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Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West

Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West

With the assistance of John Tulk
  • Book Info
    Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West
    Book Description:

    These essays challenge what many scholars perceived to be an opposition of "East" and "West" in Polo's writings.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8858-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Introduction: East, West, and In-between
    (pp. 3-20)

    The title of this collection contains a binary opposition – that of ‘East’ and ‘West’ – which many readers will at once recognize as being both reductive and essentialist. To talk of the ‘encounter of East and West,’ moreover, is to use this essentialist binarism in order to represent the history of cultural encounter as if it were fundamentally an exchange of equals, devoid of the imbalance of power that, historically, has characterized colonial experience. This volume, however, deliberately begins with this formulation in a kind of ‘strategic essentialism.’¹ To employ this phrase is to echo the very terms used by writers...


    • 2 Text, Image, and Contradiction in the Devisement dou monde
      (pp. 23-59)

      One of the main debates in current Marco Polo studies concerns the original function of theDevisement dou monde. Most recently, the problem has been examined in detail by John Larner (68–87), who evaluates different theories that by turn interpret the work as a travel itinerary, a merchant’s handbook, a book of marvels, a chivalric tale, or a call to crusade. The nature of a Latin version made before the year 1341 by the Dominican friar Francesco Pipino of Bologna has also prompted the hypothesis that it fulfilled an essentially Christian goal as a guidebook for missionaries (Critchley 137...

    • 3 Marco Polo’s Le Devisement dou monde and the Tributary East
      (pp. 60-86)

      The Old French version of Marco Polo’sLe Devisement dou mondeis best known in magnificent manuscript versions from the turn of the fifteenth century, the same milieu that produced theTrès Riches Heuresof that great royal bibliophile, Jean, duc de Berry. The most famous of these is the so-calledLivre des Merveilles du Monde(BNF fr. 2810), commissioned in 1412 as a gift for Jean by his nephew John, duke of Burgundy (Polo,Livre des Merveilles). In consequence, theDevisementis typically considered in its late medieval context – its manuscripts analysed alongside lavish volumes like theTrès Riches...

    • 4 Marco Polo’s Devisement dou monde as a Narcissistic Trauma
      (pp. 87-109)

      When, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud tried to place a value on the importance of psychoanalysis for science of the future, he posited three narcissistic traumas that humanity in its recent cultural developments had collectively and progressively suffered:

      Zwei große Kränkungen ihrer naiven Eigenliebe hat die Menschheit im Laufe der Zeiten von der Wissenschaft erdulden müssen. Die erste, als sie erfuhr, daß unsere Erde nicht der Mittelpunkt des Weltalls ist, sondern ein winziges Teilchen eines in seiner Größe kaum vorstellbaren Weltsystems. Sie knüpft sich für uns an den Namen Kopernikus, obwohl schon die alexandrinische Wissenschaft ähnliches...

    • 5 Currents and Currency in Marco Polo’s Devisement dou monde and The Book of John Mandeville
      (pp. 110-130)

      It is scarcely possible to discuss the ‘travels’ of Marco Polo without also discussing the ‘travels’ of Sir John Mandeville, and vice versa. These two works were composed within sixty years of each other, both of them forerunners (or very early exemplars) of the emerging genre of travel literature; in this sense, they are two texts of a single kind. At the same time, the so-called travels of Marco Polo and John Mandeville are almost invariably seen as fundamentally different, both in terms of their authors’ intentions and in terms of their medieval reception. One was written by a real...


    • 6 Plucking Hairs from the Great Cham’s Beard: Marco Polo, Jan de Langhe, and Sir John Mandeville
      (pp. 133-155)

      The two most famous European books about Asia, those of Marco Polo and John Mandeville, were written within sixty to seventy years of each other, between 1298 and, at the latest, 1365, which is to say toward the beginning and end of the first direct engagement of Europe with the further East. The work of Jan de Langhe, a Fleming who wrote in Latin under the name Johannes Longus and in French as Jean le Long, and whose life straddled those same years, is much less well known. But he too has importance in our theme, which is to consider...

