Tibet has seemed the pinnacle of Otherness to the western world ever since the late nineteenth century. Run by an ancient Buddhist theocracy, never marred by modernity, in the late 1940s Heinrich Harter penned his classic story, "Seven Years in Tibet," which found resonance among Americans alienated from the consumerist norms of the 1950s. Today, Tibet's control by Communist China only appears to accentuate its essential distance from modernity.

The ironic tale of Western fascination with Tibet is well told by journalist Orville Schell, who has visited Tibet extensively and includes himself among those Americans who have "spun...a fabulous skein of fantasy around this distant, unknown land." Schell discusses Hollywood's paradoxical reverence for Tibet, the strange spectacle of the Dalai Lama visiting Sunset Boulevard, and the making of "Seven Years in Tibet" (starring Brad Pitt), in dry language which accentuates the contradictions of its subject without ever quite stooping to mockery.

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