Marvels and Allies in the East. India as Heterotopia of Latin Europe in the 12th Century

Medieval IndiaMarvels and Allies in the East. India as Heterotopia of Latin Europe in the 12th Century

Sven Jaros (Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena & University of Leipzig)

Carnival XIII (2011)


It has long been said that Latin Europe lost its connection to the East, specifically to Asia, in the early Middle Ages. But this is only part of the truth. From late Antiquity on, there were Christians in many places between the Mediterranean Sea and China. Even more important, trade routes and transfers of knowledge did not follow religious „borders“ between East and West. Even though Western people did not travel to Asia frequently, knowledge about this space existed. This knowledge was used in a specific way, and Asia had a certain function in the Western world. In this article, I will point out that especially India was used as a Heteropia in Latin Europe. Moreover, by doing so, I will argue against a scholarly tradition which uses the term Utopia to describe the function of India for Latin Europe in this time.

The French philosopher Michel Foucault tried to understand the history of humanity by analysing the functions of space inside a society. For modern times, he states: „We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.“ Inside this set of related spaces, there are two „which are linked with all the others“ but „contradict all the other sites“: Utopias and Heterotopias. Utopias, in the understanding of Foucault, „are fundamentally unreal spaces“ which have a certain relation with the real space of society.

Click here to read this article from Carnival

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