Edward Said, a one-sided referee of globalization

I admire Said's originality but not his myopic criticism and total westernization of the intellectual and visual phenomenon called Orientalism.

Orientalism, in my view, is the dynamics that exist between the East and the West, the Orientals and the Occidentals, and the spectacles and the spectators. Gauguin would not be painting the naked brown women of Polynesia if those women were, well, not naked, brown, and Polynesian. What if a Polynesian artist painted the same thing Gauguin did? Would we be seeing the work of the local painter as Orientalist?

Is the painting above Orientalist the way Said defined it? I'm not just talking about the western lens or view, but also the demonization of the West and the Whites. If these women were Tahitian nuns in a convent, Gaugin definitely exploited and objectified them.

How about the Kama Sutra temple sculptures of Khajuraho in India? Were the ancient Indian artisans Orientalist? Had it been designed by a white man or sculpted by a white artist, would we consider the temple an Orientalist specimen? I still wonder until now why Said did not include the Khajuraho temple in his list of erotic and exotic visual examples. I suspect because it is the anti-thesis of his thesis. It was the local not the colonial that eroticised and exoticised their own culture.

Sometimes intellectuals think too much and use their fertile imagination wildly. Using the image on the cover of Said's book, such image of exoticism and eroticism existed in the West because there was such an image of performance and spectacle practiced in the East.

I don't like how Said disempowered the Orientals and boxed them within the sphere of victimhood, colonialism, and exploitation. A dialectical approach is needed to finally revisit and redefine Said's Orientalism; empower the peoples of the Orient by recognizing the power of their view, gaze, performance, and spectacle; and lessen the burden of the white men in the narrative played out by both performers and audience who are equally important in the play or performance we obscurely call Orientalism.

Said could have bridged the gap between the East and the West, at least in visual cultures and media, and played the role of a fair referee in the current incarnation of Orientalism: globalization.

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Comment by charles turner on November 17, 2010 at 3:29pm
there is only about 30 pages worth of argument in Orientalism. The rest is just filling up the pages. Although to have written 30 pages worth is pretty good...
Comment by Michael Francis on November 11, 2010 at 7:17pm
I am Canadian and I recall someone once asked me a question about the French in Canada and I really had little to say on the subject despite my Canadian heritage. Its seems my birth did not imbue me with any specific Canadian knowledge so often assumed in the trope that the locals must know best.
Comment by Michael Francis on November 11, 2010 at 7:07pm
@Gustaf - You raise some interesting points about the Orientalists themselves. I find that some adherents of Orientalism assume that the Orientalists had nothing relevant to say about the variety of places they often worked and lived in for considerable time.
Comment by M Izabel on November 9, 2010 at 4:18am
I think you are right. I seldom find stuff about the demonizing Orientalism, not the theoretical one, expounded by a Filipino scholar in English, the language of scholarship in the Philippines. In literature, however, where Tagalog is the preferred language among the marginalized and dispossessed, demonization of the West is blatant. I suspect it's due to the avoided irony, demonizing the West while yielding to the power of the Western language, English. .
Comment by Michael Francis on November 9, 2010 at 4:18am
The technological side of globalization allows allows voices form around the globe to comment and critique in ways that just were not possible 20 years ago. Of course the digital divide remains for many people, but in the newer centres (to draw on world systems theory somewhat) in the 'South' those voices are heard like never before. Perhaps still ignored or even silenced at times, but increasingly they are there.
Comment by John McCreery on November 9, 2010 at 3:33am
It might be more accurate to say that demonizing the West in English in a form that captures the attention of a large fraction of Western academia is rare. In the last century or so there has been no shortage of literature demonizing the West in Chinese and Japanese, and I rather suspect that the same is true of Hindi and Arabic. What made Said a pivotal figure is precisely the cosmopolitan background and engagement in the Israel-Palestine dispute that put him in a position to use his academic and literary skills to capture the attention of Western academic audiences unaware of anything written in non-Western languages.
Comment by M Izabel on November 9, 2010 at 1:01am
I know the concept/term of globalization already existed in the late 19th century, but its political usage in anti-West sentiments is the continuation of the rage against the West in Orientalism. The West may have started the concept/term, but it's the East that started to use it to continue demonizing the West.
Comment by M Izabel on November 9, 2010 at 12:41am
There are literatures that do not see any differences between the two. My critique of Orientalism applies to globalism. My use of globalization in my statement was more of a process. It seems to me that globalization, as defined and understood by Orientalists, follow the path of Orientalism that the West views the East (particularly China and India), through its politico-economic lens, as an imagined geography for economic opportunities and its political influences, a one-sided point of view about globalization. Globalization happens within the East, too, among its peoples. A rage against globalism and globalization is the same rage against Orientalism and Orientalization. It is the same rage with a different name in a different era.
Comment by Michael Francis on November 9, 2010 at 12:17am
@Nikos - I agree that Globalization is not the current incarnation of orientalism in terms of how difference is constructed but I think that Globalization is being wielded theoretically the way Orientalism often is as a catch-all critique that dis-empowers (ontologically speaking) the rest of the world. It like Orientalism sets up a dichotomy of West versus the Rest as if Globalization and Orientalism were one-way flows of ideas. And in that sense the ideas that seek to explain Globalization ignore creative and novel ways in which people engage the world through new technology, new connections and new communities.
Comment by M Izabel on November 8, 2010 at 7:34pm
Thanks for reading, guys. This piece was influenced by a human interest TV special I saw. Filipino prostitutes are turning to webcams and sell their visual and virtual bodies to Americans and Europeans. These prostitutes are sending their relatives to colleges using the money from their clients. I don't see Orientalism in that but plain entrepreneurial spirit and yes, resourcefulness. .

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