12 February 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Ann THOMSON on Jürgen OSTERHAMMEL, Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia (American Historical Review 2020)

(image source: OUP)

First paragraph:
Jürgen Osterhammel’s Die Entzauberung Asiens, published in 1998, with a second edition in 2013, has acquired the status of something of a classic in the German-speaking world. Its translation into English after twenty years is therefore long overdue and very welcome. This translation, Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia, by Robert Savage, is a revised and updated version of the original, which has thus allowed Osterhammel to take account of a certain amount of more recent literature; he indicates that it should be seen as the “standard edition” of the work. The choice of “unfabling” in the title rather than the more common translation of Entzauberung as “disenchantment” was made, as Osterhammel explains on pages 30–31, in order to avoid discussions of its meaning for Max Weber and to draw the reader’s attention to what he sees as eighteenth-century travelers’ deliberate undermining of “the fabled East.” It is also interesting that “Asia” in the original German title has been replaced by “the East,” with Asia relegated to the subtitle. In addition, the German subtitle referred to Europe in the eighteenth century rather than the Enlightenment; it might perhaps have been preferable to follow the German original here, as the period under study is the long eighteenth century, from around 1680 to around 1830.
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