Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination

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Hardback: $49.00 $3.00
ISBN-13: 9780824830663
Published: April 2007

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312 pages | 10 illus.
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  • About the Book
  • The enduring popularity of Polynesia in western literature, art, and film attests to the pleasures that Pacific islands have, over the centuries, afforded the consuming gaze of the west—connoting solitude, release from cares, and, more recently, self-renewal away from urbanized modern life. Facing the Pacific is the first study to offer a detailed look at the United States’ intense engagement with the myth of the South Seas just after the First World War, when, at home, a popular vogue for all things Polynesian seemed to echo the expansion of U.S. imperialist activities abroad.

    Jeffrey Geiger looks at a variety of texts that helped to invent a vision of Polynesia for U.S. audiences, focusing on a group of writers and filmmakers whose mutual fascination with the South Pacific drew them together—and would eventually drive some of them apart. Key figures discussed in this volume are Frederick O’Brien, author of the bestseller White Shadows in the South Seas; filmmaker Robert Flaherty and his wife, Frances Hubbard Flaherty, who collaborated on Moana; director W. S. Van Dyke, who worked with Robert Flaherty on MGM’s adaptation of White Shadows; and Expressionist director F. W. Murnau, whose last film, Tabu, was co-directed with Flaherty.

  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Absorbing and accessible. . . . A fascinating and many-layered study that as well as illuminating images and conceptions of Polynesia in the interwar years, before the arrival of full-scale American hegemony, also shows how the efforts of individuals concerned to represent Polynesian culture cast a mirror on their own personal identities and conflicted selves.
      —Journal of American Studies (42, 2008)
    • A thoroughly researched and elegantly written book.
      —International History Review (30:2, June 2008)
    • Compelling. . . . Geiger deftly handles the intertwined, often contradictory themes presented in the novels and films, which include anticolonialism, paternalism, efforts at ethnography, eroticizing of native bodies, and the dangers to indigenous peoples from encounters with civilization. This mere listing only hints at the subtleties of Geiger’s analysis. He resists the impulse to categorize too bluntly, but allows the complexities of his material to suggest its richness.
      —Journal of American History (June 2008)
    • An elegant, incisive account of the early 20th century fascination with ‘Polynesianess.’ Through readings of the lives, interactions, and cultural productions of a group of influential ‘ethnographic’ writers and film makers—whose refiguring of South Seas myths registered anxieties about modernity—Geiger appreciates complexities within an emergent, distinctively modernist, U.S. imperial imagination. Meticulously researched, and lucid in its applications of film, postcolonial, and gender theories, Geiger’s book is at once the most thorough account of its subject to date and the most theoretically rewarding.
      —Paul Lyons, author of American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination