The Homoerotics of Orientalism
Joseph Allen Boone
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One of the largely untold stories of Orientalism is the degree to which the Middle East has been associated with "deviant" male homosexuality by scores of Western travelers, historians, writers, and artists for well over four hundred years. And this story stands to shatter our preconceptions of Orientalism.
To illuminate why and how the Islamicate world became the locus for such fantasies and desires, Boone deploys a supple mode of analysis that reveals how the cultural exchanges between Middle East and West have always been reciprocal and often mutual, amatory as well as bellicose. Whether examining European accounts of Istanbul and Egypt as hotbeds of forbidden desire, juxtaposing Ottoman homoerotic genres and their European imitators, or unlocking the homoerotic encoding in Persian miniatures and Orientalist paintings, this remarkable study models an ethics of crosscultural reading that exposes, with nuance and economy, the crucial role played by the homoerotics of Orientalism in shaping the world as we know it today.
A contribution to studies in visual culture as well as literary and social history, The Homoerotics of Orientalism draws on primary sources ranging from untranslated Middle Eastern manuscripts and European belles-lettres to miniature paintings and photographic erotica that are presented here for the first time.
Library, Dublin. 34 • Theory and hisTory conservative religious revivalists, of Istanbul’s popular wine taverns in 1554.62 Mostly Greek and Portuguese establishments located in Galata, these taverns served as the favored meeting places of Turkish pleasure-seekers and their male minions (recall Tayyib and Tahir’s youthful frolics in Galata in ‘Atayi’s Heft han). Ottoman courtier and social satirist Mustafa Âli, in his deliciously nasty Tables of Delicacies Concerning the Rules of Social
frequenting the river park on the occasion of the party for the ambassador. And it is entirely possible, following this train of logic, that what Hill’s group witnesses are not the furtive, crude maneuvers of a wretched scoundrel out to have his way with a minor (the man, after all, is well-dressed—to Hill’s surprise—and the boy is compliant). Rather, this encounter might well be the culmination of a flirtation between two attendees at an off-stage sohbet occurring in the same park. Tactfully
Said’s Orientalism, which reproduces Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1870 The Snake Charmer. Since I analyze the aesthetic and ideological dimensions of this painting more fully in chapter 7, here I simply wish to make the point that its simultaneous appeal and aura of illicitness is rooted, however subliminally, in Western associations of Middle Eastern sensuality with male pederasty. Combining exotic realistic detail and fairytale-like ambience, Gérôme depicts a group of men who feast their eyes on the
being. Uncannily, hauntingly, all we are allowed to view is the youth’s darkened silhouette, the top of his head and shoulder backlit by a corona of light: whatever image he sees, or conjures up, or aspires to become, remains his own. In the solitude of this particular moment of self-reflection, a moment facilitated by the defamiliarizing environs of this emptied dressing room in a hamam somewhere in Morocco, the story of this youth’s maturation remains a blank slate—like the darkened silhouette
fictions about Istanbul that, however ephemeral, he found fascinating. Thus the result of his Joycean attempt to “order” the excess of Istanbul (in what he boasted to be “the world’s first encyclopedia about a single city”) is, as Pamuk notes, more like an eighteenth-century curiosity cabinet, chock full of the collector’s subjectively chosen objects, or like the poetic genre of the şehrengiz than it is a demonstration of the rigorously objective classification system associated with the modern