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Imagining Alexandria : sightseeing in a city of the mind

By David Dunn


Alexandria is familiar in the West it is largely as the fictional city of Durrell and others, a city with a glorious ancient past which had been subsumed into a more recent cosmopolitan decadence. Yet it lacks the visual signifiers of either its Hellenistic splendour or its early 20th century allure, and exists in contemporary guide books as a place without touristic sights where the well read traveller is exhorted to ‘use the mind’s eye' to bring it alive. Its associations, however, are those of high rather than popular culture, and its literary construction is as a bastion of Western colonialism and nostalgia, one which hegemonically defines an oriental Other as a liminal place of transgressive erotic possibility and schadenfreude. This Alexandrian myth exists uneasily within postcolonial Egypt, and equally uneasily with contemporary touristic practices that are both democratised and posited as much on material as on cultural consumption. This paper draws on MacCannell's semiotic of the tourist attraction to suggest that whatever the significance of past literary productions of high culture to contemporary tourists, they continue to be cited generically to validate and authenticate touristic responses to, and encounters with, a city lacking familiar and regularly reproduced sights

Topics: G1
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Year: 2006
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