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Said, Edward (1977) Orientalism. London: 

Noter om layor ut: 

- Sidetall 0verst 

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Innholdsfortegnelse i word 

Said, Edward (1977)) Orientalism. London: Penguin 1 

Innholdsfortegnelse i word 1 

Contents 5 

Preface (2003) 6 

Acknowledgments 16 

Introduction 18 

1 18 

II 21 

III 25 

Chapter 1. The Scope of Orientalism 43 

I Knowing the Oriental 43 

II Imaginative Geography and Its Representations: Orientalizing the 

Oriental 59 

III Projects 79 

IV Crisis 97 

Chapter 2 Orientalist Structures and Restructures 113 

I Redrawn Frontiers, Redefined Issues, Secularized Religion 113 

II Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan: Rational Anthropology and 
Philological Laboratory 122 

III Oriental Residence and Scholarship: The Requirements of 
Lexicography and Imagination 144 

IV Pilgrims and Pilgrimages, British and French 159 

3. Orientalism Now 186 

I Latent and Manifest Orientalism 186 

II Style, Expertise, Vision: Orientalism 's Worldliness 208 

III Modern Anglo-French Orientalism in Fullest Flower 232 

IV The Latest Phase 260 

Afterword (1995) 301 

1 301 

II 317 

Notes 324 

Introduction 324 

Chapter 1. The Scope of Orientalism 325 

Chapter 2. Orientalist Structures and Restructures 331 

Chapter 3. Orientalism Now 341 

Afterword 345 

Index 345 



Published by the Penguin Group 

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England 

First published by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd 1978 

Published in Peregrine Books 1985 

Reprinted in Penguin Books 1991 

Reprinted with a new Afterword 1995 

Reprinted with a new Preface 2003 

Copyright O Edward W. Said, 1978, 1995, 2003 

Published by arrangement with Pantheon B ooks, a Division of Random House Inc. 

All rights reserved 

Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic 
Typeset in Times Roman 

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject 

to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, 

re- sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publishers 

prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in 

which it is published and without a similar condition including this 

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously 
published material: 

George Allen 8s Unwin, Ltd.: Excerpts from Subjects the Day: Being a Selection of 

Speeches and Writings by George Nathaniel Curzon. 

George Allen 8s Unwin, Ltd.: Excerpts from Revolution in the Middle and Other Case 

Studies, proceedings of a seminar, edited by P. J. Vatikiotis. 

American Jewish Committee: Excerpts from "The Return of Islam" by Bernard Lewis, in 

Commentary, vol. 61, no. 1 (January 1976). Reprinted from Commentary by permission. 

Copyright © 1976 by the American Jewish Committee. 

Basic Books, Inc.: Excerpts from "Renan's Philological Laboratory" by Edward W. Said, 

in Art, Politics, and Will: Essays in Honor of Lionel Trilling, edited by Quentin 

Anderson et al. Copyright © 1977 by Basic Books, Inc. 

The Godley Head and Mcintosh 8s Otis, Inc.: Excerpts from Flaubert in Egypt, translated 

and edited by Francis Steegmuller. Reprinted by permission of Francis Steegmuller and 

The Bodley Head. 

Jonathan Cape, Ltd., and The Letters of T. E. Lawrence Trust: Excerpt from The Letters 

ofT. E. Lawrence, edited by David Garnett. 

Jonathan Cape, Ltd., The Seven Pillars Trust, and Doubleday 8s Co., Inc.: Excerpt from 

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph by T. E. Lawrence. Copyright 1926, 1935 by 

Doubleday 8s Co., Inc. 

Doubleday 8s Co., Inc., and A. P. Watt 8s Sons, Ltd.: Excerpt from Verse by Rudyard 


The Georgia Review: Excerpts from "Orientalism," which originally appeared in The 

Georgia Review (Spring 1977). Copyright ©1977 by the University of Georgia. 

Harper 8s Row, Publishers, Inc.: Excerpt from a poem by Bornier (1862), quoted in De 

Lesseps of Suez by Charles Beatty. 

Macmillan 8s Co., London and Basingstoke: Excerpts from Modern Egypt, vol. 2, by 

Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer. 

Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.: Excerpt from "Propaganda" by Harold Lasswell, in The 

Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by Edwin R. A. Seligman, vol. 12 (1934). 

Macmillan Publishing Co.. Inc., and A. P. Watt 8s Sons, Ltd.: Excerpt from "Byzantium" 

by William Butler Yeats, in The Collected Poems. Copyright 1933 by Macmillan 

Publishing Co., Inc., renewed 1961 by Bertha Georgie Yeats. 

The New York Times Company: Excerpts from "Arabs, Islam, and the Dogmas of the 

West" by Edward W. Said, in The New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1976. 

Copyright © 1976 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission. 

Northwestern University Press: Excerpt from "The Arab Portrayed" by Edward W. Said, 

in The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1 967: An Arab Perspective, edited by Ibrahim 

Abu-Lughod. Copyright © 1970 by North-western University Press. 

Prentice- Hall, Inc.: Excerpt from The Persians by Aeschylus, translated by Anthony J. 

Podleck. Copyright © 1970 by Prentice- Hall, Inc. 

The Royal Asiatic Society, Great Britain and Ireland: Excerpt from " Louis Massignon 

(1882-1962)," in; ournal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1962). 

University of California Press: Excerpts from Modern Islam: The Search for Cultural 

Identity by Gustave von Grunebaum. Copyright © 1962 by the Regents of the University of 

C alifornia. 

University of Chicago Press: Excerpts from Modern Trends in Islam byH. A. R. Gibb. 


Preface (2003) xi 

Acknowledgments xxv 


Chapter 1 The Scope of Orientalism 

I. Knowing the Oriental 31 
H. Imaginative Geography and Its Representations: Orientalizing the 
Oriental 49 
III. Projects 73 IV. Crisis 92 

Chapter 2 Orientalist Structures and Restructures 

I. Redrawn Frontiers, Redefined Issues, Secularized Religion 113 

II. Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan: Rational Anthropology and 
Philological Laboratory 123 

III. Oriental Residence and Scholarship: 

The Requirements of Lexicography and Imagination 149 

IV. Pilgrims and Pilgrimages, British and French 166 

Chapter 3 Orientalism Now 

I. Latent and Manifest Orientalism 201 

II. Style, Expertise, Vision: Orientalism's Worldliness 226 

III. Modern Anglo-French Orientalism in Fullest Flower 255 

IV. The Latest Phase 284 

Afterword (1995) 
Notes 355 
Index 379 


Preface (2003) 

Nine years ago, in the spring of 1994, I wrote an afterword for 
Orientalism in which, in trying to clarify what I believed I had and 
had not said, I stressed not only the many discussions that had 
opened up since my book appeared in 1978, but also the ways in 
which a work about representations of "the Orient" lends itself to 
increasing misrepresentation and misinterpretation. That I find the 
very same thing today more ironic than irritating is a sign of how 
much my age has crept up on me, along with the necessary dimin- 
utions in expectations and pedagogic zeal which usually frame the 
road to seniority. The recent death of my two main intellectual, 
political and personal mentors, Eqbal Ahmad and Ibrahim Abu- 
Lughod (who is one of the work's dedicatees) has brought sadness 
and loss, as well as resignation and a certain stubborn will to go 
on. It isn't at all a matter of being optimistic, but rather of 
continuing to have faith in the ongoing and literally unending 
process of emancipation and enlightenment that, in my opinion, 
frames and gives direction to the intellectual vocation. 

Nevertheless it is still a source of amazement to me that Orien- 
talism continues to be discussed and translated all over the world, 
in thirty-six languages. Thanks to the efforts of my dear friend and 
colleague Professor Gaby Peterberg, now of UCLA, formerly of Ben 
Gurion University in Israel, there is a Hebrew version of the book 
available, which has stimulated considerable discussion and debate 
among Israeli readers and students. In addition, a Vietnamese 
translation has appeared under Australian auspices; I hope it's not 
immodest to say that an Indochinese intellectual space seems to 
have opened up for the propositions of this book. In any case, it 
gives me great pleasure to note as an author who had never 
dreamed of any such happy fate for his work that interest in what I 
tried to do in my 


book hasn't completely died down, particularly in the many different lands of the 
"Orient" itself. 

In part, of course, that is because the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam have 
continued to fuel enormous change, struggle, controversy and, as I write these 
lines, war. As I said many years ago, Orientalism is the product of circumstances 
that are fundamentally, indeed radically, fractious. In my memoir Out of Place 
(1999) I described the strange and contradictory worlds in which I grew up, 
providing for myself and my readers a detailed account of the settings that I 
think formed me in Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon. But that was only a very 
personal account that stopped short of all the years of my own political 
engagement that started after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, a war in whose 
continuing aftermath (Israel is still in military occupation of the Palestinian 
territories and the Golan Heights) the terms of struggle and the ideas at stake 
that were crucial for my generation of Arabs and Americans seem to go on. 
Nevertheless I do want to affirm yet again that this book and, for that matter, 
my intellectual work generally have really been enabled by my life as a 
university academic. For all its often noted defects and problems, the American 
university — and mine, Columbia, in particular is still one of the few remaining 
places in the United States where reflection and study can take place in an 
almost Utopian fashion. I have never taught anything about the Middle East, 
being by training and practice a teacher of the mainly European and American 
humanities, a special-ist in modem comparative literature. The university and 
my pedagogic work with two generations of first-class students and excellent 
colleagues have made possible the kind of deliberately meditated and analyzed 
study that this book contains, which for all its urgent worldly references is still a 
book about culture, ideas, history and power, rather than Middle Eastern 
politics tout COUrt. That was my notion from the beginning, and it is very evident 
and a good deal clearer to me today. 

Yet Orientalism is very much a book tied to the tumultuous dynamics of 
contemporary history. I emphasize in it accordingly that neither the term Orient 
nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability; each is made up of 
human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other. That these 
supreme fictions lend themselves easily to manipulation and the organization of 
collective passion has never been more evident than in our time, when the 
mobilizations of fear, hatred, disgust and resurgent self- 
pride and arrogance— much of it having to do with Islam and the Arabs on one side, "we" 
Westerners on the other— are very large-scale enterprises. Orientalism's first page opens 
with a 1975 description of the Lebanese Civil War that ended in 1990, but the violence 
and the ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the 
failure of the Oslo peace process, the outbreak of the second intifada, and the awful 
suffering of the Palestinians on the reinvaded West Bank and Gaza, with Israeli F-16's 
and Apache helicopters used routinely on the defenseless civilians as part of their 
collective punishment. The suicide bombing phenomenon has appeared with all its 
hideous damage, none more lurid and apocalyptic of course than the events of September 
1 1 and their aftermath in the wars against Afghanistan and Irag. As I write these lines, the 

illegal and unsanctioned imperial invasion and occupation of Iraq by Britain and the 
United States proceeds, with a prospect of physical ravagement, political unrest and more 
invasions that is truly awful to contemplate. This is all part of what is supposed to be a 
clash of civilizations, unending, implacable, irremediable. Nevertheless, I think not. 

I wish I could say, however, that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs 
and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn't. For all 
kinds of reasons, the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. In the US, the 
hardening of attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalization and 
triumphalist cliche, the dominance of crude power allied with simplistic contempt of 
dissenters and "others," has found a fitting correlative in the looting, pillaging and 
destruction of Iraq's libraries and museums. What our leaders and their intellectual lack- 
eys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a 
blackboard, clean so that "we" might inscribe our own future there and impose our own 
forms of life for these lesser people to follow. It is quite common to hear high officials in 
Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient 
societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in ajar. But this has 
often happened with the "Orient," that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon's 
invasion of Egypt in the late eighteenth century has been made and re-made countless 
times by power acting through an expedient form of knowledge to assert that this is the 
Orient's nature, and we must deal with it accordingly. In the process the uncountable 
sediments of history, 


which include innumerable histories and a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, 
experiences and cultures, all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sand heap 
along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of 
Baghdad's libraries and museums. My argument is that history is made by men and 
women, just as it can also be unmade and re-written, always with various silences and 
elisions, always with shapes imposed and disfigurements tolerated, so that "our" East, 
"our" Orient becomes "ours" to possess and direct. 

I should say again that I have no "real" Orient to argue for. I do, however, have a very 
high regard for the powers and gifts of the peoples of that region to struggle on for their 
vision of what they are and want to be. There has been so massive and calculatedly 
aggressive an attack on the contemporary societies of the Arab and Muslim for their 
backwardness, lack of democracy, and abrogation of women's rights that we simply 
forget that such notions as modernity, enlightenment and democracy are by no means 
simple and agreed-upon concepts that one either does or does not find, like Easter eggs 
in the living-room. The breathtaking insouciance of jejune publicists who speak in the 
name of foreign policy and who have no live notion (or any knowledge at all) of the 

language of what real people actually speak has fabricated an arid landscape ready for 
American power to construct there an ersatz model of free market "democracy/ 1 
without even a trace of doubt that such projects don't exist outside of Swift's Academy 
of Lagado. 

W hat I do argue also is that there is a difference between know-ledge of other peoples 
and other times that is the result of understand-ing, 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 dominion. It is surely one of the intellectual 
catastrophes of history that an imperialist war confected by a small group of unelected 
US officials (they've been called chickenhawks, since none of them ever served in the 
military) was waged against a devastated Third World dictatorship on thoroughly 
ideological grounds having to do with world dominance, security control, and scarce 
resources, but disguised for its true intent, hastened and 


reasoned for by Orientalists who betrayed their calling as scholars. The major influences 
on George W. Bush's Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard 
Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab and Islamic world who helped the American 
hawks to think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind and centuries-old 
Islamic decline that only American power could reverse. Today, bookstores in the US are 
filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam 
exposed, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political 
polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have 
supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples over there who have 
been such a terrible thorn in "our" flesh. Accompanying such warmongering expertise 
have been the omnipresent CNNs and Foxs of this world, plus myriad numbers of 
evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, plus innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow 
journalists, all of them re-cycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations 
so as to stir up "America" against the foreign devil. 

Even with all its terrible failings and its appalling dictator (who was partly created by 
US policy two decades ago), were Irag to have been the world's largest exporter of 
bananas or oranges, surely there would have been no war, no hysteria over mysteriously 
vanished weapons of mass destruction, no transporting of an enormous army, navy and air 
force 7000 miles away to destroy a country scarcely known even to the educated 
American, all in the name of "freedom." Without a well- organized sense that these people 
over there were not like "us" and didn't appreciate "our" values the very core of 
traditional Orientalist dogma as 1 describe its creation and circulation 

in this book there would have been no war. 

So from the very same directorate of paid professional scholars enlisted by the Dutch 
conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, 
West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa, came the American 
advisers to the Pentagon and the White House, using the same cliches, the same 
demeaning stereotypes, the same justifications of power and violence (after all, runs the 
chorus, power is the only language they understand) in this case as in the earlier ones. 
These people have now been joined in Iraq by a whole army of private contractors and 
eager entrepreneurs to whom shall be confided everything from the writing of textbooks 
and the constitution to the 


refashioning and privatisation of Iraqi political life and its oil industry. Every single 
empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its 
circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and 
democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a 
chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, 
as if one shouldn't trust the evidence of one's eyes watching the destruction and the 
misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice. 

One specifically American contribution to the discourse of empire is the specialized 
jargon of policy expertise. You don't need Arabic or Persian or even French to 
pontificate about how the democracy domino effect is just what the Arab world needs. 
Combative and woefully ignorant policy experts whose world experience is limited to 
the Beltway grind out books on "terrorism" and liberalism, or about Islamic 
fundamentalism and A merican foreign policy, or about the end of history, all of it vying 
for attention and influence quite without regard for truthfulness or reflection or real 
knowledge. What matters is how efficient and resourceful it sounds, and who might go 
for it, as it were. The worst aspect of this essentializing stuff is that human suffering in 
all its density and pain is spirited away. Memory and with it the historical past are 
effaced as in the common, dismissively contemptuous American phrase, "you're 

Twenty- five years after its publication, Orientalism once again raises the question of 
whether modern imperialism ever ended, or whether it has continued in the Orient since 
Napoleon's entry into Egypt two centuries ago. Arabs and Muslims have been told that 
victimology and dwelling on the depredations of empire are only ways of evading 
responsibility in the present. Y ou have failed, you have gone wrong, says the modem 
Orientalist. This, of course, is also V. S. Naipaul's contribution to literature, that the 
victims of empire wail on while their country goes to the dogs. But what a shallow 
calculation of the imperial intrusion that is, how summarily it scants the immense 
distortion introduced by the empire into the lives of "lesser" peoples and "subject races" 

generation after generation, how little it wishes to face the long succession of years 
through which empire continues to work its way in the lives of, say, Palestinians or 
Congolese or Algerians or Iraqis. We allow justly that the Holocaust has permanently 
altered the consciousness of our time: why do we not accord the same epistemological 
mutation in 

what imperialism has done, and what Orientalism continues to do? Think of the 
line that starts with Napoleon, continues with the rise of Oriental studies and 
the takeover of North Africa, and goes on in similar undertakings in Vietnam, in 
Egypt, in Palestine and, during the entire twentieth century, in the struggle over 
oil and strategic control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan. 
Then think contrapuntally of the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, through the 
short period of liberal independence, the era of military coups, of insurgency, 
civil war, religious fanaticism, irrational struggle and uncompromising brutality 
against the latest bunch of "natives." Each of these phases and eras produces its 
own distorted knowledge of the other, each its own reductive images, its own 
disputatious polemics. 

My idea in Orientalism is to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of 
struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the 
short bursts of polemical, thought- stopping fury that so imprison us in labels 
and antagonistic debate whose goal is a belligerent collective identity rather 
than understanding and intellectual exchange. I have called what I try to do 
"humanism," a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal 
of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics. By humanism I mean first of 
all attempting to dissolve Blake's mind-forg'd manacles so as to be able to use 
one's mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective 
understanding and genuine disclosure. More-over, humanism is sustained by a 
sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods: 
strictly speaking, there-fore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist. 

This is to say that every domain is linked to every other one, and that nothing 
that goes on in our world has ever been isolated and pure of any outside 
influence. The disheartening part is that the more the critical study of culture 
shows us that this is the case, the less influence such a view seems to have, and 
the more territorially reductive polarizations like "Islam v. the West" seem to 

For those of us who by force of circumstance actually live the pluri- cultural 
life as it entails Islam and the West, I have long felt that a special intellectual 
and moral responsibility attaches to what we do as scholars and intellectuals. 
Certainly I think it is incumbent upon us to complicate and/ or dismantle the 
reductive formulae and the abstract but potent kind of thought that leads the 
mind away from concrete human history and experience and into the realms 


of ideological fiction, metaphysical confrontation and collective passion. This is not to 
say that we cannot speak about issues of injustice and suffering, but that we need to do so 
always within a context that is amply situated in history, culture and socio-economic 
reality. Our role is to widen the field of discussion, not to set limits in accord with the 
prevailing authority. I have spent a great deal of my life during the past thirty-five years 

advocating the rights of the Palestinian people to national self-determination, but I have 
always tried to do that with full attention paid to the reality of the Jewish people and what 
they suffered by way of persecution and genocide. The paramount thing is that the 
struggle for eguality in Palestine/ Israel should be directed toward a humane goal that is, 
co-existence, and not further suppression and denial. Not accidentally, I indicate that 
Orientalism and modem anti-Semitism have common roots. Therefore it would seem to 
be a vital necessity for independent intellectuals always to provide alternative models to 
the reductively simplifying and confining ones, based on mutual hostility, that have 
prevailed in the Middle East and elsewhere for so long. 

Let me now speak about a different alternative model that has been extremely 
important to me in my work. Asa humanist whose field is literature, I am old enough to 
have been trained forty years ago in the field of comparative literature, whose leading 
ideas go back to Germany in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Before 
that I must mention the supremely creative contribution of Giambattista Vico, the 
Neopolitan philosopher and philologist whose ideas anticipate and later infiltrate the line 
of German thinkers I am about to cite. They belong to the era of Herder and Wolf, later to 
be followed by Goethe, Humboldt, Dilthey, Nietzsche, Gadamer, and finally the great 
Twentieth Century Romance philologists Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer and Ernst Robert 
Curtius. To young people of the current generation the very idea of philology suggests 
something impossibly antiguarian and musty, but philology in fact is the most basic and 
creative of the interpretive arts. It is exemplified for me most admirably in Goethe's 
interest in Islam generally, and Hafiz in particular, a consuming passion which led to the 
composition of the West-Ostlicher Diwan, and it inflected Goethe's later ideas about 
Weitliteratur, the study of all the literatures of the world as a symphonic whole which 
could be apprehended theoretically as hav-ing preserved the individuality of each work 
without losing sight of the whole. 


There is a conaderable irony to the realization, then, that, as today's globalized world 
draws together in some of the lamentable ways I have been talking about here, we may be 
approaching the kind of standardization and homogeneity that Goethe's ideas were 
specifically formulated to prevent In an essay published in 1951 entitled "Philologie der 
Weltliteiatur", Erich Auerbach made exactly that point at the outset of the postwar period, 
which was also the beginning of the Cold War. His great book Mimesis, published in 
Berne in 1946 but written while Auerbach was a wartime exile teaching Romance 
languages in Istanbul, was meant to be a testament to the diversity and concreteness of the 
reality represented in Western literature from Homer to Virginia Woolf; but reading the 
1951 essay one senses that for Auerbach the great book he wrote was an elegy for a period 
when people could interpret texts philologically, concretely, sensitively and intuitively, 
using erudition and an excellent command of several languages to support the kind of 

understanding that Goethe advocated for his understanding of Islamic literature. 

Positive knowledge of languages and history was necessary, but it was never enough, 
any more than the mechanical gathering of facts would constitute an adequate method of 
grasping what an author like D ante, for example, was all about. The main requirement for 
the kind of philological understanding Auerbach and his predecessors were talking about 
and tried to practice was one that sympathetically and subjectively entered into the life of 
a written text as seen from the perspective of its time and its author (eingefuhling) . Rather 
than alienation and hostility to another time and different culture, philology as applied to 
Weltliteratur involved a profound humanistic spirit deployed with generosity and, if I may 
use the word, hospitality. Thus the interpreter's mind actively makes a place in it for a 
foreign Other. And this creative making of a place for works that are otherwise alien and 
distant is the most important facet of the interpreter's philological mission. 

All this was obviously undermined and destroyed in Germany by National Socialism. 
After the war, Auerbach notes mournfully, the standardization of ideas, and greater and 
greater specialization of knowledge, gradually narrowed the opportunities for the kind of 
investigative and everlastingly inquiring kind of philological work that he had 
represented, and, alas, it's an even more depressing fact that since Auerbach's death in 
1957 both the idea and practice of humanistic research have shrunk in scope as well as in 
centrality. The 

((xx)) ( 

book culture based on archival research as well as general principles of 
mind that once sustained humanism as a historical discipline have almost 
disappeared. Instead of reading in the real sense of the word, our students 
today are often distracted by the fragmented knowledge available on the 
internet and in the mass media. 

Worse yet, education is threatened by nationalist and religious 
orthodoxies often disseminated by the mass media as they focus 
ahistorically and sensationally on the distant electronic wars that give 
viewers the sense of surgical precision but that in fact obscure the terrible 
suffering and destruction produced by modern "clean" warfare. In the 
demonization of an unknown enemy, for whom the label "terrorist" serves 
the general purpose of keeping people stirred up and angry, media images 
command too much attention and can be exploited at times of crisis and 
insecurity of the kind that the post- 9/11 period has produced. Speaking 
both as an American and as an Arab I must ask my reader not to 
underestimate the kind of simplified view of the world that a relative 
handful of Pentagon civilian elites have formulated for US policy in the 
entire Arab and Islamic worlds, a view in which terror, pre-emptive war, 
and unilateral regime change— backed up by the most bloated military 
budget in history— are the main ideas debated endlessly and impov- 

erishingly by a media that assigns itself the role of producing so-called 
"experts" who validate the government's general line. 

Reflection, debate, rational argument moral principle based on a secular 
notion that human beings must create their own history, have been 
replaced by abstract ideas that celebrate American or Western 
exceptionalism, denigrate the relevance of context, and regard other 
cultures with derisive contempt. Perhaps you will say that I am making 
too many abrupt transitions between humanistic interpretation on the one 
hand and foreign policy on the other, and that a modern technological 
society which along with unprecedented power possesses the internet and 
F-16 fighter-jets must in the end be commanded by formidable technical- 
policy experts like Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle. But what has 
really been lost is a sense of the density and interdependence of human 
life, which can neither be reduced to a formula nor be brushed aside as 
irrelevant. Even the language of the war is dehumanizing in the extreme: 
"We'll go in there, take out Saddam, destroy his army with clean surgical 
strikes, and everyone will think it's great," said a congresswoman on 
national television. It seems to me entirely symptomatic of the 

precarious moment we are living through that when Vice President ('heney made his 
hard-line speech on August 26, 2002, about the imperative to attack Iraq, he quoted as his 
single Middle east "expert" in support of military intervention against Iraq an Arab 
academic who as a paid consultant to the mass media on a nightly basis keeps repeating 
his hatred of his own people and the renunciation of his background. Such a trahison 
des clercs is a sign of how genuine humanism can degenerate into jingoism and false 

That is one side of the global debate. In the A rab and M uslim countries the situation is 
scarcely better. As Roula Khalaf in an excellent Financial Times essay (September 4, 
2002) argues, the region has slipped into an easy anti- Americanism that shows little 
understanding of what the US is really like as a society. Because the governments are 
relatively powerless to affect US policy toward them, they turn their energies to 
repressing and keeping down their own populations, which results in resentment, anger 
and helpless imprecations that do nothing to open up societies where secular ideas about 
human history and development have been overtaken by failure and frustration, as well as 
by an Islamism built out of rote learning, the obliteration of what arc perceived to be 
other, competitive forms of secular knowledge, and an inability to analyze and exchange 
ideas within the generally discordant world of modem discourse. The gradual 
disappearance of the extraordinary tradition of Islamic ijtihad has been one of the major 
cultural disasters of our time, with the result that critical thinking and individual 
wrestling with the problems of the modern world have simply dropped out of sight. 
Orthodoxy and dogma rule instead. 

This is not to say that the cultural world has simply regressed on one side to a 
belligerent neo-Orientalism and on the other to blanket rejectionism. The recent United 
Nations W orld Summit in Johannes-burg, for all its limitations, did in fact reveal a vast 
area of common global concern whose detailed workings on matters having to do with 

the environment famine, the gap between advanced and developing countries, health and 
human rights, suggest the welcome emergence of a new collective constituency that gives 
the often facile notion of "one world" a new urgency. In all this, however, we must admit 
that no one can possibly know the extraordinarily complex unity of our globalized world, 
despite the reality that, as I said at the outset, the world does have a real interdependence 
of parts that leaves no genuine opportunity for isolation. 


The point I want to conclude with now is to insist that the terrible reductive conflicts 
that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like "America," "The West" or "Islam" 
and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually guite 
diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed, their murderous 
effectiveness vastly reduced in influence and mobilizing power. We still have at our 
disposal the rational interpretive skills that are the legacy of humanistic education, not as 
a sentimental piety enjoining us to return to traditional values or the classics but as the 
active practice of worldly secular rational discourse. The secular world is the world of 
history as made by human beings. Human agency is subject to investigation and analysis, 
which it is the mission of understanding to apprehend, criticize, influence and judge. 
Above all, critical thought does not submit to state power or to commands to join in the 
ranks marching against one or another approved enemy. Rather than the manufactured 
clash of civilizations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures 
that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than 
any abridged or inauthentic mode of under- standing can allow. But for that kind of wider 
perception we need time and patient and skeptical inguiry, supported by faith in com- 
munities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action 
and reaction. 

Humanism is centered upon the agency of human individuality and subjective intuition, 
rather than on received ideas and approved authority. Texts have to be read as texts that 
were produced and live on in the historical realm in all sorts of what I have called 
worldly ways. But this by no means excludes power, since on the contrary what I have 
tried to show in my book have been the insinuations, the imbrications of power into even 
the most recondite of studies. 

And lastly, most important, humanism is the only, and, I would go as far as saying, the 
final, resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure 
human history. We are today abetted by the enormously encouraging democratic field of 
cyberspace, open to all users in ways undreamed of by earlier generations either of 
tyrants or of orthodoxies. The world-wide protests before the war began in Irag would 
not have been possible were it not for the existence of alternative communities across the 
globe, informed by alternative news sources and keenly aware of the environmental, 
human rights, and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this 


tiny planet. The human, and humanistic, desire for enlightenment and 
emancipation is not easily deferred, despite the incredible strength of Ihc 
opposition to it that comes from the Rumsfelds, Bin Ladens, Sharons and 
Bushes of this world. I would like to believe that (MentdliSlYl has had a place in 
the long and often interrupted road to human freedom. 

New York May 2003 


I have been reading about Orientalism for a number of years, but most of 
this book was written during 1975— 1976, which I spent as a Fellow at the 
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, 
California. In this unigue and generous institution, it was my good fortune 
not only to have benefitted agreeably from several colleagues, but also from 
the help of Joan Warm-brunn, Chris Hoth, Jane Kielsmeier, Preston Cutler, 
and the center's director, Gardner Lindzey. The list of friends, colleagues, 
and students who read, or listened to, parts or the whole of this manuscript 
is so long as to embarrass me, and now that it has finally appeared as a 
book, perhaps even them. Nevertheless I should mention with gratitude the 
always helpful encouragement of Janet and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Noam 

Chomsky, and Roger Owen, who followed this project from its beginning to 
its conclusion. Likewise I must gratefully acknowledge the helpful and 
critical interest of the colleagues, friends, and students in various places 
whose guestions and discussion sharpened the text considerably. Andre 
Schiffrin and Jeanne Morton of Pantheon Books were ideal publisher and 
copy editor, respectively, and made the ordeal (for the author, at least) of 
preparing the manuscript an instructive and genuinely intelligent process. 
Mariam Said helped me a great deal with her research on the early modern 
history of Orientalist institutions. Apart from that, though, her loving 
support really made much of the work on this book not only enjoyable but 

New Y ork September- October 1977 
E.w. s. 

They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented. 

— Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 

The East is a career. 

— Benjamin Disraeli, Tancred 




On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975— 1976 a 
French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that 
"it had once seemed to belong to ... the Orient of Chateaubriand and 
Nerval. 1 " He was right about the place, of course, especially so far as 
a European was concerned. The Orient was almost a European 
invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic 
beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences. 
Now it was disappearing; in a sense it had happened, its time was 
over. Perhaps it seemed irrelevant that Orientals themselves had 
something at stake in the process, that even in the time of 
Chateaubriand and Nerval Orientals had lived there, and that now it 
was they who were suffering; the main thing for the European visitor 
was a European representation of the Orient and its contemporary 
fate, both of which had a privileged communal significance for the 
journalist and his French readers. 

Americans will not feel quite the same about the Orient, which for 
them is much more likely to be associated very differently with the 
Far East (China and Japan, mainly). Unlike the Americans, the 
French and the British— less so the Germans, Russians, Spanish, 
Portuguese, Italians, and Swiss- have had a long tradition of what I 

shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the 
Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western 
experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the 
place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source 
of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant and one of 
its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the 
Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) 


as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of this Orient is 
merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material 
civilization and culture. Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally 
and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, 
vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and 
colonial styles. In contrast, the American understanding of the Orient will seem 
considerably less dense, although our recent Japanese, Korean, and Indochinese 
adventures ought now to be creating a more sober, more realistic "Oriental" 
awareness. Moreover, the vastly expanded American political and economic role 
in the Near East (the Middle East) makes great claims on our understanding of that 

It will be clear to the reader (and will become clearer still throughout the many 
pages that follow) that by Orientalism I mean several things, all of them, in my 
opinion, interdependent. The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is 
an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number of academic 
institutions. Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient— and this 
applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or 
philologist— either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what 
he or she does is Orientalism. Compared with oriental studies or area studies, it 
is true that the term orientalism is less preferred by specialists today, both because 
it is too vague and general and because it connotes the high-handed executive 
attitude of nineteenth- century and early- twentieth- century European colonialism. 
Nevertheless books are written and congresses held with "the Orient" as their main 
focus, with the Orientalist in his new or old guise as their main authority. The 
point is that even if it does not survive as it once did, Orientalism lives on 
academically through its doctrines and theses about the Orient and the Oriental. 

Related to this academic tradition, whose fortunes, transmigrations, 
specializations, and transmissions are in part the subject of this study, is a more 
general meaning for Orientalism. Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an 
ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and (most 
of the time) "the Occident." Thus a very large mass of writers, among whom are 
poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and im-perial 
administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the 
starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political 
accounts concerning the 


Orient, its people, customs, "mind," destiny, and so on. This Orientalism can 
accommodate Aeschylus, say, and Victor Hugo, Dante and Karl Marx. A little later 
in this introduction I shall deal with the methodological problems one encounters 
in so broadly construed a "field" as this. 

The interchange between the academic and the more or less imaginative 
meanings of Orientalism is a constant one, and since the late eighteenth century 
there has been a considerable, quite disciplined— perhaps even regulated— traffic 
between the two. Here I come to the third meaning of Orientalism, which is 
something more historically and materially defined than either of the other two. 
Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point 
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 W estern style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. 
I have found it useful here to employ Michel Foucault's notion of a discourse, as 
described by him in The Archaeology of Knowledge and in Discipline and 
Punish, to identify Orientalism. My contention is 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. Moreover, 
so authoritative a position did Orientalism have that I believe no one writing, think- 
ing, or acting on the Orient could do so without taking account of the limitations on 
thought and action imposed by Orientalism. In brief, because of Orientalism the 
Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action. This is not to say 

that Orientalism unilaterally determines what can be said about the Orient but that 
it is 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. How this happens is what this book tries to demonstrate. It also tries to 
show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off 
against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self. 

Historically and culturally there is a quantitative as well as a qualitative 
difference between the Franco- British involvement in the Orient and— until the 
period of American ascendancy after 


World War II— the involvement of every other European and Atlantic power. To speak of 
Orientalism therefore is to speak mainly, although not exclusively, of a British and French 
cultural enter- prise, a project whose dimensions take in such disparate realms as the 
imagination itself, the whole of India and the Levant, the Biblical texts and the Biblical 
lands, the spice trade, colonial armies and a long tradition of colonial administrators, a 
formidable scholarly corpus, innumerable Oriental "experts" and "hands," an Oriental 
professorate, a complex array of "Oriental" ideas (Oriental despotism, Oriental splendor, 
cruelty, sensuality), many Eastern sects, philosophies, and wisdoms domesticated for local 
European use— the list can be extended more or less indefinitely. My point is that 
Orientalism derives from a particular closeness experienced between Britain and France 
and the Orient, which until the early nineteenth century had really meant only India and 
the Bible lands. From the beginning of the nineteenth century until the end of World War 
II France and Britain dominated the Orient and Orientalism; since World War II America 
has dominated the Orient, and approaches it as France and Britain once did. Out of that 
closeness, whose dynamic is enormously productive even if it always demonstrates the 
comparatively greater strength of the Occident (British, French, or American), comes the 
large body of texts I call Orientalist. 

It should be said at once that even with the generous number of books and authors that I 
examine, there is a much larger number that I simply have had to leave out. My argument, 
however, de-pends neither upon an exhaustive catalogue of texts dealing with the Orient 
nor upon a clearly delimited set of texts, authors, and ideas that together make up the 
Orientalist canon. I have depended instead upon a different methodological alternative— 
whose back- bone in a sense is the set of historical generalizations I have so far been 
making in this Introduction— and it is these I want now to discuss in more analytical 


I have begun with the assumption that the Orient is not an inert fact of nature. It is not 
merely there, just as the Occident itself is not just there either. We must take seriously 


vation that men make their own history, that what they can know is what they 
have made, and extend it to geography: as both geo-graphical and cultural 
entities— to say nothing of historical entities —such locales, regions, 
geographical sectors as "Orient" and "Occident" are man-made. 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. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent 
reflect each other. 

Having said that, one must go on to state a number of reasonable 
qualifications. In the first place, it would be wrong to conclude that the Orient 
was essentially an idea, or a creation with no corresponding reality. When 
Disraeli said in his novel Tdncred that the East was a career, he meant that to 
be interested in the East was something bright young Westerners would find to 
be an all-consuming passion; he should not be interpreted as saying that the 
East was only a career for Westerners. There were — and are — cultures and 
nations whose location is in the East, and their lives, histories, and customs 
have a brute reality obviously greater than anything that could be said about 
them in the West. About that fact this study of Orientalism has very little to 
contribute, except to acknowledge it tacitly. But the phenomenon of Orientalism 
as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between 
Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its 
ideas about the Orient (the East as career) despite or beyond any 
correspondence, or lack thereof, with a "real" Orient. My point is that Disraeli's 
statement about the East refers mainly to that created consistency, that regular 
constellation of ideas as the pre-eminent thing about the Orient, and not to its 
mere being, as Wallace Stevens's phrase has it. 

A second qualification is that ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously 
be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their 
configurations of power, also being studied. To believe that the Orient was 
created — or, as I call it, "Orientalized" — and to believe that such things happen 
simply as a necessity of the imagination, is to be disingenuous. The relationship 
between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of 
varying degrees of a complex hegemony, and is quite accurately indicated in the 
title of K. M. Panikkar's classic Asia and Western Dominance.' The Orient was 
Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be "Oriental" in all those ways 
considered common- 


place by an average nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be— that 
is, submitted to being— made Oriental. There is very little consent to be found, for 

example, in the fact that Flaubert's encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced 
a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she 
never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented 
her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of 
domination that allowed him not only to possess Kuchuk Hanem physically but to 
speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was "typically Oriental." My 
argument is that Flaubert's situation of strength in relation to Kuchuk Hanem was 
not an isolated instance. It fairly stands for the pattern of relative strength between 
East and West, and the discourse about the Orient that it enabled. 

This brings us to a third qualification. One ought never to assume that the 
structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or of myths which, 
were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away. I myself believe that 
Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of European- Atlantic power over 
the Orient than it is as a veridic discourse about the Orient (which is what, in its 
academic or scholarly form, it claims to be). Nevertheless, what we must respect and 
try to grasp is the sheer knitted-together strength of Orientalist discourse, its very 
close ties to the enabling socio-economic and political institutions, and its redoubt- 
able durability. After all, any system of ideas that can remain unchanged as 
teachable wisdom (in academies, books, congresses, universities, foreign-service 
institutes) from the period of Ernest Renan in the late 1840s until the present in the 
United States must be something more formidable than a mere collection of lies. 
Orientalism, therefore, is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a 
created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been a 
considerable material invest-ment. Continued investment made Orientalism, as a 
system of knowledge about the Orient, an accepted grid for filtering through the 
Orient into Western consciousness, just as that same investment multiplied— indeed, 
made truly productive— the statements proliferating out from Orientalism into the 
general culture. 

Gramsci has made the useful analytic distinction between civil and political society 
in which the former is made up of voluntary (or at least rational and noncoercive) 
affiliations like schools, 


families, and unions, the latter of state institutions (the army, the police, the central 
bureaucracy) whose role in the polity is direct domination. Culture, of course, is 
to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of 
institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by what 
Gramsci calls consent. In any society not totalitarian, then, certain cultural forms 
predominate over others, just as certain ideas are more influential than others; the 
form of this cultural leadership is what Gramsci has identified as hegemony/, an 
indispensable concept for any understanding of cultural life in the industrial West. 
It is hegemony, or rather the result of cultural hegemony at work, that gives 

Orientalism the durability and the strength I have been speak- ing about so far. 
Orientalism is never far from what Denys Hay has called the idea of Europe/ a 
collective notion identifying "us" Europeans as against all "those" non- Europeans, 
and indeed it can be argued that the major component in European culture is pre- 
cisely what made that culture hegemonic both in and outside Europe: the idea of 
European identity as a superior one in comparison with all the non-European 
peoples and cultures. There is in addition the hegemony of European ideas about 
the Orient themselves reiterating European superiority over Oriental 
backwardness, usu-ally overriding the possibility that a more independent, or more 
skeptical, thinker might have had different views on the matter. 

In a quite constant way, Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible 
positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible 
relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand. And 
why should it have been otherwise, especially during the period of extraordinary 
European ascendancy from the late Renaissance to the present? The scientist, the 
scholar, the missionary, the trader, or the soldier was in, or thought about, the 
Orient because he could be there, or could think about it, with very little resistance 
on the Orient's part. Under the general heading of knowledge of the Orient, and 
within the umbrella of Western hegemony over the Orient during the period from 
the end of the eighteenth century, there emerged a complex Orient suitable for 
study in the academy, for display in the museum, for reconstruction in the colonial 
office, for theoretical illustration in anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial, 
and historical theses about mankind and the universe, for instances of economic 
and sociological theories of development, revolution, cultural person- 


ality, national or religious character. Additionally, the imaginative examination of things 
Oriental was based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign Western consciousness out 
of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged, first according to general 
ideas about who or what was an Oriental, then according to a detailed logic governed not 
simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments, and 
projections. If we can point to great Orientalist works of genuine scholarship like Silvestre 
de Sacy'S Chrestomathie arabe or Edward William Lane's Account of the Manners 

and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, we need also to note that Renan's and 
Gobineau's racial ideas came out of the same impulse, as did a great many Victorian 
pornographic novels (see the analysis by Steven Marcus of "The Lustful Turk'") . 

And yet, one must repeatedly ask oneself whether what matters in- Orientalism is the 
general group of ideas overriding the mass of material— about which who could deny that 
they were shot through with doctrines of European superiority, various kinds of racism, 
imperialism, and the like, dogmatic views of "the Oriental" as a kind of ideal and 
unchanging abstraction?— or the much more varied work produced by almost uncountable 
individual writers, whom one would take up as individual instances of authors dealing 

with the Orient. In a sense the two alternatives, general and particular, are really two 
perspectives on the same material: in both instances one would have to deal with pioneers 
in the field like William Jones, with great artists like Nerval or Flaubert. And why would 
it not be possible to employ both perspectives together, or one after the other? Isn't there 
an obvious danger of distortion (of precisely the kind that academic Orientalism has 
always been prone to) if either too general or too specific a level of description is 
maintained systematically? 

My two fears are distortion and inaccuracy, or rather the kind of inaccuracy produced 
by too dogmatic a generality and too positivistic a localized focus. In trying to deal with 
these problems I have tried to deal with three main aspects of my own contemporary 
reality that seem to me to point the way out of the methodological or perspectival 
difficulties I have been discussing, difficulties that might force one, in the first instance, 
into writing a coarse polemic on so unacceptably general a level of description as not to 
be worth the effort, or in the second instance, into writing so detailed and atomistic a 
series of analyses as to lose all track of the general 


lines of force informing the field, giving it its special cogency. How then to recognize 
individuality and to reconcile it with its intelligent, and by no means passive or 
merely dictatorial, general and hegemonic context? 


I mentioned three aspects of my contemporary reality: I must explain and briefly 
discuss them now, so that it can be seen how I was led to a particular course of 
research and writing. 

1. The distinction between pure and political knowledge. It is very easy to argue 
that knowledge about Shakespeare or Words-worth is not political whereas knowledge 
about contemporary China or the Soviet Union is. My own formal and professional 
designation is that of "humanist," a title which indicates the humanities as my field 
and therefore the unlikely eventuality that there might be anything political about what 
I do in that field. Of course, all these labels and terms are quite unnuanced as I use 
them here, but the general truth of what I am pointing to is, I think, widely held. One 
reason for saying that a humanist who writes about Wordsworth, or an editor whose 
specialty is Keats, is not involved in anything political is that what he does seems to 
have no direct political effect upon reality in the everyday sense. A scholar whose field 
is Soviet economics works in a highly charged area where there is much government 
interest, and what he might produce in the way of studies or proposals will be taken 
up by policymakers, government officials, institutional economists, intelligence 
experts. The distinction between "humanists" and persons whose work has policy 

implications, or political significance, can be broadened further by saying that the 
former's ideological color is a matter of incidental importance to politics (although 
possibly of great moment to his colleagues in the field, who may object to his 
Stalinism or fascism or too easy liberalism), whereas the ideology of the latter is 
woven directly into his material— indeed, economics, politics, and sociology in the 
modern academy are ideological sciences— and therefore taken for granted as being 
Nevertheless the determining impingement on most knowledge 


produced in the contemporary West (and here I speak mainly about the United 
States) is that it be nonpolitical, that is, scholarly, academic, impartial, above 
partisan or small-minded doctrinal belief. One can have no quarrel with such an 
ambition in theory, perhaps, but in practice the reality is much more problematic. 
No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances 
of life, from the fact of his involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set 
of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of a society. 
These continue to bear on what he does professionally, even though naturally enough 
his research and its fruits do attempt to reach a level of relative freedom from the 
inhibitions and the restrictions of brute, everyday reality. For there is such a thing as 
knowledge that is less, rather than more, partial than the individual (with his 
entangling and distracting life circumstances) who produces it. Y et this knowledge is 
not therefore automatically nonpolitical. 

Whether discussions of literature or of classical philology are fraught with— or 
have unmediated— political significance is a very large question that I have tried to 
treat in some detail elsewhere. 1 What I am interested in doing now is suggesting how 
the general liberal consensus that " true" knowledge is fundamentally non-political 
(and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not " true" knowledge) obscures 
the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge 
is produced. No one is helped in understanding this today when the adjective 
" political" is used as a label to discredit any work for daring to violate the protocol 
of pretended supr apolitical objectivity. We may say, first, that civil society 
recognizes a gradation of political importance in the various fields of knowledge. To 
some extent the political importance given a field comes from the possibility of its 
direct translation into economic terms; but to a greater extent political importance 
comes from the closeness of a field to ascertain-able sources of power in political 

society. Thus an economic study of long-term Soviet energy potential and its effect 
on military capability is likely to be commissioned by the Defense Department, and 
thereafter to acguire a kind of political status impossible for a study of Tolstoi's 
early fiction financed in part by a foundation. Y et both works belong in what civil 
society acknowledges to be a similar field, Russian studies, even though one work 
may be done by a very conservative economist, the other by a radical literary 


historian. My point here is that "Russia" as a general subject matter has political priority 
over nicer distinctions such as "economics" and "literary history/ 1 because political 
society in Gramsci's sense reaches into such realms of civil society as the academy and 
saturates them with significance of direct concern to it. 

I do not want to press all this any further on general theoretical grounds: it seems to me 
that the value and credibility of my case can be demonstrated by being much more 
specific, in the way, for example, Noam Chomsky has studied the instrumental connection 
between the Vietnam War and the notion of objective scholarship as it was applied to 
cover state-sponsored military research. 1 Now because Britain, France, and recently the 
United States are imperial powers, their political societies impart to their civil societies a 
sense of urgency, a direct political infusion as it were, where and when-ever matters 
pertaining to their imperial interests abroad are concerned. I doubt that it is controversial, 
for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century 
took an interest in those countries that was never far from their status in his mind as 
British colonies. To say this may seem guite different from saying that all academic 
knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the 
gross political fact— and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism. For 
if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or 
disclaim its author's involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it 
must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no 
disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient 
as a European or American first, as an individual second. And to be a European or an 
American in such a situation is by no means an inert fact. It meant and means being 
aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, 
and more important, that one belongs to a part of the earth with a definite history of in- 
volvement in the Orient almost since the time of Homer. 

Put in this way, these political actualities are still too undefined and general to be really 
interesting. Anyone would agree to them without necessarily agreeing also that they 
mattered very much, for instance, to Flaubert as he'wrote Salammbo, ortoH. A. R. Gibb 
as he wrote Modern Trends in islam. The trouble is that there is too great a distance 

between the big dominating fact as I have de- 


scribed it, and the details of everyday life that govern the minute discipline of a novel or a 
scholarly text as each is being written. Yet if we eliminate from the start any notion that 
"big" facts like imperial domination can be applied mechanically and deterministic- ally to 
such complex matters as culture and ideas, then we will begin to approach an interesting 
kind of study. My idea is that European and then American interest in the Orient was 
political according to some of the obvious historical accounts of it that I have given here, 
but that it was the culture that created that interest that acted dynamically along with 
brute political, economic, and military rationales to make the Orient the varied and 
complicated place that it obviously was in the field I call Orientalism. 
Therefore, Orientalism is not a mere political subject matter or field that is reflected 
passively by culture, scholarship, or institutions; nor is it a large and diffuse collection of 
texts about the Orient; nor is it representative and expressive of some nefarious "Western" 
imperialist plot to hold down the "Oriental" world. It is rather a distribution of 
geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and 
philological texts; it is an elaboration not only of a basic geographical distinction (the 
world is made up of two unegual halves, Orient and Occident) but also of a whole series 
of "interests" which, by such means as scholarly discovery, philological reconstruction, 
psychological analysis, landscape and sociological description, it not only creates but also 
maintains; it is, rather than expresses, 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; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct 
corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and 
exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the 
exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power 
intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or anatomy, or any of 
the modern policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste, 
texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what "we" do and what "they" cannot do 
or understand as "we" do). Indeed, my real argument is that Orientalism is— and does not 
simply represent— a considerable dimension of modern political- intellectual culture, and 
as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with "our" world. 


Because Orientalism is a cultural and a political fact then it does not exist in some 
archival vacuum; quite the contrary, I think it can be shown that what is thought, said, or 
even done about the Orient follows (perhaps occurs within) certain distinct and in- 
tellectually knowable lines. Here too a considerable degree of nuance and elaboration can 
be seen working as between the broad superstructural pressures and the details of 
composition, the facts of textuality. Most humanistic scholars are, I think, perfectly happy 
with the notion that texts exist in contexts, that there is such a thing as intertextuality, that 
the pressures of conventions, predecessors, and rhetorical styles limit what Walter 
Benjamin once called the "overtaxing of the productive person in the name of . . . the 
principle of 'creativity, 1 " in which the poet is believed on his own, and out of his pure 
mind, to have brought forth his work. 1 Yet there is a reluctance to allow that political, 
institutional, and ideological constraints act in the same manner on the individual author. 
A humanist will believe it to be an interesting fact to any interpreter of Balzac that he was 
influenced in the Comedie humaine by the conflict between Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and 
Cuvier, but the same sort of pressure on Balzac of deeply reactionary monarchism is felt 
in some vague way to demean his literary "genius" and therefore to be less worth serious 
study. Similarly— as Harry Bracken has been tirelessly showing— philosophers will 
conduct their discussions of Locke, Hume, and empiricism without ever taking into 
account that there is an explicit connection in these classic writers between their 
"philosophic" doctrines and racial theory, justifications of slavery, or arguments for 
colonial exploitation. 1 These are common enough ways by which contemporary 
scholarship keeps itself pure. 

Perhaps it is true that most attempts to rub culture's nose in the mud of politics have 
been crudely iconoclastic; perhaps also the social interpretation of literature in my own 
field has simply not kept up with the enormous technical advances in detailed textual 
analysis. But there is no getting away from the fact that literary studies in general, and 
American Marxist theorists in particular, have avoided the effort of seriously bridging the 
gap between the superstructural and the base levels in textual, historical scholarship; on 
another occasion I have gone so far as to say that the literary-cultural establishment as a 
whole has declared the serious study of imperialism and culture off limits.' For 
Orientalism brings one up directly against that question- that is, to realizing 


that political imperialism governs an entire field of study, imagination, and 
scholarly institutions— in such a way as to make its avoidance an intellectual and 
historical impossibility. Yet there will always remain the perennial escape 
mechanism of saying that a literary scholar and a philosopher, for example, are 
trained in literature and philosophy respectively, not in politics or ideological 
analysis. In other words, the specialist argument can work quite effectively to 

block the larger and, in my opinion, the more intellectually serious perspective. 

