For centuries, Europe's eastward gaze has been wary if not hostile. Medieval man envisaged grotesque beings at the world's edge and scanned the steppes and straits on the immediate horizon for the Asian or Arab hordes that might swarm across them. Through the Crusades, the early modern era, and the age of imperialism, Europeans regarded the Eastern subject as requiring both "discovery" and conquest. Conveniently, the "Oriental" came to represent fanaticism, terrorism, moral laxity, and inscrutability, among other stereotypes. The list of German literary works that reinforced negative clichés about the East is long, but Orienting the Self argues for the presence in the German literary tradition of a powerful perception of the East as the scene of desire, fantasy, and fulfillment. It follows the evolution of the Orient as a literary device and demonstrates how it was used to explore subjectivity and the possibility of wholeness. The five works treated in this study - Parzival, Fortunatus, Effi Briest, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and The Magic Mountain - are narratives of development in which the encounter with the East is central to the progression toward selfhood and the promise of fulfillment. Debra Prager is Associate Professor of German at Washington and Lee University.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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