Reference Library: Orientalism
:For the book by Edward Said, see Orientalism (book)
'Orientalism' is the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages and peoples by Western scholars. It can also refer to the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists.
In the former meaning the term Orientalism has come to acquire negative connotations in some quarters; interpreted to refer to the study of the East by Americans and Europeans shaped by the attitudes of the era of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, it implies old-fashioned and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples.
This viewpoint was most famously articulated and propagated by Edward Said in his controversial book Orientalism (1978), which was critical of this scholarly tradition and of modern scholars including Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis.
Meaning of the term
Like the term Orient itself Orientalism derives from a Latin word Oriens referring simply to the rising of the sun, to imply "the East" in a relative sense. This is the opposite of the term Occident, which has largely dropped from common usage. Similar terms are the French-derived Levant and Anatolia, from the Greek anatole,'' two further locutions
for the direction in which the sun rises.
In terms of The Old World, Europe was considered to be 'The West' or Occidental, and the furthest known Eastern extremity 'The East' or 'The Orient'.
Since at least the Roman Empire until at least the Middle Ages; what is now considered 'The Middle East' was then considered 'The Orient'. During that period, the flourishing cultures of the Far East were unknown, just as Europe was essentially unknown in 'The Far East. For example, the Chinese name for China translates to 'The Middle Kingdom'.
Over time, the common understanding of 'The Orient' has continually shifted East as Western explorers travelled deeper into Asia. In Biblical times, the Three Wise Men 'from The Orient' were actually Magi from "The East" (relative to Palestine), now understood to be from 'The Persian Empire' also known by the Greeks as Media. Since then, as Europe gained expanding knowledge of the seemingly endless "Eastern Frontier", the definition of 'The Orient' progressively shifted Eastwards, until the Pacific Ocean was reached, in what is now also known as 'The Far East'. This can cause some confusion about the historical and geographic scope of Oriental Studies.
However, there still remain some contexts where 'The Orient' or 'Oriental' refer to older definitions. For example, 'Oriental Spices' typically come from regions extending from the Middle East through the Indian sub-continent to Indo-China. Also, travel on the Orient Express (from Paris to Istanbul), is East bound (towards the sun rise); but does not reach what is currently understood to be The Orient. In France, the terms "Orient" and "Orientals" can also still be understood to refer primarily to the Middle East and North Africa.
In contemporary English, oriental is usually a synonym for the culture and goods from the parts of East Asia traditionally occupied by East Asians and Southeast Asians, excluding Indians, Arabians and other more westerly peoples. It is considered a derogatory term to refer to Asians (East, South, West or Central Asians). For example, Washington state in the United states has Washington has it illegal to use the ‘O’ Word in legislation and government documents.
History of Orientalism
It is difficult to be precise about the origin of the distinction between the "West" and the "East". However the rise of both Christianity and Islam produced a sharp opposition between European Christendom and the Muslim cultures to the East and in North Africa. During the Middle Ages Islamic peoples were demonised as "alien" enemies of the Christian world. European knowledge of cultures further to the East was very sketchy indeed. Nevertheless, there was a vague awareness that complex civilizations existed in India and China, from which luxury goods such as woven textiles and ceramics were imported. As European explorations and colonisations expanded a distinction emerged between non-literate peoples, for example in Africa and the Americas, and the literate cultures of the East.
In the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers sometimes characterized aspects of Eastern cultures as superior to the Christian West. For example Voltaire promoted research into Zoroastrianism in the belief that it would support a rational Deism superior to Christianity. Others praised the religious tolerance of Islamic countries in contrast with the Christian West, or the status of scholarship in Mandarin China. With the translation of the Avesta by Abraham Anquetil-Duperron and the discovery of the Indo-European languages by William Jones complex connections between the early history of Eastern and Western cultures emerged. However, these developments occurred in the context of rivalry between France and Britain for control of India, and were associated with attempts to understand colonised cultures in order more effectively to control them. Liberal economists such as James Mill denigrated Eastern countries on the grounds that their civilizations were static and corrupt. Even Karl Marx characterised the "Asiatic mode of production" as unchanging. Christian evangelists sought to denigrate Eastern religious traditions as superstitions (see Juggernaut).
