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orientalism, global apartheid
by g kohler
29 September 2003 14:33 UTC
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This could be of interest to the five or so people who use the term "global

The notion of "orientalism" a la Said fits in beautifully with the notion of
"global apartheid". The first is an ideological facet of the second (just
like "white man's burden" was an ideological facet of European

Gernot Köhler

for a definition of "orientalism", see below.
from website:
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Edward Said's evaluation and critique of the set of beliefs known as
Orientalism forms an important background for postcolonial studies. His work
highlights the inaccuracies of a wide variety of assumptions as it questions
various paradigms of thought which are accepted on individual, academic, and
political levels.

The Terms

The Orient signifies a system of representations framed by political forces
brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and Western
empire. The Orient exists for the West, and is constructed by and in
relation to the West. It is a mirror image of what is inferior and alien
("Other") to
the West.

Orientalism is "a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision,
study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases
suited to the Orient." It is the image of the 'Orient' expressed as an
system of thought and scholarship.

The Oriental is the person represented by such thinking. The man is depicted
as feminine, weak, yet strangely dangerous because poses a threat to white,
Western women. The woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly
exotic. The

Oriental is a single image, a sweeping generalization, a stereotype that
countless cultural and national boundaries.

Latent Orientalism is the unconscious, untouchable certainty about what the
Orient is. Its basic content is static and unanimous. The Orient is seen as
separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual, and passive. It
has a tendency towards despotism and away from progress. It displays
penetrability and supine malleability. Its progress and value are judged in
terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other, the
conquerable, and the inferior.

Manifest Orientalism is what is spoken and acted upon. It includes
information and changes in knowledge about the Orient as well as policy
founded in Orientalist thinking. It is the expression in words and actions
of Latent

Earlier Orientalism

The first 'Orientalists' were 19th century scholars who translated the
writings of 'the Orient' into English, based on the assumption that a truly
colonial conquest required knowledge of the conquered peoples. This idea of
knowledge as power is present throughout Said's critique. By knowing the
Orient, the West came to own it. The Orient became the studied, the seen,
observed, the object; Orientalist scholars were the students, the seers, the
observers, the subject. The Orient was passive; the West was active.

[sc. here the website presents a picture.]

Image: French harem fantasy with a black eunuch servant. The link between
popularized orientalism and libidinization is obvious. "Les petits voyages
de Paris-Plaisirs."--Paris Plaisir, Feb. 1930. (Image and text from Jan
Nederveen Pieterse's White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western
Culture. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992)

One of the most significant constructions of Orientalist scholars is that of
the Orient itself. What is considered the Orient is a vast region, one that
spreads across a myriad of cultures and countries. It includes most of Asia
as well
as the Middle East. The depiction of this single 'Orient' which can be
as a cohesive whole is one of the most powerful accomplishments of
scholars. It essentializes an image of a prototypical Oriental--a biological
inferior that is culturally backward, peculiar, and unchanging--to be
depicted in dominating and sexual terms. The discourse and visual imagery of
Orientalism is laced with notions of power and superiority, formulated
initially to
facilitate a colonizing mission on the part of the West and perpetuated
through a wide variety of discourses and policies. The language is critical
to the
construction. The feminine and weak Orient awaits the dominance of the West;
it is a defenseless and unintelligent whole that exists for, and in terms
its Western counterpart. The importance of such a construction is that it
creates a single subject matter where none existed, a compilation of
unspoken notions of the Other. Since the notion of the Orient is created by
Orientalist, it exists solely for him or her. Its identity is defined by the
scholar who gives it life.

Contemporary Orientalism

Said argues that Orientalism can be found in current Western depictions of
"Arab" cultures. The depictions of "the Arab" as irrational, menacing,
untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and--perhaps most
importantly--prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has
evolved. These notions are trusted as foundations for both ideologies and
policies developed by the Occident. Said writes: "The hold these instruments
have on the mind is increased by the institutions built around them. For
every Orientalist, quite literally, there is a support system of staggering
considering the ephemerality of the myths that Orientalism propagates. The
system now culminates into the very institutions of the state. To write
about the Arab Oriental world, therefore, is to write with the authority of
nation, and not with the affirmation of a strident ideology but with the
unquestioning certainty of absolute truth backed by absolute force." He
continues, "One
would find this kind of procedure less objectionable as political
propaganda--which is what it is, of course--were it not accompanied by
sermons on the
objectivity, the fairness, the impartiality of a real historian, the
implication always
being that Muslims and Arabs cannot be objective but that Orientalists. .
about Muslims are, by definition, by training, by the mere fact of their
Westernness. This is the culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only
degrades its subject matter but also blinds its practitioners."

Said's Project

Said calls into question the underlying assumptions that form the foundation
of Orientalist thinking. A rejection of Orientalism entails a rejection of
biological generalizations, cultural constructions, and racial and religious
prejudices. It is a rejection of greed as a primary motivating factor in
intellectual pursuit. It is an erasure of the line between 'the West' and
'the Other.' Said argues for the use of "narrative" rather than "vision" in
interpreting the geographical landscape known as the Orient, meaning that a
historian and a scholar would turn not to a panoramic view of half of the
globe, but rather to a focused and complex type of history that allows space
the dynamic variety of human experience. Rejection of Orientalist thinking
not entail a denial of the differences between 'the West' and 'the Orient,'
rather an evaluation of such differences in a more critical and objective
fashion. 'The Orient' cannot be studied in a non-Orientalist manner; rather,
the scholar is obliged to study more focused and smaller culturally
regions. The person who has until now been known as 'the Oriental' must be
given a voice. Scholarship from afar and second-hand representation must
take a
back seat to narrative and self-representation on the part of the

Related Sites

A Said Bibliography at UC, Irvine
Articles on Orientalism in the Nordic Newsletter of Asian Studies
Reviews of Orientalism

Author: Danielle Sered, Fall 1996

 Links within this site
Postcolonial Studies at Emory
 Introduction Authors Theorists Terms & Issues
(Image of an "Homme Carrefour" from Donald J. Cosentino's Sacred Arts of
Haitian Vodou [Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995].)

© Emory University
Contact English Department

Last Update: November 25, 2001
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