Here it seems to me there is a simple two-part answer to be given, at least so far 
as the study of imperialism and culture (or Orientalism) is concerned. In the first 
place, nearly every nineteenth- century writer (and the same is true enough of 
writers in earlier periods) was extraordinarily well aware of the fact of empire: this 
is a subject not very well studied, but it will not take a modern Victorian specialist 
long to admit that liberal cultural heroes like John Stuart Mill, Arnold, Carlyle, 
Newman, Macaulay, Ruskin, George Eliot, and even Dickens had definite views 
on race and imperialism, which are quite easily to be found at work in their 
writing. So even a specialist must deal with the knowledge that Mill, for example, 
made it clear in On Liberty and Representative Government that his views there could 
not be applied to India (he was an India Office functionary for a good deal of his 
life, after all) because the Indians were civilizationally, if not racially, inferior. 
The same kind of paradox is to be found in Marx, as I try to show in this book. In 
the second place, to believe that politics in the form of imperialism bears upon the 
production of literature, scholarship, social theory, and history writing is by no 
means equivalent to saying that culture is therefore a demeaned or denigrated 
thing. Quite the contrary: my whole point is to say that we can better understand 
the persistence and the durability of saturating hegemonic systems like culture 
when we realize that their internal constraints upon writers and thinkers were 
productive, not unilaterally inhibiting. It is this idea that Gramsci, certainly, and 
Foucault and Raymond Williams in their very different ways have been trying to 
illustrate. Even one or two pages by Williams on "the uses of the Empire" in The 
Long Revolution tell us more about nineteenth- century cultural richness than many 
volumes of hermetic textual analyses. 10 

Therefore I study Orientalism as a dynamic exchange between 


individual authors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great 
empires— British, French, American— in whose intellectual and imaginative 
territory the writing was produced. What interests me most as a scholar is not the 
gross political verity but the detail, as indeed what interests us in someone like 
Lane or Flaubert or Renan is not the (to him) indisputable truth that Occidentals are 
superior to Orientals, but the profoundly worked over and modulated evidence of 
his detailed work within the very wide space opened up by that truth. One need 
only remember that 

Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians is a classic 

of historical and anthropological observation because of its style, its enormously 
intelligent and brilliant details, not because of its simple reflection of racial 
superiority, to understand what I am saying here. 

The kind of political questions raised by Orientalism, then, are as follows: What 
other sorts of intellectual, aesthetic, scholarly, and cultural energies went into the 
making of an imperialist tradi-tion like the Orientalist one? How did philology, 
lexicography, history, biology, political and economic theory, novel- writing, and 
lyric poetry come to the service of Orientalism's broadly imperialist view of the 
world? What changes, modulations, refinements, even revolutions take place 
within Orientalism? What is the meaning of originality, of continuity, of 
individuality, in this context? How does Orientalism transmit or reproduce itself 
from one epoch to another? In fine, how can we treat the cultural, historical 
phenomenon of Orientalism as a kind of willed human work— not of mere 
unconditioned ratiocination— in all its historical complexity, detail, and worth 
without at the same time losing sight of the alliance between cultural work, 
political tendencies, the state, and the specific realities of domination? Governed 
by such concerns a humanistic study can responsibly address itself to politics and 
culture. But this is not to say that such a study establishes a hard-and-fast rule 
about the relationship between knowledge and politics. My argument is that each 
humanistic investigation must formulate the nature of that connection in the 
specific context of the study, the subject matter, and its historical circumstances. 

2. The methodological question. In a previous book I gave a good deal of thought 
and analysis to the methodological importance for work in the human sciences of 
finding and formulating a first step, a point of departure, a beginning principle." A 
major lesson 


I learned and tried to present was that there is no such thing as a merely given, or simply 
available, starting point: beginnings have to be made for each project in such a way as to 
enable what follows from them. Nowhere in my experience has the difficulty of this 
lesson been more consciously lived (with what success— or failure — I cannot really say) 
than in this study of Orientalism. The idea of beginning, indeed the act of beginning, 
necessarily involves an act of delimitation by which something is cut out of a great mass 
of material, separated from the mass, and made to stand for, as well as be, a starting 
point, a beginning; for the student of texts one such notion of inaugural delimitation is 

Louis Althusser's idea of the problematic, a specific determinate unity of a text or group 
of texts, which is. something given rise to by analysis.12 Yet in the case of Orientalism 
(as opposed to the case of Marx's texts, which is what Althusser studies) there is not 
simply the problem of finding a point of departure, or problematic, but also the guestion 
of designating which texts, authors, and periods are the ones best suited for study. 

It has seemed to me foolish to attempt an encyclopedic narrative history of 
Orientalism, first of all because if my guiding principle was to be "the European idea of 
the Orient" there would be virtually no limit to the material I would have had to deal 
with; second, because the narrative model itself did not suit my descriptive and political 
interests; third, because in such books as Raymond Schwab's La Renaissance 
orientale, Johann Fiick's Die Arabischen Studien in Europa bis in den Anfang des 
20. Jahrhunderts, and more recently, Dorothee Metlitzki's The Matter ofAraby in 
Medieval England's there already exist encyclopedic works on certain aspects of the 
European- Oriental encounter such as make the critic's job, in the general political and 
intellectual context I sketched above, a different one. 

There still remained the problem of cutting down a very fat archive to manageable 
dimensions, and more important, outlining something in the nature of an intellectual order 
within that group of texts without at the same time following a mindlessly chronological 
order. My starting point therefore has been the British, French, and American experience 
of the rient taken as a unit, what made that experience possible by way of historical and 
intellectual background, what the quality and character of the experience has been. For 
reasons I shall discuss presently I limited that already limited (but still inordinately large) 
set of questions to 


the Anglo-French- American experience of the Arabs and Islam, which 
for almost a thousand years together stood for the Orient. 
Immediately upon doing that, a large part of the Orient seemed to 
have been eliminated— India, Japan, China, and other sections of the 
Far East— not because these regions were not important (they 
obviously have been) but because one could discuss Europe's 
experience of the Near Orient, or of Islam, apart from its experience 
of the Far Orient. Yet at certain moments of that general European 
history of interest in the East, particular parts of the Orient like Egypt, 
Syria, and Arabia cannot be discussed without also studying Europe's 
involvement in the more distant parts, of which Persia and India are 
the most important; a notable case in point is the connection between 
Egypt and India so far as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain 
was concerned. Similarly the French role in deciphering the Zend- 
Avesta, the pre-eminence of Paris as a center of Sanskrit studies 

during the first decade of the nineteenth century, the fact that 
Napoleon's interest in the Orient was contingent upon his sense of the 
British role in India: all these Far Eastern interests directly influenced 
French interest in the Near East, Islam, and the Arabs. 

Britain and France dominated the Eastern Mediterranean from about 
the end of the seventeenth century on. Yet my discussion of that 
domination and systematic interest does not do justice to (a) the 
important contributions to Orientalism of Germany, Italy, Russia, 
Spain, and Portugal and (b) the fact that one of the important 
impulses toward the study of the Orient in the eighteenth century was 
the revolution in Biblical studies stimulated by such variously 
interesting pioneers as Bishop Lowth, Eichhorn, Herder, and 
Michaelis. In the first place, I had to focus rigorously upon the British- 
French and later the American material because it seemed inescapably 
true not only that Britain and France were the pioneer nations in the 
Orient and in Oriental studies, but that these vanguard positions were 
held by virtue of the two greatest colonial networks in pre-twentiefh- 
century history; the American Oriental position since World War II 
has fit— I think, quite self-consciously — in the places excavated by 
the two earlier European powers. Then too, I believe that the sheer 
quality, consistency, and mass of British, French, and American 
writing on the Orient lifts it above the doubtless crucial work done in 
Germany, Italy, Russia, and elsewhere. But I think it is also true that 
the major steps in Oriental scholarship were first taken in either 
Britain and France, 


then elaborated upon by Germans. Silvestre de Sacy, for example, was not only the 
first modern and institutional European Orientalist, who worked on Islam, Arabic 
literature, the Dru2e religion, and Sassanid Persia; he was also the teacher of 
Champollion and of Fran2 Bopp, the founder of German comparative linguistics. A 
similar claim of priority and subsequent pre-eminence can be made for William Jones 
and Edward William Lane. 

In the second place-and here the failings of my study of Orientalism are amply 
made up for — there has been some important recent work on the background in 

Biblical scholarship to the rise of what I have called modern Orientalism. The best 
and the most illuminatingly relevant is E. S. Shaffer's impressive "Kubla Khan" 
and The Fall of ] erusalem,'* an indispensable study of the origins of Romanticism, 
and of the intellectual activity underpinning a great deal of what goes on in 
Coleridge, Browning, and George Eliot. To some degree Shaffer's work refines upon 
the outlines provided in Schwab, by articulating the material of relevance to be 
found in the German Biblical scholars and using that material to read, in an 
intelligent and always interesting way, the work of three major British writers. Yet 
what is missing in the book is some sense of the political as well as ideological edge 
given the Oriental material by the British and French writers I am principally con- 
cerned with; in addition, unlike Shaffer I attempt to elucidate subsequent 
developments in academic as well as literary Orientalism that bear on the connection 
between British and French Orientalism on the one hand and the rise of an 
explicitly colonial-minded imperialism on the other. Then too, I wish to show how 
all these earlier matters are reproduced more or less in American Orientalism after 
the Second World War. 

Nevertheless there is a possibly misleading aspect to my study, where, aside from 
an occasional reference, I do not exhaustively discuss the German developments 
after the inaugural period dominated by Sacy. Any work that seeks to provide an 
understanding of academic Orientalism and pays little attention to scholars like 
Steinthal, Muller, Becker, Gold2iher, Brockelmann, Noldeke — to mention only a 
handful — needs to be reproached, and I freely reproach myself. I particularly regret 
not taking more account of the great scientific prestige that accrued to German 
scholarship by the middle of the nineteenth century, whose neglect was made into a 
denunciation of insular British scholars by George Eliot. I have in mind Eliot's 
unforgettable portrait of Mr. Casaubon in Middle- 


march. One reason Casaubon cannot finish his Key to All Mythologies is, according to his 
young cousin Will Ladislaw, that he is unacguainted with German scholarship. For not 
only has Casaubon chosen a subject "as changing as chemistry: new discoveries are 
constantly making new points of view": he is undertaking a job similar to a refutation of 
Paracelsus because "he is not an Orientalist you know. 1 

Eliot was not wrong in implying that by about 1830, which is when Middlemarch is set, 
German scholarship had fully attained its European pre-eminence. Yet at no time in 
German scholarship during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century could a close 
partnership have developed between Orientalists and a protracted, sustained national 
interest in the Orient. There was nothing in Germany to correspond to the Anglo-French 

presence in India, the Levant, North Africa. Moreover, the German Orient was almost 
exclusively a scholarly, or at least a classical, Orient: it was made the subject of lyrics, 
fantasies, and even novels, but it was never actual, the way Egypt and Syria were actual 
for Chateaubriand, Lane, Lamartine, Burton, Disraeli, or Nerval. There is some signifi- 
cance in the fact that the two most renowned German works on the Orient, Goethe's 
Westostlicher Diwan and Friedrich Schlegel's Uber die Sprache and Weisheit der Indier, 
were based respectively on a Rhine journey and on hours spent in Paris libraries. What 
German Oriental scholarship did was to refine and elaborate technigues whose application 
was to texts, myths, ideas, and languages almost literally gathered from the Orient by 
imperial Britain and France. 

Yet what German Orientalism had in common with Anglo-French and later American 
Orientalism was a kind of intellectual authority over the Orient within Western culture. 
This authority must in large part be the subject of any description of Orientalism, and it is 
so in this study. Even the name Orientalism suggests a serious, perhaps ponderous style of 
expertise; when I apply it to modern American social scientists (since they do not call 
them-selves Orientalists, my use of the word is anomalous), it is to draw attention to the 
way Middle East experts can still draw on the vestiges of Orientalism's intellectual 
position in nineteenth- century Europe. 

There is nothing mysterious or natural about authority. It is formed, irradiated, 
disseminated; it is instrumental, it is persuasive; it has status, it establishes canons of taste 
and value; it is virtually 


indistinguishable from certain ideas it dignifies as true, and from traditions, 
perceptions, and judgments it forms, transmits, reproduces. Above all, authority 
can, indeed must, be analyzed. All these attributes of authority apply to 
Orientalism, and much of what I do in this study is to describe both the historical 
authority in and the personal authorities of Orientalism. 

My principal methodological devices for studying authority here are what can be 
called strategic location, which is a way of describing the author's position in a text 
with regard to the Oriental material he writes about, and strategic formation, which 
is a way of analyzing the relationship between texts and the way in which groups 
of texts, types of texts, even textual genres, acquire mass, density, and referential 
power among themselves and thereafter in the culture at large. I use the notion of 
strategy simply to identify the problem every writer on the Orient has faced: how 
to get hold of it, how to approach it, how not to be defeated or overwhelmed by 
its sublimity, its scope, its awful dimensions. Everyone who writes about the 
Orient must locate himself vis-a-vis the Orient; translated into his text, this 
location includes the kind of narrative voice he adopts, the type of structure he 

builds, the kinds of images, themes, motifs that circulate in his text— all of which 
add up to deliberate ways of addressing the reader, containing the Orient, and 
finally, representing it or speaking in its behalf. None of this takes place in the 
abstract, however. Every writer on the Orient (and this is true even of Homer) 
assumes some Oriental precedent, some previous knowledge of the Orient, to 
which he refers and on which he relies. Additionally, each work on the Orient 
affiliates itself with other works, with audiences, with institutions, with the Orient 
itself. The ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some 
particular aspects of the Orient therefore constitutes an analyzable formation— for 
example, that of philological studies, of anthologies of extracts from Oriental 
literature, of travel books, of Oriental fantasies— whose presence in time, in 
discourse, in institutions (schools, libraries, foreign services) gives it strength and 

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 de- scribes. I do not think that this idea can be 
overemphasized. 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. He is never concerned with the 
Orient except as the first cause of what he says. 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. The principal product of this exteriority is of 
course representation: as early as Aeschylus's play The Persians the Orient is 
transformed from a very far distant and often threatening Otherness into figures that are 
relatively familiar (in Aeschylus's case, grieving Asiatic women). The dramatic 
immediacy of representation in The Persians obscures the fact that the audience is 
watching a highly artificial enactment of what a no n- Oriental has made into a symbol for 
the whole Orient. My analysis of the Orientalist text therefore places emphasis on the 
evidence, which is by no means invisible, for such representations as representations, 
not as "natural" depictions of the Orient. This evidence is found just as prominently in the 
so-called truthful text (histories, philological analyses, political treatises) as in the 
avowedly artistic (i.e., openly imaginative) text. 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. The exteriority of the repre- 

sentation is always governed by some version of the truism that if the Orient could 
represent itself, it would; since it cannot the representation does the job, for the West and 
faute de mieux, for the poor Orient "Sie konnen sich nicht vertreten, sie miissen 
vertreten werden," as Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 

Another reason for insisting upon exteriority is that I believe it needs to be made clear 
about cultural discourse and exchange within a culture that what is commonly circulated 
by it is not "truth" but representations. It hardly needs to be demonstrated again that 
language itself is a highly organized and encoded system, which employs many devices to 
express, indicate, exchange messages and information, represent, and so forth. In any 
instance of at least 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. On the contrary, 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." Thus all 


of Orientalism stands forth and away from the Orient: that Orientalism makes sense at all 
depends more on the West than on the Orient, and this sense is directly indebted to 
various Western techniques of representation that make the Orient visible, clear, "there" in 
discourse about it. And these representations rely upon institutions, traditions, 
conventions, agreed-upon codes of under- standing for their effects, not upon a distant and 
amorphous Orient. 

The difference between representations of the Orient before the last third of the 
eighteenth century and those after it (that is, those belonging to what I call modem 
Orientalism) is that the range of representation expanded enormously in the later period. It 
is true that after William Jones and Anquetil-Duperron, and after Napoleon's Egyptian 
expedition, Europe came to know the Orient more scientifically, to live in it with greater 
authority and discipline than ever before. But what mattered to Europe was the expanded 
scope and the much greater refinement given its techniques for receiving the Orient. 
When around the turn of the eighteenth century the Orient definitively revealed the age of 
its languages— thus outdating Hebrew's divine pedigree— it was a group of Europeans 
who made the discovery, passed it on to other scholars, and preserved the discovery in the 
new science of Indo-European philology. A new powerful science for viewing the 
linguistic Orient was born, and with it, as Foucault has shown in The Order of Things, a 
whole web of related scientific interests. Similarly William Beckford, Byron, Goethe, and 
Hugo restructured the Orient by their art and made its colors, lights, and people visible 
through their images, rhythms, and motifs. At most, the "real" Orient provoked a writer to 
his vision; it very rarely guided it. 

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 both an 
internal consistency and a highly articulated set of relationships to the dominant culture 
sur-rounding it. My analyses conseguently try to show the field's shape and internal 
organization, its pioneers, patriarchal authorities, canonical texts, doxological ideas, 
exemplary figures, its followers, elaborators, and new authorities; I try also to explain 
how Oriental-ism borrowed and was freguently informed by "strong" ideas, doctrines, and 
trends ruling the culture. Thus there was ( and is) a linguistic Orient, a Freudian Orient, a 
Spenglerian Orient, a Darwinian Orient, a racist Orient— and so on. Y et never has there 


been such a thing as a pure, or unconditional, Orient; similarly, never has there been a 
nonmaterial form of Orientalism, much less something so innocent as an "idea" of the 
Orient. In this underlying conviction and in its ensuing methodological conseguences do 
I differ from scholars who study the history of ideas. For the emphases and the executive 
form, above all the material effectiveness, of statements made by Orientalist discourse are 
possible in ways that any hermetic history of ideas tends completely to scant. Without 
those emphases and that material effectiveness Orientalism would be just another idea, 
whereas it is and was much more than that. Therefore I set out to examine not only 
scholarly works but also works of literature, political tracts, journalistic texts, travel 
books, religious and philological studies. In other words, my hybrid per-spective is 
broadly historical and "anthropological," given that I believe all texts to be worldly and 
circumstantial in (of course) ways that vary from genre to genre, and from historical 
period to historical period. 

Yet unlike Michel Foucault, to whose work I am greatly indebted, I do believe in the 
determining imprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body 
of texts constituting a discursive formation like Orientalism. The unity of the large 
ensemble of texts I analyze is due in part to the fact that they freguently refer to each 
othen Orientalism is after all a system for citing works and authors. Edward William 
Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians was read and cited by Such 
diverse figures as Nerval, Flaubert, and Richard Burton. He was an authority whose use 
was an imperative for anyone writing or think- ing about the Orient, not just about Egypt: 
when Nerval borrows passages verbatim from Modern Egyptians it is to use Lane's 
authority to assist him in describing village scenes in Syria, not Egypt. Lane's authority 
and the opportunities provided for citing him discriminately as well as indiscriminately 
were there because Orientalism could give his text the kind of distributive currency that 
he acguired. There is no way, however, of understanding Lane's currency without also 
understanding the peculiar features of his text; this is egually true of Renan, Sacy, 
Lamartine, Schlegel, and a group of other influential writers. Foucault believes that in 
general the individual text or author counts for very little; empirically, in the case of 
Orientalism (and perhaps nowhere else) I find this not to be so. Accordingly my analyses 
employ close textual readings 


whose goal is to reveal the dialectic between individual text or writer and the 
complex collective formation to which his work is a contribution. 

Y et even though it includes an ample selection of writers, this book is still far from 
a complete history or general account of Orientalism. Of this, failing I am very 
conscious. The fabric of as thick a discourse as Orientalism has survived and 
functioned in Western society because of its richness: all I have done is to describe 
parts of that fabric at certain moments, and merely to suggest the existence of a 
larger whole, detailed, interesting, dotted with fascinating figures, texts, and events. I 
have consoled myself with believing that this book is one installment of several, and 
hope there are scholars and critics who might want to write others. There is still a 
general essay to be written on imperialism and culture; other studies would go more 
deeply into the connection between Orientalism and pedagogy, or into Italian, Dutch, 
German, and Swiss Orientalism, or into the dynamic between scholarship and 
imaginative writing, or into the relationship between administrative ideas and 
intellectual discipline. Perhaps the most important task of all would be to undertake 
studies in contemporary alternatives to Orientalism, to ask how one can study other 
cultures and peoples from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, 
per-spective. But then one would have to rethink the whole complex problem of 
knowledge and power. These are all tasks left embarrassingly incomplete in this 

The last, perhaps self-flattering, observation on method that I want to make here 
is that I have written this study with several audiences in mind. For students of 
literature and criticism, Oriental-ism offers a marvelous instance of the 
interrelations between society, history, and textuality; moreover, the cultural role 
played by the Orient in the West connects Orientalism with ideology, politics, and 
the logic of power, matters of relevance, I think, to the literary community. For 
contemporary students of the Orient, from university scholars to policymakers, I 
have written with two ends in mind: one, to present their intellectual genealogy to 
them in a way that has not been done; two, to criticize— with the hope of stirring dis- 
cussion— the often unquestioned assumptions on which their work for the most part 
depends. For the general reader, this study deals with matters that always compel 
attention, all of them connected not only with Western conceptions and treatments of 
the Other but also with the singularly important role played by Western culture 

l what Vico called the world of nations. Lastly, for readers in the so-called Third 

World, this study proposes itself as a step towards an understanding not so much of 
Western politics and of the non-Western world in those politics as of the strength of 
Western cultural discourse, a strength too often mistaken as merely decorative or 
"superstructural." My hope is to illustrate the formidable structure of cultural 
domination and, specifically for formerly coloni2ed peoples, the dangers and 
temptations of employing this structure upon themselves or upon others. 

The three long chapters and twelve shorter units into which this book is divided are 
intended to facilitate exposition as much as possible. Chapter One, "The Scope of 
Orientalism," draws a large circle around all the dimensions of the subject, both in 
terms of historical time and experiences and in terms of philosophical and political 
themes. Chapter Two, "Orientalist Structures and Re-structures," attempts to trace the 
development of modem Oriental-ism by a broadly chronological description, and also 
by the description of a set of devices common to the work of important poets, 
artists, and scholars. Chapter Three, "Orientalism Now," begins where its predecessor 
left off, at around 1870. This is the period of great colonial expansion into the Orient, 
and it culminates in World War II. The very last section of Chapter Three 
characterizes the shift from British and French to American hegemony; I attempt 
there finally to sketch the present intellectual and social realities of Orientalism in the 
United States. 

3. The personal dimension. In the Prison Notebooks Gramsci 
says: "The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really 
is, and is "knowing thyself as a product of the historical process to date, which has 
deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory." The only 
available English translation inexplicably leaves Gramsci's comment at that, whereas 
in fact Gramsci's Italian text concludes by adding, "therefore it is imperative at the 
outset to compile such an inventory.'" 

Much of the personal investment in this study derives from my awareness of being 
an "Oriental" as a child growing up in two British colonies. All of my education, in 
those colonies (Palestine and Egypt) and in the United States, has been Western, and 
yet that deep early awareness has persisted. In many ways my study of Orientalism 
has been an attempt to inventory the traces upon me, the Oriental subject, of the 
culture whose domination has been so powerful a factor in the life of all Orientals. 
This is why for me the 


Islamic Orient has had to be the center of attention. Whether what I have achieved is the 
inventory prescribed by Gramsci is not for me to judge, although I have felt it important 
to be conscious of trying to produce one. Along the way, as severely and as rationally as 
I have been able, I have tried to maintain a critical consciousness, as well as employing 
those instruments of historical, humanistic, and cultural research of which my education 
has made me the fortunate beneficiary. In none of that, however, have I ever lost hold of 
the cultural reality of, the personal involvement in having been constituted as, "an 


The historical circumstances making such a study possible are fairly complex, and I 
can only list them schematically here. Anyone resident in the West since the 1950s, 
particularly in the United States, will have lived through an era of extraordinary 
turbulence in the relations of East and West. No one will have failed to note how "East" 
has always signified danger and threat during this period, even as it has meant the 
traditional Orient as well as Russia. In the universities a growing establishment of area- 
studies programs and institutes has made the scholarly study of the Orient a branch of 
national policy. Public affairs in this country include a healthy interest in the Orient, as 
much for its strategic and economic importance as for its traditional exoticism. If the 
world has become immediately accessible to a Western citizen living in the electronic 
age, the Orient too has drawn nearer to him, and is now less a myth perhaps than a place 
crisscrossed by Western, especially American, interests. 

One aspect of the electronic, postmodern world is that there has been a reinforcement 
of the stereotypes by which the Orient is viewed. Television, the films, and all the 
media's resources have forced information into more and more standardized molds. So 
far as the Orient is concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified 
the hold of the nineteenth- century academic and imaginative demonology of "the 
mysterious Orient." This is nowhere more true than in theays by which the Near East is 
grasped. Three things have contributed to making even the simplest perception of the 
Arabs and Islam into a highly politicized, almost raucous matter: one, the history of 
popular anti-Arab and anti- Islamic prejudice in the West, which is immediately reflected 
in the history of Orientalism; two, the struggle between the Arabs and Israeli Zionism, 
and its effects upon American Jews as well as upon both the liberal culture and the 
population at large; three, the almost 


total absence of any cultural position making it possible either to identify with or 
dispassionately to discuss the Arabs or Islam. Furthermore, it hardly needs saying that 
because the Middle East is now so identified with Great Power politics, oil economics, 
and the simple-minded dichotomy of freedom-loving, democratic Israel and evil, 
totalitarian, and terroristic Arabs, the chances of anything like a clear view of what one 
talks about in talking about the Near East are depressingly small. 

My own experiences of these matters are in part what made me write this book. The 
life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There 
exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it 
is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, 
cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or 
the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to 
feel as his uniguely punishing destiny. It has made matters worse for him to remark that 

no person academic-ally involved with the Near East— no Orientalist that is— has ever in 
the United States culturally and politically identified himself wholeheartedly with the 
Arabs; certainly there have been identifications on some level, but they have never taken 
an "acceptable" form as has liberal American identification with Zionism, and all too 
frequently they have been radically flawed by their association either with discredited 
political and economic interests (oil- company and State Department Arabists, for 
example) or with religion. 

The nexus of knowledge and power creating "the Oriental" and in a sense obliterating 
him as a human being is therefore not for me an exclusively academic matter. Y et it is an 
intellectual matter of some very obvious importance. I have been able to put to use my 
humanistic and political concerns for the analysis and description of a very worldly 
matter, the rise, development, and consolidation of Orientalism. Too often literature and 
culture are presumed to be politically, even historically innocent; it has regularly seemed 
otherwise to me, and certainly my study of Orientalism has convinced me (and I hope 
will convince my literary colleagues) that society and literary culture can only be 
understood and studied together. In addition, and by an almost inescapable logic, I have 
found myself writing the history of a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism. 
That anti-Semitism and, as I have discussed 


it in its Islamic branch, Orientalism resemble each other very closely is a historical, 
cultural, and political truth that needs only to be mentioned to an Arab Palestinian 
for its irony to be perfectly understood. But what I should like also to have 
contributed here is a better understanding of the way cultural domination has 
operated. If this stimulates a new kind of dealing with the Orient, indeed if it 
eliminates the " Orient" and " Occident" altogether, then we shall have advanced a 
little in the process of what Raymond Williams has called the " unlearning" of " the 
inherent dominative mode? 1 


Chapter 1. The Scope of 

• • • le genie inquiet et ambitieux de Europeens ... impatient d'employer les nouveaux 
instruments de leur puissance .. . 

- J ean-Baptiste-J oseph Fourier, Fri/ace historique (1809), Description del'Egypte 

I Knowing the Oriental 

On June 13, 1910, Arthur James Balfour lectured the House of Commons on "the 
problems with which we have to deal in Egypt." These, he said, "belong to a wholly 
different category" than those "affecting the Isle of Wight or the West Riding of 
Yorkshire." He spoke with the authority of a long-time member of Parliament, former 
private secretary to Lord Salisbury, former chief secretary for Ireland, former secretary 
for Scotland, former prime minister, veteran of numerous overseas crises, 
achievements, and changes. During his involvement in imperial affairs Balfour served 
a monarch who in 1876 had been declared Empress of India; he had been especially 
well placed in positions of uncommon influence to follow the Afghan and Zulu wars, 
the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, the death of General Gordon in the Sudan, 

the Fashoda Incident, the battle of Omdurman, the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese 
War. In addition his remarkable social eminence, the breadth of his learning and wit- 
he could write on such varied subjects as Bergson, Handel, theism, and golf— his 
education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and his apparent command over 
im-perial affairs all gave considerable authority to what he told the Commons in June 
1910. But there was still more to Balfour's speech, or at least to his need for giving it 
so didactically and moralistically. Some members were questioning the necessity for 
"Eng-land in Egypt," the subject of Alfred Alilner's enthusiastic book of 1892, but 
here designating a once-profitable occupation that had become a source of trouble 
now that Egyptian nationalism was on the rise and the continuing British presence in 
Egypt no longer so easy to defend. Balfour, then, to inform and explain. 

Recalling the challenge of J. M. Robertson, the member of Tyneside, Balfour 
himself put Robertson's question again: "What right have you to take up these airs of 
superiority with regard to people whom you choose to call Oriental?" The choice of 
"Oriental" was canonical; it had been employed by Chaucer and Mandeville, by 
Shakespeare, Dryden, Pope, and Byron. It designated Asia or the East, geographically, 
morally, culturally. One could speak in Europe of an Oriental personality, an Oriental 


atmosphere, an Oriental tale, Oriental despotism, or an Oriental mode of production, and 
be understood. Marx had used the word, and now Balfour was using it; his choice was 
understandable and called for no comment whatever. 

I take up no attitude of superiority. But I ask [Robertson and anyone else] . . . who 
has even the most superficial knowledge of history, if they will look in the face the 
facts with which a British statesman has to deal when he is put in a position of 
supremacy over great races like the inhabitants of Egypt and countries in the East. 
We know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other 
country. We know it further back; we know it more intimately; we know more about 
it. It goes far beyond the petty span of the history of our race, which is lost in the 
prehistoric period at a time when the Egyptian civilisation had already passed its 
prime. Look at all the Oriental countries. Do not talk about superiority or inferiority. 

Two great themes dominate his remarks here and in what will follow: knowledge and 
power, the Baconian themes. As Balfour justifies the necessity for British occupation of 
Egypt, supremacy in his mind is associated with "our" knowledge of Egypt and not 
principally with military or economic power. Knowledge to Balfour means surveying a 
civilization from its origins to its prime to its decline— and of course, it means being able 
to do that. Knowledge means rising above immediacy, beyond self, into the foreign and 

distant. The object of such knowledge is inherently vulnerable to scrutiny; this object is a 
"fact" which, if it develops, changes, or otherwise transforms itself in the way that 
civilizations freguently do, nevertheless is fundamentally, even ontologically stable. To 
have such knowledge of such 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— since we 
know it and it exists, in a sense, as we know it. British knowledge of Egypt is Egypt for 
Balfour, and the burdens of knowledge make such guestions as inferiority and superiority 
seem petty ones. Balfour no-where denies British superiority and Egyptian inferiority; he 
takes them for granted as he describes the conseguences of knowledge. 

First of all, look at the facts of the case. Western nations as soon as they emerge 
into history show the beginnings of those capacities for self-government . . . having 
merits of their own. ... You may look through the whole history of the Orientals in 
what is called, broadly speaking, the East, and you never find traces of self- 


government. All their great centuries— and they have been very great— have 
been passed under despotisms, under absolute govern-ment. All their great 
contributions to civilisation— and they have been great— have been made under 
that form of government. Congueror has succeeded congueror; one domination 
has followed another; but never in all the revolutions of fate and fortune have 
you seen one of those nations of its own motion establish what we, from a 
Western point of view, call self-government. That is the fact. It is not a question 
of superiority and inferiority. I suppose a true Eastern sage would say that the 
working government which we have taken upon ourselves in Egypt and 
elsewhere is not a work worthy of a philosopher— that it is the dirty work, the 
inferior work, of carrying on the necessary labour. 

Since these facts are facts, Balfour must then go on to the next part of his argument. 

Is it a good thing for these great nations— I admit their greatness — that this 
absolute government should be exercised by us? I think it is a good thing. I think 
that experience shows that they have got under it far better government than in 
the whole history of the world they ever had before, and which not only is a 
benefit to them, but is undoubtedly a benefit to the whole of the civilised West.... 
We are in Egypt not merely for the sake of the Egyptians, though we are there 
for their sake; we are there also for the sake of Europe at large. 

Balfour produces no evidence that Egyptians and "the races with whom we deal" 
appreciate or even understand the good that is being done them by colonial 
occupation. It does not occur to Balfour, however, to let the Egyptian speak for 

himself, since presumably any Egyptian who would speak out is more likely to be 
" the agitator [who] wishes to raise difficulties" than the good native who overlooks 
the " difficulties" of foreign domination. And so, having settled the ethical problems, 
Balfour turns at last to the practical ones. " If it is our business to govern, with or 
without gratitude, with or without the real and genuine memory of all the loss of 
which we have relieved the population [Balfour by no means implies, as part of that 
loss, the loss or at least the indefinite postponement of Egyptian independence] and 
no vivid imagination of all the benefits which we have given to them; if that is our 
duty, how is it to be performed?" England exports "our very best to these 
countries." These selfless administrators do their work " amidst tens of thousands of 
persons belonging to a different creed, a differ- 


ent race, a different discipline, different conditions of life." What makes their work of 
governing possible is their sense of being sup-ported at home by a government that 
endorses what they do. Yet 

directly the native populations have that instinctive feeling that those with whom 
they have got to deal have not behind them the might, the authority, the 
sympathy, the full and ungrudging sup-port of the country which sent them 
there, those populations lose all that sense of order which is the very basis of 
their civilisation, just as our officers lose all that sense of power and authority, 
which is the very basis of everything they can do for the benefit of those 
among whom they have been sent. 

Balfour's logic here is interesting, not least for being completely consistent with the 
premises of his entire speech. England knows Egypt; Egypt is what England knows; 
England knows that Egypt cannot have self-government; England confirms that by 
occupying Egypt; for the Egyptians, Egypt is what England has occupied and 
now governs; foreign occupation therefore becomes "the very basis" of 
contemporary Egyptian civilization; Egypt requires, indeed insists upon, British 
occupation. But if the special intimacy between governor and governed in Egypt is 
disturbed by Parliament's doubts at home, then "the authority of what ... is the 
dominant race— and as I think ought to remain the dominant race— has been under- 
mined." Not only does English prestige suffer; "it is vain for a handful of British 
officials— endow them how you like, give them all the qualities of character and 
genius you can imagine— it is impossible for them to carry out the great task which in 
Egypt, not we only, but the civilised world have imposed upon them.'" 

As a rhetorical performance Balfour's speech is significant for the way in which he 
plays the part of, and represents, a variety of characters. There are of course "the 
English," for whom the pro-noun "we" is used with the full weight of a 

distinguished, powerful man who feels himself to be representative of all that is 
best in his nation's history. Balfour can also speak for the civili2ed world, the West, 
and the relatively small corps of colonial officials in Egypt. If he does not speak 
directiy for the Orientals, it is because they after all speak another language; yet he 
knows how they feel since he knows their history, their reliance upon such as 
he, and their expectations. Still, he does speak for them in the sense that what 
they might have to say, were tiiey to be asked and might they be able to answer, 
would somewhat uselessly confirm what is already 


evident: that they are a subject race, dominated by a race that knows them and what 
is good for them better than they could possibly know themselves. Their great 
moments were in the past; they 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. 

Egypt in particular was an excellent case in point, and Balfour was perfectiy aware 
of how much right he had to speak as a member of his country's parliament on behalf 
of England, the West, Western civilization, about modern Egypt. For Egypt was not 
just another colony: it was the vindication of Western imperialism; it was, until its 
annexation by England, an almost academic example of Oriental backwardness; it was 
to become the triumph of English knowledge and power. Between 1882, the year in 
which England occupied Egypt and put an end to the nationalist rebellion of Colonel 
Arabi, and 1907, England's representative in Egypt, Egypt's master, was Evelyn 
Baring (also known as "Over-baring"), Lord Cromer. On July 30, 1907, it was Balfour 
in the Commons who had supported die project to give Cromer a retirement prize of 
fifty thousand pounds as a reward for what he had done in Egypt. Cromer made 
Egypt, said Balfour: 
Everydiing he has touched he has succeeded in. . . . Lord Cromer's services 
during the past quarter of a century have raised Egypt from the lowest pitch of 
social and economic degradation until it now stands among Oriental nations, I 
believe, absolutely alone in its prosperity, financial and moral.^ 
How Egypt's moral prosperity was measured, Balfour did not venture to say. British 
exports to Egypt equaled those to the whole of Africa; that certainly indicated a sort 
of financial prosperity, for Egypt and England (somewhat unevenly) together. But 
what really mattered was the unbroken, all-embracing Western tutelage of an Oriental 
country, from the scholars, missionaries, business-men, soldiers, and teachers who 
prepared and then implemented the occupation to the high functionaries like Cromer 
and Balfour who saw themselves as providing for, directing, and sometimes even 
forcing Egypt's rise from Oriental neglect to its present lonely eminence. 

If British success in Egypt was as exceptional as Balfour said, it was by no means an 
inexplicable or irrational success. Egyptian 


affairs had been controlled according to a general theory expressed both by Balfour 
in his notions about Oriental civilization and by Cromer in his management of 
everyday business in Egypt. The most important thing about the theory during the 
first decade of the twentieth century was that it worked, and worked staggeringly 
well. The argument when reduced to its simplest form, was clear, it was precise, it 
was easy to grasp. There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. 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. That Balfour and Cromer, as we shall 
soon see, 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 stream- lined a general doctrine had become by the time they put 
it to use— how streamlined and effective. 

Unlike Balfour, whose theses on Orientals pretended to objective universality, 
Cromer spoke about Orientals specifically as what he had ruled or had to deal with, 
first in India, then for the twenty- five years in Egypt during which he emerged as 
the paramount consul-general in England's empire. Balfour's "Orientals" are 
Cromer's "subject races," which he made the topic of a long essay published in the 
Edinburgh Review in January 1908. Once again, knowledge of subject races or 
Orientals is what makes their management easy and profitable; knowledge gives 
power, more power requires more knowledge, and so on in an increasingly 
profitable dialectic of information and control. Cromer's notion is that England's 
empire will not dissolve if such things as militarism and commercial egotism at 
home and "free institutions" in the colony (as opposed to British government 
"according to the Code of Christian morality") are kept in check. For if, according 
to Cromer, logic is something "the existence of which the Oriental is disposed 
altogether to ignore," the proper method of ruling is not to impose ultrascientific 
measures upon him or to force him bodily to accept logic. It is rather to understand 
his limitations and "endeavor to find, in the contentment of the subject race, a more 
worthy and, it may be hoped, a stronger bond of union between the rulers and the 
ruled." Lurking every- where behind the pacification of the subject race is imperial 

might more effective for its refined understanding and infrequent use than for its 
soldiers, brutal tax gatherers, and incontinent force. In a 


word, the Empire must be wise; it must temper its cupidity with selflessness, and its 
impatience with flexible discipline. 

To be more explicit, what is meant when it is said that the commercial spirit should 
be under some control is this— that in deal-ing with Indians or Egyptians, or Shilluks, 
or Zulus, the first guestion is to consider what these people, who are all, nationally 
speaking, more or less in statu pupillari, themselves think is best in their own interests, 
although this is a point which deserves serious consideration. But it is essential that 
each special issue should be decided mainly with reference to what, by the light of 
Western knowledge and experience tempered by local considerations, we 
conscientiously think is best for the subject race, without reference to any real or 
supposed advantage which may accrue to England as a nation, or— as is more 
freguently the case— to the special interests represented by some one or more 
influential classes of Englishmen. If the British nation as a whole persistently bears 
this principle in mind, and insists sternly on its application, though we can never 
create a patriotism akin to that based on affinity of race or community of language, 
we may perhaps foster some sort of cosmopolitan allegiance grounded on the respect 
always ac- corded to superior talents and unselfish conduct, and on the gratitude 
derived both from favours conferred and from those to come. There may then at all 
events be some hope that the Egyptian will hesitate before he throws in his lot with 

any future Arabi Even the Central African savage may eventually learn to chant a 

hymn in honour of Astraea Redux, as represented by the British official who denies 
him gin but gives him justice. More than this, commerce will gain. 


How much "serious consideration" the ruler ought to give proposals from the subject 
race was illustrated in Cromer's total opposition to Egyptian nationalism. Free native 
institutions, the absence of foreign occupation, a self-sustaining national sovereignty: 
these unsurprising demands were consistently rejected by Cromer, who asserted 
unambiguously that "the real future of Egypt ... lies not in the direction of a narrow 
nationalism, which will only embrace native Egyptians ... but rather in that of an 
enlarged cosmopolitanism ." ' Subject races did not have it in them to know what was good 
for them. Most of them were Orientals, of whose characteristics Cromer was very 

knowledgeable since he had had experience with them both in India and Egypt. One of the 
convenient things about Orientals for Cromer was that managing 
them, although circumstances might differ slightly here and there, was almost everywhere 
nearly the same.* This was, of course, because Orientals were almost everywhere nearly 
the same. 

Now at last we approach the long- developing core of essential knowledge, knowledge 
both academic and practical, which Cromer and Balfour inherited from a century of 
modem Western Oriental-ism: knowledge about and knowledge of Orientals, their race, 
character, culture, history, traditions, society, and possibilities. This knowledge was 
effective: Cromer believed he had put it to use in governing Egypt. Moreover, it was 
tested and unchanging knowledge, since "Orientals" for all practical purposes were a 
Platonic essence, which any Orientalist (or ruler of Orientals) might examine, understand, 
and expose. Thus in the thirty-fourth chapter of his two-volume work Modern Egypt, the 
magisterial record of his experience and achievement, Cromer puts down a sort of 
personal canon of Orientalist wisdom: 

Sir Alfred Lyall once said to me: "Accuracy is abhorrent to the Oriental mind. Every 
Anglo-Indian should always remember that maxim." Want of accuracy, which easily 
degenerates into untruth- fulness, is in fact the main characteristic of the Oriental mind. 

The European is a close reasoned his statements of fact are devoid of any ambiguity; he 
is a natural logician, albeit he may not have studied logic; he is by nature sceptical and 
reguires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained intelligence 
works like a piece of mechanism. The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his 
picturesgue streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most 
slipshod description. Although the ancient Arabs acguired in a somewhat higher degree 
the science of dialectics, their descendants are singularly deficient in the logical faculty. 
They are often incapable of drawing the most obvious conclusions from any simple 
premises of which they may admit the truth. Endeavor to elicit a plain statement of facts 
from any ordinary Egyptian. His explanation will generally be lengthy, and wanting in 
lucidity. He will probably contradict himself half-a-dozen times before he has finished his 
story. He will often break down under the mildest process of cross-examination. 
Orientals or Arabs are thereafter shown to be gullible, "devoid of energy and initiative," 
much given to "fulsome flattery," intrigue, cunning, and unkindness to animals; Orientals 
cannot walk on either a road or a pavement (their disordered minds fail to under-stand 
what the clever European grasps immediately, that roads and 


pavements are made for walking); Orientals are inveterate liars, they are 
"lethargic and suspicious," and in everything oppose the clarity, directness, and 
nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race* 

Cromer makes no effort to conceal that Orientals for him were always and only 
the human material he governed in British colonies. "As I am only a diplomatist 
and an administrator, whose proper study is also man; but from the point of view 
of governing him," Cromer says, "... I content myself with noting the fact that 
somehow or other the Oriental generally acts, speaks, and thinks in a manner 

exactly opposite to the European. 1 " Cromer's descriptions are of course based 
partly on direct observation, yet here and there he refers to orthodox Orientalist 
authorities (in particular Ernest Renan and Constantin de Volney) to support his 
views. To these authorities he also defers when it comes to explaining why 
Orientals are the way they are. He has no doubt that any knowledge of the 
Oriental will confirm his views, which, to judge from his description of the 
Egyptian breaking under cross-examination, find the Oriental to be guilty. The 
crime was that the Oriental was an Oriental, and it is an accurate sign of how 
commonly acceptable such a tautology was that it could be written without even 
an appeal to European logic or symmetry of mind. Thus any deviation from what 
were considered the norms of Oriental behavior was believed to be unnatural; 
Cromer's last annual report from Egypt conseguently proclaimed Egyptian 
nationalism to be an "entirely novel idea" and "a plant of exotic rather than of 
indigenous growth. 1 " 
We would be wrong, I think, to underestimate the reservoir of accredited 
knowledge, the codes of Orientalist orthodoxy, to which Cromer and Balfour 
refer everywhere in their writing and in their public policy. To say simply that 
Orientalism was a rationalization of colonial rule is to ignore the extent to which 
colonial rule was justified in advance by Orientalism, rather than after the fact. 
Men have always divided the world up into regions having either real or 
imagined distinction from each other. The absolute demarcation between East 
and West, which Balfour and Cromer accept with such complacency, had been 
years, even centuries, in the making. There were of course innumerable voyages 
of discovery; there were contacts through trade and war. But more than this, 
since the middle of the eighteenth century there had been two principal elements 
in the relation between East and West. One was a growing systematic knowledge 
in Europe about the Orient, knowledge rein- forced by the colonial encounter as 
well as by the widespread in- 


terest in the alien and unusual, exploited by the developing sciences of ethnology, 
comparative anatomy, philology, and history; further- more, to this systematic knowledge 
was added a sizable body of literature produced by novelists, poets, translators, and gifted 
travelers. The other feature of Oriental- European relations was that Europe was always in 
a position of strength, not to say domination. There is no way of putting this 
euphemistically. True, the relation-ship of strong to weak could be disguised or mitigated, 
as when Balfour acknowledged the "greatness" of Oriental civilizations. But the essential 
relationship, on political, cultural, and even religious grounds, was seen— in the West, 
which is what concerns us here— to be one between a strong and a weak partner. 

Many terms were used to express the relation: Balfour and Cromer, typically, used 
several. The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, "different"; thus the 
European is rational, virtuous, mature, "normal." But the way of enlivening the relation- 

ship was everywhere to stress the fact that the Oriental lived in a different but thoroughly 
organized world of his own, a world with its own national, cultural, and epistemological 
boundaries and principles of internal coherence. Yet what gave the Oriental's world its 
intelligibility and identity was not the result of his own efforts but rather the whole 
complex series of knowledgeable manipulations by which the Orient was identified by the 
West. Thus the two features of cultural relationship I have been discussing come together. 
Knowledge of the Orient, because generated out of strength, in a sense creates the Orient, 
the Oriental, and his world. In Cromer's and Balfour's language the Oriental is depicted as 
some-thing one judges (as in a court of law), something one studies and depicts (as in a 
curriculum), something one disciplines (as in a school or prison), something one 
illustrates (as in a zoological manual). The point is that in each of these cases the Oriental 
is contained and represented by dominating frameworks. Where do these come from? 

Cultural strength is not something we can discuss very easily- and one of the purposes 
of the present work is to illustrate, analyze, and reflect upon rientalism as an exercise of 
cultural strength. In other words, it is better not to risk generalizations about so vague and 
yet so important a notion as cultural strength until a good deal of material has been 
analyzed first. B ut at the outset one can say that so far as the W est was concerned during 
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an assumption had been made that the 


Orient and everything in it was, if not patently inferior to, then in need of corrective 
study by the West. The Orient was viewed as if framed by the classroom, the criminal 
court, the prison, the illustrated manual. Orientalism, then, is knowledge of the Orient 
that places things Oriental in class, court, prison, or manual for scrutiny, study, 
judgment, discipline, or governing. 

During the early years of the twentieth century, men like Balfour and Cromer could 
say what they said, in the way they did, because a still earlier tradition of Orientalism 
than the nineteenth-century one provided them with a vocabulary, imagery, rhetoric, 
and figures with which to say it. Yet Orientalism reinforced, and was reinforced by, 
the certain knowledge that Europe or the West literally commanded the vastly greater 
part of the earth's surface. The period of immense advance in the institutions and 
content of Orientalism coincides exactly with the period of unparalleled European 
expansion; from 1815 to 1914 European direct colonial dominion expanded from 
about 35 percent of the earth's surface to about 85 percent of it.'' Every continent was 
affected, none more so than Africa and Asia. The two greatest empires were the 
British and the French; allies and partners in some things, in others they were hostile 
rivals. In the Orient, from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean to Indochina and 

Malaya, their colonial possessions and imperial spheres of influence were adjacent, 
frequently over-lapped, often were fought over. But it was in the Near Orient, the 
lands of the Arab Near East, where Islam was supposed to define cultural and racial 
characteristics, that the British and the French encountered each other and "the 
Orient" with the greatest intensity, familiarity, and complexity. For much of the 
nineteenth century, as Lord Salisbury put it in 1881, their common view of the Orient 
was intricately problematic: "When you have got a ... faithful ally who is bent on 
meddling in a country in which you are deeply interested — you have three courses 
open to you. You may renounce— or monopolize— or share. Renouncing would have 
been to place the French across our road to India. Monopolizing would have been 
very near the risk of war. So we resolved to share. 10 

And share they did, in ways that we shall investigate presently. What they shared, 
however, was not only land or profit or rule; it was the kind of intellectual power I 
have been calling Orientalism. In a sense Orientalism was a library or archive of 
information commonly and, in some of its aspects, unanimously held. What bound 
the archive together was a family of ideas H and a unifying 


set of values proven in various ways to be effective. These ideas explained the 
behavior of Orientals; they supplied Orientals with a mentality, a genealogy, an 
atmosphere; most important they allowed Europeans to deal with and even to see 
Orientals as a phenomenon possessing regular characteristics. But like any set of 
durable ideas, Orientalist notions influenced the people who were called Orientals 
as well as those called Occidental, European, or Western; in short, Orientalism is 
better grasped as a set of constraints upon and limitations of thought than it is 
simply as a positive doctrine. If the essence of Orientalism is the ineradicable dis- 
tinction between Western superiority and Oriental inferiority, then we must be 
prepared to note how in its development and subsequent history Orientalism 
deepened and even hardened the distinction. When it became common practice 
during the nineteenth century for Britain to retire its administrators from India and 
elsewhere once they had reached the age of fifty- five, then a further refinement in 
Orientalism had been achieved; no Oriental was ever allowed to see a Westerner 
as he aged and degenerated, just as no Westerner needed ever to see himself, 
mirrored in the eyes of the subject race, as anything but a vigorous, rational, ever- 
alert young Raj. 12 

Orientalist ideas took a number of different forms during the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries. First of all, in Europe there was a vast literature about the 

Orient inherited from the European past. What is distinctive about the late 
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which is where this study assumes 
modern Orientalism to have begun, is that an Oriental renaissance took place, as 
Edgar Quinet phrased it." Suddenly it seemed to a wide variety of thinkers, 
politicians, and artists that a new awareness of the Orient, which extended from 
China to the Mediterranean, had arisen. This awareness was partly the result of 
newly discovered and translated Oriental texts in languages like Sanskrit, Zend, 
and Arabic; it was also the result of a newly perceived relationship between the 
Orient and the West. For my purposes here, the keynote of the relationship was set 
for the Near East and Europe by the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt in 1798, an 
invasion which was in many ways the very model of a truly scientific appropriation 
of one culture by another, apparently stronger one. For with Napoleon's occupation 
of Egypt processes were set in motion between East and West that still dominate 
our contemporary cultural and political perspectives. And the Napoleonic 
expedition, with its great collective monument of erudition, the Description de 
I'Egypte, provided a scene or setting 


for Orientalism, since Egypt and subsequently the other Islamic lands were viewed as the 
live province, the laboratory, the theater of effective Western knowledge about the 
Orient. I shall return to the Napoleonic adventure a little later. 

