Shopping for the Magic Flying Carpet, Turkey



Research Development of Object

A. OBJECT DESCRIPTION: THE MAGIC FLYING CARPET (in films, toys, visual representations)

– bright and colourful (purples, reds, blues, yellows all together)

– never flat, always in the air, slightly bent, going in some direction

– carpet usually has designs, patterns

– designs usuall have ‘dome-like’ or circular images and patterns

– usually carry some nobility (prince, princesses) 0n top

– a medium of transportation–usually represents a frozen in-between space


-enters Western literary and cultural imagination through the translations of One Thousand and One Nights and Arabian Nights translated into French by Antoine Galland from Syrian sources between 1704-1711

– Israel’s 1949 project called “Operation Magic Carpet” which airlifted thousands of Yemenite Jews from ‘wandering in Arabian deserts’ and transported them to Israel where they were taught ‘civilized’ manners and customs.

– 1992 Walt Disney release of the film Aladdin and the role of the magic carpet in there alongside protests by American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) concerning the lyrics in the song ‘Arabian Nights’

– Magic Flying carpet ride in Disneyland, Florida

– magic carpets used in designing of restaurants/clubs that  represent Arab/ Middle Eastern culture. Mostly in tourist attractions near places like Disneyland.


– Edward Said’s Orientalism written in 1977 thoroughly argues about the empirical effects of Orientalist scholarship (such as the translations above…i.e. ‘knowing’ the East leads to controlling the East- using Foucaudian model of knowledge=power)

– Said argues that Orientalist scholarship was not merely abstractions or fantasies but rather had material effects of conquest and colonialism


i) is the magic flying carpet an object with material qualities?

ii) if so, how has the magic flying carpet affected diasporic identity?

iii) keeping in mind that the magic flying carpet is a medium of representation, has its social and cultural affects remained stationary?

The Magic Flying Carpet: Fantasies and Empirical Realities of ‘Diasporic’ Objects

This is a new direction that I have decided to take with my project.

This new direction arose out of a discussion I had with Prof. Macdonald about doing Ellison’s book for my object study. I had jokingly said to Prof. Macdonald,  “I’m sorry, I just can’t get myself to do a ‘magic flying carpet’ for my object study”.

In the past few weeks I have realized that I actually can.

In many ways it is connected to my first object of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 book “Invisible Man”. I see this shift in direction as a continuation of that project.

I chose Ralph Ellison’s book, firstly, because it was sitting in front of me while I was thinking of an object for my project.  Secondly, the focus of my major in DTS has been the study of African Americans as a transnational group. My intent in doing a project on Ellison’s novel was to study the relationship between the ‘book’ and its complicated relationship to American citizenship for African Americans in a post Harlem Renaissance period and Federal Writers Project period (A 1930s New Deal Measures). Secondly, Ellison’s book was a way in which I felt that I could challenge convential ideas concerning what a diasporic object was and where to find it.

Both project arose out of the problem I experienced of finding a an object that was ‘diasporic’ enough.  The problem in setting yourself out to do such a task, I feel, is that we often search for the ‘exotic’, ‘the colourful’ the differently named.  In doing so, I feel that there is a type of ‘othering’ process that is unleashed on objects themselves, paralleling the type of othering that humans do to humans.

The study of the magic flying carpet will engage with the above issue.  The thesis of this project will be that the ‘magic flying carpet’ does have material qualities. Through an engagement with object scholars that we have studied in this class, I will argue that although the magic flying carpet is an impossible object (carpets cannot fly), it has had significant material consequences on diasporic identities.

There is no better way to proceed with this argument than to use Edward Said’s Orientalism. In this 1977, yet still relevant thesis in my opinion, Said argues that the orientalist fantasies of the East have not only been fragments of the imagination or abstract theorizing of the Orient, but rather that orientalist discourse has had significant, and perhaps more important,  material consequences for the people that it has imagined (via conquest, colonialism; Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, etc).

Alongside the discussion of the materiality of magic carpets on a theoretical level, I will also engage my argument with a discussion of magic carpets on a physical level. I will speak to the merchandise released by the Walt Disney company following the early 1990s production of Aladdin. I will discuss the ways in which the commodification of the magic carpet in children’s toys has had a significant affect on cultural engagements with the ‘other’, ‘diasporic’, ‘alien’, in ways that made the Orient seem less threatening (as it had been for 18th and 19th century Europeans) and more depoliticized. I think this is particularly interesting, considering the numerous American conquests into the Middle East starting from the Gulf War to the War in Iraq/ Afghanistan.

Operation Magic Flying Carpet, was also the name of an expedition organized by Israel in 1949 to bring Yemeni Jews to Israel, with the purpose of teaching  them about Western ways and cultural practices. I will explore a study which looks in to the serious aftermaths that this expedition had on the psychological and  social lives of those who participated in it.

Entering the Canon: C. The Cultural and Social Context of the Object

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