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Journal of American Studies of Turkey

4 (1996) : 101-103.

Book Review

Joel C. Hodson:Lawrence of Arabia and American Culture: The Making of a


Transatlantic Legend. 1995, xvi + 195 pages. Available from: Greenwood Press, 88
Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881, USA.

Selçuk Akşin Somel

This study by Joel C. Hodson attempts to examine, as its title indicates, the
emergence of the legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Thomas Edward Lawrence, 1888-
1935) in American culture, and the dynamics of its unfading impact on the present.
According to the author, "this study is neither a biography nor a critical
examination of a specific aspect of Lawrence's life or works . . . the figure of
Lawrence of Arabia is used . . . to illustrate Anglo-American cultural interplay, the
power of popular culture machinery, and the way myths are made and propagated"
(10).

The first three chapters (Chapter 1: "Lowell Thomas and the Origins of the Popular
Legend of Lawrence of Arabia" ; Chapter 2: "Backstage at the Theatre"; Chapter 3:
"Propaganda and Propagation," 11-58) investigate the role of the American
journalist Lowell Thomas in the early propagation of the Lawrence legend in the
United States, Britain and other English-speaking countries between 1919 and
1928. Hodson states that Thomas's role in the propagation of the Lawrence legend
in the United States as well as in Britain was much more important than
biographers of Lawrence have recognized. Hodson also stresses that Lawrence,
being in a close relationship with Thomas until 1923, was aware of this creation of
the myth about himself and even tolerated it. Discussing the motives of Lawrence's
winking at this creation of the legend (Chapter 4: "Diffusion of the Legend, 1920-
1940: The Cases of Colonels Lawrence and Lindbergh," 59-78), the author suggests
that Lawrence, particularly during the period of the Paris Peace Conference and
until 1921, committed himself to the Hashemite Arab bid for independence, while
Thomas's legend-creating activities served him as a means for promoting the Arab
cause.

Analyzing the possible reasons for the great appeal of the Lawrence legend to the
British people and the Americans, Hodson suggests that for the British, the hero-
figure of Lawrence could help them overcome the trauma of the war and the shabby
realities of post-war Europe. But as the author points out, it was not very obvious
why Lawrence would appeal to Americans, who had sent their own soldiers to the
European front and had their own cultural traditions of heroism.

Hodson tries to give four reasons to explain this phenomenon. First of all, the
"special relationship" between the United States and Britain, "a natural affinity of
the English-speaking peoples," made it easier for Americans to celebrate Lawrence.
The representation of the Arab revolt as a fight for self-determination similar to the
American war of independence, where Lawrence appeared as "a Lafayette figure"
or even a "George Washington of Arabia," also helped Americans to sympathize
with the Hashemite cause. Furthermore, the fact that the United States could
produce only a few outstanding heroes during World War I, who were to lose their
influence due to the circumstances of the immediate postwar years, increased the
need for a hero the Americans could celebrate. Also, the Hollywood film
productions in the 1920s, where desert sheikhs were appearing as romantic heroes,
further facilitated the perpetuation of this legend. Hodson then describes the
consequences and personal costs of being publicly admired, using the case of
Charles Lindbergh as an example.

Chapter 5 ("Redefinition and Literary Reception, 1920-1940," 95-105) deals with


Lawrence's literary activities from the 1920s until his death in 1935, as well as with
the reception of his literary works in Britain and the United States. It emerges that
Lawrence was in close touch with American avant-garde literary circles.
Interestingly, his main literary work,Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), first became
publicly available in America. The following chapter, Chapter 6, ("Interlude,1940-
1960: Lawrence and Hemingway," 95-105) discusses the literary influence
Lawrence exerted on Ernest Hemingway, and on war literature from 1940 to 1960.
Here Hodson comes to the conclusion that Hemingway probably used Seven
Pillars to a great extent for the description of guerilla warfare in his novel For
Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Commercialization of the Lawrence legend, and
production conditions of the 1962 Hollywood film Lawrence of Arabia, including
controversies concerning the screenplay, are examined in Chapter 7
("Commercialization of the Legend, 1960-Present: Lawrence and Hollywood,"
107-129). The last chapter, Chapter 8, ("Assaying the Legends," 131-142) attempts
to determine Lawrence's place as a heroic figure, as a writer, and as an individual
exemplifying an anti-heroic existential figure. Though Lawrence played important
political roles in the shaping of the Middle East during and shortly after World War
I, his actual reputation is due to his confessional Seven Pillars as well as to his
rejection of fame and social conformity. Hodson concludes that Lawrence's hope
"to be better remembered as a man of letters than as a man of action" has been
nearly fulfilled (82,135). An appendix (143-147) gives information about the
published and unpublished sources concerning Thomas.

As stated in the introduction of the book, Hodson's study is in fact an illustration of


the "Anglo-American cultural interplay, the power of popular culture machinery,
and the way myths are made and propagated," in relation to the person of
Lawrence. Yet, one would have expected a more analytical and theoretical
approach to this considerably fruitful research area.

This book is a more or less descriptive study dealing with the mechanisms of the
creation of a heroic personality and its commercialization. From the viewpoint of
the dominant thematic approach to the subject as well as to the sources, this book
clearly consists of two parts. The main theme of the first three chapters is the
relationship between Lawrence and Thomas, stressing the crucial role of the latter
in the propagation of the legend of the former. I think that these three chapters
constitute the most interesting and perhaps the most original part of the book. Here
the author has used the heretofore mainly unused manuscripts of Thomas,
concentrating on the material conditions of Thomas's public activities in London
and New York during 1919-1928, and thus forming a kind of social-historical study
at micro-level. The remaining five chapters constitute on the whole a cultural study
of the reception of Lawrence as a hero in the American literature and film
industries, and in various areas of popular culture from the 1920s until the present
time. The reader feels a certain discontinuity between these two parts, insofar as the
treatment of the subject is concerned. In the second part the stress is on the cultural
products of the legend of Lawrence, but with little integration of the changing
social and historical conditions in Britain and in particular in the United States
during this lengthy period of more than sixty years.

Some of the arguments put forward by the author should also be considered more
carefully. When Hodson discusses the possible reasons for the development of the
strong popularity of the legendary figure T. E. Lawrence in America (Chapter 4,
61-65), on the top of the list he puts Winston Churchill's political-strategic notion
that America and Great Britain have "a special relationship" as "the English-
speaking peoples." Historically, a linguistic affinity between two countries does not
necessarily lead to the emergence of a strong cultural interchange; and if it appears
to be so, then it is probably due to factors more essential than the linguistic ones.
As the second reason, the author rightly emphasizes that the American cultural-
historical tradition was easily able to identify itself with the Arab national cause of
independence. Within the context of this argument, one should also point out that in
the late 19th and early 20th century European and American presses, the Ottoman
Empire was largely portrayed as a corrupt despotic empire where Christians were
tortured by heathen tormentors.The reports sent by American Protestant
missionaries in Anatolia to the American press, in relation to the Armenian
massacres in particular, strengthened the feeling that those populations under the
"Turkish yoke" should be liberated. An observation made by Hodson concerning
the literary interests of Lawrence is that, while during the last ten years of his life
he closely followed recent American literature and formed a collection of the most
important American literary works, two of Stephen Crane's works were absent from
Lawrence's collection (the other ten titles of the author were present in Lawrence's
library). One of these,Active Service (1899), is a novel based on Crane's
experiences in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897, and the other,War Is Kind(1899), a
collection of poetry (Chapter 5, 88). One is tempted to ask whether Lawrence, in
later life, perhaps tried to remain distant from the memories of the Ottoman Empire
and World War I. Hodson's argument that Lawrence renounced everything that had
to do with the war (Chapter 8, 139), strengthens this possibility.

Hodson's study of Lawrence of Arabia and his emergence as a transatlantic legend


is a work which consists of two parts weakly integrated with each other. I think
that, from a historical viewpoint, the first three chapters constitute the most
important contribution to scholarly literature on Lawrence. This book is primarily
directed to audiences interested in 20th century British and American cultural
history, American popular culture, and in the biography of Lawrence between the
years 1918 and 1935.
Journal of American Studies of Turkey
4 (1996) : 105-106.

