The Colonial Harem (Theory and History of Literature, Volume by Malek Alloula

By Malek Alloula

Translation, by means of Myrna Godzich and Wlad Godzich, of Le Harem Colonial: photos d'un sous-erotismé (© 1981 by way of Éditions Slatkine).
Introduction via Barbara Harlow.
Fifth Printing, 1997.

• creation by means of Barbara Harlow
1. The Orient as Stereotype and Phantasm
2. girls from the skin: problem and Transparency
3. Women's Prisons
4. Women's Quarters
5. Couple
6. The Figures of the Harem: costume and Jewelry
7. contained in the Harem: The Rituals
8. music and Dance: Almehs and Bayaderes
9. Oriental Sapphism
10. The Colonial Harem: photographs of a Suberoticism
• Notes
• chosen Bibliography

Warning: includes photographs of breast nudity.

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5). Because it has erased the traces, and above all the direction, of its mise-en-scene, the colonial postcard can successfully keep up this mirror trick (tautology), so that it presents itself as pure reflection, something it definitely is not. And so, to take the staging of the mise-en-scene apart is to uncover the original triad constituted by the photographer, his model, and his studio. It is to catch them unaware at work on the near side of the referent, that is, before the advent of reflection.

For the mode of being of this counterfeit is redundancy. Indeed, if the double, or rather the stand-in, is always an impoverished version of the original—its schematic representation—it is because it saturates the meaning of the original by the plethoric multiplication of signs that are intended to connote it. Paradoxically, this would constitute an instance of degradation through excess. The photographer, caught up in his own frenzy, however, cannot stop to consider this paradox, busy as he is with attempting to make something more real than the real and developing an almost obsessive fetishism of the (sign's) object.

Thus, beyond what is immediately noticeable, the colonial postcard delimits a field distinct from that of photography. And the distinction is not overcome through the opposition of public use versus private use, which is constitutive of it with respect to its specific destination. The colonial postcard puts into play different motivations, different incentives, that it conceals even more easily because the innocuousness of its facade is 27 Women's Quarters granted once for all. Proceeding under the cover of a mask, and setting its meaning into play at several levels, it suggests a sort of resistance by the constant reference to its referent.

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