Irony and toleration: lessons from the travels of Mendes Pinto

Edward Said writes that Orientalism is a Western style for dominating the East. Richard Rorty proposes that intellectuals should be modern liberals in their politics but postmodern ironists in their intellectual lives. Rebecca Catz argues that Fern?o Mendes Pinto's Peregrination, a sprawling account of travels in the East first published in 1614, is a ?plea for toleration?. How do these theories stand up when confronted with the text? Once as well known as Cervantes's Don Quixote, this text has been undeservedly overlooked in the study of political ideas, and that is a loss because it might make Saidians, Rortians and toleration theorists rethink some of their ideas. It is wrong to take Mendes Pinto's criticisms of Asians as Orientalism, partly because Mendes Pinto is equally critical of the Portuguese and other Europeans. It is wrong to think that irony can provide a comfortable intellectual home, partly because Mendes Pinto's life and text provide examples of a much more subtle and nihilistic irony than Rorty imagines. And finally, it is wrong to think that Mendes Pinto's text is a ?plea for toleration? in any but the most attenuated sense
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DOI 10.1080/13698230510001702743
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