read and discuss
Orientalismus and After the last heaven by Edward Said
In the French house , Columbia University
Wednesday March 11, 2020
6.15pm - 8.45pm
For readings please click here
In many ways, this is Edward Said's book Orientalismus is as alive and alive today as it was when it was released in 1978. Orientalismus offers a timeless historical analysis of the way in which the scholars, writers, and specialists of the Orient created an imagination of the Orient, and later Arabic, that served to forge their own identity as Europeans, to justify, and around, their imperial conquests to help control and rule the colonies. Said's writings analyze how knowledge works as a cultural tool and political weapon. Knowledge, Said argued, has material effects of reality: it forms the idea of self and of the other - through a back and forth, a mutually constituting act that constructs an idea of the other as he does an idea of the self.
European culture lived from the epistemological construction of the Orient. In Said's words, European culture gained strength and identity by setting itself apart from the Orient as a kind of surrogate and even underground self. Building on, but at the same time against, Nietzsche's view of truth as an illusion and Foucault's theory of the power of knowledge, Said formulated a sharp criticism of the West's dependence on this recurring estrangement from Orientals and Arabs. Truths are illusions that we have forgotten are illusions: These famous words may sound too nihilistic to some, Said emphasized, but these words of Nietzsche draw attention to the fact that the Orient, as far as it existed in the consciousness of the West, was a word that was his later came a wide field of meanings, associations and connotations that did not necessarily refer to the real Orient, but to the context of the word.
Yes, for Europeans that was especially true for the Orient. And tragically, for many Americans today, this applies equally to the construction of the Muslim category. In our current political climate in the United States, one can hardly imagine a more timely critical intervention than Said's writings on Orientalism to capture the demonization of contemporary Muslims - as well as Latinos and immigrants - as a means of addressing an imaginary American produce identity. As a Republican presidential candidate, later President of the United States, explained that Islam hates us and we have a problem in this country; it means Muslims, we'll be right back in the middle of Said's writings on orientalism.
So much so that in this series of seminars devoted to updating and applying critical texts, it almost seems as if Said's writings on Orientalism are too fresh to need rejuvenation.
Said foresaw how the Arab Muslim would become a key role in American culture, government, and public order. Muslims, Said predicted, would increasingly be viewed as increasingly threatening, bloodthirsty and dishonest in our new geopolitical configuration. It's almost as if Said foresaw the tragic aftermath of 9/11 in 1978. It's almost as if he prophesied our new counterinsurgency paradigm of running a government built on making internal enemies out of all the stuff - what I call it The counter-revolution .
Our aim in this seminar is to return to critical texts in order to rethink our current political struggles. And since Said's epistemological project remains as alive and well as it was when it was written, how should we then use this remarkable work and where should we direct our conversation?
Let me suggest that we think about it practice .
Orientalismus itself ended not so much with practice as with epistemology. If this book has any future use, Said said in 1978, it is a modest contribution to the challenge [to the global hegemony of orientalism] and as a warning that systems of thought like orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions - thought-forged fetters - are becoming all too easy made, applied and guarded…. If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is a reminder of the seductive humiliation of knowledge, of all knowledge, anywhere, anytime. Maybe more now than before. Now perhaps more than ever, one might add.
But what exactly do you do with this knowledge? Critical disclosure is itself a form of practice, but it must also serve as a prolegomenon to practice. How can we use or reconsider the many insights we discover in Said's writings for our current political struggles today?
To begin this conversation, I am pleased to welcome Homi K. Bhabha, a dear friend and colleague from Series 13/13 and one of the world's leading critical thinkers. Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, is the author of numerous works dealing with colonial and post-colonial theory, cultural change and power, and cosmopolitanism, including Nation and narrative and The place of culture , which was reissued as the Routledge Classic in 2004.
We are happy to be accompanied by Homi Bhabha at Critique 11/13.
[Read more here. © Bernard E. Harcourt]