The Topos of the Disappointing Journey: The End of Exoticism?
As the term ‘exoticism’ describes an aesthetic appreciation of the foreign, irrespective of any substantial knowledge of it as such, the actual experience of the much longed-for Elsewhere may result in a bitter disappointment, even in a catastrophe for the imagination. This occurs because the ‘exotic’ is a (Western) self-centered, self-gratifying notion elaborated in the nineteenth century which codifies a strategic representation of the Other employed as a repository for those features from which the West has estranged itself, yet longs for.
Since the representation of the Other entails an implicit representation of the Self, disappointing journeys and subsequent crises regarding the ‘exotic tension’ (in the terms of Segalen) have often been the starting point for a fundamental questioning of Western representations of Otherness as well as of their construction of the sense of identity. A case in point is the journey to the Holy Land, whose conventions have informed an impressive number of travelogues recording the disillusionment of travellers at the gap between the reality of the place and its people and their idealized, literary versions. Responses range from despairing ennui to constructive sarcasm. To account for these differences, Lucia Fiorella draws a comparison between Pierre Loti’s Jérusalem (1896) and Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad (1869).
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