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.


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