Syrian Episodes: Sons, Fathers, and an Anthropologist in Aleppo

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Overview

When Princeton anthropologist John Borneman arrived in Syria's second-largest city in 2004 as a visiting Fulbright professor, he took up residence in what many consider a "rogue state" on the frontline of a "clash of civilizations" between the Orient and the West. Hoping to understand intimate interactions of religious, political, and familial authority in this secular republic, Borneman spent much time among different men, observing and becoming part of their everyday lives. Syrian Episodes is the striking result.

Recounting his experience of living and lecturing in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, John Borneman offers deft, first-person stories of the longings and discontents expressed by Syrian sons and fathers, as well as a prescient analysis of the precarious power held by the regime, its relation to domestic authority, and the conditions of its demise. Combining literary imagination and anthropological insight, the book's discrete narratives converge in an unforgettable portrait of contemporary culture in Aleppo.

We read of romantic seductions, rumors of spying, the play of light in rooms, the bargaining of tourists in bazaars, and an attack of wild dogs. With unflinching honesty and frequent humor, Borneman describes his encounters with students and teachers, customers and merchants, and women and families, many of whom are as intrigued with the anthropologist as he is with them. Refusing to patronize those he meets or to minimize his differences with them, Borneman provokes his interlocutors, teasing out unexpected confidences, comic responses, and mutual misunderstandings. He engages the curiosity and desire of encounter and the possibility of ethical conduct that is willing to expose cultural differences.

Combining literary imagination and anthropological insight, Syrian Episodes offers an unforgettable portrait of contemporary culture in Aleppo.

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Editorial Reviews

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Vivid detail fills Syrian Episodes, a book startling in its frankness about the Princeton professor's friendly, frustrating, and even flirtatious encounters in Syria's second-largest city. . . . The author fulfills his early promise of an ethnography that is as much about others' questions as his own. Both intrigue the reader as one reads conversations about subjects as varied as God, sex, movies, George W. Bush, and the Ba'ath Party. Drawing on his experiences at the souk, and the university, Mr. Borneman tells the stories of young men, some oppressed by paternal authority, some adrift without it.
— Nina C. Ayoub
New Republic
First of all, the book is gorgeously written. Second, it is the anthropology of experience rather than the anthropology of abstruse theory.
— Martin Peretz
H-NET Reviews
Readers who are nostalgic for the orientalist tradition of encounters with the exotic other would enjoy this book, particularly given the accessible narrative style in which it is written.
— Faedah M. Totah
Chronicle of Higher Education
Vivid detail fills Syrian Episodes, a book startling in its frankness about the Princeton professor's friendly, frustrating, and even flirtatious encounters in Syria's second-largest city. . . . The author fulfills his early promise of an ethnography that is as much about others' questions as his own. Both intrigue the reader as one reads conversations about subjects as varied as God, sex, movies, George W. Bush, and the Ba'ath Party. Drawing on his experiences at the souk, and the university, Mr. Borneman tells the stories of young men, some oppressed by paternal authority, some adrift without it.
— Nina C. Ayoub
New Republic - Martin Peretz
First of all, the book is gorgeously written. Second, it is the anthropology of experience rather than the anthropology of abstruse theory.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Nina C. Ayoub
Vivid detail fills Syrian Episodes, a book startling in its frankness about the Princeton professor's friendly, frustrating, and even flirtatious encounters in Syria's second-largest city. . . . The author fulfills his early promise of an ethnography that is as much about others' questions as his own. Both intrigue the reader as one reads conversations about subjects as varied as God, sex, movies, George W. Bush, and the Ba'ath Party. Drawing on his experiences at the souk, and the university, Mr. Borneman tells the stories of young men, some oppressed by paternal authority, some adrift without it.
H-NET Reviews - Faedah M. Totah
Readers who are nostalgic for the orientalist tradition of encounters with the exotic other would enjoy this book, particularly given the accessible narrative style in which it is written.
From the Publisher
"First of all, the book is gorgeously written. Second, it is the anthropology of experience rather than the anthropology of abstruse theory."—Martin Peretz, New Republic

"Vivid detail fills Syrian Episodes, a book startling in its frankness about the Princeton professor's friendly, frustrating, and even flirtatious encounters in Syria's second-largest city. . . . The author fulfills his early promise of an ethnography that is as much about others' questions as his own. Both intrigue the reader as one reads conversations about subjects as varied as God, sex, movies, George W. Bush, and the Ba'ath Party. Drawing on his experiences at the souk, and the university, Mr. Borneman tells the stories of young men, some oppressed by paternal authority, some adrift without it."—Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Readers who are nostalgic for the orientalist tradition of encounters with the exotic other would enjoy this book, particularly given the accessible narrative style in which it is written."—Faedah M. Totah, H-NET Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691128870
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/26/2007
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Borneman is professor of anthropology at Princeton University. His books include "Death of the Father: An Anthropology of the End in Political Authority" and "Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist Europe" (Princeton)

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     vii
Preface     ix
Acknowledgments     xxix
Aleppo     1
"Prayer is better than sleep"     1
Imad's Japanese Girlfriend     7
Farce     11
"I would rather have children than fly"     13
"Once you love deeply, you never forget"     21
"My father says he saves for me"     23
"As long as she gets along with me, she will have no problems with my mother"     26
"Do you desire your mother?"     29
Traffic, or the Normal Order of Things     31
Preparing to Teach     42
Administrative Pleasantries     43
"But we are homophobic!"     52
"So, what do you think of Muslims?"     62
"I'd like to be the next president"     68
"The religious people see this and hate it, but they cannot turn it off"     74
"God will tell us when we have to do something"     84
"Kiss Daddy! Kiss Daddy!"     88
The Souk     96
"Come into my shop and let me take you"     96
"Do you have a brother?"     100
"Ossi oder NorMAL?"     103
The Souk's Logic of Exchange     107
Fathers,Sons, Brothers, and Inheritance     112
Dream Collector     115
Dream of the Mistress     117
"How great is my disappointment when I see my dreams breaking down"     119
"Every woman thinks I only want to sleep with her"     123
Cell Phone, Cassettes, String Underwear     127
"That is fieldwork!"     128
"A father, perhaps a brother"     130
Fathers and Sons     145
"It is a blessing"     149
The Rumor     153
Syria     156
"These are my children"     156
Aleppian Food, in Public     162
Obtaining an Exit Visa     166
The Ba'ath Party     169
Student Radicals     175
Teaching Anthropology and American Culture     178
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof     187
Wild Dog Attack     190
Reflections on Teaching and Learning in Syria     192
Pedagogy     192
Lectures     194
Films     196
Coda: January 2006     200
Further Reading     225
Index     233
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