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"Oriental" Femininity as Cultural Commodity: Authorship, Authority and Authenticity

Lewis, Reina (2005) "Oriental" Femininity as Cultural Commodity: Authorship, Authority and Authenticity. In: Edges of Empire: Orientalism and Visual Culture. New Interventions in Art History . Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, England, pp. 95-120. ISBN 9781405116893

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Lewis, Reina

My essay is concerned with a series of publications in harem literature whose point of origin remains unclear. Focusing on books published anonymously or with apparently ‘Oriental’ pseudonyms, the chapter charts a detective quest to establish their provenance, using the insecurity of their authorship to deconstruct the preoccupation with ethnic, national, religious and gender identities that determined their reception then and now. (Harem literature was a field of women’s publishing that especially valued writings by ‘Oriental’ women who, it was presumed, had lived in a harem.) The chapter uses sources that I discovered initially in the late stages of research for my monograph 'Rethinking Orientalism', but to which I was able to give only cursory attention. This essay is the result of new sustained primary research into the identities of their authors and their publication and reception history. Putting apparently ‘peripheral’ books into the frame extends the field of harem literature and develops new protocols for its evaluation by revisioning the terms of comparative cultural analysis. The essay contrasts the British reception of the anonymous sources with that given to works by ‘known’ Ottoman authors, revealing how both sets of texts were evaluated in relation to Western concepts of subjectivity that could not adequately connect to the specific and changing nature of Ottoman subjecthood. My historicised analysis of these constructed authorial positions (charting the shift from the multi-ethnic and supra-national Ottoman Empire to its successor nation states in the context of the umma, the supra-national community of Muslim believers), reframes feminist and postcolonial debates about gender authenticity and the transculturated writing subject.

The material for this chapter was presented at invited papers in the UK and internationally (Helsinki, USA, Istanbul).

This chapter contains section titled:

The Emergence of Ottoman Women Writers in Harem Literature

The Price of Provenance: Non-Attributable Books

Conclusion: Blurring Boundaries of Genre and Identity

Official Website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470773901
Additional Information (Publicly available):

This chapter was commissioned for an international collection of interdisciplinary essays intended to extend existing debates about theories of Orientalism.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: femininity; cultural commodity; authorship; authority; authenticity
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Wiley-Blackwell
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Research Groups > Historical and Cultural Studies
Date: September 2005
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2009 11:48
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2011 14:19
Item ID: 992
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/992

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