With such experiences as Napoleon's the Orient as a body of knowledge in the West 
was modernized, and this is a second form in which nineteenth- and twentieth- century 
Orientalism existed. From the outset of the period I shall be examining there was every- 
where amongst Orientalists the ambition to formulate their discoveries, experiences, and 
insights suitably in modern terms, to put ideas about the Orient in very close touch with 
modem realities. Renan's linguistic investigations of Semitic in 1848, for example, were 
couched in a style that drew heavily for its authority upon contemporary comparative 
grammar, comparative anatomy, and racial theory; these lent his Orientalism prestige 
and— the other side of the coin— made Orientalism vulnerable, as it has been ever since, 
to modish as well as seriously influential currents of thought in the West. Orientalism has 
been subjected to imperialism, positivism, utopianism, historicism, Darwinism, racism, 
Freudianism, Marxism, Spenglerism. But Orientalism, like many of the natural and social 
sciences, has had "paradigms" of research, its own learned societies, its own 
Establishment. During the nineteenth century the field in-creased enormously in prestige, 
as did also the reputation and influence of such institutions as the Societe asiatique, the 
Royal Asiatic Society, the Deutsche Morgenldndische Gesellschaft, and the American 
Oriental Society. With the growth of these societies went also an increase, all across 
Europe, in the number of professor-ships in Oriental studies; consequently there was an 
expansion in the available means for disseminating Orientalism. Orientalist periodicals, 
beginning with the Fundgraben des Orients (1809), multiplied the quantity of knowledge 
as well as the number of specialties. 

Y et little of this activity and very few of these institutions existed and flourished freely, 

for in a third form in which it existed, Orientalism imposed limits upon thought about the 
Orient. Even the most imaginative writers of an age, men like Flaubert, Nerval, or Scott, 
were constrained in what they could either experience of or say about the Orient. For 
Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the 
difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the 
East, "them"). This vision in a sense created and then served 


the two worlds thus conceived. Orientals lived in their world, " we" lived in ours. The 
vision and material reality propped each other up, kept each other going. A certain 
freedom of intercourse was always the Westerner's privilege; because his was the 
stronger culture, he could penetrate, he could wrestle with, he could give shape and 
meaning to the great Asiatic mystery, as Disraeli once called it. Y et what has, I think, 
been previously overlooked is the constricted vocabulary of such a privilege, and the 
comparative limitations of such a vision. My argument takes it that the Orientalist 
reality is both antihuman and persistent. Its scope, as much as its institutions and all- 
pervasive influence, lasts up to the present. 

But how did and does Orientalism work? How can one describe it all together as a 
historical phenomenon, a way of thought, a contemporary problem, and a material 
reality? Consider Cromer again, an accomplished technician of empire but also a 
beneficiary of Orientalism. He can furnish us with a rudimentary answer. In "The 
G overnment of Subject Races" he wrestles with the problem of how Britain, a nation 
of individuals, is to administer a wide-flung empire according to a number of central 
principles. He contrasts the "local agent," who has both a specialist's knowledge of 
the native and an Anglo-Saxon individuality, with the central authority at home in 
London. The former may "treat subjects of local interest in a manner calculated to 
damage, or even to jeopardize, Imperial interests. The central authority is in a 
position to obviate any danger arising from this cause." Why? Because this authority 
can " ensure the harmonious working of the different parts of the machine" and 
" should endeavour, so far as is possible, to realise the circumstances attendant on the 
government of the dependency." " The language is vague and unattractive, but the 
point is not hard to grasp. Cromer envisions a seat of power in the West, and 
radiating out from it towards the East a great embracing machine, sustaining the 
central authority yet commanded by it. What the machine's branches feed into it in 
the East— human material, material wealth, knowledge, what have you— is 
processed by the machine, then converted into more power. The specialist does the 
immediate translation of mere Oriental matter into useful sub-stance: the Oriental 
becomes, for example, a subject race, an example of an " Oriental" mentality, all for 
the enhancement of the "authority" at home. "Local interests" are Orientalist 
special interests, the " central authority" is the general interest of the imperial society 
as a whole. What Cromer guite accurately sees is the man- 


agement of knowledge by society, the fact that knowledge— no matter how special— is 
regulated first by the local concerns of a specialist later by the general concerns of a 
social system of authority. The interplay between local and central interests is intricate, 
but by no means indiscriminate. 

In Cromer's own case as an imperial administrator the "proper study is also man," he 

says. When Pope proclaimed the proper study of mankind to be man, he meant all men, 

including "the poor Indian"; whereas Cromer's "also" reminds us that certain men, such as 

Orientals, can be singled out as the subject for proper study. The proper study— in this 

sense— of Orientals is Orientalism, properly separate from other forms of knowledge, but 

finally useful (because finite) for the material and social reality enclosing all knowledge at 

any time, supporting knowledge, providing it with uses. An order of sovereignty is set up 

from East to West, a mock chain of being whose clearest form was given once by Kipling: 

Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and 

the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieu- tenant his captain, and the captain his major, 

and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, 

and the brigadier his general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servant of the 

Empress. 15 

As deeply forged as is this monstrous chain of command, as strongly managed as is 

Cromer's "harmonious working," Orientalism can also express the strength of the West 

and the Orient's weakness— as seen by the West. Such strength and such weakness are as 

intrinsic to Orientalism as they are to any view that divides the world into large general 

divisions, entities that coexist in a state of tension produced by what is believed to be 

radical difference. 

For that is the main intellectual issue raised by Orientalism. Can one divide human 
reality, as indeed human reality seems to be genuinely divided, into clearly different 
cultures, histories, traditions, societies, even races, and survive the conseguences 
humanly? By surviving the conseguences humanly, I mean to ask whether there is any 
way of avoiding the hostility expressed by the division, say, of men into "us" (Westerners) 
and "they" (Orientals). For such divisions are generalities whose use historically and 
actually has been to press the importance of the distinction between some men and some 
other men, usually towards not especially admirable ends. When one uses categories like 
Oriental and Western as both the starting and the end points of analysis, research, public 


(as the categories were used by Balfour and Cromer), the result is usually to polarize the 
distinction— the Oriental becomes more Oriental, the Westerner more Western— and 
limit the human en-counter between different cultures, traditions, and societies. In short, 
from its earliest modern history to the present, Orientalism as a form of thought for 
dealing with the foreign has typically shown the altogether regrettable tendency of any 
knowledge based on such hard-and-fast distinctions as "East" and "West": to channel 
thought into a West or an East compartment. Because this tendency is right at the center 
of Orientalist theory, practice, and values found in the West, the sense of Western power 
over the Orient is taken for granted as having the status of scientific truth. 

A contemporary illustration or two should clarify this observation perfectly. It is 
natural for men in power to survey from time to time the world with which they must 
deal. Balfour did it freguently. Our contemporary Henry Kissinger does it also, rarely 
with more express frankness than in his essay "Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy." 
The drama he depicts is a real one, in which the United States must manage its behavior 
in the world under the pressures of domestic forces on the one hand and of foreign 
realities on the other. Kissinger's discourse must for that reason alone establish a polarity 
between the United States and the world; in addition, of course, he speaks consciously as 
an authoritative voice for the major Western power, whose recent history and present 
reality have placed it before a world that does not easily accept its power and dominance. 
Kissinger feels that the United States can deal less problematically with the industrial, 
developed West than it can with the developing world. Again, the contemporary actuality 
of relations between the United States and the so-called Third World (which includes 
China, Indochina, the Near East, Africa, and Latin America) is manifestly a thorny set of 
problems, which even Kissinger cannot hide. 

Kissinger's method in the essay proceeds according to what linguists call binary 
opposition: that is, he shows that there are two styles in foreign policy (the prophetic and 
the political), two types of technigue, two periods, and so forth. When at the end of the 
historical part of his argument he is brought face to face with the contemporary world, he 
divides it accordingly into two halves, the developed and the developing countries. The 
first half, which is the West, "is deeply committed to the notion that the real world is 
external to the observer, that knowledge consists of recording and 


classifying data— the more accurately the better." Kissinger's proof for this is the 
Newtonian revolution, which has not taken place in the developing world: "Cultures 
which escaped the early impact of Newtonian thinking have retained the essentially pre- 
Newtonian view that the real world is almost completely internal to the observer." 
Conseguently, he adds, "empirical reality has a much different significance for many of 
the new countries than for the West because in a certain sense they never went through the 

process of discovering it. 

Unlike Cromer, Kissinger does not need to guote Sir Alfred Lyall on the Oriental's 
inability to be accurate; the point he makes is sufficiently unarguable to reguire no special 
validation. We had our Newtonian revolution; they didn't. As thinkers we are better off 
than they are. Good: the lines are drawn in much the same way, finally, as Balfour and 
Cromer drew them. Yet sixty or more years have intervened between Kissinger and the 
British imperialists. Numerous wars and revolutions have proved conclusively that the 
pre- Newtonian prophetic style, which Kissinger associates both with "inaccurate" 
developing countries and with Europe before the Congress of Vienna, is not entirely 
without its successes. Again unlike Balfour and Cromer, Kissinger therefore feels obliged 
to respect this pre- Newtonian perspective, since "it offers great flexibility with respect to 
the contemporary revolutionary turmoil." Thus the duty of men in the post-Newtonian 
(real) world is to "construct an international order before a crisis imposes it as a 
necessity": in other words, we must still find a way by which the developing world can be 
contained. Is this not similar to Cromer's vision of a harmoniously working machine 
designed ultimately to benefit some central authority, which opposes the developing 

Kissinger may not have known on what fund of pedigreed knowledge he was drawing 
when he cut the world up into pre-Newtonian and post-Newtonian conceptions of reality. 
But his distinction is identical with the orthodox one made by Orientalists, who separate 
Orientals from Westerners. And like Orientalism's distinction Kissinger's is not value- free, 
despite the apparent neutrality of his tone. Thus such words as "prophetic," "accuracy," 
"internal," "empirical reality," and "order"' are scattered throughout his description, and 
they characterize either attractive, familiar, desirable virtues or menacing, peculiar, 
disorderly defects. Both the traditional Orientalist, as we shall see, and Kissinger conceive 
of the difference between cultures, first, as creating a battlefront that 


separates them, and second, as inviting the West to control, contain, and otherwise 
govern (through superior knowledge and accommodating power) the Other. With what 
effect and at what considerable expense such militant divisions have been maintained, no 
one at present needs to be reminded. 

Another illustration dovetails neatly— perhaps too neatly— with Kissinger's analysis. In 
its February 1972 issue, the American Journal of Psychiatry printed an essay by 
Harold W. Glidden, who is identified as a retired member of the Bureau of Intelligence 
and Research, United States Department of State; the essay's title ("The Arab World"), its 
tone, and its content argue a highly characteristic Orientalist bent of mind. Thus for his 
four-page, double- columned psychological portrait of over 100 million people, 
considered for a period of 1,300 years, Glidden cites exactly four sources for his views: a 
recent book on Tripoli, one issue of the Egyptian news-paper Al-Ahram, the periodical 
Oriente Modemo, and a book by Majid Khadduri, a well-known Orientalist. The article 
itself pur-ports to uncover "the inner workings of Arab behavior," which from our point 
of view is "aberrant" but for Arabs is "normal." After this auspicious start, we are told 

that Arabs stress conformity; that Arabs inhabit a shame culture whose "prestige system" 
involves the ability to attract followers and clients (as an aside we are told that "Arab 
society is and always has been based on a system of client- patron relationships"); that 
Arabs can function only in conflict situations; that prestige is based solely on the ability 
to dominate others; that a shame culture— and therefore Islam itself — makes a virtue of 
revenge (here Glidden triumphantly cites the June 29, 1970 Ahram to show that "in 
1969 [in Egypt] in 1070 cases of murder where the perpetrators were apprehended, it 
was found that 20 percent of the murders were based on a desire to wipe out shame, 30 
percent on a desire to satisfy real or imaginary wrongs, and 31 percent on a desire for 
blood revenge"); that if from a Western point of view "the only rational thing for the 
Arabs to do is to make peace ... for the Arabs the situation is not governed by this kind 
of logic, for objectivity is not a value in the Arab system." 

Glidden continues, now more enthusiastically: "it is a notable fact that while the Arab 
value system demands absolute solidarity within the group, it at the same time encourages 
among its members a kind of rivalry that is destructive of that very solidarity"; in Arab 
society only "success counts" and "the end justifies the means"; 


Arabs live "naturally" in a world "characterized by anxiety ex-pressed in generalized 
suspicion and distrust, which has been labelled free-floating hostility"; "the art of 
subterfuge is highly developed in Arab life, as well as in Islam itself; the Arab need for 
vengeance overrides everything, otherwise the Arab would feel "ego- destroying" shame. 
Therefore, if "Westerners consider peace to be high on the scale of values" and if "we 
have a highly developed consciousness of the value of time," this is not true of Arabs. "In 
fact," we are told, "in Arab tribal society (where Arab values originated), strife, not peace, 
was the normal state of affairs because raiding was one of the two main supports of the 
economy." The purpose of this learned disguisition is merely to show how on the Western 
and Oriental scale of values "the relative position of the elements is guite different." 

This is the apogee of Orientalist confidence. No merely asserted generality is denied the 
dignity of truth; no theoretical list of Oriental attributes is without application to the 
behavior .of Orientals in the real world. On the one hand there are Westerners, and on the 
other there are Arab- Orientals; the former are (in no particular order) rational, peaceful, 
liberal, logical, capable of holding real values, without natural suspicion; the latter are 
none of these things. Out of what collective and yet particularized view of the Orient do 
these statements emerge? What specialized skills, what imaginative pressures, what 
institutions and traditions, what cultural forces produce such similarity in the descriptions 
of the Orient to be found in Cromer, Balfour, and our contemporary statesmen? 

II Imaginative Geography and Its Representations: 

Orientalizing the Oriental 

Strictly speaking, Orientalism is a field of learned study. In the Christian West 
Orientalism is considered to have commenced its formal existence with the decision of 
the Church Council of 


Vienne in 1312 to establish a series of chairs in "Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac at 
Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Avignon, and Salamanca. 1 " Y et any account of Orientalism would 
have to con-sider not only the professional Orientalist and his work but also the very 
notion of a field of study based on a geographical, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic unit 
called the Orient. Fields, of course, are made. They acguire coherence and integrity in 
time because scholars devote themselves in different ways to what seems to be a com- 
monly agreed-upon subject matter. Y et it goes without saying that a field of study is rarely 
as simply defined as even its most committed partisans— usually scholars, professors, 
experts, and the like — claim it is. Besides, a field can change so entirely, in even the most 
traditional disciplines like philology, history, or theology, as to make an all-purpose 
definition of subject matter almost im-possible. This is certainly true of Orientalism, for 
some interesting reasons. 

To speak of scholarly specialization as a geographical "field" is, in the case of 
Orientalism, fairly revealing since no one is likely to imagine a field symmetrical to it 
called Occidentalism. Already the special, perhaps even eccentric attitude of Orientalism 
becomes apparent. For although many learned disciplines imply a position taken towards, 
say, human material (a historian deals with the human past from a special vantage point 
in the present), there is no real analogy for taking a fixed, more or less total geographical 
position towards a wide variety of social, linguistic, political, and historical realities. A 
classicist, a Romance specialist, even an Americanist focuses on a relatively modest 
portion of the world, not on a full half of it. But Orientalism is a field with considerable 
geographical ambition. And since Orientalists have traditionally occupied themselves with 
things Oriental (a specialist in Islamic law, no less than an expert in Chinese dialects or in 
Indian religions, is considered an Orientalist by people who call themselves Orientalists), 
we must learn to accept enormous, indiscriminate size plus an almost infinite capacity for 
subdivision as one of the chief characteristics of Orientalism— one that is evidenced in its 
con-fusing amalgam of imperial vagueness and precise detail. 

All of this describes Orientalism as an academic discipline. The "ism" in Orientalism 
serves to insist on the distinction of this discipline from every other kind. The rule in its 
historical develop-ment as an academic discipline has been its increasing scope, not its 
greater selectiveness. Renaissance Orientalists like Erpenius and 


Guillaume Postel were primarily specialists in the languages of the Biblical provinces, 
although Postel boasted that he could get across Asia as far as China without needing an 
interpreter. By and large, until the mid- eighteenth century Orientalists were Biblical 
scholars, students of the Semitic languages, Islamic specialists, or, because the Jesuits had 
opened up the new study of China, Sinologists. The whole middle expanse of Asia was 
not academically conguered for Orientalism until, during the later eighteenth century, 
Anguetil-Duperron and Sir William Jones were able intelligibly to reveal the 
extraordinary riches of Avestan and Sanskrit. By the middle of the nineteenth century 
Orientalism was as vast a treasure-house of learning as one could imagine. There are two 
excellent indices of this new, triumphant eclecticism. One is the encyclopedic description 
of Orientalism roughly from 1765 to 1850 given by Raymond Schwab in his La 
Renaissance orientate.^ Quite aside from the scientific discoveries of things Oriental 
made by learned professionals during this period in Europe, there was the virtual epidemic 
of Orientalia affecting every major poet, essayist, and philosopher of the period. Schwab's 
notion is that "Oriental" identifies an amateur or professional enthusiasm for everything 
Asiatic, which was wonderfully synonymous with the exotic, the mysterious, the 
profound, the seminal; this is a later transposition eastwards of a similar enthusiasm in 
Europe for Greek and Latin antiguity during the High Renaissance. In 1829 Victor Hugo 
put this change in directions as follows: "Au siecle de Louis XIV on etait helleniste, 
maintenant on est orientaliste.'"0 A nineteenth- century Orientalist was therefore either a 
scholar (a Sinologist, an Islamicist, an Indo-Europeanist) or a gifted enthusiast (Hugo in 
Les Orientates, Goethe in the Westostlicher Diwan), or both (Richard Burton, Edward 
Lane, Friedrich Schlegel). 

The second index of how inclusive Orientalism had become since the Council of 
Vienne is to be found in nineteenth- century chronicles of the field itself. The most 
thorough of its kind is Jules Mohl's Vingt-sept Ans d'histoire des etudes orientates, a two- 
volume logbook of everything of note that took place in Orientalism between 1840 and 
1867?' Mohl was the secretary of the Societe asiatique in Paris, and for something more 
than the first half of the nineteenth century Paris was the capital of the Orientalist world 
(and, according to Walter Benjamin, of the nineteenth century). Mohl's position in the 
Societe could not have been more central to the field of Orientalism. There is scarcely 
anything done by a 


European scholar touching Asia during those twenty-seven years that Mohl does not enter 
under "etudes orientales." His entries of course concern publications, but the range of 
published material of interest to Orientalist scholars is awesome. Arabic, innumerable 

Indian dialects, Hebrew, Pehlevi, Assyrian, Babylonian, Mongolian, Chinese, Burmese, 
Mesopotamian, Javanese: the list of philological works considered Orientalist is almost 
uncountable. Moreover, Orientalist studies apparently cover everything from the editing 
and translation of texts to numismatic, anthropological, archaeological, sociological, 
economic, historical, literary, and cultural studies in every known Asiatic and North 
African civilization, ancient and modern. Gustave Dugat's Histoire des orientalistes de 
'.'Europe duXIV au XIX* siecle (1868— 1870) 22 i s a selective history of major figures, 
but the range represented is no less immense than Mohl's. 

Such eclecticism as this had its blind spots, nevertheless. Academic Orientalists for the 
most part were interested in the classical period of whatever language or society it was 
that they studied. Not until quite late in the century, with the single major exception of 
Napoleon's Institut d'Egypte, was much attention given to the academic study of the 
modern, or actual, Orient. Moreover, the Orient studied was a textual universe by and 
large; the impact of the Orient was made through books and manuscripts, not, as in the 
impress of Greece on the Renaissance, through mimetic artifacts like sculpture and 
pottery. Even the rapport between an Orientalist and the Orient was textual, so much so 
that it is reported of some of the early-nineteenth-century German Orientalists that their 
first view of an eight-armed Indian statue cured them completely of their Orientalist 
taste. 1 " When a learned Orientalist traveled in the country of his specialization, it was 
always with unshakable abstract maxims about the "civilization" he had studied; rarely 
were Orientalists interested in anything except prov-ing the validity of these musty 
"truths" by applying them, without great success, to uncomprehending, hence degenerate, 
natives. Finally, the very power and scope of Orientalism produced not only a fair amount 
of exact positive knowledge about the Orient but also a kind of second-order 
knowledge- lurking in such places as the "Oriental" tale, the mythology of the mysterious 
East, notions of Asian inscrutability- with a life of its own, what V. G. Kiernan has aptly 
called "Europe's collective day-dream of the Orient." 24 ne happy result of this is that an 
estimable number of important writers during the nineteenth century were Oriental 
enthusiasts: It is 


perfectly correct, I think, to speak of a genre of Orientalist writing as exemplified in the 
works of Hugo, Goethe, Nerval, Flaubert, Fitzgerald, and the like. What inevitably goes 
with such work, how-ever, is a kind of free-floating mythology of the Orient, an Orient 
that derives not only from contemporary attitudes and popular prejudices but also from 
what Vico called the conceit of nations and of scholars. I have already alluded to the 
political uses of such material as it has turned up in the twentieth century. 

Today an Orientalist is less likely to call himself an Orientalist than he was almost any 
time up to W orld W ar II. Y et the designation is still useful, as when universities maintain 
programs or departments in Oriental languages or Oriental civilizations. There is an Orie.- 

ttal "faculty" at Oxford, and a department of Oriental studies at Princeton. As recently as 
1959, the British government em-powered a commission "to review developments in the 
Universities in the fields of Oriental, Slavonic, East European and African studies ... and 
to consider, and advise on, proposals for future development." =l The Hayter Report, as it 
was called when it appeared in 1961, seemed untroubled by the broad designation of the 
word Oriental, which it found serviceably employed in American universities as well. For 
even the greatest name in modern Anglo-American Islamic studies, H. A. R. Gibb, 
preferred to call himself an Orientalist rather than an Arabist. Gibb himself, classicist that 
he was, could use the ugly neologism "area study" for Orientalism as a way of showing 
that area studies and Orientalism after all were interchangeable geographical titles. 1 " But 
this, I think, ingenuously belies a much more interesting relationship between knowledge 
and geography. I should like to consider that relationship briefly. 

Despite the distraction of a great many vague desires, impulses, and images, the mind 
seems persistently to formulate what Claude Levi-Strauss has called a science of the 
concrete. =l A primitive tribe, for example, assigns a definite place, function, and 
significance to every leafy species in its immediate environment. Many of these grasses 
and flowers have no practical use; but the point Levi-Strauss makes is that mind reguires 
order, and order is achieved by discriminating and taking note of everything, placing 
everything of which the mind is aware in a secure, refindable place, therefore giving 
things some role to play in the economy of objects and identities that make up an 
environment. This kind of rudimentary classification has a logic to it, but the rules of the 
logic by which a green fern in one society is a symbol of grace and in another is con- 


sidered maleficent are neither predictably rational nor universal. There is always a 
measure of the purely arbitrary in the way the distinctions between things are seen. And 
with these distinctions go values whose history, if one could unearth it completely, would 
probably show the same measure of arbitrariness. This is evident enough in the case of 
fashion. Why do wigs, lace collars, and high buckled shoes appear, then disappear, over a 
period of decades? Some of the answer has to do with utility and some with the inherent 
beauty of the fashion. But if we agree that all things in history, like history itself, are 
made by men, then we will appreciate how possible it is for many objects or places or 
times to be assigned roles and given meanings that acquire objective validity only after 
the assignments are made. This is especially true of relatively uncommon things, like 
foreigners, mutants, or "abnormal" behavior. 

It is perfectly possible to argue that some distinctive objects are made by the mind, and 
that these objects, while appearing to exist objectively, have only a fictional reality. A 
group of people living on a few acres of land will set up boundaries between their land 
and its immediate surroundings and the territory beyond, which they call "the land of the 
barbarians." In other words, this universal practice of designating in one's mind a familiar 
space which is "ours" and an unfamiliar space beyond "ours" which is "theirs" is a way of 
making geographical distinctions that can be entirely arbitrary. I use the word "arbitrary" 

here because imaginative geography of the "our land— barbarian land" variety does not 
reguire that the barbarians acknowledge the distinction. It is enough for "us" to set up 
these boundaries in our own minds; "they" become "they" accordingly, and both their 
territory and their mentality are designated as different from "ours." To a certain extent 
modern and primitive societies seem thus to derive a sense of their identities negatively. A 
fifth-century Athenian was very likely to feel himself to be nonbarbarian as much as he 
positively felt himself to be Athenian. The geographic boundaries accompany the social, 
ethnic, and cultural ones in expected ways. Y et often the sense in which someone feels 
himself to be not- foreign is based on a very unrigorous idea of what is "out there," beyond 
one's own territory. All kinds of suppositions, associations, and fictions appear to crowd 
the un- familiar space outside one's own. 

The French philosopher G aston B achelard once wrote an analysis of what he called the 
poetics of space. 28 The inside of a house, he said, acguires a sense of intimacy, secrecy, 
security, real or imag- 


fined, because of the experiences that come to seem appropriate for it. The objective 
space of a house— its corners, corridors, cellar, rooms— is far less important than 
what poetically it is endowed with, which is usually a quality with an imaginative or 
figurative value we can name and feel: thus a house may be haunted, or homelike, or 
prisonlike, or magical. So space acquires emotional and even rational sense by a kind 
of poetic process, whereby the vacant or anonymous reaches of distance are 
converted into meaning for us here. The same process occurs when we deal with time. 
Much of what we associate with or even know about such periods as "long ago" or 
"the beginning" or "at the end of time" is poetic— made up. For a historian of Middle 
Kingdom Egypt, "long ago" will have a very clear sort of meaning, but even this 
meaning does not totally dissipate the imaginative, quasi-fictional quality one senses 
lurking in a time very different and distant from our own. For there is no doubt that 
imaginative geography and history help the mind to intensify its own sense of itself by 
dramati2ing the distance and difference between what is close to it and what is far 
away. This is no less true of the feelings we often have that we would have been more 
"at home" in the sixteenth century or in Tahiti. 

Yet there is no use in pretending that all we know about time and space, or rather 
history and geography, is more than anything else imaginative. There are such things 
as positive history and positive geography which in Europe and the United States 
have impressive achievements to point to. Scholars now do know more about the 
world, its past and present, than they did, for example, in Gibbon's time. Yet this is 
not to say that they know all there is to know, nor, more important, is it to say that 
what they know has effectively dispelled the imaginative geographical and historical 

knowledge I have been considering. We need not decide here whether this kind of 
imaginative knowledge infuses history and geography, or whether in some way it 
overrides them. Let us just say for the time being that it is there as something more 
than what appears to be merely positive knowledge. 

Almost from earliest times in Europe the Orient was something more than what 
was empirically known about it. At least until the early eighteenth century, as R. W. 
Southern has so elegantly shown, European understanding of one kind of Oriental 
culture, the Islamic, was ignorant but complex/9 For certain associations with the 
East — not quite ignorant, not quite informed — always seem to have 


gathered around the notion of an Orient. Consider first the demarcation between Orient 
and West. It already seems bold by the time of the Iliad. Two of the most profoundly 
influential qualities associated with the East appear in Aeschylus's The Persians, the 
earliest Athenian play extant, and in The Bacchae of Euripides, the very last one extant. 
Aeschylus portrays the sense of disaster overcoming the Persians when they learn that 
their armies, led by King Xerxes, have been destroyed by the Greeks. The chorus sings 
the following ode: 

Now all A sia's land M oans in emptiness. X erxes led 

forth, oh oh! X erxes destroyed, woe woe! 

Xerxes' plans have all miscarried 

In ships of the sea. Why did Darius then Bring no 

harm to his men 

When he led them into battle, 

That beloved leader of men from Susa?" 

What matters here is that Asia speaks through and by virtue of the European imagination, 
which is depicted as victorious over Asia, that hostile "other" world beyond the seas. To 
Asia are given the feelings of emptiness, loss, and disaster that seem thereafter to reward 
Oriental challenges to the West; and also, the lament that in some glorious past Asia fared 
better, was itself victorious over Europe. 

In The Bacchae, perhaps the most Asiatic of all the Attic dramas, Dionysus is 
explicitly connected with his Asian origins and with the strangely threatening excesses of 
Oriental mysteries. Pentheus, king of Thebes, is destroyed by his mother, Agave, and her 
fellow bacchantes. Having defied Dionysus by not recognizing either his power or his 
divinity, Pentheus is thus horribly punished, and the play ends with a general recognition 
of the eccentric god's terrible power. Modern commentators on The Bacchae have not 
failed to note the play's extraordinary range of intellectual and aesthetic effects; but there 
has been no escaping the additional historical detail that Euripides "was surely affected by 
the new aspect that the Dionysiac cults must have assumed in the light of the foreign 
ecstatic religions of Bendis, Cybele, Sabazius, Adonis, and Isis, which were introduced 
from Asia Minor and the Levant and swept 


through Piraeus and Athens during the frustrating and increasingly irrational years of the 
Peloponnesian War."31 

The two aspects of the Orient that set it off from the West in this pair of plays will 
remain essential motifs of European imaginative geography. A line is drawn between two 
continents. Europe is powerful and articulate; Asia is defeated and distant. Aeschylus 
represents Asia, makes her speak in the person of the aged Persian gueen, Xerxes' 
mother. It is Europe that articulates the Orient; this articulation is the prerogative, not of a 
puppet master, but of a genuine creator, whose life-giving power represents, animates, 
constitutes the otherwise silent and dangerous space beyond familiar boundaries. There is 
an analogy between Aeschylus's orchestra, which contains the Asiatic world as the 
playwright conceives it, and the learned envelope of Orientalist scholarship, which also 
will hold in the vast, amorphous Asiatic sprawl for sometimes sym- pathetic but always 
dominating scrutiny. Secondly, there is the motif of the Orient as insinuating danger. 
Rationality is undermined by Eastern excesses, those mysteriously attractive opposites to 
what seem to be normal values. The difference separating East from West is symbolized 
by the sternness with which, at first, Pentheus rejects the hysterical bacchantes. When 
later he himself becomes a bacchant, he is destroyed not so much for having given in to 
Dionysus as for having incorrectly assessed Dionysus's menace in the first place. The 
lesson that Euripides intends is dramatized by the presence in the play of Cadmus and 
Tiresias, knowledgeable older men who realize that "sovereignty" alone does not rule 
men;32 there is such a thing as judgment, they say, which means sizing up correctly the 
force of alien powers and expertly coming to terms with them. Hereafter Oriental 
mysteries will be taken seriously, not least because they challenge the rational Western 
mind to new exercises of its enduring ambition and power. 

But one big division, as between West and Orient, leads to other smaller ones, 
especially as the normal enterprises of civilization pro-voke such outgoing activities as 
travel, conquest, new experiences. In classical Greece and Rome geographers, historians, 
public figures like Caesar, orators, and poets added to the fund of taxonomic lore 
separating races, regions, nations, and minds from each other; much of that was self- 
serving, and existed to prove that Romans and Greeks were superior to other kinds of 
people. But concern with the Orient had its own tradition of classification and hierarchy. 
From at least the second century B.C. on, it was lost on no traveler 


or eastward-looking and ambitious Western potentate that Herodotus— historian, 
traveler, inexhaustibly curious chronicler— and Alexander— king warrior, scientific 
congueror— had been in the Orient before. The Orient was therefore subdivided 
into realms previously known, visited, conguered, by Herodotus and Alexander as 

well as their epigones, and those realms not previously known, visited, conquered. 
Christianity completed the setting up of main intra- Oriental spheres: there was a Near 
Orient and a Far Orient, a familiar Orient, which Ren6 Grousset calls "1 'empire du 
Levant,"98 and a novel Orient. The Orient therefore alternated in the mind's geography 
between being an Old World to which one returned, as to Eden or Paradise, there to set 
up a new version of the old, and being a wholly new place to which one came as 
Columbus came to America, in order to set up a New World (although, ironically, 
Columbus himself thought that he discovered a new part of the Old World). Certainly 
neither of these Orients was purely one thing or the other: it is their vacillations, their 
tempting suggestiveness, their capacity for entertaining and confusing the mind, that are 

Consider how the Orient, and in particular the Near Orient, became known in the West 
as its great complementary opposite since antiquity. There were the Bible and the rise of 
Christianity; there were travelers like Marco Polo who charted the trade routes and 
patterned a regulated system of commercial exchange, and after him Lodovico di 
Varthema and Pietro della Valle; there were fabulists like Mandeville; there were the 
redoubtable conquering Eastern movements, principally Islam, of course; there were the 
militant pilgrims, chiefly the Crusaders. Altogether an internally structured archive is 
built up from the literature that belongs to these experiences. Out of this comes a 
restricted number of typical encapsulations: the journey, the history, the fable, the 
stereotype, the polemical confrontation. These are the lenses through which the Orient is 
experienced, and they shape the language, perception, and form of the encounter between 
East and West. What gives the immense number of encounters some unity, however, is 
the vacillation I was speaking about earlier. Something patently foreign and distant 
acquires, for one reason or another, a status more rather than less familiar. One tends to 
stop judging things either as completely novel or as completely well known; a new 
median category emerges, a category that allows one to see new things, things seen for 
the first time, as versions of a previously known thing. 


In essence such a category is not so much a way of receiving new information as it is a 
method of controlling what seems to be a threat to some established view of things. If the 
mind must suddenly deal with what it takes to be a radically new form of life— as Islam 
appeared to Europe in the early Middle Ages— the response on the whole is conservative 
and defensive. Islam is judged to be a fraudulent new version of some previous 

experience, in this case Christianity. The threat is muted, familiar values impose 
themselves, and in the end the mind reduces the pressure upon it by accommodating 
things to itself as either "original" or "repetitious." Islam thereafter is "handled": its 
novelty and its suggestiveness are brought under control so that relatively nuanced 
discriminations are now made that would have been impossible had the raw novelty of 
Islam been left unattended. The Orient at large, therefore, vacillates between the West's 
contempt for what is familiar and its shivers of delight in— or fear of— novelty. 

Y et where Islam was concerned, European fear, if not always respect, was in order. 
After Mohammed's death in 632, the military and later the cultural and religious 
hegemony of Islam grew enormously. First Persia, Syria, and Egypt, then Turkey, then 
North Africa fell to the Muslim armies; in the eighth and ninth centuries Spain, Sicily, 
and parts of France were conguered. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Islam 
ruled as far east as India, Indonesia, and China. And to this extraordinary assault Europe 
could respond with very little except fear and a kind of awe. Christian authors witnessing 
the Islamic conguests had scant interest in the learning, high culture, and freguent 
magnificence of the Muslims, who were, as Gibbon said, "coeval with the darkest and 
most slothful period of European annals." (But with some satisfaction he added, "since 
the sum of science has risen in the West, it should seem that the Oriental studies have 
languished and declined."^) What Christians typically felt about the Eastern armies was 
that they had "all the appearance of a swarm of bees, but with a heavy hand . . . they 
devastated everything": so wrote Erchembert, a cleric in Monte Cassino in the eleventh 
century 3b 

Not for nothing did Islam come to symbolize terror, devastation, the demonic, hordes 
of hated barbarians. For Europe, Islam was a lasting trauma. Until the end of the 
seventeenth century the "Otto-man peril" lurked alongside Europe to represent for the 
whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization 
incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, 


figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life. In Renaissance 
England alone, as Samuel Chew recounts in his classic study The Crescent and the 
Rose, "a man of average education and intelligence" had at his fingertips, and could 
watch on the London stage, a relatively large number of detailed events in the history 
of Ottoman Islam and its encroachments upon Christian Europe36 The point is that 
what remained current about Islam was some necessarily diminished version of those 
great dangerous forces that it symboli2ed for Europe. Like Walter Scott's Saracens, 
the European representation of the Muslim, Ottoman, or Arab was always a way of 
controlling the redoubtable Orient, and to a certain extent the same is true of the 
methods of contemporary learned Orientalists, whose subject is not so much the East 
itself as the East made known, and therefore less fearsome, to the Western reading 


There is nothing especially controversial or reprehensible about such 
domestications of the exotic; they take place between all cultures, certainly, and 
between all men. My point, however, is to emphasrze the truth that the Orientalist, as 
much as anyone in the European West who thought about or experienced the Orient, 
performed this kind of mental operation. But what is more important still is the 
limited vocabulary and imagery that impose themselves as a consequence. The 
reception of Islam in the West is a perfect case in point, and has been admirably 
studied by Norman Daniel. One constraint acting upon Christian thinkers who tried 
to understand Islam was an analogical one; since Christ is the basis of Christian faith, 
it was assumed— quite incorrectly— that Mohammed was to Islam as Christ was to 
Christianity. Hence the polemic name "Mohammedanism" given to Islam, and the 
automatic epithet "imposter" applied to Mohammed.87 Out of such and many other 
misconceptions "there formed a circle which was never broken by imaginative 
exteriorisation. . . . The Christian concept of Islam was integral and self-sufficient. °° 
Islam became an image— the word is Daniel's but it seems to me to have remarkable 
implications for Orientalism in general— whose function was not so much to 
represent Islam in itself as to represent it for the medieval Christian. 

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 con- 


vince 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 very great reluctance that what Muslims said Muslims 
believed was accepted as what they did believe. There was a Christian picture in 
which the details (even under the pressure of facts) were abandoned as little as 
possible, and in which the general outline was never abandoned. There were shades 
of difference, but only with a common framework. All the corrections that were 
made in the interests of an increasing accuracy were only a defence of what had 
newly been realised to be vulnerable, a shoring up of a weakened structure. Christian 
opinion was an erection which could not be demolished, even to be rebuilt 8^ 

This rigorous Christian picture of Islam was intensified in in-numerable ways, 
including- -during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance— a large variety of poetry, 
learned controversy, and popular superstition.90 By this time the Near Orient had been 
all but incorporated in the common world- picture of Latin Christianity —as in the 
Chanson de Roland the worship of Saracens is portrayed as embracing Mahomet and 

Apollo. By the middle of the fifteenth century, as R. W. Southern has brilliantly shown, it 
became apparent to serious European thinkers "that something would have to be done 
about Islam/ 1 which had turned the situation around somewhat by itself arriving militarily 
in Eastern Europe. Southern recounts a dramatic episode between 1450 and 1460 when 
four learned men, John of Segovia, Nicholas of Cusa, Jean Germain, and Aeneas Silvius 
(Pius II), attempted to deal with Islam through contraferentia, or "conference." The idea 
was John of Segovia's: it was to have been a staged conference with Islam in which 
Christians attempted the wholesale conversion of Muslims. "He saw the conference as an 
instrument with a political as well as a strictly religious function, and in words which will 
strike a chord in modern breasts he exclaimed that even if it were to last ten years it 
would be less expensive and less damaging than war." There was no agreement between 
the four men, but the episode is crucial for having been a fairly sophisticated attempt- 
part of a general European attempt from Bede to Luther— to put a representative Orient 
in front of Europe, to stage the Orient and Europe together in some coherent way, the 
idea being for Christians to make it clear to Muslims that Islam was just a misguided 
version of Christianity. Southern's conclusion follows: 


Most conspicuous to us is the inability of any of these systems of thought [European 
Christian] to provide a fully satisfying ex-planation of the phenomenon they had set 
out to explain [Islam] — still less to influence the course of practical events in a 
decisive way. At a practical level, events never turned out either so well or so ill as 
the most intelligent observers predicted; and it is perhaps worth noticing that they 
never turned out better than when the best judges confidently expected a happy 
ending. Was there any progress [in Christian knowledge of Islam)? I must express my 
conviction that there was. Even if the solution of the problem remained obstinately 
hidden from sight, the statement of the problem became more complex, more 

rational, and more related to experience The scholars who labored at the problem 

of Islam in the Middle Ages failed to find the solution they sought and desired; but 
they developed habits of mind and powers of comprehension which, in other men and 
in other fields, may yet deserve success.^' 

The best part of Southern's analysis, here and elsewhere in his brief history of Western 
views of Islam, is his demonstration that it is finally Western ignorance which becomes 
more refined and complex, not some body of positive Western knowledge which increases 
in size and accuracy. For fictions have their own logic and their own dialectic of growth 
or decline. Onto the character of Mohammed in the Middle Ages was heaped a bundle of 
attributes that corresponded to the "character of the [twelfth- century] prophets of the Tree 
Spirit' who did actually arise in Europe, and claim credence and collect followers." 
Similarly, since Mohammed was viewed as the disseminator of a false Revelation, he 
became as well the epitome of lechery, debauchery, sodomy, and a whole battery of 
assorted treacheries, all of which derived "logically" from his doctrinal impostures.42 
Thus the Orient acguired representatives, so to speak, and representations, each one more 
concrete, more internally congruent with some Western exigency, than the ones that 

preceded it. It is as if, having once settled on the Orient as a locale suitable for incarnating 
the infinite in a finite shape, Europe could not stop the practice; the Orient and the 
Oriental, Arab, Islamic, Indian, Chinese, or whatever, become repetitious pseudo- 
incamations of some great original (Christ, Europe, the West) they were supposed to have 
been imitating. Only the source of these rather narcissistic Western ideas about the Orient 
changed in time, not their character. Thus we will find it commonly believed in the 


twelfth and thirteenth centuries that Arabia was "on the fringe of the Christian world, 
a natural asylum for heretical outlaws,"" and that Mohammed was a cunning apostate, 
whereas in the twentieth century an Orientalist scholar, an erudite specialist, will be 
the one to point out how Islam is really no more than second-order Arian heresy.'* 

Our initial description of Orientalism as a learned field now acquires a new 
concreteness. A field is often an enclosed space. The idea of representation is a 
theatrical one: the Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this 
stage will appear figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they 
emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar 
European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe. An 
Orientalist is but the particular specialist in knowledge for which Europe at large is 
responsible, in the way that an audience is historically and culturally responsible for 
(and responsive to) dramas technically put together by the dramatist. In the depths of 
this Oriental stage stands a prodigious cultural repertoire whose individual items 
evoke a fabulously rich world: the Sphinx, Cleopatra, Eden, Troy, Sodom and 
Gomorrah, Astarte, Isis and Osiris, Sheba, Babylon, the Genii, the Magi, Nineveh, 
Prester John, Mahomet, and dozens more; settings, in some cases names only, half- 
imagined, half-known; monsters, devils, heroes; terrors, pleasures, desires. The 
European imagination was nourished extensively from this repertoire: between the 
Middle Ages and the eighteenth century such major authors as Ariosto, Milton, 
Marlowe, Tasso, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and the authors of the Chanson de Roland 
and the Poema del Cid drew on the Orient's riches for their productions, in ways that 
sharpened the outlines of imagery, ideas, and figures populating it. In addition, a great 
deal of what was considered learned Orientalist scholarship in Europe pressed 
ideological myths into service, even as knowledge seemed genuinely to be advancing. 

A celebrated instance of how dramatic form and learned imagery come together in 
the Orientalist theater is Barthelemy d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque orientate, published 
posthumously in 1697, with a preface by Antoine Galland. The introduction of the 
recent Cam-bridge History of Islam considers the Bibliotheque, along with George 
Sale's preliminary discourse to his translation of the Koran (1734) and Simon 

Ockley's History of the Saracens (1708, ), to be " highly important" in widening 
" the new understand- 


ing of Islam" and conveying it "to a less academic readership." 45 This inadeguately 
describes d'Herbelot's work, which was not restricted to Islam as Sale's and Ockley's 
were. With the exception of Johann H. Hottinger's Historia , which appeared in 1651, the 
Bibliotheque remained the standard reference work in Europe until the early nineteenth 
century. Its scope was truly epochal. Galland, who was the first European translator of 
The Thousand and One Nights and an Arabist of note, contrasted d'Herbelot's 
achievement with every prior one by noting the prodigious range of his enterprise. 
D'Herbelot read a great number of works, Galland said, in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, 
with the result that he was able to find out about matters hitherto concealed from 
Europeans. 46 After first composing a dictionary of these three Oriental languages, 
d'Herbelot went on to study Oriental history, theology, geography, science, and art, in 
both their fabulous and their truthful varieties. Thereafter he decided to compose two 
works, one a bibliotheque, or "library," an alphabetically arranged dictionary, the second 
a fwrilege, or anthology. Only the first part was completed. 

Galland's account of the Bibliotheque stated that "orientale" was planned to include 
principally the Levant, although— Galland says admiringly— the time period covered did 
not begin only with the creation of Adam and end with the "temps ou nous sommes": 
d'Herbelot went even further back, to a time described as "plus haut" in fabulous 
histories— to the long period of the pre-Adamite Solimans. As Galland's description 
proceeds, we learn that the Bibliotheque was like "any other"' history of the world, for 
what it attempted was a complete compendium of the knowledge available on such 
matters as the Creation, the Deluge, the destruction of Babel, and so forth— with the 
difference that d'Herbelot's sources were Oriental. He divided history into two types, 
sacred and profane (the Jews and Christians in the first, the Muslims in the second), and 
two periods, pre- and postdiluvian. Thus d'Herbelot was able to discuss such widely 
divergent histories as the Mogul, the Tartar, the Turkish, and the Slavonic; he took in as 
well all the provinces of the Muslim Empire, from the Extreme Orient to the Pillars of 
Hercules, with their customs, rituals, traditions, commentaries, dynasties, palaces, rivers, 
and flora. Such a work, even though it included some attention to "la doctrine perverse de 
Mahomet, gui a cause si grands dommages au Christianisme," was more capaciously 
thorough than any work before it. Galland concluded his 


"Discours" by assuring the reader at length that d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque was uniquely 
"utile etagreable"; other Orientalists, like Postel, Scaliger, Golius, Pockoke, and Erpenius, 
produced Orientalist studies that were too narrowly grammatical lexicographical, 
geographical, or the like. Only d'Herbelot was able to write a work capable of convincing 
European readers that the study of Oriental culture was more than just thankless and 
fruitless: only d'Herbelot according to Galland, attempted to form in the minds of his 
readers a sufficiently ample idea of what it meant to know and study the Orient, an idea 
that would both fill the mind and satisfy one's great, previously conceived expectations." 

In such efforts as d'Herbelot's, Europe discovered its capacities for encompassing and 
Orientalizing the Orient. A certain sense of superiority appears here and there in what 
Galland had to say about about his and d'Herbelot's materia orientalia; as in the work of 
seventeenth- century geographers like Raphael du Mans, Europeans could perceive that the 
Orient was being outstripped and outdated by Western science. 18 But what becomes 
evident is not only the advantage of a Western perspective: there is also the triumphant 
technique for taking the immense fecundity of the Orient and mak-ing it systematically, 
even alphabetically, knowable by Western laymen. When Galland said of d'Herbelot that 
he satisfied one's expectations he meant, I think, that the Bibliotheque did not attempt to 
revise commonly received ideas about the Orient. For what the Orientalist does is to 
confirm the Orient in his readers' eyes; he neither tries nor wants to unsettle already firm 
convictions. All the Bibliotheque orientate did was represent the Orient more fully and 
more clearly; what may have been a loose collection of randomly acquired facts 
concerning vaguely Levantine history, Biblical imagery, Islamic culture, place names, and 
so on were transformed into a rational Oriental panorama, from A to Z. Under the entry 
for Mohammed, d'Herbelot first supplied all of the Prophet's given names, then proceeded 
to confirm Mohammed's ideological and doctrinal value as follows: 

C'est le fameux imposteur Mahomet, Auteur et Fondateur d'une h6r6sie, qui a pris 
le nom de religion, que nous appellons Mahometane. Voyez le titre d'Eslam. 

Les Interprltes de 1 'Alcoran et autres Docteurs de la Loy Musulmane ou 
Mahometane ont applique a ce faux propht te tous les 61oges, que les Artens, 
Paulitiens ou Paulianistes & autres H6r6-tiques ont attribu6 a Jesus- Christ, en lui 
iltantsaDivinitb... 4^ 


(This is the famous imposter Mahomet, Author and Founder of a heresy, 
which has taken on the name of religion, which we call Mohammedan. See entry 
under Islam. 

The interpreters of the Alcoran and other Doctors of Muslim or 
Mohammedan Law have applied to this false prophet all the praises which the 
Arians, Paulicians or Paulianists, and other Heretics have attributed to Jesus 

Christ while stripping him of his Divinity.... ) 

"Mohammedan" is the relevant (and insulting) European designation; "Islam," which 
happens to be the correct Muslim name, is relegated to another entry. The "heresy . . . 
which we call Mohammedan" is "caught" as the imitation of a Christian imitation of true 
religion. Then, in the long historical account of Mohammed's life, d'Herbelot can turn to 
more or less straight narrative. But it is the placing of Mohammed that counts in the 
Bibliotheque. The dangers of free-wheeling heresy are removed when it is 
transformed into ideologically explicit matter for an alphabetical item. Mo-hammed 
no longer roams the Eastern world as a threatening, im-moral debauchee; he sits guietly 
on his (admittedly prominent) portion of the Orientalist stage. 60 He is given a genealogy, 
an explanation, even a development, all of which are subsumed under the simple 
statements that prevent him from straying elsewhere. 

Such "images" of the Orient as this are images in that they represent or stand for a very 
large entity, otherwise impossibly diffuse, which they enable one to grasp or see. They are 
also characters, related to such types as the braggarts, misers, or gluttons produced by 
Theophrastus, La Bruy6re, or Selden. Perhaps it is not exactly correct to say that one 
sees such characters as the miles gloriosus or Mahomet the imposter, since the discursive 
confinement of a character is supposed at best to let one apprehend a generic type 
without difficulty or ambiguity. D'Herbelot's character of Mahomet is an image, , 
because the false prophet is part of a general theatrical representation called 
orientale whose totality is contained in the Bibliotheque. 

The didactic guality of the Orientalist representation cannot be detached from the rest 
of the performance. In a learned work like the orientate, was the result of systematic 
study and research, the author imposes a disciplinary order upon the material he has 
worked on; in addition, he wants it made clear to the reader that what the printed 
page delivers is an ordered, disciplined judgment of the material. What is thus conveyed 
by the 


Bibliotheque is an idea of Orientalism's power and effectiveness, which everywhere 
remind the reader that henceforth in order to get at the Orient he must pass through 
the learned grids and codes provided by the Orientalist. Not only is the Orient 
accommodated to the moral exigencies of Western Christianity; it is also circum- 
scribed by a series of attitudes and judgments that send the Western mind, not first to 
Oriental sources for correction and verification, but rather to other Orientalist works. 
The Orientalist stage, as I have been calling it, becomes a system of moral and 
epistemological rigor. As a discipline representing institutionalized Western knowledge 
of the Orient, Orientalism thus comes to exert a three-way force, on the Orient, on 
the Orientalist, and on the Western "consumer" of Orientalism. It would be wrong, I 
think, to underestimate the strength of the three-way relationship thus established. 

For the Orient ("out there" towards the East) is corrected, even penalized, for lying 
outside the boundaries of European society, "our" world; the Orient is thus 
Orientalized, a process that not only marks the Orient as the province of the 
Orientalist but also forces the un-initiated Western reader to accept Orientalist 
codifications (like d'Herbelot's alphabetized Bibliotheque) as the true Orient. Truth, in 
short, becomes a function of learned judgment, not of the material itself, which in 
time seems to owe even its existence to the Orientalist. 

