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Dérivations et retrempes symboliques

Chorographies of the Mediterranean in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters

Carmen-Veronica Borbély
p. 233-250

Résumés

Véritable état des lieux, le voyage au Levant de Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, retracé dans ses Lettres turques, est riche en descriptions chorographiques. Le présent article s’intéresse aux liens d’interdépendance entre mémoire et oubli dans son périple de retour, en s’attachant aux symptômes de dis/topie et de dis/remembrance dont elle fait l’expérience à Constantinople où l’utopie turque tourne à l’hétérotopie babélienne, quand se donne cours le projet hypermnésique de se replacer dans l’européanité grâce à une réactivation des archives de psychogéographie culturelle qu’abrite la Méditerranée.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Augé, Oblivion, p. 17.

The flower is the seed’s oblivion1

Heterot(r)opic emplacements : deficient memory, excessive oblivion

  • 2 See, for instance, Grundy, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 89.
  • 3 Derrida, Act sof Religion, p. 250.
  • 4 Attridge sees singularity as heteropoiesis, the “creation of the other”, as the “wrest[ing] from th (...)
  • 5 Heffernan, “Feminism Against the East/West Divide,” pp. 201-215.
  • 6 Aravamudan, Tropicopolitans, pp. 160-161.
  • 7 Ballaster, Fabulous Orients, p. 179.
  • 8 See Aravamudan, op. cit., p. 170.
  • 9 VanGennep, Rites o fPassage, pp. 27-31.

1Between August 1716 and October 1718, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, stellar representative of the Augustan literary milieus2, journeyed across the European continent towards Asia Minor, accompanying her husband on his British embassy to the Sublime Porte, sojourned in the Levantine space, where she immersed herself in heterot(r)opic3 rearticulations of selfhood, and was ferried back to England across the Marmaran, Aegean and Mediterranean thalassic expanse. The epistolary collection of travel impressions mapping her encounter with the otherness of the Near Eastern space, which saw the light of print over four decades later, in 1763, within a year of its author’s death, has spawned critical interest in the “singularity”4 of Montagu’s iconoclastic diffraction of Europe’s Orientalist image of the “other”, variously limned as : the shaping of “a critical space for feminism”, by exploding the trope of the (un)veiled woman as the “placeholder” of the East/West dyadic constructs that were deployed in controversies surrounding the former as an agrestic, savage space of female oppression and the latter as a civilised, progressive space of female liberality5 ; the forging of a gendered resistance to the Orientalist discourse of her contemporaries by sidetracking the colonialist premises of the subjection of the West’s others into a project of subjectivisation via what Srinivas Aravamudan defines as (self-)tropicalisation through immersion in a utopicallyperceived space of the Levant6 ; or as the grafting of her storytelling techniques upon Scheherazadian performative patterns of attention engagement and deferral, which attested to Montagu’s cultural hybridisation and asserted “the political instrumentality of a temporal narrative agency for women”7. Revolving around the archtrope of the travelling gaze and its dynamics of desire for the cultural other, particularised in Levantine places of paroxysmal jouissance for Western travellers (like the seraglio and the hammam), the attention of these studies has seminally targeted the structural articulation of Montagu’s voyage to the Levant upon the triple-phased scaffold of a rite of passage8, featuring her eastbound progress as segregation from the hegemonic cultural frames of her Europeanness, her stay in the Levant as a liminal dissolution and confusion of her identity in the crosscultural European/Asian interstices, and her return periplum as a reaggregation into a position of relative stability at the heart of Enlightenment Europe9. However, while the permeabilisation of the cultural boundaries between East and West, chiefly exemplified by Lady Montagu’s “becoming Turkish” in the liminal station of her journey, has received extensive attention, less interest has been accorded to her homebound circumnavigation, coterminous with an attempt at securing a (fractured) retrieval, in space and time, of her cultural and identitarian origins.

  • 10 Heffernan and O’Quinn, “Introduction,” in Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, p. 15.
  • 11 Heffernan and O’Quinn, op. cit., p. 15.

2As Teresa Heffernan and Daniel O’Quinn have noted, consistent with the public compass of eighteenth-century epistolary practices, Montagu’s letters – whether perused silently within the intimate milieus of individual readers, or explored aloud, in parlours or drawing rooms, as a text-based form of sociality – could open up spaces of “enlightened enquiry”10 before the readerly gazes or for the aural delight of her co-national audiences ; accommodating forays into a wide range of topics that pertained to religion, politics, history, mores, customs or the arts, these disquisitions and digressions violated no taxonomic limitations, for Montagu’s reflective, analytical, descriptive or evaluative inserts essentially complied with the generic prescriptions of letter-writing as a “hybrid and elastic” discourse11, commingling fictional and autobiographical elements into a highly appreciated strand of life writing.

  • 12 Like the medical practice of ingrafting as a prophylactic technique against smallpox, the sélam is (...)
  • 13 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, note 2, op. cit., p. 162.
  • 14 Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, p. 161.
  • 15 Eco and Migiel, “An ArsOblivionalis?,” p. 256.

3Prior to examining Lady Montagu’s chorographic (re)figuration of the Mediterranean not only as the cradle of the neoclassical civilisation she yearns for reinclusion in, but also as the interstitial node of the three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, whose cultural traces she (un)wittingly incorporated throughout her narrativised wayfaring, I would like to point to an important passage marking her state of psychocultural disarray, from a letter addressed to an anonymous/unidentified “Lady ___”, from the Pera of Constantinople, on 16 March 1718, about three months before her departure from the Levant. Embedded within this letter is the text of another missive, a “Turkish love-letter” in verse, the sélam12, graphically rendered – verbalised, as it were, or offered “in translation” – on the page so as to mimic the objectual “language” in which it was conceived : the items inserted in a purse, including a pearl, a jonquil, paper, a pear, soap, coal, a rose, a straw, cloth, cinnamon, a match, goldthread, hair, grape, gold wire, and pepper, trigger ideogrammatic and mnemotechnic associations with the messages they are intended to convey : in the sélam, predicated on the seraglian language of flowers13 and reliant on a quasi-pictorial art of memory, the straightforward relation between the iconic sign and its meaning is doubly bypassed by the necessity to correlate the pronunciation of the object’s name with the meaning of an unrelated, but rhyming syntagm, as in the example : “Pearl. Fairest of the young,” because the Turkish term for pearl, “ingi,” rhymes with “SensinUzelleringingi”14. Despite the seductive appeal of engaging in decrypting such asymmetrical, asystematic “chains of homologous relations” between expression and content, which lend themselves solely to what Umberto Eco calls “interpretive hermeticism” in his approach to memory as a semiotics15, Lady Montagu’s next move in this letter is to assure her addressee that her own “profound learning” is foundering in the face of the medley of languages she is exposed to in Constantinople, which her memory can simply not accommodate :

  • 16 Montagu, op. cit., p. 163.

