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To focus on the dynamism of the dialectic foregrounds the agency of Orientalised peoples and highlights the reciprocal effect of the imperial experience on Western national and individual identities and cultural forms Codell and Macleod b, Beaulieu and Roberts , Benjamin Orientalised subjects, such as the authors featured here, entered into resistant forms of cultural production, whose selective take-up of Orientalist styles, forms and techniques produced a variety of alternative voices.

But the contradictions between their texts also make clear the multiplicity, and sometimes mutual exclusiveness, of resistant positions. The lives of women, and of all Ottoman subjects, changed dramatically as social reform accompanied political reform, with the condition of women being hotly debated by all sides of the political spectrum.

The last generation to be raised in segregated households, these writers chronicle personal desires and dissatisfactions that were an intrinsic part of political debate. The equation of liberation with modernity had since the Tanzimat reforms of the nineteenth century —76 been one that was always conducted in relation to the pros and cons of Western ideas. Ottoman women publishing in the West could be sure that a home readership would anxiously engage with their views.

In many different geographical and historical contexts it has been demonstrated how the Orientalist binarism between East and West contributed to a view of Western superiority that frequently supported Western colonial and imperial rule. As the field developed, scholars pointed to the varied and widespread forms of popular Orientalism, some arguing against the presumed culpability of Western Orientalists MacKenzie , Clarke Others questioned the usefulness of Orientalism itself as a concept, seeing it as sometimes too widely mis applied and recommending its replacement by more specific categories such as antiArab, anti-Islam and Eurocentrism, Keddie The ways in which Orientalist and imperial discourses are also gendered has been the subject of much valuable work in postcolonial studies, as has attention to the role of gender in anti-colonial and postcolonial politics Burton , Mills , Chaudhuri and Strobel , Ware , Ong , Parker, Russo, Sommer and Yaeger , Sharpe , and to the contested place of race in the development of feminist thinking and practice Mohanty , Mohanty, Russo and Torres , Bhavnani Scholarship is now more than ever aware of how gender identities are racialised, and of how racialised identities are themselves imbricated in gender and class discourses.

Its focus on sources with a female point of origin brings a new element to existing challenges to masculinist histories of Orientalism. That these sources are by Ottoman women is particularly important because they speak of practices of resistance that are charged by differences of both ethnicity and gender. Rather, the importance given to the different ethnic and class positions of these writers undercuts any singularity that might be accorded to the category of Oriental or Ottoman or third world woman, thus also interrupting some of the orthodoxies that have emerged in contemporary feminist postcolonial theory.

To this is added a critical attention to the hybrid reformulations of Western cultural forms that emerge from the specific social, cultural and political historical situations from which these individuals speak. This is done in order to address the impact of these differently enunciated voices on their audiences in the West and the East, emphasising the complex overlapping addressees constructed by their writing. But as well as their reading publics, they were also writing for each other.

Read Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel And The Ottoman Harem (Library Of Ottoman Studies) 2004

A central tenet of my argument is the importance of the dialogue between the Ottoman authors and Grace Ellison, through which some of their books came into being and their textual strategies can be evaluated. Presented also as emblematic of other such dialogues see Lewis and Micklewright , this serves to illustrate that the Orientalised Ottoman woman presumed to be silenced rather than speaking was in fact engaged in diverse forms of political and cultural activity.

It also demonstrates that Ottoman women were connected textually and socially to a web of other women and men throughout and beyond the region, all of whom, constituting a series of segregated and unsegregated publics, recognised the importance of their writing activities. In restoring these sources to view this book characterises the segregated domains of Ottoman women as spaces of political agency and cultural production.

It thereby contributes to the recasting of critical thinking about the institutional and symbolic significance of the harem — that most fertile space of the Orientalist imagination. Despite the exponential growth of postcolonial studies and although Turkey and the Ottoman Empire feature large in representations associated with Orientalism, little attention has been paid to the case of Turkey, or to the Middle East more generally. Yet, Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire provide another paradigm for the analysis of competing colonial powers and the political and cultural effects of Euro-American imperial policy.

