Essay On Exoticism

Essay On Exoticism-70
, meaning “outside.” All dictionary definitions of “exotic” have two strands: “from a distant place,” and “striking and attractive because unfamiliar.” So, a simple conflation of strangeness and desire.

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There is always an element of ownership and control about “exotic”—because the dreamer controls the fantasy—which is the downfall of real contact.

There is always something willfully stupid about “exotic”: two-dimensional, fundamentally dull, like all fetishism. It is exciting in the same amateur way as mild bondage in lovemaking, and as quickly forgotten.

Faraway exotic colonies and activities provide for Jane, almost destroy Rochester, treat Bertha cruelly and kill St John – in a novel that is only on the surface extremely English. Here, Englishman Charles Marlow enters the services of a Belgian trading company in (although never explicitly identified) the Belgian Congo.

Told to take a ship upriver and bring back the company’s most successful but now sick trader, Mr Kurtz, as well as the ivory he has accumulated through ‘trade’ with the natives, Marlow learns of Kurtz’s depraved practices, his tyrannical rule over the natives, and his relationship with an African woman.

The tales with which Sheherazade entertains the Persian King Shahryar to postpone her pending execution – including those of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor – were incredibly popular with 19th-century readers.

They offered fantastic characters (genies, mermaids, talking serpents and trees), curious tools (magic carpets and lamps) and a wide range of narrative genres (horror, crime, fantasy and even science fiction).Segalen writes that it is “nothing other than the notion of difference, the perception of Diversity, the knowledge that something is other than one’s self.”He omits the element of attraction, the human conflation of mystery and longing that leads circuitously toward the divine.Recently, I asked my secretary, a young English woman, what springs to mind when she hears “exotic,” and she said “waxed”—she did not know why.Painted in the nineteen-twenties by a famous black woman artist, the painting depicted, in murky tints, what seemed to be a very stiffly rendered French marquise, complete with beauty patches, vapid rouged face, and powdered wig.But, if one looked closer, the subject proved to be a large French doll—and not alone, for almost invisible behind her stood another doll, a turbaned black mammy whose eyes and gold earrings and red lips shone with unsettling vividness out of the shadows.The first philosophical enquiry of 1908-18 remained unfinished: French writer Victor Segalen criticised his contemporaries’ ‘reductive’ understanding of exoticism through geography (tropicalism) and history/ politics (colonialism), but he stopped short of offering a conceptual alternative. Exoticism in 19th-century literature was primarily understood through geographic remoteness and Europe’s (scholarly and political) interests in foreign nations.In Britain, the stories of , as the work has also become known after the first anonymous English translation of 1706 – were an example of the concurrent scholarly preoccupation with ‘Arabia’, an intensifying political interest, and the simple desire for good stories.Yet anyone raised within the confines of the European canon knows that, in that context, “exotic” inevitably means “dark.” What I myself—a woman of African descent, domesticated by European rules—first envision, when I hear “exotic,” is an eye, black as a bottomless well.Darkness with a secret glitter in its depths, hinting at information both offered and withheld.Achebe’s intervention is an important reminder of how 19th-century exoticism worked on the whole, namely ‘for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting’ (Said, 273).Exotic representations rarely give the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ about a foreign culture but are aesthetic, subjective utterances produced in a specific historical – in the 19th century, colonial – context.


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