Makdisi, Saree 1965(?)-

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Makdisi, Saree 1965(?)-


Born c. 1965, in Washington, DC; son of Samir (an economist and educator) and Jean Said Makdisi (a scholar). Education: Wesleyan University, B.A.; Duke University, Ph.D., 1993.


Office—University of California, Los Angeles, English Department, 149 Humanities Bldg., Box 951530, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1530. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and writer. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, assistant professor of English, c. 1993-2003. University of California, Los Angeles, professor of English and comparative literature, 2003—.


Outstanding Academic Book of 1998, Choice, for Romantic Imperialism.


(Editor, with Cesare Casarino and Rebecca E. Karl) Marxism beyond Marxism, Routledge (New York, NY), 1996.

Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2003.

Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2008.

Also author of Saree Makdisi Archive Web blog. Contributor to books, including Palgrave Advances in Blake Studies, edited by Nicholas Williams, Palgrave, 2005; Memory and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Ussama Makdisi and Paul Silverstein, Indiana University Press, 2006; Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene in British Romanticism, 1780-1840, edited by James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Blake, Nation and Empire, edited by David Worrall and Steve Clark, Palgrave, 2006; and Edward Said: Debating the Legacy of a Public Intellectual, edited by Ned Curthoys and Debjani Ganguli, Melbourne University Press, 2007. Contributor to periodicals, including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Nation, and the London Review of Books.


Saree Makdisi is a college professor of English whose primary area of research is the culture of modernity, especially as it was consolidated in Britain during the Romantic period and as it developed in relation to the changing dynamics of British imperialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He is also an activist who has been a harsh critic of Israel concerning the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel. He has written extensively about his literary interests and his political thoughts.

Makdisi's 1998 book Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity was selected as an Outstanding Academic Book of 1998 by Choice magazine. The author explores the complex relationship between Romantic-period literary culture and the changing nature of British imperialism from 1790 to 1830. During this period, more than 150 million people were brought under British imperial control. At the same time, British writers produced a momentous outburst of literary and artistic efforts, announcing a new world of social and individual traumas and possibilities. In the process of examining British writers of these times, the author looks at how scholarship of the Romantic period shifted away from a narrow, Eurocentric concept of literature and shifted more toward analyzing British literature and culture within the context of imperialism. The book includes chapters on William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and William Blake.

"To appreciate this powerful book one has, at the outset, to make a voluntary suspension of disbelief, for Saree Makdisi asks us to travel through great swathes of time and space," wrote Tim Fulford in Studies in Romanticism. Fulford went on to write in the same review: "Makdisi's is a strong book because it is ambitious—strong too in many of its readings of individual texts." Terence Hoagwood noted in the Modern Language Review: "Saree Makdisi's well-written and thoughtful Romantic Imperialism offers an important conceptual contribution to the interpretation of canonical Romantic-period writing."

Makdisi's next book, William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, was called an "inspiring, brilliant new book" by Albion contributor Alexander S. Gourlay. In his book, the author writes about the profound eccentricities in the work of William Blake. While many scholars have dismissed these eccentricities as either a historical or simply meaningless, the author develops a reliable and comprehensive framework for understanding Blake's peculiarities. In his analysis of Blake's unique method of illuminated printing and design, as well as Blake's poetry, the author discusses his belief that Blake developed a form of resistance to commodity culture and to the demands and pressures of the new form of imperialism that emerged during Blake's lifetime. "Saree Makdisi repeatedly quotes a remark in Blake's letter of 12 April 1827 to George Cumberland (‘But since the French Revolution Englishmen are all intermeasurable by one another: certainly a happy state of agreement, in which I for one do not agree’), and quite correctly sees its implication that the whole modern political and ideological orientation we think of as ‘liberal democracy’ is manifestly not something Blake would have been able to accept wholesale, or perhaps at all," noted David Wagenknecht in Studies in Romanticism.