I fancy you are now wondering at my profound learning; but, alas! dear madam, I am almost fallen into the misfortune so common to the ambitious; while they are employed on distant insignificant conquests abroad, a rebellion starts up at home;—I am in great danger of losing my English. I find ‘tis not half so easy to me to write in it, as it was a twelvemonth ago. I am forced to study for expressions, and must leave off all other languages, and try to learn my mother tongue16.

  • 17 Cf. Weinrich, Lethe, p. 61.
  • 18 According to Edward. S. Casey, emplacement or implacement emphasises the action of immersion into a (...)

4Notwithstanding the Cartesian distrust of the relation between reasonable thinking and mnemonic prowess, which replaced, during the age of the Enlightenment, the extolment of memory as the “storehouse of wisdom”17, what appears to have been lost is the semiotic code for unravelling the correspondences between the order of the real – fractured, fragmented, composite, unrelated, like the objects in the sélamic purse – and the free-floating order of representation, consisting of an excessively proliferating assortment of disparate languages, which push her linguistic abilities into infinite regress. Her mother tongue is undergoing corrosion and dissipation at the onslaught of these multiplicitous other idiolects, relegating her previous attempt to offer hospitality, within the intimate space of selfhood, to the otherness of the Levant to a form of internal exile amidst the flotsam of mnemic traces that seep across the boundaries of comprehensibility. The spatial analogy between linguistic memory and chartable territory, which she expresses in terms of a colonisation venture, highlights the deleterious impact that alienation or emplacement18 in a psychogeography that is foreign to her own exerts upon her mnemonic skills :

  • 19 Montagu, op. cit., p. 163.

— Human understanding is as much limited as human power, or human strength. The memory can retain but a certain number of images ; and ‘tis as impossible for one human creature to be perfect master of ten different languages […] ; I am afraid I shall at last know none as I should do. I live in a place, that very well represents the tower of Babel : in Pera they speak Turkish, Greek, Hebrew, Armenian, Arabic, Persian, Russian, Sclavonian, Walachian, German, Dutch, French, English, Italian, Hungarian ; and, what is worse, there are ten of these languages spoken in my own family […] ; so that I live in the perpetual hearing of this medley of sounds […]. As I prefer English to all the rest, I am extremely mortified at the daily decay of it in my head, where I’ll assure you (with grief of heart) it is reduced to such a small number of words, I cannot recollect any tolerable phrase to conclude my letter with, and am forced to tell your ladyship very bluntly, that I am, Your’s, &C. &c19.

  • 20 Ricoeur, Memory, p. xv.
  • 21 Lowenthal, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 82.
  • 22 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, “Introduction”, pp. 13, 16.
  • 23 Montagu, op. cit., note 2, p. 180.
  • 24 For a discussion of generic straitjacketing and Montagu’s preference for more loose-fitting dialogi (...)

5In Ricoeurian terms, an excess of oblivion and its complementary deficit of memory are as nefarious as an excess of memory and its corresponding deficit of oblivion20. The possibility that either of these extreme, polarised strategies can successfully accommodate the limit-situation Lady Montagu describes above is very slim, indeed, especially in light of the fact that, as Cynthia J. Lowenthal argues, this is not a letter she actually expedited from Constantinople, recording her reflections on self-decomposition in concurrent time, but part of the compilation produced, with hindsight, in England, “deliberately shaped, edited, and fine-tuned for nuance and subtlety”21. Thus, the letter-book that was published in 1763 and that, in broad lines, corresponds to the corpus known today as Montagu’s epistolary account of her Levantine sojourn does not consist of the actual letters their author dispatched to her various correspondents from the diverse locations of her travel itinerary across the span of months (1716-1718), but, at best, of transcriptions of some of the letters Lady Mary may have recuperated on her return to England and, most likely, of epistles drafted anew in the interval between 1818, the year of her arrival from her journey, and 1724, the time Mary Astell wrote the note “To the Reader”22. Unlike the letters produced on-the-road and in situ, which would have represented writing-to-the-moment, the missives incorporated in the letter-book will have relied heavily on the interplay between memory and oblivion, on the archaeological quest for the “original” versions of her letters, by then disseminated among her addressees, on the conflicting allegiances to writing veraciously and dissimulating herself as another, earlier version of self, attempting to pass the repatriated self for the perambulating, travelling self, or the diegetic for the experiencing self, on remapping the outlines of the places she had visited via a dialogical entwinement of objective (re)presentation and imaginative transformation. For instance, as the struck-out references in the letter-book attest, the letter of interest to us in the following section of this study (since it provides a concentrated account of her seafaring in the Mediterranean) was addressed to the Abbé Conti from Tunis on 31 July 1718 but was initially designed for “the Countesse of ____”, the author’s “My dear Sister”23. Moreover, while this instance of writing sous rature seems less likely to have been the product of a fallible memory than of a calculated recalibration between the epistolary content and its ideal – generic –reader, in their transition from a private, individual type of readership to a public, communal audience, the letter(s) will have shifted gear also in terms of the difficult straits navigated by the author in her endeavour both to comply with the formal/aesthetic prerequisites of travel narratives and to diverge from the stale generic norms of travelogues established by her predecessors24.

  • 25 Eco and Migiel, op. cit., pp. 257, 260.
  • 26 Augé, Oblivion, p. 17.