This whole didactic process is neither difficult to understand nor difficult to explain. 
One ought again to remember that all cultures impose corrections upon raw reality, 
changing it from free-floating objects into units of knowledge. The problem is not 
that conversion takes place. It is perfectly natural for the human mind to resist the 
assault on it of untreated strangeness; therefore cultures have always been inclined to 
impose complete transformations on other cultures, receiving these other cultures not 
as they are but as, for the benefit of the receiver, they ought to be. To the Westerner, 
however, the Oriental was always like some aspect of the West; to some of the 
German Romantics, for example, Indian religion was essentially an Oriental version of 
Germano-Christian pantheism. Yet the Orientalist makes it his work to be always 
converting the Orient from something into something else: he does this for him-self, 
for the sake of his culture, in some cases for what he believes is the sake of the 
Oriental. This process of conversion is a disciplined one: it is taught, it has its own 
societies, periodicals, traditions, vocabulary, rhetoric, all in basic ways connected to 


supplied by the prevailing cultural and political norms of the West. And, as I shall 
demonstrate, it tends to become more rather than less total in what it tries to do, so much 
so that as one surveys Orientalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the overriding 
impression is of Orientalism's insensitive schematization of the entire Orient. 

How early this schematization began is clear from the examples I have given of 
Western representations of the Orient in classical Greece. How strongly articulated were 
later representations building on the earlier ones, how inordinately careful their 
schematization, how dramatically effective their placing in Western imaginative 
geography, can be illustrated if we turn now to Dante's Inferno. Dante's achievement in 
The Divine Comedy was to have seamlessly combined the realistic portrayal of mundane 
reality with a universal and eternal system of Christian values. What Dante the pilgrim 
sees as he walks through the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso is a unigue vision of 
judgment. Paolo and Francesca, for instance, are seen as eternally confined to hell for 
their sins, yet they are seen as enacting, indeed living, the very characters and actions that 
put them where they will be for eternity. Thus each of the figures in Dante's vision not 
only represents himself but is also a typical representation of his character and the fate 

meted out to him. 

"Maometto"- Mohammed-turns up in canto 28 of the Inferno. He is located in the 
eighth of the nine circles of Hell, in the ninth of the ten Bolgias of Malebolge, a circle of 
gloomy ditches surrounding Satan's stronghold in Hell. Thus before Dante reaches 
Mohammed, he passes through circles containing people whose sins are of a lesser order: 
the lustful, the avaricious, the gluttonous, the heretics, the wrathful, the suicidal, the 
blasphemous. After Mohammed there are only the falsifiers and the treacherous (who 
include Judas, Brutus, and Cassius) before one arrives at the very bottom of Hell, which is 
where Satan himself is to be found. Mohammed thus belongs to a rigid hierarchy of evils, 
in the category of what Dante calls seminator di scandalo e di scisma. Mohammed's 
punishment, which is also his eternal fate, is a peculiarly disgusting one: he is endlessly 
being cleft in two from his chin to his anus like, Dante says, a cask whose staves are 
ripped apart. Dante's verse at this point spares the reader none of the eschatological detail 
that so vivid a punishment entails: Mohammed's entrails and his excrement are described 
with unflinching accuracy. Mohammed explains his 


punishment to Dante, pointing as well to Ali, who precedes him in the line of sinners 
whom the attendant devil is splitting in two; he also asks Dante to warn one Fra Dolcino, 
a renegade priest whose sect advocated community of women and goods and who was 
accused of having a mistress, of what will be in store for him. It will not have been lost 
on the reader that Dante saw a parallel between Dolcino 's and Mohammed's revolting 
sensuality, and also between their pretensions to theological eminence. 

But this is not all that Dante has to say about Islam. Earlier in the Inferno, a small 
group of Muslims turns up. Avicenna, Averroes, and Saladin are among those virtuous 
heathens who, along with Hector, Aeneas, Abraham, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, are 
confined to the first circle of the Inferno, there to suffer a minimal (and even honorable) 
punishment for not having had the benefit of Christian revelation. Dante, of course, 
admires their great virtues and accomplishments, but because they were not Christians he 
must condemn them, however lightly, to Hell. Eternity is a great leveler of distinctions, it 
is true, but the special anachronisms and anomalies of putting pre-Christian luminaries in 
the same category of "heathen" damnation with post- Christian Muslims does not trouble 
Dante. Even though the Koran specifies Jesus as a prophet, Dante chooses to consider the 
great Muslim philosophers and king as having been fundamentally ignorant of 
Christianity. That they can also inhabit the same distinguished level as the heroes and 
sages of classical antiguity is an ahistorical vision similar to Raphael's in his fresco The 
School of Athens, in which Averroes rubs elbows on the academy floor with Socrates and 
Plato (similar to Fenelon's Dialogues des morts [1700-17181, where a discussion takes 
place between Socrates and Confucius). 

The discriminations and refinements of Dante's poetic grasp of Islam are an instance of 
the schematic, almost cosmological inevitability with which Islam and its designated 
representatives are creatures of Western geographical, historical, and above all, moral 
apprehension. 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 posses- 
sion of all who have thought about the Orient in the West. Dante's powers as a poet 
intensify, make more rather than less representative, these perspectives on the Orient. 
Mohammed, Saladin, 


Avenues, and Avicenna are fixed in a visionary cosmology— fixed, laid out, boxed in, 
imprisoned, without much regard for anything except their "function" and the patterns 
they realize on the stage on which they appear. Isaiah Berlin has described the effect of 
such attitudes in the following way: 

In [such a] . . . cosmology the world of men (and, in some versions, the entire 
universe) is a single, all-inclusive hierarchy; so that to explain why each object in it 
is as, and where, and when it is, and does what it does, is eo ipso to say what its goal 
is, how far it successfully fulfills it, and what are the relations of co-ordination and 
subordination between the goals of the various goal-pursuing entities in the 
harmonious pyramid which they collectively form. If this is a true picture of reality, 
then historical explanation, like every other form of explanation, must consist, above 
all, in the attribution of individuals, groups, nations, species, each to its own proper 
place in the universal pattern. To know the "cosmic" place of a thing or a person is to 
say what it is and what it does, and at the same time why it should be and do as it is 
and does. Hence to be and to have value, to exist and to have a function (and to 
fulfill it more or less successfully) are one and the same. The pattern, and it alone, 
brings into being and causes to pass away and confers purpose, that is to say, value 
and meaning, on all there is. To understand is to perceive patterns. . . . 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. 
This attitude is profoundly anti-empirical.51 

And so, indeed, is the Orientalist attitude in general. It 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. The European 
encounter with the Orient, and specifically with Islam, strengthened this system of 
representing the Orient and, as has been suggested by Henri Pirenne, turned Islam into the 
very epitome of an outsider against which the whole of European civilization from the 
Middle Ages on was founded. The decline of the Roman Empire as a result of the 

barbarian invasions had the paradoxical effect of incorporating barbarian ways into 
Roman and Mediterranean culture, Romania; whereas, Pirenne argues, the conseguence of 


Islamic invasions beginning in the seventh century was to move the center of European 
culture away from the Mediterranean, which was then an Arab province, and towards the 
North. "Germanism began to play its part in history. Hitherto the Roman tradition had 
been uninterrupted. Now an original Romano— Germanic civilization was about to 
develop." Europe was shut in on itself: the Orient, when it was not merely a place in 
which one traded, was culturally, intellectually, spiritually outside Europe and European 
civilization, which, in Pirenne's words, became "one great Christian community, 
coterminous with the ecclesia... . The Occident was now living its own life. 1 In Dante's 
poem, in the work of Peter the Venerable and other Cluniac Orientalists, in the writings of 
the Christian polemicists against Islam from Guibert of Nogent and Bede to Roger Bacon, 
William of Tripoli, Burchard of Mount Syon, and Luther, in the Poema del Cid, in the 
Chanson de Roland, and in Shakespeare's Othello (that "abuser of the world"), the 
Orient and Islam are always represented as outsiders having a special role to play inside 

Imaginative geography, from the vivid portraits to be found in the Inferno to the 
prosaic niches of d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque orientale, legitimates a vocabulary, a 
universe of representative discourse peculiar to the discussion and understanding of Islam 
and of the Orient. What this discourse considers to be a fact— that Mohammed is an 
imposter, for example— is a component of the discourse, a statement the discourse 
compels one to make whenever the name Mohammed occurs. Underlying all the different 
units of Orientalist discourse— by which I mean simply the vocabulary employed 
whenever the Orient is spoken or written about— is a set of representative figures, or 
tropes. These figures are to the actual Orient-or Islam, which is my main concern here— 
as stylized costumes are to characters in a play; they are like, for example, the cross that 
Everyman will carry, or the particolored costume worn by Harlegui i in a commedia 
dell'arte play. In other words, we need not look for correspondence between the language 
used to depict the Orient and the Orient itself, not so much because the language is 
inaccurate but because it is not even trying to be accurate. What it is trying to do, as Dante 
tried to do in the inferno, is at one and the same time to characterize the Orient as alien 
and to incorporate it schematically on a theatrical stage whose audience, manager, and 
actors are for Europe, and 


only for Europe. Hence the vacillation between the familiar and the alien; Mohammed is 

always the imposter (familiar, because he pretends to be like the Jesus we know) and 
always the Oriental (alien, because although he is in some ways "like" Jesus, he is after all 
not like him) . 

Rather than listing all the figures of speech associated with the Orient— its strangeness, 
its difference, its exotic sensuousness, and so forth— we can geheralize about them as they 
were handed down through the Renaissance. They are all declarative and self-evident; the 
tense they employ is the timeless eternal; they convey an impression of repetition and 
strength; they are always symmetrical to, and yet diametrically inferior to, a European 
eguivalent, which is sometimes specified, sometimes not. For all these functions it is 
freguently enough to use the simple copula is. Thus, Mohammed is an imposter, the very 
phrase canonized in d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque and dramatized in a sense by Dante. No 
background need be given; the evidence necessary to convict Mohammed is contained in 
the "is." One does not gualify the phrase, neither does it seem necessary to say that 
Mohammed was an imposter, nor need one consider for a moment that it may not be 
necessary to repeat the statement. It is repeated, he is an imposter, and each time one says 
it, he becomes more of an imposter and the author of the statement gains a little more 
authority in having declared it. Thus Humphrey Prideaux's famous seventeenth- century 
biography of Mohammed is subtitled The True Nature of Imposture. Finally, of course, such 
categories as imposter (or Oriental, for that matter) imply, indeed reguire, an opposite that 
is neither fraudulently something else nor endlessly in need of explicit identification. And 
that opposite is "Occidental," or in Mohammed's case, Jesus. 

Philosophically, then, the kind of language, thought, and vision that I have been calling 
Orientalism very generally is a form of radical realism; anyone employing Orientalism, 
which is the habit for dealing with questions, objects, qualities, and regions deemed 
Oriental, will designate, name, point to, fix what he is talking or thinking about with a 
word or phrase, which then is considered either to have acquired, or more simply to be, 
reality. Rhetorically speaking, Orientalism is absolutely anatomical and enumerative: to 
use its vocabulary is to engage in the particularizing and dividing of things Oriental into 
manageable parts. Psychologically, Oriental-ism is a form of paranoia, knowledge of 
another kind, say, from ordinary historical knowledge. These are a few of the results, I 


think, of imaginative geography and of the dramatic boundaries it draws. There 
are some specifically modern transmutations of these Orientalized results, 
however, to which I must now turn. 



It is necessary to examine the more flamboyant operational successes of 
Orientalism if only to judge how exactly wrong (and how totally opposite to the 
truth) was the grandly menacing idea expressed by Michelet, that "the Orient 
advances, invincible, fatal to the gods of light by the charm of its dreams, by the 
magic of its chiaroscuro. 1 " Cultural, material, and intellectual relations between 

Europe and the Orient have gone through innumerable phases, even though the 
line between East and West has made a certain constant impression upon Europe. 
Y et in general it was the West that moved upon the East not vice versa. Orientalism 
is the generic term that I have been employing to describe the Western approach to 
the Orient; Orientalism is the discipline by which the Orient was (and is) 
approached systematically, as a topic of learn-ing, discovery, and practice. But in 
addition I have been using the word to designate that collection of dreams, images, 
and vocabularies available to anyone who has tried to talk about what lies east of 
the dividing line. These two aspects of Orientalism are not incongruent, since by 
use of them both Europe could advance securely and unmetaphorically upon the 
Orient. Here I should like principally to consider material evidence of this advance. 
Islam excepted, the Orient for Europe was until the nineteenth century a domain 
with a continuous history of unchallenged Western dominance. This is patently 
true of the British experience in India, the Portuguese experience in the East Indies, 
China, and Japan, and the French and Italian experiences in various regions of 
the Orient. There were occasional instances of native intransigence to disturb the 
idyll, as when in 1638- 1639 a group of Japanese Christians threw the Portuguese 
out of the area; by and large, how-ever, only the Arab and Islamic Orient 
presented Europe with an 


unresolved challenge on the political, intellectual, and for a time, economic levels. For 
much of its history, then, Orientalism carries within it the stamp of a problematic 
European attitude towards Islam, and it is this acutely sensitive aspect of Orientalism 
around which my interest in this study turns. 

Doubtless Islam was a real provocation in many ways. It lay uneasily close to 
Christianity, geographically and culturally. It drew on the Judeo- Hellenic traditions, it 
borrowed creatively from Christianity, it could boast of unrivaled military and political 
successes. Nor was this all. The Islamic lands sit adjacent to and even on top of the 
Biblical lands; moreover, the heart of the Islamic domain has always been the region 
closest to Europe, what has been called the Near Orient or Near East. Arabic and Hebrew 
are Semitic languages, and together they dispose and redispose of material that is 
urgently important to Christianity. From the end of the seventh century until the battle of 
Lepanto in 1571, Islam in either its Arab, Ottoman, or North African and Spanish form 
dominated or effectively threatened European Christianity. That Islam outstripped and 
outshone Rome cannot have been absent from the mind of any European past or present. 
Even Gibbon was no exception, as is evident in the following passage from the Decline 
and Fall: 

In the victorious days of the Roman republic it had been the aim of the senate to 
confine their councils and legions to a .single war, and completely to suppress a first 
enemy before they provoked the hostilities of a second. These timid maxims of policy 
were disdained by the magnanimity or enthusiasm of the Arabian caliphs. With the 

same vigour and success they invaded the successors of Augustus and Artaxerxes; 
and the rival monarchies at the same instant became the prey of an enemy whom they 
had so long been accustomed to despise. In the ten years of the administration of 
Omar, the Saracens reduced to his obedience thirty- six thousand cities or castles, 
destroyed four thousand churches or temples of the unbelievers, and edified fourteen 
hundred moschs for the exercise of the religion of Mohammed. One hundred years 
after his flight from Mecca the arms and reign of his successors extended from India 
to the Atlantic Ocean, over the various and 
distant provinces. ...54 

When the term rient was not simply a synonym for the Asiatic East as a whole, or taken 
as generally denoting the distant and exotic, it was most rigorously understood as 
applying to the Islamic 


Orient. This "militant" Orient came to stand for what Henri B — ,tet has called "the 
Asiatic tidal wave. "55 Certainly this was the case in Europe through the middle of the 
eighteenth century, the point at which repositories of "Oriental" knowledge like 
d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque orientale stop meaning primarily Islam, the Arabs, or the 
Ottomans. Until that time cultural memory gave understand-able prominence to such 
relatively distant events as the fall of Constantinople, the Crusades, and the conquest 
of Sicily and Spain, but if these signified the menacing Orient they did not at the same 
time efface what remained of Asia. 

For there was always India, where, after Portugal pioneered the first bases of 
European presence in the early sixteenth century, Europe, and primarily England after 
a long period (from 1600 to 1758) of essentially commercial activity, dominated 
politically as an occupying force. Yet India itself never provided an indigenous threat 
to Europe. Rather it was because native authority crumbled there and opened the land 
to inter-European rivalry and to outright European political control that the Indian 
Orient could be treated by Europe with such proprietary hauteur — never with the 
sense of danger reserved for Islam.55 Nevertheless, between this hauteur and 
anything like accurate positive knowledge there existed a vast disparity. D'Herbelot's 
entries for Indo-Persian subjects in the Bibliotheque were all based on Islamic sources, 
and it is true to say that until the early nineteenth century "Oriental languages" was 
considered a synonym for "Semitic languages." The Oriental renaissance of which 
Quinet spoke served the function of expanding some fairly narrow limits, in which 
Islam was the catchall Oriental example. •>/ Sanskrit, Indian religion, and Indian 
history did not acquire the status of scientific knowledge until after Sir William Jones's 
efforts in the late eighteenth century, and even Jones's in-terest in India came to him 
by way of his prior interest in and knowledge of Islam. 

It is not surprising, then, that the first major work of Oriental scholarship after 
d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque was Simon Ockley's History of the Saracens, whose first 
volume appeared in 1708. A recent historian of Orientalism has opined that Ockley's 
attitude towards the Muslims — that to them is owed what was first known of 
philosophy by European Christians — "shocked painfully" his European audience. For 
not only did Ockley make this Islamic pre-eminence clear in his work; he also "gave 
Europe its fiat authentic and substantial taste of the Arab viewpoint touching the 


wars with Byzantium and Persia." 58 However, Ockley was careful to dissociate himself 
from the infectious influence of Islam, and unlike his colleague William Whiston 
(Newton's successor at Cam-bridge), he always made it clear that Islam was an 
outrageous heresy. For his Islamic enthusiasm, on the other hand, Whiston was expelled 
from Cambridge in 1709. 

Access to Indian (Oriental) riches had always to be made by first crossing the Islamic 
provinces and by withstanding the dangerous effect of Islam as a system of guasi-Arian 
belief. And at least for the larger segment of the eighteenth century, Britain and France 
were successful. The Ottoman Empire had long since settled into a (for Europe) 
comfortable senescence, to be inscribed in the nineteenth century as the "Eastern 
Question." Britain and France fought each other in India between 1744 and 1748 and 
again between 1756 and 1763, until, in 1769, the British emerged in practical economic 
and political control of the subcontinent. What was more inevitable than that Napoleon 
should choose to harass Britain's Oriental empire by first intercepting its Islamic through- 
way, Egypt? 

Although it was almost immediately preceded by at least two major Orientalist 
projects, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and his foray into Syria have had by far 
the greater conseguence for the modern history of Orientalism. Before Napoleon only 
two efforts (both by scholars) had been made to invade the Orient by stripping it of its 
veils and also by going beyond the comparative shelter of the Biblical Orient. The first 
was by Abraham-Hyacinthe Anguetil-Duperron (1731-1805), an eccentric theoretician of 
egalitarianism, a man who managed in his head to reconcile Jansen-ism with orthodox 
Catholicism and Brahmanism, and who traveled to Asia in order to prove the actual 
primitive existence of a Chosen People and of the Biblical genealogies. Instead he 
overshot his early goal and traveled as far east as Surat, there to find a cache of Avestan 
texts, there also to complete his translation of the Avesta. Raymond Schwab has said of 
the mysterious Avestan fragment that set Anguetil off on his voyages that whereas "the 
scholars looked at the famous fragment of Oxford and then returned to their studies, 
Anguetil looked, and then went to India." Schwab also remarks that Anguetil and 
Voltaire, though temperamentally and ideologically at hopeless odds with each other, had 

a similar interest in the Orient and the Bible, "the one to make the Bible more 
indisputable, the other to make it more unbelievable." Ironically, Anquetil's Avesta 


tions served Voltaire's purposes, since Anquetil's discoveries " soon led to criticism of the 
very [Biblical] texts which had hitherto been considered to be revealed texts." The net 
effect of Anquetil's expedition is well described by Schwab: 

In 1759, Anquetil finished his translation of the Avesta at Surat; in 1786 that of the 
Upanishads in Paris— he had duq a channel between the hemispheres of human 
qenius, correctinq and expand-inq the old humanism of the Mediterranean basin. 
Less than fifty years earlier, his compatriots were asked what it was like to be 
Persian, when he tauqht them how to compare the monuments of the Persians to 
those of the Greeks. Before him, one looked for information on the remote past of 
our planet exclusively amonq the qreat Latin, Greek, Jewish, and Arabic writers. The 
Bible was reqarded as a lonely rock, an aerolite. A universe in writinq was available, 
but scarcely anyone seemed to suspect the immensity of those unknown lands. The 
realization beqan with his translation of the Avesta, and reached dizzyinq heiqhts 
owinq to the exploration in Central Asia of the lanquaqes that multiplied after Babel. 
Into our schools, up to that time limited to the narrow Greco-Latin heritaqe of the 
Renaissance [of which much had been transmitted to Europe by Islam], he 
interjected a vision of in-numerable civilizations from aqes past, of an infinity of 
literatures; moreover the few European provinces were not the only places to have 
left their mark in history. 59 

For the first time, the Orient was revealed to Europe in the materiality of its texts, 
lanquaqes, and civilizations. Also for the first time, Asia acquired a precise intellectual 
and historical dimension with which to buttress the myths of its qeoqraphic distance and 
vastness. By one of those inevitable contractinq compensations for a sudden cultural 
expansion, Anquetil's Oriental labors were succeeded by William Jones's, the second of 
the pre-Napoleonic projects I mentioned above. Whereas Anquetil opened larqe vistas, 
Jones closed them down, codifyinq, tabulating comparinq. Before he left Enqland for 
India in 1783, Jones was already a master of Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian. These seemed 
perhaps the least of his accomplishments: he was also a poet, a jurist, a polyhistor, a 
classicist, and an indefatiqable scholar whose powers would recommend him to such as 
Benjamin Franklin, Edmund Burke, William Pitt, and Samuel Johnson. In due course he 
was appointed to "an honorable and profitable place in the Indies," and immediately 
upon his arrival there to take up a post with the East India Company 


began the course of personal study that was to gather in, to rope off, to domesticate the 
Orient and thereby turn it into a province of European learning. For his personal work, 
entitled "Objects of Enguiry During My Residence in Asia" he enumerated among the 
topics of his investigation "the Laws of the Hindus and Mohammedans, Modern Politics 
and Geography of Hindustan, Best Mode of Governing Bengal, Arithmetic and Geometry, 
and Mixed Sciences of the Asiaticks, Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery, and Anatomy of the 
Indians, Natural Productions of India, Poetry, Rhetoric and Morality of Asia, Music of the 
Eastern Nations, Trade, Manufacture, Agriculture, and Commerce of India," and so forth. 
On August 17, 1787, he wrote unassumingly to Lord Althorp that "it is my ambition to 
know India better than any other European ever knew it." Here is where Balfour in 1910 
could find the first adumbration of his claim as an Englishman to know the Orient more 
and better than anyone else. 

Jones's official work was the law, an occupation with symbolic significance for the 
history of Orientalism. Seven years before Jones arrived in India, Warren Hastings had 
decided that Indians were to be ruled by their own laws, a more enterprising project than it 
appears at first glance since the Sanskrit code of laws existed then for practical use only in 
a Persian translation, and no Englishman at the time knew Sanskrit well enough to consult 
the original texts. A company official, Charles Wilkins, first mastered Sanskrit, then 
began to translate the institutes of Manu; in this labor he was soon to be assisted by 
Jones. (Wilkins, incidentally, was the first translator of the Bhagavad-Gita.) In January 
1784 Jones convened the inaugural meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which was 
to be for India what the Royal Society was for England. As first president of the society 
and as magistrate, Jones acguired the effective knowledge of the Orient and of Orientals 
that was later to make him the undisputed founder (the phrase is A. J. Arbeny's) of 
Orientalism. To rule and to leam, then to compare Orient with Occident: these were 
Jones's goals, which, with an irresistible im-pulse always to codify, to subdue the infinite 
variety of the Orient to "a complete digest" of laws, figures, customs, and works, he is 
believed to have achieved. His most famous pronouncement indicates the extent to which 
modem Orientalism, even in its philosophical beginnings, was a comparative discipline 
having for its principal goal the grounding of the European languages in a distant, and 
harmless, Oriental source: 


The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; 
more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more 
exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, 
both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have 
been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine 

them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common 
source. °0 

Many of the early English Orientalists in India were, like Jones, legal scholars, or 
else, interestingly enough, they were medical men with strong missionary leanings. So 
far as one can tell, most of them were imbued with the dual purpose of investigating 
"the sciences and the arts of Asia, with the hope of facilitating ameliorations there and 
of advancing knowledge and improving the arts at home":" so the common 
Orientalist goal was stated in the Centenary Volume of the Royal Asiatic Society 
founded in 1823 by Henry Thomas Colebrooke. In their dealings with the modern 
Orientals, the early professional Orientalists like Jones had only two roles to fulfill, yet 
we cannot today fault them for strictures placed on their humanity by the official 
Occidental character of their presence in the Orient. They were either judges or they 
were doctors. Even Edgar Quinet, writing more metaphysically than realistically, was 
dimly aware of this therapeutic relationship. "L'Asie a les prophetes," he said in Le 
Girlie des religions; "LEurope a les docteurs. °2 p ro per knowledge of the Orient 
proceeded from a thorough study of the classical texts, and only after that to an 
application of those texts to the modern Orient. Faced with the obvious decrepitude 
and political impotence of the modern Oriental, the European Orientalist found it his 
duty to rescue some portion of a lost, past classical Oriental grandeur in order to 
"facilitate ameliorations" in the present Orient. What the European took from the 
classical Oriental past was a vision (and thousands of facts and artifacts) which only 
he could employ to the best advantage; to the modern Oriental he gave facilitation 
and amelioration — and, too, the benefit of his judgment as to what was best for the 
modern Orient. 

It was characteristic of all Orientalist projects before Napoleon's that very little 
could be done in advance of the project to prepare for its success. Anquetil and Jones, 
for example, learned what they did about the Orient only after they got there. They 
were confront-ing, as it were, the whole Orient, and only after a while and after 
considerable improvising could they whittle it down to a smaller 


province. Napoleon, on the other hand, wanted nothing less than to take the whole of 
Egypt and his advance preparations were of un-paralleled magnitude and thoroughness. 
Even so, these preparations were almost fanatically schematic and— if I may use the 
word— textual, which are features that will bear some analysis here. Three things above 
all else seem to have been in Napoleon's mind as he readied himself while in Italy in 1797 
for his next military move. First, aside from the still threatening power of England, his 
military successes that had culminated in the Treaty of Campo Formio left him no other 

place to turn for additional glory than the East. Moreover, Talleyrand had recently 
animadverted on "les avantages a retirer de colonies ciouvelles dans les circonstances 
presentes," and this notion, along with the appealing prospect of hurting Britain, drew him 
eastwards. Secondly, Napoleon had been attracted to the Orient since his adolescence; his 
youthful manuscripts, for example, contain a summary he made of Marigny's Histoire 
des Arabes, and it is evident from all of his writing and conversation that he was 
steeped, as Jean Thiry has put it, in the memories and glories that were attached to 
Alexander's Orient generally and to Egypt in particular 1 Thus the idea of reconguering 
Egypt as a new Alexander proposed itself to him, allied with the additional benefit of 
acguiring a new Islamic colony at England's expense. Thirdly, Napoleon considered 
Egypt a likely project precisely because he knew it tactically, strategically, historically, 
and— not to be underestimated— textually, that is, as something one read about and knew 
through the writings of recent as well as classical European authorities. The point in all 
this is that for Napoleon Egypt was a project that acguired reality in his mind, and later in 
his preparations for its conguest, through experiences that belong to the realm of ideas and 
myths culled from texts, not empirical reality. His plans for Egypt therefore became the 
first in a long series of European encounters with the Orient in which the Orientalist's 
special expertise was put directly to functional colonial use; for at the crucial instant when 
an Orientalist had to decide whether his loyalties and sympathies lay with the Orient or 
with the conguering West, he always chose the latter, from Napoleon's time on. As for the 
emperor himself, he saw the Orient only as it had been encoded first by classical texts and 
then by Orientalist experts, whose vision, based on classical texts, seemed a useful 
substitute for any actual encounter with the real Orient. 


Napoleon's enlistment of several dozen "savants" for his Egyptian Expedition is too 
well known to reguire detail here. His idea was to build a sort of living archive for the 
expedition, in the form of studies conducted on all topics by the members of the Institut 
d'Egypte, which he founded. What is perhaps less well known is Napoleon's prior 
reliance upon the work of the Comte de Volney, a French traveler whose Voyage en 
Egypte et en Syne appeared in two volumes in 1787. Aside from a short personal 
preface inform-ing the reader that the sudden acguisition of some money (his inheritance) 
made it possible for him to take the trip east in 1783, Volney 's Voyage is an almost 
oppressively impersonal document. Volney evidently saw himself as a scientist, whose 
job it was always to record the "etat" of something he saw. The climax of the Voyage 
occurs in the second volume, an account of Islam as a religion.84 Volney's views were 
canonically hostile to Islam as a religion and as a system of political institutions; 
nevertheless Napoleon found this work and Volney's Considerations sur la guerre 
actuel de Turcs (1788) of particular importance. For Volney after all was a canny 
Frenchman, and— like Chateaubriand and Lamartine a guarter- century after him— he 
eyed the Near Orient as a likely place for the realization of French colonial ambition. 

What Napoleon profited from in Volney was the enumeration, in ascending order of 
difficulty, of the obstacles to be faced in the Orient by any French expeditionary force. 

Napoleon refers explicitly to Volney in his reflections on the Egyptian expedition, the 
Campagnes d'Egypte et de Syrie, 1 798-1 799, which he dictated to General Bertrand 
on Saint Helena. Volney, he said, considered that there were three barriers to French 
hegemony in the Orient and that any French force would therefore have to fight three 
wars: one against England, a second against the Ottoman Porte, and a third, the most 
difficult, against the Muslims.^ Volney's assessment was both shrewd and hard to fault 
since it was clear to Napoleon, as it would be to anyone who read Volney, that his 
Voyage and the Considerations were effective texts to be used by any European 
wishing to win in the Orient. In other words, Volney's work constituted a handbook for 
attenuating the human shock a European might feel as he directly experienced the Orient: 
Read the books, seems to have been Volney's thesis, and far from being disoriented by 
the Orient, you will compel it to you. 

Napoleon took Volney almost literally, but in a characteristically 


subtle way. From the first moment that the Armee d'Egypte appeared on the Egyptian 
horizon, every effort was made to convince the Muslims that "nous sommes les vrais 
musulmans," as Bonaparte's proclamation of July 2, 1798, put it to the people of 
Alexandria.^ Eguipped with a team of Orientalists (and sitting on board a flagship called 
the Orient), Napoleon used Egyptian enmity towards the Mamelukes and appeals to the 
revolutionary idea of egual opportunity for all to wage a uniguely benign and selective 
war against Islam. What more than anything impressed the first Arab chronicler of the 
expedition, Abd-al-Rahman al-Jabarti, was Napoleon's use of scholars to manage his 
contacts with the natives —that and the impact of watching a modern European 
intellectual establishment at close guarters.84 Napoleon tried everywhere to prove that he 
was fighting for Islam; everything he said was translated into Koranic Arabic, just as the 
French army was urged by its command always to remember the Islamic sensibility. 
(Compare, in this regard, Napoleon's tactics in Egypt with the tactics of the 
Requerimiento, a document drawn up in 1513— in Spanish— by the Spaniards to be read 
aloud to the Indians: "We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make 
slaves of them, and as such sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses [the King and 
Queen of Spain] may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all 
the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey," etc. etc.88) When it 
seemed obvious to Napoleon that his force was too small to impose itself on the 
Egyptians, he then tried to make the local imams, cadis, muftis, and ulemas interpret the 
Koran in favor of the Grande Armee. To this end, the sixty ulemas who taught at the 

Azhar were invited to his quarters, given full military honors, and then allowed to be 
flattered by Napoleon's admiration for Islam and Mohammed and by his obvious 
veneration for the Koran, with which he seemed perfectly familiar. This worked, and soon 
the population of Cairo seemed to have lost its distrust of the 


occupiers. 89 Napoleon later gave his deputy Kleber strict instructions after he left always 
to administer Egypt through the Orientalists and the religious Islamic leaders whom they 
could win over; any other politics was too ex-pensive and foolish. 70 Hugo thought that he 
grasped the tactful glory of Napoleon's Oriental expedition in his poem "Lui": 
Au Nil je le retrouve encore. 

L'Egypte resplendit des feux de son aurore; Son astre imperial se 

levea 1 'orient. 

Vainqueur, enthousiaste, eclatant de prestiges, Prodige, il titonna la 

terre des prodiges. 

Les vieux scheiks veneraient Temirjeune et prudent; Le peuple redoutait 

ses armes Mollies; 

Sublime, il apparut aux tribus eblouies 

Comme un Mahomet d'occident." 

(By the Nile, I find him once again. Egypt shines with the fires 
of his dawn; His imperial orb rises in the Orient. 

Victor, enthusiast, bursting with achievements, Prodigious, he 

stunned the land of prodigies. 

The old sheikhs venerated the young and prudent emir. The people dreaded 

his unprecedented arms; 

Sublime, he appeared to the dazzled tribes 

Like a Mahomet of the Occident.) 

Such a triumph could only have been prepared bef ore a military expedition, perhaps 
only by someone who had no prior experience of the Orient except what books and 
scholars told him. The idea of taking along a full-scale academy is very much an aspect of 
this textual attitude to the Orient. And this attitude in turn was bolstered by specific 
Revolutionary decrees (particularly the one of 10 Germinal An III— March 30, 1793 — 
establishing an ecole publique in the Bibliotheque nationale to teach Arabic, Turkish, and 
Persian) 7 2 whose object was the rationalist one of dispelling mystery and 
institutionalizing even the most recondite knowledge. Thus many of Napoleon's 
Orientalist translators were students of Sylvestre de Sacy, who, beginning in June 1796, 
was the first and only teacher of Arabic at the Ecole publique des langues orientales. Sacy 
later became the teacher of nearly every major Orientalist in Europe, where his students 
dominated the field for about three-quarters of a century. Many of them were politically 
useful, in the ways that several had been to Napoleon in Egypt. 

But dealings with the Muslims were only a part of Napoleon's project to dominate 
Egypt. The other part was to render it completely open, to make it totally accessible to 

European scrutiny. From being a land of obscurity and a part of the Orient hitherto known 
at second hand through the exploits of earlier travelers, scholars, and conguerors, Egypt 
was to become a department of French learning. Here too the textual and schematic 
attitudes are evident. The Institut, with its teams of chemists, historians, biol- 


ogists, archaeologists, surgeons, and antiguarians, was the learned division of the army. Its 
job was no less aggressive: to put Egypt into modem French; and unlike the Abbe Le 
Mascrier's 1735 Description de VEgypte, Napoleon's was to be a universal undertak-ing. 
Almost from the first moments of, the occupation Napoleon saw to it that the Institut 
began its meetings, its experiments— its fact-finding mission, as we would call it today. 
Most important, everything said, seen, and studied was to be recorded, and indeed was 
recorded in that great collective appropriation of one country by another, the Description 
de I'Egypie, published in twenty-three enormous volumes between 1809 and 1828." 

The Description's unigueness is not only in its size, or even in the intelligence of its 
contributors, but in its attitude to its subject matter, and it is this attitude that makes it of 
great interest for the study of modern Orientalist projects. The first few pages of its 
preface historique, written by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier, the Institut's secretary, make 
it clear that in "doing" Egypt the scholars were also grappling directly with a kind of 
unadulterated cultural, geographical, and historical significance. Egypt was the focal point 
of the relationships between Africa and Asia, between Europe and the East, between 
memory and actuality. 

Placed between Africa and Asia, and communicating easily with Europe, Egypt 
occupies the center of the ancient continent. This country presents only great 
memories; it is the homeland of the arts and conserves innumerable monuments; its 
principal temples and the palaces inhabited by its kings still exist, even though its 
least ancient edifices had already been built by the time of the Trojan War. Homer, 
Lycurgus, Solon, Pythagoras, and Plato all went to Egypt to study the sciences, 
religion, and the laws. Alexander founded an opulent city there, which for a long time 
enjoyed commercial supremacy and which witnessed Pompey, Caesar, Mark Antony, 
and Augustus deciding between them the fate of Rome and that of the entire world. It 
is therefore proper for this country to attract the attention of illustrious princes who 
rule the destiny of nations. 

No considerable power was ever amassed by any nation, whether in the West or in 
Asia, that did not also turn that nation toward Egypt, which was regarded in some 
measure as its natural lot." 

Because Egypt was saturated with meaning for the arts, sciences, 
and government, its role was to be the stage on which actions of a 


world- historical importance would take place. By taking Egypt then, a modern power 
would naturally demonstrate its strength and justify history; Egypt's own destiny was to 
be annexed, to Europe preferably. In addition, this power would also enter a history whose 
common element was defined by figures no less great than Homer, Alexander, Caesar, 
Plato, Solon, and Pythagoras, who graced the Orient with their prior presence there. The 
Orient, in short, existed as a set of values attached, not to its modem realities, but to a 
series of valorized contacts it had had with a distant European past. This is a pure example 
of the textual, schematic attitude I have been referring to. 

Fourier continues similarly for over a hundred pages (each page, incidentally, is a 
sguare meter in size, as if the project and the size of the page had been thought of as 
possessing comparable scale). Out of the free-floating past, however, he must justify the 
Napoleonic expedition as something that needed to be undertaken when it happened. The 
dramatic perspective is never abandoned. Conscious of his European audience and of the 
Oriental figures he was manipulating, he writes: 

One remembers the impression made on the whole of Europe by the astounding 
news that the French were in the Orient.. . .This great project was meditated in 
silence, and was prepared with such activity and secrecy that the worried vigilance of 
our enemies was deceived; only at the moment that it happened did they learn that it 
had been conceived, undertaken, and carried out success- fully.... 
So dramatic a coup de theatre had its advantages for the Orient as well: 

This country, which has transmitted its knowledge to so many nations, is today 
plunged into barbarism. 

Only a hero could bring all these factors together, which is what Fourier now describes: 
Napoleon appreciated the influence that this event would have on the relations 
between Europe, the Orient, and Africa, on Mediterranean shipping, and on Asia's 
destiny. . . . Napoleon wanted to offer a useful European example to the Orient, and 
finally also to make the inhabitants' lives more pleasant, as well as to procure for 
them all the advantages of a perfected civilization. 

None of this would be possible without a continuous application to the project of 
the arts and sciences. T " 


To restore a region from its present barbarism to its former classical greatness; to 
instruct (for its own benefit) the Orient in the ways of the modern West; to subordinate or 
underplay military power in order to aggrandize the project of glorious knowledge 
acguired in the process of political domination of the Orient; to formulate the Orient, to 

give it shape, identity, definition with full recognition of its place in memory, its 
importance to imperial strategy, and its "natural" role as an appendage to Europe; to 
dignify all the knowledge collected during colonial occupation with the title "contribution 
to modern learning" when the natives had neither been consulted nor treated as anything 
except as pretexts for a text whose usefulness was not to the natives; to feel oneself as a 
European in command, almost at will, of Oriental history, time, and geography; to 
institute new areas of specialization; to establish new disciplines; to divide, deploy, 
schematize, tabulate, index, and record everything in sight (and out of sight) ; to make out 
of every observable detail a generalization and out of every generalization an immutable 
law about the Oriental nature, temperament, mentality, custom, or type; and, above all, to 
transmute living reality into the stuff of texts, to possess (or think one possesses) actuality 
mainly because nothing in the Orient seems to resist one's powers: these are the features 
of Orientalist projection entirely realized in the Description de I'Egypte, itself enabled and 
reinforced by Napoleon's wholly Orientalist engulfment of Egypt by the instruments of 
Western knowledge and power. Thus Fourier concludes his preface by announcing that 
history will remember how "f gypte fut le theatre de sa [Napoleon's] gloire, et preserve de 
l'oubli toutes les circonstances de cet evenement extraordinaire." 7 ^ 

The Description thereby displaces Egyptian or Oriental history as a history possessing 
its own coherence, identity, and sense. In-stead, history as recorded in the Description 
supplants Egyptian or Oriental history by identifying itself directly and immediately with 
world history, a euphemism for European history. To save an event from oblivion is in the 
Orientalist's mind the eguivalent of turning the Orient into a theater for his representations 
of the Orient: this is almost exactly what Fourier says. Moreover, the sheer power of 
having described the Orient in modern Occidental terms lifts the Orient from the realms of 
silent obscurity where it has lain neglected (except for the inchoate murmurings of a vast 
but undefined sense of its own past) into the clarity of modern European science. There 
this new Orient figures as— for instance, in Geoffrey Saint- Hilaire's 


biological theses in the Description— the confirmation o/ aWl Ot zoological 
specialization formulated by BuffonY 1 Or it saves ii 11 "contraste frappante avec les 
habitudes des nations Europbennes," " in which the "bizarre jouissances" of Orientals 
serve to highlight the sobriety and rationality of Occidental habits. Or, to cite one more 
use for the Orient, eguivalents of those Oriental physiological characteristics that made 
possible the successful embalming of bodies are sought for in European bodies, so that 
chevaliers fallen on the field of honor can be preserved as lifelike relics of Napoleon's 
great Oriental campaign.^ 

Yet the military failure of Napoleon's occupation of Egypt did not also destroy the 
fertility of its over-all projection for Egypt or the rest of the Orient. Quite literally, the 
occupation gave birth to the entire modem experience of the Orient as interpreted from 
within the universe of discourse founded by Napoleon in Egypt whose agencies of 
domination and- dissemination included the Institut and the Description. The idea, as it 
has been characterized by Charles-Roux, was that Egypt "restored to prosperity, re- 
generated by wise and enlightened administration . . . would shed its civilizing rays 
upon all its Oriental neighbors." 80 True, the other European powers would seek to 
compete in this mission, none more than England. But what would happen as a 
continuing legacy of the common Occidental mission to the Orient— despite inter- 
European sguabbling, indecent competition, or outright war— would be the creation of 
new projects, new visions, new enterprises combining additional parts of the old Orient 
with the conguering European spirit. After Napoleon, then, the very language of 
Orientalism changed radically. Its descriptive realism was upgraded and became not 
merely a style of representation but a language, indeed a means of creation. Along with 
the longues meres, as those forgotten dormant sources for the modern European 
demotics were entitled by Antoine Fabre d'Olivet, the Orient was reconstructed, re- 
assembled, crafted, in short, born out of the Orientalists' efforts. The Description 
became the master type of all further efforts to bring the Orient closer to Europe, 
thereafter to absorb it entirely and— centrally important— to cancel, or at least subdue 
and reduce, its strangeness and, in the case of Islam, its hostility. For the Islamic Orient 
would henceforth appear as a category denoting the Orientalists' power and not the 
Islamic people as humans nor their history as history. 

Thus out of the Napoleonic expedition there issued a whole 


series of textual children, from Chateaubriand's Itineraire to Lamar-tine's Voyage en 
Orient to Flaubert's Salammbo, and in the same tradition, Lane's Manners and 
Customs of the Modern Egyptians and Richard Burton's Personal Narrative of a 
Pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Meccah. What binds them together is not only their 
common background in Oriental legend and experience but also their learned reliance on 
the Orient as a kind of womb out of which they were brought forth. If paradoxically these 
creations turned out to be highly stylized simulacra, elaborately wrought imitations of 
what a live Orient might be thought to look like, that by no means detracts either from the 
strength of their imaginative conception or from the strength of European mastery of the 
Orient, whose prototypes respectively were Cagliostro, the great European im-personator 

of the Orient and Napoleon, its first modern conqueror. 

Artistic or textual work was not the only product of the Napoleonic expedition. There 
were, in addition and certainly more influential, the scientific project, whose chief 
instance is Ernest Renan's Systeme compare et histoire generate des langues 
semitiques, completed in 1848 for— neatly enough— the Prix Volney, and the 
geopolitical project of which Ferdinand de Lesseps's Suez Canal and England's 
occupation of Egypt in 1882 are prime in-stances. The difference between the two is not 
only in manifest scale but also in quality of Orientalist conviction. Renan truly believed 
that he had re-created the Orient as it really was, in his work. De Lesseps, on the other 
hand, always was somewhat awed by the newness his project had released out of the old 
Orient, and this sense communicated itself to everyone for whom the opening of the canal 
in 1869 was no ordinary event. In his Excursionist and Tourist Advertiser for July 1, 

1869, Thomas Cook's enthusiasm carries on de Lesseps's: 

On November the 17th, the greatest engineering feat of the present century is to have 
its success celebrated by a magnificent inauguration fete, at which nearly every 
European royal family will have its special representative. Truly the occasion will be 
an exceptional one. The formation of a line of water communication between Europe 
and the East, has been the thought of centuries, occupying in turn the minds of 
Greeks, Roman, Saxon and Gaul, but it was not until within the last few years that 
modern civilization began seriously to set about emulating the labours of the ancient 
Pharaohs, who, many centuries since, constructed a canal between the two seas, 
traces of which remain to this day Everything 


connected with [the modern] works are on the most gigantic scale, and a perusal 
of a little pamphlet, descriptive of the undertaking, from the pen of the 
Chevalier de St. Stoess, impresses us most forcibly with the genius of the great 
Master-mind— Al. Ferdinand de Lesseps— to whose perseverance, calm daring 
and foresight, the dream of ages has at last become a real and tangible fact .. . the 
project for bringing more closely together the countries of the West and the East, 
and thus uniting the civilizations of different epochs. °* 

The combination of old ideas with new methods, the bringing together of cultures 
whose relations to the nineteenth century were different, the genuine imposition of 
the power of modern technology and intellectual will upon formerly stable and 
divided geographical entities like East and West: this is what Cook perceives and what, 
in his journals, speeches, prospectuses, and letters, de Lesseps advertises. 

Genealogically, Ferdinand's start was auspicious. Alathieu de Lesseps, his father, had 
come to Egypt with Napoleon and remained there (as "unofficial French 
representative," Alarlowe says°2) for four years after the French evacuated it in 1801. 
Alany of Ferdinand's later writings refer back to Napoleon's own interest in c 

canal, which, because he had been misinformed by experts, he never thought was a 
realizable goal. Infected by the erratic history of canal projects that included French 
schemes entertained by Richelieu and the Saint-Simonians, de Lesseps re-turned to 
Egypt in 1854, there to embark on the undertaking that was eventually completed 
fifteen years later. He had no real engineer-ing background. Only a tremendous faith 
in his near-divine skills as builder, mover, and creator kept him going; as his 
diplomatic and financial talents gained him Egyptian and European support, he seems 
to have acquired the necessary knowledge to carry matters to completion. More 
useful, perhaps, he learned how to plant his potential contributors in the world- 
historical theater and make them see what his "pensee morale," as he called his 
project, really meant. "Vous envisagez," he told them in 1860, "les immenses services 
que le rapprochement de l'occident et de l'orient doit rendre a la civilization et au 
developpement de la richesse generale. Le monde attend de vous Ml grand progres et 
vous voulez repondre a l'attente du monde. "°3 l n accordance with such notions the 
name of the investment company formed by de Lesseps in 1858 was a charged one 
and reflected the grandiose plans he cherished: the Compagnie 


universelle. In 1862 the Academie francaise offered a prize for an epic on the canal. 
Boreier, the winner, delivered himself of such hyperbole as the following, none of it 
fundamentally contradicting de Lesseps's picture of what he was up to: 

Au travail! Ouvriers gue notre France envoie, Tracez, pour l'univers, 

cette nouvelle vole! Vos Ores, les heros, sont venus jusgu'ici; Soyez 

ferme comme aux intrepides, 

Comme eux vous combattez aux pieds des pyramides, 

Et leurs guatre mille ans vous contemplent aussi! 

Oui, c'est pour l'univers! Pour lAsie et l'Europe, Pour ces climats 

lointain gue la nuit enveloppe, Pour le Chinois perfide et l'lndien demi- 


Pour les peuples heureux, libres, humains et braves, Pour les peuples 

mbchants, pour les peuples esclaves, Pour ceux a gui le Christ est encore 


De Lesseps was nowhere more eloquent and resourceful than when he was called 
upon to justify the enormous expense in money and men the canal would reguire. He 

could pour out statistics to enchant any ear; he would quote Herodotus and maritime 
statistics with equal fluency. In his journal entries for 1864 he cited with approbation 
Casimir Leconte's observation that an eccentric life would develop significant originality 
in men, and from originality would come qreat and unusual exploits. 86 Such exploits 
were their own justification. Despite its immemorial pediqree of failures, its outraqeous 
cost its astoundinq ambitions for alterinq the way Europe would handle the Orient the 
canal was worth the effort. It was a project uniquely able to override the objections of 
those who were consulted and, in improvinq the Orient as a whole, to do what scheminq 
Eqyptians, perfidious Chinese, and half-naked Indians could never have done for 

The opening ceremonies in November 1869 were an occasion which, no less than the 
whole history of de Lesseps's machinations, perfectly embodied his ideas. For years his 
speeches, letters, and pamphlets were laden with a vividly energetic and theatrical 
vocabulary. In the pursuit of success, he could be found sayinq of himself (always in the 
first person plural), we created, fouqht, disposed, achieved, acted, recoqnized, 
persevered, advanced; nothinq, he repeated on many occasions, could stop us, nothinq 
was impossible, nothinq mattered finally except the realization of "le resultat final, le 
qrand but," which he had conceived, defined, 


and finally executed. As the papal envoy to the ceremonies spoke on November 16 to 
the assembled diqnitaries, his speech strove desperately to match the intellectual and 
imaqinative spectacle offered by de Lesseps's canal: 

II est permis d'affirmer que l'heure qui vient de sonner est non seulement une des 
plus solennelles de ce sibcle, mais encore une des plus qrandes et des plus decisives 
qu'aitvues l'humanitb, depuis qu'elle a une histoire ci-bas. Ce lieu, ou continent— 
sans desormais y toucher— 1 'A frique et lAsie, cette qrande fete du qenre humain, 
cette assistance auquste et cosmopolite, toutes les races du qlobe, tous les drapeaux, 
tous les pavillions, flottant joyeusement sous ce tiel radieux et immense, la croix 
debout et respectee de tous en face du croissant, que de merveilles, que de contrastes 
saississants, que de rives reputes chimeriques devenus de palpables realites! et, dans 
cet assemblaqe de tent de prodiqes, que de sujets de reflexions pour le penseur, que 
de joies dans l'heure presente et, dans les perspectives de l'avenir, que de qlorieuses 
esperances! .. . 

Les deux extremites du qlobe se rapprochent; en se rapprochant, elles se 
reconnaissent; en se reconnaissant, tous les hommes, enfants d'un seul et mime Dieu, 
eprouvent le tressaillement joyeux de leur mutuelle fraternize! Occident! Orient! 
rapprochez, reqardez, reconnaissez, saluez, etreiqnez-vous! .. . 

Mais derriere le phenomene materiel, le regard du penseur decouvre des horizons 
plus vastes que Ies espaces misurables, les horizons sans homes ou mouvent les plus 
hautes destinies, les plus glorieuses conquetes, les plus immortelles certitudes du 
genre humain... . 

[Dieu] que votre souffle divin plane sur ces eaux! Ou'il y passe et repasse, de 
l'Occident a l'Orient, de l'Orient a l'Occident! Dieu! Servez vous de cette voie 
pour rapprocher les hommes les uns des autres!^8 

The whole world seemed crowded in to render homage to a scheme that God could only 
bless and make use of himself. Old distinctions and inhibitions were dissolved: the Cross 
faced down the Crescent the West had come to the Orient never to leave it (until, in July 
1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser would activate Egypt's taking over of the canal by 
pronouncing the name of de Lesseps). 

