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- 28 01 2002 - 02:07 - katatonik

Occidentalism in Obscurity

Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit: “Occidentalism”. A German translation was published in one of the last issues of the “Weltwoche”, but it’s not available online. Not for free, at least.
B & M identify a

“cluster of images and ideas of the West in the minds of its haters: Four features of Occidentalism can be seen in most versions of it; we can call them the City, the Bourgeois, Reason, and Feminism. Each contains a set of attributes, such as arrogance, feebleness, greed, depravity, and decadence, which are invoked as typically Western, or even American, characteristics.”

The term Occidentalism is coined in obvious analogy to Orientalism, a term rendered popular by Edward Said’s book with same title. But the analogy is deceptive. B & M set out to describe Occidentalism as a cluster of images in the minds of the West’s “haters”. Said’s conception of Orientalism, if ambivalent, was more neutral in this respect: “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient … the whole network of interests inevitably brought to bear on (and therefore always involved in) any occasion when that peculiar entity “the Orient” is in question.” (link)
If one were to develop Occidentalism as an analytical concept in analogy to Orientalism, one would have to look at it in the same fashion, even though in some respects quite naturally different – maybe as a non-Occidental style for reacting to, developing independence from and claiming moral, spiritual, cultural and also political authority over the West. Something like that, maybe. At any rate, I find it rather puzzling to tie the concept of “Occidentalism” to an outright condemnation of the West, and not particularly enlightening. A productive examination of cultural images and stereotypes in relation to politics can’t restrict itself to the openly negative, can it?

So what’s in the essay? Contrary to what one might expect, B & M do not survey books, articles, pictures or films produced outside the Occident from the viewpoint of what they say about, or do with, the West. They list a host of rather eccentric examples from the writings of big antiliberal, antimodernist booh-bears: Hitler, Mao, Jerry Falwell, Ernst Jünger, and so on. Fair enough, and some of their observations are interesting in themselves. But I would have been curious to know more about how Indonesian statesmen or Hindu politicians, how Thai novelists or Congolese poets view and react to the West. Somehow I can’t resist the impression that B & M simply propagate a description of anti-modernism in the guise of so-called Occidentalism. Fair enough, there’s a lot of anti-modernism in non-Western writings, and a lot of it identifies the West with modernization and modernity. But that’s not all of the story, and what’s the point in restricting Occidentalism as a concept to these openly nasty sides? Why produce the false impression of a Saidian analogy when in fact there is none? Puzzling, at least. Grumble.

Oh, and apparently, there’s already a phenomenon commonly called Occidentalism:

“Occidentalism is a positive Arab response to Edward Said’s critique of Western Orientalism. The man behind the concept is professor Hassan Hanafi, leader of the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Cairo and a former researcher at the United Nations University in Tokyo. In 1992 he published a book of 881 pages about Occidentalism (Muquaddima fi ilm al-Istighrab [Introduction to the science of Occidentalism]). Hanafi’s project is to objectivate the Occident in the same way that Westerners used to do it with the Orient with the purpose of recreating an independent Arabic intellectual tradition. So far the Occident has been the teacher and we the pupils, he says. How long will this tutelage last? And he answers: As long as we consider the West just as a source of knowledge and not as an object of inquiry. Arabs must learn to desiccate the West the same way one does it with mice in the laboratory. Hanafi believes that the West is in decline. Asked by a French journal about Francis Fukuyama’s claim that History has come to its end, Hanafi answers: “For Arabs, Africans, Latin-Americans, Asians, History has not ended. It has perhaps not even started” (Interview with Hassan Hanafi in Arabies, 1992). History does not coincide in East and West. For Arabs, the period that Westerners call “middle age” was the real Antiquity. Now there is time for a renaissance.”
Hassan Hanafi was apparently accused as “non-islamic”, and is
counted as leftist, or left-wing.
More Occidentalist material? Xiaomei Chen, Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Ohio State University, wrote a book on Occidentalism in post-Mao China. Stephen Vernoit, Al-Akhawayn University, Morocco, wrote a book called “Occidentalism”, dealing with the production of Islamic art specifically for European markets in the 19th century.
And the American Heritage dictionary defines Occidentalism as:
1. A quality, mannerism, or custom specific to or characteristic of the Occident.
2. Scholarly knowledge of Occidental cultures, languages, and peoples.

Internet at its best: Gelahrte Kritik, differenziert, leichthändig und frei zugänglich. Sollte ein viel grösseres Publikum finden. Wieder ein Tag, an dem es mir schäbig vorkommt, das camp unter die ordinären Weblogs einzusortieren. Tja. Bitte weiter so.

mv (Jan 28, 14:27) #

och nö, wir können hier ja auch verdammt ordinär sein. Bitte beim Ordinären lassen, da fühlen wir uns wohl. Ansonsten danke für den Zuspruch!

katatonik (Jan 28, 21:03) #

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