6While during her stage of emplacement in the Levant, voluntarily forgetting her Englishness – through the adoption of the Turkish habit or through the efforts of mastering the aesthetic intricacies of the Turkish language – proved unattainable via a logic of cultural negation and replacement, oblivion is set into natural motion the moment the apparatus of linguistic signification is jammed by a surplus of languages that implode into erratic, subversive, destabilising noise and deprive the subject of bearings in an increasingly disorienting world, exposing her identity to volatility and vulnerability. Out of the Levantine utopia, which anamorphotically becomes a Babelian heterotopia, Lady Montagu experiences forgetting – not as the vacuity of forgetfulness, but as the jarring dissonance that can no longer redistribute the mnestic traces into ordered logicality but scrambles their contours into chaotic indeterminacy – which, as Umberto Eco demonstrates, is commensurate with oblivion. For Lady Montagu, the befuddlement of cultural memory occurs through multiplication and excess rather than dissolution and erasure, for, as Eco puts it, “[o]ne forgets not by cancellation but by superimposition, not by producing absence but by multiplying presences”25. An impossible arsortechné, forgetting overcomes the incompossibility of its asymmetrical dyadic position in relation to memory not through a movement of negation (deletion, removal, eradication), but of inordinate supplementation : for Montagu, oblivion shapes the horizon of identitarian loss or absence through a multiplication and heterotopian implosion of its excessive presence(s). “Memories are like plants,” MarcAugétells us, and “remembering or forgetting is doing gadener’s work, selecting, pruning”26. For Montagu, when the sensuous language of flowers imperils the language of words, threatening to ast it into oblivion, the archive is the most reliable repository of the memory she strives to recuperate.

“Archive fever” : homesteading dis-emplacements, homecoming re-emplacements

7While during her stay in the Levant, Lady Montagu’s attention focuses prevalently on topics pertaining to the present, evincing the concerns of a psychocultural geographer, her journey back to England, along the coastlines of the Mediterranean, occasions her lapsing into the mindset of an archivist, of an archaeologist scouring the recesses of Europe’s cultural memory and examining whether the outlines of the historical or mythologised past - the archai, roots, beginnings, primeval sources -tally with their palimpsestically layered traces in contemporaneity. In Archive Fever, Derrida’s forays into the polysemicbranchings of the Greek word arkhē reveal its synchronous commingling of the imperatives of “commencement” and “commandment”, origin and law, defining the polychronic, heterospatial site of the archive as compliant with

  • 27 Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 1.

two principles in one: the principle according to nature or history, there where things commence - physical, historical, or ontological principle - but also the principle according to the law, there where men and gods command, there where authority, social order are exercised, in this place from which order is given - nomological principle27

  • 28 Ibid., p. 2.
  • 29 Ibid., p. 3.
  • 30 Ibid., p. 91.

8Combined, the two principles enjoin, along the vertical axis, the operations of “sequential” origination (from the bottom up), for beginnings and origins are ideally entrenched in the archival depths, and of “jussive” compliance (from the top down), as the archival contents acquire nomological force. The relation between the archive and memory is, Derrida goes on to say, not one of straightforward containment, since while sheltering mnemonic traces, the archive also “shelters itself from this memory which it shelters : which comes down to saying also that it forgets it”28. In other words, the archive emerges as the heterotopian space that enfolds the vibrant interplay between memory and its flipside, oblivion, fostering the accumulation of the former and forestalling the propagation of the latter, in a “privileged topology” where the intersection between “substrate” and “authority” becomes simultaneously “visible and invisible”29. In her attempts to recuperate her cultural memory amongst the ruins of the Greco-Roman antiquity, Lady Montagu is struck by what Derrida defines as “archive fever,” the passionate, restless, incessant “searching for the archive right where it slips away, […] where […] it anarchives itself,” the “irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement”30

  • 31 As duly noted by Isobel Grundy, who speaks of the “voyage home” as tantamount to seafaring “slowly, (...)
  • 32 Sandys, Dumont, Hill, Rycaut, in Heffernan and O’Quinn, op. cit., p. 28.
  • 33 In the letter she addressed to Alexander Pope from Adrianople on 1 April 1717, Lady Montagu express (...)
  • 34 Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 22.
  • 35 Montagu, op. cit., p. 185.
  • 36 See Casey, Getting Back into Place, p. 297.
  • 37 Cf. Casey, ibid., 306.

9Interested less in the literalisation of the precise itinerary of her sea-voyage from Constantinople to Genoa in cartographically representable space, in the sense of offering a detailed, comprehensive map of the maritime routes she travels by, and more in providing a literary chorography of her westward bound trajectory, along the continental and civilisational divides, Lady Montagu’s homecoming journey (nostos) across the Mediterranean is equally a voyage of spatial return to her native land and a temporal descent to the roots of her Europeanness31. A copy of Homer’s Iliad firmly ensconced in her hand, as a sort of personalised archival guide to the sea- and isle-scapes she is about to scour, she engages in a reconnaissance of the coastlines, which is equally physical and metaphorical : thus, her travelling gaze, so intent otherwise on dismissing and correcting the myopic, biased or altogether faulty vision of her immediate predecessors or contemporary voyagers in the Levantine space32, is mesmerised by the magisterial chorography of the territory encrypted in the Homeric epic. Accompanying Montagu throughout her periplum across the Eastern Mediterranean, this serves as an Ur-text that archives the originary cultural geography of the places (“these celebrated fields and rivers”) she is navigating by : “I admired the exact geography of Homer, whom I had in my hand. Almost every epithet he gives to a mountain or plain, is still just for it”33. For Montagu, a neo-Classicist, the deepest layers of the archive are also the most authentic, and as a privileged journeyer to these ancient sites, she attempts to activate the palimpsestic memory - the archive - of these places by confirming or validating the truthfulness of the mythical, legendary or epic accounts ensconced in these locations : Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneidand Eclogues, Ovid’s Heroides, Strabo’s Geographyand so on. Visitation is tantamount to a labour of empirical verification, ascertainment, conjecture, reasonable correlation of the geographical outlines and their archival or, rather, archontic34 version in these ancient texts. At times, particularly when the two versions – of lived actuality and scripted potentiality – overlap, a state bordering on oneiric fantasising or entranced rumination sets in : “I spent several hours here in as agreeable cogitations, as ever Don Quixote had on mount Montesinos”35. Such momentary lapses into reverie correspond to her fullest engagement with place, instances when her separate self as a traveller becomes one with the landscape she is traveling through, translating mere archaeological sites into places where she is genuinely “immanent, immersed and implaced”36 in : in other words, at such instances, the “rigidity of sites” is converted into the “plasticity of places”37

  • 38 The Northern coast of Africa occasions the starkest contrasts between the majestic past and the dis (...)
  • 39 Note should be taken of the hyperbolic backdrop of this superlative description, which, in light of (...)

