Descriptions of Orientalism

Orientalism is not one thing. That is a cliché, to be sure, and it is also one of the key lessons scholars wrestling with Said's take on Orientalism have been learning. They have chewed on and re-worked "Saidian Orientalism" in a multitude of different contexts and brought vastly different perspectives to the task. The goal here is to listen to some of these voices to get a sense of the possibilities involved in how we can understand Orientalism and all of those Orientalisms. Just to be clear, inclusion here does not mean endorsement. It means having an opportunity to listen to many different voices. Enjoy!

M. Shahid Alam — Native Orientalism

Ironically, the enormous success of Edward Said’s Orientalism, his devastating critiquing of the West’s hegemonic discourse on the ‘Orient,’ has deflected attention from the recrudescence of a native Orientalism in much of the Periphery in the last few decades. Its victory in Pakistan is nearly complete...[so that] In the euphoria of Edward Said’s success, left intellectuals have nearly forgotten that the West’s servant classes in the Periphery produce an indigenous Orientalism. I refer here to the coarser but more pernicious Orientalism of the brown Sahibs, who are free, behind their rhetoric of progress, to denigrate their own history and culture. A few of these native Orientalists are deracinated souls, who put down their own people for failing, as they see it, to keep up with the forward march of history. Most, however, are opportunists, lackeys, or wannabee lackeys, eager to join the native racketeers who manage the Periphery for the benefit of outside powers.

Source: Alam, M. Shahid. "Native Orientalists at the Daily Times," 30 November 2009. In Pulse(https://pulsemedia.org). Accessed 25 April 2017.

Srinivas Aravamudan — Enlightenment Orientalism

Enlightenment Orientalism increased its influence by featuring moral philosophy as well as libertine politics. I would argue, contra Said’s statement in the epigraph, that Enlightenment Orientalism was not “a corporate institution for dealing with the Orient” but a fictional mode for dreaming with the Orient—dreaming with it by constructing and translating fictions about it, pluralizing views of it, inventing it, by reimagining it, unsettling its meaning, brooding over it. In short, Enlightenment Orientalism was a Western style for translating, anatomizing, and desiring the Orient. And without examining Enlightenment Orientalism as a fictional mode, one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture as able to manage—and even produce both the novel and the Orient politically, sociologically, ideologically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period. Said acknowledged as much with his more nuanced appreciation of European literary aesthetics in his later monography Culture and Imperialism.

Source: Aravamudan, Srinivas. Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Asef Bayat — Nineteenth-Century Orientalism

In the classical 19th Century Orientalism, the Orient (and here my focus is on the Muslim Middle East) was presented as essentially monolithic, fundamentally static, and basically traditional society and culture. The Orient was then a ‘peculiar’ entity, a universe essentially ‘different’ from the West; it was exotic and feminine, irrational and emotional, despotic and basically inferior to the West. A fixed and unchanging Islam stood as the key determinant of the Orient’s culture and society. Engrained in the people’s psyche, such Islam shaped Muslim’s values and day-to-day conducts, ensuring a fundamental cultural uniformity and a spectacular historical continuity throughout the Muslim World. Writing on Indians, James Mill, for instance, suggested ‘No idea of any system of rule, different from the will of a single person, appears to have entered the minds of them’. For Hegel, the Eastern ‘unreflective consciousness’ made plain that it was Europe that was ‘absolutely the end of history’ and Asia just the beginning. At its core, the Orientalist paradigm was informed by the 19th Century theories of progress where the West was seen as the telos of human development, whereas the East produced great civilization in the past but was destined to decline subsequently. This mode of presenting the Orient conveniently justified Europe’s colonial rule over the ‘inferior cultures’.

Source: Bayat, Asef. “Neo-Orientalism,” 19 September 2015. At ISA The Futures We Want (http://futureswewant.net). Accessed 1 November 2017.

