Elizabeth Holt

Wednesday, 11 November 2015, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

“A Rather Chromium-Plated Air of Suspicious Opulence”: The Congress for Cultural Freedom  and the Landscape of the Cultural Cold War in Beirut and Cairo

Elizabeth M. Holt

(Bard College / EUME Fellow 2015/2016)

Chair: Mayssun Succarie
(King’s College London / Affiliated EUME Fellow 2015/2016)

Drawing upon letters and photographs from the International Association for Cultural Freedom archive at the University of Chicago, this lecture considers how the Congress for Cultural Freedom's outposts in Beirut and Cairo related to the built and cultural landscape of those two cities in the early 1960s, a landscape they were very much looking to influence. In correspondence between CCF affiliates in Paris, Geneva, Cairo and Beirut, disagreements as to the location of the Beirut and Cairo offices and what that might signify to the Arabic reading public provide a street-level view of the CIA-founded and funded CCF's tactics.  Anything too brassy threatened to reveal the covert role of American money in the material affairs of Arabic culture, even as the CCF threw lavish cocktail parties and would go on to pay perhaps a bit too generously for the Arabic literature they published in the CCF journal Ḥiwār.

Elizabeth M. Holt received her PhD in Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture, and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2009. She is Assistant Professor of Arabic in the Division of Languages and Literature at Bard College, a small liberal arts college in the hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where Holt teaches courses in Arabic language, Arabic literature, world literature and translation, literary theory, and Middle Eastern Studies. Holt serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature, a journal she has edited since 2008. She recently completed a manuscript entitled Novel Material: Speculating in Arabic from Beirut to Cairo, 1870-1907, an historical materialist study of the simultaneous rise of the novel form and finance capital in Arabic in the late nineteenth century. Novel Material reads an archive of periodicals, letters, first editions and private papers in Arabic and French, revealing how finance and the novel at once tell the other's story, a plotline of serialized hope and fear charted in the journals of Beirut through the silk market, and meted out in Cairo in cotton shares. Research for the manuscript was supported by a post-doctoral fellowship in Cairo in 2012 through the National Endowment for the Humanities at the American Research Center in Egypt.