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Hyperborean Atlantis: Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Madame Blavatsky, and the Nazi Myth

From: Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture
Volume 35, 2006
pp. 267-291 | 10.1353/sec.2010.0055

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Hyperborean Atlantis:
Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Madame Blavatsky, and the Nazi Myth
Dan Edelstein

Dan Edelstein is Assistant Professor in the Department of French and Italian at Stanford University. He most recently published "Between Myth and History: Michelet, Levi-Strauss, Barthes and the Structural Analysis of Myth" in Clio. He is currently working on a book that examines the role of natural right, antiquarianism, and the golden age myth in the politics and culture of the Terror.


1. The inadequacy of Said's model for the Enlightenment has been noted by a number of scholars: see for instance J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (London: Routledge, 1997), 16-34, and Madeleine Dobie, Foreign Bodies: Gender, Language, and Culture in French Orientalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 12-24 and 134. For a review of the controversies provoked by Said's thesis, see A. L. Macfie, Orientalism (London: Longman, 2002), 102-47; Fred Dallmayr, Beyond Orientalism: Essays in Cross-Cultural Encounter (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996); and Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and 'The Mystic East' (London: Routledge, 1999), 82-95. A number of critics have focused on Said's use of the Foucauldian concept of "discourse" (expertly glossed, of course, by Said himself in Beginnings: Intention and Method [New York: Columbia University Press, 1975]): see in particular Dennis Porter, "Orientalism and its Problems," in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, eds. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); I thank Dorian Bell for this reference. It is also helpful to recall the epistemological gray zones that scholars have identified in Foucault's own definition: see for instance Manfred Frank, "On Foucault's Concept of Discourse," in Michel Foucault Philosopher, T. J. Armstrong, trans. (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992).

2. The East India Company first assumed overt political rule in India in 1765, when it was granted the diwani of Bengal, but it was only with the 1784 India Act that the British crown truly became a colonial power in the Asian subcontinent: see Zaheer Baber, The Science of Empire: Scientific Knowledge, Civilization, and Colonial Rule in India (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996).

3. Rodinson's mot is quoted in Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment, 26.

4. Foreign Bodies, 21, my italics.

5. For a cultural history of French colonialism, see Raoul Girardet, L'Idée coloniale en France de 1871 à 1962 (Paris: Hachette, 1972).

6. On the genuine sense of curiosity underpinning sixteenth- and seventeenth-century studies and explorations of the Orient, see Amy Glassner Gordon, "Autres Mondes, Autres Mœurs: French Attitudes Towards the Cultures Revealed by the Discoveries," in Asia and the West: Encounters and Exchanges From the Age of Explorations, Cyriac K. Pullapilly and Edwin J. Van Kley, eds. (Notre Dame, Ind.: Cross Cultural Publications, 1986). [End Page 281]

7. For other French anti-colonial indictments in the eighteenth century, see letter 121 of Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes (1721; rpt. edn., Paris: Folio, 2003), Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, Voyage en Inde, 1754-1762: Relation de voyage et préliminaire à la traduction du Zend-Avesta (1771; rpt. edn., Paris: Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 1997), and the abbé Raynal, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (Amsterdam: n.p., 1770). For a recent study of eighteenth-century European anti-imperialism, see Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).

8. La Renaissance orientale (Paris: Payot, 1950), 152-55.

9. See in particular Léon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe, Edmund Howard, trans. (London: Sussex University Press, 1974), 155-82, and Dobie, Foreign Bodies. It is noteworthy that Said held Schwab's work in high opinion: see his "Foreword" to the English translation, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, Gene Patterson-Black and Victor Reinking, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

10. See Le Mythe nazi (La Tour d'Aigues: Editions de l'Aube, 1991), or for an abridged English version, "The Fiction of the Political," in Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art, and Politics: The Fiction of the Political, Chris...