Imperial Fictions


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SynopsisThis is a study of Western representations of the East, especially the world of Islam. It focuses on nineteenth-century travel literature, particularly the works of Antoine Galland, Edward William Lane, Richard Burton, Charles Montagu Doughty and T.E. Lawrence. The author argues that “Western writers,travelers, poets, and painters have depicted the East in a manner that accords more with their own fantasies than with reality. . . . {They present} imagesof sensual harems and of cruel sultans, of women versed in the arts of eroticplay and tantalizing desire, seducing men both passionate and violent.” (Am Hist Rev) Bibliography. Index. From The CriticsThe New York Times Book ReviewIn much the same way their fellow Victorians swarmed over the world classifying new phyla of butterflies, gentlemen adventurers like T.E. Lawrence and Sir Richard Burton set out to catalogue ‘scientifically’ the living habits of the Eastern Moslems. The poet and translator Rana Kabbani claims in this provocative and appropriately subversive book that their vision was fatally clouded. . . . The ultimate fruit of their travels, says Ms. Kabbani, was to reaffirm their own Western biases and values, as well as to perpetuate Europe’s fabricated view of the East as a perverse carnival. The American Historical ReviewIn the last decade the analysis of how Europe constructed its ‘other’ hasdeveloped into a full and rich genre, with Edward W. Said’s Orientalism {BRD 1979, 1980} only the best known of a large and scholarly tradition. Kabbani’sbook consists mostly of summaries of this literature, with occasional comments and insights. She provides a readable and clear introduction to the field that might be particularly appealing to undergraduates. She does not, however,relate much that is new, and at times the insistent repetition of yet more authors and texts . . . dulls the basic interest of the theme. Kabbani particularly stresses the theme of sexuality and imperialism . . . {and the} chapter on this subject, ‘The Salon’s Seraglio,’ is probably the most stimulating in the book.

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