    • 7 The World Translated: Marco Polo’s Le Devisement dou monde, The Book of Sir John Mandeville, and Their Medieval Audiences
      (pp. 156-181)

      Questions of veracity have long surrounded two closely related medieval travel narratives: the fourteenth-century compilationThe Book of Sir John Mandeville, and Marco Polo’s earlierLe Devisement dou monde. One debate concerns Polo in particular, whose reputation suffered posthumously in 1553 when Giovanni Battista Ramusio published his first edition of Polo’s work in hisNavigazioni e viaggi. TheNavigazioni, both a translation and a substantial abridgment of Polo’sDevisement, cast doubt on the veracity of Polo’s account by commenting that Polo’s family name, ‘Il Milione,’ in fact meant ‘the liar.’¹ This interpretation, now known to be inaccurate, caused subsequent commentators...

    • 8 Calvino’s Rewriting of Marco Polo: From the 1960 Screenplay to Invisible Cities
      (pp. 182-200)

      Italo Calvino’sInvisible Cities(1972) is, according to the author himself, his most famous and best-selling work in North America (‘Behind the Success’ 232). It has also achieved cult status in the rest of the world, being enthusiastically read and quoted not just by the literary public but also by artists and architects. In fact, a major international conference held in Milan in 2002 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of the book brought together critics, artists, architects, and directors to discuss the work’s influence (see Barenghi, Canova, and Falcetto). It is well known that the book was...

    • 9 From Alterity to Holism: Cinematic Depictions of Marco Polo and His Travels
      (pp. 201-244)

      Marco Polo and hisTravelshave been the subject of many adaptations, including numerous films of the sound era; among these is an aborted film whose script was written by none other than Italo Calvino, discussed in McLaughlin’s essay in this volume. Many are the genres these adaptations encompass, from swashbuckling adventure through documentary and historical docudrama, to fantasy, the musical, and television mini-series, and many are the resultant views of the Venetian traveller and the lands and the people he encountered. Two overriding views of Polo predominate, however: namely, the romantic/adventuresome and the historical/cultural. These views, in turn, predetermine...


    • 10 The Perils of Dichotomous Thinking: A Case of Ebb and Flow Rather Than East and West
      (pp. 247-261)

      The brief of this paper–which was originally given as a keynote address in a conference that called for ‘cultural encounters in the various humanistic disciplines’ – is to be provocative. But it is not intended to be flippant. Although I do not have clear answers to the dilemmas I pose, I think they need to be addressed sooner rather than later if we are to make headway in understanding world history. So I will start by asking, ‘What are we doing still talking in terms of East and West?’ In our postorientalist times, should we not be moving beyond the...

    • 11 Marco Polo: Meditations on Intangible Economy and Vernacular Imagination
      (pp. 262-279)

      As befits the genre of meditation, this essay proceeds in incomplete circles and ponders the intangibility of sound and the increasingly acoustic quality of value, truth, and reality in the twenty-first century. I begin with a return, or re-tune, to the frequently read but seldom heard Prologue to Marco Polo’s book, a passage in which the speaker makes a plea that welistento the book. The acoustic truth, to which Polo’s speaker has begged us to attend, finds reverberations throughout this essay in Italo Calvino’sInvisible Cities, Kublai Khan’s paper money, British Romanticists’ poetic imagination, George Soros’s global capitalism,...

    • 12 Marco Polo, Chinese Cultural Identity, and an Alternative Model of East-West Encounter
      (pp. 280-296)

      When Marco Polo returned to Venice from the East with his father and uncle in 1295 after a long absence of twenty-four years, they were not recognized by their own family members until they ripped open the seams and linings of their well-worn coats cut in the exotic fashion of the Tartars and pulled out a large quantity of rubies, sapphires, and other kinds of precious stones that they had brought back from China. This legend, told by the geographer Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557) in hisNavigazioni e viaggi, situates the return of the Polos in the age-old framework...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-324)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 325-328)
  10. Index
    (pp. 329-338)