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This review is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

'THE PAPER NAUTILUS CONSTRUCTS HER THIN GLASS SHELL' CYNTHIA STAMY, Marianne Moore and China: Orientalism and a Writing of America (Oxford University Press) £40.00

When reviewing a book it is difficult to resist the temptation to discuss the book that one wishes had been written; to do so entails a basic unfairness towards the author even when it is the subject itself that lures one toward an ideal reading. The temptation, however, becomes a dilemma when one feels that a book has been written with a purpose, in this case a doctoral thesis. Either one adopts a stance vis-à-vis the work (be it sympathetic or not) or one circumvents the reasoning adopted in order to give an alternative reading of the material under consideration.

Much of Cynthia Stamy's book, as indicated by the subtitle, is taken up with the notion of orientalism and defining the drive behind what constitutes Marianne Moore's American stance in writing. Taking the lead from Edward Said's Orientalism, Stamy analyses the tradition of American orientalism, although, in part, she defuses Said's extreme position (that any discourse on/about the orient is based on, if not confined, to Western a priori constructs). The conclusion that Marianne Moore's 'orientalism is belated in that it determinedly avoided the current reality of a China which was, in her time, mired by social and political turmoil' and that her 'selectivity in choosing China's art, but not her history, China's imperial past, but not her peasantry, is itself a dated orientalist response which reflects an impression of China suited to her own needs' raises some pertinent points but does not offer insight into the ...


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