Episode 2 Mirror my dear mirror: The making of the Oriental

Article de Sarra Riahi

Today’s focus 

Welcome back on board, today we will fly up in the sky. Indeed, to understand the orientalist framework requires embarking on the orientalist jet which – we will dare say it – often involves flying somewhere up there, above empirical realities and complexities. 

Orientalism and symbolic geography 

In his extensive piece, Said discloses how orientalism developed over time since the 18th century and hints towards its contemporary persistence. Said’s study aimed at revealing that “as a system of thought, [orientalism] approaches a heterogeneous, dynamic, and complex reality from an uncritically essentialist standpoint”. Orientalism is several things, intimately related and interdependent. Orientalism is an academic tradition, but also a style of thought based upon a basic geographic distinction between two unequal fractions: Orient and Occident. As defined by Said, orientalism is the “distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological … texts” (2003). 

A way to control and manipulate 

From the 18th century, orientalism provided Europeans with a framework that had the potential to analyze, define, and, a priori, to comprehend what is an impossible object of study: The Orient, namely the Middle East and Asia. Through an orientalist lens, the Orient – whatever this term designates – is an emotional realm. To define the oriental other as an essentially irrational being in an inherently  violent environment legitimates supervision and domination. Indeed, orientalism also designates a “whole series of interests” which, by means of scholarship, sociological inquiry and others, appears to be an intention to define, control and manipulate. Hence, the he ontological and epistemological dualism East/West and irrational/rational functions for power operations. 

The oriental other: Eurocentrism and culturalism 

We cannot apprehend orientalism without considering eurocentrism and culturalism. Eurocentrism is a dominant culture which produces the West as an eternal and unique entity. Eurocentrism goes hand in hand with a culturalist stance which is based on the belief that there are some cultural givens that can persist through and beyond systemic changes (Amin, 2009). From a eurocentric worldview, historical genesis is explained with a dual mythical construct which accentuates an alleged European uniqueness and history while attributing other peoples’ history to antithetical features. Thus, orientalism provides eurocentrism with an adverse other that is necessary to its formation. 

Next on Revue Hawa 

The next episode will carry a dual purpose. On the one hand it will emphasize the complexity, fluidity and changing nature of orientalism.  Enjoy XX

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