Orientalism and the Dialectics of Power and Knowledge

What does Said and Foucault mean by “exteriority”? In what way is it a critical term in Said’s argument? When discussing exteriority and re-presentation what kind of an epistemological or ontological claim is Said making about about “the Orient”? At one point he says that there is no such “real thing” as “‘the Orient.'” If that is the case, why is that the case, and how can power be exercised over apparently nothing at all? In other words, explore the tension in Said’s work between “the Orient” as the object of discourse and the “Orient” as an imagined geography over which knowledge as power exercises itself in 750 to 1000 words. (NB. Your comments won’t be visible to you immediately after they are submitted. They will be held for moderation until I have received comments from all of the students). [Due anytime by Friday, January 29 in lieu of the cancelled class]

About Professor Rubin

Andrew N. Rubin is an Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown University. He is the author of, most recently, Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2012). His writing has appeared in The Nation, The New Statesman, The South Atlantic Quarterly, and Alif: A Journal of Comparative Poetics, among other places.
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26 Responses to Orientalism and the Dialectics of Power and Knowledge

  1. Annie Murphy says:

    In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault analyzes not only the origins of knowledge, discourses, and disciplinary boundaries, but also the relationship between, on the one hand, what we may call an “excavator” of knowledge and, on the other, the humans or concepts that are the subjects of that excavation. Foucault terms this disconnect between excavator and subject “exteriority,” by which he means that what is noted about a subject is observed and noted from the outside, rather than observed and noted from the inside. In other words, the information about the subject or discourse is discovered, identified, and made known by someone who is outside that discourse, someone who because of his or her position cannot wholly identify with those who are the subjects of that discourse.

    Foucault explains that a characteristic of the enunciative function is that “the analysis of statements treats them in the systematic form of exteriority” (Archaeology 120), by which he means that when one analyzes a statement or a discourse, one is necessarily “outside” that statement or discourse. This point suggests that analysis of oneself or one’s cultural or national group would be something other than an analysis—in short, it would not be objective enough to count as analytical. It would then follow that objectivity, as well as distance, are essential for a proper analysis. If this is true, then a group of people can only be represented by another group. Yet, this proposition creates at least one additional problem: to what extent is it possible to understand a group of which one is not a member?

    This exteriority, then, manifests as the difference between the actual subjects or nature of a discourse and its representation according to an outsider. Thus exteriority serves as the foundation upon which Edward Said bases his argument about the creation of the discourse of Orientalism. This Orientalist discourse, explains Said, began when Western, Eurocentric philologists took it upon themselves to interpret the languages, and later the cultures, of what they considered the East, or the Orient. From the establishment of the discourse, which Said attributes to Sacy, to its development by Renan, and to the large body of “imaginative and travel literature” (Said 99), Orientalist discourse gained footing and became so engrained in the West that it was eventually taken for granted; that is, its “accumulation,” in Foucauldian terms, assisted in its growth from the status of an academic discipline to that of a cultural zeitgeist.

    Because Said’s argument in Orientalism rests on his claim that Western philologers “mis-presented” all aspects of the Orient, in effect creating the idea of the Orient by representing it in both philosophical and literary writing, his claim—and evidence—of exteriority is crucial. If he were to allow that the early Orientalist philologists were themselves Orientals, his argument would collapse, for his premise is that those who constructed the ideas and the discourse of Orientalism did so to further their own cultural and economic interests.

    Given the amount and the credence of Orientalist discourse at the time of Said’s writing, it is logical that he aims to undo the damage of Orientalist discourse by tracing the origins and development of the discourse. In doing so, he exposes the establishment of the discourse as premised not upon objective observation but upon biased perception. Said embarks upon a reverse examination of Orientalism, enacting Foucault’s method of returning to “interiority,” which he describes as the attempt “to re-do, in the opposite direction, the work of expression: to go back from statements preserved through time and dispersed through space, towards the interior secret that preceded them, and (in every sense of the term) is betrayed by them” (Archaeology 121). In essence, Said embarks upon a de-Orientalization of the Orient, unraveling the discourse that was created out of discrimination and misunderstanding. He does so on the basis of the following claim: “As a judge of the Orient, the modern Orientalist does not, as he believes and even says, stand apart from it objectively. […] His Orient is not the Orient as it is, but the Orient as it has been Orientalized” (104).

    Although Said claims that there is no such “real thing” as the Orient, he argues that power can still be exercised over it. Drawing upon Foucault’s work on discursive formations, Said explains that, retrospectively, Orientalists have “created” the Orient with their Orientalist discourse. “Texts,” he argues, “can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe. In time such knowledge and reality produce a tradition, or what Michel Foucault calls a discourse (94). So while the “Orient” does not exist as a place, it does exist as a discursive formation, one which is subject to the whims and fancies of those exterior to it.

  2. Catalina Lupu says:

    The Orient, first by virtue of its geographical and physical distance, then because of cultural, religious, and racial differences, has always represented the “exterior” or the “other” for insular Eurocentric powers, and later, more generally, for Western (Occidental) discourse. The more knowledge that European and Western scholars have accumulated, classified, and institutionalized about the topic of the Orient, the more distant, different, and exteriorized the geography, as well as the culture, of the area and its people has become. In creating a field of study out of the “other” or the “exterior,” Orientalists objectified and essentialized a diverse, discontinuous, and modern group of people and their cultures and values into a general, idealized, primitive race, religion, and language.

    The epistemological goals of Orientalism; to know, understand, reduce, divide, and classify everything about the Orient, coincided with the ontological claims and desires of Europeans regarding the history of their spoken Indo-European languages, their common ancestries through Greek, Roman, and Semitic peoples, and the historical traditions of art, literature, science, medicine, and religion. While the Orient was at first regarded as a completely alien, exotic, and unknowable geographic and cultural entity to be eradicated, or at the very least, ignored, the European viewpoint toward the Orient shifted numerous times throughout the Renaissance, the exploration of the “new world,” imperialism, and educational and literary movements throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries so that instead of ignoring the Orient (or letting it speak “for itself”), the West started putting the Orient in its own terms, not just to facilitate European comprehension, but also to impose its own power and knowledge on the Orient. Both in terms of military and political expansion, and in cultural and religious edification, the Orient was stripped of its enigmatic appeal and exoticism (a veneer previously applied to it by the West itself) and became a classroom, a laboratory, an archive, and a text from which the West could first recognize its own glorious history and then augment its modern reality above that of the Orient. The only way to “know” the Orient was through the institutions and academies of European intellectuals, denying the Orient and its people knowledge over themselves and their own histories, languages, and religions, and effectively dehumanizing them.

    But if the only way to “know” the large, ancient, wealthy, and visible countries and people of the Orient is through the West’s own conception of them, then it stands to reason that outside of this dominant viewpoint, the Orient does not exist as such. What does it look like on the “exterior”? I am not certain if such a place even exists according to Said, for the “interior” is the Western Orientalist discourse, and the “exterior” is the Orient itself; however, in the Orient, the Orient is viewed as “interior” and the Occident is the “exterior.” There seems to be no space in Said’s argument for a way out of the binary that Orientalism presumes and creates. Yet even as Said’s argument that the Orient is a Western construction that allows domination through knowledge-power, I can’t help but ask myself if Said’s conception of the Orient purely as an intellectual discourse and as an academic field doesn’t continue the one-dimensional, essentialized view of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East that Westerners have internalized. Doesn’t not writing about the Orient – refusing to represent it and effectively ignoring it – continue to debase its influential history and its linguistic and religious richness, and dehumanize its people?

    Said’s answer to that is unequivocally “no,” and from this comes forth his fascinating discussion of 19th century French and British literature about the Orient, which is categorized onto three sections: “the writer who intends to use his residence for the specific task of providing professional Orientalism with scientific materialism, who considers his residence a form of scientific observation” (157), “the writer who intends the same purpose but is less willing to sacrifice the eccentricity and style of his individual consciousness to impersonal Orientalist definitions” (158), and “the writer for whom a real or metaphorical trip to the Orient is the fulfillment of some deeply felt and urgent project…built on a personal aesthetic.” This final type of Oriental writer seems for Said to be the most correct, and perhaps the least exploitative of them all because rather than pretending to remain impartial and objective with the subject of the Orient, and trying to institutionalize and sanitize it at every turn, the writer instead remains true to an aesthetic, personal, and intentional motivation that may not be politically correct but at least is not political. This type of writing appears to allow the Orient to exist outside of its fictional realm, whereas the first two are always in service of the systematic accumulation of coded, categorized, and generalized knowledge that precludes any “real” Orient outside its limits.

    Said seems to find an ideal in European writing about the Orient in Richard Burton, whose “generalizations about the Oriental…are the result of knowledge acquired first hand about the Orient by living there, actually seeing it firsthand, truly trying to see Oriental life from the viewpoint of the person immersed in it” (196). This seems to be the lesser of all the evils the West perpetrates in attempting to learn and write about the Orient without relying on negative stereotypes and reductive descriptions. However, Said creates a double bind by saying that even this firsthand, seemingly “true” knowledge, of the Orient only makes Western power over it more powerful and more authentic because of the authenticity of the text and the knowledge it describes. Ultimately, no matter how close a Westerner gets to living in the Orient as “one of them,” Said determines that the Orient is never allowed to be its own entity or to speak for itself; it always exists only in relationship (of inferiority) to Western culture, religion, politics, and language. It is always a “re-presentation” both of Western canon and of the so-called “Oriental” canon that Westerners strove to accumulate and study. Any Orientalist literature is only “a re-presentation of canonical material guided by an aesthetic and executive will capable of producing interest in the reader” (177).

    Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

  3. Brittney Szempruch says:

    In class, we looked at Saidian exteriority as that which is involved in representation, the results and references that surround rather than grasp the thing that is “the Orient”. This is particularly useful because clearly labeling “the Orient” as a thing is exactly what Said is trying to avoid. By saying, “that is the Orient over there, and we here are the Occident,” one becomes confined in boundaries. By trying to look from inside the two groupings, such labels would ultimately connote some fundamental difference between the two and that there is some concrete thing that separates “us” and “them”.
    In his discussion of exteriority Foucault emphasizes the “freeing” of history. He claims that, “To undertake the history of what has been said is to re-do, in the opposite direction, the work of expression: to go back from statements reserved through time and dispersed in space, towards that interior secret that preceded them, left its mark in them, and (in every sense of the term) is betrayed by them” (Foucault 121). The outside collective gets at the heart of statements, and there is not one individual link to understanding what is said. It is in looking at all of the things which surround statements, the “totality of things said” (122) in combination with all of a statement’s other effects that create this exteriority, and ultimately understanding.
    Exteriority is key for Said in dealing with Orientalism. By representing, one claims that there is something to represent, and those who represent it are trying to capture and hold onto “it”. I’m inclined to agree with Said’s argument that there is no such “real thing” as “the Orient”; it seems that what Said is saying is that there is no “Orient as thing” but instead people trying to create a discourse about the Orient, texts that are imbued with academic authority that “…can create not only knowledge but the very reality they appear to describe. In time such knowledge and reality produce a tradition, or what Michel Foucault calls a discourse, whose material presence or weight, not the originality of a given author, is really responsible for the texts produced out of it” (Said 94). When people defer to Orientalist texts as authority, then, they are misguided in what they are acknowledging as true; yes, it is true that Renan said, “This [the Semitic] race…lacks that variety, that amplitude, that abundance of life which is the condition of perfectibility” (149), but that doesn’t mean that the underlying assumptions are as well. The text as a text is true, and though I’m hesitant to use the phrasing, it seems like the text doesn’t have a solid referent (“the Orient”). Text-by-Renan spoken as authority does not prove the veracity of “the Orient” in someone else’s work, and Said argues that this is because “the Orient” is approached in such varying ways.
    Said directs us to various works to see how what is supposedly the same thing (the Orient) is falsely constructed, given a definite identity that is shaped more by its misleading references (he points out that many Orientalist texts refer to each other, not works in the original) and representations than its legitimacy as a thing in itself. I found Said’s discussion of Lamartine and Nerval to be two of the most helpful sections in pulling apart the various pieces; Said says that “…the Orient is less a place than a topos, a set of references” (Said 177), so when Lamartine’s descriptions began Orientalizing, we see that we are to understand that these observations are what Lamartine knows. He compares the Orient to the framework of the life he has and has had, and makes facts in the best sense that anyone is able to, using those traces Gramsci spoke of to look through the lens of “knowledge”. The Orient is articulated at the specific moment of Lamartine, specific to how Lamartine sees it, and we are thus unable to put it next to other people’s knowledge of the Orient and create some cohesive grouping. Because each work is individualized while superficially referring to the whole of “the Orient” (someone else’s Orient), there is the false sense that we are gathering the texts together and making “the Orient” something real; in actuality, there is never a solid foundation, but instead continual overwriting. This is Said’s idea of hegemony: the constant reasserting of individual perception that comes together to create the “us” versus “them” of Orientalism. Lamartine basically brings all of his baggage (of the abstract kind) along with him to the Orient, allowing him to make the Orient his own.
    Put beside Nerval, whose goal is presumably to become one with the Orient, we have a picture of two different people that in differing ways are trying to stabilize something that doesn’t exist. Nerval tries to consciously place himself in “the Orient mindset” (as on page 182, “I must unite with a guileless young girl who is of this sacred soil…”), but isn’t this just as dangerous as looking at “the Orient” from the other perspective, the “Occidental” position of power? I think this is one of the most contentious issues of this section of the book, whether anything can be done to truly legitimize what one says. Is there some real experience that one can have that can be authentically of the Orient, and not just a glossy, personalized image of the Orient? It seems Said would say no, but Porter’s argument to the contrary that we will discuss in class on Monday is compelling.

