Revisiting Edward Said's ‘Orientalism’ 40 Years On – 重访Edward Said和039《S东方主义》40年

Forty years ago, Edward Said’s Orientalism emerged as a cry in the critical wilderness, an elegant j’accuse skewering the essentialization of the East, from Aeschylus to Karl Marx. Syrupy romantics, military strategists, scholars and gonzo explorers trudged through Said’s thrilling history, all of them implicated in a vast network of interests invested in describing, taming and, finally, bringing into being the very notion of ‘the Orient’ as we know it. ‘The East is a career,’ read one of the book’s epigraphs – the words of the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Hello, rapture! Said’s book was more than embraced by the academy, where it became the gospel and required reading for the critically inclined. It inaugurated a field known as postcolonial studies and – improbably – became a bestseller. Gayatri Spivak – who along with Homi K. Bhabha, Said and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o formed the new discipline’s starry pantheon – credited the book with launching a movement that ‘blossomed into a garden where the marginal can speak and be spoken’. High praise for the crown prince of this new postcolonial paradise.

Said’s Orient was first and foremost an idea. There were real riches to be plundered, of course, but more pertinently it offered a skewed mirror upon which Europeans could project their motley desires and fantasies. Like its cousin designation, ‘the Middle East’, this Orient was defined from without. Soon, ‘Orientalist’, long a respectable-enough scholarly occupation, became a pejorative, an accusation. We frowned at enthusiasts of belly dancing, photo-ops at the pyramids or references to One Thousand and One Nights. Our own post-Saidian critical self-reflexivity would never allow us to touch these unseemly things ourselves.

Like all fashionable rubrics, Orientalism was reduced, commodified. Even today, most people who lean on Said’s ideas haven’t read his book all the way through. (Have you?) Students often came away from the work with a one-dimensional narrative of exploitation, the violence of representation. While some scholars quibbled with the text – pointing out how Said reified several of his own critiques – the dominant mode was praise. Incalculable dissertations, talks and books on how cinema, literature, the media – take your pick – indulged in noxious stereotypes of ‘the Orient’, quotation marks mine. Hidden agendas were uncovered.

But the new orthodoxy sometimes re-creates the straightjacket of its predecessors. Under Orientalism’s influence, cultural output was policed for authenticity and pilloried for lack of ‘nuance’ – a word I once used with great frequency and eventually came to loathe. The consensus had grown predictable, stifling, even.

It didn’t have to be this way. It’s disappointing that mainstream readings of Orientalism don’t embrace a term drawn from music that Said, a classically trained pianist, was extra fond of: the notion of the contrapuntal – two or more voices or melodies, given equal weight – intimating multiple dimensions. Inasmuch as the history he charted was one of exploitation, it was also one of exchange. Classical Orientalism had contributed a great deal to, among other things, our understanding of the Bible or, in the case of Edward William Lane, our views of 19th-century Egyptians. Said, a scholar of the Western canon, owed as much to Joseph Conrad or Gustave Flaubert as they owed him, the wounded Arab. He knew that his work was being misused, abused. In later years, he admitted that Orientalism, ‘almost in a Borgesian way, has become several books’.

Reading Said’s late work is illuminating. In his introduction to Reflections on Exile (2000), an essay collection, Said lamented the ‘poverty of identity politics’ – a blousy theme that, to his chagrin, he had become closely associated with – and its ‘jargon-ridden exclusion’. In response to the indigenism that came in Orientalism’s wake, he wrote that ‘cultures are always made up of mixed, heterogenous and even contradictory discourses’. In his essay ‘The Politics of Knowledge’ (1991), he evokes an image of a woman ranting at a public presentation he’s giving on imperialism because its focus is white European males. Said is dismayed by her reductionism and the subtext that he should sprinkle in the work of non-Europeans simply to correct a historic imbalance: ‘It was never a matter of replacing one set of authorities and dogmas with another.’ Exasperated, he pleads for engagement, not blanket condemnation. ‘To be named is not sufficient,’ he writes. ‘It is only through the scrutiny of these works as literature, as style, as pleasure and illumination, that they can be brought in, so to speak, and kept in.’ And, finally, this: ‘Marginality and homelessness are not, in my opinion, to be gloried in.’

Correctives are important. Said, a Palestinian exile, knew this. But he also knew that correctives can take up all the air. I don’t know what he would have made of the current moment. Which is to say our reckoning with white males, with cultural appropriation, calls to decolonize the museum, torch the artwork. As polemical exercises, they’ve had great resonance – success, even – in shifting the conversation. Orientalism is surely such a polemic. And while polemics may be by definition excessive, they may be just what the times require. But I’m still inclined to lean on Said’s call for caution, too. His praise of polyphony. Literature, style, pleasure, illumination. He called it worldliness.

Published in frieze, issue 199, November-December 2018, with the title ‘East and West’

Main image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Snake Charmer, c.1879, Orientalist painting reproduced on the cover of Orientalism by Edward Said, 1978. Courtesy: Bridgeman Images


Negar Azimi

Negar Azimi is a writer and senior editor of Bidoun, based in New York, USA.

