Essay On Exoticism

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.

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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.

African writer Chinua Achebe was clearer when he, in a 1975 lecture, denounced Conrad and the novella.

To him, Conrad’s portrayal was dehumanising and degrading as the colonised Africans are seen as animalistic and devoid of speech, and are de-individualised and lumped together into one dark group in the story’s jungle background.

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.

Today, we use the term casually – ‘exotic fruits’, ‘exotic hobbies’, ‘exotic dancers’ – but exoticism is actually a complex philosophical, historical and representational issue.

Exoticism is concerned with the perception and description of difference, or ‘otherness’.

This picture sat in the background of our middle-class colored Sunday dinners like a memento mori, and we made fun of it the way you joke about things that truly scare you.

strangeness, with a sense of risk but no real threat of danger.


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