  4. Madhuri Vairapandi says:

    Foucault states that ‘exteriority’ is the process of analyzing discourses without attempting to find one, essential truth to unify the discourse and ground it in history. One is to rather approach discourses as an ‘exteriority’ or as a shifting and evolving field of statements. There is no ‘inner’ secret of historical origin that one could pinpoint to a particular point in time. Exteriority is the realization that the statements that make up a discourse are always changing over time and establish new power relationships as time progresses. It is not possible to determine the origin of these statements or track them on a linear, historical timeline. One can only analyze the circumstances of a statement’s birth in relation to other statements within the discursive field.
    Said makes a particular mention to the notion of exteriority as it applies to the discourse on Orientalism. He suggests that there is nothing hidden within Orientalist texts. Instead, he says that the method of analysis is by paying attention to the exterior: “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West.” (Said 20-21) Exteriority is premised upon the discursive formation of Orientalist texts (that are also outside of the Orient as they are written by the Occident.) This suggests that there is no inherent secret to the Orient – rather, the Orientalist shapes a truth for the Orient. Each of the Orientalists write with respect to each other as vessels of scholastic validity and integrity, referring to each other in their texts and therefore promulgating their ideas whilst reinforcing them within the discursive field. This process is known as representation, or better said, re-presentation as they continue to present their ideas over and over to create a systematic discourse strengthened by this repetition. These ideas are manifested in “institutions, traditions, conventions, agreed-upon codes of understanding for their effects, not upon a distant and amorphous Orient.” (Said 22) This does not necessarily create the ‘truth’ of the Orient but it instead creates “a political vision of reality” (Said 43) – it creates a “highly artificial enactment of what a non-Oriental has made into a symbol for the whole Orient.” (Said 21)
    The Occident is thus positioned in a place of power. It controls what knowledge there is of the Orient through foundations of ‘latent’ Orientalism (rigid undercurrents of regular and systematized conceptions of what is the Orient) and thus it is able to function on the fact of ‘substitution and displacement’ – “the Orientalist’s presence is enabled by the Orient’s effective absence.” (Said 208) Simply put, Orientalists fill in the vacuum of the Orient’s identity with their knowledge through their texts and ultimate discourse on Orientalism. “To have such knowledge of such a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it.” (Said 32) Power is henceforth exercised over the Orient by the Occident.
    The knowledge that the Occident claims to have of the Orient is of their history. As aforementioned, there is no point of origin for the Orient as a discourse due to the exteriority created by the use of an Occidental lens to view it. Instead, the history of the Orient is a mere re-presentation of a collection of statements asserted by the Occident, of the Orient. These claims set the foundation for the greater claim that the Orient can be knowable through knowledge of their supposed ‘history’ – or, at least, a history that has been compiled by the Occident. Anything that came before is irrelevant as it is not in the context of the Occident – “[Orientals] are useful in the modern world only because the powerful and up-to-date empires have effectively brought them out of the wretchedness of their decline and turned them into rehabilitated residents of productive colonies.” (Said 35) This is how knowledge is orchestrated into power as it establishes a relationship between the Occident and the Orient: “the former dominate; the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power.” (Said 36)
    The Orient itself is composed of imagined geography – “geography was essentially the material underpinning for knowledge about the Orient.” (Said 216) There are no formal boundaries drawn to distinguish the Occident from the Orient. It is rather a spirit that is fully realized in the notion of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that is encapsulated in the power-knowledge relationship between the two. This properly portrays the notion that there is no inherent truth about the Orient. It is a construction by the dominant power that is maintained by a network of knowledge. It is an exteriority.

  5. Ryan Walter says:

    “As a European [Sacy] ransacked the Oriental archives, and he could do so without leaving France . . . In time, the Orient, as such, became less important than what the Orientalist made of it” (Said, 127).

    While Orientalism serves as a veritable handbook for Said’s critical concept of exteriority, this (slightly edited) phrase, among others, allows us to read the full complexity of the term. That complexity is one that addresses not just geographic borders — that which is “here,” and that which is “foreign” — but the discursive and subjective positions that prepare the logical certitude and seeming inevitability of such a division. For Said, exteriority requires visibility, in so far as the act of seeing is both precept and proof of knowledge, a kind of telos best preserved when dispersed among the discourse of institutions and other discreet nodes of power. It is a framework borrowed from the Foucault of Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish, whereby the formation of objects is a result of a will to knowledge: observed, recorded, and archived, the work of an object is the work of an(other). The ‘known world’ is the seen world, the documented world, the world transformed by language, the world ‘exterior’ to the subject for whom it is created. For Foucault, the analysis of objects must persist on the borders of the discursive formations by which they are created and preserved, exterior to the sovereign, speaking subjects who borrow their authority, “without reference to a cogito” (Archaeology of Knowledge, 122).

    Thus, returning to Said, we can attribute his criticism of Sacy’s project not just to Sacy’s ethnicity or geographic origin, but a sense that, for Sacy and the Orientalist, the Oriental archives are the Orient. This not a metaphor, it is an absolutely literal relationship, and it is precisely the move that leads Said to claim “there is no such thing as the Orient.” For while we can detect a subtle outrage in Said language, (“ransacked” connotes a lament for something lost in the process) the referent ‘Orient,’ has no bearing outside of the Occident who chalks its ever-expanding geographic, cultural, and epistemological borders. The Orient does not refer to itself as the Orient, not because its voice is silenced, but because it is elsewhere: “the Orientalist … makes the Orient speak … He is never concerned with the Orient except as the first cause of what he says” (Said 20-1).

    In the case of Sacy, then, that which is ‘exterior’ is manifold in the body of Orientalist knowledge, as well as the sheltered, interior subject position that creates it. This manifold character is clearly demonstrated in Said’s emphasis on the constitutive dialectic of loss and gain informing Sacy’s project. Seeing himself as a kind of scholarly hero, Sacy rescues the obscure ‘Orient’ from the Orientalist archives vis-à-vis the Orientalist archives. Yet, in the imagination of the Orientalist and the European audience, ‘the Orient’ remains necessarily ‘foreign.’ It is the far East, the distant land, a discursive knowledge that subsists on any trinket of mysticism by which Europe may ‘orient’ itself.

    However, for Said, if that trinket is Hebrew, or Islam, or Egyptian Treasure, he cannot in good conscience submit that these objects are nothing more than discursive formations of power-knowledge. As objects in their objecthood, things in their ‘thingness,’ strategies of recognition and visibility, yes, there is no such thing ‘the Orient,’ it is fiction in conversation with fiction. But Said is responding to a loss, a “ransacking,” which marks a perhaps too self-conscious break with Foucault and the larger post-structuralist project, content to, at this juncture, rest its encounter with the Orient (I don’t know html, so just pretend the former term is barred). In fact, it is this departure which constitutes Orientalism as a generative and seminal text of the Postcolonial discourse in academia and beyond. Said, perhaps above all, is concerned with confronting the modalities of Orientalist knowledge precisely because that knowledge, so immersed in its constitutive fictions, has produced such devastating effects for the living individuals ‘the Orient’ fails to describe.

    How do we reconcile this irony? Perhaps ‘fiction’ is too dismissive a term. Yet, in many ways, what Said is addressing in Orientalism is the influence of literature and, in particular, the practice/knowledge/power that supplants literature with a kind of afterlife, a sense of ‘truth’ that extends beyond conventional study, or even a basic familiarity with a text. In the case of the arcane work Sacy and Renan, ‘truth’ is instituted at the meeting of two fictions: the Orientalist discourse and the authorized fiction of the University, a relationship mediated by another important term for Said, “authority.”

  6. Aubrey Guthrie says:

    Exteriority for Michel Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language (1972) explains how discourse becomes power, rooted in the way that statements are circulated and produced without attention to the underlying truths they supposedly speak to. Uncritically, we suppose that the description of an object (the exterior) is based on some interior truth or presence, but Foucault exposes and flattens this distinction. Instead, he writes, “[t]here is no sub-text…[t]he enunciative domain is identical with its own surface” (Foucault 119). This perspective focuses on the way the statements under analysis operate within the wider discourse, focusing not on the verification of truth, but rather on “how it is isolated in the general dispersion of statements” (Foucault 119). In describing the exteriority of statements in this way, Foucault focuses on the production of those statements, on the ways in which they emerge, and their capacity for circulation.

    By seeking the “internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient” (Said 5), Edward Said, in Orientalism (1978), makes his interest in exteriority clear. For Said, his examination of Orientalism is meant to expose its exteriority and the ways in which this particular discourse has acquired its authority. Similarly, he is more concerned with the re-presentation of the Orient than with what constitutes its actual presence. The Orient is not based on anything “natural.” It is not so much a question of the precise objects that power is exercised over (the interior, to use Foucault’s language) than a question of the kinds of statements that dominate and the way in which they do so. He attributes the discursive power of the Orientalists to their claims of knowledge of the Oriental and their ability to make the interiority of the Oriental known to all. Through explicit gestures to other works, the Orientalist captures the discursive authority of his forerunners and contributes to the coalescing of a discourse. Like Foucault, Said uncovers the hypocrisy of the Orient by exposing the empty, self-referential, and self-fulfilling representations of the Orient.

    Unlike Foucault, however, Said seems unable to accept the true absence of an interiority to discourse. In seeking an alternative discourse, Said brings the trajectory of his conversation back to the individuals and collectives whose words might constitute this new kind of discourse. In this way, Said is both concerned with the Orient as nothing (having no interior) and the potential new discourses that can emerge against Orientalism. What positions the imaginary new discourse against Orientalism however is both a rejection of power and a more true representation of experience. Allowing for the possibility of discourse to have this depth, statements by a particular group about themselves (or other constructions of non-dominant discourses about culture) are based in experience, in their authorial position as individuals and collectives, and on the acceptance of discontinuity in the discursive structure – all features lacking within the discourse of Orientalism.

    Said does not have Foucault as an intellectual ally in this re-imagining of discourse. Foucault explains how the analysis of enunciative “events,” “refers neither to an individual subject, not to some kind of collective consciousness, nor to an transcendental subjectivity; but that it is described as an anonymous field whose configuration defines the possible position of speaking subjects” (Foucault 122). Here is where Foucault and Said diverge. Foucault goes as far as saying, “[i]n fact, it is situated at the level of the ‘it is said’” and clarifies that the position of the speaking subject is relevant only from certain positions or domains of power. Discourse remains tied with exteriority here and cannot imagine a new relationship between content and discourse. He continues, “’Anyone who speaks’, but what he says is not said from anywhere. It is necessarily caught up in the play of an exteriority” (Foucault 122). The position of the author, in this analysis, becomes a feature of discourse. Said replicates this analysis, to an extent, in his examination of particular Orientalists and for the specific features that become points of reference for Orientalists generally. Said slips however in his discussion of Marx, offering a psychoanalytic opinion as to Marx’s internal considerations with regards to his text. For Foucault, the interplay taking place Marx’s mind would be irrelevant to the discussion of his contributions to discourse.

    As a humanist, Said seeks a split from exteriority, a possibility for discourse to reflect a more authentic representation, without becoming bound up in discourses of power and dominance. He imagines the possibility to “use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure,” (Said xxiii) and to organize and describe ourselves in ways that are not reductive or exclusionary. In order to conceive of this position, however, Said must allow for individuals and communities to unite around a more open and transparent discourse that does not presume, as Foucault does, a rarity, exteriority, or totality in the production of statements. What Said hopes to accomplish is to make room for new statements to emerge outside of an East-West binary, for people of the East to be able to speak of themselves without that distinction always already placed upon them. These are the subjects that the power of Orientalism is exercised over and they must be able to break the stranglehold of discourse and allow alternative rhetorics to diversify discourse and representation. His loose depiction of humanism as the structure or catalyst for this new discourse does little to advance or map out the ways discourse as power can be broken.