10From Tunis, the place whence she sends this account of her return route from Constantinople to her homeland and where she visits the ruins of Carthage38, Lady Montagu embarks on a retrospective narrative, reinforcing the stereoscopic nature of her multilayered gaze : her stated intent, of “impart[ing] some of the pleasure” she has experienced in “the most agreeable part of the world”39, suggests the programmatic hospitality she grants to the vicarious gaze of the other(s), enabling the readers to visually encompass the landscapes unfolding before her eyes. In effect, her gaze is not only the nodal point of a horizontally articulated network of other gazes (belonging to her intended or implicit readers), but also of a diachronically disposed hierarchy of perspectives : foremost amongst these are the creative gazes of the architects, poets and artists of classical antiquity who produced the first layers of the cultural scapes Lady Montagu endeavours to retrieve from the archival depths of the past ; at the farthest temporal end of this specular paradigm is posterity, the envisaged readers traceable behind her intention to submit her travelogue for publication ; in between, performing the role of a cultural mediatrix, is the traveller herself, casting her recuperative gaze upon the polychronic, interstitial site of the cities, fortresses or castles she tours by.

  • 40 Montagu, op. cit., p. 180.
  • 41 For here so oft the muse her harp has strung, / That not a mountain rears its head unsung,” cf. Mo (...)

11From Constantinople to Tunis, Lady Montagu admits, “every scene presents me some poetical idea”, which she consigns to paper, without hesitation, yielding to a frisson of imaginative excitability : “Warm’d with poetic transport I survey /Th’ immortal islands, and the well known sea40. While she apologises for her lyrical surges, promising to confine her account to the prosaic rhythms of plain description, she interposes verses inspired by those scenic en-route passageways, either in free-standing manner or in juxtaposition with the lines of consecrated poets : thus, the aforecited lines are parataxically adjoined to a couplet from Joseph Addison’s 1703 poem “A Letter from Italy…”41, forging, in this hybrid quatrain, the t(r)opological invocation of the muses imagined to dwell on the mountaintops and along the waterways in ancient times : by enlisting her own lyrical efforts to commending the landscape, Montagu intimates the fact that poeticity is inherent to this space.

  • 42 Ibid., p. 181.
  • 43 Ibid., p. 181.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 181.
  • 45 Ibid., pp. 181-182.
  • 46 See Abulafia, The Great Sea, pp. 135-136.

12Some of the places are cursorily described, with utmost economy of means : from Constantinople, the journey takes her to “Gallipolis, a fair city, situated in the bay of Chersonesus, and much respected by the Turks, being the first town they took in Europe”42. Within the span of a mere sentence is encapsulated the hyphenated history of the Balkan bridgehead, known to the ancient Greeks as Kallipolis, the beautiful city-haven in the Thracian Chersonesus. Montagu consistently offers both the ancient and the modern toponyms of the places she visits, the former always taking precedence and granting historical consistency to the latter, as evinced by her next point of anchorage : the Hellespont is bracketed, on the European and Asian sides of the “Dardanelli” strait, by “the castles of Sestos and Abydos”, rising on rather unimposing promontories that would have gone unnoticed had the ship’s crew not brought her attention to them, for her mind was entranced by the myth of Hero and Leander, the lovers for whom the abysmal waters separating them had proved to be fatal : as is often the case, the classical, mythical lens supersedes the naked gaze it ought to assist in its cultural decipherment work, as if emplacing herself in the mythic-phantasmal history of these locations mattered far more than experiencing first-hand the places themselves : by the Dardanelles, vision is well-nigh blurred by “my imagination,” which is “wholly employed by the tragic story”, impelling her to give way, once again, to her poetic impulse : “The swimming lover, and the nightly bride, How HERO lov’d, and how LEANDER died43. Immortalised in myth, the artisticity of the Propontine and Hellespontine shores exerts a contagious influence upon the traveller, who ostensibly acquiesces, despite her better judgement, to the drive of versification : “Verse again ! — I am certainly infected by the poetical air I have passed through”44. Deceitful imagination is invoked again, with reference to a historical re-emplotment of the Hero-Leander myth during the rule of Sultan Orhan : the siege and conquest of Christian Abydos by the Turks is predicated on an act of betrayal committed by the garrison governor’s daughter, who, “imagining to have seen her future husband in a dream”, “fancied” seeing her beloved “in the form of one of her besiegers” and sent him a missive “over the wall” offering both herself as a bride and access to the castle, which was duly conquered in the dead of night45. To these two amorous stories entwining the destinies of lovers separated or united across the east-west maritime rift is added the Herodotian reference to the pontoon bridges Xerxes allegedly built during the Persian campaign against the Greeks in 480 BC46. Having suspended the direct power of her entranced, bedazzled gaze long enough to re-present the staple inventory of classical narratives about this place, Montagu feels secure in regainingspecular control over the scenery, concluding that her perception of the actual spatial coordinates validates the probable, verisimilar nature of the events associated with the Hellespont in both mythical and historiographic discourse :

  • 47 Montagu, op. cit., p. 182.

Since I have seen this strait, I find nothing improbable in the adventure of Leander, or very wonderful in the bridge of boats of Xerxes. ‘Tis so narrow, ‘tis not surprising a young lover should attempt to swim, or an ambitious king try to pass his army over it. But then, ‘tis so subject to storms, ‘tis no wonder the lover perished, and the bridge was broken47.