This book, then, can also be understood as an intervention into postcolonial historiography and theory, using the Ottoman study as corrective to the narrowness of what postcolonial studies often taking the South Asian experience as paradigmatic regards as the colonial and the postcolonial.

This is not to present these different fields of scholarly endeavour as either securely bounded or internally unified.

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So, for example, if Turkey has usually been outside the scope of postcolonial studies, Ottoman women have until very recently generally been outside the scope of Turkish historical studies. Indeed it is only recently that scholarship has turned to the study of the late Ottoman period. The reasons for this as Zehra Arat c and Elizabeth Frierson both argue, were political and linguistic.

Nationalist history, in depreciating all that was linked with the immediately pre-republican past, denied the agency of Ottoman women, picturing them as helpless slaves to sultanic and religious despotism Frierson 57 from which the nationalists were held to have liberated the entire population. This volume is, among other things, directed as a contribution to the developing analysis of how Ottoman women were active in seeking their own liberation in their own terms.

Though to varying degrees prominent and successful in their day, the authors in this volume will be largely unknown to Western readers and not too familiar to readers in Turkey and the Middle East. To remedy this, my twinned introductory Chapters One and Two provide full author biographies.

These are located through a critical summary of the political and social changes attending the end of the Ottoman Empire during which these authors lived and wrote, including reference to recent historiographical debates and developments. Part of my project in this book is to demonstrate how selected elements of gender theory and cultural criticism can be usefully applied to the Ottoman experience. These sources need to be analysed as mediated representations, not neutral evidence, and this can be done through a mixture of historicised materialist and textual analysis that attends among other things to matters of genre, market, narrative strategy and reception.

But if cultural theory can reframe understandings of the Ottoman past, attention to the specificities of the Ottoman female experience can also unsettle some of the standardised formulations of feminist postcolonial theory. Regularly extrapolated beyond the specific Gramscian definition of subalternity, and particularly in the turn to gender, the focus on subalternity has drawn attention to individuals and groups whose generally localised actions have fallen outside the scope of historical narratives of national emancipation Young Once the subaltern has access to representation it is no longer subaltern.

To imagine that the colonised or the oppressed are automatically in opposition to colonial or imperial power would be to simplify the nature of colonial power and to misrecognise the power of local class and ethnic power differentiations.

“Time Travel”

As Spivak, Kandiyoti and others have demonstrated, the collaboration of local elites who frequently saw their own class position strengthened by association with the colonising power should not be disregarded. Spivak is clear that it is important to be attentive to the particular balances of power and power between women in different historical and colonial circumstances. Postcolonial and literary studies retain a tendency to regard non-Western women through the lens of subalternity.

The resultant heroicisation of the oppressed can obscure the web of local relations which provide the context for and often the limits of resistance. For these reasons I have been at pains in this book to draw out the place within local social relations that, among other factors, gave Ottoman women access to the means of cultural production. Emphasising the individual class position of these writers highlights the gulf between how they saw themselves and how they were seen by their readers in the West, who encountered them within imperial and Orientalist discourses that generally positioned Ottoman women as inferior.

As I discuss in Chapter One it is clear that Ottoman women were aware that they could be diminished by the West in ways that were sexual the lascivious odalisque , temporal the Orient as a zone out of time locked in a pre-modern past , social unable to distinguish Ottoman class difference, Oriental women were pictured as either sultanas or slaves , and cultural the ignorant, lazy harem woman. The writers intended specifically to challenge some of the Orientalist stereotypes through which Ottoman women were perceived. But they also had recourse to these stereotypes to sell their books and were at times personally attached to them because the positive elements of stereotypical imagery such as the renowned charity of Ottoman women were important to their selfimage.

It is this clash, generally characterised as the clash between the self-image of the colonised and their representation in colonial discourse, that has been the basis of so many explorations in postcolonial theory. All the Ottoman women in this book found their personal and social positions of origin to be altered by their dialogue and experience of travel and engagement with Orientalist culture.

