Essay on Exoticism

An Aesthetics of Diversity

Essay on Exoticism

Post-Contemporary Interventions

More about this series

Book Pages: 120 Illustrations: Published: January 2002

Author: Victor Segalen

Translator: Yael Rachel Schlick

Contributor: Harry Harootunian

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

The “Other”—source of fear and fascination; emblem of difference demonized and romanticized. Theories of alterity and cultural diversity abound in the contemporary academic landscape. Victor Segalen’s early attempt to theorize the exotic is a crucial reference point for all discussions of alterity, diversity, and ethnicity.
Written over the course of fourteen years between 1904 and 1918, at the height of the age of imperialism, Essay on Exoticism encompasses Segalen’s attempts to define “true Exoticism.” This concept, he hoped, would not only replace nineteenth-century notions of exoticism that he considered tawdry and romantic, but also redirect his contemporaries’ propensity to reduce the exotic to the “colonial.” His critique envisions a mechanism that appreciates cultural difference—which it posits as an aesthetic and ontological value—rather than assimilating it: “Exoticism’s power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise,” he writes.
Segalen’s pioneering work on otherness anticipates and informs much of the current postcolonial critique of colonial discourse. As such Essay on Exoticism is essential reading for both cultural theorists or those with an interest in the politics of difference and diversity.


Essay on Exoticism is useful reading for both cultural theorists or those with an interest in the politics of difference and diversity.” — Club Internet

Essays on Exoticism is a most peculiar document. It was never finished, and never meant to be. . . . It is almost always interesting, because Segalen is interesting, and because he was trying to come to grips with something that still preoccupies many of us more than ever." — Ian Buruma , New York Review of Books

"[T]his new American translation is to be welcomed. English-language readers, and in particular those working in the field of postcolonialism, can now appreciate more accurately not only the uneven genesis and transformations of Segalen's exoticism over the fourteen years that the essay's fragments span, but also the essentially provisional nature of what Harry Harootunian, in a useful preface, dubs 'this great unfinished project' . . . . Essay on Exoticism . . . will allow a more widespread and more accurate assessment of this French-language writer's major contribution to twentieth-century understandings of exoticism." — Charles Forsdick, Journal of Romance Studies

“At a time when the moral battles for the ‘other’ have been waged, when the constructedness of identities has been demonstrated in extenso, it comes as a refreshing surprise to see Segalen struggle with the terminology of otherness and difference in the context of the term exoticism. His ruminations represent a fascinating and important intervention in present theoretical debates. For too long Segalen has been a secret among the initiate few; the time for broadcasting his ideas more widely is overdue.” — Andreas Michel, Indiana University

“It is exciting to see Segalen’s most comprehensive and influential theoretical text translated into English, particularly given its growing impact on colonial/postcolonial studies.” — Chris Bongie, College of William and Mary


Availability: In stock
Price: $22.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Victor Segalen (1878–1919) was a French poet, novelist, archaeologist, and cultural analyst. Yaël Rachel Schlick is Adjunct Professor of English at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword: The Exotics of Nowhere



Chronology: Victor Segalen (1878–1919)

Essay on Exoticism


Other Works by Victor Segalen Available in English

Selected Critical Works on Victor Segalen in English

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2822-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2810-0
Publicity material