  7. Kate Bermingham says:

    Foucault’s use of the term “exteriority” The Archaeology of Knowledge is rather opaque. This is perhaps somewhat ironic, given that he says exteriority is “a theme whose enunciative analysis tries to free itself. In order to restore statements to their pure dispersion” (Foucault 121). Exteriority, in other words, seeks to abandon its on contingency upon its opposite: interiority. “Usually, this historical description of things said is shot through with the opposition of interior and exterior; and wholly directed by a desire to move from the exterior – which may be no more than contingency or mere material necessity, a visible body or uncertain translation – towards the essential nucleus of interiority” (Foucault 120-121). It seems that exteriority would abandon the nucleus all together, finding the essence or ontological reality of statements to lie on the supposed exterior, without assuming the a priori implication of some kind of interior. According to Foucault, this disentangles events from their historically constructed significance “in order to consider them in their discontinuity, without having to relate them, by one of those shifts that disconnect them and render them inessential, to a more fundamental opening or difference” (Foucault 121). Simply put, exteriority would change the conversation.
    Potentially complicated is the understanding of how such an abstract discussion of how conversations and discourses are constructed translates into concrete relationships between the West and its perceived Orient – relationships of subjugation, domination, and even exploitation. In Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, the struggle for recognition between the master and slave (neither of whom is yet subjective) ends because the slave-to-be is not willing to risk his life in the struggle. Thus, he is unfree. His unfreedom begins not in the master’s domination of him, but because his will is confined by his desire to protect his physical existence. Idea is subordinate to survival. Due to the violence of the encounter, if both the master and slave were willing to risk their lives in the struggle it would end in death. No self-consciousness could occur if all encounters ended in death and, therefore, no real social activity would be possible in which people come to self-consciousness – i.e., come to treat one another as subjects and not objects.
    This dialectic illustrates an important link between the rather semantic discussion of exteriority a la Foucault and the argument that Said advances in Orientalism: that without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage – and even produce – the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period” (Said 3). According to Said, it seems that the Hegelian dialectic never reaches its completion. Because the West so systematically dominates language, and thus, knowledge, about the Orient (or rather, language and “knowledge” about the regions synthetically conceived of as the Orient) the master’s utter dependence upon the slave for self-recognition, which leads to the corrosion of the relationship, does not take place. The Orient does not recognize its unfreedom in the Occident because the Occident tells the Orient what it is and how it can recognize itself. The West simultaneously defines the Orient, an artificial construct, and prevents it from achieving self-consciousness, removing the possibility of coming to subjective self-consciousness. Referring to Lane’s An Account of the manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Said says, “the Orientalist can imitate the Orient without the opposite being true. What he says about the Orient is therefore to be understood as description obtained in a one-way exchange: as they spoke and behaved, he observed and wrote down…And what he wrote was intended as useful knowledge, not for them, but for Europe and its various disseminative institutions” (Said 160). The Orient is objective in the eyes of the Occident and because it is an imagined geography (at least partially) with a further imagined culture, it can never truly become subjective as the Orient. Thus, the West was able to maintain actual political control over the various regions, cultures, peoples, and religions that is deemed Oriental.
    Exteriority for Said was a manifestation of this objectification of the Orient by the Occident, one in which the information gathered by various types of orientalists actually perpetuated the legacy of control and an ethos of Western superiority.

    In this sense, discourse ceases to be what it is for the exegetic attitude: an inexhaustible treasure from which one can always draw new, and always unpredictable riches; a providence that has always spoken in advance, and which enables one to hear, when one knows how to listen, retrospective oracles: it appears as an asset – finite, limited, desirable, useful – that has its own rules of appearance, but also its own conditions of appropriation and operation; an asset that consequently, from the moment of its existence (and not only in its ‘practical applications’), poses the question of power; an asset that is, by nature, the object of a struggle, a political struggle. (Foucault 120)

    The Orient, very much a literal asset to the Britain and France especially as imperial nations, was quantified and specified and represented as “finite, limited, desirable, [and] useful” and was therefore made into the object of centuries of political struggle – most often ending in Western domination. Said’s book reveals that the narratives produced by the West amounted to the production of the Oriental region itself. The world is not, in other words, naturally and neatly divided into West and East, Occident and Orient. Rather, the positivism and rationalism of the post-Enlightenment milieu fostered an epistemology of categorization and discrete understanding. “Therefore as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West” (Said 5).

  8. Helene Vincent says:

    Foucault analyzes the statement in its ‘rarity’, the incomplete, fragmented form of the ‘enunciative field’. He opposes ‘exteriority’ to the idea that discourse is the surface of some concealed secret, saying that when one analyzes a discourse it should not be motivated by a drive to discover a unified interior but by an interest in what is contained in its exteriority, in the descriptions of the discourse. Edward Said was clearly influenced by Foucault’s view. In his book Orientalism he states, “It is clear, I hope, that my concern with authority does not entail analysis of what lies hidden in the Orientalist text, but analysis rather of the text’s surface, its exteriority to what it describes […] The principal product of this exteriority is of course representation: As early as Aeschylus’ play The Persians the Orient is transformed from a very far distant and often threatening Otherness into figures that are relatively familiar”(Vintage Books 20-21). Said runs with Foucault’s idea that what hides beneath a text is not what is most important, but rather that the description itself can reveal so much. The exteriority Said refers to is a representation, and according to Said all representation is embedded with a sense of misrepresentation because of the nature of the person who is creating the description of the Orient. Europeans write the discourse on the Orient. Orientalists are not Orientals. The Orientalist, in his written statements, creates a representation of the Orient so far from the truth that it can no longer be referred to as ‘real’ and the Orient becomes something that can no longer exist ‘as such’. It becomes something that can exist as a European representation of a possible truth. ‘The Orient’ becomes both the object of discourse and an imagined geography over which knowledge as power exercises itself.
    When Foucault discusses discourse, he states that the formation of a discourse does not depend on existence of an object but the rules that made possible the appearance of an object at a particular time. So, though the physical spaces, people, and cultures that made up “the Orient” already existed, the creation of “the Orient” was a result of a discourse on Orientalism, an attempt to organize, describe, and familiarize those spaces and people for the benefit of the West. The Orient is somewhat a European invention. In Orientalism Said is quick to point out that history and geography are man-made, he states, “the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West”(Vintage Books 5). “The Orient” becomes the object of discourse that brings to surface the argument that there are Westerners and there are Orientals, and that this relationship is primarily a power relationship. It is defined in the West as a relationship between a stronger and a weaker partner. Europe was always in a position of strength, exemplified by the fact that between 1815 and 1914 Europe accumulated territory until it reached a point where 85% of the world’s surface was under European colonial rule. Orientalism became a library of information commonly held, information that, as Said points out, did not consist of natural depictions, but of representations. Orientalists could chose what to include and what not to include in their texts on “the Orient”. As soon as an Orientalist left Europe to travel “the Orient” and record what he saw, he became the “other” but maintained his superiority through what he chose to include in his text. “The Orient” was a result of Orientalists’ craftsmanship. They created the image of a part of the world that did not necessarily correspond to reality, but was nevertheless accepted. Creating this imagined geography provided Europeans with a means to distinguish “us” (Europeans) versus “them” (Orientals). Said provides many examples of European men who wrote about “the Orient” including Lord Cromer. Cromer describes Arabs or “Orientals” as lazy, slow, inferior people who cannot understand things as well as Anglos. In Cromer’s description it can be seen that Orientalism is used as a means to assert and maintain European superiority through the proliferation of texts that negatively portray “The Orient”. Orientalists create a discourse on “The Orient” and make it seem like something absolutely real and completely inferior.

  9. Liani Balasuriya says:

    “Exteriority” signifies an “object/thing/etc” created from the outside of the “object” rather than from within. In the context of Orientalism, this refers to the Westerner defining the “Orient” as an outsider and “re-presenting” it to the western world in the form he so desires/assumes. The problem is, however, that the western world believes that this representation is “the insider’s” perspective, thereby wrongly accepting the Westerner’s representation of “the Orient” as “accurate.” For this reason, I think the term “exteriority” is critical to Said’s argument because it shows this distinction that clarifies from where the idea of the “Orient” is coming (i.e. outsider vs. insider, which relates to the “truth” of these depictions).
    Through these words (exteriority, re-presentation), Said suggests that knowledge about “the Orient” derives from the westerner, a suspect source because of his ultimately “outside” status and the biased institutions/traditions that shape his worldview. This epistemological claim undermines the very idea of oriental knowledge (which we can’t trust anymore because the knowledge is, at the very least, less pure), and therefore the very idea of “the Orient” itself (which now might not exist and simply be a construct of the westerner, reflecting Said’s ontological claim).
    In regards to: “how can power be exercised over apparently nothing at all?” Firstly, power is being exercised over something, specifically certain physical peoples and countries (non-European), impacting their everyday lives. Orientalism is a tool through which westerners derive their power over the “East.” While as a construct/representation “the Orient” is technically “nothing,” according to Said, its very existence as an idea (and more importantly, the acceptance of it as a truth) enables it to serve as vehicle for western domination. It’s like a weapon.
    I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the terms we are using in the course, as this is my first theory class, but here I go: “the Orient” as an object of “discourse” signifies that “the Orient” is a construct (created by statements/implicit rules, etc.) that does not really exist. As discussed in class, “discourse” is both productive/restrictive, enabling westerners to say certain things about Orientalism and not say others. My question is, if “discourse” is this abstract concept that produces “Orientalism,” is there a “western” discourse versus an “eastern” discourse? Do the discourses of other countries enable an idea like Orientalism to exist? Can you plug “the Orient” into different types of discourses and obtain different results/definitions? Also, by “producing” “the Orient,” doesn’t “discourse” legitimize the idea of “the Orient” in someway, even if it does not truly exist, by virtue of enabling the idea to exist? (Although a legitimate idea is not necessarily a “good” one.)
    In terms of the “Orient” as an imagined geography over which knowledge as power exercises itself, I believe that this idea of Said’s imposes a false construct on an actual physical space that contains real people (versus being a product of discourse). As Said discusses, this geographical idea groups too many people, ideas, cultures, etc. into one entity (50). This grouping is an easy way for the westerner to “understand” a peoples/culture/history that he doesn’t know; “the mind requires order” (53). However, this false grouping inherently fosters inaccurate “knowledge,” which, while powerful, takes us even farther away from the truth. (So, perhaps Said wants us to ponder over the ability to have power over something you don’t know?)
    While confusing, I don’t think it is a major problem that these definitions of Orientalism do not “line-up” because ultimately Orientalism is not a concrete thing. Both notions make sense overall, and both convey the pivotal idea that Westerners control “Orientalism” and consequently “the Orient” does not represent what “we” think it does. In fact, I think the multiple definitions (3, as suggested by Clifford) lend themselves to the point that Orientalism is an extremely unwieldy monster that has impacted the world in (too) many ways. By identifying its different manifestations, or characteristics, Said enables us to recognize and “fight” it when necessary.
    By breaking down “the Orient”/“Orientalism,” Said provides us with the tools (exteriority, representation, etc.) to deconstruct Orientalism. However, there are a few aspects of his presentation that I struggle with. While he gives us the history of Orientalism and who has been involved in its creation, I think he needs to distinguish between the “users” (i.e. those who believe) of “Orientalism.” The creators of “the Orient” were specific men – academics, historians, rulers, while the idea pervaded into the mindset of everyone else, including some in “the Orient.” So even though all westerners basically accept “the Orient,” they did not all create it. If given the experience/opportunities to define the east, would American servants, farmers, poor people and women also come up with our current version of “the Orient”? Thus, a certain group of people “owns” “the Orient;” making that explicit would create room for other still western, but different perspectives to enter into the dialogue and challenge “Orientalism.” (There are many “outsiders,” not just one type.) By distinguishing this ownership, we could confine “Orientalism” to where it came from. Moreover, the idea of “ownership” over “Orientalism” enables westerners to see that non-westerners (Arab, Indian, etc.) can create their own ideas too – enabling non-westerners to “own” their own presentation of themselves in the Western sphere. [Also – Are we sure that “eastern” peoples did not contribute to this idea of Orientalism? By assuming they have no agency in the concept, aren’t we diminishing their power? Re: subaltern studies?]
    I also disagree with Said’s regard of the Orientalist perspective as false. Rather than dismiss it, I think it is more important to identify orientalism, for by labeling it, then one can question its accuracy and better analyze an orientalist text/idea/etc. and sift out the key pieces of information and/or examine the inconsistencies (ideas related to the two critiques we read). Additionally, Said’s intense focus on “Orientalism” makes it seem like no other power structure exists, thereby reinforcing the idea of “the Orient” (a flaw also echoed in the critiques we read). Said also conveys his thoughts on “Orientalism” in a highly academic way, which I find ironic assuming that one of his ultimate goals is to help the powerless. His lack of accessibility (unless he has a specific target audience in mind) is frustrating because if Said is writing/talking in the language/discourse of those who control power, he is leaving out those who don’t speak in those terms, who have just as much a right to deconstruct Orientalism as does anybody else.
    Finally, Said establishes that knowledge is power. Logically, Said proves the “false knowledge” of Orientalism, which implies its false power. Yet, Orientalism clearly still carries a lot of power even in the present (today). So while Said upends the “knowledge” side of the equation, he does not show how Orientalism is truly powerless (nor does he show non-orientalists having power).