Despite this, the first serious European studies of Buddhism and Hinduism were undertaken by scholars such as Eugene Burnouf and Max Müller. Serious study of Islam also emerged. By the mid-19th century "Oriental Studies" was becoming an established academic discipline. However, while scholarly study expanded, so did racist attitudes and popular stereotypes of "inscrutable" and "wily" orientals. Often scholarly ideas were intertwined with such prejudicial racial or religious assumptions. Eastern art and literature were still seen as "exotic" and as inferior to Classical Graeco-Roman ideals. Their political and economic systems were generally thought to be feudal "oriental despotisms" and their alleged cultural inertia was considered to be resistant to progress. Many critical theorists regard this form of Orientalism as part of a larger, ideological colonialism justified by the concept of the "white man's burden".
Orientalism in the arts
Imitations of Oriental styles
Similar ambivalence is evident in art and literature. From the Renaissance to the 18th century Western designers attempted to imitate the technical sophistication of Chinese ceramics with only partial success. Chinoiserie is the catch-all term for the fashion for Chinese themes in decoration in Western Europe, beginning in the late 17th century and peaking in waves, especially Rococo Chinoiserie, ca 1740-1770. Early hints of Chinoiserie appear, in the 17th century, in the nations with active East India companies: England (the British East India Company), Denmark (the Danish East India Company), Holland (the Dutch East India Company) and France (the French East India Company). Tin-glazed pottery made at Delft and other Dutch towns adopted genuine blue-and-white Ming decoration from the early 17th century, and early ceramic wares at Meißen and other centers of true porcelain imitated Chinese shapes for dishes, vases and teawares (see Chinese export porcelain). But in the true Chinoiserie décor fairyland, mandarins lived in fanciful mountainous landscapes with cobweb bridges, carried flower parasols, lolled in flimsy bamboo pavilions haunted by dragons and phoenixes, while monkeys swung from scrolling borders.
Pleasure pavilions in "Chinese taste" appeared in the formal parterres of late Baroque and Rococo German palaces, and in tile panels at Aranjuez near Madrid. Thomas Chippendale's mahogany tea tables and china cabinets, especially, were embellished with fretwork glazing and railings, ca 1753 - 70, but sober homages to early Xing scholars' furnishings were also naturalized, as the tang evolved into a mid- Georgian side table and squared slat-back armchairs suited English gentlemen as well as Chinese scholars. Not every adaptation of Chinese design principles falls within mainstream "chinoiserie." Chinoiserie media included imitations of lacquer and painted tin (tôle) ware that imitated japanning, early painted wallpapers in sheets, and ceramic figurines and table ornaments. Small pagodas appeared on chimneypieces and full-sized ones in gardens. Kew has a magnificent garden pagoda designed by Sir William Chambers.
After 1860, Japonaiserie, sparked by the arrival of Japanese woodblock prints, became an important influence in the western arts. The paintings of James McNeill Whistler and his "Peacock Room" are some of the finest works of the genre; other examples include the Gamble House and other buildings by California architects Greene and Greene.
Depictions of the Orient in art and literature
Depictions of Islamic "Moors" and "Turks" (imprecisely named Muslim groups of North Africa and West Asia) can be found in Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. But it was not until the 19th century that "Orientalism" in the arts became an established theme. In these works the myth of the Orient as exotic and corrupt is most fully articulated. Such works typically concentrated on Near-Eastern Islamic cultures. Artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Léon Gérôme painted many depictions of Islamic culture, often including lounging odalisques, and stressing lassitude and visual spectacle. When Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, director of the French Académie de peinture painted a highly-colored vision of a turkish bath (illustration, right), he made his eroticized Orient publicly acceptable by his diffuse generalizing of the female forms, who might all have been of the same model. If his painting had simply been retitled "In a Paris Brothel," it would have been far less acceptable. Sensuality was seen as acceptable in the exotic Orient. This orientalizing imagery persisted in art into the early 20th century, as evidenced in Matisse's orientalist nudes. In these works the "Orient" often functions as a mirror to Western culture itself, or as a way of expressing its hidden or illicit aspects. In Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbô ancient Carthage in North Africa is used as a foil to ancient Rome. Its culture is portrayed as morally corrupting and suffused with dangerously alluring eroticism. This novel proved hugely influential on later portrayals of ancient Semitic cultures.