According to the author, Blake's poetry and drawings should compel viewers and readers to reconsider the history of the 1790s. In the process, he traces links among economics, politics, and religion in Blake's works, revealing how Blake questioned and even subverted the commercial, consumerist, and political liberties that most of his contemporaries championed. Writing in Clio, Roper T. Whitson noted: "In many ways, Saree Makdisi's William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s prophetically announces new prospects for Blakean criticism." Whitson went on to write in the same review: "The significance of Makdisi's book lies in the new avenues it opens."

Although he was born in the United States, Makdisi grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, and has maintained a longtime interest in the rights of Palestinian people. In addition, he has written numerous commentaries on the issues surrounding Palestine and Israel in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and London Review of Books. In the author's view, this conflict has long been framed by the Israeli viewpoint. In addition, most Western nations, including the United States, have a skewed perspective of the problem that leads them to side with the Israelis. "In terms of discussions of the Palestinian question in the US, the academy is one of the last places where serious, rigorous, independent thinking remains possible; a place where Israel's myths about itself have been pretty much turfed out and been replaced by serious historical narratives," Makdisi was quoted as saying in a profile on the Institute for Middle East Understanding Web site.

In his 2008 book, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, the author details how the "peace process" has made life extremely difficult if not impossible for ordinary Palestinians. The author explores how Palestinians who want to do everyday activities such as tending their fields, visiting a relative, or going to the hospital, must negotiate a confusing and sometimes dangerous maze of permits and passes, curfews and closures, "sterile roads" and "seam zones," and numerous other bureaucratic hurdles. According to the author, these hurdles can ultimately be as deadly as outright military action. He discusses how the massive concrete walls being constructed around Gaza and the West Bank isolate individuals and their communities from not only their lands but also their livelihoods and each other. The book includes interviews with average citizens, a detailed history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thirty-three photographs, and twelve maps.

Although several reviewers noted that Makdisi presents what they considered to be a one-sided view of the issues and problems, many still praised the author's work. "Those looking for a moving and humane account of the lives of Palestinians will be rewarded," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Noting "the urgency of Makdisi's work," another reviewer, writing in Publishers Weekly, also commented that the author "sketches a powerful, relentlessly heartbreaking account of a reality few Westerners know."



Al-Ahram Weekly, May 10-16, 2007, Amira Howeidy, "Saree Makdisi: Secrets of Intellectual Warfare."

Albion, summer, 2004, Alexander S. Gourlay, review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 313.

Choice, November, 1998, S.F. Klepetar, review of Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity, p. 524.

Clio, summer, 2004, Roper T. Whitson, review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 483.

English Studies, February, 2005, Dennis M. Welch, review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 91.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2008, review of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.

Modern Language Review, January, 2001, Terence Hoagwood, review of Romantic Imperialism, p. 167.

Notes and Queries, December 1, 2000, Brian Gasser, review of Romantic Imperialism, p. 531.

Publishers Weekly, March 10, 2008, review of Palestine Inside Out, p. 74.

Studies in Romanticism, September 22, 2002, Tim Fulford, review of Romantic Imperialism, p. 471; summer, 2004, David Wagenknecht, review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 297.

Times Higher Education Supplement, April 16, 2004, Matt Shinn, "Alien Ideas of a Quirky Artisan Out of Step with His Time," review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 27.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April, 2007, Janet McMahon, "Saree Makdisi on Language vs. Reality," p. 64.

Wordsworth Circle, autumn, 2004, Kenneth Johnston, "‘Enough! or Too Much’: Probable, Possible, and Impossible Histories of the 1790s," review of William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, p. 210.


Campus Watch, (May 5, 2005), Ken Masugi, "Middle East Studies in the News; Saree Makdisi and Academic Freedom."

Institute for Middle East Understanding Web site, (May 26, 2008), "Saree Makdisi: Professor and Commentator," profile of author.

UCLA English Department Web site, (May 26, 2008), faculty profile of author.

UCLA, (May 26, 2008), faculty profile of author.