  • 48 Ibid., p. 182.
  • 49 Cf. Ovid, “Heroid XIX: Hero to Leander”, in Heroides, pp. 190-198.
  • 50 Cf. Homer, “Book 14: Hera Outflanks Zeus”, in TheIiad, p. 375.
  • 51 On Montagu’s transgression of conventional gender positions and adopting a penetrative, male gaze, (...)

13Over the course of her emplacement in the Levantine space, Montagu also built cultural conduits across the Occident-Orient rift, yet the reference to the perilous waters that caused Leander’s demise and the destruction of Xerxes’s bridge may condense a pithy reflection on her own process of dissipation in a place that had risked vacating her sense of origins. The brief sighting of Mount Ida against the horizon – and its subsequent overtowering presence in the distance throughout the Aegean periplum–triggers another poetic burst, as the author opts for limning it as the place of a fleetingly consummated act of love between the chief Olympian deities : “Where Juno once caress’d her am’rous Jove, / And the world’s master lay subdu’d by love48. While appearing to extol romance and its insuperable power of joining the lovers against the odds of fate, Montagu undercuts, in effect, this facile interpretative framework by representing Zeus disempowered by Hera’s embrace and contradicting the notion that love may amount to an irenic resolution of the conflicts that have been waged here across time : the Homeric precedent once again clarifies the treacherous agency of the female in bringing about the demise of the lover (Hero’s insistent summons to Leander that led him to ignore the hazardous sea)49, in handing over the fortress of Abydos to the Turks by the castellan’s enamoured daughter, and in Hera’s outmanoeuvring “Zeus the mastermind”, so that she could grant the Achaeans the upper hand over the Trojans50. In addition to this, it would perhaps not be far-fetched to extrapolate this gendered agonistic rapport to Lady Montagu’s own sense of betrayal at having succumbed to deceptive immersion in the feminised space of the Near Orient51.

  • 52 Montagu, op. cit., p. 182.
  • 53 Ibid., p. 182.
  • 54 Cf. Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, p. 67.
  • 55 See Nagy, Homer the Preclassic, p. 181.
  • 56 In Ratisbon (Regensburg), for instance, Montagu mocks the collections of ossuaries and relics prese (...)
  • 57 See, for instance, her glib contemptuousness of the composite collections amassed in the emperor’s (...)
  • 58 In Constantinople, she follows this antiquarian impulse, gathering Greek medals and even commission (...)

14Among the ruins scattered across the Aegean isles, Montagu’s journey unfolds both in and in-between the ancient remnants. When passing by Cape Janizary and anchoring by the promontory of “Sigaeum”, Montagu’s descent into the past also takes the form of a commemorative pilgrimage by the ostensible graves of mythological characters like “poor old Hecuba” or Achilles52. Like Rhaeteum (Rhoiteion), sighted later to the northeast of the Trojan Bay, a sacred space “famed for the sepulchre of Ajax”, at Sigeion, positioned to the northwest of the same bay, she confesses to her “curiosity”, which “supplied me with strength to climb to the top of it, to see the place where Achilles was buried, and where Alexander ran naked round his tomb, in honour of him, which, no doubt, was a great comfort to his ghost”53, a caustic allusion to the Macedonian general encircling the tumulus of the Greek hero with a garland and proclaiming him fortunate to have been immortalised by Homer54. Symmetrically disposed to the left and right of this Hellespontine bay, these tombs articulate a sacred space (hieron) and, as mnēmata, they represent sepulchral memorials, reminders designed to preserve the memory of those interred in them55. Curiosity, to which Montagu relates herself ambivalently throughout the European and Asian sections of her journey56, impels her to perambulate the area and climb to the top of the cliff so that she may acquire a perspectival view of the Achillean place of rest, as well as to cede to a collector’s propensity of making the place her own, albeit metonymically, by having a marble stone that bears the inscription “Sigaeonpolin” taken on board the ship. Elsewhere marginally dismissive of composite collections57, Lady Montagu caves in to the collecting mania58 in an attempt to appropriate the place through its relics and fragments of ruins and expresses her regret at failing to take possession of the “original” :

  • 59 As Heffernan and O’Quinn assure us (note 2), this funereal monument or trapeza eventually made its (...)

On each side the door of this little church ly two large stones, about ten feet long each, five in breadth, and three in thickness. […]. This is certainly part of a very ancient tomb ; but I dare not pretend to give the true explanation of it. On the stone, on the left side, is a very fair inscription ; but the Greek is too ancient for Mr W——y’s interpretation. I am very sorry not to have the original in my possession, which might have been purchased of the poor inhabitants for a small sum of money. But our captain assured us, that without having machines made on purpose, ‘twas impossible to bear it to the sea-side ; and, when it was there, his long-boat would not be large enough to hold it59.

  • 60 Ibid., p. 184.
  • 61 Ibid., p. 70.
  • 62 See, for instance, the reference to Lady Mary’s “distillations” from Georges Sandys’s A Relation of (...)

15Contrasted with Montagu’s reluctance to advance confabulating explanations of the nature of this ancient monument is her countryman Georges Sandys, whose supposition that the city of Sigeion was founded during the reign of Constantine, prior to his erection of Byzantium, is rejected: “I see no good reason for that imagination, and am apt to believe them much more ancient”60. The “womanly spirit of contradiction”61 Lady Montagu proudly avows over the course of this epistolary travelogue is consistently targeted at her (near) contemporaries, yet it should be noted that it is only when her reasoned (albeit not always explicitated) opinion diverges from theirs that she acknowledges their precedence in her text62.

  • 63 Ibid., p. 184.
  • 64 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, note 1, ibid., p. 185.
  • 65 “I think Strabo says the same thing”, ibid., p. 185.
  • 66 Ibid., p. 186.
  • 67 Ibid., p. 186.
  • 68 Ibid., p. 187.
  • 69 Ibid., p. 188.
  • 70 Ibid , p. 188.
  • 71 Ibid., p. 188.