Examples of Orientalism in the arts
* Montesquieu - Persian Letters (Lettres persanes) (1721)
* William Thomas Beckford - "Vathek" (1786)
* Samuel Taylor Coleridge - "Kubla Khan" (published 1816)
* Percy Bysshe Shelley - "Ozymandias" (1818)
* Ralph Waldo Emerson - poem "Indian Superstition" (1821)
* Thomas de Quincey - Malay passages in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822)
* Edgar Allan Poe - "Tamerlane" (1827), "Al Aaraaf" (1829), and "Israfel" (1831)
* Anatole France Thaïs (1890)
* Richard Francis Burton - translation of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (1885-1888)
* Victor Segalen - René Leys (1922)
* André Malraux - ''Man's Fate (1934) (La Condition humaine'', 1933)
* Marguerite Yourcenar's Nouvelles Orientales (1938)
* Marguerite Duras - The Lover (''L'Amant) (1984)
* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Westöstlicher Diwan (1819)
Opera, ballets, musicals
* Jean-Philippe Rameau - Les Indes Galantes (1735-1736)
* Jacques Offenbach - Ba-ta-clan (1855)
* Georges Bizet - Les Pêcheurs de Perles'' (1863)
* Balakirev's Tamara, Borodin's Polovetsian Dances in opera Prince Igor (1890), César Cui's opera ''The Mandarin's Son'' (1878), Mussorgsky's Dance of the Persian Slaves (Khovanshchina) (1881), Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheheradze - the Mighty Handful aka "the Five" Russian composers
* Gilbert and Sullivan - The Mikado (1885)
* Giacomo Puccini - Madama Butterfly (1904), Turandot (1926)
* Rogers and Hammerstein - The King And I (1951)
* Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782)
* Georg Friedrich Händel - Tamerlano (1724) and Serse'' (1738)
*Richard Strauss Salome Opera in one act based on Wilde's play (1905)
*Richard Strauss The Egyptian Helen Opera with libretto by Hugo von Hofmanstahl (1929)
Shorter musical pieces
* Albert Ketèlbey -- (1920), (1925), and (1931)
* Oscar Wilde's Salomé (1893, first performed in Paris 1896)
* Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
* Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
* Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867)
* Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
* Exodus (1960)
* Iron Eagle (1985)
* True Lies (1994)
Edward Said and "Orientalism"
Despite this often mixed tradition, the word "Orientalism" carried no negative freight. Respected institutions like the Oriental Institute of Chicago or the London School of Oriental and African Studies carried the term without reproach. "Oriental" was simply understood as the opposite of "occidental" ('western').
The word began to develop negative connotations following the publication of the groundbreaking work Orientalism by the U.S.-based Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Following the ideas of Michel Foucault, Said emphasized the relationship between power and knowledge in scholarly and popular thinking, in particular regarding European views of the Islamic Arab world. Said argued that Orient and Occident worked as oppositional terms, so that the "Orient" was constructed as a negative inversion of Western culture.
Taking a comparative and historical literary review of European scholars and writers looking at, thinking about, talking about, and writing about the peoples of the Middle East, Said sought to lay bare the relations of power between the colonizer and the colonized in those texts. Said's writings have had far-reaching implications beyond area studies in Middle East, to studies of imperialist Western attitudes to India, China and elsewhere. It was one of the foundational texts of postcolonial studies. Said later developed and modified his ideas in his book Culture and Imperialism (1993).
Many scholars now use Said's work to overturn long-held, often taken-for-granted Western ideological biases regarding non-Westerners in scholarly thought. Some post-colonial scholars would even say that the West's idea of itself was constructed largely by saying what others were not. If "Europe" evolved out of "Christendom" as the "not-Byzantium," early modern Europe in the late 16th century (see Battle of Lepanto) certainly defined itself as the "not-Turkey."