  10. Kyoko Sawai says:

    When Said talks about exteriority, which is echoed from the notion of Foucault he is meaning what they take into account in talking about the Orient, is not the Orient in itself but rather the cultural effect of what this text posses. I have always thought that this text of Orientalism and the argument that Said present in his books are that the West has imposed power to the East by drawing a clear line that the former being superior to the latter that it is inferior and thus having the right to enlighten and having the right to impose power amongst each other. I have always thought that it was the structure of the Occident vs. Orient. However I have figured out that it is was not just an easy power struggle amongst each other. As Said mentions that there is no such thing as the Orient, he means that the orient has been rediscovered and being represented by the West. That is, the context of which the orient is described by is based of the notion of the West and its knowledge, it is not a pure production of the Orient itself but rather an artificial production, which is manipulated by the knowledge of the West. What he is trying to explain is that, it is not the primary point whether or not to decided on which is superior or inferior to the other. What Said is trying to assert is that the notion of Orient is by itself presupposed by the knowledge of the Occident from the first place. In other words, the orient was formed by the occident. From this, you can understand how Said mentions that there is no such “real thing” as the “Orient”. It is so much based in the context of the West from the first place that people would not realize that they are from the first place talking in the context of the West, when talking about the Orient. We can derive from here, what Said and Foucault mentions the strong ties between knowledge and power. To further elaborate this view, knowledge is very much related to power in a sense that it has the power to impose some things to be regularly mentioned and others to be not mentioned. This regularity of a certain speech is the equation of the hegemony of speech, which enforces the power for a certain idea to prevail while hindering the other to prevail.
    The same thing could be said with the acknowledgement of history. As E. H. Carr, British historian points out in his book, What is History? He presents much of the same idea of what Foucault and Said suggests. What he mentions is that when giving a description to what had happened in the past, the fact itself can never be objective. This means that, history is an action of the never ending dialogue between the incident itself and the historian. History can never be itself objective, it is always doomed to be exposed to the interpretation of the historian. As long as there is a median of a historian, there are some facts that are arbitrary to be chosen, and others that are not to be chosen. We can see the power balance of knowledge in here. Carr mentioned that history is itself a constant interaction of a historian and the fact, and that it is a discourse of the past and the present.
    Said mentions that the notion Orientalism was introduced to the West around the late 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon first conquered Egypt. It was not possible for Napoleon to achieve its ends without having the knowledge of Volner. The academics exposed by him led to the conquer of the Orient to succeed. The Orient was the object to be studied, observed, and determined. It was not active, but rather passive. Like what Carr mentioned in his recognition of history, some knowledge is arbitrary being chosen, and others are discarded. This is what Said mentions about the power of knowledge, allowing something to be told, and others not to be told. This arbitrary choice of knowledge is the consequent of power difference of the Orient and the Occident. When certain knowledge that is being chosen by the power, prevails in the society people who take that knowledge for granted, don’t even recognize that there are power differences because it is so much presupposed in the context itself. Individuals start to make arguments, state an opinion based on the prevailed knowledge that they don’t even realize that they are somehow biased, and not neutral towards the issue. However, this beings up a question of whether any fact can be objective in its meaning.

  11. Christine Cobuzzi says:

    In his Orientalism, Edward Said discusses the notion of discourse in order to elucidate Orientalism as a construct molded and created by the West in order to explain, discuss, and ultimately render the Orient real, true, existent: discourse enables one to say something about the Orient, and the Orient does not exist before said discourse begins. Discourse addresses how a group or a series of words appear about a given topic versus another group or series of words. With his discourse discussion, Said explores why certain ideas prevail over others in nontotalitarian societies; in other words, Said delves into the idea of knowledge as power and how knowledge can enable one to dominate a discourse, people, region, etc. The West controls what is said about the Orient, thus creating a “one-way exchange” that is “intended as useful knowledge, not for [the Orient] but for Europe and its various disseminative institutions” (Said 160). This control allows that “the Orientalist can imitate the Orient without the opposite being true,” a fact which further fortifies Said’s proposal of knowledge as power (160). In Michel Foucault’s words, “discourse…appears as an asset – finite, limited, desirable, useful – that has its own rules of appearance, but also its own conditions of appropriation and operation; an asset that consequently, from the moment of its existence…poses the question of power” (Foucault 120). Thus Said’s work is closely tied to that of Foucault in his The Archaeology of Knowledge as the two divulge ideas that are interwoven; their propositions illuminate one another and help to explicate the aforementioned discourse and knowledge as power discussions.
    Foucault’s explanation of discourse as a construct that possesses power is closely tied to Said’s description of an Oriental philologist, Ernest Renan’s, stance on philology, its creation and its potency. Renan asserts, “Philology…is both a comparative discipline possessed only by moderns and a symbol of modern (and European) superiority” (Said 132). The philologist accepts the power that language—and more explicitly, the creators of the dominant language—holds and believes that “Semites and Semitic were creations of Orientalist philological study” (140). And just as Foucault proposes that one “weigh the ‘value’ of statements. A value that is not defined by their truth, that is not gauged by the presence of a secret content; but which characterizes their place, their capacity for circulation and exchange, their possibility of transformation, not only in the economy of discourse, but, more generally, in the administration of scarce resources,” Renan argues that making objects or words “speak” gives them “circumstantial value, and a precise place in a rule-governed order of regularity” (Foucault 120, Said 140). Renan’s mentioning of regularity—meaning, giving a discourse a regularity, allowing it to be repeated over and over again—is a notion that leads to the hegemony of certain words, discussions, and discourses, allowing certain ideas to prevail over and dominate others. In this sense, discourse is no longer tightly bound to exegesis and serves to support a hierarchical power structure that is created and controlled by those who dominate language—that is, the West. In essence, those Occidentalists who formulate the Orientalist discourse and the language that is used in said discourse are creating, just as Renan “creates Semitic, a fiction invented by him in the philological laboratory to satisfy his sense of public place and mission” (141). And so, too, this language creation allows the creator to locate himself in society and in the scheme of dominion. Said reminds us, “It should by no means be lost on us that Semitic was for Renan’s ego the symbol of European (and consequently his) dominion over the Orient and over his own era” (141).
    Furthermore, this representation of a region or a discourse—such as those of the Orient—is clearly created by Westerners residing outside of the nexus on which they are focusing. Those dominating the language used in the Orientalism discourse are observing the Orient and creating its discussion from the exterior. Though, as Foucault explains, “[u]sually, the historical description of things said is shot through with the opposition of interior and exterior; and wholly directed by a desire to move from the exterior…towards the essential nucleus of interiority,” the “historical description” created by the West in order to describe the East is conducted solely from the outside (Foucault 121). The Westerner represents the Orient from an exterior position in a discourse composed of language that he breeds; this representation is not created by or for those whom it represents, but rather serves to create a Western discourse about a region that is unknown to Westerners.

  12. James Williford says:

    James Williford
    Exteriority: Writing ‘about’ the Orient and writing about ‘the Orient’

    Insofar as the texts that comprise Orientalist discourse are understood to be about the Orient, to offer scholarly re-presentations (in literary anthologies, philological works, histories, and travel narratives) and artistic representations (in poems, novels, and ‘tales’) of the Orient, they must also be understood as other than, and thus, in a sense, exterior to, the Orient itself. (Representations are, obviously, never the objects to which they refer. And even the most ‘pure’ re-presentations necessarily alter, and arguably undermine, the ‘presentness’ of their ‘originals,’ if only by distributing that ‘presentness’ among a number of duplicates.) To write ‘about’ the Orient is, at the very least, to locate the Orient ‘out there,’ somewhere in history, in the world, beyond the text. Such positioning (or indexicality, if you like) is, Said suggests, an unavoidable consequence of the Orientalist project: “What he [the Orientalist] says and writes, by virtue of the fact that it is said or written, is meant to indicate that the Orientalist is outside the Orient” (emphasis supplied 21).

    But to write about the Orient is also tacitly to argue for the existence of something ‘out there’ that can be called ‘the Orient,’ to argue that there is some ‘reality,’ some ‘natural’ phenomenon or object of study, that can be ‘captured’ or ‘recovered’ by the Orientalist. In this sense, writing about ‘the Orient’ may actually amount to producing the Orient (or sustaining or re-creating that production). As Foucault argues of the formation of objects, the discursive relations established between “institutions, economic and social processes, behavioral patterns, systems of norms, techniques, types of classification, [and] modes of characterization . . . do not define [an object’s] internal constitution, but what enables it to appear, to juxtapose itself with other objects, to situate itself in relation to them, to define its difference, its irreducibility, and even perhaps its heterogeneity, in short, to be placed in a field of exteriority” (emphasis supplied 45). The Orient, like any other object of discourse, does not precede its discourse then, but emerges as the result of the accumulation of interrelated texts into a “field” of other discursively formed objects (which are themselves, it seems reasonable to assume, in various ways mutually-constitutive and thus self-perpetuating).

    Perhaps one of the most interesting lines in Said’s book to address exteriority as representation (as pointing, however inadequately, to a real Orient) and representation as production (the creation of ‘the Orient’ as a discursive object, a construct) is the one to which, I believe, Professor Rubin’s prompt directs us: “the written statement is a presence to the reader by virtue of its having excluded, displaced, made supererogatory any such real thing as ‘the Orient’” (21). The phrase “a presence to the reader” is probably meant to suggest that that reader has been ‘taken in’ by what Foucault might describe as the Orientalist’s “desire to move from the exterior . . . towards the essential nucleus of interiority . . . to go back from statements preserved through time and dispersed in space, towards that interior secret that preceded them, left its mark in them, and (in every sense of the term) is betrayed by them” (121). After all, Said has just finished reminding us that “what is commonly circulated . . . is not ‘truth’ but representations” in language, “highly organized and encoded” versions of what, he seems to imply, is an uncoded and highly unorganized reality (21). But it is also possible to understand the “real thing” of the Orient not as some sprawling, pre-existing Oriental reality that is simply suppressed by ‘the Orient’ of Orientalism, but as a fragmentary excess of reality in general produced by the imposition of the discursive structures of Orientalism. It seems to me at least that Said’s language—“excluded, displaced, made supererogatory”—suggests something more violent and more specific than the mere obscuration of a potentially knowable reality. In Lacanian terms, we might say (very briefly) that the “real thing” of the Orient is not the Orient ‘as it really is,’ nor is it the Real, but rather the “unreal” surplus that activates and (excuse the terrible pun) orients Orientalism’s “death drive,” thus threatening its coherence and intelligibility from within its particular Symbolic code.

    Said does not, of course, pursue the line of thought I am entertaining here; nor, for the moment, will I. But doing so may help bring to light certain modes of resistance, non-dominative ways of writing, or figures to exploit within Orientalist discourse itself.

    Works Cited:

    Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Print.

    Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Print.

  13. Josie Torres Barth says:

    Foucault’s discussion of exteriority is in reference to the analysis of his (still somewhat undefined) concept of the “statement”. If we analyze a statement in terms of the enunciative function, we seek to describe the discursive conditions under which it could be said, rather than the grammatical or material conditions under which it could be formulated. An enunciation then necessarily involves a position from which something is said; this position is not defined by some sense of inherent meaning, but by its place within the field of discourse. This analysis deals with the statement in “the systematic form of exteriority” (120). Foucault states that historically, the tension between interior and exterior drives the signification process. The historical description of “things said” (meaning discourse) is directed by a desire to move from the exterior (which I interpret here as the other) to the interior (the same). The act of interpretation, then, assumes a stable interiority. Foucault challenges the possibility of such a totalizing idea. Instead he seems to favor the dispersion of the unified “truth” of interiority, thus rediscovering the outside “in which, in their relative rarity, in their incomplete proximity, in their deployed space, enunciative events are distributed”(121).

    The condition of exteriority creates a speaking subject that is outside of the phenomenon being described. This sovereign subject surveys the world outside of himself and dictates knowledge about it. In one sense, exteriority is a necessary condition for criticism. Exteriority allows a constructed place from which the reader/critic can evaluate a text. Said describes a criterion that he calls “strategic location,” a term that describes the author’s position in a text with regard to Oriental material. Said’s term “strategic formation”, on the other hand, is a way of analyzing relationships between texts and how groups, types, or genres of texts acquire referential power in culture. Exteriority, in its simplest and most literal sense, is the state of being outside of something, causing it to be the other. The principle product of this condition of exteriority, Said states, is representation. An attempt at communication through written language disallows delivered presence, causing instead a state of “re-presence, or representation” (21). Representation then implies not only the condition of exteriority, but a sense of distance from the subject that is being represented. Said describes the concept of exteriority in relation to the act of representation: “What he says and writes, by virtue of the fact that it is said or written, is meant to indicate that the Orientalist is outside the orient, both as an existential and as a moral fact” (21). The act of writing about the Orient displaces it as both a true geographic place and a concept.

    Said states that what is commonly circulated by exchange within a culture is representation, not “truth”, which is then, of course, subjective and informed by racial and historical biases. Representation and its corresponding preconceptions can be found even supposedly neutral texts, such as histories, philosophy, and political treatises, not just in artistic or avowedly imaginative texts. Said indicates that the critic, in gauging representation in a text, must look at “style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (21). The critic’s role is not to judge the truth or faithfulness of a representation. The implication here is that a “true” representation, specifically of the Orient, cannot exist, as there is no such thing as a monolithic “Oriental” culture to be represented. Instead Said’s interest is not in what is being represented in a text, but rather how this representation is constructed. The veracity or value of any given statement about the Orient as represented by the West does not speak to either truth or falsehood about the Orient as such. These representations rely upon “institutions, traditions, conventions, agreed-upon codes of understanding for their effect, not upon a distant and amorphous Orient” (22). Western representations of the Orient exist to allow the West to define itself in opposition. This is what is meant when Said states that “it is Europe that articulates the Orient; this articulation is the prerogative, not of a puppet master, but of a genuine creator” (57). Concepts of the Orient only make sense in the context of the West’s negative definition of itself.

