist accounts that for too long have dominated the field. While it always runs the danger of writing American culture large on the rest of the globe (thereby reproducing the imperialism that it is designed to contest), at its best transnational American studies politically situates the United States and its various cultural formations within a politicized understanding of global cultural and economic exchange. For the most part, Morocco Bound manifests the virtues, and avoids the pitfalls, of this emergent field. Edwards brings an impressive knowledge of both American and Moroccan literary and cultural history as well as a comparativist's command of multiple languages (most crucially Arabic) to bear on his subject. While the book's cross...