Book Review

Jean Baudrillard, Amerika (America). Translated from French* by Yaþar Avunç.


145 p. Ýstanbul: Ayrıntı Yayınları, 1966. Available from Piyer Loti Caddesi 17/2,
Çemberlitaş, 34400 İstanbul.

Nur Bilge Criss

Jean Baudrillard has an unusual approach for a European, and specifically a French
writer, in trying to explain the American phenomenon. His method is to look at
America from the inside out instead of the other way around. The uniqueness of
this book lies in the fact that America emerges neither as the "other"--as it would
have, had a Eurocentric viewpoint been adopted--nor is it presented as an
alternative to European modernity. This becomes all the more apparent through
comparison, because pictures of America and Europe come through almost as an
Hegelian dialectic. The gist of the book is that America has already made a
synthesis of the old and the new with the help of geography, demography,
sectarianism, social mores, and patterns of assimilation. And Europe has long
ceased to be a motherland to America, except in the imaginations of some
Americans. In other words, there is an existential difference between the two
entities. Therefore, it is perhaps only fair to look at America for what it is rather
than for what it is not.

While interpreting the meaning of America, the author chose as his laboratory, not
the East coast, its European heritage, the Establishment, but the space and
architectures of Los Angeles and New York, the desert and the attitudes of
common people. The outcome of these observations is threefold. One is an incisive
and at times humorous look into the American psyche; the meaning of space, speed
(in the sense of pace), freedom, individualism, alienation, and fetishism of health
and body. Then, there is the inevitable comparison of how Europeans and
Americans handle concepts. Baudrillard argues that Europeans are confined by
history, space, and a false adoration of their culture, i.e., a form of bourgeois
hypocrisy, which may very well be sources leading to unproductivity. According to
him, Americans are good at realizing concepts without any fanfare attached to the
intellectual value of conceptualization. Europeans take much pride at their almost
inherent skill at conceptualization without being equipped with the means to realize
these concepts. This is exactly where Europe and America part ways. The former
has not exhausted the capacity to make revolutions, while the latter has, primarily
because in Europe the concept of freedom is political rather than individual, and
because history has a haunting as well as limiting effect on Europe.

In 1970, another French thinker, Jean-François Revel, published Ni Marx Ni Jésus:


De La Seconde Révolution Américaine à la Seconde Révolution Mondiale (Paris:
Laffont, 1970). Revel was quite excited about the new information age which
touched upon the lives of a substantial number of the worlds population,
implicating national, societal, and individual lives. His book was a breath of fresh
air to those of us who were tired of the ideologies and dogmatism of equally the
Right and the Left. America was indeed capable of making revolutions sans
idéologie. Although Baudrillard is not as optimistic as Revel had been about the
future of America, there is an underlying sentiment that the charming naiveté, basic
innocence, and toleration of local and national politics, however sceptical, may yet
prove assets in civil society which feed ethics into the workings of the system.

The last but not least interesting theme of the book is the meaning of American
modernity. Baudrillard questions whether this modernity is embedded in the
obscenely huge and tall buildings of New York City or in the horizontal city
network and freeways of Los Angeles. Considering that one does not encounter
built-in prejudice as far as difference in status or class is concerned, is it possible to
account for American modernity by looking at social norms? Or better yet, does
image-building in the movie industry, society and politics comprise American
modernity? Europes modernity is of a far different genre--one frozen within 18th
and 19th century values. Otherwise, why do many of us consider the Pompidou
Center in Paris horrendous and/or are still sceptical about a United States of
Europe?

Baudrillard's book is not just another travel book that makes interesting
observations of the American way of life. It offers a critical socio-political analysis
of what one accepts as a homogenous Western system of values and principles.

* Editors note: Amérique (Paris: Grasset, 1986) has been translated into English by
Chris Turner as America (London and New York: Verso, 1989).