  14. Jesse Ruf says:

    Said’s foundational conceptions of exteriority and re-presentation focus on the descriptive rather than the interpretive aspect of the Orientalist. The entirety of the Orient — behavior, interaction, tendencies, thought processes — flow from specific character traits of the archetypal Oriental. These generalizations of Oriental behavior goes well beyond simple stereotypes, ethnocentrism, Euro-centrism, racism, and subjugation to a more complete, and I believe self-aware, form of domination. In this case, Exteriority and re-presentation are tools of Orientalists. By assuming a transcendent position the Orientalist can perpetuate Western values and maintain a detachment from his or her Oriental. This behavior is exemplified by Lieutenant Verrall in Burmese Days as he effectively governs by example and refuses any interaction with the natives. Perhaps the most effective barrier is the “mental operation”(p.60) utilized by the Occident to justify, rationalize and legitimize their superiority. The operation in the case of Orientalists is quite natural according to Claude Levi-Strauss, the “mind requires order, and order is achieved by discriminating…placing everything of which the mind is aware in a secure, redefindable place, giving thing some role to play”(Said p.53). There is a degree of arbitrariness in this classification system in that the Oriental is placed underneath the boot of the entire Occident.
    Following the mental gymnastics the Orientalist performs, the Orient is not presented, which connotes a fair and reasonable description. Not only is the region and people conceived as being the lowest in a hierarchy of humanity, but the Orient is presented over by Orientalists. This re-presentation actively reinforces Occident authority while subsequently defining an entire region, “the Orient was reconstructed, re-assembled, crafted, in short, born out of the Orientalists’ efforts” (Said p.87). The historical and general knowledge of the Orient possessed by the Occident is itself an aspect of domination separate from language and physical coercion. The Orient as subject of the Orientalist discourse is thus defined and limited by the knowledge. However, that definition does not encapsulate the entirety of the Orient’s existence.
    Always consciously removed from their object of observation, Orientalists craft the psychological boundaries of the Orient by limiting behavior. Authors and authorities do so by denying the existence of emotions, actions and philosophies traditionally attributed to the Occident. This creates a distinct and nearly irreconcilable fissure between “we” the Occident authority who bring “them”, the Orient, civilization and culture. This undeniable dynamic that separates “us” and “they” is not my purpose in bringing up uncrossable boundaries between the Occident and Orient. However, the same distinctions, as pointed out by James Clifford, exist in counter movements of post-colonialists, “It is worth noting in passing that we-they distinctions of the kind Said condemns are also useful to anti-imperialism and national liberation movements”(Clifford p.25). While Said condemns any distinctions, it is with the same divisive language that post-colonialists separate themselves from the Occident. As those movements condemn their previous overlords they reinforce an Orientalist discourse in a problematic way that could only be addressed in a political, philosophical (i.e. cosmopolitan) discussion.
    As discussed before, Orientalism presents the Orient again. Located on the exterior or fringe this “textual attitude”(p.92) makes “out of every observable detail a generalization and out of every generalization an immutable law about the Oriental nature…to transmute living reality into the stuff of texts”(p.86). The Oriental is therefore nothing more than an imaginative object molded from the historical biases and whims of a Western-dominated world.
    Under the heading of Orientalism is captured the diverse work of sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, politicians, authors and particularly humanists – fondly known as “textual domination”. Said describes this “Crisis” in Orientalism as “premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West”. Taken in concert with the earlier discussion on exteriority and re-presentation, it is a logical conclusion that there is no such real thing as the Orient. It is just pure Walt Disney, the Orient “shares with magic and with mythology the self-containing, self-reinforcing character of a closed system, in which objects are what they are because they are what they are, for once, for all time, for ontological reasons that no empirical material can either dislodge or alter”(p.70). Imaginative geography describes the Orient as a shell of a region that is defined and utterly limited by a foreign language and power.
    However, the history of the Orient given by Said contradicts this argument and Western Empire perhaps unintentionally concedes existence to the Orient. Europe was pervaded by a sense of danger, a threat based in the many encounters with the near-East Orient, otherwise known as the Middle East. This may have emanated from earlier history and the Golden Age of Islam associated with the first three Caliphates, “That Islam outstripped and outshone Rome cannot have been absent from the mind of any European past or present”(p.74). Orientalists and indeed Said himself cannot claim that such a history is utterly disintegrated.

  15. Kathryn Orfuss says:

    In Edward Said’s Orientalism, exteriority refers to the fact that he is not interested in uncovering what “lies hidden in the Orientalist text, but in analysis rather of the text’s surface, its exteriority to what it describes” (20). This, he contests, is an important distinction, because it is this exteriority that “makes the Orient speak” (20)—i.e. it is the exterior factors that enable certain things to be said about the Orient (and also prohibits certain things from being said), and this ‘enabling’ is what Said is concerned with. This is the case because these exterior capacities enable certain representations of the Orient; the notion of representation, however, is one of the major issues Said highlights in Orientalism, because representations (i.e. not the “presence” of an object but the “re-presence” of it (21)) are inherently distinct and separate from the object itself, but, nonetheless act to “obscure” this distinction. This obscurity is what grants these representations their power to dominate and control the Orient.
    In addition, exteriority is also related to Said’s idea of rarity, a term that refers to the incomplete, fragmented form of any discourse. According to both Said and Foucault, discourses are not consistent, and are often differentiated within themselves—in this sense, the discourse of a particular entity often is not the final word on the entity. This gap between the discourse and the actual thing described can be dealt with by rarity. Exteriority enables us to see how the rarities of events are distributed, because we are no longer motivated by a drive to discover a unified interior or concealed secret (class discussion). Thus, exteriority can be seen as the political form of discourse; rarity, on the other hand, is what can enable one to distinguish between the subject’s presence vs. its re-presence (or representation).
    When Said discusses exteriority and representation, he points to our inability to ever really know the real identity of that which we discuss. Instead, he implies that our knowledge is always imperfect, for there is “no such thing as a delivered presence, but a re-presence, or representation” (21). Still, Said claims, the notion of Orientalism can and does enable the West to exert power and authority over the Orient, even though Orientalism ultimately does not actually refer to a real Orient. This is the case because these representations of the Orient become part of a discourse that enables certain things to be said about the Orient, which in turn enable other things to be said, etc. (It should also be noted that, in the same way, this discourse also inhibits some things from being said about the Orient). Essentially, this discourse on the Orient, though not actually representative of the Orient, comes to replace the ‘real’ in the minds of Westerners. Thus, the Orientalist discourse becomes, in effect, the Orient—the fact that there is distance between the real and the discourse becomes essentially irrelevant. This notion is exemplified in the instance of Balfour, an example that Said sums up when he says, “British knowledge of Egypt is Egypt for Balfour” (32).
    Along these lines, Said argues that each thing that is written or said about the Orient contributes to this ongoing discourse surrounding the object, and further refines what can and cannot be said under the guidelines of this discourse. Thus, even written or spoken things that are not inherently evil or dismissive of the Orient can, nonetheless, contribute to this oppressive and authoritative discourse by further refining the West’s notions and understandings of what the Orient ‘is.’ This refining enables Orientalism to be used more specifically and more effectively, and ultimately, the regularity it creates establishes the hegemony by which West controls Orient. Thus, it is irrelevant whether or not this discourse is true to the actual Orient or not, because it still contributes to the broader discourse that can be used to dominate and suppress.
    The example of Balfour again helps to demonstrate the above point. Balfour did not hate and maliciously seek to dismiss the Orient—rather, he openly pointed to the greatness of the Egyptians (33). Still, his contributions to the dialogue of Orientalism opened up and created the space for further discourse that was ultimately used to suppress and hold authority over the Egyptians. Though not overtly malicious, “knowledge of the Orient, because generated out of strength, in a sense creates the Orient, the Oriental…the point is that in each of these [Balfour’s and Cromer’s] cases, the Oriental is contained and represented by dominating frameworks.” These frameworks, according to Said, in turn, enable works such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park to be written. Because this is the case, the discourse of Orientalism can act to “Orientalize” and dominate the Orient, though it is not necessarily representative of the actual Orient.

  16. Arianna Pineiro says:

    Several critiques of Edward Said’s Orientalism have emphasized the contradiction between Said’s argument that there is no such thing as the Orient- as a political, cultural, or geographic unit- and his persistent implicit (and occasionally explicit) comparisons of the work of Orientalists to the actual Orient. In “On Orientalism,” James Clifford cites this as a source of ambiguity and confusion that plagues Said’s work as he alternately refers to the Orient as a concrete reality that has been misrepresented, or as simply a construct coming out of the nexus of knowledge and power that characterized European imperialism in the Middle East and Asia. (24) Dennis Porter, in his critique of the book, proposes that these two conflicting ‘Orients’ result from “the incomparability of the thought of Said’s two acknowledged maites, Foucault and Gramsci, of discourse theory and hegemonic theory.” (351-2)
    In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault defines exteriority as part of the methodology used in discursive analysis. Traditionally, he writes, analysis moved from the exterior, material reality of the work to some inner, hidden meaning- “towards that interior secret that preceded them, left its mark in them, and (in every sense of the term) is betrayed by them.” (121) An alternate approach, that premised on exteriority, looks not for some meaning within the text, but at the actual appearance of the text itself, the conditions under which it appeared- “in order to rediscover their occurrence as an event.” (121)
    Said claims to rely on Foucault’s approach to discursive analysis in writing about Orientalism, and in the introduction he writes, mirroring Foucault, that this “does not entail analysis of what lies hidden in the Orientalist text, but analysis rather of the text’s surface, its exteriority to what it describes.” (20) While this appears to take Foucault’s approach, he continues on to say that this exteriority refers to the fact that “the Orientalist is outside the Orient, both as an existential and moral fact.” (21) The idea of exteriority as referring to the position of author in relation to his object does not necessarily contradict Foucault’s methodology, but it implies that there is an actual object of the statement/text that the author can be outside of. This conflicts with Foucault’s assertion that the supposed object of a discourse does not really exist as a unity within itself, but responds to the possibilities and limitations of the discourse- if analyzing the discourse on madness, then, one cannot refer to some unity that is ‘madness,’ since there is no such unity. (32-3)
    Yet, throughout his work, Said emphasizes this understanding of exteriority, referring to the strategic location of the author in relation to the material he writes about and assuming this material corresponds to an actual object. (20) Towards the end of the book, this conception of exteriority resurfaces and is refined as Said emphasizes dislocation as “the very privilege, the very ground on which the Orientalist places himself so as to write about, legislate for, and reformulate Islam…the epistemological passageway into his subject.” (282) Here, not only does Said appropriate the term dislocation from Gibb’s own use, but then uses it to reinforce an understanding of exteriority that focuses far more on the relationship between the actual author and object than the general conditions surrounding the ‘statement as event.’ In this way, the difference in how Foucault and Said develop the concept of exteriority reveals that Said, despite borrowing from Foucault, makes a far less radical critique of discourses such as Orientalism. While European writers and scholars did construct a certain shared, dominant discourse regarding the Orient, this construct exists in relation to a concrete reality. Said recognizes a certain discrepancy between two “Orients” that result from the activities of those who study the region: “on one hand, there was a collection of people living in the present; on the other hand, these people—as the subject of study—became ‘the Egyptians,’ ‘the Muslims,’ or ‘the Orientals.” (234) While these groups—the Egyptians, Muslims, and Orientals— do not exist as homogenous unities in reality, the discourse on Egyptians, for example, does concern a number of people who very much exist and happen to live in a certain region in North Africa. The representation of Egypt, either by one of the Napoleonic experts or today by an area specialist, does not reveal some truth about the “real” Egypt, but does respond to the contemporary power relations between regions, which we must refer to as “the West,” “the Middle East,” etc. for lack of better terminology.
    While there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Orientalism, the tension between the Orient as construct and an actual Orient may be necessary simply due to the limits on language. Short of a radical rejection of all labels, and definitions (by their nature reductive and simplified)—which some might argue for as a true response to Foucault—a critique of any discourse must acknowledge both the constructed nature of the supposed object, and the fact that this discourse exists in relation to real political and geographic circumstances.

  17. Duha Mohiuddin says:

    Said draws upon Foucault’s conception of “discourse” to describe Orientalism’s function as a constructed system of meaning. As a discursive formation, Orientalism did not emerge out of nowhere, but was linked to and produced by existing power structures and in turn perpetuated their existence. The object of Orientalism, the imagined “Orient,” was drafted and defined by the West in ontological opposition to “the Occident” (2). Orientalism, Said argues, was not simply a collection of stereotypes, but rather a systematic and hegemonic discourse that facilitated European imperial aims.
    Exteriority, as Said uses the term, refers to the manner in which Orientalists, specialized Western “knowers” of the Orient, present (or re-present) that region to Western audiences. Said explains in his introduction: “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West” (20-21). In explaining the Orient to the non-expert Westerner, the ontological assumption on the part of scholars is that the Oriental is a knowable cultural body, one whom they can explain and understand even from their distant position.
    Said’s italicized emphasis on the re-presence of the Orient implies distance from the original (21). The Orient as it appears in Orientalists’ representations is no “real thing” (21), no “’natural’ depiction” (21), nor any “veridic discourse” (6) about the Orient, but rather an image with intent, a cultural connotation from which the West can understand its own relational superiority. Knowledge about the Orient is linked to power over the Orient. By controlling the language that is used to define an object, Orientalism sets up a framework that allows for control of the object itself. Essentializing Orientals as in need of civility imbues imperialism with a moralizing force. Likewise, literature and poetry, Said argues, are no innocents (27), as poetic and literary depictions of a passive, feminized Orient help pave the way for Western colonial penetration (Prakash, 242).

