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Unformatted text preview: 4 Popular culture Music,dance and poetry In his book Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said gave two definitions of culture: an expanded and a limited one. 1 The expanded definition conceives culture as encompassing life itself, and the limited one refers to 'all those practices, like arts of description, communication, and representation, that have relative autonomy from the economic, social, and political realm and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one whose principal aim is pleasure'. As the first definition encompasses everything else dealt with in this book, the more limited one is fitting for the next two chapters; with one reservation perhaps, that of pleasure being one of culture's principal aims. In the Middle East it often seems that artists wish to convey pain and hurt as much as enjoyment and gaiety. Culture in its limited form has a story. This story of culture in the Middle East, as in so many other parts of the world, has until recently been told by out- siders. They narrated it with the conscious or unconscious aim of controlling and possessing the people to whom this culture belonged. In the last thirty years, scholars of Middle Eastern origin, mostly living outside the area, have criticized the external narrative, deconstructed it and offered alternative ver- sions. But even at the end of the century, Western perceptions of the Middle East dominated the way local culture was represented. These perceptions were reductionist and essentialist and were based on the dichotomy between the 'enlightened' culture of the 'West' and the 'primitive' at best, if not vile, culture of the 'Arab East'. American films of the I980s still subscribed to such a view, media coverage was still loyal to it and in many places academic research did not deviate from it. (This proclivity was accentuated by the reaction in the American media and some sections of academia to the attacks on New York and Washing- ton on II September 200I.? To describe the history of culture from within it is necessary to recognize the central role that the Arabic language played and plays in it (rather than the place of Islam, which more conventional Orientalist surveys would stress). Culture is language, and Arabic in the twentieth century had become the language of 165 POPULAR CULTURE culture in the Middle East even before the final collapse of the Ottoman-Turkish world. It was institutionalized as a language of culture by European schools, missionary at heart but nonetheless pro-Arab nationalist in practice, where Arab intellectuals systemized, modernized and adapted the classical language to become a useful tool for presenting national views on the glorious Arab past, for discussing plans for unity, and for dreaming of future liberation from foreign occupation. The Iast Turkish rulers of the Middle East, the Young Turks, tried in vain to Turkify the Arab peoples left within their Empire, wishing to prevent them from becoming autonomous and eventually independent. It was too late.It was too late....
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- Spring '10