16From the same promontory, the commanding perspective enables Montagu and her company to view the confluence between the rivers Simois (present-day Simores) and Scamander and their entwined flow into the sea. With respect to the latter, the mythological back stories found in the Homeric Iliad and the OvidianHeroides are summoned with a view to legitimising the natural via the culturally sieved landscape : “This was Xanthus amongst the gods, as Homer tells us ; and ‘tis by that heavenly name, the nymph Oenone invokes it, in her epistle to Paris. The Trojan virgins used to offer their first favours to it”63. The solemnity of this invocation is undercut by the flippant reference to La Fontaine’s (retelling of Sandys’s anecdotal) account of the actual ritualistic deflowering of the virgin which brought that “heathenish ceremony” to an end64. At Troy, assisted by Strabo’s Geography, Montagu decides that the ancientness of the city, sunken into subterranean invisibility, is not coeval with the noticeable remains of a “much more modern” antiquity ; still, the spectral absence of “the greatest city in the world” from this site fosters a fertile and congenial exercise of imagination, which allows her to emplace, in the valley, the “famous duel” fought between Menelaus and Paris, as well as to draw a comparison between the Homeric geography of Troy’s natural harbour, a perpetually accessible navigational hub for ships from around the world, and the less advantageous port of Constantinople, which is unapproachable “almost six months in the year, while the north-wind reigns”65. Landing by the site of “EskiStamboul, i.e. Old Constantinople”, “where ‘tis vulgarly reported Troy stood”, Lady Montagu defines her position as an aristocratic traveller by creating a separate temporal niche (in the dead of night) for visiting the ruins, “which are commonly shewed to strangers”66. The several mile long journey inland, astraddle a donkey, “the only voiture to be had there,” takes her on “a tour round the ancient walls, which are of a vast extent”, also occasioning the discovery of two castles, fragmented pillars and pedestals pertaining to a Roman temple, whose Latin engravings she duly makes a record of67, out of an impulse to preserve unaltered the presentified history of the place, particularly since she is also witness to the accelerated desecration and dilapidation of the marbled funereal remains : “Here are many tombs of fine marble, and vast pieces of granite, which are daily lessened by the prodigious balls that the Turks make, from them, for their cannon”68. Of the following islands of the Aegean archipelago that Montagu passes by, Tenedos retains her attention on three chronological tiers : mythical, as once the haunt of Apollo in his courtship of Daphne, ancient, when it was an affluent and well-populated isle, and present, insofar as its viticultural reputation has remained intact. Mytilene, the North Aegean capital city, is mentioned in passing, but the island itself, Lesbos triggers an entire volley of mnemic traces, particularly as regards its representing a haven for ancient poets, philosophers and musicians : “I cannot forbear mentioning Lesbos, where Sappho sung, and Pittacus reigned, famous for the birth of Alcaeus, Theophrastus and Arion”69, although, in terms of the more recent past, the isle’s having remained under Christian rule in the aftermath of Constantinople’s conquest by the Turks does not go unnoticed. Aside from a cursory reference to the Virgilian appreciation of the nectar-like quality of Chian wine, Scio (Chios), the last isle regretfully left behind prior to departing from the Anatolian coast and sailing off into the vaster expanse of the Aegean, is presented almost exclusively through the hyperbolising lenses of the present and the descriptions of its landscape, populace and economy offer a syntagmatic sum of superlatives : “the richest and most populous of these islands”, Chios boasts the “beauty” of its women and the “magnificence” of its families, its bountiful cotton and corn crops, its “groves of orange and lemon trees”, as well as “the best manufacture of silks in all Turkey”70. Furthermore, although under foreign rule, their “reasonable liberty” fosters the full manifestation of a symptomatic spirit of the place and sanctions Montagu’s attempt to articulate a cultural physiognomy of the Chians when she speaks of their “indulg[ing] the genius of their country” and translates this notion into sprightly versification : “And eat, and sing, and dance away their time, Fresh as their groves, and happy as their clime71. The end reference to the light dominion exerted by the Turks since the mid-sixteenth century and the implicit critique, by way of comparison, of the Chians’ previous state of servitude to the Genoans are rapidly retracted as an unwonted, infelicitous detour into past, presumably prompted by her momentary lapse of attention to her correspondent’s familiarity with the historical background :

  • 72 Ibid., p. 188.

Their chains hang lightly on them, tho’ ‘tis not long since they were imposed, not being under the Turk till 1566. But perhaps ‘tis as easy to obey the grand signior as the state of Genoa, to whom they were sold by the Greek emperor. But I forget myself in these historical touches, which are very impertinent when I write to you72.

  • 73 Weinrich, op. cit., p. 2.
  • 74 See Weinrich, ibid., p. 1.
  • 75 Ibid., p. 2.

17Montagu’s constative “I forget myself” in historical references lends itself to interpretation either as an excess of epistemophilic energy or as the exhaustion caused by the “archive fever” under whose effect she isdefining history as the legitimate version of the cultural memory she is exhuming in the Mediterranean.As Harald Weinrich puts it in his discussion of the “psychic flexibility of forgetting”, the twofold psychic experience reflected by the word “forget” can be summed up as “the not unproblematic discovery that the decision that something or someone is irrelevant and may be forgotten can be connected with seductive ways of relieving the mental economy and putting everyone involved in a relaxed mood”73. If the composite structure of the verb “forget” and the reverse semantic pull of its components are taken into account, the prefix “for” implying a movement away from, rather than a “getting” towards74, forgetting here implies a disposal, a discarding or interment of the self amidst the tangible traces of history as archival memory. Alternatively, if the sense that prevails is that of relief and exoneration from the burden of hypermnesia, then the situation described here is similar to the one afflicting Montagu amidst the linguistic “noise” of Constantinople, where oblivion fenced her against the jumble of sounds (all the while failing to screen her own language from pollution). At the same time, the statement “I forget myself in this historical touches” may suggest recourse to a performative use of the verb “forget”, particularly since the indicative mood may be seen as a linguistic “gear” thatgalvanises the process of forgetting75. Whereas Lady Montagu’s journey towards the Ottoman Porte led her into and among places, her return voyage risks veering into a sequence of stationings among sites.

