Andrej Belyj in Africa del Nord (1911)
Orientalismo e riflessione sull’identità culturale russa
Andrei Belyi (1880-1934) wrote several works about his trip to North Africa in 1911. The analysis of his ‘African’ letters (to his mother, to A. Blok, E. Metner, A. Kožebatkin, A. Petrovskij and M. Morozova) shows the coexistence of the orientalist thinking and a gradual distaste for the European world. Belyi undoubtedly describes Arabic people using typical orientalist commonplaces, thus putting himself inside the Western cultural identity (which has always created these stereotypes, as highlighted by Edward Said in Orientalism); but he also looks at the European colonists from an external point of view, that of a Russian not directly involved in the imperialistic division of the African continent. These first-hand reports show the beginning of his rejection of Western society and the starting point for the creation of a Russian identity, clearly separated from the European one. This process is not unique. In fact, it is a peculiar feature of the so called ‘Russian orientalism’: while talking about ‘the Orient’, Russian travellers and writers have often also considered the ‘West’, namely Europe, in an attempt to shape Russia’s cultural identity and clarify its ambiguous position.