Said puts forward several definitions of 'Orientalism' in the introduction to Orientalism. Some of these have been more widely quoted and influential than others:
*"A way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience." (p. 1)
*"a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient' and (most of the time) 'the Occident'." (2)
* "A Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." (3)
* "...particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is as a veridic discourse about the Orient." (6)
* "A distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts." (12)
Criticisms of Said
Critics of Said's theory, such as the historian Bernard Lewis, argue that Said's account ignores the many genuine contributions to the study of Eastern cultures made by Westerners during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras. While many distortions and fantasies certainly existed, the notion of "the Orient" as a negative mirror image of the West cannot be wholly true because attitudes to distinct cultures diverged significantly. In any case it is a logical necessity that other cultures will be identified as "different", since otherwise their distinctive characteristics would be invisible, and that the most striking differences will hold up the mirror to the observing culture.
From "Oriental Studies" to "Asian Studies"
In most North American universities, Oriental Studies has now been replaced by Asian Studies localized to specific regions, such as, Middle Eastern or Near Eastern Studies, South Asian studies, and Far East or East Asian Studies. This reflects the fact that the Orient is not a single, monolithic region but rather a broad area encompassing multiple civilizations. The generic concept of Oriental Studies, to its opponents, has lost any use it may have once had and is perceived as obstructing changes in departmental structures to reflect actual patterns of modern scholarship.
Opponents offer various political explantions for the change. They point to a growing number of professional scholars and students of East Asian Studies are Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Korean Americans. This change of labelling may be correlated in some cases to the fact that sensitivity to the term "Oriental" has been heightened in a more politically correct atmosphere, although it began earlier: Sir Bernard Lewis' own department at Princeton University was renamed a decade before Said wrote his book, a detail which Said gets wrong.[http://etc.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/mfs/05/Companion/near_eastern_studies.html] By some, the term "Oriental" has come to be thought offensive to non-Westerners. Area studies that incorporate not only philological pursuits but identity politics may also account for the hestitation to use the term "Oriental".
Supporters of "Oriental Studies" counter that the term "Asian" is just as encompassing as "Oriental" and may well have originally had the same meaning, if it were derived from an Akkadian word for "East" (a more common derivation is from one or both of two Anatolian proper names.). Replacing one word with another is to confuse historically objectional opinions about the East with the concept of "the East" itself. The terms Oriental/Eastern and Occidental/Western are both inclusive concepts that usefully identify large-scale cultural differences. Such general concepts do not preclude or deny more specific ones.
A mirror image: Eastern views of the West
In an enlightening contrast, many of the essentially dismissive and patronizing concepts associated with Western "Orientalism" as expressed above are summed up— but in reverse orientation— in the epilogue to the "Chapter on the Western Regions" according to the Hou Hanshu. This is the official history of the Later (or "Eastern") Han Dynasty (25-221 CE). The book was compiled by Fan Ye, (died 445 CE), and it succinctly expresses the Han opinion of the Western Hu culture (in what is now western China):
:The Western Hu are far away.
:They live in an outer zone.
:Their countries' products are beautiful and precious,
:But their character is debauched and frivolous.
:They do not follow the rites of China.
:Han has the canonical books.
:They do not obey the Way of the Gods.
Likewise, derogatory or stereotyped portrayals of Westerners appear in many works of Indian, Chinese and Japanese artists.
thumbnail]]In contrast, some Eastern artists adopted and adapted Western styles. The Indian painter Ravi Varma painted several works that are virtually indistinguishable from some Western orientalist images. In the late 20th century many Western cultural themes and images began appearing in Asian art and culture, especially in Japan. English words and phrases are prominent in Japanese advertising and popular culture, and many Japanese animes are written around characters, settings, themes, and mythological figures derived from various Western cultural traditions.
Recently, the term Occidentalism has been coined to refer to negative views of the Western world sometimes found in Eastern societies today.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Orientalism".