ajnabi: cartoonic photomanip of my face (with some body) against a colourful patterned background (Default)
( May. 13th, 2010 11:55 am)
Knowledge and Power

In Orientalism, Edward Said cautions that "systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions—mind-forg'd manacles—are all too easily made, applied and guarded" (328). Systems of thought do not just exist as innocent ideas (23). In the case of Orientalism, it has been created through centuries of western techniques of creating and representing the Orient. Of course, this system of domination of the Orient by the Occidental, or the west, comes out of the power the west had and continues to have to dominate the east. Orientalism is a painful reminder of the "seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time" (328) that occurs when any pretense at acquiring and documenting "objective" knowledge is made. A scholar cannot be detachable from "the circumstances of [their] life, from the fact of [their] involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of society" (10). The "absurd [thesis] that [people play] no part in setting up both the material and the processes of knowledge" (300) must be demolished. It must be realized that the writer or the scholar cannot ever act as a nonpolitical, objective truth seeker.

In fact, the assumption that one can know another history or experience or culture, and the desire to know it, so often acts as domination, control and reinvention of that culture (in the knower's eyes). Said emphasizes this dynamic when he defines Orientalism as "a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world" (12). It is thereby "a human [and] intellectual [failure]" (328), because "in having to take up a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world it considered alien to its own, Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience" (328). Policy-makers in the colonial administration such as Balfour saw eastern civilizations as simply linear progressions that had died out and now needed to be assimilated into the new, western, modern order of things (32). Balfour's ready acceptance and promulgation of this 'knowledge' of civilization reveals the way in which the Orient was constructed as a "fundamentally, even ontologically stable" fact which the west could decide and control, for "to have such knowledge of a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it. And authority here means for 'us' to deny autonomy to 'it'—the Oriental country" (32). Said is careful to point out, though, even as he displays the egregious nature of Orientalist cultural and racial stereotypes, "that Balfour and Cromer.. could strip humanity down to such ruthless cultural and racial essences was not at all an indication of their particular viciousness. Rather it was an indication of how streamlined [and effective the doctrine of Orientalism had become]" (36).

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