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In sociology, exoticism is a racist perspective. In linguistics , exoticism refers to a specific type of word. In the field of the arts , Thomas Betzwieser writes that there are various phenomena and currents, "the main characteristic of which is that European art is influenced by foreign, especially non-European elements".

Conceptual environment and word origin

The terms exotic and exotic generally designate a strange appearance or other unusual appearing properties, which are mostly related to the origin from distant, especially tropical countries. In contrast, the term exoticism relates to the effect of the exotic and its reception in another culture.

The origin of the term exoticism lies in a discourse that took place in France in the 19th century. The writer Théophile Gautier used the word exotisme in a programmatic declaration to the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt on November 23, 1863 . Gautier distinguished between an exoticism of spatial and an exoticism of distance. The Goncourt brothers had used the word exotisme in their diary on February 20, 1860, but their diaries were not published until decades later. It should be noted that the French word exotisme corresponds on the one hand to the German word exoticism , on the other hand it can also denote the curious relationship to the exotic or a preference for the exotic, i.e. exoticism .

Exoticism in the arts

The attraction of exotic countries was particularly taken up in the arts: in literature, painting, architecture and applied arts, as well as in music and films. Exotism also occurs in various forms in advertising.


Jean Marie Guyau is one of the founders of the exoticism theory . In 1889 in L'art au point de vue sociologique, he saw exoticism as a means in art to avoid the danger of the trivial with realistic style intentions . As a result he hoped for the so-called picturesque, the local color , as he found it already in the exotic novels of "realists" like Bernardin de Saint-Pierre , Flaubert and his immediate contemporary Pierre Loti .

According to Friedrich Brie ( Exotism of the Senses. A Study on the Psychology of Romanticism 1920) Wilhelm Heinse's novel Ardinghello and the happy islands is the only German novel with pronounced exoticism.

Exotism plays a major role in international trivial literature , e.g. B. in many Bodice Ripper novels , the plot of which is at least partially relocated to areas remote from civilization in order to make scenarios appear credible in which the main female character is forced to love, which then allows the authors to depict sexual acts freely. An early example is EM Hull's adventure and romance novel The Sheik (1919) about a young English woman who is kidnapped in the desert by an Arab, with whom she then finds happiness in love.

Exotism is also a feature in some children's books .


Advertising poster for Der Mikado , 1885

In music, exoticism can be observed on three levels: "In the choice of materials and equipment for stage works as well as in the use of 'exotic' material." A special use of exotic content can be found in operettas.

The multitude of exotic titles and content shows that the operetta genre made intensive use of the external stimulus. In relation to the setting of the operetta content, there are two opposing possibilities of presentation: "Either you choose an evasive, an outbreak construction from here to there. Or you choose an invasive, a break-in construction from there to here."

Exotic fragments are defined as pieces in which the main characters leave the local area to travel to a foreign country and "rub themselves against strange forms of life". Accordingly, fragments are the opposite. In them, the strange main characters leave their origins and break into their native place, where they come into conflict with the forms of life there.

However, these extreme forms rarely appear to be strictly defined. Rather, there are mixed forms between broken and broken pieces. The titles of the operettas clearly show that East Asia and the Middle East are evidently assigned a special external stimulus. An example of an implicit breakout piece is Arthur Sullivan's Mikado . 'Implicit' because the action takes place exclusively in Japan with Japanese main characters. Another 'exotic' operetta with the character of a mixed type of breakout and break-in piece is Franz Lehár's Land of Smiles .

In the operetta genre, however, it is less about the admiration and portrayal of the foreign land and the life in it than about the mere 'mass use' of exoticism because it was modern. The external stimulus used seems arbitrary and is therefore interchangeable.

In such a case, if one does not assume that the composer and the audience are genuinely interested in the other culture, the question arises: Is it trying to depict real life in this foreign country and its culture, or is it possibly hidden behind the exotic charm Criticism of your own society? With the Land of Smiles by Lehár and the Mikado by Sullivan, this question can be answered as follows:

The exoticism that Lehár uses in his land of smiles brought him great success: the people of that time did not yet have the opportunity to find out about the foreign country through the media etc. if they could not travel there themselves. For the audience, the land of smiles turned out to be a journey to China, an interesting country that was unknown to them. The exoticism used in this operetta, however, is not directly related to the plot. The focus is on the relationship between two people who grew up in different countries and with different cultures and whose love is broken by these differences. China as an 'exotic' country can thus be exchanged at will.

In his operetta Der Mikado, Sullivan creates "the delightful appearance of a completely peculiar and self-sufficient, downright inaccessible and unobserved stranger." However, this only seems so. A closer look reveals Sullivan's ironic criticism of his own society. The exotic appeal that Mikado offers is only superficial. There it is different from other comparable operettas. The conclusion of the operetta is not that "the foreign is indeed tempting, but the home is ultimately better", but in this "the exotic of the home laughs in the audience's face".

Rather, Lehár and Sullivan used their operettas, probably not recognizable at first glance, to convey socially critical messages to European society in a hidden way. Sullivan hides serious social criticism in the Mikado through the exotic appeal of the Japanese. Nevertheless, it can be seen that the characters of the operetta express corruption in politics and the arbitrariness of the government as social grievances. Lehár, on the other hand, wraps his message to society in a tragic love story between a European noblewoman and a Chinese prince. The exotic charm of the operetta is only superficial and can be freely exchanged, because this operetta aims to make a clear statement: "[...] Even a highly feudal cobbler [should] stick to his last [...]".