This applied to Grace Ellison who, two centuries after Montagu, also found much to admire and envy. Revelling in the pleasures of a colonial-style upward mobility, she could not but feel the contrast between the protection afforded to Ottoman women supported by many men in their bid for emancipation and the unyielding market forces and vilification of feminists with which women in Britain had to contend. As a field predicated on the authenticity of the female author who was presumed to have actually been there, harem literature placed a premium on authorial experience.

The status and sales of the books published by all the writers covered here depended on the creation of specific sorts of gendered identities — calibrated in relation to class, race, religion, ethnicity and nation. It is for this reason that I return repeatedly to the often conflicting authenticating identities that their publications constructed and that were in turn contested, reinforced or reconstructed by their initial readers.

The Sultan's Harem: Life was not glamorous at all

In this, I am not searching for the authentic voice of the silenced native woman Chow I am looking at how, in specific historical and cultural situations, the resistant engagement of Orientalised subjects gives voice to the enunciation of alternative transculturated identifications. These alternative modalities are brought into being by the very conjunction of local and international economics, politics and cultures that mark both the conditions of possibility for their emergence and the limits within which they have to operate.

Do the dizzying and mobile identifications assumed by these authors, Ottoman and Western, demonstrate the articulation of what Chela Sandoval calls the differential form of oppositional consciousness? Looking for the insurrectionary possibilities of their accounts does not, as Sara Suleri b warns, overvalue racialised experience as the ultimate marker of a iconic radical subjectivity. Given the unavoidable and inflated value of the racialised, gendered first person that structures their attempts to intervene in Orientalism, attention to their sources can reveal both the compromised articulation of an Orientalised female voice and its impact on the dominant cultural codes that it navigates.

For a citational discourse like Orientalism, which relies for its power on the repetition of recognisable elements of Western Orientalist knowledges , these female Oriental sources from behind the veil are simultaneously a possible threat and a possible augmentation Kondo Whilst concepts of authenticity were central to the production of their work and are again at the level of critique essential to my study of them, I am not presenting these books as the rediscovered native or subalternised voice about whose impossible enunciation Spivak writes so cogently.

Although bringing their books back into circulation is one of the aims of this recuperative project, this exercise is not simply one of re-inscription. This always situated and relational nature of the Ottoman and Western writers is what most concerns my study. It traces the movement of their speech acts as they shift restlessly and creatively between the binary poles of the Orientalist and imperial discourses that structured their encounters with each other and their readers.

But they could not control the reception of their work nor ensure that their attempts at self-representation were cross-culturally legible to their Occidental audiences.

In Chapter Two, the individual life-histories of the Ottoman writers and Grace Ellison are set in an account of the events and personalities of late Ottoman and early republican social, political and economic history. Aware that the stereotype of the harem lady determined Western attitudes to the empire, progressive Ottomans offered a critical evaluation of harem relations alongside a discriminating analysis of Western feminism. Their determination to develop a localised emancipatory discourse found echoes in Ellison and Vaka Brown, who were under no illusions about the rigours of Western so-called freedom, though they were often reluctant to relinquish their connections to treasured habits of old-fashioned harem living.

Chapter Four takes as its theme the representation of Orientalised female beauty. This chapter examines the prominence given to female beauty in the writing of Demetra Vaka Brown, arguing that the eroticised exchange of female gazes was essential to her performance of an Orientalised femininity that the West could rarely recognise.

Chapter Five returns to the harem, this time conceptualising it in terms of spatiality. Analysing how its segregating spatial relations exerted a socialising force on subjects within and beyond the Islamic community, this chapter animates the stereotypically deadened space of the harem to consider it as a social text whose interpretation was differently available to variously racialised subjects. Chapter Six extends the discussion of cross-cultural dressing with an analysis of the photographs that illustrate these books. Integrating an understanding of the ethnic and racial nature of gender identities into theories of gender performativity, it recasts the binarisms often held to inhere in cross-cultural dressing in light of the varieties of Ottoman responses to European dress.

With the photographs operating to validate the reality of their books, a reading of the combative relationship of Ottoman and Western women to codes of ethnographic authority is united with the cultural turn in ethnography to explore the different pleasures and possibilities of dressed and depicted bodies for subjects travelling between East and West.

