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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: December 2013

12 - Oriental Sexuality and Its Uses in Nineteenth-Century Travelogues


This chapter seeks to explore some of the ways in which discourses about oriental sexuality were deployed in European travelogues. The concept of deployment, taken here to refer to the way models of the Orient and oriental culture were used in European writing, aims at a more thorough understanding of the familiar notion of the stereotypically sensual Orient with its concomitant figures of the lascivious oriental and odalisques, and its central role in constructions of the Orient. In particular, this chapter will ask which function these images had for European travelers, by giving special attention to their respective gender, class, and social position, which usually, but not always, play a decisive role in this respect. Thus this chapter will look at “how asymmetries in the production of the discourse of desire differed by gender and class, [and] at how effectively these distinctions affirmed a shared notion of European bourgeois culture and its prescriptions for white normality,” as Ann Laura Stoler suggested in her seminal study. This requires sensitivity to the differing functions that a common trope or metaphor take on in the writing of different travelers; even though the stereotype of the sexualized oriental is to be found in almost all texts dealing with the Orient, it can fulfill different purposes and functions and be assigned various meanings, which will be charted here.