Edward Said, that is.  Author of “Orientalism,” to date one of the most comprehensive and illuminating books on the notion of the “Orient,” or “East,” as a construct of the West.

I will likely get into a more detailed discussion soon, but the general anthrop0logical summation of Said’s argument is that the West has created the concept of the “Orient” (ie the near east) as a “marked category.”  Marked categories are, put crudely, “non-default” categories.  The West, maleness and whiteness could be considered “unmarked” categories, at least from the Western standpoint.

Anyways, what strikes me from reading Said is that many of the primary sources he uses describe the Orient in similar ways to the historical denegration of women: “Orientals” are “irrational.”  They are “illogical.”  They “break down under cross examination.”  They are unfit to govern themselves and require mastery.  Indeed, colonizing the “Orient” is as much for the benefit of the Orientals as for the Europeans.  Note the similar justifications for enslaving Africans; it’s as much for the slaves’ benefit as the slavemasters.

Meanwhile, the West’s construction of the Orient required a certain amount of performance.  In order to evaluate the Orient the West needed to observe it.  The Orient became a spectacle upon the world stage subject to criticism and censure.  Note the terms “irrational” and “illogical” above; gendered terms which parallel the notion of “making oneself a spectacle.”  Remember also our old friend Oroonoko who is “beheld” by the Surinam colinists.

If this seems a little dense and unclear, it’s probably because I’m still teasing out my arguments.  Remember that this blog is also meant to be a sounding board for my rough research.  So nyah.

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