James G. Carrier

Said's description of the process of Orientalism, the Orientalization of the Near East, focuses on the political and economic relations between the West and the Near East, and we must examine these relations if we wish to understand how the Orient that concerns him was generated in Western thought. But these relations do not exhaustively account for Orientalism. As I have already noted, Said also sees Orientalism as an instance of a fundamental process of self- definition by opposition with the alien. This process may be shaped, facilitated, and given specific content by historical factors, but is not wholly constituted by them. The basic process is simple, though its ramifications are not. Orientalist descriptions are produced by means of the juxtaposition of two opposed, essentialized entities, the West and (for lack of better terms) the Other or the Alien. Each is understood in reified, essentialist terms, and each is defined by its difference from the other element of the opposed pair.

Source: Carrier, James G. "Occidentalism: the World Turned Upside Down." American Ethnologist 19, 2 (May 1992): 196.

Vittorio Cotesta — Aesthetic Orientalism

It is a feature of aesthetic orientalism to admire the Other for his difference even while imagining him as inferior. (p. 46n)

Source: Cotesta, Vittorio. Global Society and Human Rights. Leiden; Boston : Brill, 2012.

Marc de Faoite

"Orientalism” is a buzzword regularly lobbed at any writer who dares step beyond the pale of what the toxic pervasive atmosphere of political correctness deems culturally acceptable or appropriate.

Source: Foite, Marc de. “Review: The Path,” 12 August 2016. In Star2.com (http://www.star2.com). Accessed 16 August 2016.

James Fallows

"Orientalism,” stripped of its academic heavy-weather framing, boils down to treating something foreign as if it is intrinsically weird, and should be held out at arm's length and marveled or tittered at rather than treated seriously.”

Source: Fallows, James. “On the Orientalism of the Prairie,” 20 August 2013. In The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com). Accessed 21 July 2016.

Michael Fry — Scottish Orientalism

Scots used the orient as a proving ground for their theories. Conversely, knowledge of faraway places modified their mental constructions. This fruitful exchange was a remarkable feature of the Scottish nineteenth century, and came out in some of its most significant works. ‘Orientalism’ is a good name for the whole phenomenon, because it took exotic cultures on their own terms (with what success is a different question) and because it played a vital part in fulfilling the Enlightenment’s aspirations to universality. In that case we have to think of some other name for the sort of orientalism condemned by Said, an imposition on the passive and suffering East by the hostile and intolerant West. Some Scots in the orient set themselves up as agents of such an imposition, yet it cannot in justice be said that most did so.

Source: Fry, Michael. “’The Key to their Hearts’: Scottish Orientalism.” In Scotland and the 19th-Century World. Edited by Gerard Carruthers, David Goldie, and Alastair Renfrew, -157. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2012.

Benjamin Isakhan

It is now more than 30 years since the publication of Edward W. Said’s seminal text Orientalism. With his discourse analysis of an astounding number of academic, bureaucratic and literary texts from the colonial period, Said was able to demonstrate that the western colonial project was premised on a matrix of interdependent discourses, institutions and practices, which he termed ‘orientalism’. The net output of such orientalism was an ideological fantasy, a fantasy that bore no relation to the reality and complexity of non-european society with its myriad cultures, religions, peoples, customs and histories. Instead, orientalism has served to homogenize, demonize and stereotype the non-european world according to fairly reductive and negative terms, so that the oriental was viewed as the ‘other’. Clearly the unquestioned tendency to view the people of the orient as deficient and inferior ‘others’ served the colonial agenda of continuing to dominate and control sections of the East.

Source: Isakhan, Benjamin. “Review Essay: Military Orientalism and the Occupation of Iraq.” International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 4, 1-2 (2010): 211-215.

Helen Jun — Nineteenth-Century American Orientalism

Broadly then, we can understand nineteenth-century American Orientalism as a set of discursive formations that are determined by and determining of U.S. economic and political engagements with East Asia and the Pacific, and that provide the ideological structure for domestic processes that produce and manage Asian racial difference within the United States. These processes, which involve “instances” of Asian incorporation (as circus exhibits, as coolie labor, as U.S. colony) and “instances” of Asian exclusion (from immigration, citizenship, and U.S. national culture), are definitive of an American genealogy of Asian racialization that variously produces the Oriental as alien to the United States.

