Again on Orientalism

Whatever it may once have been 30+ years ago, Anti-Orientalism has now become an all-access pass for various kinds of nationalism, and a ready-made rhetorical device employed by writers in order to manufacture for themselves the credentials they think necessary for entering into an emotionally and politically charged area of research. The "Orientalist perspective" opposed in this manner is in fact scarcely more coherent than "the Orient" subject to deconstruction. Orientalists may love the Orient or hate it, be apologists for imperialism or dogged anti-imperialists, be hostile to the study of languages or devoted to it...Regardless, their failure to present what the writer deems to be the authentic state of affairs is what earns them the label of "Orientalist." Hostility to an "Orientalist perspective" is an identity marker as much as anything else — specifically an identity marker for a self-legitimizing interest in some part of the enormous array of regions which at one point or another, in one language or another, were referred to by Europeans as the Orient. Some recycle it as a token of self-exculpation from potential criticism of bias. And there are others for whom it is an important component in the legitimization of whichever brand of nationalism tickles their fancy.

1 comment:

  1. Trivia from my 40s. Oriental, a perfectly good descriptor of East Asian in British English is seen as somehow racist in American English (the land of the ku li and the choo choo but i digress).

    Of course, in British English the orient also refers to the near east (as it is called in Britain) or the middle east (as it is called in America).

    But one thing that transcends that is the idea of "oriental" as despotic, hedonistic. The bigoted rub in the wonderful world (like You wouldn't like hedonism? I would!) Ah, but despotism, there's the thorn in the ointment.

    To see the orient as passionate emotional is ... inaccurate. It's like they record their imperfect images and set them in stone, lithographs of error, and well funded.

    I don't have a solution for it: cocked eyebrow and mocking laugh or stare is all I got.

    Love the world and the world loves you back. Hate the world, and the same thing.