Return to Alexandria: An Ethnography of Cultural Heritage Revivalism and Museum Memory (Critical Cultural Heritage Series)

Return to Alexandria: An Ethnography of Cultural Heritage Revivalism and Museum Memory (Critical Cultural Heritage Series)

Beverley Butler

Language: English

Pages: 299

ISBN: 1598741918

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was launched with great fanfare in the 1990s, a project of UNESCO and the Egyptian government to recreate the glory of the Alexandria Library and Museion of the ancient world. The project and its timing were curious―it coincided with scholarship moving away from the dominance of the western tradition; it privileged Alexandria’s Greek heritage over 1500 years of Islamic scholarship; and it established an island for the cultural elite in an urban slum. Beverley Butler’s ethnography of the project explores these contradictions, and the challenges faced by Egyptian and international scholars in overcoming them. Her critique of the underlying foundational concepts and values behind the Library is of equal importance, a nuanced postcolonial examination of memory, cultural revival, and homecoming. In this, she draws upon a wide array of thinkers: Freud, Derrida, Said, and Bernal, among others. Butler’s book will be of great value to museologists, historians, archaeologists, cultural scholars, and heritage professionals.

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self-defined dreamworld and faced with the ‘real’ of the fear of the ‘other’ and of ‘othering’. The desire to see Alexandria as a separate ‘Greek’ object by reiterating the ancient characterisation of Alexandria ad Aegyptum (Alexandria by, not in, Egypt) (Brown & Taieb 1996:7) is similarly destabilised by ancient sources that couch this liminality as ‘perpetuating somewhat of a feeling of an “end of the world”’ (Favard-Meeks & Meeks 2000:29). Moreover, a fault line emerges, too: Alexandria is the

‘Place for the Cure of the Soul’ and with Malraux’s intellectual preoccupation with the ‘soul’. New interventions are thus powerfully made in terms of ongoing attempts to rehouse memory-in-exile and define ‘what it is to be human’. ‘On the Ruins’: Postcolonial Heritage Metamorphosis 71 The central tenets of Diop’s work continue to be reworked by other authors in new contexts. An extract from the South African President Thabo Mbeki’s political speeches illustrates this continuity while

metaphysics with pre-‘Greek’ ‘hybrid origins’ and memory-work allows me to consider alternative strategies present within postcolonial discourse that similarly address the cosmopolitics of ‘origins’ and ‘othering’ (Perniola 1995; Spivak 1992, 1993). More specifically still, I highlight interventions that enable me to return to critically address the dual characterisation drawn out in Chapter 1 of the Alexandrina paradigm, firstly, as the ‘ultimate expression of Greek narcissism in institutional

Here the psychoanalytic project of ‘othering,’ and, more specifically, the possibility of accessing repressed identities are explored within Freud’s own identity-work/analysis and his own relationships to the identities of ‘Greek’, ‘Jew’, and ‘Egyptian’ (Forrester 1994; Raphael-Leff 1990). This ‘disturbance’ has resonance for the contemporary Alexandrian revivalist landscape. Contemporary revivalism as a crisis/breakthrough of origins and identity-work is also a drama in which Alexandria as

office complex within which GOAL was housed contained the headquarters of a number of notable national and international banks and finance companies. The interior spaces of the GOAL offices provided a striking contrast to the urban sprawl of the surrounding streets and boasted plush office furniture and an array of new technologies, 126 Chapter Four including computers, faxes, telephones, and air conditioning, which at this time were rarely seen in other Egyptian locations and which emerged

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