  • 76 Casey, op. cit., p. 289.
  • 77 Ibid., p. 290.
  • 78 Ibid.,pp. 290-291.
  • 79 Cf. Casey, ibid., pp. 292, 296.
  • 80 Lady Montagu’s nautical peregrination ends in Genoa, an experience recounted in the next letter, ad (...)

18As Edward S. Casey shows in his phenomenological topoanalysis, voyages accomplish more than simply transporting us across temporal or spatial boundaries : they act as catalysts for our disengagement from and reengagement in place, fostering a sequential dynamics of uprooting and enrooting our embodied selves in the places we traverse. Moreover, while journeys “engage us ineluctably in place”, it is equally the case that “places engage us in journeys”76. Still, irrespective of whether they involve continual movement within one and the same place, or crossing space from one place to another, all journeys have a terminus point or set of end-spots that coincide with arrival, a finding of the “way back to place”77. Casey distinguishes between two varieties of voyages in terms of their envisaged ends : homesteading and homecoming. While both are predicated on a the heterochronic progression from implacement through dis- to re-implacement, and while both depend on co-habitancy or the “settled coexistence between humans and the land, between the natural and the cultural, and between one’s contemporaries and one’s ancestors”, homesteading is essentially heterotopic (it implies a journey towards “a new”, an as-yet unknown destination that is the future home-to-be, typical of experiences of migration or exile) ; by contrast, homecoming is homotopic, it is a return to the same place (“anew”) as that of departure, irrespective of its changes in time (as in the Odyssean Ithaca-bound voyage)78. Lady Montagu’s voyage to Constantinople, a city that impels her to deploy “habitual practices of settlement” into place, granting her a provisional sense of what Casey calls “placial permanence,” corresponds to a homesteading experience, but one that is derailed into the symptomatic signs of placelessness or atopia, since as an exile, instead of inhabiting the place, she is inhabited by this milieu of cultures ; as a return to the “manifoldness of the home-place”, after “the multifarious between of the intervening journey”, her passage to England substantiates a homecoming experience79, the trip from Constantinople around the Mediterranean coastlines80 providing her with the mnemonic prostheses thatenable her re-emplacement within the contours of her (forgotten) self.

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Bibliographie

ABULAFIA David, The Great Sea. A Human History of the Mediterranean, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.

ARAVAMUDAN Srinivas, Tropicopolitans. Colonialism and Agency 1688-1804, Durham, Duke University Press, 1999.

Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, Trans. Aubrey De Selincourt, London, Penguin, 1971.

ATTRIDGE Derek, The Singularity of Literature, London and New York, Routledge, 2004.

AUGÉ Marc, Oblivion, Transl. Marjolijn de Jager, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

BALLASTER Ros, Fabulous Orients. Fictions of the East in England 1662–1785, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

BENEDICT Barbara, Curiosity. A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

CASEY Edward S., Getting Back into Place. Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1993.

DERRIDA Jacques, Acts of Religion, New York, Routledge, 2002.

DERRIDA Jacques, Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression, Trans. Eric Frenowitz, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

DERRIDA Jacques, Points : Interviews, 1974-1994, Trans. Peggy Kamuf et al. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1995.

ECO Umberto and MIGIEL Marilyn, “An Ars Oblivionalis ? Forget It !.” PMLA, 103 : 3 (1988), pp. 254-261.

GRUNDY Isobel, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu : Comet of the Enlightenment, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.

HEFFERNAN Teresa, “Feminism Against the East/West Divide : Lady Mary’s Turkish Embassy Letters”, Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.2 (2000), pp. 201-215.

HOMER, The Iiad, Trans. Robert Fagles, New York, Penguin Books, 1990.

LOWENTHAL Cynthia J., Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Eighteenth-Century Familiar Letter, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1994.

MONTAGU, Lady Mary Wortley, The Turkish Embassy Letters (1763), edited by Teresa Heffernan and Daniel O’Quinn, Toronto, Broadview Editions, 2013.

NAGY Gregory, Homer the Preclassic, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2010.

OVID, Heroides, Trans. Harold Isbell, London, Penguin Books, 1990.

RICŒUR Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting, Transl. Kathleen Blarney and David Pellauer, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

VAN GENNEP Arnold, Rites of Passage (1908), Trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee, London, Routledge, 2004.

WEINRICH Harald, Lethe : The Art and Critique of Forgetting, Transl. Steven Rendall, Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 2004.Image 100002000000001400000014B0651F74.png

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Notes

1 Augé, Oblivion, p. 17.

2 See, for instance, Grundy, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 89.

3 Derrida, Act sof Religion, p. 250.

4 Attridge sees singularity as heteropoiesis, the “creation of the other”, as the “wrest[ing] from the realm of the familiar the hitherto unthought,” in The Singularity of Literature, p. 64. Much like the Derridean “monstrous arrivant” that heralds the instantiation of innovative conception, in Derrida, Points :Interviews, pp. 386-387, the notion of singularity stands for the evental emergence of a creation that “introduc[es] otherness within the sphere of the same”, exploding stereotypes and fuelling the reconfiguration of the aesthetic-ideational frames necessary for its comprehension and accommodation within the cultural matrix, in Attridge, op. cit., p. 64.

5 Heffernan, “Feminism Against the East/West Divide,” pp. 201-215.

6 Aravamudan, Tropicopolitans, pp. 160-161.

7 Ballaster, Fabulous Orients, p. 179.

8 See Aravamudan, op. cit., p. 170.

9 VanGennep, Rites o fPassage, pp. 27-31.

10 Heffernan and O’Quinn, “Introduction,” in Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, p. 15.

11 Heffernan and O’Quinn, op. cit., p. 15.

12 Like the medical practice of ingrafting as a prophylactic technique against smallpox, the sélam is an aesthetic technique Montagu trans-lated from the Oriental into the Occidental space.

13 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, note 2, op. cit., p. 162.

14 Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, p. 161.

15 Eco and Migiel, “An ArsOblivionalis?,” p. 256.

16 Montagu, op. cit., p. 163.

17 Cf. Weinrich, Lethe, p. 61.

18 According to Edward. S. Casey, emplacement or implacement emphasises the action of immersion into and the state of immanence in place, contingent on inhabitation, in Getting Back into Place, p. 315.

