Over the last half of the twentieth century, culture moved to the foreground of political and intellectual life. Suddenly everyone discovered that culture had been mass produced like Ford’s cars; the masses had culture and culture had a mass. Culture was everywhere, no longer the property of the cultured or the cultivated. Radical social movements around the globe invented a politics of culture.
Culture In the Age of Three Worlds is a reflection on this cultural turn which was a fundamental aspect of the age of three worlds, that short half century between 1945 and 1989 when it was imagined that the world was divided into three—the capitalist first world, the communist second world, and the decolonizing third world. Recasting the legacies of British cultural studies and the radical traditions of the American studies movement in a global context, Michael Denning explores the political and intellectual battles over the meanings of culture, addresses the rise of a distinctive ‘American ideology,’ and charts the lineaments of the global cultures that emerged as three worlds gave way to one.
This essay is excerpted from Sohail Daulatzai's Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue, published by the University of Minnesota Press. A new 4K restoration of The Battle of Algiers is currently touring theaters across the United States.
Though it is both troubling and telling, the screening of the film by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is only the latest chapter in the afterlife of The Battle of Algiers. In many ways, the film is a battleground and a microcosm of the enduring struggles between the West and the Rest, whiteness and its others. But in a post- 9/11 moment, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the centrality and omnipresence of the figure of the Muslim and the “War on Terror” have not only coded and shaped every aspect of social life but have also sought to undermine the power and politics of The Battle of Algiers.