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Todd Kontje's German Orientalisms offers a fresh examination of the role of the East in the German literary imagination, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present. In its wide historical sweep, this book offers important new insights into many of the most famous writers in the German language, from Goethe to Thomas Mann to Günter Grass.
Building on Edward Said's Orientalism—which defined Orientalism as a form of Western knowledge directly linked to imperial power—Kontje offers a more nuanced version as seen through the lens of German literature of the last thousand years.
Said's focus was on British and French Orientalists—two nations with colonial interests in the East. Germany was different in that it had no stake in the Orient. Far from diminishing an Orientalist perspective, however, the absence of a German empire in the East produced a peculiarly German brand of Orientalism, one in which German writers alternated between identification with the rest of Europe and allying themselves with parts of the East against the West.
Above all, Kontje asks how German writers conceived of their place in "the land of the center" (das Land der Mitte) and how their literary works help to create the imagined community of the German nation.
". . . a refreshing example of what literary discourse can teach us about national identity, even historical events and trends—those aspects of a nation's evolving heritage and tradition usually reserved for other disciplines."
"Kontje's work is a rich contribution to the field of study of German Orientalism, covering as it does a vast range of the canonical works of German literature and discussing them in the analytical framework of Orientalism."
—German Historical Institute London Bulletin
"German Orientalisms blends in with the growing body of scholarship on national identity and alterity, inviting us to reread the books by Susanne Zantop, Kamakshi Murti, Nina Berman, Russell Berman, and Leslie Adelson. And like Adelson's The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature, it encourages us to rethink literary historiography and to consider not only authors and works, continuity and discontinuity, gender and the dichotomy of high/popular literature when assessing canon formation, but also geography."
—Birgit Tautz, Bowdoin College, Monatshefte