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Vladimir Kapor. Pour une poetique de l'ecriture exotique.

Vladimir Kapor. Pour une poetique de l'ecriture exotique. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2007. 303 pp.

The concept of the exotic, first evoked at the end of the 1500s, has proved a continuous challenge to critics. Its definition, always relative, is nuanced by a variety of ever-changing contexts--social, historical, literary and scientific, among others. Vladimir Kapor's project involves focusing on exemplars of French literary exoticism in and around 1850, by using the above contexts as filtres through which the protean concept of the exotic might be understood. He suggests, as the title of his book indicates, that it might be more useful for readers and critics to conceive of an ecriture exotique, rather than the exotic as but a frequently occurring literary theme. The idea of an ecriture exotique comes from the deployment of certain strategies d'ecriture which can, in their various combinations, be seen as characteristic of many exoticist texts of this period. These strategies are the approaches devised by different authors as they grapple with traditions of stereotyping, narrative voice and the portrayal of "local colour," amongst other concerns. Kapor believes the above strategies to be mobilized by what he terms the regime exotique, which he goes on to define as the product of the tension between the intercultural status posited by the exoticist text and the text's enonciation.

Since Victor Segalen's attempt in the 1910s to strip away tous les oripeaux of the then near-hackneyed concept of the exotic, in order to negotiate a new and more comprehensive definition of this word, there have been many notable works which focus on the history and development of exoticism. While Kapor references and builds on the work achieved in Francophone critical studies on exoticism (Moura, Jourda, Mathe, for example), his own contribution to this field is particularly noteworthy insofar as it allows itself to reach into and analyze extracts from a surprisingly wide number of texts, sourced from a variety of key authors around this time--for example, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Fromentin, Gautier and Leconte de Lisle. The book's broad intertextual approach to assessing the literary creation of the culture exotique (Kapor's term) is one of its strongest points. A different filtre is delineated at the beginning of each section, through which the majority of Kapor's chosen texts are renegotiated. The overlap and interrelations among these filtres makes for a particularly rich set of analyses, which, as they accumulate, reveal the web-like complexity of this ambitious project.

Kapor's adept and detailed contextualization of the semantic shifts of the exotic will make this book a valuable guide to anyone working on mid-nineteenth century French literature. Those interested in Fromentin as a travel writer, however, might (or might not) appreciate a critical engagement with his travel texts which circumvents a discussion of the physical experience of travel that inspired these recits. In tracing the crossover between literature and science in this period, Kapor's book will also provide stimulating background reading for those who work on Naturalism.

However, there are a number of problems in the book worth raising here. The chapter entitled "La Tentation philologique d'Armand Renaud," although an engaging analysis of some of this severely neglected poet's work, suffers slightly from Kapor undermining his own argument regarding the strictness of Renaud's philological leanings and experimentation (p. 214).

Researchers approaching this text from a postcolonial standpoint will be no doubt surprised by Kapor's following comments concerning his corpus. Firstly, in noting that "les mises en recit des pratiques visant a elargir l'empire colonial francais se font assez rares dans les oeuvres constituant notre corpus [...]" (p. 229), Kapor seems to suggest that the diegesis of the texts studied evades complicity with France's growing colonialist ambitions. This, he will later argue, is due to their "refus d'adhesion a des appareils normatifs exterieurs susceptibles d'etre manipules par le champ de pouvoir" (p. 283). While the "spatial" and "temporal" eloignement of a number of the narratives under study cannot be disputed, Kapor nonetheless seems to contradict his above statements when he evokes the period's idees recues on race and difference, to which, he admits, certain writers studied here subscribe (p. 235).

More generally, the book would have benefited from a more comprehensive bibliography, which would have allowed the reader or researcher far easier access to the wealth of critical titles with which Kapor has engaged.

Despite these reservations, Vladimir Kapor's book remains immensely useful to those who work on the numerous nineteenth-century French writers enraptured by this epoch's fervor for exoticism. Kapor, in making the relativity of the exotic the crux of his study, provides us with a refreshing counterpoint to the numerous monographs on exoticist writers which underplay this quality.

Elizabeth Geary Keohane

Trinity College, Dublin
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Author:Keohane, Elizabeth Geary
Publication:French Forum
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:777
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