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LEASK NIGEL BYRON TURNS

TURK. ORIENTALISM AND THE


EASTERN TALES
• Byron saw in the Orient a source of raw
materials to fuel imagination of British
readers and would exploit it as much as he
could
• Literary imperialism
• Series of Eastern tales produced between
1813 and 1816 established Byron’s
popularity as well as the Byron ‘myth’
throughout Europe
• Byron later qualified his Eastern tales as
sensational and sentimental
• McGann, however, saw those tales as
‘surprisingly symbolic formulations of
the world as Byron saw it’
• Watkins- didactic fables of alternative
system of social relations paying little
attention to their sexual politics and
orientalism
• Tales set up an opposition between classic
and oriental representational norms as well
as in terms of society and politics
• Critics suggest that B. commodifies the
exotic for his reading public, in sometimes
self-conscious and tongue-in-cheek attempts
to ‘create’ the Oriental style expected by his
readership
• In order to follow the strictures of
oriental style such as the ‘ottava rima’,
the adventure ballad, he had to leave
behind satirical mode of the Augustan
period, a more appropriate aristocratic
style
• ‘Mobility’ char. Of B’s poetry, acc. To
McGann, seizing the present without
dismissing the past
• Tales dramatise grand heroes who in the end
undermine, transgress the route set out for
them

• Byron did not know how to set himself apart


from the lucrative trade of orientalism

• However, unlike some of his contemporaries,


he saw imperialism as precursor of social
and cultural corruption, besetting social
chaos.
• Orientalism viewed by most critics as an
‘imaginative geography’ (Shwab’s ‘The
Oriental Renaissance’)

• Romantic literature demonstrates imperial


anxiety

• Literary vogue for Persian linked to the fact


that the civil servants and military men
involved in imperial mission had to learn the
language
• Oriental topos in literature can be thought of
as luxurious item brought from far off lands-
like some trophy

• Kabbani-‘the fascination with a make-believe


location was contiguous to the penetration of
real Eastern markets’

• Vogue for romantic orientalism served to


displace Golden Age of neo-classicism to the
East
• Allowed writers to depart from values of
industry, sobriety and chastity dominant at
the time

• ‘Costume’- topographical and cultural


description- defiance of Western style and
moral norms

• Discourse on sexuality which was


inappropriate at the time was displaced to
the East
• ‘... the absorption of the East in an unworldly dream
of licentiousness makes it ripe for moral and
economic appropriation by European colonial power’

• Oriental themes had to be filtered through European


norms to become acceptable

• The Orient from mere marketable commodity ( blend


of naive and sentimental) to a land that had to be
made ripe for civilising mission
• The ‘east’- collapsing Ottoman Empire- Greece,
Albania, Turkey- targets of European lure

• Byron’s focus on the East, part. Greece, the cradle of


Western values of democracy etc. Complicit with
goals of British imperialism

• Byron’s Eastern tales - self-reflexive works on


Western culture and on his own involvement as a
poet of Orientalism in the imperial project
• Byron deplored the loss of humanistic values
in Western civilisation, severed from
Hellenistic roots

• Byron’s inspiration for the Eastern Tales-


Rogers’ ‘Voyage of Columbus’- Based on the
colonization of America- a source of
enrichment which would enable Spanish to
wrest Jerusalem from Islamic rule
• Byron does not endorse colonialism
• ‘The Giaour’-a traditional ballad-
primitivist fashion for ballads- genre for
visionary poetry
• Narrator- of European descent even if
tale about the Orient
• Poem questions Western values in a
displaced context
• Power relations of gender transcend
cultural difference (p.29)

• Poem abt cultural degradation in both


East and West, Islam and Christianity,
having both lost their moral agency
• Byron dramatizes the failure of the
heroic psyche in its struggle with the
rigours of contemporary history

• Byron fails to see any sign of moral


justification in war of which Leila is the
victim, a phantom figure that indicts the
Giaour’s heroism
• Byron’s fragmentary poem symbolizes
the patchwork of modern history

