Music, medievalism, and the challenges of orientalism in Mathias Énard’s Boussole

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Mathias Énard’s 2015 novel Boussole, narrated by a musicologist, has been celebrated as a ‘love letter between East and West.’ This essay explores how the novel makes complex, contrapuntal use of medieval literary and historical legacies to explore orientalism as transcultural romance but, more than this, to expose the complexities of the West’s rapprochement with the East in the 21st century. Published in the same year as major attacks in Paris by Al-Qaeda and ISIL, it grapples with two opposing impulses: on the one hand, the cosmopolitan desire to emphasize cross-cultural empathy, admiration, and fascination in order to combat Islamophobic suspicion, distance, and dehumanization; and on the other hand, the need to acknowledge Europe’s implication in the legacies of colonialism and to calibrate with honesty the uneven distribution of power underpinning orientalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-512
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • medievalism
  • orientalism
  • literature


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