Above: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Snake Charmer, 1870
From tribal tattoos to tiki bars, Western culture has been enthralled with its own interpretation of "exotic" cultures for centuries. For example, in the 17th century Europeans created their own hybrid form of Far Eastern decorative arts, chinoiserie.
Another book, published earlier this year, hit the nail on the head more directly. The Homoerotics of Orientalism (Columbia University Press) by Joseph Allen Boone explains that the cultural exchanges between the Middle East and the West have always been reciprocal and often mutual, and amatory as well as hostile. Boone examines European accounts of Istanbul and Egypt as hotbeds of forbidden desire, juxtaposing Ottoman homoerotic genres and their European imitators. This remarkable study models an ethics of cross-cultural reading that exposes, with nuance and economy, the crucial role played by the homoerotics of Orientalism in shaping the world as we know it today.