Colonial%20Harem

Colonial Harem - Chapter 1 T~e Ori-en a s Stere.o-tte-e a-ruL P~a-~tn.s ~ Arrayed in the brilliant colors o f exoti cism and exuding a full-blown

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Chapter 1 T~e Ori-en± as Stere.o--tte-e a-ruL P~a-~tn.s ~ Arrayed in the brilliant colors of exoti- cism and exuding a full-blown yet uncer- tain sensuality, the Orient, where unfath- omable mysteries dwell and cruel and barbaric scenes are staged, has fascinated and disturbed Europe for a long time. It has been its glittering imaginary but also its mirage. Orientalism, both pictorial and lit- erary,l has made its contribution to the definition of the variegated elements of the sweet dream in which the West has been wallowing for mere than four cen- turies. has set the stage for the deploy- ment of phantasms. 2 There is no phantasm, though, with- out sex, and in this Orientalism, a confec- tion of the best and of the worst - mostly the worst-a central figure emerges, the very embodiment of the obsession: the harem. 3 A simple allusion to it is enough to open wide the floodgate of hallucina-• tion just as it is about to run dry. For the Orient is no longer the dreamland. Since the middle of the nine- teenth century, it has inched closer. Colo- nialism makes a grab for it, appropriates it by dint of war, binds it hand and foot with myriad bonds of exploitation, and hands it over to the devouring appetite the great mother countries, ever hungry for raw materials. Armies, among them the one that landed one fine 5 July 1830 a little to the east of Algiers, bring missionaries and scholars with their impedimenta as well as painters and photographers forever thirsty for exoticism, folklore, Oriental- ism. This fine company scatters all over the land, sets up camp around military messes, takes part in punitive expeditions (even Theophile Gautier is not exempt), and dreams ofthe Orient, its delights and its beauties. What does it matter if the colonized Orient, the Algeria of the turn of the cen- tury, gives more than a glimpse of the other side of its scenery, as long as the phantasm of the harem persists, espe- cially since it has become profitable? Ori- entalism leads to riches and respectabil- ity. Horace Vernet, whom Baudelaire 3
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The Orient as Stereotype and Phantasm justly called the Raphael of barracks and bivouacs, is the peerless exponent of this smug philistinism. He spawns imitators. Vulgarities and stereotypes draw upon the entire heritage of the older, precolo- nial Orientalism. They reveal all its pre- suppositions to the point of caricature. It matters little ifOrientalistic paint- ing begins to run out of wind or falls into mediocrity. Photography steps in to take up the slack and reactivates the phantasm at its lowest level. The postcard does it one better; it becomes the poor man's phan- tasm: for a few pennies, display racks full of dreams. The postcard is everywhere, covering all the colonial space, immedi- ately available to the tourist, the soldier, the colonist. is at once their poetry and their glory captured for the ages; it is also their pseudoknowledge of the colony.
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This note was uploaded on 04/01/2011 for the course HUMN 2124 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '11 term at Arkansas.

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Colonial Harem - Chapter 1 T~e Ori-en a s Stere.o-tte-e a-ruL P~a-~tn.s ~ Arrayed in the brilliant colors o f exoti cism and exuding a full-blown

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