Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Notes: The Orientalists' "Scopophilac" Gaze

Continuing my reading on Flaubert and his trip down the Nile, I’ve read Stavros Stavrous Karayanni’s “Dismissal Veiling Desire: Kuchuk Hanem and Imperial Masculinity.” Karayanni’s take on Flaubert account I’m now reading is unusual among discourse on this text in that it focuses on “orientalism” in addition to the technical aspects of the dancing. Karayanni contrasts George William Curtis’ portrayal of Kuchuk Hanem in “Nile Notes Of a Hawajii (1850).” Locked up in the American view, Curtis remains detached, erudite, and bourgeouis according to Karayanni, when writing of Kuchuk Hanem. Karayanni points out his references to classical antiquity and Terpsichore as a way of keeping that safe detachment.

Of particular interest to me in this article, was the relation of a “scopophilic” gaze. Flaubert keeps drawing a wider net, according to Karayanni. This is true for all Imperialists seeking to “understand” landscape in a grander sense, and by attaching what he knows to a “larger context” (such as antiquity and the “knowledge” of the “West”), the Imperialist dominates and “knows” the subject more than the subject knows itself. Intellectual “Context,” having the resources and ambition to put “the Orient” into a wider or Western context becam a form of domination. Interesting.
Back to the dance aspects, Karayanni ends again with choreography. Her movements gave both men the option to be transformed by what they saw, where determined to see, as the anti-Western, native or savage side of Egyptian society. Flaubert succumbed and dismissed his emotions in a letter to Louise Colet and obsessed about Kuchuk Hanem for years. Curtis wrote that he had resisted fully succumbing to her power in order to assert his superiority. Her image remained in Flaubert’s “Salammbo,” “Herodias,” and the figure of Salome.

Great read:
Karayanni, Stavros Stavrou. “Dismissal Veiling Desire.” Ch. 4 in Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism, and Harem Fantasy. Eds., Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young. Mazda Publishers, 2005.
Also his own book:
Stavrou Karayanni, Stavros (2004), Dancing Fear & Desire: Race, Sexuality and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance, Wilfred Laurier University Press, ISBN 0889204543
Photo taken just outside of Siwa, January 2010.

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