19 Montagu, op. cit., p. 163.

20 Ricoeur, Memory, p. xv.

21 Lowenthal, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 82.

22 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, “Introduction”, pp. 13, 16.

23 Montagu, op. cit., note 2, p. 180.

24 For a discussion of generic straitjacketing and Montagu’s preference for more loose-fitting dialogical “habits,” see Aravamudan, op. cit., p. 164.

25 Eco and Migiel, op. cit., pp. 257, 260.

26 Augé, Oblivion, p. 17.

27 Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 1.

28 Ibid., p. 2.

29 Ibid., p. 3.

30 Ibid., p. 91.

31 As duly noted by Isobel Grundy, who speaks of the “voyage home” as tantamount to seafaring “slowly, slowly – backwards in time, into Homer’s wine-dark sea,” in Grundy, op. cit., p. 168.

32 Sandys, Dumont, Hill, Rycaut, in Heffernan and O’Quinn, op. cit., p. 28.

33 In the letter she addressed to Alexander Pope from Adrianople on 1 April 1717, Lady Montagu expressed her “infinite pleasure” at having read his translation of the Homeric text, occasioning her a comparison between the customs of the ancient and the modern Greeks, including the surviving fashion of wearing the “snowy veil that Helen throws over her face,” Montagu, op. cit., pp. 119-120.

34 Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 22.

35 Montagu, op. cit., p. 185.

36 See Casey, Getting Back into Place, p. 297.

37 Cf. Casey, ibid., 306.

38 The Northern coast of Africa occasions the starkest contrasts between the majestic past and the distorted present, not only as regards the magnificent rulers that held dominion over it in history and the present-day “frightful” deformities her by-now Orientalising gaze detects among the country people, but also in terms of the landscape, once an isthmus, now an unappealing “marshy ground,” in Montagu, op. cit., pp. 191-194.

39 Note should be taken of the hyperbolic backdrop of this superlative description, which, in light of the writer’s experience of identitarian “Levantinisation” in Constantinople (cf. Aravamudan, op. cit., p. 19), could indicate, besides her genuine enthusiastic response, the excitement of the “back voyage,” at the prospect of treading the more familiar cultural-geographic ground of Hellenic antiquity, in Montagu, op. cit., p. 180.

40 Montagu, op. cit., p. 180.

41 For here so oft the muse her harp has strung, / That not a mountain rears its head unsung,” cf. Montagu, op. cit., note 3, p. 180.

42 Ibid., p. 181.

43 Ibid., p. 181.

44 Ibid., p. 181.

45 Ibid., pp. 181-182.

46 See Abulafia, The Great Sea, pp. 135-136.

47 Montagu, op. cit., p. 182.

48 Ibid., p. 182.

49 Cf. Ovid, “Heroid XIX: Hero to Leander”, in Heroides, pp. 190-198.

50 Cf. Homer, “Book 14: Hera Outflanks Zeus”, in TheIiad, p. 375.

51 On Montagu’s transgression of conventional gender positions and adopting a penetrative, male gaze, see Aravamudan, op. cit., p. 175.

52 Montagu, op. cit., p. 182.

53 Ibid., p. 182.

54 Cf. Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, p. 67.

55 See Nagy, Homer the Preclassic, p. 181.

56 In Ratisbon (Regensburg), for instance, Montagu mocks the collections of ossuaries and relics preserved in churches, including a “prodigious claw set in gold, which they called the claw of a griffin” and kept as a “curiosity”, Montagu, op. cit., p. 55; moreover, her much anthologised visit to the women’s hammam in Sofia (p. 103), when the English aristocrat unexpectedly finds herself gazed at and objectified by the bathing women, is a demonstration of what Barbara Benedict has shown to be the fluid boundaries between “curiousness” and “curiosity” in the early modern period, in Curiosity, p. 2.

57 See, for instance, her glib contemptuousness of the composite collections amassed in the emperor’s Treasure in Vienna, Montagu, op. cit., p. 71.

58 In Constantinople, she follows this antiquarian impulse, gathering Greek medals and even commissioning a mummy, in ibid., p. 145.

59 As Heffernan and O’Quinn assure us (note 2), this funereal monument or trapeza eventually made its way into the British Museum, in 1816, in Montagu, op. cit., p. 183.

60 Ibid., p. 184.

61 Ibid., p. 70.

62 See, for instance, the reference to Lady Mary’s “distillations” from Georges Sandys’s A Relation of a Journey Begun An: Dom: 1610 (1615) in Heffernan and O’Quinn (note 3), in Montagu, op. cit., p. 187.

63 Ibid., p. 184.

64 Cf. Heffernan and O’Quinn, note 1, ibid., p. 185.

65 “I think Strabo says the same thing”, ibid., p. 185.

66 Ibid., p. 186.

67 Ibid., p. 186.

68 Ibid., p. 187.

69 Ibid., p. 188.

70 Ibid , p. 188.

71 Ibid., p. 188.

72 Ibid., p. 188.

73 Weinrich, op. cit., p. 2.

74 See Weinrich, ibid., p. 1.

75 Ibid., p. 2.

76 Casey, op. cit., p. 289.

77 Ibid., p. 290.

78 Ibid.,pp. 290-291.

79 Cf. Casey, ibid., pp. 292, 296.

80 Lady Montagu’s nautical peregrination ends in Genoa, an experience recounted in the next letter, addressed to Lady Mar, on 28 August 1718, in which emphasis is laid on the Genoese colonial foothold in the Mediterranean throughout history, in Montagu, op. cit., pp. 194-198.

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Carmen-Veronica Borbély, « Chorographies of the Mediterranean in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters », Babel, 29 | 2014, 233-250.

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Carmen-Veronica Borbély, « Chorographies of the Mediterranean in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters », Babel [En ligne], 29 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 février 2015, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://babel.revues.org/3706 ; DOI : 10.4000/babel.3706

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Carmen-Veronica Borbély

Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj

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Babel. Littératures plurielles est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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