In the Suez Canal idea we see the logical conclusion of Oriental-ist thought and, more 
interesting, of Orientalist effort. To the West, Asia had once represented silent distance 
and alienation; Islam was militant hostility to European Christianity. To overcome such 


redoubtable constants the Orient needed first to be known, then invaded and 
possessed, then re-created by scholars, soldiers, and judges who disinterred forgotten 
languages, histories, races, and cultures in order to posit them — beyond the modern 
Oriental's ken — as the true classical Orient that could be used to judge and rule the 
modern Orient. The obscurity faded to be replaced by hothouse entities; the Orient 
was a scholar's word, signifying what modern Europe had recently made of the still 
peculiar East. De Lesseps and his canal finally destroyed the Orient's distance, its 
cloistered intimacy away from the West, its perdurable exoticism. Just as a land barrier 
could be transmuted into a liquid artery, so too the Orient was transubstantiated from 
resistant hostility into obliging, and submissive, partnership. After de Lesseps no one 
could speak of the Orient as belonging to another world, strictly speaking. There was 
only "our" world, "one" world bound together because the Sue2 Canal had frustrated 
those last provincials who still be-lieved in the difference between worlds. Thereafter 
the notion of "Oriental" is an administrative or executive one, and it is sub-ordinate to 
demographic, economic, and sociological factors. For imperialists like Balfour, or for 
anti-imperialists like J. A. Hobson, the Oriental, like the African, is a member of a 
subject race and not exclusively an inhabitant of a geographical area. De Lesseps had 
melted away the Orient's geographical identity by (almost literally) dragging the Orient 
into the West and finally dispelling the threat of Islam. New categories and 
experiences, including the imperialist ones, would emerge, and in time Orientalism 
would adapt itself to them, but not without some difficulty. 


It may appear strange to speak about something or someone as holding a textual 
attitude, but a student of literature will understand the phrase more easily if he will 
recall the kind of view attacked by Voltaire in Candide, or even the attitude to reality 
satirrzed by Cervantes in Don Quixote. What seems unexceptionable good sense 


to these writers is that it is a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and 
problematic mess in which human beings live can be understood on the basis of what 
books— texts— say; to apply what one learns out of a book literally to reality is to risk 
folly or ruin. One would no more think of using Amadis of Gaul to understand 
sixteenth- century (or present-day) Spain than one would use the Bible to understand, say, 
the House of Commons. But clearly people have tried and do try to use texts in so 
simple-minded a way, for otherwise Candide and Don Quixote would not still have the 
appeal for readers that they do today. It seems a common human failing to prefer the 
schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human. 
But is this failing constantly present, or are there circumstances that, more than others, 
make the textual attitude likely to prevail? 

Two situations favor a textual attitude. One is when a human being confronts at close 
quarters something relatively unknown and threatening and previously distant. In such a 
case one has recourse not only to what in one's previous experience the novelty resembles 
but also to what one has read about it. Travel books or guidebooks are about as "natural" 
a kind of text, as logical in their composition and in their use, as any book one can think 
of, precisely because of this human tendency to fall back on a text when the uncertainties 
of travel in strange parts seem to threaten one's equanimity. Many travelers find 
themselves saying of an experience in a new country that it wasn't what they expected, 
meaning that it wasn't what a book said it would be. A nd of course many writers of travel 
books or guidebooks compose them in order to say that a country r's like this, or better, 
that it is colorful, expensive, interesting, and so forth. The idea in either case is that 
people, places, and experiences can always be described by a book, so much so that the 
book (or text) acguires a greater authority, and use, even than the actuality it describes. 
The comedy of Fabrice del Dongo's search for the battle of Waterloo is not so much that 
he fails to find the battle, but that he looks for it as something texts have told him about. 

A second situation favoring the textual attitude is the appearance of success. If one 

reads a book claiming that lions are fierce and then encounters a fierce lion (I simplify, of 
course), the chances are that one will be encouraged to read more books by that same 
author, and believe them. But if, in addition, the lion book instructs one how to deal with 
a fierce lion, and the instructions work 


perfectly, then not only will the author be greatly believed, he will also be impelled to try 
his hand at other kinds of written performance. There is a rather complex dialectic of 
reinforcement by which the experiences of readers in reality are determined by what they 
have read, and this in turn influences writers to take up subjects defined in advance by 
readers' experiences. A book on how to handle a fierce lion might then cause a series of 
books to be produced on such subjects as the fierceness of lions, the origins of fierceness, 
and so forth. Similarly, as the focus of the text centers more narrowly on the subject— no 
longer lions but their fierceness —we might expect that the ways by which it is 
recommended that a lion's fierceness be handled will actually increase its fierceness, 
force it to be fierce since that is what it is, and that is what in essence we know or can 
only know about it. 

A text purporting to contain knowledge about something actual, and arising out of 
circumstances similar to the ones I have just described, is not easily dismissed. Expertise 
is attributed to it. The authority of academics, institutions, and governments can accrue to 
it, surrounding it with still greater prestige than its practical successes warrant. Most 
important, such texts 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, whose material presence or weight, not the originality of a 
given author, is really responsible for the texts produced out of it. This kind of text is 
composed out of those pre-existing units of information deposited by Flaubert in the 
catalogue Of idees revues. 

In the light of all this, consider Napoleon and de Lesseps. Every-thing they knew, more 
or less, about the Orient came from books written in the tradition of Orientalism, placed 
in its library of idees revues; for them the Orient, like the fierce lion, was something to 
be encountered and dealt with to a certain extent because the texts made that Orient 
possible. Such an Orient was silent, available to Europe for the realization of projects that 
involved but were never directly responsible to the native inhabitants, and unable to resist 
the projects, images, or mere descriptions devised for it. Earlier in this chapter I called 
such a relation between Western writing (and its conseguences) and Oriental silence the 
result of and the sign of the West's great cultural strength, its will to power over the 

Orient. But there is another side to the strength, a side whose existence depends on the 
pressures of the Orientalist tradition and 


its textual attitude to the Orient; this side lives its own life, as books about fierce lions 
will do until lions can talk back. The perspective rarely drawn on Napoleon and de 
Lesseps— to take two among the many projectors who hatched plans for the Orient— is 
the one that sees them carrying on in the dimensionless silence of the Orient mainly 
because the discourse of Orientalism, over and above the Orient's poweriessness to do 
anything about them, suffused their activity with meaning, intelligibility, and reality. The 
discourse of Orientalism and what made it possible— in Napoleon's case, a West far more 
powerful militarily than the Orient— gave them Orientals who could be described in such 
works as the Description de VEgypte and an Orient that could be cut across as de 
Lesseps cut across Suez. Moreover, Orientalism gave them their success— at least from 
their point of view, which had nothing to do with that of the Oriental. Success, in other 
words, had all the actual human inter- change between Oriental and Westerner of the 
Judge's "said I to myself, said I" in Trial by Jury. 

Once we begin to think of Orientalism as a kind of Western projection onto and will to 
govern over the rient, we will encounter few surprises. For if it is true that historians like 
Michelet, Ranke, Toqueville, and Burckhardt em plot their narratives "as a story of a 
particular kind, "87 the same is also true of Orientalists who plotted Oriental history, 
character, and destiny for hundreds of years. During the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries the Orientalists be-came a more serious quantity, because by then the reaches of 
imaginative and actual geography had shrunk, because the Oriental- European relationship 
was determined by an unstoppable European expansion in search of markets, resources, 
and colonies, and finally, because Orientalism had accomplished its self- metamorphosis 
from a scholarly discourse to an imperial institution. Evidence of this metamorphosis is 
already apparent in what I have said of Napoleon, de Lesseps, Balfour, and Cromer. Their 
projects in the Orient are understandable on only the most rudimentary level as the efforts 
of men of vision and genius, heroes in Carlyle's sense. In fact Napoleon, de Lesseps, 
Cromer, and Balfour are far more regular, far less unusual, if we recall the schemata of 
d'Herbelot and Dante and add to them both a modernized, efficient engine (like the 
nineteenth- century European empire) and a positive twist: since one cannot ontologically 
obliterate the Orient (as d'Herbelot and Dante perhaps realized), one does have the means 
to capture it, treat it, describe it, improve it, radically alter it. 


The point I am trying to make here is that the transition from a merely textual 
apprehension, formulation, or definition of the Orient to the putting of all this into 
practice in the Orient did take place, and that Orientalism had much to do with that— if I 
may use the word in a literal sense— preposterous transition. So far as its strictly 
scholarly work was concerned (and I find the idea of strictly scholarly work as 
disinterested and abstract hard to under-stand: still, we can allow it intellectually), 
Orientalism did a great many things. During its great age in the nineteenth century it pro- 
duced scholars; it increased the number of languages taught in the West and the guantity 
of manuscripts edited, translated, and commented on; in many cases, it provided the 
Orient with sympathetic European students, genuinely interested in such matters as 
Sanskrit grammar, Phoenician numismatics, and Arabic poetry. Yet— and here we must 
be very clear— Orientalism overrode the Orient. Asa system of thought about the Orient, 
it always rose from the specifically human detail to the general transhuman one; an 
observation about a tenth-century Arab poet multiplied itself into a policy towards (and 
about) the Oriental mentality in Egypt, Irag, or Arabia. Similarly a verse from the Koran 
would be considered the best evidence of an ineradicable Muslim sensuality. Orientalism 
assumed an unchanging Orient, absolutely different (the reasons change from epoch to 
epoch) from the West. And Orientalism, in its post-eighteenth-century form, could never 
revise itself. All this makes Cromer and Balfour, as observers and administrators of the 
Orient, inevitable. 

The closeness between politics and Orientalism, or to put it more circumspectly, the 
great likelihood that ideas about the rient drawn from rientalism can be put to political 
use, is an important yet extremely sensitive truth. It raises questions about the pre- 
disposition towards innocence or guilt, scholarly disinterest or pressure-group complicity, 
in such fields as black or women's studies. It necessarily provokes unrest in one's 
conscience about cultural, racial, or historical generalizations, their uses, value, degree of 
objectivity, and fundamental intent. More than anything else, the political and cultural 
circumstances in which Western Orientalism has flourished draw attention to the debased 
position of the Orient or Oriental as an object of study. Can any other than a political 
master-slave relation produce the Orientalized Orient perfectly characterized by Anwar 


a)0n the level of the position of the problem, the problematic ... the Orient and 
Orientals [are considered by Orientalism] as an "object" of study, stamped with 
an otherneu — as all that is different, whether it be "subject" or " object" — but of 
a constitutive otherness, of an essentialist character. . . . This "object" of study 
will be, as is customary, passive, non-participating, endowed with a "historical" 

subjectivity, above all, non-active, no n- autonomous, no n- sovereign with regard 
to itself: the only Orient or Oriental or "subject" which could be admitted, at the 
extreme limit, is the alienated being, philosophically, that is, other than itself in 
relationship to itself, posed, understood, defined— and acted— by others. 

b)0n the level of the thematic, [the Orientalists] adopt an essentialist conception 

of the countries, nations and peoples of the Orient under study, a conception 

which expresses itself through a characterized ethnist typology ... and will soon 

proceed with it towards racism. 

According to the traditional orientalists, an essence should exist - sometimes even 

clearly described in metaphysical terms— which constitutes the inalienable and 

common basis of all the beings con-sidered; this essence is both "historical," since it 

goes back to the dawn of history, and fundamentally a-historical, since it transfixes 

the being, "the object" of study, within its inalienable and nonevolutive specificity, 

instead of defining it as all other beings, states, nations, peoples, and cultures— as a 

product, a resultant of the vection of the forces operating in the field of historical 


Thus one ends with a typology— based on a real specificity, but detached from 

history, and, consequently, conceived as being in- tangible, essential— which makes 

of the studied "object" another being with regard to whom the studying subject is 

transcendent; we will have a homo Sinicus, a homo Arabicus (and why not a homo 

Aegypticus, etc.) , a homo Africanus, the man— the "normal man," it is 

understood— being the European man of the historical period, that is, since Greek 

antiguity. One sees how much, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the 

hegemonism of posses-sing minorities, unveiled by Marx and Engels, and the 

anthropocentrism dismantled by Freud are accompanied by europocentrism in the 

area of human and social sciences, and more particularly in those in direct 

relationship with non-European peoples.88 

Abdel Malek sees Orientalism as having a history which, ac-cording to the "Oriental" of 
the late twentieth century, led it to the impasse described above. Let us now briefly outline 
that history as 


it proceeded through the nineteenth century to accumulate weight and power, "the 
hegemonism of possessing minorities," and anthropocentrism in alliance with 
Europocentrism. From the last decades of the eighteenth century and for at least a century 

and a half, Britain and France dominated Orientalism as a discipline. The great 
philological discoveries in comparative grammar made by Jones, Franz Bopp, Jakob 
Grimm, and others were originally indebted to manuscripts brought from the East to Paris 
and London. Almost without exception, every Orientalist began his career as a 
philologist, and the revolution in philology that produced Bopp, Sacy, Burnouf, and their 
students was a comparative science based on the premise that languages belong to 
families, of which the Indo-European and the Semitic are two great instances. From the 
outset, then, Orientalism carried forward two traits: (1) a newly found scientific self- 
consciousness based on the linguistic importance of the Orient to Europe, and (2) a 
proclivity to divide, subdivide, and redivide its subject matter without ever changing its 
mind about the Orient as being always the same, unchanging, uniform, and radically 
peculiar object. 

Friedrich Schlegel, who learned his Sanskrit in Paris, illustrates these traits together. 
A lthough by the time he published his Uber die Sprache and Weisheitderlndier in 1808 
Schlegel had practically renounced his Orientalism, he still held that Sanskrit and Persian 
on the one hand and Greek and German on the other had more affinities with each other 
than with the Semitic, Chinese, American, or African languages. Moreover, the Indo- 
European family was artistically simple and satisfactory in a way the Semitic, for one, 
was not. Such abstractions as this did not trouble Schlegel, for whom nations, races, 
minds, and peoples as things one could talk about passionately— in the ever- narrowing 
perspective of populism first adumbrated by Herder— held a lifelong fascination. Yet 
nowhere does Schlegel talk about the living, contemporary Orient. When he said in 1800, 
"It is in the Orient that we must search for the highest Romanticism," he meant the Orient 
of the Sakuntala, the Zend-Avesta, and the Upanishads. As for the Semites, whose 
language was agglutinative, unaesthetic, and mechanical, they were different, inferior, 
backward. Schlegel's lectures on language and on life, history, and literature are full of 
these discriminations, which he made without the slightest gualification. Hebrew, he said, 
was made for prophetic utterance and divination; 


the Muslims, however, espoused a "dead empty Theism, a merely negative 
Unitarian faith." 89 

Much of the racism in Schlegel's strictures upon the Semites and Other "low" 
Orientals was widely diffused in European culture. But nowhere else, unless it be 
later in the nineteenth century among Darwinian anthropologists and phrenologists, 
was it made the basis of a scientific subject matter as it was in comparative 
linguistics or philology. Language and race seemed inextricably tied, and the 

Orient was invariably a classical period somewhere in a long- gone India, 

whereas the "bad" Orient lingered in present-day Asia, parts of North Africa, and 
Islam everywhere. "Aryans" were Confined to Europe and the ancient Orient; as 
Leon Poliakov has Shown (without once remarking, however, that "Semites" were 
not only the Jews but the Muslims as well90), the Aryan myth dominated historical 
and cultural anthropology at the expense of the "lesser" peoples. 

The official intellectual genealogy of Orientalism would certainly include 
Gobineau, Renan, Humboldt, Steinthal, Burnouf, Remusat, Palmer, Well, Dozy, 
Muir, to mention a few famous names almost at random from the nineteenth 
century. It would also include the diffusive capacity of learned societies: the 
Societe asiatique, founded in 1822; the Royal Asiatic Society, founded in 1823; the 
American Oriental Society, founded in 1842; and so on. But it might perforce 
neglect the great contribution of imaginative and travel literature, which 
strengthened the divisions established by Orientalists between the various 
geographical, temporal, and racial departments of the Orient. Such neglect would 
be incorrect, since for the Islamic Orient this literature is especially rich and makes 
a significant contribution to building the Orientalist discourse. It includes work by 
Goethe, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Kinglake, Nerval, Flau-bert, Lane, Burton, 
Scott, Byron, Vigny, Disraeli, George Eliot, Gautier. Later, in the late nineteenth 
and early twentieth centuries, we could add Doughty, Barres, Loti, T. E. Lawrence, 
Forster. All these writers give a bolder outline to Disraeli's "great Asiatic mystery." 
In this enterprise there is considerable support not only from the unearthing of dead 
Oriental civilizations (by European excavators) in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria, and 
Turkey, but also from major geographical surveys done all through the Orient. 

By the end of the nineteenth century these achievements were materially abetted 
by the European occupation of the entire Near 


Orient (with the exception of parts of the Ottoman Empire, which was swallowed up after 
1918). The principal colonial powers once again were Britain and France, although 
Russia and Germany played some role as well 9^ To colonize meant at first the 
identification— indeed, the creation— of interests; these could be commercial, 
communicational, religious, military, cultural. With regard to Islam and the Islamic 
territories, for example, Britain felt that it had legitimate interests, as a Christian power, 
to safeguard. A complex apparatus for tending these interests developed. Such early 
organizations as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (1698) and the Society 
for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (1701) were succeeded and later 
abetted by the Baptist Missionary Society (1792), the Church Missionary Society (1799), 
the British and Foreign Bible Society (1804), the London Society for Promoting 
Christianity Among the Jews (1808). These missions "openly joined the expansion of 

Europe." 92 Add to these the trading societies, learned societies, geographical exp 
funds, translation funds, the implantation in the Orient of schools, missions, consular 
offices, factories, and sometimes large European communities, and the notion of an 
"interest" will acguire a good deal of sense. Thereafter interests were defended with 
much zeal and expense. 

So far my outline is a gross one. What of the typical experiences and emotions that 
accompany both the scholarly advances of Orientalism and the political conguests aided 
by Orientalism? First, there is disappointment that the modern Orient is not at all like the 
texts. Here is Gerard de Nerval writing to Theophile Gautier at the end of August 1843: 

I have already lost, Kingdom after Kingdom, province after province, the more 
beautiful half of the universe, and soon I will know of no place in which I can find a 
refuge for my dreams; but it is Egypt that I most regret having driven out of my 
imagination, now that I have sadly placed it in my memory .93 

This is by the author of a great Voyage en Orient. Nerval's lament is a common topic of 
Romanticism (the betrayed dream, as de-scribed by Albert Beguin in L'Ame romantique 
et le reve) and of travelers in the Biblical Orient, from Chateaubriand to Mark Twain. 
Any direct experience of the mundane Orient ironically comments on such 
valorizations of it as were to be found in Goethe's "Mahometsgesang" or Hugo's 
"Adieux de 1'hStesse arabe." Memory 


of the modem Orient disputes imagination, sends one back to the imagination as a 
place preferable, for the European sensibility, to the real Orient. For a person who has 
never seen the Orient, Nerval once said to Gautier, a lotus is still a lotus; for me it is only 
a kind of onion. To write about the modern Orient is either to reveal an upsetting 
demystification of images culled from texts, or to confine oneself to the Orient of which 
Hugo spoke in his original preface to Les Orientates, the Orient as "image" or "pensee," 
symbols of "une sorte de preoccupation generale."94 

If personal disenchantment and general preoccupation fairly map the Orientalist 
sensibility at first, they entail certain other more familiar habits of thought, feeling, and 
perception. The mind learns to separate a general apprehension of the Orient from a 
specific experience of it; each goes its separate way, so to speak. In Scott's novel The 
Talisman (1825), Sir Kenneth (of the Crouching Leopard) battles a single Saracen to a 
standoff somewhere in the Palestinian desert; as the Crusader and his opponent, who is 
Saladin in disguise, later engage in conversation, the Christian discovers his Muslim 
antagonist to be not so bad a fellow after all. Y et he remarks: 

I well thought . . . that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, 
without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of 
Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in 
particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange is it to me, how- 
ever, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should 

boast of it. 95 

For indeed the Saracen does boast of tracing his race's line back to Eblis, the Muslim 
Lucifer. But what is truly curious is not the feeble historicism by which Scott makes the 
scene "medieval/ 1 letting Christian attack Muslim theologically in a way nineteenth- 
century Europeans would not (they would, though) ; rather, it is the airy condescension of 
damning a whole people "generally" while mitigating the offense with a cool "I don't 
mean you in particular." 

Scott, however, was no expert on Islam (although H. A. R. Gibb, who was, praised The 
Talisman for its insight into Islam and Saladin^), and he was taking enormous liberties 
with Eblis's role by turning him into a hero for the faithful. Scott's knowledge probably 
came from Byron and Beckford, but it is enough for us 


here to note how strongly the general character ascribed to things Oriental could 
withstand both the rhetorical and the existential force of obvious exceptions. It is as if, on 
the one hand, a bin called "Oriental" existed into which all the authoritative, anonymous, 
and traditional Western attitudes to the East were dumped unthinkingly, while on the 
other, true to the anecdotal tradition of storytelling, one could nevertheless tell of 
experiences with or in the Orient that had little to do with the generally serviceable bin. 
But the very structure of Scott's prose shows a closer intertwining of the two than that. 
For the general category in advance offers the specific instance a limited terrain in which 
to operate: no matter how deep the specific exception, no matter how much a single 
Oriental can escape the fences placed around him, he is first an Oriental, second a human 
being, and last again an Oriental. 

So general a category as "Oriental" is capable of quite intergsting variations. Disraeli's 
enthusiasm for the Orient appeared first dur-ing a trip East in 1831. In Cairo he wrote, 
"My eyes and mind yet ache with a grandeur so little in unison with our own likeness. "9T 
General grandeur and passion inspired a transcendent sense of things and little patience 
for actual reality. His novel Tancred is steeped in racial and geographical platitudes; 
everything is a matter of race, Sidonia states, so much so that salvation can only be found 
in the Orient and amongst its races. There, as a case in point, Druzes, Christians, 
Muslims, and Jews hobnob easily because— someone guips— Arabs are simply Jews on 
horseback, and all are Orientals at heart. The unisons are made between general cate- 
gories, not between categories and what they contain. An Oriental lives in the Orient, he 
lives a life of Oriental ease, in a state of Oriental despotism and sensuality, imbued with a 
feeling of Oriental fatalism. Writers as different as Marx, Disraeli, Burton, and Nerval 

could carry on a lengthy discussion between themselves, as it were, using all those 
generalities unguestioningly and yet intelligibly. 

With disenchantment and a generalized- not to say schizophrenic- view of the Orient, 
there is usually another peculiarity. Because it is made into a general object, the whole 
Orient can be made to serve as an illustration of a particular form of eccentricity. 
A lthough the individual riental cannot shake or disturb the general categories that make 
sense of his oddness, his oddness can nevertheless be enjoyed for its own sake. Here, for 
example, is Flaubert describing the spectacle of the rient: 


To amuse the crowd, Mohammed Ali's jester took a woman In a Cairo ba2aar 
one day, set her on the counter of a shop, and coupled with her publicly while the 
shopkeeper calmly smoked his pipe. 

On the road from Cairo to Shubra some time ago a young fellow had himself 
publicly buggered by a large monkey — as in the story above, to create a good 
opinion of himself and make people laugh. 

A marabout died a while ago — an idiot— who had long passed as a saint 
marked by God; all the Moslem women came to see him and masturbated him— 
in the end he died of exhaustion— from morning to night it was a perpetual 
jacking-off... . 

Quid dicis of the following fact: some time ago a santon (ascetic priest) used to 
walk through the streets of Cairo completely naked except for a cap on his head 
and another on his prick. To piss he would doff the prick-cap, and sterile women 
who wanted children would run up, put themselves under the parabola of his 
urine and rub themselves with it.^ 

Flaubert frankly acknowledges that this is grotesquerie of a special kind. "All the old 
comic business" — by which Flaubert meant the well-known conventions of "the 
cudgeled slave . . . the coarse trafficker in women . . . the thieving merchant" — acquire 
a new, "fresh ... genuine and charming" meaning in the Orient. This meaning cannot 
be reproduced; it can only be enjoyed on the spot and "brought back" very 
approximately. The Orient is watched, since its almost (but never quite) offensive 
behavior issues out of a reservoir of infinite peculiarity; the European, whose 
sensibility tours the Orient, is a watcher, never involved, always detached, always 
ready for new examples of what the Description de I'Egypte called "bizarre 
jouissance." The Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness. 

And this tableau quite logically becomes a special topic for texts. Thus the circle is 
completed; from being exposed as what texts do not prepare one for, the Orient can 
return as something one writes about in a disciplined way. Its foreignness can be 
translated, its meanings decoded, its hostility tamed; yet the generality assigned to the 

Orient, the disenchantment that one feels after encountering it, the unresolved 
eccentricity it displays, are all redistributed in what is said or written about it. Islam, 
for example, was typically Oriental for Orientalists of the late nineteenth and early 
twentieth centuries. Carl Becker argued that although "Islam" (note the vast 
generality) inherited the Hellenic tradition, it could neither grasp 


nor employ the Greek, humanistic tradition; moreover, to under- stand Islam one needed 
above all else to see it, not as an "original" religion, but as a sort of failed Oriental 
attempt to employ Greek philosophy without the creative inspiration that we find in 
Renaissance Europe 9^ For Louis Massignon, perhaps the most renowned and influential 
of modern French Orientalists, Islam was a systematic rejection of the Christian 
incarnation, and its greatest hero was not Mohammed or Avenues but al-Hallaj, a 
Muslim saint who was crucified by the orthodox Muslims for having dared to personalize 
Islam. '00 What Becker and Massignon explicitly left out of their studies was the 
eccentricity of the Orient, which they backhandedly acknowledged by trying so hard to 
regularize it in Western terms. Mohammed was thrown out, but al-Hallaj was made 
prominent because he took himself to be a Christ- figure. 

As a judge of the Orient, the modem Orientalist does not, as he believes and even says, 
stand apart from it objectively. His human detachment, whose sign is the absence of 
sympathy covered by professional knowledge, is weighted heavily with all the orthodox 
attitudes, perspectives, and moods of Orientalism that I have been describing. His Orient 
is not the Orient as it is, but the Orient as it has been Orientalized. An unbroken arc of 
knowledge and power connects the European or Western statesman and the Western 
Orientalists; it forms the rim of the stage containing the Orient. By the end of World War 
I both Africa and the Orient formed not so much an intellectual spectacle for the West as 
a privileged terrain for it. The scope of Orientalism exactly matched the scope of empire, 
and it was this absolute unanimity between the two that provoked the only crisis in the 
history of Western thought about and dealings with the Orient. And this crisis continues 

Beginning in the twenties, and from one end of the Third World to the other, the 
response to empire and imperialism has been dialectical. By the time of the Bandung 
Conference in 1955 the entire Orient had gained its political independence from the 
Western empires and confronted a new configuration of imperial powers, the United 
States and the Soviet Union. Unable to recognize "its" Orient in the new Third World, 
Orientalism now faced a challenging and politically armed Orient. Two alternatives 
opened before Orientalism. One was to carry on as if nothing had happened. The second 
was to adapt the old ways to the new. But to the Orientalist, who believes the Orient never 
changes, the new is simply the old betrayed by new, misunderstanding dis- Orientals (we 
can permit 


ourselves the neologism). A third, revisionist alternative, to di&penN with Orientalism 
altogether, was considered by only a tiny minority. 

One index of the crisis, according to Abdel Malek, was not simply that "national 
liberation movements in the ex-colonial" Orient worked havoc with Orientalist 
conceptions of passive, fatalistic "subject races"; there was in addition the fact that 
"specialists and the public at large became aware of the time-lag, not only between 
orientalist science and the material under study, but also— and this was to be 
determining— between the conceptions, the methods and the instruments of work in 
the human and social sciences and those of orientalism." 101 The Orientalists— from 
Renan to Goldziher to Macdonald to von Grunebaum, Gibb, and Bernard Lewis— saw 
Islam, for example, as a "cultural synthesis" (the phrase is P. M. Holt's) that could be 
studied apart from the economics, sociology, and politics of the Islamic peoples. For 
Orientalism, Islam had a meaning which, if one were to look for its most succinct 
formula- tion, could be found in Renan's first treatise: in order best to be understood Islam 
had to be reduced to "tent and tribe." The impact of colonialism, of worldly 
circumstances, of historical development: all these were to Orientalists as flies to wanton 
boys, killed— or disregarded— for their sport, never taken seriously enough to complicate 
the essential Islam. 

The career of H. A. R. Gibb illustrates within itself the two alternative approaches by 
which Orientalism has responded to the modern Orient. In 1945 Gibb delivered the 
Haskell Lectures at the University of Chicago. The world he surveyed was not the same 
one Balfour and Cromer knew before World War I. Several revolutions, two world wars, 
and innumerable economic, political, and social changes made the realities of 1945 an 
unmistakably, even cataclysmically, new object. Yet we find Gibb opening the lectures 
he called Modern Trends in Islam as follows: 

The student of Arabic civilization is constantly brought up against the striking 
contrast between the imaginative power displayed, for example, in certain 
branches of Arabic literature and the literal-ism, the pedantry, displayed in 
reasoning and exposition, even when it is devoted to these same productions. It is 
true that there have been great philosophers among the Muslim peoples and that 
some of them were Arabs, but they were rare exceptions. The Arab mind, 
whether in relation to the outer world or in relation to the processes of thought, 
cannot throw off its intense feeling for the separateness and the individuality of 
the concrete events. This 


is, I believe, one of the main factors lying behind that "lack of a sense of law" 
which Professor Macdonald regarded as the characteristic difference in the 

It is this, too, which explains— what is so difficult for the Western student to 
grasp [until it is explained to him by the Orientalist]— the aversion of the Muslims 
from the thought-processes of rationalism. . . . The rejection of rationalist modes 
of thought and of the utilitarian ethic which is inseparable from them has its 
roots, therefore, not in the so-called "obscurantism" of the Muslim theologians 
but in the atomism and discreteness of the Arab imagination. '02 

This is pure Orientalism, of course, but even if one acknowledges the exceeding 
knowledge of institutional Islam that characterizes the rest of the book, Gibb's 
inaugural biases remain a formidable obstacle for anyone hoping to understand 
modem Islam. What is the meaning of "difference" when the preposition "from" has 
dropped from sight altogether? Are we not once again be-ing asked to inspect the 
Oriental Muslim as if his world, unlike ours — "differently" from it — had never 
ventured beyond the seventh century? As for modem Islam itself, despite the 
complexities of his otherwise magisterial understanding of it, why must it be regarded 
with so implacable a hostility as Gibb's? 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: this is exactly Gibb's argument. How can an Oriental slip out from these 
manacles into the modern world 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." 

Eighteen years later Gibb faced an audience of English compatriots, only now he 
was speaking as the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. His 
topic was "Area Studies Reconsidered," in which, among other apercus, he agreed 
that "the Orient is much too important to be left to the Orientalists." The new, or 
second alternative, approach open to Orientalists was being announced, just as 
Modern Trends exemplified the first, or traditional, approach. Gibb's formula is well- 
intentioned in "Area Studies Reconsidered," so far, of course, as the Western experts 
on the Orient are concerned, whose job it is to prepare students for careers "in public 
life and business." What we now need, said Gibb, 


is the traditional Orientalist plus a good social scientist working together: between them 
the two will do "interdisciplinary" work. Yet the traditional Orientalist will not bring 
outdated knowledge to bear on the Orient; no, his expertise will serve to remind his 
uninitiated colleagues in area studies that "to apply the psychology and mechanics of 
Western political institutions to Asian or Arab situations is pure Walt Disney. 

In practice this notion has meant that when Orientals struggle against colonial 
occupation, you must say (in order not to risk a Disneyism) that Orientals have never 
understood the meaning of self-government the way "we" do. When some Orientals 
oppose racial discrimination while others practice it, you say "they're all Orientals at 
bottom" and class interest, political circumstances, economic factors are totally irrelevant. 
Or with Bernard Lewis, you say that if Arab Palestinians oppose Israeli settlement and 
occupation of their lands, then that is merely "the return of Islam," or, as a renowned 
contemporary Orientalist defines it, Islamic opposition to non-Islamic peoples,104 a 
principle of Islam enshrined in the seventh century. History, politics, and economics do 
not matter. Islam is Islam, the Orient is the Orient, and please take all your ideas about a 
left and a right wing, revolutions, and change back to Disneyland. 

If such tautologies, claims, and dismissals have not sounded familiar to historians, 
sociologists, economists, and humanists in any other field except Orientalism, the reason 
is patently obvious. For like its putative subject matter, Orientalism has not allowed ideas 
to violate its profound serenity. But modern Orientalists— or area experts, to give them 
their new name— have not passively seguestered themselves in language departments. On 
the contrary, they have profited from Gibb's advice. Most of them today are in- 
distinguishable from other "experts" and "advisers" in what Harold Lasswell has called 
the policy sciences.! ' Thus the militarynational- security possibilities of an alliance, say, 
between a specialist in "national character analysis" and an expert in Islamic institutions 
were soon recognized, for expediency's sake if for nothing else. After all, the "West" since 
World War II had faced a clever totalitarian enemy who collected allies for itself among 
gullible Oriental (African, Asian, undeveloped) nations. What better way of out-flanking 
that enemy than by playing to the Oriental's illogical mind in ways only an Orientalist 
could devise? Thus emerged such masterful ploys as the stick- and- carrot technigue, the 
Alliance for 


Progress, SEATO, and so forth, all of them based on traditional "knowledge" retooled for 
better manipulation of its supposed object. 

Thus as revolutionary turmoil grips the Islamic Orient, sociologists remind us that 
Arabs are addicted to "oral functions, "108 w hile economists— recycled Orientalists- 
observe that for modem Islam neither capitalism nor socialism is an adeguate rubric. l^ 7 
As anticolonialism sweeps and indeed unifies the entire Oriental world, the Orientalist 

damns the whole business not only as a nuisance but as an insult to the Western 
democracies. As momentous, generally important issues face the world— issues involving 
nuclear destruction, catastrophically scarce resources, unprecedented human demands for 
eguality, justice, and economic parity— popular caricatures of the Orient are exploited by 
politicians whose source of ideological supply is not only the half-literate technocrat but 
the superliterate Orientalist. The legendary Arabists in the State Department warn of Arab 
plans to take over the world. The perfidious Chinese, half- naked Indians, and passive 
Muslims are described as vultures for "our" largesse and are damned when "we lose them" 
to communism, or to their unregenerate Oriental instincts: the difference is scarcely 

These contemporary Orientalist attitudes flood the press and the popular mind. Arabs, 
for example, are thought of as camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers whose 
undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization. Always there lurks the assumption that 
although the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority, he is entitled either to 
own or to expend (or both) the majority of the world resources. Why? Because he, unlike 
the Oriental, is a true human being. No better instance exists today of what Anwar Abdel 
Malek calls "the hegemonism of possessing minorities" and anthropocentrism allied with 
Europocentrism: a white middle-class Westerner believes it his human prerogative not 
only to manage the nonwhite world but also to own it, just because by definition "it" is not 
guite as human as "we" are. There is no purer example than this of dehumanized thought. 

In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are, as I said earlier, the limitations that follow 
upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or 
geographical region. But Orientalism has taken a further step than that: it views the 
Orient as something whose existence is not only displayed but has remained fixed in time 
and place for the West. So impressive have the descriptive and textual successes of 
Orientalism been that 


entire periods of the Orient's cultural, political, and social history are considered mere 

responses to the West. The West is the actor, the Orient a passive reactor. The West is the 

spectator, the judge and jury, of every facet of Oriental behavior. Yet if history during 

the twentieth century has provoked intrinsic change in and for the Orient, the Orientalist 

is stunned: he cannot realize that to some extent 

the new [Oriental] leaders, intellectuals or policy-makers, have learned many lessons 

from the travail of their predecessors. They have also been aided by the structural and 

institutional transformations accomplished in the intervening period and by the fact 

that they are to a great extent more at liberty to fashion the future of their countries. 

They are also much more confident and perhaps slightly aggressive. No longer do 

they have to function hoping to obtain a favorable verdict from the invisible jury of 

the West. Their dialogue is not with the West, it is with their fellowcitizens.108 

Moreover, the Orientalist assumes that what his texts have not pre- pared him for is the 

result either of outside agitation in the Orient or of the Orient's misguided inanity. None of 

the innumerable Orientalist texts on Islam, including their summa, The Cambridge History 

of Islam, can prepare their reader for what has taken place since 1948 in Egypt, Palestine, 

Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, or the Yemens. When the dogmas about Islam cannot serve, not 
even for the most Panglossian Orientalist, there is recourse to an Orientalized social- 
science jargon, to such marketable abstractions as elites, political stability, modernization, 
and institutional development, all stamped with the cachet of Orientalist wisdom. In the 
meantime a growing, more and more dangerous rift separates Orient and Occident. 

The present crisis dramatizes the disparity between texts and reality. Y et in this study of 
Orientalism I wish not only to expose the sources of Orientalism's views reflect 
on its importance, for the contemporary intellectual rightly feels that to ignore a part of 
the world now demonstrably encroaching upon him is to avoid reality. Humanists have 
too often confined their attention to departmentalized topics of research. They have 
neither watched nor learned from disciplines like Orientalism whose un-remitting 
ambition was to master all of a world, not some easily delimited part of it such as an 
author or a collection of texts. How- ever, along with such academic security- blankets as 


"literature," or "the humanities," and despite its overreaching aspirations, Orientalism is 
involved in worldly, historical circumstances which it has tried to conceal behind an often 
pompous scientism and appeals to rationalism. The contemporary intellectual can leam 
from Orientalism how, on the one hand, either to limit or to enlarge realistically the scope 
of his discipline's claims, and on the other, to see the human ground (the foul-rag-and- 
bone shop of the heart, Y eats called it) in which texts, visions, methods, and disciplines 
begin, grow, thrive, and degenerate. To investigate Orientalism is also to propose 
intellectual ways for handling the methodological problems that history has brought 
forward, so to speak, in its subject matter, the Orient. But before that we must virtually 
see the humanistic values that Orientalism, by its scope, experiences, and structures, has 
all but eliminated. 


Chapter 2 Orientalist Structures and 

R estructures 

When the seyyid "Omar, the Nakeeb el-Ashraf (or chief of the descendants of the 
Prophet) . . . married a daughter, about forty-five years since, there walked before 
the procession a young man who had made an incision in his abdomen, and drawn 
out a large portion of his intestines, which he carried before him on a silver tray. 
After the procession, he restored them to their proper place, and remained in bed 
many days before he recovered from the effects of this foolish and disgusting act. 
— Edward William Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the 
Modern Egyptians 

... dans le cas de la chute de cet empire, soit par line revolution a Constantinople, 
soit par lin demembrement successif, leS puissances europeennes prendront 
chacune, a titre de protectorat, la partie de I'empire qui lui sera assignee par leS 
stipulations du congres; que ces protectorate, definis et limites, quant ailX 
territoires, selon leS voisinages, la surete des frontieres, Fanalogie de religions, de 
moeurs et d'interets . . . ne consacreront que la suzerainete des puissances. Cette 
SOrte de suzerainete definie ainsi, et consacree COmme droit europeen, consistera 
principalement dans le droit d'occuper telle partie du territoire ou des cotes, pour y 
fonder, soit des villes libres, soit des colonies europeennes, soit des ports et des 
echelles de commerce... . Ce n'est qu'une tutelle armee et civilisatrice que chaque 
puissance exercera SUF son protectorat; elle garantira son existence et SeS elements 
de nationalite, sous le drapeau d'une nationalite plus forte. . . . 
- Alphonse de Lamartine, Voyage en Orient 

I Redrawn Frontiers, Redefined Issues, Secularized 
R eligion 

Gustave Flaubert died in 1880 without having finished Bouvard et Pecuchet, his 
comic encyclopedic novel on the degeneration of knowledge and the inanity of human 
effort. Nevertheless the essential outlines of his vision are clear, and are clearly supported 
by the ample detail of his novel. The two clerks are members of the bourgeoisie who, 
because one of them is the unexpected beneficiary of a handsome will, retire from the city 
to spend their lives on a country estate doing what they please ("nous ferons tout ce gue 
nous plaira!"). As Flaubert portrays their experience, doing as they please involves 

Bouvard and Pecuchet in a practical and theoretical jaunt through agriculture, history, 
chemistry, education, archaeology, literature, always with less than successful results; 
they move through fields of learning like travelers in time and knowledge, experiencing 
the disappointments, disasters, and letdowns of uninspired amateurs. What they move 
through, in fact, is the whole disillusioning experience of the nineteenth century, 
whereby— in Charles Moraze's phrase— "les bourgeois conguerants" turn out to be the 
bumbling victims of their own leveling incompetence and mediocrity Every enthusiasm 
resolves itself into a boring cliche, and every discipline or type of knowledge changes 
from hope and power into disorder, ruin, and sorrow. 

Among Flaubert's sketches for the conclusion of this panorama of despair are two items 
of special interest to us here. The two men debate the future of mankind. Pecuchet sees 
"the future of Humanity through a glass darkly," whereas Bouvard sees it "brightly!" 

Modern man is progressing, Europe will be regenerated by Asia. The historical law 
that civilization moves from Orient to Occident ... the two forms of humanity will at 
last be soldered together. 1 

This obvious echo of Quinet represents the start of still another of the cycles of 
enthusiasm and disillusionment through which the two men will pass. Flaubert's notes 
indicate that like all his others, 


this anticipated project of Bouvard's is rudely interrupted by reality— this time by the 
sudden appearance of gendarmes who accuse him of debauchery. A few lines later, 
however, the second item of interest turns up. The two men simultaneously confess 
to each other that their secret desire is once again to become copyists. They have a 
double desk made for them, they buy books, pencils, erasers, and— as Flaubert 
concludes the sketch— "Hs s'y mettent": they turn to. From trying to live through 
and apply knowledge more or less directiy, Bouvard and Pbcuchet are reduced finally 
to tran- scribing it uncritically from one text to another. 

Although Bouvard's vision of Europe regenerated by Asia is not fully spelled out, it 
(and what it comes to on the copyist's desk) can be glossed in several important ways. 
Like many of the two men's other visions, this one is global and it is reconstructive; it 
represents what Flaubert felt to be the nineteenth-century predilection for the 
rebuilding of the world according to an imaginative vision, some-times accompanied 
by a special scientific technique. Among the visions Flaubert has in mind are the 
Utopias of Saint-Simon and Fourier, the scientific regenerations of mankind 
envisioned by Comte, and all the technical or secular religions promoted by 
ideologues, positivists, eclectics, occultists, traditionalists, and idealists such as Destutt 
de Tracy, Cabanis, Alichelet, Cousin, Proudhon, Cournot, Cabet, Janet, and 

Lamennais.2 Throughout the novel Bouvard and Pbcuchet espouse the various causes 
of such figures; then, having ruined them, they move on looking for newer ones, but 
with no better results. 

The roots of such revisionist ambitions as these are Romantic in a very specific way. 

We must remember the extent to which a major part of the spiritual and intellectual 

project of the late eighteenth century was a reconstituted theology — natural superna- 

turalism, as M. H. Abrams has called it; this type of thought is carried forward by the 

typical nineteenth-century attitudes Flaubert satirizes in Bouvard et Pbcuchet. The 

notion of regeneration there-fore harks back to 

a conspicuous Romantic tendency, after the rationalism and decorum of the 

Enlightenment ... [to revert] to the stark drama and suprarational mysteries of the 

Christian story and doctrines and to the violent conflicts and abrupt reversals of 

the Christian inner life, turning on the extremes of destruction and creation, hell 

and heaven, exile and reunion, death and rebirth, dejection and joy, paradise 

lost and paradise regained. . . . But since they 


lived, inescapably, after the Enlightenment Romantic writers revived these ancient 
matters with a difference: they undertook to save the overview of human history and 
destiny, the existential paradigms, and the cardinal values of their religious heritage, 
by reconstituting them in a way that would make them intellectually acceptable, as 
well as emotionally pertinent, for the time being.8 

What Bouvard has in mind— the regeneration of Europe by Asia —was a very 
influential Romantic idea. Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, for example, urged upon their 
countrymen, and upon Europeans in general, a detailed study of India because, they said, 
it was Indian culture and religion that could defeat the materialism and mechanism (and 
republicanism) of Occidental culture. And from this defeat would arise a new, revitalized 
Europe: the Biblical imagery of death, rebirth, and redemption is evident in this pre- 
scription. Moreover, the Romantic Orientalist project was not merely a specific instance 
of a general tendency; it was a powerful shaper of the tendency itself, as Raymond 
Schwab has so convincingly argued in La Renaissance orientate. But what mattered 
was not Asia so much as Asia's use to modern Europe. Thus anyone who, like Schlegel 
or Franz Bopp, mastered an Oriental language was a spiritual hero, a knight-errant 
bringing back to Europe a sense of the holy mission it had now lost. It is precisely this 
sense that the later secular religions portrayed by Flaubert carry on in the nineteenth 
century. No less than Schlegel, Wordsworth, and Chateaubriand, Auguste Comte— like 
Bouvard— was the adherent and proponent of a secular post-Enlightenment myth whose 
out- lines are unmistakably Christian. 

In regularly allowing Bouvard and Pecuchetto go through revisionist notions from start 
to comically debased finish, Flaubert drew attention to the human flaw common to all 
projects. He saw perfectly well that underneath the We revue "Europe- regenerated- by- 
Asia" lurked a very insidious hubris. Neither "Europe" nor "Asia" was anything without 

the visionaries' technique for turning vast geo- graphical domains into treatable, and 
manageable, entities. At bot-tom, therefore, Europe and Asia were our Europe and our 
Asia— our will and representation, as Schopenhauer had said. Historical laws were in 
reality historians' laws, just as "the two forms of humanity" drew attention less to 
actuality than to a European capacity for lending man-made distinctions an air of 
inevitability. As for the other half of the phrase— "will at last be soldered together 
there Flaubert mocked the blithe indifference of science to actuality, 


a science which anatomized and melted human entities as if they were so much inert 
matter. But it was not just any science he mocked: it was enthusiastic, even messianic 
European science, whose victories included failed revolutions, wars, oppression, and an 
unteachable appetite for putting grand, bookish ideas quixotically to work immediately. 
What such science or knowledge never reckoned with was its own deeply ingrained and 
unself-conscious bad innocence and the resistance to it of reality. When Bouvard plays 
the scientist he naively assumes that science merely is, that reality is as the scientist says 
it is, that it does not matter whether the scientist is a fool or a visionary; he (or anyone 
who thinks like him) cannot see that the Orient may not wish to regenerate Europe, or 
that Europe was not about to fuse itself democratically with yellow or brown Asians. In 
short, such a scientist does not recognize in his science the egoistic will to power that 
feeds his endeavors and corrupts his ambitions. 

Flaubert, of course, sees to it that his poor fools are made to rub their noses in these 
difficulties. Bouvard and Pecuchet have learned that it is better not to traffic in ideas and 
in reality together. The novel's conclusion is a picture of the two of them now perfectly 
content to copy their favorite ideas faithfully from book onto paper. Knowledge no 
longer requires application to reality; knowledge is what gets passed on silently, without 
comment, from one text to another. Ideas are propagated and disseminated anonymously, 
they are repeated without attribution; they have literally become idees recites: what 
matters is that they are there, to be repeated, echoed, and re-echoed uncritically. 

In a highly compressed form this brief episode, taken out of Flaubert's notes for 
Bouvard et Pecuchet, frames the specifically modern structures of Orientalism, which 
after all is one discipline among the secular (and quasi- religious) faiths of nineteenth- 
century European thought. We have already characterized the general scope of thought 
about the Orient that was handed on through the medieval and Renaissance periods, for 
which Islam was the essential Orient. During the eighteenth century, however, there were 
a number of new, interlocking elements that hinted at the coming evangelical phase, 
whose outlines Flaubert was later to re-create. 

For one, the Orient was being opened out considerably beyond the Islamic lands. This 
quantitative change was to a large degree the result of continuing, and expanding, 
European exploration of 


the rest of the world. The increasing influence of travel literature, imaginary Utopias, 
moral voyages, and scientific reporting brought the Orient into sharper and more 
extended focus. If Orientalism is indebted principally to the fruitful Eastern discoveries 
of Anguetil and Jones during the latter third of the century, these must be seen in the 
wider context created by Cook and Bougainville, the voyages of Tournefort and 
Adanson, by the President de Brosses's Histoire des navigations aux terres australes, by 
French traders in the Pacific, by Jesuit missionaries in China and the Americas, by 
William Dampier's explorations and reports, by innumerable speculations on giants, 
Patagonians, savages, natives, and monsters supposedly residing to the far east, west, 
south, and north of Europe. But all such widening horizons had Europe firmly in the 
privileged center, as main observer (or mainly observed, as in Goldsmith's Citizen of the 
World). For even as Europe moved itself outwards, its sense of cultural strength was 
fortified. From travelers' tales, and not only from great institutions like the various India 
companies, colonies were created and ethnocentric perspectives secured.' 

For another, a more knowledgeable attitude towards the alien and exotic was abetted 
not only by travelers and explorers but also by historians for whom European experience 
could profitably be compared with other, as well as older, civilizations. That powerful 
current in eighteenth-century historical anthropology, described by scholars as the 
confrontation of the gods, meant that G ibbon could read the lessons of Rome's decline in 
the rise of Islam, just as Vico could understand modern civilization in terms of the 
barbaric, poetic splendor of their earliest beginnings. Whereas Renaissance historians 
judged the Orient inflexibly as an enemy, those of the eighteenth century confronted the 
Orient's peculiarities with some detachment and with some attempt at dealing directly 
with Oriental source material, perhaps because such a technique helped a European to 
know himself better. George Sale's translation of the Koran and his accompanying 
preliminary discourse illustrate the change. Unlike his predecessors, Sale tried to deal 
with Arab history in terms of Arab sources; moreover, he let Muslim commentators on 
the sacred text speak for themselves.' In Sale, as throughout the eighteenth century, 
simple comparatism was the early phase of the comparative disciplines (philology, 
anatomy, jurisprudence, religion) which were to become the boast of nineteenth- century 


But there was a tendency among some thinkers to exceed comparative study, and its 
judicious surveys of mankind from "China to Peru," by sympathetic identification. This is 
a third eighteenth- century element preparing the way for modern Orientalism. What today 
we call historicism is an eighteenth- century idea; Vico, Herder, and Hamann, among 
others, believed that all cultures were organically and internally coherent, bound together 
by a spirit, genius, Klima, or national idea which an outsider could penetrate only by an 
act Of historical sympathy. Thus Herder's Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der 

Menschheit (1784— 1791) was a panoramic display of various cultures, each permeated 
by an inimical creative spirit, each accessible only to an observer who sacrificed his 
prejudices to Einfuhlung. Imbued with the populist and pluralist sense of history 
advocated by Herder and others/ an eighteenth- century mind could breach the doctrinal 
walls erected between the West and Islam and see hidden elements of kinship between 
himself and the Orient. Napoleon is a famous instance of this (usually selective) 
identification by sympathy. Mozart is another; The Magic Flute (in which Masonic codes 
intermingle with visions of a benign Orient) and The Abduction from the Seraglio locate 
a particularly magnanimous form of humanity in the Orient. And this, much more than the 
modish habits of "Turkish" music, drew Mozart sympathetically eastwards. 