With colonialism the contact of European nations with foreign cultures intensified, whereby these were often misunderstood. Since most Europeans did not take part in these contacts, the idea of ​​foreign people and cultures was mainly fed by fantasies and projections . For example, a transfiguring view of the foreign arose, which is related to the Europeans' own renunciation in the process of civilization . Some Europeans projected their own wishful thoughts into the "exotic" and considered the people in the worlds that were newly opened up for them to be " noble savages ". This includes in particular representatives of the European Enlightenment , such as Denis Diderot or Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his concept of a society in a “ natural state ”. In particular, sexual renunciation led to an image of “instinctual natives” with a special sexual potency . The increasing alienation in the course of industrialization has produced a special romantic form of “closeness to nature”, which was also attributed to the “savages”. Well-known representatives of such positions were Rudyard Kipling and Karl May .

With exoticism comes a perception of foreigners, whose living conditions and oppression as a result of colonialism are hardly seen. In addition, the image of “naturalness”, for example in Rousseau's work, is associated with a justification for the inferiority of the “savages”. Although these are closer to nature, they are more remote from culture and to that extent as children. This expresses a form of racism without races , which is formally justified with respect for the "savages".

Some theses of radical representatives of cultural relativism are criticized by critics as a form of an exotic 'reverse racism ', since in them human rights are generally subordinated to values ​​of tradition and community . An example is the circumcision of female genitals , practiced in some religions and cultures , which some radical cultural relativists protect as a mere cultural practice about which no moral judgments are possible.

The sexual exploitation of women, men and children in “ developing countries ” by so-called “ sex tourists ” can also be seen as a form of exoticism, for example when reference is made to the “natural submissiveness” of the prostitute .


In linguistics, exoticism is a foreign word or loan word , the use of which is restricted to an object in the environment of the donor language. Examples:

  • Igloo - the word comes from the Eskimo language Inuktitut , and almost only Eskimos build igloos.
  • The Persian word Shah denotes a Persian ruler, but not, for example, a German ruler.
  • The Finnish word Vappu is only used to denote a holiday in Finland.
  • Hornussen (from Bern German ) is a team sport that is only practiced in parts of Switzerland.

A foreign word is not exotic if the object it refers to occurs not only in the area of ​​origin of the word, but also in other countries or cultures. An example of this is the word sauna (from Finnish).

See also


  • Hartmut Amon (Ed.): How do you become a stranger? Racism theories . Unrast, Münster 2001, ISBN 3-89771-405-1 . (jour fixe initiative Berlin)
  • Susan Arndt (Ed.): AfrikaBilder. Studies on racism in Germany . Unrast, Münster 2006, ISBN 3-89771-028-5 .
  • Urs Bitterli : The "savages" and the "civilized". The European-overseas encounter . CH Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-35583-8 .
  • Volker Klotz : Operetta. Portrait and manual of an unheard-of art . New edition Bärenreiter, Kassel 2004, ISBN 3-7618-1596-4 .
  • Julia Kristeva : We are strangers to ourselves (“Etrangers à nous-mêmes”). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1990, ISBN 3-518-11604-5 .
  • Kuan-wu Lin: Western spirit in the eastern body ?: "Medea" in the intercultural theater of China and Taiwan. For the universalization of ancient Greece. Transcript, Bielefeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-8376-1350-6 .
  • Marie Lorbeer, Beate Wild (ed.): People eaters - Negro kisses. The image of strangers in everyday German life . 2nd Edition. Elefanten Press Verlag, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-88520-394-4 .
  • Peter Martin: Black devils, noble Moors. Africans in the history and consciousness of the Germans . Hamburger Edition 2001, ISBN 3-930908-64-6 .
  • Henning Melber : The last word in wisdom. Racism and Colonial Views . Brandes & Apsel, Frankfurt 1992, ISBN 3-86099-102-7 .
  • Hermann Pollig (ed.): Exotic worlds, European fantasies . New edition Cantz, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-922608-65-3 . (Catalog for the exhibition, September 2 to November 29, 1987)
  • Wolfgang Reif: Flight from civilization and literary dream dreams. The exotic novel in the first quarter of the 20th century . Metzler, Stuttgart 1975, ISBN 3-476-00309-4 . (also dissertation, Saarbrücken University 1973)
  • Peter Revers : Exotism. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 1, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7001-3043-0 .
  • Victor Segalen : The aesthetics of the diverse. Attempt on exoticism. ("Essai sur l'Exotisme. Une Ésthétique du Divers"). Fischer TB, Frankfurt 1994, ISBN 3-596-10108-5 .
  • Hito Steyerl , Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (ed.): Does the subaltern speak German? Migration and Post-Colonial Criticism . Unrast, Münster 2003, ISBN 3-89771-425-6 .
  • Peter Dering / Gerd Presler / Peter Gerlach / Gertrude Cepl-Kaufmann: Small escapes. Exoticism in Rhenish Expressionism, Bonn 1995 (No. 15, Vertein August Macke Haus, Bonn)

Web links

Wiktionary: Exotism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Thomas Betzwieser: Exotism. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Vol. 3, Bärenreiter, Kassel 1995, DNB 945503717 , Sp. 226.
  2. See Duden online: Exotik und Exotisch
  3. ^ Journal des Goncourt: Mémoires de la vie littéraire, Année 1860 at Wikisource (French).
  4. See translations for French exotisme at dict.leo.org
  5. French exotisme at cnrtl.fr (Center National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales)
  6. a b Volker Klotz: Operetta. Portrait and manual of an unheard-of art. Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-7618-1596-4 , p. 89.
  7. Volker Klotz: Operetta. Portrait and manual of an unheard-of art. Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 2004, p. 101.
  8. Volker Klotz: Operetta. Portrait and manual of an unheard-of art. Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 2004, p. 104.
  9. Volker Klotz: Operetta. Portrait and manual of an unheard-of art. Bärenreiter, Kassel u. a. 2004, p. 92.
  10. Duden online: Exotism