Issue 199

First published in Issue 199

November - December 2018

Opinion /

Negar Azimi
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Decolonizing Culture
Gayatri Spivak
Edward Said

四十年前,爱德华·赛义德的东方主义在批判的荒野中以一种优雅的控诉歪曲了东方的本质化,从埃斯库罗斯到卡尔·马克思。糖浆般的浪漫主义者、军事战略家、学者和刚俑探险家在赛义德令人激动的历史中跋涉,所有这些都牵涉到一个巨大的兴趣网络中,这个兴趣网络投资于描述、驯服,最后,形成了我们所知道的“东方”的概念。书中的一段铭文——19世纪英国首相本杰明·迪斯雷利(Benjamin Disraeli)的话——写道:“东方是一个事业。”你好,狂欢!赛义德的书比学院更受欢迎,在书中,它成为福音书,并为批评家所需阅读。它开创了一个被称为后殖民研究的领域,而不可能成为一本畅销书。加亚特里·斯皮瓦克——与霍米·K·巴巴、赛义德和恩格涅瓦·提昂一起组成了新学科的星光万神殿——把这本书归功于发起了一场运动,该运动“发展成为边缘人可以说话和说话的花园”。高度赞扬了这个新殖民后天堂的王储。赛义德的奥连特首先是一个想法。当然,有真正的财富要被掠夺,但更恰当的是,它提供了一面歪斜的镜子,欧洲人可以在镜子上投射他们斑驳的欲望和幻想。就像它的表兄弟命名,“中东”,这个奥连特是从没有定义的。很快,“东方主义者”,一个值得尊敬的学术职业,变成了一个贬义词,一个指责。我们对肚皮舞爱好者、金字塔上的摄影爱好者或一千零一个晚上的参考都皱眉。我们自己的后天批判自我反思永远不会允许我们去接触这些不适当的东西。像所有时尚的金砖四国一样,东方主义被减少了。即使在今天,大多数依赖于他的想法的人都没有读过他的书。(你有吗?)学生们往往以一个一维的剥削叙述、表现暴力来逃避工作。虽然一些学者对文章提出异议——指出赛义德如何具体化了自己的一些批评——但主要的方式是表扬。关于电影、文学、媒体——随你便——如何沉溺于“东方”的有害刻板印象的论文、演讲和书籍,引文是我的。隐藏的议程被揭开了。但新正统有时会重新创造其前任的直截了当。在东方主义的影响下,文化输出因为真实性而受到管制,并且因为缺少“细微差别”而受到诟病——这个词我曾经使用得非常频繁,最终让我厌恶。共识已经变得可预测,令人窒息,甚至。不一定是这样。令人失望的是,主流的东方主义读物并没有包含一个取材于音乐的术语,赛义德,一位受过古典训练的钢琴家,特别喜欢:对位的概念——两个或两个以上的声音或旋律,赋予相等的权重——暗示多个维度。因为他所描绘的历史是剥削的历史,也是交换的过程之一。古典东方主义对于我们理解《圣经》以及,以爱德华·威廉·莱恩为例,我们对19世纪埃及人的看法作出了很大的贡献。西方人的一位学者说,他们欠约瑟夫·康拉德和福楼拜欠他们的,阿拉伯的伤害。他知道他的作品被滥用了,被滥用了。在晚年,他承认东方主义,“几乎以博尔吉尼亚式的方式,已经变成了几本书”。朗诵的作品很有启发性。赛义德在一本散文集《流亡反思》(2000)的介绍中哀叹“身份政治的贫穷”——一个令他懊恼的华丽主题——及其“行话泛滥的排斥”。作为对东方主义之后出现的本土主义的回应,他写道“文化总是由混合的、异质的、甚至矛盾的话语组成”。在他的文章《知识政治》(1991)中,他勾起了一个女人在他关于帝国主义的公开演讲中咆哮的形象,因为演讲的重点是欧洲白人男性。赛义德对她的还原主义感到沮丧,他应该把潜台词撒在非欧洲人的工作中,只是为了纠正一个历史性的失衡:“这绝不是用一套权威和教条取代另一套权威和教条的问题。”他写道:“被提名是不够的。”“只有通过这些作品作为文学、风格、愉悦和启迪的审查,它们才能被引入,可以说,并被保留。”最后,这句话:“在我看来,边缘性和无家可归并不值得骄傲。”纠正很重要。巴勒斯坦人说,知道这一点。但他也知道修正可以占据所有的空气。我不知道他现在会做什么。这就是说,我们与白人男性一起进行文化拨款,呼吁对博物馆进行非殖民化,火炬艺术作品。作为争论性的练习,他们在对话中取得了巨大的共鸣,甚至成功。东方主义无疑是一种论战。虽然论战可能是根据定义过度,但它们可能正是时代的要求。但我还是倾向于依赖该呼吁的谨慎。他对复调音乐的赞美。文学、风格、快感、照明。他称之为世俗。《东方与西方》一书于2018年11月至12月出版,199期,弗里兹出版社,标题为“东方与西方”:让-莱昂·格里昂,《蛇魅》,1879年,爱德华·赛义德在东方主义的封面上复制的东方主义绘画,1978年。礼貌:Bridgeman Images. Negar Azimi. Negar Azimi是美国纽约Bidoun的作者和高级编辑。2018年11月-12月意见/后殖民主义帝国恩古吉·瓦提昂·奥非殖民文化·加亚特里·斯皮瓦克·爱德华·赛义德非殖民化


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