It is very difficult nonetheless to separate such intuitions of the Orient as Mozart's from 
the entire range of pre-Romantic and Romantic representations of the Orient as exotic 
locale. Popular Orientalism during the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth 
attained a vogue of considerable intensity. But even this vogue, easily identifiable in 
William Beckford, Byron, Thomas Moore, and Goethe, cannot be simply detached from 
the interest taken in Gothic tales, pseudomedieval idylls, visions of barbaric splendor and 
cruelty. Thus in some cases the Oriental representation can be associated with Piranesi's 
prisons, in others with Tiepolo's luxurious ambiences, in still others with the exotic 
sublimity of lateeighteenth- century paintings. 1 Later in the nineteenth century, in the 
works of Delacroix and literally dozens of other French and British painters, the Oriental 
genre tableau carried representation into visual expression and a life of its own (which this 
book un-fortunately must scant). Sensuality, promise, terror, sublimity, idyllic pleasure, 
intense energy: the Orient as a figure in the pre- 


Romantic, pretechnical Orientalist imagination of late-eighteenth* century Europe 
was really a chameleonlike quality called (adjec» tivally) "Oriental."' But this 
free-floating Orient would be severely curtailed with the advent of academic 

A fourth element preparing the way for modem Orientalist structures was the whole 
impulse to classify nature and man into types. The greatest names are, of course, 
Linnaeus and Buffon, but the intellectual process by which bodily (and soon moral, 
intellectual, and spiritual) extension — the typical materiality of an object — could be 
transformed from mere spectacle to the precise measurement of characteristic 
elements was very widespread. Linnaeus said that every note made about a natural 
type "should be a product of number, of form, of proportion, of situation," and 
indeed, if one looks in Kant or Diderot or Johnson, there is everywhere a similar 
penchant for dramatizing general features, for reducing vast numbers of objects to a 
smaller number of orderable and describable types. In natural history, in 
anthropology, in cultural generalization, a type had a particular character which 
provided the observer with a designation and, as Foucault says, "a controlled 

derivation." These types and characters belonged to a system, a network of related 
generalizations. Thus, 

all designation must be accomplished by means of a certain relation to all other 
possible designations. To know what properly appertains to one individual is to 
have before one the classification — or the possibility of classifying — all others. 

In the writing of philosophers, historians, encyclopedists, and essayists we find 
character-as-designation appearing as physiological-moral classification: there are, for 
example, the wild men, the Europeans, the Asiatics, and so forth. These appear of 
course in Linnaeus, but also in Montesquieu, in Johnson, in Blumenbach, in 
Soemmerring, in Kant. Physiological and moral characteristics are distributed more or 
less equally: the American is "red, choleric, erect," the Asiatic is "yellow, melancholy, 
rigid," the African is "black, phlegmatic, lax. "10 But such designations gather power 
when, later in the nineteenth century, they are allied with character as derivation, as 
genetic type. In Vico and Rousseau, for example, the force of moral generalization is 
enhanced by the precision with which dramatic, almost archetypal figures— primitive 
man, giants, heroes— are shown to be the genesis of current moral, philosophic, 


even linguistic issues. Thus when an Oriental was referred to, it was in terms of such 
genetic universals as his "primitive" state, his primary characteristics, his particular 
spiritual background. 

The four elements I have described— expansion, historical confrontation, sympathy, 
classification— are the currents in eighteenth- century thought on. whose presence the 
specific intellectual and institutional structures of modem Orientalism depend. Without 
them Orientalism, as we shall see presently, could not have occurred. Moreover, these 
elements had the effect of releasing the Orient generally, and Islam in particular, from the 
narrowly religious scrutiny by which it had hitherto been examined (and judged) by the 
Christian West. In other words, modem Orientalism derives from secularizing elements 
in eighteenth- century European culture. One, the expansion of the Orient further east 
geographically and further back temporally loosened, even dissolved, the Biblical 
framework considerably. Reference points were no longer Christianity and Judaism, with 
their fairly modest calendars and maps, but India, China, Japan, and Sumer, Buddhism, 
Sanskrit, Zoroastrian-ism, and Mann. Two, the capacity for dealing historically (and not 
reductively, as a topic of ecclesiastical politics) with non- European and non-Judeo- 
Christian cultures was strengthened as history itself was conceived of more radically than 
before; to understand Europe properly meant also understanding the objective relations 
between Europe and its own previously unreachable temporal and cultural frontiers. In a 
sense, John of Segovia's idea of contra! erentia between Orient and Europe was realized, 
but in a wholly secular way; Gibbon could treat Mohammed as a historical figure who 
influenced Europe and not as a diabolical miscreant hovering somewhere between magic 
and false prophecy. Three, a selective identification with regions and cultures not one's 

own wore down the obduracy of self and identity, which had been polarized into a 
community of embattled believers facing barbarian hordes. The borders of Christian 
Europe no longer served as a kind of custom house; the notions of human association and 
of human possibility acguired a very wide general— as opposed to parochial— legitimacy. 
Four, the classifications of mankind were systematically multiplied as the possibilities of 
designation and derivation were refined beyond the categories of what Vico called gentile 
and sacred nations; race, color, origin, temperament, character, and types overwhelmed 
the distinction between Christians and everyone else. 
B ut if these interconnected elements represent a secularizing 


tendency, this is not to say that the old religious patterns of human history and 
destiny and "the existential paradigms" were simply removed. Far from it: 
they were reconstituted, redeployed, re-distributed in the secular frameworks 
just enumerated. For anyone who studied the Orient a secular vocabulary in 
keeping with these frameworks was required. Yet if Orientalism provided the 
vocabulary, the conceptual repertoire, the techniques — for this is what, from 
the end of the eighteenth century on, Orientalism did and what Orientalism 
was — it also retained, as an undislodged current in its discourse, a 
reconstructed religious impulse, a naturalized supernaturalism. What I shall try 
to show is that this impulse in Orientalism resided in the Orientalist's 
conception of himself, of the Orient, and of his discipline. 

The modern Orientalist was, in his view, a hero rescuing the Orient from the 
obscurity, alienation, and strangeness which he himself had properly distinguished. 
His research reconstructed the Orient's lost languages, mores, even mentalities, as 
Champollion reconstructed Egyptian hieroglyphics out of the Rosetta Stone. The 
specific Orientalist techniques — lexicography, grammar, translation, cultural 
decoding — restored, fleshed out, reasserted the values both of an ancient, classical 
Orient and of the traditional disciplines of philology, history, rhetoric, and doctrinal 
polemic. But in the process, the Orient and Orientalist disciplines changed 
dialectically, for they could not survive in their original form. The Orient, even in the 
"classic" form which the Orientalist usually studied, was modernized, restored to the 
present; the traditional disciplines too were brought into contemporary culture. Yet 
both bore the traces of power — power to have resurrected, indeed created, the Orient, 
power that dwelt in the new, scientifically advanced techniques of philology and of 
anthropological generalization. In short, having transported the Orient into 
modernity, the Orientalist could celebrate his method, and his position, as that of a 
secular creator, a man who made new worlds as God had once made the old. As for 
carrying on such methods and such positions beyond the life-span of any individual 
Orientalist, there would be a secular tradition of continuity, a lay order of disciplined 
mefhodologists, whose brotherhood would be based, not on blood lineage, but upon 
a common discourse, a praxis, a library, a set of received ideas, in short, a doxology, 

common to everyone who entered the ranks. Flaubert was prescient enough to see 
that in time the modern Orientalist would become a copyist, like Bouvard and 
P6cuchet; but during the early days, in 


the careers of Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan, no such danger was apparent. 

My thesis is that the essential aspects of modern Orientalist theory and praxis (from 
which present-day Orientalism derives) can be understood, not as a sudden access of 
objective knowledge about the Orient but as a set of structures inherited from the past 
secularized, redisposed, and re-formed by such disciplines as philology, which in turn 
were naturalized, modernized, and laicized substitutes for (or versions of) Christian 
supernaturalism. In the form of new texts and ideas, the East was accommodated to these 
structures. Linguists and explorers like Jones and Anguetil were contributors to modern 
Orientalism, certainly, but what distinguishes modem Orientalism as a field, a group of 
ideas, a discourse, is the work of a later generation than theirs. If we use the Napoleonic 
expedition (1798-1801) as a sort of first enabling experience for modern Orientalism, we 
can consider its inaugural heroes— in Islamic studies, Sacy and Renan and Lane— to be 
builders of the field, creators of a tradition, progenitors of the Orientalist brother- hood. 
What Sacy, Renan, and Lane did was to place Orientalism on a scientific and rational 
basis. This entailed not only their own exemplary work but also the creation of a 
vocabulary and ideas that could be used impersonally by anyone who wished to become 
an Orientalist. Their inauguration of Orientalism was a considerable feat. It made 
possible a scientific terminology; it banished obscurity and instated a special form of 
illumination for the Orient; it established the figure of the Orientalist as central authority 
for the Orient; it legitimized a special kind of specifically coherent Orientalist work; it 
put into cultural circulation a form of discursive currency by whose presence the Orient 
henceforth would be spoken for; above all, the work of the inaugurators carved out a field 
of study and a family of ideas which in turn could form a community of scholars whose 
lineage, traditions, and ambitions were at once internal to the field and external enough 
for general prestige. The more Europe encroached upon the Orient during the nineteenth 
century, the more Orientalism gained in public confidence. Yet if this gain coincided 
with a loss in originality, we should not be entirely surprised, since its mode, from the 
beginning, was reconstruction and repetition. 

One final observation: The late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century ideas, 
institutions, and figures I shall deal with in this chapter are an important part, a crucial 
elaboration, of the first 


phase of the greatest age of territorial acquisition ever known. By the end of World War 

I Europe had colonized 85 percent of the earth. To say simply that modern Orientalism 
has been an aspect of both imperialism and colonialism is not to say anything very 

disputable. Y et it is not enough to say it; it needs to be worked through analytically and 
historically. I am interested in showing how modern Orientalism, unlike the precolonial 
awareness of Dante and d'Herbelot, embodies a systematic discipline of accumulation. 
And far from this being exclusively an intellectual or theoretical feature, it made 
Orientalism fatally tend towards the systematic accumulation of human beings and 
territories. To reconstruct a dead or lost Oriental language meant ultimately to reconstruct 
a dead or neglected Orient; it also meant that reconstructive precision, science, even 
imagination could prepare the way for what armies, administrations, and bureaucracies 
would later do on the ground, in the Orient. In a sense, the vindication of Orientalism was 
not only its intellectual or artistic successes but its later effectiveness, its usefulness, its 
authority. Surely it deserves serious atten-tion on all those counts. 

// Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan: 
Rational Anthropology and Philological 

The two great themes of Silvestre de Sacy 's life are heroic effort and a dedicated sense 
of pedagogic and rational utility. Born in 1757 into a Jansenist family whose occupation 
was traditionally that of notaire, A ntoine- Isaac- Silvestre was privately tutored at a 
Benedictine abbey, first in Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldean, then in Hebrew. Arabic in 
particular was the language that opened the Orient to him since it was in Arabic, 
according to J oseph Reinaud, 


that Oriental material, both sacred and profane, was then to be found in its oldest and most 
instructive form." Although a legitimist, in 1769 he was appointed the first teacher of 
Arabic at the newly created school of langues orientates vivantes, of which he became 
director in 1824. In 1806 he was named professor at the College de France, although from 
1805 on he was the resident Orientalist at the French Foreign Ministry. There his work 
(unpaid until 1811) at first was to translate the bulletins of the Grande Armbe and 
Napoleon's Manifesto of 1806, in which it was hoped that "Muslim fanaticism" could be 
excited against Russian Orthodoxy. But for many years thereafter Sacy created 
interpreters for the French Oriental dragomanate, as well as future scholars. When the 
French occupied Algiers in 1830, it was Sacy who translated the proclamation to the 
Algerians; he was regularly consulted on all diplomatic matters relating to the Orient by 
the foreign minister, and on occasion by the minister of war. At the age of seventy-five he 
replaced Dacier as secretary of the Academie des Inscriptions, and also became curator of 
Oriental manuscripts at the Bibliothegue royale. Throughout his long and distinguished 

career his name was rightly associated with the restructuring and re-forming of educa-tion 
(particularly in Oriental studies) in post-Revolutionary France." With Cuvier, Sacy in 
1832 was made a new peer of France. 

It was not only because he was the first president of the Societe asiatique (founded in 
1822) that Sacy 's name is associated with the beginning of modern Orientalism; it is 
because his work virtually put before the profession an entire systematic body of texts, a 
pedagogic practice, a scholarly tradition, and an important link between Oriental 
scholarship and public policy. In Sacy's work, for the first time in Europe since the 
Council of Vienne, there was a self-conscious methodological principle at work as a 
coeval with scholarly discipline. No less important, Sacy always felt himself to be a man 
standing at the beginning of an important revisionist project. He was a self-aware 
inaugurator, and more to the point of our general thesis, he acted in his writing like a 
secularized ecclesiastic for whom his Orient and his students were doctrine and 
parishioners respectively. The Due de Broglie, an admiring con-temporary, said of Sacy's 
work that it reconciled the manner of a scientist with that of a Biblical teacher, and that 
Sacy was the one man able to reconcile "the goals of Leibniz with the efforts of 
Bossuet."" Consequently everything he wrote was addressed 

specifically to students (in the case of his first work, his Princtpe de grammedre 
generate of 1799, the student was his own son) sod presented, not as a novelty, but as a 
revised extract of the best that had already been done, said, or written. 

These two characteristics— the didactic presentation to students and the avowed 
intention of repeating by revision and extract— are crucial. Sacy's writing always conveys 
the tone of a voice speaking; his prose is dotted with first- person pronouns, with personal 
qualifications, with rhetorical presence. Even at his most recondite— as in a scholarly note 
on third- century Sassanid numismatics— one senses not so much a pen writing as a voice 
pronouncing. The keynote of his work is contained in the opening lines of the dedication 
to his son of the Principes de grammaire generate: "C'est a toi, mon Cher Fils, que ce 
petit ouvrage a etb entrepris"— which is to say, I am writing (or speaking) to you because 
you need to know these things, and since they don't exist in any serviceable form, I have 
done the work myself for you. Direct address: utility: effort: immediate and beneficent 
rationality. For Sacy believed that everything could be made clear and reasonable, no 
matter how difficult the task and how obscure the subject. Here are Bossuet's sternness 
and Leibniz's abstract humanism, as well as the tone of Rousseau, all together in the same 

The effect of Sacy's tone is to form a circle sealing off him and his audience from the 
world at large, the way a teacher and his pupils together in a closed classroom also form a 
sealed space. Unlike the matter of physics, philosophy, or classical literature, the matter of 
Oriental studies is arcane; it is of import to people who already have an interest in the Orie 
nt but want to know the Orient better, in a more orderly way, and here the pedagogical 
discipline is more effective than it is attractive. The didactic speaker, therefore, displays 
his material to the disciples, whose role it is to receive what is given to them in the form 
of carefully selected and arranged topics. Since the Orient is old and distant, the teacher's 
display is a restoration, a re- vision of what has disappeared from the wider ken. And since 
also the vastly rich (in space, time, and cultures) Orient cannot be totally exposed, only its 
most representative parts need be. Thus Sacy's focus is the anthology, the chrestomathy, 
the tableau, the survey of general principles, in which a relatively small set of powerful 

examples delivers the Orient to the student. Such examples are powerful for two reasons: 
one, because they reflect Sacy's powers as a Western authority deliberately taking 


Orientalist Structures and Restructures 125 

specifically to students (in the case of his first work, his Principes de grammaire generate 
of 1799, the student was his own son) and presented, not as a novelty, but as a revised 
extract of the best that had already been done, said, or written. 

These two characteristics— the didactic presentation to students and the avowed 
intention of repeating by revision and extract— are crucial. Sacy's writing always conveys 
the tone of a voice speaking; his prose is dotted with first- person pronouns, with personal 
gualifications, with rhetorical presence. Even at his most recondite— as in a scholarly note 
on third- century Sassanid numismatics— one senses not so much a pen writing as a voice 
pronouncing. The keynote of his work is contained in the opening lines of the dedication 
to his son of the Principes de grammaire generate: "C'est a toi, mon cher Fils, gue ce 
petit ouvrage a ete entrepris"— which is to say, I am writing (or speaking) to you because 
you need to know these things, and since they don't exist in any serviceable form, I have 
done the work myself for you. Direct address: utility: effort: immediate and beneficent 
rationality. For Sacy believed that everything could be made clear and reasonable, no 
matter how difficult the task and how obscure the subject. Here are Bossuet's sternness 
and Leibniz's abstract humanism, as well as the tone of Rousseau, all together in the same 

The effect of Sacy's tone is to form a circle sealing off him and his audience from the 
world at large, the way a teacher and his pupils together in a closed classroom also form a 
sealed space. Unlike the matter of physics, philosophy, or classical literature, the matter 
of Oriental studies is arcane; it is of import to people who already have an interest in the 
Orient but want to know the Orient better, in a more orderly way, and here the 
pedagogical discipline is more effective than it is attractive. The didactic speaker, 
therefore, displays his material to the disciples, whose role it is to receive what is given to 
them in the form of carefully selected and arranged topics. Since the Orient is old and 
distant, the teacher's display is a restoration, a re-vision of what has disappeared from the 
wider ken. And since also the vastly rich (in space, time, and cultures) Orient cannot be 
totally exposed, only its most representative parts need be. Thus Sacy's focus is the 
anthology, the chrestomathy, the tableau, the survey of general principles, in which a 
relatively small set of powerful examples delivers the Orient to the student. Such 
examples are powerful for two reasons: one, because they reflect Sacy's powers as a 
Western authority deliberately taking 


from the Orient what its distance and eccentricity have hitherto kept hidden, and two, 
because these examples have the semiotical power in them (or imparted to them by the 
Orientalist) to signify the Orient. 

All of Sacy's work is essentially compilatory; it is thus ceremoniously didactic and 
painstakingly revisionist. Aside from the Principes de grammaire generate, he 
produced a Chrestomathie arabe in three volumes (1806 and 1827), an anthology of 
Arab grammatical writing (1825), an Arabic grammar of 1810 (a '.'usage des eleves de 
I'ECOle speciale), treatises on Arabic prosody and the Druze religion, and numerous 
short works on Oriental numismatics, onomastics, epigraphy, geography, history, and 
weights and measures. He did a fair number of translations and two extended 
commentaries on Calila and Dumna and the Maqamat of al-Hariri. As editor, 
memorialist, and historian of modem learning Sacy was similarly energetic. There was 
very little of note in other related disciplines with which he was not au courant, although 
his own writing was single-minded and, in its non-Orientalist respects, of a narrow 
positivist range. 

Yet when in 1802 the Institut de France was commissioned by Napoleon to form a 
tableau generate on the state and progress of the arts and sciences since 1789, Sacy was 
chosen to be one of the team of writers: he was the most rigorous of specialists and the 
most historical- minded of generalists. Darter's report, as it was known informally, 
embodied many of Sacy's predilections as well as containing his contributions on the state 
of Oriental learning. Its title —Tableau historique de .''erudition francaise— announces 
the new historical (as opposed to sacred) consciousness. Such consciousness is dramatic: 
learning can be arranged on a stage set, as it were, where its totality can be readily 
surveyed. Addressed to the king, Dacier's preface stated the theme perfectly. Such a 
survey as this made it possible to do something no other sovereign had attempted, namely 
to take in, with one coup d'oeil, the whole of human knowledge. Had such a tableau 
historique been undertaken in former times, Dacier continued, we might today have 
possessed many masterpieces now either lost or destroyed; the interest and utility of the 
tableau were that it preserved knowledge and made it immediately accessible. Dacier 
intimated that such a task was simplified by Napoleon's Oriental expedition, one of whose 
results was to heighten the degree of modern geographical knowledge." 


(At no point more than in Dacier's entire discours do we see hOW the dramatic form of 
a tableau historique has its use- equivalent in the arcades and counters of a modern 
department store.) 

The importance of the Tableau historique for an understanding of Orientalism's 
inaugural phase is that it exteriorizes the form of Orientalist knowledge and its features, as 
it also describes the Orientalist's relationship to his subject matter. In Sacy's pages on 
Orientalism— as elsewhere in his writing— he speaks of his own work as having 
uncovered, brought to light, rescued a vast amount of obscure matter. Why? In 
order to place it before the student. For like all his learned contemporaries Sacy 
considered a learned work a positive addition to an edifice that all scholars erected to- 
gether. Knowledge was essentially the making visible of material, and the aim of a 

tableau was the construction of a sort of Benthamite Panopticon. Scholarly discipline was 
therefore a specific technology of power: it gained for its user (and his students) tools and 
knowledge which (if he was a historian) had hitherto been lost. 16 And indeed the 
vocabulary of specialized power and acguisition is particularly associated with Sacy's 
reputation as a pioneer Orientalist. His heroism as a scholar was to have dealt successfully 
with insurmountable difficulties; he acguired the means to present a field to his students 
where there was none. He made the books, the precepts, the examples, said the Due de 
Broglie of Sacy. The result was the production of material about the Orient, methods for 
studying it, and exempla that even Orientals did not have." 

Compared with the labors of a Hellenist or a L atinist working on the Institut team, 
Sacy's labors were awesome. They had the texts, the conventions, the schools; he did not, 
and consequently had to go about making them. The dynamic of primary loss and 
subseguent gain in Sacy's writing is obsessional; his investment in it was truly heavy. Like 
his colleagues in other fields he believed that knowledge is seeing— pan-optically, so to 
speak— but unlike them he not only had to identify the knowledge, he had to decipher it, 
interpret it, and most difficult, make it available. Sacy's achieve-ment was to have 
produced a whole field. Asa European he ransacked the Oriental archives, and he could 
do so without leaving France. What texts he isolated, he then brought back; he doctored 
them; then he annotated, codified, arranged, and commented on them. In time, the Orient 
as such became less important than what the Orientalist made of it; thus, drawn by Sacy 

into the sealed 


discursive place of a pedagogical tableau, the Orientalist's Orient was thereafter reluctant 
to emerge into reality. Sacy was much too intelligent to let his views and his practice 
stand without supporting argument. First of all, he always made it plain why the "Orient" 
on its own could not survive a European's taste, intelligence, or patience. Sacy defended 
the utility and in-terest of such things as Arabic poetry, but what he was really saying was 
that Arabic poetry had to be properly transformed by the Orientalist before it could begin 
to be appreciated. The reasons were broadly epistemological, but they also contained an 
Orientalistic self-justification. Arabic poetry was produced by a completely strange (to 
Europeans) people, under hugely different climatic, social, and historical conditions from 
those a European knows; in addition, such poetry as this was nourished by "opinions, 
prejudices, beliefs, superstitions which we can acguire only after long and pain-ful study." 
Even if one does go through the rigors of specialized training, much of the description in 
the poetry will not be accessible to Europeans "who have attained to a higher degree of 
civilization." Yet what we can master is of great value to us as Europeans accustomed to 
disguise our exterior attributes, our bodily activity, and our relationship to nature. 
Therefore, the Orientalist's use is to make available to his compatriots a considerable 
range of unusual experience, and still more valuable, a kind of literature capable of 
helping us understand the "truly divine" poetry of the Hebrews." 

So if the Orientalist is necessary because he fishes some useful gems out of the distant 
Oriental deep, and since the Orient cannot be known without his mediation, it is also true 

that Oriental writing itself ought not to be taken in whole. This is Sacy's introduction to 
his theory of fragments, a common Romantic concern. Not only are Oriental literary 
productions essentially alien to the European; they also do not contain a sustained enough 
interest nor are they written with enough "taste and critical spirit/ 1 to merit publication 
except as extracts (pour meriter d'etre publies autrement 


que par 18 Therefore the Orientalist is reguired to present the Orient by a 
series of representative fragments, fragments republished, explicated, annotated, and 
surrounded with still more fragments. For such a presentation a special genre is reguired: 
the chrestomathy, which is where in Sacy's case the usefulness and interest of Orientalism 
are most directly and profitably displayed. Sacy's most famous production was the three- 
volume Chrestomathie arabe, which wassealed at the outset, so to speak, with an 
internally rhyming Arabic couplet: "Kitab al-anis al-mufid lil-Taleb al-mustafid;/wa 
gam'l al shathur min manthoum wa manthur" (A book pleasant and profitable for the 
studious pupil;/it collects fragments of both poetry and prose). 

Sacy's anthologies were used very widely in Europe for several generations. Although 
what they contain was claimed as typical, they submerge and cover the censorship of the 
Orient exercised by the Orientalist. Moreover, the internal order of their contents, the 
arrangement of their parts, the choice of fragments, never reveal their secret; one has the 
impression that if fragments were not chosen for their importance, or for their 
chronological development, or for their aesthetic beauty (as Sacy's were not), they must 
nevertheless embody a certain Oriental naturalness, or typical inevitability. But this too is 
never said. Sacy claims simply to have exerted himself on behalf of his students, to make 
it unnecessary for them to purchase (or read) a grotesquely large library of Oriental stuff. 
In time, the reader forgets the Orientalist's effort and takes the restructuring of the Orient 
signified by a chrestomathy as the Orient tout court. Objective structure (designation of 
Orient) and subjective restructure (representation of Orient by Orientalist) become 
interchange-able. The Orient is overlaid with the Orientalist's rationality; its principles 
become his. From being distant, it becomes available; from being unsustainable on its 
own, it becomes pedagogically useful; from being lost, it is found, even if its missing 
parts have been made to drop away from it in the process. Sacy's anthologies not only 
supplement the Orient; they supply it as Oriental presence to the West. '9 Sacy's work 
canonizes the Orient; it begets a canon of textual objects passed on from one generation of 
students to the next. 

And the living legacy of Sacy's disciples was astounding. Every major Arabist in 
Europe during the nineteenth century traced his intellectual authority back to him. 
Universities and academies in France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and especially 
Germany were dotted with the students who formed themselves at his feet and through the 
anthological tableaux provided by his work.' As with all intellectual patrimonies, 
however, enrichments and restrictions were passed on simultaneously. Sacy's genealogical 
originality was to have treated the Orient as something to be restored not only because of 
but also despite the modern Orient's disorderly and 


elusive presence. Sacy placed the Arabs in the Orient which was itself placed in the 
general tableau of modern learning. Orientalism belonged therefore to European 
scholarship, but its material had to be re-created by the Orientalist before it could enter 
the arcades alongside Latinism and Hellenism. Each Orientalist re-created his own Orient 
according to the fundamental epistemological rules of loss and gain first supplied and 
enacted by Sacy. Just as he was the father of Orientalism, he was also the discipline's first 
sacrifice, for in translating new texts, fragments, and extracts subseguent Orientalists 
entirely displaced Sacy's work by supplying their own restored Orient. Nevertheless the 
process he started would continue, as philology in particular developed systematic and 
institutional powers Sacy had never exploited. This was Renan's accomplish- ment: to 
have associated the Orient with the most recent comparative disciplines, of which 
philology was one of the most eminent. 

The difference between Sacy and Renan is the difference between inauguration and 
continuity. Sacy is the originator, whose work represents the field's emergence and its 
status as a nineteenth- century discipline with roots in revolutionary Romanticism. Renan 
derives from Orientalism's second generation: it was his task to solidify the official 
discourse of Orientalism, to systematize its insights, and to establish its intellectual and 
worldly institutions. For Sacy, it was his personal efforts that launched and vitalized the 
field and its structures; for Renan, it was his adaptation of Orientalism to philology and 
both of them to the intellectual culture of his time that perpetuated tire Orientalist 
structures intellectually and gave them greater visibility. 

Renan was a figure in his own right neither of total originality nor of absolute 
derivativeness. Therefore as a cultural force or as an important Orientalist he cannot be 
reduced simply to his personality nor to a set of schematic ideas in which he believed. 
Rather, Renan is best grasped as a dynamic force whose opportunities were already 
created for him by pioneers like Sacy, yet who brought their achievements into the culture 
as a kind of currency which he circulated and recirculated with (to force the image a little 
further) his own unmistakable re- currency. Renan is a figure who must be grasped, in 
short, as a type of cultural and intellectual praxis, as a style for making Orientalist 
statements within what Michel Foucault would call the archive'of his time.21 What 
matters is not only the things that Renan said but also how he said them, 


what, given his background and training, he chose to use as hll subject matter, what to 
combine with what, and so forth. Renan's relations with his Oriental subject matter, with 
his time and audience, even with his own work, can be described, then, without resorting 
to formulae that depend on an unexamined assumption of ontological stability (e.g., the 
Zeitgeist, the history of ideas, lifeand- times). Instead we are able to read Renan as a 

writer doing something describable, in a place defined temporally, spatially, and culturally 
(hence archivally), for an audience and, no less important, for the furtherance of his own 
position in the Orientalism of his era. 

Renan came to Orientalism from philology, and it is the extraordinarily rich and 
celebrated cultural position of that discipline that endowed Orientalism with its most 
important technical characteristics. For anyone to whom the word philology suggests dry- 
as- dust and inconseguential word- study, however, Nietzsche's proclamation that along 
with the greatest minds of the nineteenth century he is a philologist will come as a 
surprise— though not if Balzac's Louis Lambert is recalled: 

What a marvelous book one would write by narrating the life and adventures of a 
word! Undoubtedly a word has received various impressions of the events for which 
it was used; depending on the places it was used, a word has awakened different 
kinds of impressions in different people; but is it not more grand still to con-sider a 
word in its triple aspect of soul, body, and movement?22 

What is the category, Nietzsche will ask later, that includes him- self, Wagner, 
Schopenhauer, Leopardi, all as philologists? The term seems to include both a gift for 
exceptional spiritual insight into language and the ability to produce work whose 
articulation is of aesthetic and historical power. Although the profession of philology was 
bom the day in 1777 "when F. A. Wolf invented for himself the name of stud, philol," 
Nietzsche is nevertheless at pains to show that professional students of the Greek and 
Roman classics are commonly incapable of understanding their discipline: "they never 
reach the roots of the matter: they never adduce philology as a problem." For simply "as 
knowledge of the ancient world philology cannot, of course, last forever; its material is 
exhaustible. "23 it is this that the herd of philologists cannot understand. But what dis- 
tinguishes the few exceptional spirits whom Nietzsche deems worthy 


of praise— not unambiguously, and not in the cursory way that I am now describing— is 
their profound relation to modernity, a relation that is given them by their practice of 

Philology problematizes— itself, its practitioner, the present. It embodies a peculiar 
condition of being modern and European, since neither of those two categories has true 
meaning without being related to an earlier alien culture and time. What Nietzsche also 
sees is philology as something born, made in the Viconian sense as a sign of human 
enterprise, created as a category of human discovery, self- discovery, and originality. 

Philology is a way of historically setting oneself off, as great artists do, from one's time 
and an immediate past even as, paradoxically and antinomically, one actually 
characterizes one's modernity by so doing. 

Between the Friedrich August Wolf of 1777 and the Friedrich Nietzsche of 1875 there 
is Ernest Renan, an Oriental philologist, also a man with a complex and interesting sense 
of the way philology and modern culture are involved in each other. In L'Avenir de la 
science (written in 1848 but not published till 1890) he wrote that "the founders of 
modern mind are philologists." And what is modern mind, he said in the preceding 
sentence, if not "rationalism, criticism, liberalism, [all of which] were founded on the 
same day as philology?" Philology, he goes on to say, is both a comparative discipline 
possessed only by moderns and a symbol of modern (and European) superiority; every 
advance made by humanity since the fifteenth century can be attributed to minds we 
should call philological. The job of philology in modern culture (a culture Renan calls 
philological) is to continue to see reality and nature clearly, thus driving out 
supernaturalism, and to continue to keep pace with discoveries in the physical sciences. 
But more than all this, philology enables a general view of human life and of the system of 
things: "Me, being there at the center, inhaling the perfume of everything, judging, 
comparing, combining, inducing —in this way I shall arrive at the very system of things." 
There is an unmistakable aura of power about the philologist. And Renan makes his point 
about philology and the natural sciences: 

To do philosophy is to know things; following Cuvier's nice phrase, philosophy is 
instructing world in theory. Like Kant I believe that every purely speculative 
demonstration has no more validity than a mathematical demonstration, and can 
teach us nothing about existing reality. Philology is the exact science of mental 
objects [La philologie est la science exacte des choses de 


! "esprit]. It is to the sciences of humanity what physics and chemistry 
are to the philosophic sciences of bodies.24 

I shall return to Renan's citation from Cuvier, as well as to the constant 
references to natural science, a little later. For the time being, we should 
remark that the whole middle section of L'Avenir de la science is taken 
up with Renan's admiring accounts of philol-ogy, a science he depicts as 
being at once the most difficult of all human endeavors to characterize and 
the most precise of all disciplines. In the aspirations of philology to a 
veritable science of humanity, Renan associates himself explicitly with 
Vico, Herder, Wolf, and Montesguieu as well as with such philological 
near-contemporaries as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Bopp, and the great 
Orientalist Eugene Burnouf (to whom the volume is dedicated). Renan 
locates philology centrally within what he everywhere refers to as the 
march of knowledge, and indeed the book itself is a manifesto of 
humanistic meliorism, which, considering its subtitle ("Pensees de 1848") 

and Other books Of 1848 like Bouvard et Pecuchet and The Eighteenth 
Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, is no mean irony. In a sense, then, the 
manifesto generally and Renan's accounts of philology particularly— he 
had by then already written the massive philological treatise on Semitic 
languages that had earned him the Prix V obey— were designed to place 
Renan as an intellectual in a clearly perceptible relationship to the great 
social issues raised by 1848. That he should choose to fashion such a rela- 
tionship on the basis of the least immediate of all intellectual disciplines 
(philology), the one with the least degree of apparent popular relevance, 
the most conservative and the most traditional, suggests the extreme 
deliberateness of Renan's position. For he did not really speak as one man 
to all men but rather as a reflective, specialized voice that took, as he put it 
in the 1890 preface, the ineguality of races and the necessary domination of 
the many by the few for granted as an antidemocratic law of nature and 

But how was it possible for Renan to hold himself and what he was 
saying in such a paradoxical position? For what was philology on the one 
hand if not a science of all humanity, a science premised on the unity of the 
human species and the worth of every human detail, and yet what was the 
philologist on the other hand if not- as Renan himself proved with his 
notorious race prejudice against the very Oriental Semites whose study had 
made his professional name26— a harsh divider of men into superior and 
inferior races, a 


liberal critic whose work harbored the most esoteric notions of temporality, origins, 
development, relationship, and human worth? Part of the answer to this guestion is that, as 
his early letters of philological intent to Victor Cousin, Michelet, and Alexander von 
Humboldt show,27 Renan had a strong guild sense as a professional scholar, a 
professional Orientalist, in fact, a sense that put distance between himself and the masses. 
But more important, I think, is Renan's own conception of his role as an Oriental 
philologist within philology's larger history, development, and objectives as he saw them. 
In other words, what may to us seem like paradox was the expected result of how Renan 
perceived his dynastic position within philology, its history and inaugural discoveries, and 
what he, Renan, did within it. Therefore Renan should be characterized, not as speaking 
about philology, but rather as speaking philologically with all the force of an initiate 
using the encoded language of a new prestigious science none of whose pronouncements 
about language itself could be construed either directly or naively. 
As Renan understood, received, and was instructed in philology, the discipline imposed 

a set of doxological rules upon him. To be a philologist meant to be governed in one's 
activity first of all by a set of recent revaluative discoveries that effectively began the 
science of philology and gave it a distinctive epistemology of its own: I am speaking here 
of the period roughly from the 1780s to the mid- 1830s, the latter part of which coincides 
with the period of Renan's beginning his education. His memoirs record how the crisis of 
religious faith that culminated in the loss of that faith led him in 1845 into a life of 
scholarship: this was his initiation into philology, its world-view, crises, and style. He 
believed that on a personal level his life reflected the institutional life of philology. In his 
life, however, he determined to be as Christian as he once was, only now without 
Christianity and with what he called "la science laigue" (lay science).2-R 

The best example of what a lay science could and could not do was provided years later 
by Renan in a lecture given at the Sorbonne in 1878, "On the Services Rendered by 
Philology to the Historical Sciences." What is revealing about this text is the way Renan 
clearly had religion in mind when he spoke about philology— for example, what 
philology, like religion, teaches us about the origins of humanity, civilization, and 
language— only to make it evident to his hearers that philology could deliver a far less 
coherent, less 


knitted together and positive message than religion ze Since 

Renan was irremediably historical and, as he once put it, morphological 
in his outiook, it stood to reason that the only way in which, as a very 
young man, he could move out of religion into philological scholar- 
ship was to retain in the new lay science the historical world-view he 
had gained from religion. Hence, "one occupation alone seemed to me 
to be worthy of filling my life; and that was to pursue my critical 
research into Christianity [an allusion to Renan's major scholarly 
project on the history and origins of Christianity] using those far 
ampler means offered me by lay science. "°" Renan had assimilated 
himself to philology according to his own post-Christian fashion. 

The difference between the history offered internally by Christianity 
and the history offered by philology, a relatively new discipline, is 
precisely what made modern philology possible, and this Renan knew 
perfectiy. For whenever "philology" is spoken of around the end of the 
eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, we are to 
understand the new philology, whose major successes include 
comparative grammar, the reclassification of languages into families, 
and die final rejection of the divine origins of language. It is no 
exaggeration to say that these accomplishments were a more or less 
direct consequence of the view that held language to be an entirely 
human phenomenon. And this view became current once it was 

discovered empirically that the so-called sacred languages (Hebrew, 
primarily) were neither of primordial antiquity nor of divine 
provenance. What Foucault has called the discovery of language was 
therefore a secular event that displaced a religious conception of how 
God delivered language to man in Eden.31 Indeed, one of the 
consequences of this change, by which an etymological, dynastic 
notion of linguistic filiation was pushed aside by the view of language 
as a domain all of its own held together with jagged internal structures 
and coherences, is the dramatic subsidence of interest in the problem 
of the origins of language. Whereas in the 1770s, which is when 
Herder's essay on the origins of language won the 1772 medal from the 
Berlin Academy, it was all the rage to discuss that problem, by the first 
decade of the new century it was all but banned as a topic for learned 
dispute in Europe. 

On all sides, and in many different ways, what William Jones stated 
in his Anniversary Discourses (1785-1792), or what Franz Bopp put 
forward in his Vergleichende Grammatik (1832), is that 


the divine dynasty of language was ruptured definitively and dis- credited as an idea. A 
new historical conception, in short, was needed, since Christianity seemed unable to 
survive the empirical evidence that reduced the divine status of its major text. For some, 
as Chateaubriand put it, faith was unshakable despite new knowledge of how Sanskrit 
outdated Hebrew: "Helas! it est arrive gu'une connaissance plus appiofondie de la langue 
savante de l'lnde a fait rentrer ces siecles innombrables dans le cercle 6troit de la Bible. 
Bien m'en a pris d'etre redevenue croyant, avant d'avoir eprouve cette mortification." 32 ( 
Alas! it has happened that a deeper knowledge of the learned language of India has 
forced innumerable centuries into the narrow circle of the Bible. How lucky for me that I 
have become a believer again before having had to experience this mortification.) For 
others, especially philologists like the pioneer-ing Bopp himself, the study of language 
entailed its own history, philosophy, and learning, all of which did away with any notion 
of a primal language given by the Godhead to man in Eden. As the study of Sanskrit and 
the expansive mood of the later eighteenth century seemed to have moved the earliest 
beginnings of civilization very far east of the Biblical lands, so too language became less 
of a continuity between an outside power and the human speaker than an internal field 
created and accomplished by language users among themselves. There was no first 
language, just as— except by a method I shall discuss presently— there was no simple 

The legacy of these first-generation philologists was, to Renan, of the highest 
importance, higher even than the work done by Sacy. Whenever he discussed language 

and philology, whether at the beginning, middle, or end of his long career, he repeated 
the lessons of the new philology, of which the antidynastic, anti- continuous tenets of a 
technical (as opposed to a divine) linguistic practice are the major pillar. For the linguist, 
language cannot be pictured as the result of force emanating unilaterally from God. As 
Coleridge put it, "Language is the armory of the human mind; and at once contains the 
trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conguests." 33 The idea of a first Edenic 
language gives way to the heuristic notion of a protolanguage (Indo-European, Semitic) 
whose existence is never a subject of debate, since it is acknowledged that such a 
language cannot be recaptured but can only be reconstituted in the philological process. 
To the extent that one language serves, again heuristically, as a touchstone for all 


the others, it is Sanskrit in its earliest Indo-European form. The terminology has also 
shifted: there are now families of languages (the analogy with species and anatomical 
classifications is marked), there is perfect linguistic form, which need not correspond to 
any "real" language, and there are original languages only as a function of the philological 
discourse, not because of nature. 

But some writers shrewdly commented on how it was that Sanskrit and things Indian in 
general simply took the place of Hebrew and the Edenic fallacy. As early as 1804 
Benjamin Con-stant noted in his Journal intime that he was not about to discuss India in 
his De la religion because the English who owned the place and the Germans who studied 
it indefatigably had made India the ions et origo of everything; and then there were the 
French who had decided after Napoleon and Champollion that everything originated in 
Egypt and the new Orient.34 These teleological enthusiasms were fueled after 1808 by 
Friedrich Schlegel'S celebrated fiber die Sprache and Weisheit der Indier, which 
seemed to confirm his own pronouncement made in 1800 about the Orient being the 
purest form of Romanticism. 

What Renan's generation- educated from the mid-1830s to the late 1840s- retained 
from all this enthusiasm about the Orient was the intellectual necessity of the Orient for 
the Occidental scholar of languages, cultures, and religions. Here the key text was Edgar 
Q uinet's Le Genie des religions (1832), a work that announced the Oriental Renaissance 
and placed the Orient and the West in a functional relationship with each other. I have 
already referred to the vast meaning of this relationship as analyzed comprehensively by 
Raymond Schwab in La Renaissance orientale; my concern with it here is only to note 
specific aspects of it that bear upon Renan's vocation as a philologist and as an Orientalist. 
Quinet's association with Michelet, their interest in Herder and Vico, respectively, im- 
pressed on them the need for the scholar- historian to confront, almost in the manner of an 
audience seeing a dramatic event un-fold, or a believer witnessing a revelation, the 
different, the strange, the distant. Quinet's formulation was that the Orient proposes and 
the West disposes: Asia has its prophets, Europe its doctors (its learned men, its scientists: 
the pun is intended). Out of this en-counter, a new dogma or god is born, but Quinet's 
point is that both East and West fulfill their destinies and confirm their identities in the 
encounter. Asa scholarly attitude the picture of a learned West- 


erner surveying as if from a peculiarly suited vantage point the passive, seminal, 
feminine, even silent and supine East, then going on to articulate the East, making 
the Orient deliver up its secrets under the learned authority of a philologist whose 
power derives from the ability to unlock secret, esoteric languages— this would 
persist in Renan. What did not persist in Renan during the 1840s, when he served 
his apprenticeship as a philologist, was the dramatic attitude: that was replaced by 
the scientific attitude. 

For Quinet and Michelet, history was a drama. Quinet suggestively describes the 
whole world as a temple and human history as a sort of religious rite. Both 
Michelet and Quinet saw the world they discussed. The origin of human history 
was something they could describe in the same splendid and impassioned and 
dramatic terms used by Vico and Rousseau to portray life on earth in primitive 
times. For Michelet and Quinet there is no doubt that they belong to the communal 
European Romantic undertaking "either in epic or some other major genre— in 
drama, in prose romance, or in the visionary greater Ode 1 — radically to recast 
into terms appropriate to the historical and intellectual circumstances of their 
own age, the Christian pattern of the fall, the redemption, and the emergence of 
a new earth which will constitute a restored paradise." 86 i think that for 
Quinet the idea of a new god being born was tantamount to the filling of the 
place left by the old god; for Renan, however, being a philologist meant the 
severance of any and all connections with the old Christian god, so that instead 
a new doctrine— probably science— would stand free and in a new place, as it 
were. Renan's whole career was devoted to the fleshing out of this progress. 

He put it very plainly at the end of his undistinguished essay on the origins of 
language: man is no longer an inventor, and the age of creation is definitely 
over." There was a period, at which we can only guess, when man was literally 
transported from silence into words. After that there was language, and for the 
true scientist the task is to examine how language is, not how it came about. Y et 
if Renan dispels the passionate creation of primitive times (which had excited 
Herder, Vico, Rousseau, even Quinet and Michelet) he instates a new, and 
deliberate, type of artificial creation, one that is performed as a result of scientific 
analysis. In his lecon inaugurate at the College de France (February 21, 1862) 
Renan proclaimed his lectures open to the public so that it might see at first hand 


laboratoire meme de la science philologique" (the very laboratory of philological 
science). 37 Any reader of Renan would have under* stood that such a statement was 
meant also to carry a typical if rather limp irony, one less intended to shock than passively 
to delight. For Renan was succeeding to the chair of Hebrew, and his lecture was on the 
contribution of the Semitic peoples to the history of civilization. What more subtle affront 
could there be to "sacred" history than the substitution of a philological laboratory for 
divine intervention in history; and what more telling way was there of declaring the 
Orient's contemporary relevance to be simply as material for European investigation?38 
Sacy's comparatively life-less fragments arranged in tableaux were now being replaced 
with something new. 

The stirring peroration with which Renan concluded his lecon had another function 
than simply to connect Oriental- Semitic philology with the future and with science. 
Etienne Quatremere, who immediately preceded Renan in the chair of Hebrew, was a 
scholar who seemed to exemplify the popular caricature of what a scholar was like. A 
man of prodigiously industrious and pedantic habits, he went about his work, Renan said 
in a relatively unfeeling memorial minute for the Journal des debars in October 1857, 
like a laborious worker who even in rendering immense services nevertheless could not 
see the whole edifice being constructed. The edifice was nothing less than "la science 
historique de 1 'esprit humain," now in the process of being built stone by stone.39 just as 
Quatrembre was not of this age, so Renan in his work was deter-mined to be of it. 
Moreover, if the Orient had been hitherto identified exclusively and indiscriminately with 
India and China, Renan's ambition was to carve out a new Oriental province for himself, 
in this case the Semitic Orient. He had no doubt remarked the casual, and surely current, 
confusion of Arabic with Sanskrit (as in Balzac's La Peau de chagrin, where the fateful 
talisman's Arabic script is described as Sanskrit), and he made it his job accordingly to do 
for the Semitic languages what Bopp had done for the Indo-European: so he said in the 
1855 preface to the comparative Semitic treatise. 10 Therefore Renan's plans were to bring 
the Semitic languages into sharp and glamorous focus a la Bopp, and in addition to 
elevate the study of these neglected inferior languages to the level of a passionate new 
science of mind d la Louis Lambert. 

On more than one occasion Renan was quite explicit in his asser- 


tions that Semites and Semitic were creations of Orientalist philological study." Since he 
was the man who did the study, there was meant to be little ambiguity about the centrality 
of his role in this new, artificial creation. But how did Renan mean the word creation in 

these instances? And how was this creation connected with either natural creation, or the 
creation ascribed by Renan and others to the laboratory and to the classificatory and 
natural sciences, principally what was called philosophical anatomy? Here we must 
speculate a little. Throughout his career Renan seemed to imagine the role of science in 
human life as (and I guote in translation as literally as I can) "telling (speaking or 
articulating) definitively to man the word [logos?] of things." 42 Science gives speech to 
things; better yet science brings out causes to be pronounced, a potential speech within 
things. The special value of linguistics (as the new philology was then often called) is not 
that natural science resembles it, but rather that it treats words as natural, otherwise silent 
objects, which are made to give up their secrets. Remember that the major breakthrough 
in the study of inscriptions and hieroglyphs was the discovery by Champollion that the 
symbols on the Rosetta Stone had a phonetic as well as a semantic component.43 To 
make objects speak was like making words speak, giving them circumstantial value, and a 
precise place in a rule-governed order of regularity. In its first sense, creation, as Renan 
used the word, signified the articulation by which an object like Semitic could be seen as 
a creature of sorts. Second, creation also signified the setting — in the case of Semitic it 
meant Oriental history, culture, race, mind— illuminated and brought forward from its 
reticence by the scientist. Finally, creation was the formulation of a system of classi- 
fication by which it was possible to see the object in guestion comparatively with other 
like objects; and by "comparatively" Renan intended a complex network of paradigmatic 
relations that obtained between Semitic and Indo-European languages. 

If in what I have so far said I have insisted so much on Renan's comparatively forgotten 
study of Semitic languages, it has been for several important reasons. Semitic was the 
scientific study to which Renan turned right after the loss of his Christian faith; I 
described above how he came to see the study of Semitic as replacing his faith and 
enabling a critical future relation with it. The study of Semitic was Renan's first full- 
length Orientalist and scientific study (finished in 1847, published first in 1855), and was 
as much a part of his late major works on the origins of Christianity and the his- 


tory of the Jews as it was a propaedeutic for them. In intention, if not perhaps in 
achievement— interestingly, few of the standard or contemporary works in either 
linguistic history or the history of Orientalism cite Renan with anything more than 
cursory attention" — his Semitic opus was proposed as a philological breakthrough, 
from which in later years he was always to draw retrospective authority for his positions 
(almost always bad ones) on religion, race, and nationalism.45 Whenever Renan wished 
to make a statement about either the Jews or the Muslims, for example, it was always 
with his remarkably harsh (and unfounded, except according to the science he was 
practicing) strictures on the Semites in mind. Furthermore, Renan's Semitic was meant 
as a contribution both to the development of Indo-European linguistics and to the 
differentiation of Orientalisms. To the former Semitic was a degraded form, de- graded 
in both the moral and the biological sense, whereas to the latter Semitic was a— if not 
the— stable form of cultural decadence. Lastly, Semitic was Renan's first creation, a 

fiction invented by him in the philological laboratory to satisfy his sense of public place 
and mission. It should by no means be lost on us that Semitic was for Renan's ego the 
symbol of European (and conseguently his) dominion over the Orient and over his own 

Therefore, as a branch of the Orient, Semitic was not fully a natural object- like a 
species of monkey, for instance- nor fully an unnatural or a divine object, as it had once 
been considered. Rather, Semitic occupied a median position, legitimated in its oddities 
(regularity being defined by Indo-European) by an inverse relation to normal languages, 
comprehended as an eccentric, quasi-monstrous phenomenon partly because libraries, 
laboratories, and museums could serve as its place of exhibition and analysis. In his 
treatise, Renan adopted a tone of voice and a method of exposition that drew the 
maximum from book-learning and from natural observation as practiced by men like 
Cuvier and the Geoffroy Saint-Hilaires pere et fib. This is an important stylistic 
achievement, for it allowed Renan consistently to avail himself of the library, rather than 
either primitivity or divine fiat, as a conceptual framework in which to understand 
language, together with the museum, which is where the results of laboratory 
observation are delivered for exhibition, study, and teaching 4^ Everywhere Renan treats 
of normal human facts— language, history, culture, mind, imagination— as transformed 
into something else, as something peculiarly deviant, because they are Semitic and 
Oriental, and because they end up for 


analysis in the laboratory. Thus the Semites are rabid monotheists who produced no 
mythology, no art, no commerce, no civilization; their consciousness is a narrow and 
rigid one; all in all they represent "une combinaison inferieure de la nature humaine."" 
At the same time Renan wants it understood that he speaks of a prototype, not a real 
Semitic type with actual existence (although he violated this too by discussing present- 
day Jews and Muslims with less than scientific detachment in many places in his 
writings). 48 So on the one hand we have the transformation of the human into the speci- 
men, and on the other the comparative judgment rendered by which the specimen 
remains a specimen and a subject for philological, scientific study. 