    Said’s Orientalism highlights the disparity between representations of the Orient and a community’s self-understanding. Gyan Prakash quotes Talal Asad, who writes of Orientalism’s “closed, self-evident, self-confirming character” (237). Orientalism is self-subsisting; it has no need for the subject of its study beyond the fact of its existence. It presents its imagery of the Orient as the Orient itself. While critics have shown examples of the heterogeneity of Orientalist representations, including comparatively sympathetic portrayals and Dennis Porter’s explication of the “literary instance,” the overall self-confirming strength of Orientalism is such that those examples lack the potency to shift the consensus on what the Orient is. The effect of such self-confirming knowledge, wholly independent of input from its subject matter, is that even if the knowledge bears little resemblance to the manner in which Orientals see their own experience, it is able to supersede the “truth” of their experience. Said quotes Isaiah Berlin who writes of the inevitability of expectation that Orientalism relies on: “The more inevitable an event or an action or a character can be exhibited as being, the better it has been understood, the profounder the researcher’s insight, the nearer we are to the one ultimate truth” (70). For the Orientalist, the Oriental is little more than the personification of his scholarship; already known before he is introduced, the Oriental’s actions and behavior are understood and explained through a prism of presupposed information, where certain mannerisms or speech patterns invite the dawned excitement of recollected study.
    Bart Moore-Gilbert shares that another criticism of Orientalism is its exclusion of counter-hegemonic voices in the lands of colonial entry. Said’s response to such criticism is that his emphasis was on “Western discourses of subject peoples” (51). But Orientalism does show the difficulty that responsive representation encounters against such a durable hegemonic discourse. Said describes the “manacles” in which the Oriental writhes, a cunning, twisted logic that distorts efforts for self-representation: the admirable becomes the indefensible, and efforts to address what one’s essential identity is accused of engendering are met with a rhetorical barrier that denies the possibility of the proposition. Said explains:

    If Islam is flawed from the start by virtue of its permanent disabilities, the Orientalist will find himself opposing any Islamic attempts to reform Islam, because according to his views, reform is a betrayal of Islam… How can an Oriental slip out from these manacles…except by repeating with the Fool in King Lear, “They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true, thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. (106)

    Prakash quotes Robert Young to illustrate the problematic relationship Said presents between representation and its object: “Said never resolves ‘the original theoretical problem of how a representation that is claimed bears no relation to its putative object could nevertheless be put in service of the control and domination of that object’” (239). How can re-presence enter the discourse except by some relational affinity to its presence? While not a complete answer, Said does highlight the space between representation and self-understanding. In his discussion of the reception of Islam in the West, he quotes Norman Daniel:

    The invariable tendency to neglect what the Qur’an meant, or what Muslims thought it meant, or what Muslims thought or did in any given circumstances, necessarily implies that Qur’anic and other Islamic doctrine was presented in a form that would convince Christians; and more and more extravagant forms would stand a chance of acceptance as the distance of the writers and public from the Islamic border increased. It was with great reluctance that what Muslims said Muslims believed was accepted as what they did believe.” (60-61)

    Said points out that “limited vocabulary and imagery…impose themselves as a consequence” of any sort of cross-cultural translation (60). Disparities exist in meaning and idiomatic sense; in the level of importance or significance any one culture lends to certain concepts; etymological roots of translated words stem from different histories or human experiences, contributing to dissimilar effect. Said writes that the contrast lies in representing an object “in itself” as opposed to representing “for” something or someone else, which seems to him, he explains, “to have remarkable implications for Orientalism in general” (60). Thus, Said invokes the idea of intent (Prakash, 240). Even as he acknowledges that the failure to include alternative, “non-repressive and non-manipulative” ways to study the Other renders his work “embarrassingly incomplete” (24), and his fallback on humanistic ideas is met with skepticism by critics, the idea of intention resurfaces in Said’s 2003 preface to the original work, where he writes:

    What I do argue also is that there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge—if that is what it is—that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency and outright war. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of co-existence and humanistic enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external domination. (xiv)

  18. Katrina Yeaw says:

    The Concept of Exteriority in Edward’s Said’s Orientalism

    In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault lays out his theory of history and knowledge as well as defining a number of terms that are central to understanding his work, including discourse and exteriority. According to Foucault, the majority of historical works have attempted to understand the past by moving from external meaning to internal meaning. This is based on assumption that the interior or nucleus of a text contains a hidden, deeper truth, which is a “more fundamental history, closer to the origin, more firmly linked to the horizon” (121). However, Foucault argues against this understanding of a pure nucleus instead advocating for exteriority that locates meanings on the exterior of discourse and is understood through looking at space, localities, relationships and systems (121). Therefore, meaning actually exists at surface of discourses and texts.

    In constructing his overall argument in Orientalism, Edward Said draws heavily on Foucault’s concepts from Archeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish, employing his concept of discourse as well as his understanding of the way in which they delineate certain limitations on expression. Said also employs the concept of exteriority, claiming that he is not focused on the hidden meaning or character of texts but instead seeks to analyze their clear aspects. This is due to the fact that “the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West” (20-1).

    Said goes on to argue that the primary result of exteriority is representation. It makes the Orient an object that can be described and analyzed for a Western audience. In creating this distance between East (Orient) and West (Occident), exteriority marks the Orient as a cultural and political “Other” that is distinctly separate physically, culturally and even spiritually from the West. It is clear that this distance is artificially constructed and results in a distorted and even racist prism through which the West views the “Oriental” subject. However, the truthfulness or correctness of the text is not the primary question, but instead Said seeks to analyze the cultural and historical circumstances under which the texts are produced, whether they are scientific and historical texts or products of fiction (21).

    In constructing his argument, Said creates a distinction between the Middle or Near East and the Orient. While Middle East is an actual geographic place with its own history, languages, traditions and customs, the Orient is a construction that only exists in representation and Said argues was “almost a European invention” (1).* Although there is of course a relationship between the Middle East and the Orient, Orientalist discourse does not actually represent the actual Middle East or the people who live there. Instead, the Orient is an imagined geography that is represented in Orientalist discourse. These discourses are based upon a whole series of interrelated and constructed meanings that originate in intuitions and traditions in the West dating back to antiquity (22). It is characterized by a series of repeated Orientalist tropes that include Oriental despotism, illicit sexuality, danger, opulent splendor, violence, magic and romance (1). The ability of the West to represent the East is a product of its political and cultural power to construct and monopolize the existing discourse with each writer building on his or her own intellectual predecessors. In addition, the Orientalist discourse also limits the ways in which individual authors can think about and represent the East.

    Although the envisioned landscapes of Orientalist discourse hardly exists outside of the imagination of the Orientalist and despite the fact that Said identifies early Orientalist attitudes in pre-modern texts such as Aeschylus’ The Persians that predate the rise of modern imperialism, modern Orientalism cannot be separated from the political projects of European imperialism and colonialism. While Orientalists might have claimed to be dispassionate observers impartially documenting the customs of the people of the region, they in fact served the projects of their home governments indirectly, or, in the case of figures like T. H. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, directly and with full knowledge of the consequences of their studies and writings. All of these literary or intellectual figures made the conquest of the Orient possible by reducing it to clearly identifiable object that could be manipulated, controlled and completely dominated by Western powers.

    * You could also discuss the way in which the Middle East as a cultural and political unit is also constructed but that discussion is not the focus of Said’s analysis.

    In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault lays out his theory of history and knowledge as well as defining a number of terms that are central to understanding his work, including discourse and exteriority. According to Foucault, the majority of historical works have attempted to understand the past by moving from external meaning to internal meaning. This is based on assumption that the interior or nucleus of a text contains a hidden, deeper truth, which is a “more fundamental history, closer to the origin, more firmly linked to the horizon” (121). However, Foucault argues against this understanding of a pure nucleus instead advocating for exteriority that locates meanings on the exterior of discourse and is understood through looking at space, localities, relationships and systems (121). Therefore, meaning actually exists at surface of discourses and texts.

    In constructing his overall argument in Orientalism, Edward Said draws heavily on Foucault’s concepts from Archeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish, employing his concept of discourse as well as his understanding of the way in which they delineate certain limitations on expression. Said also employs the concept of exteriority, claiming that he is not focused on the hidden meaning or character of texts but instead seeks to analyze their clear aspects. This is due to the fact that “the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West” (20-1).

    Said goes on to argue that the primary result of exteriority is representation. It makes the Orient an object that can be described and analyzed for a Western audience. In creating this distance between East (Orient) and West (Occident), exteriority marks the Orient as a cultural and political “Other” that is distinctly separate physically, culturally and even spiritually from the West. It is clear that this distance is artificially constructed and results in a distorted and even racist prism through which the West views the “Oriental” subject. However, the truthfulness or correctness of the text is not the primary question, but instead Said seeks to analyze the cultural and historical circumstances under which the texts are produced, whether they are scientific and historical texts or products of fiction (21).

    In constructing his argument, Said creates a distinction between the Middle or Near East and the Orient. While Middle East is an actual geographic place with its own history, languages, traditions and customs, the Orient is a construction that only exists in representation and Said argues was “almost a European invention” (1).* Although there is of course a relationship between the Middle East and the Orient, Orientalist discourse does not actually represent the actual Middle East or the people who live there. Instead, the Orient is an imagined geography that is represented in Orientalist discourse. These discourses are based upon a whole series of interrelated and constructed meanings that originate in intuitions and traditions in the West dating back to antiquity (22). It is characterized by a series of repeated Orientalist tropes that include Oriental despotism, illicit sexuality, danger, opulent splendor, violence, magic and romance (1). The ability of the West to represent the East is a product of its political and cultural power to construct and monopolize the existing discourse with each writer building on his or her own intellectual predecessors. In addition, the Orientalist discourse also limits the ways in which individual authors can think about and represent the East.

    Although the envisioned landscapes of Orientalist discourse hardly exists outside of the imagination of the Orientalist and despite the fact that Said identifies early Orientalist attitudes in pre-modern texts such as Aeschylus’ The Persians that predate the rise of modern imperialism, modern Orientalism cannot be separated from the political projects of European imperialism and colonialism. While Orientalists might have claimed to be dispassionate observers impartially documenting the customs of the people of the region, they in fact served the projects of their home governments indirectly, or, in the case of figures like T. H. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, directly and with full knowledge of the consequences of their studies and writings. All of these literary or intellectual figures made the conquest of the Orient possible by reducing it to clearly identifiable object that could be manipulated, controlled and completely dominated by Western powers.

    * You could also discuss the way in which the Middle East as a cultural and political unit is also constructed but that discussion is not the focus of Said’s analysis.

  19. Michael Walsh says:

    When Said uses “exteriority” to explain the processes of Orientalist discourse, he means that “the Orient” is created by outsiders. First the Orient is presented by a westerner; then it is re-presented. By this point the European tradition has lost its referent of the “real Orient”; thus Orientalism is created and perpetuated. According to Foucault, a process of discursive construction is how all of our ideas develop; however, Orientalism has proven more damaging and heinous than most ideas. However, Said does not attempt to represent the “real Orient” because he knows that his perception of the Middle East is also the product of discursive construction and therefore, not an empirical truth that can be perfectly documented by the written word. But this theoretical understanding of the archaeology of knowledge does not change the fact that western hegemony has devastated the lives of millions in the Middle East. When Said declares that there is no such “real thing” as “the Orient” he means that there is no objective landmass that has always been and always will be understood as “the Orient”; its emergence as a construction was not inevitable but came to fruition when it was labeled by outsiders. When a discourse developed around “the Orient,” the “free-floating mythology of the Orient” (53) became the true representation of the term because it developed along with the term. Said writes that texts can “create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe” (94). Though texts can never encapsulate capital T Truth, it does not mean that some representations cannot be closer to the truth than others. When racist and hegemonic structures of knowledge oppress populations, it is imperative to challenge such structures of knowledge when the point of reference for these modern conceptions owe more to the Arabian Nights or an eighteenth century British travelogue than to modern representations outside this tradition.

    Foucault’s illuminating scholarship presents a serious challenge to both scholars and activists. Intellectuals from Analytic philosophy, such as Noam Chomsky, argue for knowable truths and can, therefore, dismiss fallacious representations of “the Orient” as false—unfortunately this intellectual approach does not account for the discursive construction of knowledge and cannot truly substantiate its intellectual presuppositions. On the other hand, Continental philosophers, such as Foucault, can substantiate their intellectual presuppositions but this unfortunately can lead to moral relativism. In a nuanced and rigorous manner, Said draws upon thinkers from both philosophical traditions to explain the discursive construction of the Middle East in a way that does not lead to ethical relativism.
    When Foucault and Chomsky debated each other in 1971 they fundamentally disagreed about the nature of ideas. When discussing justice, Foucault claimed, in Nietzschean fashion, “the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented… the notion of justice itself functions within a society of classes as a claim made by the oppressed class and as justification for it.” Chomsky disagreed with this stance and—inline with his theory of generative grammar, which sees the acquisition of language as a biological endowment and development—relied:
    Well, here I really disagree. I think there is some sort of an absolute basis–if you press me too hard I’ll be in trouble, because I can’t sketch it out-ultimately residing in fundamental human qualities, in terms of which a “real” notion of justice is grounded.