The conclusion revisits the question of authenticity that haunted these books and determined the market for harem literature. The right to recognise and define the composite nature of late Ottoman modernity, of which the body of the Orientalised woman was emblematic, was fought for by all the writers in this book with an investment in nostalgia that ranged from the imperial to the nationalist to the diasporic. My way round this has been to outline historical events and theoretical protocols as I go along: where these are grindingly familiar, I am assuming you will simply flick past them.

For similar reasons, you will find that some quotes from the primary sources recur in different contexts where I want to re-examine them to make different points. In my efforts to share with you my fascination with these sources, I want, in a quaintly old-fashioned way, to make these writers as alive to you as possible, at the same time as treating their books as texts suitable for rigorous critical analysis. In order to maintain the cross-referentiality of my diverse fields and methods of inquiry, you will find that the structure of this book is of inter-linked rather than discrete chapters; as I trace for you the journey that I took in rethinking Orientalism.

In addition to the works cited above, examples of the range of responses to Said and an indication of the spread and development of work in postcolonial studies can be found in the anthologies compiled by Williams and Chrisman , Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin and Lewis and Mills See also Young From the eighteenth century on, whether you wrote about living in one, visiting one, or escaping from one, any book that had anything to do with the harem sold. Publishers knew it, booksellers knew it, readers knew it and authors knew it.

All this even as they wrote about lives that were the opposite of what the curious West expected to find.

Rutgers University Press

In this conversation, women who were the last generation to experience the harem system of the Turko-Circassian Ottoman elite documented female lives on the cusp of immense social change. In memoirs, travel writing, autobiography and fiction, Ottoman women told the story of harem life, described the struggle for female emancipation and engaged in a cogent critique of the so-called liberation of Western women — all the while battling with the need to accommodate and challenge the Western stereotypes that created the market for their books.

Western women had for two centuries been doing their best to sate the appetite of a Western readership curious about harem life. Of course, this interest was not without its drawbacks. Trying to illustrate how life in the harem was not quite as Europe imagined it, whilst also arguing for reform of the segregated system, brought Ottoman writers up against the prejudices of the West whose stereotypical assumptions survived with remarkable longevity despite the interventions of Western women travellers and writers.

For men, the harem woman trapped in a cruel polygamous sexual prison was a titillating but pitiful emblem of the aberrant sexuality and despotic power that characterised all that was wrong with the non-Christian Orient. But for women, as Billie Melman has demonstrated, the harem could be conceptualised in relation to their changing concerns with their own domestic and social arrangements.


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Rather than operating only as a voyeuristic sexual sphere, the harem began to appear in the manners and customs model that privileged female access and prioritised the intersubjective observation Clifford of the gendered participant see also Melman Their writings were historically contingent, so that whilst they all contributed to a shift towards a comparative social evaluation of the harem, the terms of their interest changed according to their own domestic concerns.

After the flush of publications in the s numbers rose steadily until they peaked in the s. Though numbers of new books published after that started to decrease dramatically to below the level , the field remained popular until, during, and after the First World War. The vast mid-nineteenth-century expansion in harem literature was made possible by, among other things, the increased opportunities for safer travel. This meant that more women were visiting the Middle East, still most often with male relatives but sometimes now alone.


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No longer restricted only to the upper classes and aristocracy, travel became more and more part of the upper- and middle-middle-class experience though still beyond the means of the lower-middle classes, Melman Travel and hopes of travel fuelled a market for books that could be read by a general readership as part of their preparation for the trip and by those imagining from their armchairs.

Harem literature was part of a vast range of publications on the region that fed the desire for information on foreign lands and societies. As well as the general reader, publications on the Middle East also met the needs of specific communities of readers concerned with existing and new areas of investigation that ranged from Egyptology to social welfare, from biblical studies to costume. Elements of all these concerns can be found explicitly and implicitly within harem literature as women travelled with a variety of social and political agendas missionary and secular.

The rising numbers of women travellers also led to a change in the nature and frequency of harem visits. Travel was no longer restricted to the European aristocracy, whose dealings had been only with the most elevated of the local elites.