Writing Back: Letters Home, 'European Impressions' and Discourse Subversion in Emily Ruete and Zeyneb Hanoum
This paper compares two epistolary texts, the 'Arabian Princess' Salme/Emily Ruete's Briefe nach der Heimat (Letters Home; 1999) and Ottoman noblewoman Zeyneb Hanoum's A Turkish Woman's European Impressions (1913, 2005). Despite how they have been read or edited, these letters, written in Europe and in European languages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, insert themselves into an Orientalist discourse with critical intent. They can arguably be read as an in-country, postcolonial-style 'writing back': a productive mimicry. While rarely disputing an Orientalist vocabulary, the authors' positioning, particularly ironically as the 'uncivilised Oriental,' produces a role reversal that renders all the more effective their critical commentaries on Europe. Following Deleuze and Guattari's reading of letters as an enunciation that is always historical, political and social, 'a micropolitics [...] that questions all situations' (1986), this paper will investigate how the letters elude their framing to rewrite dialogues, and will address the significance of their revival, or 'repetition,' in recent years, as apparent histories for the future.
Keywords: Orientalism, 'Cultural Dialogue', 19th and 20th Centuries, Writing Back
Postgraduate Student, German Studies/French Studies