    So do we have an innate psychological notion of justice or is justice a discursive construction? Chomsky and Foucault’s viewpoints are antithetical when assessed by their own particular rhetorical assumptions and aims. They clearly disagree and many would argue that any attempt to synthesize both worldviews would prove futile, though this is what Edward Said has managed to do.

    By studying the notion of “the Orient” with the Foucauldian approach outlined in The Order of Things, Said documents how western assumptions about “the Orient” have developed and how the west has discursively constructed a system of self-perpetuating myths. Whereas some scholars would drift into moralistic relativism or anti-humanism after discovering the instability of humankind’s linguistically-codified perceptions, Said firmly places his scholarship in the tradition of humanism, cites Noam Chomsky’s politically dissident Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship as a specific example of credibility for pragmatically-engaged scholarship (11), and disagrees with Foucault’s denial of individual agency:
    I do believe in the determining imprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body of texts constituting a discursive formation like Orientalism. (23)

    This disagreement allows Said to expose the devastating consequences of western imperialism on material bodies, as Chomsky does, and trace the archaeology of knowledge as a mutable, evolving entity.

  20. Navid Hassanzadeh says:

    The notion of exteriority for Said signifies a position of authority occupied by the Orientalist who claims to be at once familiar with and outside or at a distance from the Orient. The authority that he alludes to is defined by a sense of cultural superiority that governs Orientalist conceptions of the East, as well as the material institutions and apparatuses that buttress these views. Said is careful to note that the two axes in the knowledge-power dialectic that is Orientalism mutually reinforce and contribute to the growth and expansion of one another. Yet he argues emphatically that the essentialist ideas which form the stockpile of knowledge about the Orient were the condition that enabled European expansionism in the Near East and other parts of the Third World, rather than existing “after the fact” of colonial rule, as an a posteriori justification of the practice of colonialism (39). His discussion of Napoleon’s expedition into Egypt, and the scholarship and textual resources that facilitated this mission is one of Said’s most prominent demonstrations of this point.
    The claim to familiarity made by the Orientalist scholar can be traced back, in part, to an attempt to overcome a sense of threat and mystery that the East, and especially Islam, represent within a particular Western imagination (74). Familiarity can also be understood by Said as a striving for self-definition by European civilization; to know the Orient as backwards and despotic is to affirm the moral and cultural superiority and dynamism of the Occident (1-2). Finally, to understand exteriority as a location outside of the Orient is to carry out a task that Orientals are said to be unable to fulfill themselves: representation. The ostensible inability of Orientals to speak for themselves allows for Orientalist scholars to assume the responsibility of doing so, both for Western and Eastern consumption (21). It also reveals the power asymmetry that is at work in representation of the Orient, and explains why the East does not have a corresponding discourse that is called upon in order to make sense of the Occident (204).
    Exteriority as representation can be seen as a critical term for Said to the extent that it shifts attention away from the search for a true image of the Orient and towards the literary tools and social conditions that inform how the Orient is portrayed. As he states, “the things to look at are style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (21). Thus the focus is placed on the one hand upon the short-hand forms, stereotypes and generalizations that are marshaled by all European scholars working on the Orient, whether they are Orientalist specialists or otherwise, and on the other upon the impact of their social milieu on the ways in which they produce knowledge. The latter point is one of the guiding motifs of the text. Said takes issue with the view that an appreciation of the political, ideological and institutional constraints that shape a work of literature in some way contaminates our understanding of it. On the contrary he argues that it is precisely this sort of consideration that enhances our readings of Renan and Marx by bringing to light interpretations of their oeuvre that would not otherwise be apparent.
    One point I would raise is related to the role that the Orient as empirical knowledge plays in this aspect of Said’s argument. He repeatedly states that the conception of the Orient within Orientalist discourses derives from a store of knowledge based upon “the ineradicable distinction between Western superiority and Oriental inferiority” (42). At the same time he asserts that these generalizations are detached from empirical information regarding the Orient. For example, during his discussion of Dante he writes that “empirical data about the Orient or about any of its parts count for very little; what matters and is decisive is what I have been calling the Orientalist vision, a vision by no means confined to the professional scholar, but rather the common possession of all who have thought about the Orient in the West” (68). Elsewhere, Said states that “the point in all this is that for Napoleon Egypt was a project that acquired reality in his mind, and later in his preparations for its conquest, through experiences that belong to the realm of ideas and myths culled from texts, no empirical reality” (80). The assumption here seems to be that empirical facts could unsettle the narrow representations of Oriental culture that abound in Orientalist scholarship, although it is by no means clear why that would be the case. If his argument about the circumscribed vocabulary and cognitive modes that characterize Orientalism are accepted, it would appear that empirical information would also be subject to the confines of the Orientalist imagination, and corroborate rather that disturb the uniform views of the Orient as sensual, backwards and violent.

    Edward Said Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

  21. Eugene Netupsky says:

    Said’s concept of exteriority is closely tied to two related analytical terms: strategic location and strategic formation. Said writes strategic location is “the author’s position in a text with regard to the oriental material he writes about” (20). Said suggests that strategic location is the author’s subject position with regard to his society, the orient, and the ways in which his ideological formation permeates his text. His subject position is informed by the network of texts that infiltrates his intellectual development, with specific regard to his knowledge of the Orient. Said argues that those writing about the Orient have historically been writing about the Orient from the outside, writing about Oriental culture from a geographic position that lies external to the Orient. To contrast Said’s notion of exteriority, writing from a position of interiority allows for authenticity, a first-handed, critically intimate, view of the society from which the author is writing within. The agenda of the author writing from a position of exteriority was to produce a representation of the orient whose function is to create an identity or series of images of the Orient to make it appear naturally inferior. Describing the relationship, Said writes, “the relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony” (5). Said’s methodology, then, involves analyzing texts that have been written from a position of Exteriority, whose goal was, according to Said, to first and foremost establish Western dominance. The author created a text about the Orient for two audiences: so that both the colonized masses and Western audience could be re-educated to allow for a certain type of mindset to understand Oriental culture.

    Strategic formation, then, refers to the network of texts that collectively interconnect, producing a mass, overwhelming reading of what the Orient is and what the Orient looks like. The texts create a singular set of meaning whose function is to create and re-create Oriental identity for Western purposes. For Said, there is an Occidental intention about what the East looks like that is not neutral, not unbiased, but strategically constructed to shift the balance of power in Europe’s favor. Strategic formation is the vast library of texts that re-distribute language for the purpose of acquiring power. In the Foucauldian sense, these networks of works produce discourses that are institutionally reinforced. Exteriority is a purely linguistic construct of the Orient, not real verifiable fact, but language that produces real consequences in the history of the Orient. To tie together strategic location and strategic formation with regard to the discursive property of language, the geographic location of author as external to the Orient culture, and as a product of Western culture, parallels his deployment of cultural surface language, language that is not about truth and authenticity but re-presenting the Orient for Western culture’s benefit. Said writes “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West” (20-21). The West has appropriated the Orient’s speech, has forced the Orient to become silent, and is now engaging in an act of ventriloquism, one that re-presents the Orient to the West’s political, economic, and social benefit.

    To re-present the orient is to present what was presented already; to re-frame, re-shape, and re-configure what came before. Said’s emphasis on the creation of the Orient through textual discursive practices cannot be overemphasized. For Said, textual practices, have throughout the centuries, produced an idea of the orient where it has become “naturally” inferior to the West. The ideas and images that have circulated in the west have coalesced around the ideas that serve the purpose of the West’s authority over the East. Institutions in both West and East culture have re-presented and re-inforced these ideas. Said relies so heavily on Foucault because of his analysis of how Institutions reinforce cultural ideas.

    There is no such “real thing” as the “Orient” because the Orient is the Western construct of the East – and not the way the East envisions itself. The West has produced a critical mass of knowledge that has affected both the West, the West’s relationship with the Orient, and the Orient’s intellectual history. All scholars then writing about the Orient have come with an ideological predisposition, and have reproduced the hierarchal relationship between the authority wielding West and the silent Orient. The west, through language and text, has re-presented the Orient, and has, in fact, created the word and idea of the “Orient.”

  22. Michael Swacha says:

    Orientalism and the Dialectics of Power and Knowledge: The Performance of an Orientalist Discourse

    In The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault notes the concept of exteriority as one of the guiding methods or traits of his analysis. He describes this approach to exteriority as:

    A theme whose enunciative analysis tries to free itself. In order to restore statements to their pure dispersion… In order to seize their very irruption, at the place and at the moment at which it occurred. In order to rediscover their appearance as an event. (121)

    As such, he wishes to engage the text or the archive at the level in which it presents itself rather than to attempt to delve inside it in order to find some inherent or latent meaning. The presentation of the archive, for Foucault, therefore, is everything – it is through presentation, he argues, that one finds the functions and effects of discourse. He writes, “to analyse a discursive formation therefore is to deal with a group of verbal performances at the level of the statements and of the form of positivity that characterizes them” (my emphasis) (125). It is, therefore, not an issue of what was meant or intended in a verbal utterance (written or otherwise) , but more so one of what was said and what this utterance did. For Foucault, as opposed to Austen perhaps, it seems, all speech, at least from the vantage point of looking at it as an archive, is performative. Statements have consequences, and thus Foucault’s approach is to reveal the ways in which statements (discourse) performed history (both the history found in the archive and the history of the archive’s archiving).

    As Said employs this method in his work on Orientalism, he notes that the study of exteriority is the study of representational discourse, and, as a discourse of representation, Orientalism has a certain engagement with culture and power. He places emphasis on “the exteriority to what it [the Orientalist text] describes,” claiming that “my analysis of the Orientalist text therefore places emphasis on the evidence, which is by no means invisible, for such representation as representation, not as ‘natural’ depiction of the Orient” (Said, 20-21). By engaging with the surface level of the text – with what the text says and the resulting effects, rather than with some hidden meaning – Said argues that he is able to articulate the “evidence” of a problematic discourse. Orientalism is a discourse “representing” an object – one imagined as “the Orient” – that is not actually referencing any reality. In the first instance, the Orientalist project is problematic, for as a representation, it does not provide a full picture, but rather merely makes a general claim about a multiplicity of real circumstances, places and peoples. Beyond this, however, such a project is further problematic for it has historically been one that creates the “Oriental” picture by largely representing (here, it seems, in a second order to the representation discussed a moment ago) the Oriental as found in previous Orientalist discourse. He writes:

    In any instance of at least a written language, there is no such thing as a delivered presence, but a re-presence, or a representation. The value, efficacy, strength, apparent veracity of a written statement about the Orient therefore relies very little, and cannot instrumentally depend, on the Orient as such” (21).

    The Orientalist project, therefore, is, according to Said, largely self-referential and based on a re-presented, and therefore mainly imagined or fictitious, archive.

    It is in this way, then, or so it seems, that the production of Orientalism (both as a mode of discourse and in its content), when tied to policy and a western conception of the “East,” can be not only misleading but potentially dangerous – and this is what Said argues. He notes:

    Everyone who writes about the Orient must locate himself vis-à-vis the Orient… all [ways] of which add up to deliberate ways of addressing the reader, containing the Orient, and finally, representing it or speaking on its behalf…Orientalism responded more to the culture that produced it than to its putative object, which was also produced by the west. Thus, the history of Orientalism has an internal consistency and a highly articulated set of relationships to the dominant culture surrounding it… Orientalism borrowed and was frequently informed by “strong” ideas, doctrines, and trends ruling the culture. Thus there was a linguistic Orient, a Freudian Orient… Yet there has never been such a thing as a pure, or unconditional, Orient. (20-23)

    As western concepts of the real peoples under the western gaze were informed by previous western concepts, and not of the peoples themselves, the idea of the “Orient” became more and more imagined. This imagined idea – as a discourse, and thus, as noted above, as a perfomative – nevertheless directed the western exercise of power over real humans. Indeed, the discourse was transformed into action. The actual people upon which such power was exacted, however, did not correspond to the concepts by which they were being judged and accordingly influenced, ruled, or dominated. There was (or still is?) thus a gap between western executed power and its inherent object: not only did western power miss its intended mark (for it aimed at a fictitious people yet hit a real one), but these people were subject to a power that was not the result of their reality (or not a response to their being). It is here, then, that we can say that Said is making not merely an epistemological claim, in regard to knowledge production, but also one regarding a gap in ontological identification.

    Works Cited:

    Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage, 1972.

    Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1978.

  23. Tarra Kohli says:

    Foucault , in The Archaeology of Knowledge, argues that statements are made exterior to their subject. One hopes that by working backwards from previously made historical statements in order to uncover the historical fact, one can remove subjectivity. However, Foucault highlights the problematic nature of exteriority, by stating “statements should no longer be situated in relation to a sovereign subjectivity [that is looking in from without], but recognize in the different forms of the speaking subjectivity effects proper to the enunciative field” (Foucault 122).