Scattered throughout the Histoire girth-ale et systeme compare des langues 
semitiques are reflections on the links between linguistics and anatomy, and— for Renan 
this is egually important— remarks on how these links could be employed to do human 
history (les sciences historiques). But first we should consider the implicit links. I do 
not think it wrong or an exaggeration to say that a typical page of Renan's Orientalist 
Histoire generate was constructed typographically and structurally with a page of 
comparative philosophical anatomy, in the style of Cuvier or Geoffroy Saint- Hilaire, kept 
in mind. Both linguists and anatomists purport to be speaking about matters not directly 

obtainable or observable in nature; a skeleton and a detailed line drawing of a muscle, as 
much as paradigms constituted by the linguists out of a purely hypothetical proto- Semitic 
or proto-Indo-European, are similarly products of the laboratory and of the library. The 
text of a linguistic or an anatomical work bears the same general relation to nature (or 
actuality) that a museum case exhibiting a specimen mammal or organ does. What is 
given on the page and in the museum case is a truncated exaggeration, like many of 
Sacy's Oriental extracts, whose purpose is to exhibit a relationship between the science 
(or scientist) and the object not one between the object and nature. Read almost any page 
by Renan on Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, or proto- Semitic and you read a fact of power, by 
which the Orientalist philologist's authority summons out of the library at will examples 
of man's speech, and ranges them there surrounded by a suave European prose that points 
out defects, virtues, barbarisms, and shortcomings in the language, the people, and the 
civilization. The tone and the tense of the exhibition are cast almost uniformly in the 
contemporary present, so that one is given an impression of a 


pedagogical demonstration during which the scholar-scientist etatlda before us on a 
lecture -laboratory platform, creating, confining, and judging the material he 

This anxiety on Renan's part to convey the sense of a demonstration actually taking 
place is heightened when he remarks explicitly that whereas anatomy employs stable 
and visible signs by which to consign objects to classes, linguistics does not " 
Therefore the philologist must make a given linguistic fact correspond in some way to 
a historical period: hence the possibility of a classification. Yet, as Renan was often to 
say, linguistic temporality and history are full of lacunae, enormous discontinuities, 
hypothetical periods. Therefore linguistic events occur in a nonlinear and essentially 
dis-continuous temporal dimension controlled by the linguist in a very particular way. 
That way, as Renan's whole treatise on the Semitic branch of the Oriental languages 
goes very far to show, is comparative: Indo-European is taken as the living, organic 
norm, and Semitic Oriental languages are seen comparatively to be inorganic. $0 Time 
is transformed into the space of comparative classification, which at bottom is based 
on a rigid binary opposition between organic and inorganic languages. So on the one 
hand there is the organic, biologically generative process represented by Indo- 
European, while on the other there is an inorganic, essentially un-regenerative process, 
ossified into Semitic: most important, Renan makes it absolutely clear that such an 
imperious judgment is made by the Oriental philologist in his laboratory, for 
distinctions of the kind he has been concerned with are neither possible nor available 

for anyone except the trained professional. "Nous refusons done aux langues 
semitiques la faculte de se regenerer, toute en reconnaissant qu'elles n'echappent pas 
plus que les autres oeuvres de la conscience humaine a la necessity du changement et 
des modifications successives" (Therefore we refuse to allow that the Semitic 
languages have the capacity to regenerate themselves, even while recognizing that they 
do not escape — any more than other products of human consciousness — the 
necessity of change or of successive modifications)." 

Yet behind even this radical opposition, there is another one working in Renan's 
mind, and for several pages in the first chapter of book 5 he exposes his position 
quite candidly to the reader. This occurs when he introduces Saint-Hilaire's views on 
the "degradation of types. "52 Although Renan does not specify which Saint-Hilaire 
he refers to, the reference is clear enough. For both Etienne 


and his son Isidore were biological speculators of extraordinary fame and influence, 
particularly among literary intellectuals during the first half of the nineteenth century in 
France. Etienne, we recall, had been a member of the Napoleonic expedition, and Balzac 
dedicated an important section of the preface for La Comedie humaine to him; there is 
also much evidence that Flaubert read both the father and the son and used their views in 
his work. 1 Not only were Etienne and Isidore legatees of the tradition of "Romantic" 
biology, which included Goethe and Cuvier, with a strong interest in anal-ogy, 
homology, and organic ur-form among species, but they were also specialists in the 
philosophy and anatomy of monstrosity— teratology, as Isidore called it— in which the 
most horrendous physiological aberrations were considered a result of internal degrada- 
tion within the species-life. 56 i cannot here go into the intricacies (as well as the macabre 
fascination) of, teratology, though it is enough to mention that both Etienne and Isidore 
exploited the theoretical power of the linguistic paradigm to explain the deviations 
possible within a biological system. Thus Etienne's notion was that a monster is an 
anomaly, in the same sense that in language words exist in analogical as well as 
anomalous relations with each other: in linguistics the idea is at least as old as Varro's De 
Lingua Latina. No anomaly can be considered simply as a gratuitous exception; rather 
anomalies confirm the regular structure binding together all members of the same class. 
Such a view is quite daring in anatomy. At one moment in the "Preliminaire" to his 
Philosophie anatomique Etienne says: 

And, indeed, such is the character of our epoch that it becomes impossible today to 
enclose oneself strictly within the framework of a simple monograph. Study an 
object in isolation and you will only be able to bring it back to itself; consequently 
you can never have perfect knowledge of it. But see it in the midst of beings who are 
connected with each other in many different ways, and which are isolated from each 
other in different ways, and you will dis-cover for this object a wider scope of 

relationships. First of all, you will know it better, even in its specificity: but more 
important by considering it in the very center of its own sphere of activity, you will 
know precisely how it behaves in its own exterior world, and you will also know 
how its own features are constituted in reaction to its surrounding milieu.55 
Not only is Saint- Hilaire saying that it is the specific character 

of contemporary study (he was writing in 1822) to examine phe- 


nomena comparatively; he is also saying that for the scientist there is no such thing 
as a phenomenon, no matter how aberrant and exceptional, that cannot be 
explained with reference to other phenomena. Note also how Saint-Hilaire employs 
the metaphor of centrality (le centre de sa sphere d activite) used later by Renan in 
L'Avenir de la science to describe the position occupied by any object in nature — 
including even the philologist — once the object is scientifically placed there by the 
examining scientist. Thereafter between the object and the scientist a bond of 
sympathy is established. Of course, this can only take place during the laboratory 
experience, and not elsewhere. The point being made is that a scientist has at his 
disposal a sort of leverage by which even the totally unusual occurrence can be seen 
naturally and known scientifically, which in this case means without recourse to the 
super-natural, and with recourse only to an enveloping environment constituted by 
the scientist. As a result nature itself can be reperceived as continuous, harmoniously 
coherent, and fundamentally intelligible. 

Thus for Renan Semitic is a phenomenon of arrested develop-ment in comparison 
with the mature languages and cultures of the Indo-European group, and even with 
the other Semitic Oriental languages. °" The paradox that Renan sustains, however, is 
that even as he encourages us to see languages as in some way corresponding to 
"titres vivants de la nature," he is everywhere else proving that his Oriental languages, 
the Semitic languages, are inorganic, arrested, totally ossified, incapable of self- 
regeneration; in other words, he proves that Semitic is not a live language, and for 
that matter, neither are Semites live creatures. Moreover, Indo-European language 
and culture are alive and organic because of the laboratory, not despite it. But far 
from being a marginal issue in Renan's work, this paradox stands, I believe, at the 
very center of his entire work, his style, and his archival existence in the culture of his 
time, a culture to which — as people so unlike each other as Matthew Arnold, Oscar 
Wilde, James Fra2er, and Marcel Proust concurred — he was a very important 
contributor. To be able to sustain a vision that incorporates and holds together life 
and quasi-living creatures (Indo-European, European culture) as well as quasi- 
monstrous, parallel inorganic phenomena (Semitic, Oriental culture) is precisely the 
achievement of the European scientist in his laboratory. He constructs, and the 
very act of construction is a sign of imperial power over recalcitrant phenomena, 

as well as a con- 

firmation of the dominating culture and its "naturalization." Indeed, it is not too much to 
say that Renan's philological laboratory is the actual locale of his European 
ethnocentrism; but what needs emphasis here is that the philological laboratory has no 
existence outside the discourse, the writing by which it is constantly produced and 
experienced. Thus even the culture he calls organic and alive— Europe's— is also a 
creature being created in the laboratory and by philology. 

Renan's entire later career was European and cultural. Its accomplishments were varied 
and celebrated. Whatever authority his style possessed can, I think, be traced back to his 
technique for constructing the inorganic (or the missing) and for giving it the appearance 
of life. He was most famous, of course, for his Vie de Jesus, the work that inaugurated his 
monumental histories of Christianity and the Jewish people. Yet we must realize that the 
Vie was exactly the same type of feat that the Histoire gent rale was, a construction 
enabled by the historian's capacity for skillfully crafting a dead (dead for Renan in the 
double sense of a dead faith and a lost, hence dead, historical period) Oriental biography 
— and the paradox is immediately apparent— as if it were the truthful narrative of a 
natural life. Whatever Renan said had first passed through the philological laboratory; 
when it appeared in print woven through the text, there was in it the life-giving force of a 
contemporary cultural signature, which drew from modernity all its scientific power and 
all its uncritical self- approbation. For that sort of culture such genealogies as dynasty, 
tradition, religion, ethnic communities were all simply functions of a theory whose job 
was to instruct the world. In borrowing this latter phrase from Cuvier, Renan was 
circumspectly placing scientific demonstration over experience; temporality was relegated 
to the scientifically use- less realm of ordinary experience, while to the special periodicity 
of culture and cultural comparativism (which spawned ethnocentrism, racial theory, and 
economic oppression) were given powers far in advance of moral vision. 

Renan's style, his career as Orientalist and man of letters, the circumstances of the 
meaning he communicates, his peculiarly intimate relationship with the European 
scholarly and general culture of his time— liberal, exclusivist, imperious, antihuman 
except in a very conditional sense— all these are what I would call celibate and scientific. 
Generation for him is consigned to the realm of 


tavenir, which in his famous manifesto he associated with science. Although as a historian 

of culture he belongs to the school of men like Turgot, Condorcet, Guizot, Cousin, 
Jouffroy, and Ballanche, and in scholarship to the school of Sacy, Caussin de Perceval, 
Ozanam, Fauriel, and Burnout Renan's is a peculiarly ravaged, ragingly masculine world 
of history and learning; it is indeed the world, not of fathers, mothers, and children, but of 
men like his Jesus, his Marcus Aurelius, his Caliban, his solar god (the last as described in 
"Reves" of the Dialogues philosophiques) P 7 He cherished the power of science and 
Orientalist philology particularly; he sought its insights and its technigues; he used it to 
inter- vene, often with considerable effectiveness, in the life of his epoch. And yet his ideal 
role was that of spectator. 

According to Renan, a philologist ought to prefer bonheur to jouissance: the 
preference expresses a choice of elevated, if sterile, happiness over sexual pleasure. 
Words belong to the realm of bonheur, as does the study of words, ideally speaking. To 
my knowledge, there are very few moments in all of Renan's public writing where a 
beneficent and instrumental role is assigned to women. One occurs when Renan opines 
that foreign women (nurses, maids) must have instructed the conguering Normans' 
children, and hence we can account for the changes that take place in language. Note how 
productivity and dissemination are not the functions aided, but rather internal change, and 
a subsidiary one at that. "Man," he says at the end of the same essay, "belongs neither to 
his language nor to his race; he belongs to himself before all, since before all he is a free 
being and a moral one."S8 Man was free and moral, but enchained by race, history, and 
science as Renan saw them, conditions imposed by the scholar on man. 

The study of Oriental languages took Renan to the heart of these conditions, and 
philology made it concretely apparent that knowledge of man was— to paraphrase Ernst 
Cassirer— poetically transfiguring39 only if it had been previously severed from raw 
actuality (as Sacy had necessarily severed his Arabic fragments from their actuality) and 
then put into a doxological straitjacket. By becoming philology, the study of words as 
once practiced by Vico, Herder, Rousseau, Michelet, and Quinet lost its plot and its 
dramatic presentational guality, as Schelling once called it. Instead, philology became 
epistemologically complex; Sprachgefiihl was no longer enough since words themselves 
pertained less to the senses or the 


body (as they had for Vico) and more to a sightless, imageless, and abstract realm ruled 
over by such hothouse formulations as race, mind, culture, and nation. In that realm, 
which was discursively constructed and called the Orient, certain kinds of assertions 
could be made, all of them possessing the same powerful generality and cultural validity. 
For all of Renan's effort was to deny Oriental culture the right to be generated, except 
artificially in the philological laboratory. A man was not a child of the culture; that 
dynastic conception had been too effectively challenged by philology. Philology taught 

one how culture is a construct an articulation (in the sense that Dickens used the word 
for Mr. Venus's profession in Our Mutual Friend), even a creation, but not anything 
more than a quasi- organic structure. 

What is specially interesting in Renan is how much he knew himself to be a creature of 
his time and of his ethnocentric culture. On the occasion of an academic response to a 
speech made by Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1885, Renan averred as how "it was so sad to be 
a wiser man than one's nation. ... One cannot feel bitterness towards one's homeland. 
Better to be mistaken along with the nation than to be too right with those who tell it hard 
truths. "f'O The economy of such a statement is almost too perfect to be true. For does not 
the old Renan say that the best relationship is one of parity with one's own culture, its 
morality, and its ethos during one's time, that and not a dynastic relation by which one is 
either the child of his times or their parent? And here we return to the laboratory, for it is 
there- as Renan thought of it- that filial and ultimately social responsibilities cease and 
scientific and Orientalist ones take over. His laboratory was the platform from which as an 
Orientalist he addressed the world; it mediated the statements he made, gave them 
confidence and general precision, as well as continuity. Thus the philological 
laboratory as Renan understood it redefined not only his epoch and his culture, dating 
and shaping them in new ways; it gave his Oriental subject matter a scholarly coherence, 
and more, it made him (and later Orientalists in his tradition) into the Occidental cultural 
figure he then became. We may well wonder whether this new autonomy within the 
culture . was the freedom Renan hoped his philological Orientalist science would bring or 
whether, so far as a critical historian of Orientalism is concerned, it set up a complex 
affiliation between Orientalism and its putative human subject matter that is based finally 
on power and not really on disinterested objectivity. 


III Oriental Residence and Scholarship: The 
Requirements of Lexicography and Imagination 

Renan's views of the Oriental Semites belong, of course, less to the realm of popular 
prejudice and common anti-Semitism than they do to the realm of scientific Oriental 
philology. When we read Ren an and Sacy, we readily observe the way cultural 
generalization had begun to acquire the armor of scientific statement and the ambience of 
corrective study. Like many academic specialties in their early phases, modern 
Orientalism held its subject matter, which it defined, in a viselike grip which it did almost 
everything in its power to sustain. Thus a knowing vocabulary developed, and its 

functions, as much as its style, located the Orient in a comparative framework, of the sort 
employed and manipulated by Renan. Such comparatism is rarely descriptive; most often, 
it is both evaluative and expository. Here is Renan comparing typically: 

One sees that in all things the Semitic race appears to us to be an incomplete race, 
by virtue of its simplicity. This race- if I dare use the analogy- is to the Indo- 
European family what a pencil sketch is to painting; it lacks that variety, that 
amplitude, that abundance of life which is the condition of perfectibility. Like those 
individuals who possess so little fecundity that, after a gracious childhood, they attain 
only the most mediocre virility, the Semitic nations experienced their fullest 
flowering in their first age and have never been able to achieve true maturity. 81 

Indo- Europeans are the touchstone here, just as they are when Renan says that the Semitic 

Oriental sensibility never reached the heights attained by the Indo- Germanic races. 
Whether this comparative attitude is principally a scholarly necessity or whether it is 

disguised ethnocentric race prejudice, we cannot say with absolute certainty. What we can 

say is that the two 


work together, in support of each other. What Renan and Sacy tried to do was to reduce 
the Orient to a kind of human flatness, which exposed its characteristics easily to scrutiny 
and removed from it its complicating humanity. In Renan's case, the legitimacy of his 
efforts was provided by philology, whose ideological tenets encourage the reduction of a 
language to its roots; thereafter, the philologist finds it possible to connect those 
linguistics roots, as Renan and others did, to race, mind, character, and temperament at 
their roots. The affinity between Renan and Gobineau, for example, was acknowledged by 
Renan to be a common philological and Orientalist per-spective,- 01 in subseguent editions 
of the Histoire generate he incorporated some of Gobineau's work within his own. Thus 
did comparatism in the study of the Orient and Orientals come to be synonymous with the 
apparent ontological ineguality of Occident and Orient. 

The main traits of this inequality are worth recapitulating briefly. I have already 
referred to Schlegel's enthusiasm for India, and then his subsequent revulsion from it and 
of course from Islam. Many of the earliest Oriental amateurs began by welcoming the 
rient as a salutary derangement of their European habits of mind and spirit. The Orient 
was overvalued for its pantheism, its spirituality, its stability, its longevity, its primitivity, 
and so forth. Schelling, for example, saw in Oriental polytheism a preparation of the way 
forJudeo-Christian monotheism: Abraham was prefigured in Brahma. Yet almost without 
exception such overesteem was followed by a counterresponse: the Orient suddenly 
appeared lamentably under- humanized, antidemocratic, backward, barbaric, and so forth. 
A swing of the pendulum in one direction caused an egual and opposite swing back: the 
Orient was undervalued. Orientalism as a profession grew out of these opposites, of 
compensations and corrections based on ineguality, ideas nourished by and nourishing 
similar ideas in the culture at large. Indeed the very project of restriction and restructuring 
associated with Orientalism can be traced directly to the ineguality by which the Orient's 
comparative poverty (or wealth) besought scholarly, scientific treatment of the kind to be 

found in disciplines like philology, biology, history, anthropology, philosophy, or 

And thus the actual profession of Orientalist enshrined this inequality and the special 
paradoxes it engendered. Most often an individual entered the profession as a way of 
reckoning with the Orient's claim on him; yet most often too his Orientalist training 

1 his eyes, so to speak, and what he was left with was a eort of debunking project, 
by which the Orient was reduced to considerably less than the eminence once seen in it. 
How else is one to explain the enormous labors represented by the work of William Muir 
(1819-1905), for example, or of Reinhart Dozy (1820-1883), and the impressive 
antipathy in that work to the Orient, Islam, and the Arabs? Characteristically, Renan was 

One Of Dozy'S Supporters, just as in Dozy'S four-VOlume Histoire des Mussulmans 
d'Espagne, jusqua la conquete de VAndalousie par les Almoravides (1861) there 
appear many of Renan's anti-Semitic strictures, compounded in 1864 by a volume 
arguing that the Jews' primitive God was not Jahweh but Baal, proof for which was to be 
found in Mecca, of all places. Muir's Life of Mahomet (1858- 1861) and his The 
Caliphate, its Rise, Decline and Fall (1891) are still considered reliable 
monuments of scholarship, yet his attitude towards his subject matter was fairly put by 
him when he said that "the sword of Muhammed, and the Kor'an, are the most stubborn 
enemies of Civilisation, Liberty, and the Truth which the world has yet known."83 Many 
of the same notions are to be found in the work of Alfred Lyall, who was one of the 
authors cited approvingly by Cromer. 

Even if the Orientalist does not explicitly judge his material as Dozy and Muir did, the 
principle of ineguality exerts its influence nevertheless. It remains the professional 
Orientalist's job to piece together a portrait, a restored picture as it were, of the Orient or 
the Oriental; fragments, such as those unearthed by Sacy, supply the material, but the 
narrative shape, continuity, and figures are constructed by the scholar, for whom 
scholarship consists of circumventing the unruly (un- Occidental) nonhistory of the Orient 
with orderly chronicle, portraits, and plots. Caussin de Perceval's Essai sur I'histoire 
des Arabes avant I'Islamisme, pendant I'epoque de Mahomet (three volumes, 1847- 
1848) is a wholly professional study, depending for its sources on documents made 
available internally to the field by other Orientalists (principally Sacy, of course) or 
documents— like the texts of ibn-Khaldun, upon whom Caussin relied very heavily- 
reposing in Orientalist libraries in Europe. Caussin's thesis is that the Arabs were made a 
people by Mohammed, Islam being essentially a political instrument, not by any means a 
spiritual one. What Caussin strives for is clarity amidst a huge mass of confusing detail. 
Thus what emerges out of the study of Islam is guite literally a one- dimensional portrait 
of Mohammed, 


who is made to appear at the end of the work (after his death has been described) in 
precise photographic detail' Neither a demon, nor a prototype of Cagliostro, Caussin's 

Mohammed is a man appropriated to a history of Islam (the fittest version of it) as an 
exclusively political movement, centralized by the innumerable citations that thrust him 
up and, in a sense, out of the text. Caussin's intention was to leave nothing unsaid about 
Mohammed; the Prophet is thereby seen in a cold light, stripped both of his immense 
religious force and of any residual powers to frighten Europeans. The point here is that as 
a figure for his own time and place Mohammed is effaced, in order for a very slight 
human miniature of him to be left standing. 

A nonprofessional analogue to Caussin's Mohammed is Carlyle's, a Mohammed forced 
to serve a thesis totally overlooking the historical and cultural circumstances of the 
Prophet's own time and place. Although Carlyle guotes Sacy, his essay is clearly the 
product of someone arguing for some general ideas on sincerity, heroism, and 
prophethood. His attitude is salutary: Mohammed is no legend, no shameful sensualist, no 
laughable petty sorcerer who trained pigeons to pick peas out of his ear. Rather he is a 
man of real vision and self- conviction, albeit an author of a book, the Koran, that is "a 
wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, long-windedness, 
entanglement; most crude, inconditeinsupportable stupidity, in short." 80 Not a paragon of 
lucidity and stylistic grace himself, Carlyle asserts these things as a way of rescuing 
Mohammed from the Benthamite standards that would have condemned both Mohammed 
and him together. Yet Mo-hammed is a hero, transplanted into Europe out of the same 
barbaric Orient found wanting by Lord Macaulay in his famous "Minute" of 1835, in 
which it was asserted that "our native subjects" have more to learn from us than we do 
from them." 

Both Caussin and Carlyle, in other words, show us that the Orient need not cause us 
undue anxiety, so unegual are Oriental to European achievements. The Orientalist and 
non-Orientalist perspectives coincide here. For within the comparative field that 
Orientalism became after the philological revolution of the early nineteenth century, and 
outside it, either in popular stereotypes or in the figures made of the Orient by 
philosophers like Carlyle and stereotypes like those of Macaulay, the Orient in itself was 
subordinated intellectually to the West. As material for study or reflection the Orient 
acguired all the marks of an inherent weakness. It became 


subject to the vagaries of miscellaneous theories that used it for illustration. Cardinal 
Newman, no great Orientalist, used Oriental Islam as the basis of lectures in 1853 
justifying British intervention in the Crimean War.87 Cuvier found the Orient useful for 
his work Le Regne animal (1816). The Orient was usefully employed as conversation in 
the various salons of Paris. 88 The list of references, borrowings, and transformations that 
overtook the Oriental idea is immense, but at bottom what the early Orientalist achieved, 
and what the no n- Orientalist in the West exploited, was a reduced model of the Orient 
suitable for the prevailing, dominant culture and its theoretical (and hard after the 
theoretical, the practical) exigencies. 

Occasionally one comes across exceptions, or if not exceptions then interesting 
complications, to this unequal partnership between East and West. Karl Marx identified 
the notion of an Asiatic economic system in his 1853 analyses of British rule in India, and 

then put beside that immediately the human depredation introduced into this system by 
English colonial interference, rapacity, and outright cruelty. In article after article he 
returned with increasing conviction to the idea that even in destroying Asia, Britain was 
making possible there a real social revolution. Marx's style pushes us right up against the 
difficulty of reconciling our natural repugnance as fellow creatures to the sufferings of 
Orientals while their society is being violently transformed with the historical necessity of 
these transformations. 

Now, sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of 
industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and 
dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members 
losing at the same time their ancient form of civilization and their hereditary means of 
subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive 
though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental 
despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, 
making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath the traditional 
rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies... . 

England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan was actuated only by 
the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not 
the guestion. The guestion is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental 
revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of 
England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution. 


Then, whatever bitterness the spectacle of the crumbling of an ancient world 
may have for our personal feelings, we have the right, in point of history, to 
exclaim with G oethe: 

Sollte diese Qual uns qualen Da sie unsere Lust 
vermehrt Hat nicht Myriaden Seelen 
Timurs Herrschaftaufgeziehrt?89 

(Should this torture then torment us Since it brings us 
greater pleasure? Were not through the rule of Timur Souls 
devoured without measure?) 

The quotation, which supports Marx's argument about torment producing pleasure, 
comes from the Westostlicher Diwan and identifies the sources of Marx's 
conceptions about the Orient. These are Romantic and even messianic: as human 
material the Orient is less important than as an element in a Romantic redemptive 
project. Marx's economic analyses are perfectly fitted thus to a standard Orientalist 
undertaking, even though Marx's humanity, his sympathy for the misery of people, 
are clearly engaged. Yet in the end it is the Romantic Orientalist vision that wins out, 
as Marx's theoretical socio-economic views become submerged in this classically 
standard image: 

England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other 
regenerating— the annihilation of the Asiatic society, and the laying of the 
material foundations of Western society in Asia.T" 
The idea of regenerating a fundamentally lifeless Asia is a piece of pure Romantic 
Orientalism, of course, but coming from the same writer who could not easily forget 
the human suffering involved, the statement is pu22ling. It requires us first to ask how 
Marx's moral equation of Asiatic loss with the British colonial rule he condemned gets 
skewed back towards the old inequality between East and West we have so far 
remarked. Second, it requires us to ask where the human sympathy has gone, into 
what realm of thought it has dis-. appeared while the Orientalist vision takes its place. 

We are immediately brought back to the reali2ation that Orien. talists, like many 
other early-nineteenth-century thinkers, concei of humanity either in large collective 
terms or in abstract ge eralities. Orientalists are neither interested in nor capable of 
dis* cussing individuals; instead artificial entities, perhaps with thei 


roots in Herderian populism, predominate. There are Orientals, Asiatics, Semites, 
Muslims, Arabs, Jews, races, mentalities, nations, and the like, some of them the product 
of learned operations of the type found in Renan's work. Similarly, the age-old 
distinction between "Europe" and "Asia" or "Occident" and "Orient" herds beneath very 
wide labels every possible variety of human plurality, reducing it in the process to one or 
two terminal, collective abstractions. Marx is no exception. The collective Orient was 
easier for him to use in illustration of a theory than existential human identities. For 
between Orient and Occident, as if in a self-fulfilling proclamation, only the vast 
anonymous collectivity mattered, or existed. No other type of exchange, severely 
constrained though it may have been, was at hand. 

That Marx was still able to sense some fellow feeling, to identify even a little with poor 
Asia, suggests that something happened before the labels took over, before he was 
dispatched to Goethe as a source of wisdom on the Orient. It is as if the individual mind 
(Marx's, in this case) could find a precollective, preofficial individuality in Asia— find 
and give in to its pressures upon his emotions, feelings, senses— only to give it up when 
he confronted a more formidable censor in the very vocabulary he found himself forced 
to employ. What that censor did was to stop and then chase away the sympathy, and this 
was accompanied by a lapidary definition: Those people, it said, don't suffer— they are 
Orientals and hence have to be treated in other ways than the ones you've just been using. 
A wash of sentiment therefore disappeared as it en-countered the unshakable definitions 
built up by Orientalist science, supported by "Oriental" lore (e.g., the Diwan) supposed 
to be appropriate for it. The vocabulary of emotion dissipated as it submitted to the 
lexicographical police action of Orientalist science and even Orientalist art. An 
experience was dislodged by a dictionary definition: one can almost see that happen in 

Marx's Indian essays, where what finally occurs is that something forces him to scurry 
back to Goethe, there to stand in his protective Orientalized Orient. 

In part, of course, Marx was concerned with vindicating his own theses on socio- 
economic revolution; but in part also he seems to have had easy resource to a massed 
body of writing, both internally consolidated by Orientalism and put forward by it 
beyond the field, that controlled any statement made about the Orient. In Chapter One I 
tried to show how this control had had a general cultural 


history in Europe since antiquity; in this chapter my concern has been to show how in the 
nineteenth century a modem professional terminology and practice were created whose 
existence dominated discourse about the Orient, whether by Orientalists or no n- Orien- 
talists. Sacy and Renan were instances of the way Orientalism fashioned, respectively, a 
body of texts and a philologically rooted process by which the Orient took on a 
discursive identity that made it unequal with the West. In using Marx as the case by 
which a no n- Orientalist's human engagements were first dissolved, then usurped by 
Orientalist generalizations, we find ourselves having to consider the process of 
lexicographical and institutional consolidation peculiar to Orientalism. What was this 
operation, by which whenever you discussed the Orient a formidable mechanism of 
omnicompetent definitions would present itself as the only one hav-ing suitable validity 
for your discussion? And since we must also show how this mechanism operated 
specifically (and effectively) upon personal human experiences that otherwise 
contradicted it, we must also show where they went and what forms they , while they 

All this is a very difficult and complex operation to describe, at least as difficult and 
complex as the way any growing discipline crowds out its competitors and acquires 
authority for its traditions, methods, and institutions, as well as general cultural legitimacy 
for its statements, personalities, and agencies. But we can simplify a great deal of the 
sheer narrative complexity of the operation by , specifying the kinds of experiences that 
Orientalism typically employed for its own ends and represented for its wider- than- profes- 
sional audience. In essence these experiences continue the ones I described as having 
taken place in Sacy and Renan. But whereas those two scholars represent a wholly 
bookish Orientalism, since neither claimed any particular expertise with the Orient in situ 
there is another tradition that claimed its legitimacy from the, peculiarly compelling fact 
of residence in, actual existential contact with, the Orient. Anquetil, Jones, the Napoleonic 
expedition define the tradition's earliest contours, of course, and these will thereafter' 
retain an unshakable influence on all Orientalist residents. These contours are the ones of 
European power: to reside in the Orient is to live the privileged life, not of an ordinary 
citizen, but of a representative European whose empire (French or British) contains' the 
Orient in its military, economic, and above all, cultural arms. Oriental residence, and its 

scholarly fruits, 

bookish tradition of the textual attitudes we found in Renan and Sacy: together the two 
experiences will constitute a formidable library against which no one, not even Marx, can 
rebel and which no one can avoid. 

Residence in the Orient involves personal experience and personal testimony to a 
certain extent. Contributions to the library of Orientalism and to its consolidation depend 
on how experience and testimony get converted from a purely personal document into the 
enabling codes of Orientalist science. In other words, within a text there has to take place 
a metamorphosis from personal to official statement; the record of Oriental residence and 
experience by a European must shed, or at least minimize, its purely autobiographical and 
indulgent descriptions in favor of descriptions on which Orientalism in general and later 
Orientalists in particular can draw, build, and base further scientific observation and 
description. So one of the things we can watch for is a more explicit conversion than in 
Marx of personal sentiments about the Orient into official Orientalist statements. 

Now the situation is enriched and complicated by the fact that during the entire 
nineteenth century the Orient, and especially the Near Orient, was a favorite place for 
Europeans to travel in and write about. Moreover, there developed a fairly large body of 
Oriental- style European literature very freguently based on personal experiences in the 
Orient. Flaubert comes to mind immediately as one prominent source of such literature; 
Disraeli, Mark Twain, and Kinglake are three other obvious examples. But what is of 
interest is the difference between writing that is converted from personal to professional 
Orientalism, and the second type, also based on residence and personal testimony, which 
remains "literature" and not science: it is this difference that I now want to explore. 

To be a European in the Orient always involves being a consciousness set apart from, 
and unegual with, its surroundings. But the main thing to note is the intention of this 
consciousness: What is it in the Orient for? Why does it set itself there even if, as is the 
case with writers like Scott, Hugo, and Goethe, it travels to the Orient for a very concrete 
sort of experience without actually leaving Europe? A small number of intentional 
categories proposed them-selves schematically. One: the writer who intends to use his 
residence for the specific task of providing professional Orientalism with scientific 
material, who considers his residence a form of scientific observation. Two: 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. These latter do appear in his work, but they are 
disentangled from the personal vagaries of style only with difficulty. Three: the writer for 
whom a real or metaphorical trip to the Orient is the fulfillment of some deeply felt and 
urgent project. His text therefore is built on a personal aesthetic, fed and informed by the 

project. In categories two and three there is considerably more space than in one for the 
play of a personal— or at least non- Orientalist— consciousness; if we take Edward 
William Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians as the pre-eminent 

example of category one, Burton's Pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Meccah as belonging 
to categbry two, and Nerval's Voyage en Orient as representing category three, the 
relative spaces left in the text for the exercise and display of authorial presence will be 

Despite their differences, however, these three categories are not so separate from each 
other as one would imagine. Nor does each category contain "pure" representative types. 
For example, works in all three categories rely upon the sheer egoistic powers of the 
European consciousness at their center. In all cases the Orient is for the European 
observer, and what is more, in the category that contains Lane's Egyptians, the 
Orientalist ego is very much in evidence, however much his style tries for _impartial 
impersonality. Moreover, certain motifs recur consistently in all three types. The Orient as 
a place of pilgrimage is one; so too is the vision of Orient as spectacle, or tableau vivant. 
Every work on the Orient in these categories tries to characterize the place, of course, but 
what is of greater interest is the extent to which the work's internal structure is in some 
measure synonymous with a comprehensive interpretation (or an attempt at it) of the 
Orient. Most of the time, not surprisingly, this interpretation is a form of Romantic 
restructuring of the Orient, a re-vision of it, which restores it redemptively to the present. 
Every interpretation, every structure created for the Orient, then, is a reinterpretation, a 
rebuilding of it. 

Having said that, we return directly to differences between the categories. Lane's book 
on the Egyptians was influential, it was frequently read and cited (by Flaubert among 
others), and it established its author's reputation as an eminent figure in Orientalist 
scholarship. In other words, Lane's authority was gained, not by virtue simply of what he 
said, but by virtue of how what he said could be adapted to Orientalism. He is quoted as a 
source of knowl- 


edge about Egypt or Arabia, whereas Burton or Flaubert were and are read 
for what they tell us about Burton and Flaubert over and above their 
knowledge of the Orient. The author- function in Lane's Modern Egyptians 
is less strong than in the other categories because his work was disseminated 
into the profession, consolidated by it, institutionalized with it. The authorial 
identity in a work of professional discipline such as his is subordinated to the 
demands of the field, as well as to the demands of the subject matter. But this 
is not done simply, or without raising problems. 

Lane's Classic, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the 
Modern Egyptians (1836), was the self-conscious result of a series of works 
and of two periods of residence in Egypt (1825-1828 and 1833-1835). One 
uses the phrase "self-conscious" with some emphasis here because the 
impression Lane wished to give was that his study was a work of immediate 
and direct, unadorned and neutral, description, whereas in fact it was the 
product of considerable edit-ing (the work he wrote was not the one he 

finally published) and also of a considerable variety of quite special efforts. 
Nothing in his birth or background seemed to destine him for the Orient 
except his methodical studiousness and his capacity for classical studies and 
for mathematics, which somewhat explain the apparent internal neatness of 
his book. His preface offers a series of interest- ing clues about what it was 
that he did for the book. He went to Egypt originally to study Arabic. Then, 
after making some notes about modern Egypt he was encouraged to produce 
a systematic work on the country and its inhabitants by a committee of the 
Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. From being a random set of 
observations the work was changed into a document of useful knowledge, 
knowledge arranged for and readily accessible to anyone wish- ing to know 
the essentials of a foreign society. The preface makes it clear that such 
knowledge must somehow dispose of pre-existing knowledge, as well as 
claim for itself a particularly effective character: here Lane is the subtle 
polemicist. He must show initially that he did what others before him either 
could not or did not do, and then, that he was able to acquire information 
both authentic and perfectly correct. And thus his peculiar authority begins to 

While Lane dallies in his preface with a Dr. Russell's "account of the 
people of Aleppo" (a forgotten work), it is obvious that the Description de 
VEgypte is his main antecedent competition. But that work, confined by 
Lane to a long footnote, is mentioned in contemptuous quotation marks as 
"the great French work" on 


Egypt. That work was at once too philosophically general and too careless, Lane 
says; and Jacob Burckhardt's famous study was merely a collection of proverbial 
Egyptian wisdom, "bad tests of the morality of a people." Unlike the French and 
Burckhardt, Lane was able to submerge himself amongst the natives, to live as they 
did, to conform to their habits, and "to escape exciting, in strangers, any suspicion 
of . . . being a person who had no right to intrude among them." Lest that imply 
Lane's having lost his objectivity, he goes on to say that he conformed only to the 
words (his italics) of the Koran, and that he was always aware of his difference 
from an essentially alien culture. 7 ! Thus while one portion of Lane's identity floats 
easily in the unsuspecting Muslim sea, a submerged part retains its secret European 
power, to comment on, acquire, possess everything around it. 

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. His 

power was to have existed amongst them as a native speaker, as it were, and also 
as a secret writer. And what he wrote was intended as useful knowledge, not for 
them, but for Europe and its various disseminative institutions. For that is one thing 
that Lane's prose never lets us forget: that ego, the first- person pronoun moving 
through Egyptian customs, rituals, festivals, infancy, adulthood, and burial rites, is 
in reality both an Oriental masquerade and an Orientalist device for capturing and 
conveying valuable, otherwise inaccessible information. As narrator, Lane is both 
exhibit and exhibitor, winning two confidences at once, displaying two appetites 
for experience: the Oriental one for engaging companionship (or so it seems) and 
the Western one for authoritative, useful knowledge. 

Nothing illustrates this better than the last tripartite episode in the preface. Lane 
there describes his principal informant and friend, Sheikh Ahmed, as companion 
and as curiosity. Together the two pretend that Lane is a Muslim; yet only after 
Ahmed conquers his fear, inspired by Lane's audacious mimicry, can he go through 
the motions of praying by his side in a mosque. This final achieve-ment is 
preceded by two scenes in which Ahmed is portrayed as a bizarre glass-eater and a 
polygamist. In all three portions of the Sheikh Ahmed episode the distance 
between the Muslim and Lane increases, even as in the action itself it decreases. As 
mediator and translator, so to speak, of Muslim behavior, Lane ironically enters 


the Muslim pattern only far enough to be able to describe it in a sedate English prose. His 
identity as counterfeit believer and privileged European is the very essence of bad faith, 
for the latter undercuts the former in no uncertain way. Thus what seems to be factual 
reporting of what one rather peculiar Muslim does is made to appear by Lane as the 
candidly exposed center of all Muslim faith. No mind is given by Lane to the betrayal of 
his friendship with Ahmed or with the others who provide him with information. What 
matters is that the report seem accurate, general, and dispassionate, that the English reader 
be convinced that Lane was never infected with heresy or apostasy, and finally, that 
Lane's text cancel the human content of its subject matter in favor of its scientific validity. 
It is for all these ends that the book is organized, not simply as the narrative of Lane's 
residence in Egypt but as narrative structure overwhelmed by Orientalist restructuring and 
detail. This, I think, is the central achievement of Lane's work. In outline and shape 
Modem Egyptians follows the routine of an eighteenth- century novel, say one by 
Fielding. The book opens with an account of country and setting, followed by chapters on 
"Personal Characteristics" and "Infancy and Early Education." Twenty-five chapters on 
such things as festivals, laws, character, industry, magic, and domestic life precede the 

last section, "Death and Funeral Rites." On the face of it, Lane's argument is chronological 
and develop-mental. He writes about himself as the observer of scenes that follow the 
major divisions in the human lifetime: his model is the narrative pattern, as it is in Tom 
Jones with the hero's birth, adventures, marriage, and implied death. Only in Lane's text 
the narrative voice is ageless; his subject, however, the modem Egyptian, goes through 
the individual life- cycle. This reversal, by which a solitary individual endows himself 
with timeless faculties and imposes on a society and people a personal life-span, is but the 
first of several operations regulating what might have been the mere narration of travels in 
foreign parts, turning an artless text into an encyclopedia of exotic display and a 
playground for Orientalist scrutiny. 

Lane's control of his material is not only established through his dramatized double 
presence (as fake Muslim and genuine Westerner) and his manipulation of narrative voice 
and subject, but also through his use of detail. Each major section in each chapter is 
invariably introduced with some unsurprising general observation. For example, "it is 
generally observed that many of the most 


remarkable peculiarities in the manners, customs, and character of a nation are attributable 
to the physical peculiarities of the country."" What follows confirms this easily— the Nile, 
Egypt's "remarkably salubrious" climate, the peasant's "precise" labor. Yet instead of this 
leading to the next episode in narrative order, the detail is added to, and conseguently the 
narrative fulfillment expected on purely formal grounds is not given. In other words, 
although the gross outlines of Lane's text conform to the narrative and causal seguence of 
birth- life- death, the special detail introduced during the seguence itself foils narrative 
movement. From a general observation, to a delineation of some aspect of Egyptian 
character, to an account of Egyptian childhood, adolescence, maturity, and senescence, 
Lane is always there with great detail to prevent smooth transitions. Shortly after we hear 
about Egypt's salubrious climate, for instance, we are informed that few Egyptians live 
beyond a few years, because of fatal illness, the absence of medical aid, and oppressive 
summer weather. Thereafter we are told that the heat "excites the Egyptian [an ungualified 
generalization] to intemperance in sensual enjoyments," and soon are bogged down in 
descriptions, complete with charts and line drawings, of Cairene architecture, decoration, 
fountains, and locks. When a narrative strain re-emerges, it is clearly only as a formality. 

What prevents narrative order, at the very same time that narrative order is the 
dominating fiction of Lane's text, is sheer, over-powering, monumental description. Lane's 
objective is to make Egypt and the Egyptians totally visible, to keep nothing hidden from 
his reader, to deliver the Egyptians without depth, in swollen detail. As rapporteur his 
propensity is for sadomasochistic colossal tidbits: the self-multilation of dervishes, the 
cruelty of judges, the blending of religion with licentiousness among Muslims, the excess 
of libidinous passions, and so on. Y et no matter how odd and perverse the event and how 
lost we become in its dizzying detail, Lane is ubiquitous, his job being to reassemble the 

pieces and enable us to move on, albeit jerkily. To a certain extent he does this by just 
being a European who can discursively control the passions and excitements to which the 
Muslims are unhappily subject. But to an even greater extent Lane's capacity to rein in 
his profuse subject matter with an unyielding bridle of discipline and detachment depends 
on his cold distance from Egyptian life and Egyptian productivity. 
The main symbolic moment occurs at the beginning of chapter 6, 


"Domestic Life— Continued." By now Lane has adopted the narrative convention of 
taking a walk through Egyptian life, and having reached the end of his tour of the public 
rooms and habits of an Egyptian household (the social and spatial worlds are mixed 
together by him), he begins to discuss the intimate side of home life. Immediately, he 
"must give some account of marriage and the marriage-ceremonies." As usual, the 
account begins with a general observation: to abstain from marriage "when a man has 
attained a sufficient age, and when there is no just impediment, is esteemed by the 
Egyptians improper, and even disreputable." Without transition this observation is 
applied by Lane to himself, and he is found guilty. For one long paragraph he then 
recounts the pressures placed on him to get married, which he unflinchingly refuses. 
Finally, after a native friend even offers to arrange a manage de convenance, also 
refused by Lane, the whole sequence is abruptly terminated with a period and a dash." 
He resumes his general discussion with another general observation. 

Not only do we have here a typical Lane-esque interruption of the main narrative with 
untidy detail, we have also a firm and literal disengagement of the author from the 
productive processes of Oriental society. The mini-narrative of his refusal to join the 
society he describes concludes with a dramatic hiatus: his story cannot continue, he 
seems to be saying, so long as he does not enter the intimacy of domestic life, and so he 
drops from sight as a candidate for it. He literally abolishes himself as a human subject 
by refusing to marry into human society. Thus he preserves his authoritative identity as a 
mock participant and bolsters the objectivity of his narrative. If we already knew that 
Lane was a non-Muslim, we now know too that in order for him to become an 
Orientalist— instead of an Oriental— he had to deny himself the sensual enjoyments of 
domestic life. Moreover, he had also to avoid dating himself by entering the human life- 
cycle. Only in this negative way could he retain his timeless authority as observer. 

Lane's choice was between living without "inconvenience and discomfort" and 
accomplishing his study of the modern Egyptians. The result of his choice is plainly to 
have made possible his definition of the Egyptians, since had he become one of them, his 
perspective would no longer have been antiseptically and asexually lexicographical. In 
two important and urgent ways, therefore, Lane gains scholarly credibility and 
legitimacy. First, by interfering with the ordinary narrative course of human life: this is 
the function of 


his colossal detail, in which the observing intelligence of a foreigner can introduce and 
then piece together massive information. The Egyptians are disemboweled for exposition, 
so to speak, then put together admonishingly by Lane. Second, by disengaging from the 
generation of Egyptian- Oriental life: this is the function of his subduing his animal 
appetite in the interest of disseminating in- formation, not in and for Egypt, but in and for 
European learning at large. To have achieved both the imposition of a scholarly will upon 
an untidy reality and an intentional shift away from the place of his residence to the scene 
of his scholarly reputation is the source of his great fame in the annals of Orientalism. 
Useful knowledge such as his could only have been obtained, formulated, and diffused by 
such denials. 

Lane's two other major works, his never-completed Arabic lexicon and his uninspired 
translation of the Arabian Nights, consolidated the system of knowledge inaugurated by 
Modern Egyptians. In both of his later works his individuality has disappeared entirely 
as a creative presence, as of course has the very idea of a narrative work. Lane the man 
appears only in the official persona of annotator and retranslator (the Nights) and 
impersonal lexicographer. From being an author contemporary with his subject matter, 
Lane became— as Orientalist scholar of classical Arabic and classical Islam— its survivor. 
But it is the form of that survival which is of interest. For Lane's legacy as a scholar 
mattered not to the Orient, of course, but to the institutions and agencies of his European 
society. And these were either academic— the official Orientalist societies, institutions, 
and agencies— or they were extra- academic in very particular ways, figuring in the work 
of later Europeans resident in the Orient. 

If we read Lane's Modern Egyptians, not as a source of Oriental lore, but as a work 
directed towards the growing organization of academic Orientalism, we will find it 
illuminating. The subordination of genetic ego to scholarly authority in Lane corresponds 
exactly to the increased specialization and institutionalization of knowledge about the 
Orient represented by the various Oriental societies. The Royal Asiatic Society was 
founded a decade before Lane's book appeared, but its committee of correspondence— 
whose "objects were to receive intelligence and inguiries relating to the arts, sciences, 
literature, history and antiguities" of the Orient"— was the structural recipient of Lane's 
fund of information, processed and formulated as it was. As for the diffusion of such work 


Lane's, there were not only the various societies of useful knowledge but 
also, in an age when the original Orientalist program of aiding commerce and 
trade with the Orient had become exhausted, the specialized learned societies 
whose products were works displaying the potential (if not actual) values of 
disinterested scholarship. Thus, a program of the Societe asiatigue states: 

To compose or to print grammars, dictionaries, and other elementary 
books recognized as useful or indispensable for the study of those 

languages taught by appointed professors [of Oriental languages]; by 
subscriptions or by other means to contribute to the publication of the 
same kind of work undertaken in France or abroad; to acguire 
manuscripts, or to copy either completely or in part those that are to be 
found in Europe, to translate or to make extracts from them, to multiply 
their number by reproducing them either by engraving or by 
lithography; to make it possible for the authors of useful works on 
geography, history, the arts, and the sciences to acguire the means for 
the public to enjoy the fruits of their nocturnal labors; to draw the 
attention of the public, by means of a periodic collection devoted to 
Asiatic literature, to the scientific, literary, or poetic productions of the 
Orient and those of the same sort that regularly are produced in Europe, 
to those facts about the Orient that could be relevant to Europe, to those 
discoveries and works of all kinds of which the Oriental peoples could 
become the subject: these are the objectives proposed for and by the 
Societe asiatigue. 

Orientalism organized itself systematically as the acguisition of Oriental 
material and its regulated dissemination as a form of specialized knowledge. 
One copied and printed works of grammar, one acguired original texts, one 
multiplied their number and diffused them widely, even dispensed 
knowledge in periodic form. It was into and for this system that Lane wrote 
his work, and sacrificed his ego. The mode in which his work persisted in 
the archives of Orientalism was provided for also. There was to be a 
"museum," Sacy said, 

a vast depot of objects of all kinds, of drawings, of original books, 
maps, accounts of voyages, all offered to those who wish to give 
themselves to the study of [the Orient]; in such a way that each of these 
students would be able to feel himself transported as if by enchantment 
into the midst of, say, a Mongolian tribe or of the Chinese race, 
whichever he might have made the object of his studies. ... It is 
possible to say . . . that after the publication of 


elementary books on ... the Oriental languages, nothing is more important than to lay 
the cornerstone of this museum, which I consider a living commentary upon and 
interpretation [truchement] of the dictionaries." 

Truchement derives nicely from the Arabic turjaman, meaning "interpreter," 
"intermediary," or "spokesman." On the one hand, Orientalism acguired the Orient as 

literally and as widely as possible; on the other, it domesticated this knowledge to the 
West filtering it through regulatory codes, classifications, specimen cases, periodical 
reviews, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries, editions, translations, all of which 
together formed a simulacrum of the Orient and reproduced it materially in the West, for 
the West. The Orient, in short, would be converted from the personal, sometimes garbled 
testimony of intrepid voyagers and residents into impersonal definition by a whole array 
of scientific workers. It would be con-verted from the consecutive experience of 
individual research into a sort of imaginary museum without walls, where everything 
gathered from the huge distances and varieties of Oriental culture became categorically 
Oriental It would be reconverted, restructured from the bundle of fragments brought 
back piecemeal by explorers, expeditions, commissions, armies, and merchants into 
lexicographical, bibliographical, departmentalized, and textualized Orientalist sense. By 
the middle of the nineteenth century the Orient had become, as Disraeli said, a career, 
one in which one could remake and restore not only the Orient but also oneself. 

IV Pilgrims and Pilgrimages, British and French 

Every European traveler or resident in the Orient has had to protect himself from its 
unsettling influences. Someone like Lane ultimately rescheduled and resituated the Orient 
when he came to write about it. The eccentricities of Oriental life, with its odd calendars, 
its exotic spatial configurations, its hopelessly strange languages, its seemingly perverse 
morality, were reduced con- 


siderably when they appeared as a series of detailed items presented in a normative 
European prose style. It is correct to say that in Orientalizing the Orient, Lane not only 
defined but edited it; he excised from it what, in addition to his own human sympathies, 
might have ruffled the European sensibility. In most cases, the Orient seemed to have 
offended sexual propriety; everything about the Orient— or at least Lane's Orient- in- 
Egypt-exuded dangerous sex, threatened hygiene and domestic seemliness with an 
excessive "freedom of intercourse," as Lane put it more irrepressibly than usual. 

But there were other sorts of threats than sex. All of them wore away the European 
discreteness and rationality of time, space, and personal identity. In the Orient one 
suddenly confronted un- imaginable antiguity, inhuman beauty, boundless distance. These 
could be put to use more innocently, as it were, if they were thought and written about, 
not directly experienced. In Byron's "Giaour," in the Westostlicher Diwan, in Hugo's 
Orientates, the Orient is a form of release, a place of original opportunity, whose 
keynote was struck in Goethe's "Hegire" 

Nord and W est Sud zersplittern, Throne bersten, Reiche 
zittern, Fluchte du, in reinen sten 

Patriarchenluft zu kosten! 

