A travel writer finds friends in Madurai
Arthur Holitscher’s 1926 impressions provide a striking contrast to the racial anxiety trip described by Ross in the same location.
Holitscher (1869-1941), a moderately successful novelist and dramatist, had been a popular mainstay of Berlin publisher S. Fischer’s travel book line since 1912. Reporting from Madurai in Das unruhige Asien (1926), Holitscher claimed having found “good friends among the Tamils in the Hindu temple”, the most charming of whom lectures him on the similarities between Hinduism and Christianity. That is a far cry from Ross’s exceptionally sensationalistic and fearmongering depiction of the same city five years later. (See: Dangerous Broadway melody)
Both men claim to be the only white person in town, but while Ross makes that read like a threat, Holitscher sells it as a prerequisite for enjoying “the unbroken spell of the marvellously unreal Orient”. Holitscher, an unorthodox leftist, is on the lookout for new communities to attach himself to, rather than for warning signs to report back to Europe.1 In this way, Holitscher’s observations are no less structured by Orientalist fantasies than Ross’s.
Not dissimilar to Ross, at the end of the chapter he admits to a deep rift between himself as a Western subject and Madurai’s devout Hindus, a rift that empathy cannot bridge. But he draws a radically different, anti-colonialist conclusion from this verdict. The demons of Hindu polytheism as it is practiced today, he claims, represent the terrors of white imperialism. In 1933, when Ross started endorsing National Socialism, books by the Jewish Holitscher were singled out for the stake in Germany and he fled to Paris.
Arthur Holitscher. Madura, das dunkle. In: Das unruhige Asien. Reise durch Indien, China, Japan. Berlin: S. Fischer; 1926.
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30
1 See: Wolfgang Reif. Exotismus im Reisebericht des frühen 20. Jahrhunderts. In: Peter J. Brenner, ed. Der Reisebericht. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp; 1988, p. 452–4.