    Said, in Orientalism, explains that Orientalists have a strategic location, which is a way of describing the author’s position in a text to that of his subject’s (Said 20). Because Orientalists stand outside of their subject, Orientalism “is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist […] makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient.” By doing so, an Orientalist creates the Orient. The Orient, then, is not an actual physical place, but a discourse in that Orientalism re-presents the Orient. The space filled by observations, as viewed and imposed by Orientalists, becomes the Orient. The Orient, epistemologically, is a collection of these observation, and ontologically, the Orient has been birthed by the Occidental.

    Orientalism, while being the study of the Orient, is more fundamentally founded on the West and its philosophies and history than it is on the East’s, in that an Orientalist’s perspective on the Orient is informed by his biases. Orientalism than is only a truth insomuch it is a description of a perspective, and not the reality of the East’s existence unto itself. Orientalism is not only a natural perspective created by the West’s history and collective identity, but also a deliberate formation by the West of the East’s identity.

    The knowledge that the Orientalist creates about the East, whether or not true, is what creates the Orient. Through this creation of knowledge and abstraction, the West comes to have power over the East. After all, it has created the Orientals and has given them voice and description in the West. By creating such expertise on the East, Orientalists have not only muted these other civilizations, but have dominion over them. The Orient is now a fact, and while the East “develops, changes, or otherwise transforms itself [… it] is fundamentally, even ontologically stable” (Said 32). Their intellectual power over and creation of the Orient then easily translates to a physical power over the East. Simply stated, there is no geographical Orient, only an abstraction as created by those that have imposed a voice, history and culture onto a geographical location. This creation of expertise, vocabulary, then, is not only an exercise of power over peoples, ultimately informing the West’s superiority over the East, but also the creation of this geographical location.

    Because Orientalists can create the discourse by which the East is studied and judged, the West has power, through its ability to create knowledge on the Orient, over this un-West. In its simplest form, “Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promsted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”)” (Said 43). However, what gives the West its ability to judge the East and articulate it is not only the differences between the two cultures, but the similarities. It is the similarities, but not the recreation of the same exact abstractions, that allows the West to measure the ways in which the East has fallen short of it (Said 58).

    The Orient is a confined stage as described by Said. The truths that are made about the Orient are “a function of learned judgment, not of the material itself, which in time seems to owe even its existence to the Orientalist” (Said 67). Simply stated, the Orientalist has created the Orient from its biased knowledge of the East, giving the West, through this superior discourse, physical and political power over it.

  24. Seraje Assi says:

    Reflections on Said’s Orientalism

    The concept of “exteriority” is a governing theme in Said’s Orientalism. According to Said, “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West.” (Orientalism, 20-21). Here Said sees representation as the principal product of this exteriority. This representation is by no means a reflection of a “real” Orient. Quite the contrary: since Orientalism is a discourse based on a certain form of language, and since language by its very nature is representation, the Orient becomes a Western creation and discursive construction. Based on this perception of the Orient, Orientalism, Said concludes, “responded more to the culture that produced it than to its putative object, which was also produced by the West.” (22)
    Orientalism in this sense reflects the tension, or more accurately, the conflict between historical narrative and vision. And it is from this conflict that the domination of reality by vision emanates. To put it in Said’s words, “the complex dynamics of human life- history as narrative- becomes either irrelevant or trivial in comparison with the circular vision by which the details of Oriental life serve merely to reassert the orientalness of the subject and the westerness of the observer.”
    Yet this perception of the Orientalist discourse is quite problematic. For it does not make a clear distinction between knowledge as a means of domination- that is effective, authentic, strategic and intelligential knowledge- and imaginative knowledge, that is knowledge steeped in essentialism, exoticism and romanticism. It is commonsense that subjugation of and domination over another people or country requires accurate knowledge, or to steal a line from Fred Halliday, “a good map of the country and its mines.” It is indeed a primary reflection that any knowledge intended to serve colonial interests must be a valid one and that any kind of distorted and inflexible knowledge will make territorial domination a difficult mission.
    The question then become does Said’s rejection of the Orientalist discourse stem from its distorted categories of knowledge about the Orient, or quite the contrary, from the effectiveness of this knowledge and its productive relations with the colonial system? In other words, how could Said reconcile his emphasis on passive and distorted forms of knowledge about the Orient with the effectiveness of the Orientalist discourse, that is, between his depiction of Orientalism as a closed and self-contained system of knowledge and his central thesis that Orientalism provided a foothold for Western expansion in the East? Is the distinction between the two forms of knowledge historical or epistemological? How do they coexist? Can we assume, for instance, that there existed a discourse on the Orient as a geographical unity distinct from the discourse on the Oriental people? In other words, can we assume that Orinetalism, catgut up in the conflict between these contending forms of knowledge about the Orient, discovered the Orient, but not the Orientals?
    If we accept the assumption that there indeed existed two contending (and contradictory) forms of knowledge about the Orient, passive and effective, how were they incorporated into the dynamics of an Orientalist discourse based on the nexus between knowledge and power? To what extent does the existence of these different forms of knowledge about the Orient testify to the capacity of Orientalism to contain the tension and contradiction between irreconcilable forms of knowledge and put them in the service of the empire?
    To solve this predicament we need first not allow the distinction between representation and reality to collapse while keeping their interdependency in view. We must also try to understand whether these two forms of knowledge are function of changing historical pattern or discursive diversity, that is, to see whether they have developed diachronically or synchronically and thus offer a deconstructive analysis to its hierarchical structures. Perhaps one way of dealing with this question is to locate Orientalism in the spatial play between imaginative and authentic knowledge, that is, as a collection of discourses each with its own specific function. The very distinction between knowledge as propaganda (civilizing mission) and intelligential knowledge (accurate knowledge on geography, maps and sources) can be useful here. If, for instance, the United States did believe that Saddam Husain had weapons of mass destruction, why did it then risk sending its groups to Iraq? Or, how could American public discourse reconcile the dominant discourse on the Iraqi (or Arab) people, the assumption that Arabs are inherently not ready for democracy, with its declared mission to liberate and establish a democracy in Iraq, that is, to establish a democracy in a country unsuited to democracy?
    Interestingly, the current events in Tunisia and Egypt offer an extraordinary glimpse into this conflict between narrative and vision. The scene is worth reflection: The Arab World is suffering. And in its suffering is threatening the West. For Arab peoples are now speaking and their language is familiar to the Western observer: democracy, liberty, free elections, equality and human rights. The Arab people are making history and their revolution is challenging Western visions that maintained themselves regardless of any historical evidence disputing them. But this time the evidence is too visible to deny. Its visibility is so intimidating. The vision is being defeated by narrative. It is yielding to the pressure of history. The scene is dazzling and confusing. For not only the subalterns can speak, but also challenge the observer’s ability to speak back.

  25. Calvin Woodruff says:

    As I am understanding it, Foucault’s exteriority resists the notion that a particular statement (text) holds a self-contained meaning—a truth or an intention—“beneath events” which arranges itself within a greater system or systematized progression of thought, within an “evolution of mentalities” (The Archaeology of Knowledge 121). Teleological, atemporal, and inevitable, such narratives presume “the opposition of interior and exterior,” designating the legible surface of a text the exterior that, through a process of translation, yields a full and essential meaning— this is to say, its interior (120-21). Indeed, a text’s exterior cannot reveal what occurs prior to its production, its presumed origins, for it is, “in its empirical modesty, the locus of particular events, regularities, relationships, modifications and systematic transformations; in short, it is treated not as the result or trace of something else, but as a practical domain that is autonomous (although dependent), and which can be described at its own level (although it must be articulated on something other than itself)” (122). That historical texts occur and either do or do not remain available “means that they are preserved by virtue of a number of supports and material techniques … [and] that they are invested in techniques that put them into operation, in practices which derive from them, in the social relations that they form, or, through those relations, modify” (123-24). Thus, a particular text’s relation to history and memory lies in its capacity to outline the particular spaces, operations, and textual antecedents on which its existence depends (124).
    Drawing on Foucault’s exteriority, Said’s work seeks to understand the discursive production of the Orient by charting the “ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some particular aspects of the Orient [which] constitutes an analyzable formation … whose presence in time, in discourse, in institutions … gives it strength and clarity” (Orientalism 20). For Said, an Orientalist text by definition positions itself outside (i.e. exterior to) its subject. Dependent on contexts distinct from what it depicts, such a text creates the illusion of the Orient’s presence through discursive re-presentation, “the dramatic immediacy [of which] obscures the fact that the audience is (engaging) a highly artificial enactment of what a non-Oriental has made into a symbol for the whole Orient” (21). The production and subsequent revisions to the Orient then rely on two types of antecedents. First, if texts occur in relation to those that surround, precede, and succeed them, they necessarily and mutually shape the epistemological contours of their discursive field/s. Second, as texts proliferate and those contours form, their representations acquire greater authority; codified, repeated textual acts generate knowledge, and knowledge then claims power over its given domain by defining it and asserting a relationship between the position of knower and known. For these reasons, the Orient can therefore be understood as an Orientalist fiction, a textual production which claims knowledge of and power over a terrestrial, geographically demarcated area mistaken for the antecedent to Orientalism’s discursive objects.

  26. Steven Erkel says:

    Steven Erkel
    Professor Andrew Rubin
    Orientalism and the Human
    29th January, 2010

    Orientalism and Its Discourse

    The Orient was almost a European invention, and had
    been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings,
    haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable
    experiences – Edward Said, Orientalism, pg 1.

    Edward Said’s Orientalism does not set forth to historically document the different cultures, villages, individuals, customs of the Orient; on the contrary, Said’s attempt here is to historically document a Western perception – and therefore creation – of the Orient. As Said states in the epigraph above, the Orient itself – “a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories….” – is diametrically opposed to how the West (U.S. and Western Europe, to be more specific) sees itself: rationale, Christian, honorable, just to name a few. But what we see here, at least in my mind, is that the West is both creation of the Orient, but also of itself. Are these two perceptions accurate? Perhaps not; yet that is not Said’s point. It is how the West perceives itself against the East that marks the relationship that Said documents in Orientalism.

    One of Said’s main criticisms of the West’s perception of the East is not that it occurs or that there are Orientalist studies in universities and colleges, but rather that the West attempts to confine the East into terms in which the West can understand. As Said writes, “But what becomes evident is not only the advantage of Western perspective: there is also the triumphant technique for taking immense fecundity of the Orient and making it systematically, even alphabetically, knowable by Western laymen” (65). Because the West does not understand the customs, rituals, and practices of the millions of individuals that make up the East, the West therefore defines the East against itself, turning the myriad of customs and practices into terms in which the West can understand. What this does, then, is to change a culture “from free-floating objects into units of knowledge,” yet knowledge that the West can understand (67). Therefore, because we cannot understand religion and customs that make up the East, we turn these observations that we can understand. Thus, religion and behaviors become wild, exotic, and irrational.

    As we can perhaps see, the Orient is a manifestation of the West’s perception, discourse, and writing. And, because the West – as Said argues – sees the East as inferior, it can be argued that the West sees itself as serving both a moral and religious duty to help the inhabitants of the Orient. We see this throughout literature of the English canon: Shakespeare The Tempest, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Maria Edgeworth, just to name a few. Either the author directly or the characters within the story find it a morale responsibility and ethical responsibility to construct the inferior characters or inhabitants of the East and construct them into an image of West.

    Indeed, because these authors and characters can only see the East as an image of what they (the West) is not, these authors and characters deploy their power over the East and its individuals by seeing them as “exotic,” irrational, and therefore inferior. Saree Makdisi, the nephew of Said, and Felicity Nussbaum support this argument, stating:

    We always approach other places, peoples, and texts from our own worldly
    location, and how we understand ourselves and our location in the world is
    defined by how we approach these others….

    As Makdisi and Nussbaum note, how we “approach other places, peoples, and text” is not to see them as a product of their own culture and beliefs, but through “our own worldly location.” Thus, because the West has for generations propelled a discourse about the East, this discourse has never been to discover what the Orient actually is, but rather what we, the West, think it is. As a result, not only have many of these authors generated a discourse about the East, but because they can only see it as a poplar opposite of what it is not, they offer deploy their power of the East by offering solutions to liberate themselves from their inferior existence.
    We must begin to see the Orient as a Western creation, one that has been manifested through generations of discourse by some of our canon’s most influential authors. Yet, because this “discourse” has usually portrayed the Orient as inferior, how we see the Orient currently is a product of generations of discourse about it. Is this discourse accurate? Perhaps not; but the problem is that it does not have to be accurate for us to act upon what we think is true. As such, the West has for generations acted in a degree of imperialist control, controlling not only the land but how the individuals of the East see themselves and their relationship to the West.

    Works Cited

    Said, Edward. Orientalism. NY: Random House, Inc. 1994.
    Makdis, Saree & Felicity, Nussbaum. Introduction. The Arabian Nights in Historical
    Context: Between East and West. Oxford and NY: Oxford University Press. 2008. Pg. 9-10.

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