ORIENTALISM

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Fri Mar 9 10:35:07 MST 2001


by Richard Lee (Fernand Braudel Center)

***ORIENTALISM:  The Council of Vienne, 1312, instituted chairs in Hebrew,
Arabic, Greek, and Syriac at the Universities of Paris, Oxford, Bologna,
Avignon, and Salamanca; until the middle of the 18th century, Orientalists
remained primarily biblical scholars.

The early insistence on language, and the study of non-European
(particularly, near-eastern) peoples through indigenous texts and the
concomitant establishment of schools for their study continued through the
18th century, e.g., Collegio di Propaganda di Roma, 1627; the Academy for
Oriental Languages, Vienna, 1754. However, mid-18th century wholesale
importation and
translation of Sanskrit texts effected an upheaval in scholarship; biblical
texts could no longer be regarded as revealed or primal. From the late 18th
through most of the 20th century, philology (scientific, comparative)
remained the lead discipline and until the last quarter of the 19th century
Paris was the capital of the Orientalist's world--throughout Europe,
students of
Sylvestre de Sacy dominated the field.

In 1798 Napoleon availed himself of the special expertise of French
Orientalists in preparing, executing and "scientifically" documenting his
Egyptian campaign. The effort culminated in the publication of the grandiose
Description de l'Égypte (1809-28). This work effected the displacement of

Egyptian or Oriental history as a history possessing its own coherence,
identity, and sense. Instead, history as recorded in the Description
supplants Egyptian or Oriental history by identifying itself directly and
immediately with world history, a euphemism for European history (Said,
1978, 86).

Leading up to and in the wake of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, expansion by
England and France coincided with the creation of the new institutions for
knowing and appropriating the "Orient"; in fact, the geographic extension of
orientalism and empire roughly corresponded. L'École des Langues Orientales
Vivantes, Paris, was founded in 1795 and the Lazarev Institute for Oriental
Languages, Moscow, in 1814. The Royal Asiatic Society, 1823, published its
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, from 1833; the Société Asiatique
Française, 1822, published its Journal asiatique from 1823; the Deutsche
Morgenländische Gesellschaft, 1845, published its Zeitschrift der Deutschen
Morgenl. Gesell. from 1847, its Abhandl. für die Kunde des Morgenlandes from
1857, and its Zeitschrift für Indologie und Iranistik and the Zeitschrift
für Semitistik from 1922; the Società Asiatica Italiana, 1886, published its
Giornale della Società Asiatica Italiana from 1887; and the American
Oriental Society, 1842, (founded with the specifically political intention
of following the example of the European imperialist powers) published the
Journal of the American Oriental Society. By 1850, "every major European
university had a fully developed curriculum in one or another of the
Orientalist disciplines" (Said, 1978, 191). The first of the Orientalist
Congresses took place in 1873 in Paris. Cairo and Damascus acquired centers
too--academies--for the "scientific" study of Arabic; the Cairo Academy was
set up with the assistance of five European Orientalists in 1934.

These institutions realized a coming-to-terms with the Orient as "Other",
particularly in its Near-Eastern, Islamic form, and its special place with
respect to European experience.

Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for
dealing with the Orient--dealing with it by making statements about it,
authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling
over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating,
restructuring, and having authority over the Orient (Said, 1978, 3).

This relationship was and is one of power, including the non-reciprocal
power of the European to be in the Orient and to speak for--represent--the
Oriental (incapable of self-interpretation, who nowhere in Orientalist
discourse speaks for himself), and expressing the fundamental idea of the
superiority of the European identity over all others. Here philology,
lexicography, history, biology, political and economic theory, literature,
and art came together in the service of imperialism in a geographically
structured rather than intellectually defined discipline.

The expansion of empire marked a shift to an instrumental attitude from an
academic one. Said describes the long-term consequences of Napoleon's
enterprise as a scientific project, exemplified in Ernest Renan's Système et
histoire générale des langues sémitiques completed in 1848, and a
geopolitical project, represented by the opening of the Suez Canal 1869 and
the
English occupation of Egypt in 1882. When the Suez Canal obliterated the
distance between East and West, the idea of "Oriental" became an
administrative or executive one, that is, attached to the west and subject
to the west (Said, 1978, 88, 92). But the explicit hierarchy of power
underwriting suzerainty was maintained and after 1914 again shifted to a
cultural stance--"to know the East for its own sake", leaving intact over
the long term the essential, and essentialist, East/West dichotomy.

As such the main, but not exclusive, protagonists were originally France and
England and later the U.S. After the defeat of the Franco-Prussian war, in
compensation according to Said, France embarked on a program of territorial
expansion: geographical societies proliferated and "the Société académique
indo-chinoise reformulated it goals ... to 'bring Indochina into the domain
of Orientalism.' Why? In order to turn Cochin China into a 'French India'"
(1978, 218).

The crisis of Orientalism discerned by Anouar Abdel-Malek in the early
1960's came on two fronts: from the Third World where national liberation
movements challenged the perspective of an unchanging object of study and
from "specialists and the public at large [who] became aware of the
time-lag, not only between Orientalist science and the material under study,
but also ... between the conceptions, the methods and the instruments of
work in the human and social sciences and those of orientalism" (1964, 112).


---
Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222







More information about the Marxism mailing list