Rimbaud in java

Paul Bowles drew a distinction between the tourist, who travels quickly home, and the traveler, who moves slowly from one destination to the next. In The Glamour of Strangeness, Jamie James describes “a third species, those who roam the world in search of the home they never had in the place that made them.” From the early days of steamship travel, artists stifled by the culture of their homelands fled to islands, jungles, and deserts in search of new creative and emotional frontiers. Their flight inspired a unique body of work that doesn’t fit squarely within the Western canon, yet may be some of the most original statements we have about the range and depth of the artistic imagination.

When it was published in August 2016, The Glamour of Strangeness received extraordinary reviews in major international newspapers: in a full-page review in the New York Times Book Review, Joseph O’Neill praised the book as “learned and always entertaining.” In the Financial Times, Tash Aw called it an “entertaining, erudite study of a rarefied group of people whose experience of other cultures transcended mere travel.” Wall Street Journal critic Ben Downing described it as “a splendid book … witty and light-handed.” Illustrated in color and black-and-white, The Glamour of Strangeness was three years in the making. In field research supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, James visited many of the remote locales where his subjects lived, and studied unpublished documents at archives in America, Europe, and Asia.

The paradigm was established by Paul Gauguin, who fled a chaotic middle-class existence in France for Tahiti, where he created an artistic vision that exerted a dominant influence throughout the twentieth century. Following his example were Walter Spies, the devastatingly handsome German artist who remade his life in Bali; Raden Saleh, the aristocratic Javanese painter who found fame in Europe; Isabelle Eberhardt, a Russian-Swiss writer who roamed the Sahara dressed as an Arab man; and the American experimental filmmaker Maya Deren, who went to Haiti and became a committed follower of voodoo. Victor Segalen, a naval doctor, poet, and novelist, immersed himself in classical Chinese civilization in imperial Peking and wrote the definitive treatise on the subject of exoticism.

In The Glamour of Strangeness, James evokes these extraordinary lives in portraits that bring the transcultural artist into sharp relief. Drawing on his own career as a travel writer, on the front lines of the global boom of mass tourism, James offers an imaginative, wide-ranging analysis of the connection between art and the exotic.