• The ambivalence of his heroes often


seen to have autobiographical
overtones, suggesting his own doubts
about the moral value of his poetry
• Byron’s poetry characterised by a
tension between satire and
sentimentalism
• Satirical function of Childe Harold
serve to distinguish his work from
travelogues of B’s time
• Byron’s heroes refrain from making
apologies of war
• Byron’s heroes in the quest for
Hellenistic rather than Judaeo-Christian
values
• Byron viewed British foreign policy
towards Greece and the stealing of the
Elgin marbles as similar to the barbaric
sacking of classical civilization of Goth
and Hun hordes
• THE BRIDE OF ABYDOS-December 1813

• Byron’s heroes live in a moral impasse, they have to


accomplish the deeds set out in front of them but
they are also aware of the problematic moral value of
such deeds such as martial ventures

• The Bride of Abydos- ‘ a struggle to reinterpret its


oriental style and material in the light of its
underlying and suppressed classical themes’
• Cast in modern history, heroism
appears outdated, lacking
• Byron re-appropriates Hellenic
metaphors and orientalises them or
fuses one with the other
• Lady Mary’s work provides source,
inspiration, reference for many
Orientalist romantic works
• Through Selim’s downfall, Byron
signals the failure of Whig/aristocratic
ideology- the limits of aristocratic
heroism
• In classic humanist tradition, plebeians
could not be represented outside
comedy and certainly not as agents of
political action
• ‘The Corsair’ & ‘Lara’ are thematically
related
• Byron reconfigured the political
dimensions of a ‘radicalised Hero’ into
gendered terms
• Figure of Gulnare is the first woman in
Byron’s poetry to venture onto the male
domain of action and importantly, she
is a slave, a prostitute and a Turk
• She serves to disrupt the male cycle of
heroism and violence
• Conrad’s chivalrous move to liberate
the women of the harem leads to his
downfall
• In the figure of Gulnare, ‘the European
self is mimicked and ultimately
absorbed by its oriental other’
• Gulnare takes hold of the action and
decision-making process
• Instead of orientalist stereotype of
‘white men saving brown women from
brown men’, stereotype is
deconstructed with Gulnare saving
Conrad from Syed
• Hierarchies are exploded when slaves take
action against masters
• In ‘Lara’- a sequel to ‘The Corsair’, Byron
explodes the limits of representational and
orientalist propriety
• The ‘Asiatics’ are enabled to secure the
revolution precisely because they are free
from republican ideals of chivalry for
instance
• The disturbance of the conventions of
gender, race and class is symptomatic
of Byron’s ‘anxiety of empire’

• In ‘Lara’, revolution is no longer


displaced but brought back to Europe
• Byron has to make sense of Conrad’s
bequeathing of authority into Gulnare’s
hands

• Lara is an ‘orientalised’, a ‘hybridised’


figure when he returns home
• The figure of Lara anticipates Byron’s
fears of the consequences of
imperialist action on other cultures
• In order, however to overcome Turkish
influence, he has to internalise their
strategies by ‘converting’
• The anxiety characterised by Byron’s
tale is that of turning ‘Turk’
• An anxiety also springing from his
awareness of his own complicity in the
commodification of Orientals and in the
imperial project
• European modernity cut off from
tradition and custom will drift to
totalitarian tendencies such as facism
and Nazism, which have their roots in
colonialism
• European spirit threatened by ‘kayf’, an
anomie, a fatalism

• Byron’s anxiety about Eastern values


spreading to the West still dependent
upon a binary structure, opposition
between East/West
• Byron’s tale are subversive insofar as
he equally vilifies East and West, part.
In relation to the imperialist mission

• Violent crimes get repeatedly


associated with the Oriental character
• The Orient remains a locus of desire- a
form of release-a place where one
could look apparently for sexual
experience unobtainable in Europe
• European sexual norms could be
transgressed, homosexuality tolerated
and the climate itself appeared to be
erotically stimulating
• By the end of the Romantic period, the
imagery that had been used as part of
an imaginative engagement with the
exotic was now used to justify military
intervention into ‘barbaric’ regions
• Idea in romantic period that
identification with the exotic leads to
destruction, hence Byron’s death from
marsh fever
• Byron used harem imagery to criticize
European power structures

• The East as a feminised space that the


male European imperial power would
ravish and save
• The popularity of texts revolving around the
harem contributed to locating it as an
emblem of Islamic lifestyle in the European
mind

• As British military involvement in the East


intensified, the harem came to symbolise the
relations between natives and the white
people