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Exotic Arabs and American Anxiety: Representations of Culinary Tourism in Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent


In this essay, I examine the way in which Diana Abu-Jaber's novel, Crescent, presents an exoticised Arabic culture and the relationship of this to a post-9/11 American culture eclipsed by anxieties about terrorism. I am primarily concerned with the text’s representation of what I call “culinary tourism”—its characters’ attempts to access culture (and Arabic culture in particular)—through eating. Food becomes a vehicle through which the text critically explores the dialectics of a post-9/11 American exoticism: the fear of a vaguely defined Arabic or Islamic culture, on the one hand, and the potential for its strangeness to be seen as fascinating on the other. I argue that Crescent is a conflicted novel that presents an exoticised representation of culture through its depiction of food, and yet cannot seem to wholly abandon itself to its own systems of exoticism. On the one hand, as I discuss in the first half of this essay, the novel’s representations of food are a vehicle through which it critiques its characters’ engagement with stereotypes, a mode of cultural interaction which Homi Bhabha argues is always afflicted by anxiety. However, on the other hand, as I discuss in the second half of this essay, the florid language and imagery it uses in its representations of food reveal its reliance upon the same discourses of exoticism it critiques, and possession by the same kinds of anxieties about Arabic culture that afflict its characters.

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