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Fabulous OrientsFictions of the East in England 1662–1785$
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Ros Ballaster

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199234295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199234295.001.0001

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Shape-Shifting: Oriental Tales

Shape-Shifting: Oriental Tales

(p.25) 2 Shape-Shifting: Oriental Tales
Fabulous Orients

Ros Ballaster

Oxford University Press

This chapter uses the trope of transmigration, so popular in oriental tales, to describe the relationship established between Orient and Occident through the consumption of narratives of the East in 18th-century England. It maps each of the major genres of oriental narrative so that readers can orient themselves in the following discussions of the interaction between the representation of geographical spaces and generic traditions. The passage of consciousness from body to body in a process of both penance and improvement (the ‘oriental’ doctrine of transmigration) can function as a metaphor for the passage of narrative from one cultural space to another. It is, moreover, and importantly, both a spatial and a temporal experience; the soul moves through time from one body to another, adapting to its new environment at each turn but also bearing the imprint of its previous ‘life’, if only in terms of the role (high or low status) it takes on in each new form. The act of reading narrative might also be figured as a kind of transmigration: the projection of the reader's ‘spirit’ into the place/space/time of an ‘other’ or many ‘others’, which requires a constant shifting of consciousness and perspective that transforms the reading self in the process.

Keywords:   transmigration, oriental tales, Orient, Occident, oriental narratives, consciousness

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