Source: Jun, Helen H., “Black Orientalism: Nineteenth-Century Narratives of Race and U.S. Citizenship.” American Quarterly, 58, 4 (December 2006): 1049.

Ivan Davidson Kalmar — Orientalism & Christianity

Orientalism was ambivalent: in some ways it feared or condemned the Orient and in others it loved and romanticized it. (This was clear to Said but was lost on some of his followers.) Consequently, the western Christian attitude not only to the Jews but to the Muslims and Arabs and to the Orient was always expressed in a complex variety of emotional modes. It is what one should expect, since the Orient is where the West’s founding religion, Christianity, has its roots. In western Christian history orientalism is more the Mother than the Other. (p. 137)

Source: Kalmar, Ivan Davidson. "Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Formation of a Secret." Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 7, 2 (2009): 135-143.

Irfan Khawaja

As the term is currently used in post-colonial and area studies, “Orientalism” is an academic neologism coined to denote the distinctive form of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry endemic to the West. This controversial and revisionist coinage comes from Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, which describes Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient,” and “a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness and later, Western empire.” For our purposes, we can narrow Said’s thesis to three claims: that there is such a phenomenon as Orientalism; that it’s morally reprehensible; and that it has been expressed with reprehensible consequences in the history of Western imperialism.

Source: Khawaja, Irfan. “Muslim Anti-Semitism and Zionist Orientalism: The Workings of a Vicious Cycle,” n.d. In Google.com (https://www.google.com/). Accessed 25 June 2016.

Aziza Khazzoom

Orientalism, for Said, is a system of thought that first posits an opposition between Occident and Orient and then builds on the opposition to construct the orient as inferior, to "dominate it, restructure it, and have authority over it.” The process of orientalisation is relational not simply because one category implies another but because constructing the east is how the west produces itself. It is the fact that one group has the ability to classify another that makes orientalisation an exercise of power, and this form of power is linked to the monopolization of resources and group conflict in several ways (also see Said 1993).”

Source: Khazzoom, Aziza. “The Great Chain of Orientalism: Jewish Identity, Stigma Management, and Ethnic Exclusion in Israel.” American Sociological Review 68, 4 (August 2003): 483.

Gudrun Krämer

Orientalism, as we have learned, is a project that presents, or as many would say ‘constructs’ or ‘represents’, Islam as a distinct, homogeneous and timeless entity that is essentially defined by its normative texts, i.e. the Qur’an as divine word and the Sunna, or tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. For the unreformed orientalist, Muslims are sufficiently defined by their being Muslim. Little does it matter whether they live in Kuala Lumpur, Cairo or Karachi. They are over-determined by Islam. This is, of course, vintage culturalism. But orientalism, its critics continue, does not stop here: it ‘constructs’ Islam as the ultimate Other, using it as a negative foil against which the achievements of Western civilization, resting on the triple foundation of ancient Judaism, ancient Greece and the Christian faith, appear all the more glorious. Islam, by contrast, lacks the notion of liberty, a sense of responsibility both individual and civic, a spirit of scientific inquiry, an independent middle class, any kind of recognized community except the umma, etc., etc. If one adopts this logic, Islam is little but a ‘cluster of absences’ (Bryan S. Turner, who, to avoid any misunderstanding, does not share this view).

Source: Krämer, Gudren. “On Difference and Understanding: The Use and Abuse of the Study of Islam.” ISIM Newsletter 5 (June 2000): 6-7.

H. Hale Künüçen & Senem Güngör

Orientalism seems to be the supreme context for interpretations and interactions of Oriental people. Orientalism as cultural myth had been articulated through metaphors which characterize the East in ways which emphasize its strangeness and Otherness. This kind of Orientalism carries with it the implication that Oriental people are inferior and weak. Social and cognitive psychology determines that stereotyping is a kind of mental schema composing a design to help people absorb the reality; in other words to make things more understandable and less threatening. These mental schema, such as stereotypes, provide people with the illusion of understanding by dividing up and categorizing the flux of experience into easily manageable cognitive maps (Augustinos, 1995:33).

