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Mashriq & Mahjar 6, no. 2 (2019), 169–172 ISSN 2169-4435 MINOO MOALLEM, Persian Carpets: The Nation as a Transnational Commodity (New York: Routledge, 2018). Pp. 160. $120.00 cloth, $23.99 paper, $15.00 e-book. ISBN 9781138290242. REVIEWED BY EVELYN ALSULTANY, University of Southern California, email: evelyn.alsultany@usc.edu Minoo Moallem’s Persian Carpets: The Nation as a Transnational Commodity is a fascinating genealogy of how the Persian carpet became a modern transnational commodity. Moallem traces how the carpet became an object of Orientalia worthy of collection, display in museums, and use as home décor. Her multifaceted approach explores not only how the Persian carpet became a desirable object in homes across the West, first as a luxury item and later as a mass-produced commodity, but also how it came to represent the nation of Iran and grew into a symbol of class status in Iran and a symbol of the Iranian diaspora after the 1979 revolution. She also highlights both the aesthetic and affective dimensions in the process of commodification, showing how affective communities are constructed in the commodification of aesthetic objects. This is a highly original work: there is no other book that approaches the Persian carpet in this novel and critical way. What is most remarkable is how Moallem brings together a cultural studies analysis of the politics of representation in the production of Orientalism with an analysis of the political economy and labor practices involved in creating Persian carpets. Thus, her interdisciplinary approach considers labor, commodification, affect, aesthetics, and transnational circulation and meaning. Moallem’s main argument is that the aestheticization and commodification of the Persian carpet was accomplished through concealing the labor conditions of its production. She builds upon Marx’s term “commodity fetishism” to underline the ways in which the process of commodification conceals the factory, mass production, and the conditions endured by workers. She narrates this commodification of Mashriq & Mahjar 6, no. 2 (2019) 170 the Persian carpet through the historical lenses of colonialism, capitalism, the transnationalization of labor, and the transnationalization of systems of representation. Moallem introduces the term “civilizational commodities” to refer to how Orientalist commodities like the Persian carpet produced cultural and civilizational differences and constructed meaningful boundaries between East and West, Oriental and Occidental, the primitive and modern, and the religious and the secular. Other concepts central to her analysis are “affective consumption”—how consumerism becomes a vehicle to produce an imagined community (125–26), “commodity aesthetics”—how commodities are aestheticized, circulated, and consumed (15), and “scopic economy”— how the vision central to representation is crucial to creating the value needed for economic exchange (12–15). Each term serves as an entry point for Moallem’s rich analysis. The book is based on Moallem’s extensive research, traveling to carpet-producing locations around the world, from Paris and London to Istanbul and various locations in Iran. She interviewed carpet makers, dealers, consumers, and collectors. She also conducted archival research at various locations including the Carpet Archives Centre in Kidderminster, England; Tehran’s Carpet Museum of Iran, and the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Chapter 1 examines connoisseur books, a genre of publication that produced Orientalist knowledge about Persian carpets in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moallem traces how such books produced the desire and demand for carpets by educating potential European consumers about the aesthetics, value, and “civilizational optic of empire” (28). Central to this process of education was designating Persian carpets as domestic Orientalia, thus representing cultural difference as transformed from primitivism to civilization in the process of commodification. Chapter 2 focuses on how Persian carpets acquired Orientalist meaning through representations at world fairs, and in Hollywood films and advertisements in the early twentieth-century United States, as the carpets went from being considered luxury items to massproduced products. Films operated as a supplement to capitalism, producing value for the empire and the nation through aesthetic representations. The more the Persian carpet was depicted as different and magical, the more value it acquired as a desirable object. Moallem demonstrates how such representations invested Persian carpets with Reviews 171 value and inspired consumerism, thus highlighting how representations are crucial to connecting “an economy of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2169-4435
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-13
Open Access
Yes
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