Ross’s disrupted Orientalism
In an uncharacteristically erotic scene, Ross indulges in an orientalist fantasy of European sensuality.
A prominent aspect of Ross’s “objective reporting” involves deconstructing the mystified exoticisms to which he expects his readers to adhere. Repeated references to the enchanted world of A Thousand and One Nights usually only serve as negative foils in the text (“It’s not good to follow the path of A Thousand and One Nights. One returns with far fewer illusions.” p. 108). Ross finds that most of the Orient has been “de-orientalized” (p. 260), a condition that correlates directly with his estimation of Germany’s chances to expand its influence in the East. A de-orientalized Orient is a space rendered more accessible to a European logic of rational trade and economics.
A seeming exception is made in the Persian city of Rescht (Rasht). Ross arrives after dark, but it is Ramadan and the streets are full of life. As his coach turns into the Basar street, the glowing lights makes him feel “as if we had just dived into an aquarium full of glowing deep-sea creatures”. Then, he notices that the bazar and everything for sale in it is covered in roses—an “exotic dream vision”. With the sweet wine of Kaswin (Qazvin) he enjoys at his hotel, the sweet song that floats over the din of the bazar, and the sweet smell of roses that pervades the atmosphere, Ross lives his own orientalist fantasy.
But in the clichéd triad of “wine, women, and song” the women are missing, most notably, the seductive exotic woman reminiscent of the harem and the sensuality it promises. The women he encounters in Rescht—covered in various styles of Islamic garb—are, in his words, ungraceful and unshapely (“plump und unförmig”, p. 96), and clearly unsuited to play the part.
Yet, in a scene completely out of character with the rest of Der Weg nach Osten, Ross suddenly shifts into an unexpectedly erotic mode. He walks through the rose gardens of the city, and sees, amongst the crowd, a “European woman walking, slender and delicate: yesterday, still a child, eyes full of innocence and full of longing, an unawakened mouth, her slender lips already trembling in anticipation of passion. She walked slowly from one flowerbed to the next, and airily gathered a large bouquet of roses. As we left the garden, we almost touched—the passages were tight and narrow—and for a moment, we looked into each other’s eyes…” (96)
The orientalist fantasy has been corrected to adjust for the proper object of desire.
Colin Ross. Stadt in Rosen. In: Der Weg nach Osten: Reise durch Rußland, Ukraine, Transkaukasien, Persien, Buchara und Turkestan. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus; 1923; 94-99.