The Sphinx Takes Manhattan, or the Significance of "A Man From the Yaman" in Ameen Rihani's Arabian Peak and Desert
In 1989, a replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza was photographed passing in front of the Statue of Liberty. This image recalls neglected imperial histories and challenges global models of center and periphery. A similar encounter occurs at the beginning of Ameen Rihani’s work Arabian Peak and Desert: Travels in Al-Yaman, where the early twentieth century Syrian American scholar writes of a chance meeting with a “man from the Yaman.” Their conversation is brief, yet it colors the travel narrative that follows. In this paper, I read these encounters together to situate moments of “reply” to Orientalist discourses. These encounters simultaneously reproduce and displace Eurocentric histories and epistemologies by creating a space that is both within and outside modern narratives of progress. This paper analyzes the two encounters and proposes montage as a method for reexamining literary and visual texts.
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