Source: Künüçen, H. Hale and Senem Güngör. “’300’ and the Other.” 183-196,” 2008. In Andalu Úniversitesi (http://cim.anadolu.edu.tr). Accessed 10 July 2016.

Lamont Lindstrom — Orientalism & Occidentalism

Orientalism produces the Orient but also reveals and is a commentary on Occidental institutions, styles, and interests. The Orient, and Orientalism, necessarily presumes an Occident and a parallel if sometimes less clearly spoken discourse of Occidentalism.

Source: Lindstrom, Lamont. “Cargoism and Occidentalism.” In Occidentalism: Images of the West. Edited by James G. Carrier, 33-60. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

Gísli Pálsson – Environmental Orientalism

The vocabulary of orientalism is typically one of domestication, frontiers, and expansion—of exploring, conquering, and exploiting the environment—for the diverse purposes of production, consumption, sport, and display. To the extent that one can speak of environmental ‘management’ in this context, management is simply a technical enterprise, the rational application of Baconian science and mathematical equations to the natural world. This typically suggests a lofty stance with respect to the ‘object in question’. In the orientalist context, scientists present themselves as analysts of the material world, unaffected by any ethical considerations. This implies a radical distinction between laypersons and experts, another theoretical construct rooted in the innovations of the Renaissance.” (p. 68)

Source: Pálsson, Gísli. “Human-Environmental Relations: Orientalism, Paternalism and Communalism.” In Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. Edited by Philippe Descola and Gísli Pálsson, 63-81. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Edward W. Said

My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the Orient's difference with its weakness. (p. 204)

As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, and knowledge. The Orient existed for the West, or so it seemed to countless Orientalists, whose attitude to what they worked on was either paternalistic or candidly condescending—unless, of course, they were antiquarians, in which case the "classical" Orient was a credit to them and not to the lamentable modern Orient. (p. 204)

Nowhere do I argue that Orientalism is evil, or sloppy, or uniformly the same in the work of each and every Orientalist. But I do say that the guild of Orientalists has a specific history of complicity with imperial power, which it would be Panglossian to call irrelevant. (p. 342)

Source: Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London and New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Malini Johar Schueller — Said's Contribution

The major contribution of Said's Orientalism was to make it impossible to think about Western constructions of the Oriental in purely spiritual, philosophical, or symbolic terms and, by analogy, to make it problematic to deal with an construction of an Other without thinking about relations of power. To simply ignore such relations and questions of hegemony is, as Ella Shohat has suggested, to "sanctify the fait accompli of colonial violence." (p. 6)

Source: Schueller, Malini Johar. U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Ziauddin Sardar

The history of Orientalism shows it is not an outward gaze of the West toward a fixed, definite object that is to the east, the Orient. Orientalism is a form of inward reflection, preoccupied with the intellectual concerns, problems, fears and desires of the West that are visited on a fabulated, constructed object by convention called the Orient. What that Orient is, is a shifting, ambiguous compendium, a thing that identifies whatever the writer, inscriber or supposed observer wishes it to mean or be at the moment. (p. 13)

Source: Sardar, Ziauddin. Orientalism. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Open University Press, 1999.

Algis Uždavinys

The term “Orientalism” itself first appeared in the third decade of the 19th century in France and usually it referred to the European attitudes towards the Middle Eastern cultures. By extension, it covers the range of attitudes to all traditional and philosophical ideas of Asian countries. While used in many different senses, the word “Orientalism” as a neutral descriptive term may simply mean the scholarly studies of the languages and texts of the Orient. However, it is also related to the East India Company’s policies aimed at the preservation of Indian culture, to the fabulous and romantic artistic style associated with the imagined Eastern luxuries and liberties (so attractive to the puritan Victorian mentality) and, more recently, to a discourse of power fashioned by the Western imperialism.”

Source: Uždavinys, Algis. "Sufism in the Light of Orientalism." Acta Orientalia Vilnensia 6, 2 (2005): 114–125.