(North, West and South disintegrate, Thrones burst empires 

tremble. Fly away, and in the pure East Taste the Patriarchs' 

One always returned to the Orient— "Doit, im Reinen and in Rechten/Will ich 
menschlichen Geschlechten/In des Ursprungs Tiefe dringen" (There in purity and 
righteousness will I go back to the profound origins of the human race)— seeing it as 
completion and confirmation of everything one had imagined: 

Gottesistder Orient! 


Nord and siidliches Gel i nde Ruht im Frieden seiner 

(God's is the Orient! 

God's is the Occident! 

Northern and southern lands 

Repose in the peace of His hands.) 


The Orient with its poetry, its atmosphere, its possibilities, was represented by poets like 
Hafiz— unbegrenzt, boundless, G oethe said, older and younger than we Europeans. 
And for Hugo, in "Cri de guerre du mufti" and "La Douleur du pacha" 77 the fierceness 
and the inordinate melancholy of Orientals was mediated, not by actual fear for life or 
disoriented lostness, but by Volney and George Sale, whose learned work translated 
barbarous splendor into usable information for the sublimely talented poet. 

What Orientalists like Lane, Sacy, Renan, Volney, Jones (not to mention the 
Description de VEgypte), and other pioneers made available, the literary crowd 
exploited. We must recall now our earlier discussion of the three types of work dealing 
with the Orient and based upon actual residence there. The rigorous exigencies of 
knowledge purged from Orientalist writing an authorial sensibility: hence Lane's self- 
excision, and hence also the first kind of work we enumerated. As for types two and 
three, the self is there prominently, subservient to a voice whose job it is to dispense real 
knowledge (type two), or dominating and mediating everything we are told about the 
Orient (type three). Yet from one end of the nineteenth century to the other— after 
Napoleon, that is— the Orient was a place of pilgrimage, and every major work 
belonging to a genuine if not always to an academic Orientalism took its form, style, and 
intention from the idea of pilgrimage there. In this idea as in so many of the other forms 
of Orientalist writing we have been discussing, the Romantic idea of restorative recon- 
struction (natural supernaturalism) is the principal source. 

Every pilgrim sees things his own way, but there are limits to what a pilgrimage can be 
for, to what shape and form it can take, to what truths it reveals. All pilgrimages to the 
Orient passed through, or had to pass through, the Biblical lands; most of them in fact 

were attempts either to relive or to liberate from the large, in- credibly fecund Orient 
some portion of Judeo- Christian/Greco- Roman actuality. For these pilgrims the 
Orientalized Orient the Orient of Orientalist scholars, was a gauntlet to be run, just as 
the Bible, the Crusades, Islam, Napoleon, and Alexander were re-doubtable predecessors 
to be reckoned with. Not only does a learned Orient inhibit the pilgrim's musings and 
private fantasies; its very antecedence places barriers between the contemporary traveler 
and his writing, unless, as was the case with Nerval and Flaubert in their use of Lane, 
Orientalist work is severed from the library and caught in the aesthetic project. Another 
inhibition is that Orientalist 


writing is too circumscribed by the official requirements of Oriental-ist learning. A 
pilgrim like Chateaubriand claimed insolently that he undertook his voyages 
exclusively for his own sake: "j'allais chercher des images: voila tout. '° Flaubert, 
Vigny, Nerval, King-lake, Disraeli, Burton, all undertook their pilgrimages in order to 
dispel the mustiness of the pre-existing Orientalist archive. Their writing was to be a 
fresh new repository of Oriental experience — but, as we shall see, even this project 
usually (but not always) re-solved itself into the reductionism of the Orientalistic. The 
reasons are complex, and they have very much to do with the nature of the pilgrim, 
his mode of writing, and the intentional form of his work. 

What was the Orient for the individual traveler in the nineteenth century? Consider 
first the differences between an English speaker and a French speaker. For the former 
the Orient was India, of course, an actual British possession; to pass through the Near 
Orient was therefore to pass en route to a major colony. Already, then, the room 
available for imaginative play was limited by the realities of administration, territorial 
legality, and executive power. Scott, Kinglake, Disraeli, Warburton, Burton, and even 
George Eliot (in whose Daniel Derondd the Orient has plans made for it) are writers, 
like Lane himself and Jones before him, for whom the Orient was defined by material 
possession, by a material imagination, as it were. England had defeated Napoleon, 
evicted France: what the English mind surveyed was an imperial domain which by the 
1880s had become an unbroken patch of British-held territory, from the 
Mediterranean to India. To write about Egypt, Syria, or Turkey, as much as traveling 
in them, was a matter of touring the realm of political will, political management, 
political definition. The territorial imperative was extremely compelling, even for so 
un-restrained a writer as Disraeli, whose Tancred is not merely an Oriental lark but an 
exercise in the astute political management of actual forces on actual territories. 

In contrast, the French pilgrim was imbued with a sense of acute loss in the Orient. 
He came there to a place in which France, unlike Britain, had no sovereign presence. 
The Mediterranean echoed with the sounds of French defeats, from the Crusades to 

Napoleon. What was to become known as "la mission civilisatrice" began in the 
nineteenth century as a political second-best to Britain's presence. Consequently 
French pilgrims from Volney on planned and projected for, imagined, ruminated 
about places that were principally in their minds; they constructed schemes for a 


French, perhaps even a European, concert in the Orient, which of course they supposed 
would be orchestrated by them. Theirs was the Orient of memories, suggestive ruins, 
forgotten secrets, hidden correspondences, and an almost virtuosic style of being, an 
Orient whose highest literary forms would be found in Nerval and Flaubert, both of 
whose work was solidly fixed in an imaginative, unrealizable (except aesthetically) 

This was also true to a certain extent of scholarly French travelers in the Orient. Most 
of them were interested in the Biblical past or in the Crusades, as Henri Bordeaux has 
argued in his Voyageurs d'Orient. ' s To these names we must add (at Hassan al-Nouty's 
suggestioh) the names of Oriental Semiticists, including Quatremere; Saulcy, the explorer 
of the Dead Sea; Renan as Phoenician archaeologist; Judas, the student of Phoenician 
languages; Catafago and Defremery, who studied the Ansarians, Ismailis, and Seijuks; 
Clermont-Ganneau, who explored Judea; and the Marquis de Vogue, whose work 
centered on Palmyrian epigraphy. In addition there was the whole school of 
Egyptologists descended from Champollion and Mariette, a school that would later 
include Maspero and Legrain. As an index of the difference between British realities and 
French fantasies, it is worthwhile recalling the words in Cairo of the painter Ludovic 
Lepic, who commented sadly in 1884 (two years after the British occupation had begun): 
"L'Orient est mort au Caire." Only Renan, ever the realistic racist, condoned the British 
suppression of Arabi's nationalist rebellion, which, out of his greater wisdom, he said was 
a "disgrace to civilization. "80 

Unlike Volney and Napoleon, the nineteenth-century French pilgrims did not seek a 
scientific so much as an exotic yet especially attractive reality. This is obviously true of 
the literary pilgrims, beginning with Chateaubriand, who found in the Orient a locale 
sympathetic to their private myths, obsessions, and requirements. Here we notice how all 
the pilgrims, but especially the French ones, exploit the Orient in their work so as in some 
urgent way to justify their existential vocation. Only when there is some additional 
cognitive purpose in writing about the Orient does the outpouring of self seem more under 
control. Lamartine, for instance, writes about himself, and also about France as a power in 
the Orient; that second enterprise mutes and finally controls imperatives heaped upon his 
style by his soul, his memory, and his imagination. No pilgrim, French or English, 

could so ruthlessly dominate his self or his subject as Lane did. Even Burton and T. E. 
Lawrence, of 


whom the former fashioned a deliberately Muslim pilgrimage and the latter what he 
called a reverse pilgrimage away from Mecca, delivered masses of historical, political, 
and social Orientalism that were never as free of their egos as Lane's were of his. This is 
why Burton, Lawrence, and Charles Doughty occupy a middle position between Lane 
and Chateaubriand. 

Chateaubriand's Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem, et de Jerusalem a Paris (1810 — 
1811) records the details of a journey undertaken in 1805— 1806, after he had traveled in 
North America. Its many hundreds of pages bear witness to its author's admission that "je 
parle etemellement de moi," so much so that Stendhal, no self- abnegating writer himself, 
could find Chateaubriand's failure as a knowledgeable traveler to be the result of his 
"stinking egotism." He brought a very heavy load of personal objectives and suppositions 
to the Orient, unloaded them there, and proceeded thereafter to push people, places, and 
ideas around in the Orient as if nothing could resist his imperious imagination. 
Chateaubriand came to the Orient as a constructed figure, not as a true self. For him 
Bonaparte was the last Crusader; he in turn was "the last Frenchman who left his country 
to travel in the Holy Land with the ideas, the goals, and the sentiments of a pilgrim of 
former times." But there were other reasons. Symmetry: having been to the New World 
and seen its monuments of nature, he needed to complete his circle of studies by visiting 
the Orient and its monuments of knowledge: as he had studied Roman and Celtic 
antiguity, all that was left for him was the ruins of Athens, Memphis, and Carthage. Self- 
completion: he needed to replenish his stock of images. Confirmation of the importance 
of the religious spirit "religion is a kind of universal language understood by all men," 
and where better to observe it than there in the Orient, even in lands where a 
comparatively low religion like Islam held sway. Above all, the need to see things, not as 
they were, but as Chateaubriand supposed they were: the Koran was "le livre de 
Mahomet"; it contained "ni principe de civilisation, ni precepte gui puisse Clever le 
caractere." "This book," he continued, more or less freely inventing as he went along, 
"preaches neither hatred of tyranny nor love of liberty. " e * 

To so preciously constituted a figure as Chateaubriand, the Orient was a decrepit canvas 
awaiting his restorative efforts. The Oriental Arab was "civilized man fallen again into a 
savage state": no wonder, then, that as he watched Arabs trying to speak French, 
Chateaubriand felt like Robinson Crusoe thrilled by hearing his 


parrot speak for the first time. True, there were places like Bethlehem (whose 
etymological meaning Chateaubriand got completely wrong) in which one found again 
some semblance of real — that is, European— civilization, but those were few and far be- 
tween. Everywhere, one encountered Orientals, Arabs whose civilization, religion, and 
manners were so low, barbaric, and antithetical as to merit reconguest. The Crusades, he 
argued, were not aggression; they were a just Christian counterpart to Omar's arrival in 
Europe. Besides, he added, even if the Crusades in their modem or original form were 
aggression, the issue they raised transcended such guestions of ordinary mortality: 

The Crusades were not only about the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre, but more 
about knowing which would win on the earth, a cult that was civilization's enemy, 
systematically favor-able to ignorance [this was Islam, of course], to despotism, to 
slavery, or a cult that had caused to reawaken in modern people the genius of a sage 
antiguity, and had abolished base servitude?82 

This is the first significant mention of an idea that will acguire an almost unbearable, 
next to mindless authority in European writ-ing: the theme of Europe teaching the Orient 
the meaning of liberty, which is an idea that Chateaubriand and everyone after him 
believed that Orientals, and especially Muslims, knew nothing about. 

Of liberty, they know nothing; of propriety, they have none: force is their God. When 
they go for long periods without seeing conguerors who do heavenly justice, they 
have the air of soldiers without a leader, citizens without legislators, and a family 
without a father. 88 

Already in 1810 we have a European talking like Cromer in 1910, arguing that Orientals 
reguire conguest, and finding it no paradox that a Western conguest of the Orient was not 
conguest after all, but liberty. Chateaubriand puts the whole idea in the Romantic 
redemptive terms of a Christian mission to revive a dead world, to guicken in it a sense of 
its own potential, one which only a European can discern underneath a lifeless and 
degenerate surface. For the traveler this means that he must use the Old Testament and the 
Gospels as his guide in Palestine; 64 only in this way can the apparent degeneration of the 
modern Orient be gotten beyond. Yet Chateaubriand senses no irony in the fact that his 
tour and his vision will reveal nothing to him about the modern Oriental and his destiny. 


What matters about the Orient is what it lets happen to Chateaubriand, what it allows his 
spirit to do, what it permits him to reveal about himself, his ideas, his expectations. The 
liberty that so concerns him is no more than his own release from the Orient's hostile 

Where his release allows him to go is directly back into the realm of imagination and 
imaginative interpretation. Description of the Orient is obliterated by the designs and 

patterns foisted upon it by the imperial ego, which makes no secret of its powers. If in 
Lane's prose we watch the ego disappear so that the Orient may appear in all its realistic 
detail, in Chateaubriand the ego dissolves itself in the contemplation of wonders it creates, 
and then is reborn, stronger than ever, more able to savor its powers and enjoy its interpre- 

When one travels in Judea, at first a great ennui grips the heart; but when, passing 
from one solitary place to another, space stretches out without limits before you, 
slowly the ennui dissipates, and one feels a secret terror, which, far from depressing 
the soul, gives it courage and elevates one's native genius. Extraordinary things are 
disclosed from all parts of an earth worked over by miracles: the burning sun, the 
impetuous eagle, the sterile fig tree; all of poetry, all the scenes from Scripture are 
present there. Every name encloses a mystery; every grotto declares the future; every 
summit retains within it the accents of a prophet. God Him-self has spoken from 
these shores: the arid torrents, the riven rocks, the open tombs attest to the prodigy; 
the desert still seems struck dumb with terror, and one would say that it has still not 
been able to break the silence since it heard the voice of the eternal." 

The process of thought in this passage is revealing. An experience of Pascalian terror does 
not merely reduce one's self-confidence, it miraculously stimulates it. The barren 
landscape stands forth like an illuminated text presenting itself to the scrutiny of a very 
strong, refortified ego. Chateaubriand has transcended the abject, if frightening, reality of 
the contemporary Orient so that he may stand in an original and creative relationship to it. 
By the end of the passage he is no longer a modern man but a visionary seer more or less 
contemporary with God; if the Judean desert has been silent since God spoke there, it is 
Chateaubriand who can hear the silence, understand its meaning, and— to his reader- 
make the desert speak again. 


The great gifts of sympathetic intuition which had enabled Chateaubriand to represent 
and interpret North American mysteries in Rene and Atala, as well as Christianity in Le 
Genie du Christian-isme, are aroused to even greater feats of interpretation during 
the Itineraire. No longer is the author dealing with natural primitivity and romantic 
sentiment: here he is dealing with eternal creativity and divine originality themselves, 
for it is in the Biblical Orient that they were first deposited, and they have remained 
there in unmediated and latent form. Of course, they cannot be simply grasped; they 
must be aspired to and achieved by Chateaubriand. And it is this ambitious purpose that 
the itineraire is made to serve, just as^ in the text Chateaubriand's ego must be 
reconstructed radically enough to get the job done. Unlike Lane, Chateaubriand attempts 
to consume the Orient. He not only appropriates it, he represents and speaks for it, not 
in history but beyond history, in the timeless dimension of a completely healed world, 
where men and lands, God and men, are as one. In Jerusalem, therefore, at the center of 
his vision and at the ultimate end of his pilgrimage, he grants himself a sort of total 
reconciliation with the Orient, the Orient as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Greek, Persian, 

Roman, and finally French. He is moved by the plight of the Jews, but he judges that 
they too serve to illuminate his general vision, and as a further benefit, they give the 
necessary poignance to his Christian vindictiveness. God, he says, has chosen a new 
people, and it is not the Jews. B6 

He makes some other concessions to terrestrial reality, however. If Jerusalem is booked 
into his itinerary as its final extraterrestrial goal, Egypt provides him with material for a 
political excursus. His ideas about Egypt supplement his pilgrimage nicely. The magnifi- 
cent Nile Delta moves him to assert that 

I found only the memories of my glorious country worthy of those magnificent 
plains; I saw the remains of monuments of a new civilization, brought to the banks of 
the Nile by the genius of France." 

But these ideas are put in a nostalgic mode because in Egypt Chateaubriand believes he 
can eguate the absence of France with the absence of a free government ruling a happy 
people. Besides, after Jerusalem, Egypt appears to be only a kind of spiritual anti- 
climax. After political commentary on its sorry state, Chateaubriand asks himself the 
routine guestion about "difference" as a result of 


historical development: how can this degenerate stupid mob of "Musulmans" have come 
to inhabit the same land whose vastly different owners so impressed Herodotus and 

This is a fitting valedictory to Egypt, which he leaves for Tunis, Carthaginian ruins, and 
finally, home. Y et he does one last thing of note in Egypt: unable to do more than look at 
the Pyramids from a distance, he takes the trouble to send an emissary there, to have him 
inscribe his (Chateaubriand's) name on the stone, adding for our benefit, "one has to fulfill 
all the little obligations of a pious traveler." We would not ordinarily give much more than 
amused attention to this charming bit of touristic banality. As a preparation, however, for 
the very last page of the Mneraire, it appears more important than at first glance. 
Reflecting on his twenty-year project to study "tous les hasards et tous les chagrins" as an 
exile, Chateaubriand notes elegiacally how every one of his books has been in fact a kind 
of prolongation of his existence. A man with neither a home nor the possibility of 
acguiring one, he finds himself now well past his youth. If heaven accords him eternal 
rest, he says, he promises to dedicate himself in silence to erect- ing a "monument a ma 
patrie." What he is left with on earth, however, is his writing, which, if his name will live, 
has been enough, and if it will not live, has been too much.88 

These closing lines send us back to Chateaubriand's interest in getting his name 
inscribed on the Pyramids. We will have under-stood that his egoistic Oriental memoirs 
supply us with a constantly demonstrated, an indefatigably performed experience of self. 

Writing was an act of life for Chateaubriand, for whom nothing, not even a distant piece 
of stone, must remain scriptively untouched by him if he was to stay alive. If the order of 
Lane's narrative was to be violated by scientific authority and enormous detail, then 
Chateaubriand's was to be transformed into the asserted will of an egoistic, highly volatile 
individual. Whereas Lane would sacrifice his ego to the Orientalist canon, Chateaubriand 
would make every-thing he said about the Orient wholly dependent on his ego. Yet 
neither writer could conceive of his posterity as continuing on fruitfully after him. Lane 
entered the impersonality of a technical discipline: his work would be used, but not as a 
human document. Chateaubriand, on the other hand, saw that his writing, like the token 
inscription of his name on a Pyramid, would signify his self; if not, if he had not 
succeeded in prolonging his life by writing, it would be merely excessive, superfluous. 


Even if all travelers to the Orient after Chateaubriand and Lane have taken their work 
into account (in some cases, even to the extent of copying from them verbatim), their 
legacy embodies the fate of Orientalism and the options to which it was limited. Either 
one wrote science like Lane or personal utterance like Chateaubriand. The problems with 
the former were its impersonal Western confidence that descriptions of general, collective 
phenomena were possible, and its tendency to make realities not so much out of the Orient 
as out of its own observations. The problem with personal utterance was that it inevitably 
retreated into a position equating the Orient with private fantasy, even if that fantasy was 
of a very high order indeed, aesthetically speaking. In both cases, of course, Orientalism 
enjoyed a powerful influence on how the Orient was described and characterized. But 
what that influence always pre-vented, even until today, was some sense of the Orient that 
was neither impossibly general nor imperturbably private. To look into Orientalism for a 
lively sense of an Oriental's human or even social reality— as a contemporary inhabitant 
of the modern world— is to look in vain. 

The influence of the two options I have described, Lane's and Chateaubriand's, British 
and French, is a great deal of the reason for this omission. The growth of knowledge, 
particularly specialized knowledge, is a very slow process. Far from being merely additive 
or cumulative, the growth of knowledge is a process of selective accumulation, 
displacement, deletion, rearrangement, and insistence within what has been called a 
research consensus. The legitimacy of such knowledge as Orientalism was during the 
nineteenth century stemmed not from religious authority, as had been the case before the 
Enlightenment, but from what we can call the restorative citation of antecedent authority. 
Beginning with Sacy, the learned Orientalist's attitude was that of a scientist who 
surveyed a series of textual fragments, which he thereafter edited and arranged as a 
restorer of old sketches might put a series of them together for the cumulative picture they 

implicitly represent. Consequently, amongst themselves Orientalists treat each other's 
work in the same citationary way. Burton, for example, would deal with the Arabian or 
with Egypt indirectly, through Lane's work, by citing his predecessor, challenging him 
even though he was granting him very great authority. Nerval's own voyage to the Orient 
was by way of Lamartine's, and the latter's by way of Chateaubriand. In short, as a form 
of growing knowledge Orientalism resorted mainly to 


citations of predecessor scholars in the field for its nutriment. Even when new 
materials came his way, the Orientalist judged them by borrowing from 
predecessors (as scholars so often do) their perspectives, ideologies, and guiding 
theses. In a fairly strict way, then, Orientalists after Sacy and Lane rewrote Sacy and 
Lane; after Chateaubriand, pilgrims rewrote him. From these complex rewritings the 
actualities of the modem Orient were systematically excluded, especially when gifted 
pilgrims like Nerval and Flaubert preferred Lane's descriptions to what their eyes 
and minds showed them immediately. 

In the system of knowledge about the Orient, the Orient is less a place than a 
topos, a set of references, a congeries of characteristics, that seems to have its origin 
in a quotation, or a fragment of a text, or a citation from someone's work on the 
Orient, or some bit of previous imagining, or an amalgam of all these. Direct 
observation or circumstantial description of the Orient are the fictions presented by 
writing on the Orient, yet invariably these are totally secondary to systematic tasks of 
another sort. In Lamartine, Nerval, and Flaubert, the Orient is a re-presentation of 
canonical material guided by an aesthetic and executive will capable of producing 
interest in the reader. Yet in all three writers, Orientalism or some aspect of it is 
asserted, even though, as I said earlier, the narrative consciousness is given a very 
large role to play. What we shall see 'is that for all its eccentric individuality, this 
narrative consciousness will end up by being aware, like Bouvard and Pbcuchet, that 
pilgrimage is after all a form of copying. 

When he began his trip to the Orient in 1833, Lamartine did so, he said, as 
something he had always dreamed about: "un voyage en Orient [etait] comme un 
grand acte de ma vie interieure." He is a bundle of predispositions, sympathies, 
biases: he hates the Romans and Carthage, and loves Jews, Egyptians, and 
Hindus, whose Dante he claims he will become. Armed with a formal verse 
"Adieu" to France, in which he lists everything that he plans to do in the Orient, he 
embarks for the East. At first everything he encounters either confirms his poetic 

predictions or realizes his propensity for analogy. Lady Hester Stanhope is the Circe 
of the desert; the Orient is the "patrie de mon imagination"; the Arabs are a 
primitive people; Biblical poetry is engraved on the land of Lebanon; the Orient 
testifies to the attractive largeness of Asia and to Greece's comparative smallness. 
Soon after he reaches Palestine, however, he becomes the incorrigible maker of 
an imaginary Orient. He 


alleges that the plains of Canaan appear to best advantage in the works of Poussin and 
Lorrain. From being a "translation/ 1 as he called it earlier, his voyage is now turned into a 
prayer, which exercises his memory, soul, and heart more than it does his eyes, mind, or 

This candid announcement completely unlooses Lamartine's analogic and 
reconstructive (and undisciplined) zeal. Christianity is a religion of imagination and 
recollection, and since Lamartine considers that he typifies the pious believer, he indulges 
himself accordingly. A catalogue of his tendentious "observations" would be 
interminable: a woman he sees reminds him of Haidee in Don Juan; the relationship 
between Jesus and Palestine is like that between Rousseau and Geneva; 
the actual river Jordan is less important than the "mysteries" it gives rise to 
in one's soul; Orientals, and Muslims in particular, are lazy, their politics 
are capricious, passionate, and futureless; another woman reminds him of 
a passage in Atala; neither Tasso nor Chateaubriand (whose antecedent 
travels seem often to harass Lamartine's otherwise heedless egoism) got 
the Holy Land right — and on and on. His pages on Arabic poetry, about 
which he discourses with supreme confidence, betray no discomfort at his 
total ignorance of the language. All that matters to him is that his travels in 
the Orient reveal to him how the Orient is "la terre des cultes, des prodiges, " 
and that he is its appointed poet in the West. With no trace of self irony he 

This Arab land is the land of prodigies; everything sprouts there, and every credulous 
or fanatical man can become a prophet there in his turn. 90 

He has become a prophet merely by the fact of residence in the Orient. 

By the end of his narrative Lamartine has achieved the purpose of his pilgrimage to the 
Holy Sepulchre, that beginning and end point of all time and space. He has internalized 
reality enough to want to retreat from it back into pure contemplation, solitude, 
philosophy, and poetry 91 

Rising above the merely geographical Orient, he is transformed into a latter-day 
Chateaubriand, surveying the East as if it were a personal (or at the very least a French) 

province ready to be disposed of by European powers. From being a traveler and pilgrim 
in real time and space, Lamartine has become a transpersonal ego 


identifying itself in power and consciousness with the whole of Europe. What he sees 
before him is the Orient in the process of ite inevitable future dismemberment being 
taken over and consecrated by European suzerainty. Thus in Lamartine's climactic 
vision the Orient is reborn as European right-to-power over it: 

This sort of suzerainty thus defined, and consecrated as a European right, will consist 
principally in the right to occupy one or another territory, as well as the coasts, in 
order to found there either free cities, or European colonies, or commercial ports of 

Nor does Lamartine stop at this. He climbs still higher to the point where the Orient, what 
he has just seen and where he has just been, is reduced to "nations without territory, 
patrie, rights, laws or security . . . waiting anxiously for the shelter" of European 
occupation 9 2 

In all the visions of the Orient fabricated by Orientalism there is no recapitulation, 
literally, as entire as this one. For Lamartine a pilgrimage to the Orient has involved not 
only the penetration of the Orient by an imperious consciousness but also the virtual 
elimination of that consciousness as a result of its accession to a kind of impersonal and 
continental control over the Orient. The Orient's actual identity is withered away into a set 
of consecutive fragments, Lamartine's recollective observations, which are later to be 
gathered up and brought forth as a restated Napoleonic dream of world hegemony. 
Whereas Lane's human identity disappeared into the scientific grid of his Egyptian 
classifications, Lamartine's consciousness transgresses its normal bounds completely. In 
so doing, it repeats Chateaubriand's journey and his visions only to move on beyond them, 
into the sphere of the Shelleyan and Napoleonic abstract, by which worlds and 
populations are moved about like so many cards on a table. What remains of the Orient in 
Lamartine's prose is not very substantial at all. Its geopolitical reality has been overlaid 
with his plans for it; the sites he has visited, the people he has met, the experiences he has 
had, are reduced to a few echoes in his pompous generalizations. The last traces of 
particularity have been rubbed out in the "resume politique" with which the Voyage en 

Orient concludes. 

Against the transcendent guasi- national egoism of Lamartine we must place Nerval and 
Flaubert in contrast. Their Oriental works play a substantial role in their total oeuvre, a 
much greater one than Lamartine's imperialist Voyage in his oeuvre. Y et both of them, 


like Lamartine, came to the Orient prepared for it by voluminous reading in the classics, 
modem literature, and academic Oriental- ism; about this preparation Flaubert was much 
more candid than Nerval, who in Les Filles du feu says disingenuously that all he 
knew about the Orient was a half-forgotten memory from his school education .93 
The evidence of his Voyage en Orient flatly contradicts this, although it shows a 
much less systematic and disciplined knowledge of Orientalia than Flaubert's. More 
important however, is the fact that both writers (Nerval in 1842-1843 and 
Flaubert in 1849-1850) had greater personal and aesthetic uses for their visits to 
the Orient than any other nineteenth-century travelers. It is not inconsequential that 
both were geniuses to begin with, and that both were thoroughly steeped in aspects 
of European culture that encouraged a sympathetic, if perverse, vision of the Orient. 
Nerval and Flaubert belonged to that community of thought and feeling described by 
Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony, a community for which the imagery of exotic 
places, the cultivation of sadomasochistic tastes (what Praz calls algolagnia), a 
fascination with the macabre, with the notion of a Fatal Woman, with secrecy and 
occultism, all combined to enable literary work of the sort produced by Gautier 
(himself fascinated by the Orient), Swinburne, Baudelaire, and Huysmans.94 For 
Nerval and Flaubert, such female figures as Cleopatra, Salome, and Isis have a 
special significance; and it was by no means accidental that in their work on the 
Orient, as well as in their visits to it, they pre-eminently valorized and enhanced 
female types of this legendary, richly suggestive, and associative sort. 

In addition to their general cultural attitudes, Nerval and Flaubert brought to the Orient 
a personal mythology whose concerns and even structure required the Orient. Both men 
were touched by the Oriental renaissance as Quinetand others had de-fined it: they sought 
the invigoration provided by the fabulously antique and the exotic. For each, however, the 
Oriental pilgrimage was a quest for something relatively personal: Flaubert seeking a 
"homeland," as Jean Bruneau has called it,9/ in the locales of the, origin of religions, 
visions, and classical antiguity; Nerval seeking — or rather following— the traces of his 
personal sentiments and dreams, like Sterne's Y orick before him. For both writers the 
Orien was a place therefore of deja vu, and for both, with the artistic economy typical of 
all major aesthetic imaginations, it was a pla 
often returned to after the actual voyage had been completed. F 


neither of them was the Orient exhausted by their uses of it, even if there is often a guality 
of disappointment, disenchantment, or demystification to be found in their Oriental 

The paramount importance of Nerval and Flaubert to a study such as this of the 
Orientalist mind in the nineteenth century is that they produced work that is connected to 
and depends upon the kind of Orientalism we have so far discussed, yet remains 
independent from it. First there is the matter of their work's scope. Nerval produced his 

Voyage en Orient as a collection of travel notes, sketches, stories, and fragments; his 
preoccupation with the Orient is to be found as well in Les Chimeres, in his letters, in 
some of his fiction and other prose writings. Flaubert's writing both before and after his 
visit is soaked in the Orient. The Orient appears in the Carnets de Voyage and in the 
first version of La Tentation de Saint Antoine (and in the two later versions), as well as 
in Herodias, Salammbo, and the numerous reading notes, scenarios, and unfinished 
stories still available to us, which have been very intelligently studied by Bruneau.9" 
There are echoes of Orientalism in Flaubert's other major novels, too. In all, both Nerval 
and Flaubert continually elaborated their Oriental material and absorbed it variously into 
the special structures of their personal aesthetic projects. This is not to say, however, that 
the Orient is incidental to their work. Rather— by contrast with such writers as Lane (from 
whom both men borrowed shamelessly), Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Renan, Sacy— 
their Orient was not so much grasped, appropriated, reduced, or codified as lived in, 
exploited aesthetically and imaginatively as a roomy place full of possibility. What 
mattered to them was the structure of their work as an independent, aesthetic, and 
personal fact, and not the ways by which, if one wanted to, one could effectively dominate 
or set down the Orient graphically. Their egos never absorbed the Orient, nor totally 
identified the Orient with documentary and textual knowledge of it (with official 
Orientalism, in short). 

On the one hand, therefore, the scope of their Oriental work exceeds the limitations 
imposed by orthodox Orientalism. On the other hand, the subject of their work is more 
than Oriental or Orientalistic (even though they do their own Orientalizing of the Orient); 
it quite consciously plays with the limitations and the challenges presented to them by the 
rient and by knowledge about it. Nerval, for example, believes that he has to infuse what 
he sees with vitality since, he says, 


Le ciel et la mer sont toujours la; le del d'O rient, la mer d'lonie se donnent chague 
matin le saint baiser d'amour; mais la terre est morte, morte sous la main de 
l'homme, et les dieux se sont envoles! 

(The sky and the sea are still there; the Oriental sky and the Ionian sky give each 
other the sacred kiss of love each morning; but the earth is dead, dead because man 
has killed it, and the gods have fled.) 
If the Orient is to live at all, now that its gods have fled, it must be through his fertile 
efforts. In the Voyage en Orient the narrative consciousness is a constantly energetic 
voice, moving through the labyrinths of Oriental existence armed— Nerval tells us— with 
two Arabic words, tayeb, the word for assent, and maftsch, the word for rejection. These 
two words enable him selectively to confront the antithetical Oriental world, to confront 
it and draw out from it its secret principles. He is predisposed to recognize that the Orient 
is "le pays des reves et de l'illusion," which, like the veils he sees everywhere in Cairo, 
conceal a deep, rich fund of female sexuality. Nerval repeats Lane's experience of 

discovering the necessity for marriage in an Islamic society, but unlike Lane he does 
attach him-self to a woman. His liaison with Zaynab is more than socially obligatory: 

I must unite with a guileless young girl who is of this sacred soil, which is our first 
homeland; I must bathe myself in the vivifying springs of humanity, from which 
poetry and the faith of our fathers flowed forth! ... I would like to lead my life like a 
novel, and I willingly place myself in the situation of one of those active and resolute 
heroes who wish at all costs to create a drama around them, a knot of complexity, in a 
word, action." 

Nerval invests himself in the Orient, producing not so much a novelistic narrative as an 
everlasting intention— never fully realized —to fuse mind with physical action. This 
antinarrative, this para- pilgrimage, is a swerving away from discursive finality of the sort 
envisioned by previous writers on the Orient. 

Connected physically and sympathetically to the Orient, Nerval wanders informally 
through its riches and its cultural (and principally feminine) ambience, locating in Egypt 
especially that maternal "center, at once mysterious and accessible" from which 
all wisdom derives.^ 5 His impressions, dreams, and memories alter, nate with sections 
of ornate, mannered narrative done in the Oriental style; the hard realities of travel— in 
Egypt, Lebanon, 


Turkey— mingle with the design of a deliberate digression, as if Nerval were repeating 
Chateaubriand's Itineraire using an under-ground, though far less imperial and 
obvious, route. Michel Butor puts it beautifully: 

To Nerval's eyes, Chateaubriand's journey remains a voyage along the surface, while 
his own is calculated, utilizing annex centers, lobbies of ellipses englobing the 
principal centers; this allows him to place in evidence, by parallax, all the dimensions 
of the snare harbored by the normal centers. Wandering the streets or environs of 
Cairo, Beirut, or Constantinople, Nerval is always lying in wait for anything that will 
allow him to sense a cavern extending beneath Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem [the 
principal cities of Chateaubriand's Itineraire]. . . . 

Just as the three cities of Chateaubriand are in communication - Rome, with its 
emperors and popes, reassembling the heritage, the testament, of Athens and 
Jerusalem- the caverns of Nerval ... become engaged in intercourse ae 

Even the two large plotted episodes, "The Tale of the Caliph Hakim" and "The Tale of 
the Queen of the Morning," that will supposedly convey a durable, solid narrative 
discourse seem to push Nerval away from "overground" finality, edging him further and 
further into a haunting internal world of paradox and dream. Both tales deal with multiple 
identity, one of whose motifs- -explicitly stated— is incest, and both return us to Nerval's 
guintessential Oriental world of uncertain, fluid dreams infinitely multiplying themselves 
past resolution, definiteness, materiality. When the journey is completed and Nerval 

arrives in Malta on his way back to the European mainland, he realizes that he is now in 
"le pays du froid et des orages, et deja 1 'Orient n'est plus pour moi qu'un de ses rives du 
matin auxquels viennent bientot succeder les ennuis du jour."lO0 His Voyage 
incorporates numerous pages copied out of Lane's Modern Egyptians, but even their 
lucid confidence seems to dissolve in the endlessly decomposing, cavernous element 
which is Nerval's Orient. 

H is camet for the Voyage supplies us, I think, with two perfect texts for understanding 
how his Orient untied itself from anything resembling an Orientalist conception of the 
Orient, even though his work depends on Orientalism to a certain extent. First, his 
appetites strive to gather in experience and memory indiscriminately: "Je sens le besoin de 
m'assimiler toute la nature (femmes Etrangeres) . Souvenirs d'y avoir vecu." The second 
elaborates a bit 


on the first: "Les reves et la folie ... Le desir de l'Orient. L'Europe s'eleve. Le reve se 
realise ... Elle. Je l'avais fuie, je l'avais perdue ... Vaisseau d'Orient."101 The Orient 
symbolizes Nerval's dream-quest and the fugitive woman central to it, both as desire and 
as loss. "Vaisseau d'Orient"— vessel of the Orient— refers enigmatic- ally either to the 
woman as the vessel carrying the Orient, or possibly, to Nerval's own vessel for the 
Orient, his prose voyage. In either case, the Orient is identified with commemorative 

How else can we explain in the Voyage, a work of so original and individual a mind, 
the lazy use of large swatches of Lane, incorporated without a murmur by Nerval as his 
descriptions of the Orient? It is as if having failed both in his search for a stable Oriental 
reality and in his intent to give systematic order to his re- presentation of the Orient, 
Nerval was employing the borrowed authority of a canonized Orientalist text. After his 
voyage the earth remained dead, and aside from its brilliantly crafted but fragmented 
embodiments in the Voyage, his self was no less drugged and worn out than before. 
Therefore the Orient seemed retrospectively to belong to a negative realm, in which 
failed narratives, disordered chronicles, mere transcription of scholarly texts, were its 
only possible vessel. At least Nerval did not try to save his project by wholeheartedly 
giving himself up to French designs on the Orient, although he did resort to Orientalism 
to make some of his points. 

In contrast to Nerval's negative vision of an emptied Orient, Flaubert's is eminently 
corporeal. His travel notes and letters reveal a man scrupulously reporting events, 
persons, and settings, delight-ing in their bizarreries, never attempting to reduce the 
incongruities before him. In what he writes (or perhaps because he writes), the premium 
is on the eye-catching, translated into self-consciously worked-out phrases: for example, 
"Inscriptions and birddroppings are the only two things in Egypt that give any indication 
of life." 1^4 His tastes run to the perverse, whose form is often a combination of extreme 

animality, even of grotesque nastiness, with extreme and sometimes intellectual 
refinement. Y et this particular kind of perversity was not something merely observed, it 
was also studied, and came to represent an essential element in Flaubert's fiction. The 
familiar oppositions, or ambivalences, as Harry Levin has called them, that roam through 
Flaubert's writing— flesh versus mind, Salome versus Saint John, Salammbo versus Saint 
Anthonyl03_ are powerfully validated by what he saw in the Orient, what, given 


his eclectic learning, he could see there of the partnership between knowledge and 
carnal grossness. In Upper Egypt he was taken with ancient Egyptian art, its preciosity 
and deliberate lubricity: " so dirty pictures existed even so far back in antiquity?" How 
much more the Orient really answered questions than it raised them is evident in the 

You (Flaubert's mother] ask me whether the Orient is up to what I imagined it to be. 
Y es, it is; and more than that, it extends far beyond the narrow idea I had of it. I have 
found, clearly delineated, everything that was hazy in my mind. Facts have taken the 
place of suppositions— so excellently so that it is often as though I were suddenly 
coming upon old forgotten dreams.104 

Flaubert's work is so complex and so vast as to make any simple account of his 
Oriental writing very sketchy and hopelessly incomplete. Nevertheless, in the context 
created by other writers on the Orient, a certain number of main features in Flaubert's 
Orientalism can fairly be described. Making allowances for the difference between 
candidly personal writing (letters, travel notes, diary jottings) and formally aesthetic 
writing (novels and tales), we can still re-mark that Flaubert's Oriental perspective is 
rooted in an eastward and southward search for a "visionary alternative," which "meant 
gorgeous color, in contrast to the greyish tonality of the French provincial landscape. It 
meant exciting spectacle instead of hum-drum routine, the perennially mysterious in 
place of the all too familiar. " 7 05 When he actually visited it, however, this Orient im- 
pressed him with its decrepitude and senescence. Like every other Orientalism, then, 
Flaubert's is revivalist: he must bring the Orient to life, he must deliver it to himself and 
to his readers, and it is his experience of it in books and on the spot, and his language for 
it, that will do the trick. His novels of the Orient accordingly were labored historical and 
learned reconstructions. Carthage in Salammbo and the products of Saint Anthony's 
fevered imagination were authentic fruits of Flaubert's wide reading in the (mainly 
Western) sources of Oriental religion, warfare, ritual, and societies. 

What the formal aesthetic work retains, over and above the marks of Flaubert's 
voracious readings and recensions, are memories of Oriental travel. The Bibliotheque des 
idees revues has it that an Orientalist is "un homme qui a beaucoup voyag8,"108 nly 
unlike most other such travelers Flaubert put his voyages to ingenious use. Most of his 
experiences are conveyed in theatrical form. He is 


interested not only in the content of what he sees but— like Renan — in how he sees, the 
way by which the Orient sometimes horribly but always attractively, seems to present 
itself to him. Flaubert is its best audience: 
... Kasr el-'Aini Hospital. Well maintained. The work of Clot Bey— his hand is still 
to be seen. Pretty cases of syphilis; in the ward of Abbas's Mamelukes, several have 
it in the arse. At a sign from the doctor, they all stood up on their beds, undid their 
trouserbelts (it was like army drill), and opened their anuses with their fingers to 
show their chancres. Enormous infundibula; one had a growth of hair inside his anus. 
One old man's prick entirely devoid of skin; I recoiled from the stench. A rachitic: 
hands curved backward, nails as long as claws; one could see the bone structure of his 
torso as clearly as a skeleton; the rest of his body, too, was fantastically thin, and his 
head was ringed with whitish leprosy. 

Dissecting room: ... On the table an Arab cadaver, wide open; beautiful black 
hair. ...107 

The lurid detail of this scene is related to many scenes in Flaubert's novels, in which 
illness is presented to us as if in a clinical theater. His fascination with dissection and 
beauty recalls, for instance, the final scene of Salammbo, culminating in Matho's 
ceremonial death. In such scenes, sentiments of repulsion or sympathy are repressed 
entirely; what matters is the correct rendering of exact detail. 

The most celebrated moments in Flaubert's Oriental travel have to do with Kuchuk 
Hanem, a famous Egyptian dancer and courtesan he encountered in Wadi Haifa. He had 
read in Lane about the almehs and the khawals, dancing girls and boys respectively, but 
it was his imagination rather than Lane's that could immediately grasp as well as enjoy the 
almost metaphysical paradox of the almeh's profession and the meaning of her name. (In 
Victory, Joseph Conrad was to repeat Flaubert's observation by making his musician 
heroine— Alma— irresistibly attractive and dangerous to Axel Heyst.) Alemah in Arabic 
means a learned woman. It was the name given to women in conservative eighteenth- 
century Egyptian society who were accomplished reciters of poetry. By the mid- 
nineteenth century the title was used as a sort of guild name for dancers who were also 
prostitutes, and such was Kuchuk Hanem, whose dance "LAbeille" Flaubert watched 
before he slept with her. She was surely the prototype of several of his novels' female 
characters in her learned sensuality, delicacy, and (accord- 


ing to Flaubert) mindless coarseness. What he especially liked about her was that she 
seemed to place no demands on him, while the "nauseating odor" of her bedbugs mingled 
enchantingly with "the scent of her skin, which was dripping with sandalwood." After his 
voyage, he had written Louise Colet reassuringly that "the oriental woman is no more than 
a machine: she makes no distinction between one man and another man." Kuchuk's dumb 
and irreducible sexuality allowed Flaubert's mind to wander in ruminations whose 
haunting power over him reminds us somewhat of Deslauriers and Fr0eric Moreau at the 
end of 1 'Education sentimentale: 

As for me, I scarcely shut my eyes. Watching that beautiful creature asleep (she 
snored, her head against my arm: I had slipped my forefinger under her necklace), my 
night was one long, in- finitely intense reverie— that was why I stayed. I thought of my 
nights in Paris brothels— a whole series of old memories came back— and I thought 
of her, of her dance, of her voice as she sang songs that for me were without meaning 
and even without distinguishable words.308 

The Oriental woman is an occasion and an opportunity for Flaubert's musings; he is 
entranced by her self-sufficiency, by her emotional carelessness, and also by what, lying 
next to him, she allows him to think. Less a woman than a display of impressive but 
verbally inexpressive femininity, Kuchuk is the prototype of Flaubert's Salammb8 and 
Salome, as well as of all the versions of carnal female temptation to which his Saint 
Anthony is subject. Like the Queen of Sheba (who also danced "The Bee") she could 

say— were she able to speak— "Je ne suis pas une femme, je suis un monde. Looked at 

from another angle Kuchuk is a disturbing symbol of fecundity, peculiarly Oriental in her 
luxuriant and seemingly un- bounded sexuality. Her home near the upper reaches of the 
Nile occupied a position structurally similar to the place where the veil of Tanit— the 
goddess described as Omnifeconde—is concealed in Salammb6. 10 Yet like Tanit, 
Salome, and SalammbS herself, Kuchuk was doomed to remain barren, corrupting, 
without issue. How much she and the Oriental world she lived in came to intensify for 
Flaubert his own sense of barrenness is indicated in the follow-ing: 

We have a large orchestra, a rich palette, a variety of resources. We know many more 
tricks and dodges, probably, than were ever known before. No, what we lack is the 
intrinsic principle, the soul 


of the thing, the very idea of the subject. We take notes, we make journeys: 
emptiness! emptiness! We become scholars, archaeologists, historians, doctors, 

cobblers, people of taste. What is the good of all that? Where is the heart, the verve, 
the sap? Where to start from? Where to go? We're good at sucking, we play a lot of 
tongue-games, we pet for hours: but the real thing! To ejaculate, beget the child! 1 " 
Woven through all of Flaubert's Oriental experiences, exciting or disappointing, is an 
almost uniform association between the Orient and sex. In making this association 
Flaubert was neither the first nor the most exaggerated instance of a remarkably persistent 
motif in Western attitudes to the Orient. And indeed, the motif itself is singularly 
unvaried, although Flaubert's genius may have done more than anyone else's could have to 
give it artistic dignity. Why the Orient seems still to suggest not only fecundity but sexual 
promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies, is 
something on which one could speculate: it is not the province of my analysis here, alas, 
despite its freguently noted appearance. Nevertheless one must acknowledge its 
importance as something eliciting complex responses, sometimes even a frightening self- 
discovery, in the Orientalists, and Flaubert was an interesting case in point. 

The Orient threw him back on his own human and technical resources. It did not 
respond, just as Kuchuk did not, to his presence. Standing before its ongoing life Flaubert, 
like Lane before him, felt his detached powerlessness, perhaps also his self- induced 
unwillingness, to enter and become part of what he saw. This of course was Flaubert's 
perennial problem; it had existed before he went East, and it remained after the visit. 
Flaubert admitted the difficulty, the antidote to which was in his work (especially in an 
Oriental work like La Tentation de Saint Antoine) to stress the form of encyclopedic 
presentation of material at the expense of human engagement in life. Indeed, Saint 
Anthony is nothing if not a man for whom reality is a series of books, spectacles, and 
pageants unrolling temptingly and at a distance before his eyes. All of Flaubert's immense 
learning is structured— as Michel Foucault has tellingly noted— like a theatrical, fantastic 
library, parading before the anchorite's gaze; 1 12 residually, the parade carries in its form 
Flaubert's memories of Kasr el'Aini (the syphilitics' army drill) and Kuchuk's dance. More 
to the point, however, is that Saint Anthony 


is a celibate to whom temptations are primarily sexual. After putting up with every sort of 
dangerous charm, he is finally given a glimpse into the biological processes of life; he is 
delirious at being able to see life being born, a scene for which Flaubert felt himself to be 
incompetent during his Oriental sojourn. Yet because Anthony is delirious, we are meant 
to read the scene ironically. What is granted to him at the end, the desire to become 
matter, to become life, is at best a desire— whether realizable and fulfillable or not, we 
cannot know. 

Despite the energy of his intelligence and his enormous power of intellectual 
absorption, Flaubert felt in the Orient, first, that "the more you concentrate on it [in 
detail] the less you grasp the whole," and then, second, that "the pieces fall into place of 
them-selves."' At best, this produces a spectacular form, but it remains barred to the 

Westerner's full participation in it. On one level this was a personal predicament for 
Flaubert, and he devised means, some of which we have discussed, for dealing with it. 
On a more general level, this was an epistemological difficulty for which, of course, the 
discipline of Orientalism existed. At one moment dur-ing his Oriental tour he considered 
what the epistemological challenge could give rise to. Without what he called spirit and 
style, the mind could "get lost in archaeology": he was referring to a sort of regimented 
antiquarianism by which the exotic and the strange would get formulated into lexicons, 
codes, and finally cliches of the kind he was to ridicule in the Dictionnaire des idees 
revues. Under the influence of such an attitude the world would be "regulated like a 
college. Teachers will be the law. Everyone will be in uniform.' As against such an 
imposed discipline, he no doubt felt that his own treatments of exotic material, notably 
the Oriental material he had both experienced and read about for years, were infinitely 
preferable. In those at least there was room for a sense of immediacy, imagination, and 
flair, whereas in the ranks of archaeological tomes everything but "learning" had been 
squeezed out. And more than most novelists Flaubert was acquainted with organized 
learning, its products, and its results: these products are clearly evident in the 
misfortunes ofBouvard and Pecuchet, but they would have been as comically apparent in 
fields like Orientalism, whose textual attitudes belonged to the world of idees revues. 
Therefore one could either construct the world with verve and style, or one could copy It 
tirelessly according to impersonal academic rules of procedure. 


In both cases, with regard to the Orient there was a frank acknowledgment that it was a 
world elsewhere, apart from the ordinary attachments, sentiments, and values of our 
world in the West. 

In all of his novels Flaubert associates the Orient with the escapism of sexual fantasy. 
Emma B ovary and Frederic Moreau pine for what in their drab (or harried) bourgeois 
lives they do not have, and what they realize they want comes easily to their daydreams 
packed inside Oriental cliches: harems, princesses, princes, slaves, veils, dancing girls and 
boys, sherbets, ointments, and so on. The repertoire is familiar, not so much because it 
reminds us of Flaubert's own voyages in and obsession with the Orient, but because, once 
again, the association is clearly made between the Orient and the freedom of licentious 
sex. We may as well recognize that for nineteenth-century Europe, with its increasing 
embourgeoisement, sex had been institutionalized to a very considerable degree. On the 
one hand, there was no such thing as "free" sex, and on the other, sex in society entailed a 
web of legal, moral, even political and economic obligations of a detailed and certainly 
encumbering sort. Just as the various colonial possessions— guite apart from their 
economic benefit to metropolitan Europe— were useful as places to send wayward sons, 
superfluous populations of delinquents , poor people, and other undesirables, so the Orient 
was a place where one could look for sexual experience unobtainable in Europe. Virtually 

no European writer who wrote on or traveled to the Orient in the period after 1800 
exempted himself or herself from this quest: Flaubert, Nerval, "Dirty Dick" Burton, and 
Lane are only the most notable. In the twentieth century one thinks of Gide, Conrad, 
Maugham, and dozens of others. What they looked for often— correctly, I think— was a 
different type of sexuality, perhaps more libertine and less guilt- ridden; but even that 
quest, if repeated by enough people, could (and did) become as regulated and uniform as 
learning itself. In time "Oriental sex" was as standard a commodity as any other available 
in the mass culture, with the result that readers and writers could have it if they wished 
without necessarily going to the Orient. 

It was certainly true that by the middle of the nineteenth century France, no less than 
England and the rest of Europe, had a flourish-ing knowledge industry of the sort that 
Flaubert feared. Great numbers of texts were being produced, and more important, the 
agencies and institutions for their dissemination and propagation were every-where to be 
found. As historians of science and knowledge have 

observed, the organization of scientific and learned fields that took place during the 
nineteenth century was both rigorous and an. enccinpassing. Research became a 
regular activity; there was a regulated exchange of information, and agreement on 
what the problems were as well as consensus on the appropriate paradigms for 
research and its results. 1" The apparatus serving Oriental studies was part of the 
scene, and this was one thing that Flaubert surely had minind when he proclaimed 
that "everyone will be in uniform" An Orientalist was no longer a gated amateur 
enthusiast, or if he was, he woiMliavetimihleljciigtakeismoiislyasasdiQlar. To 
be an Orientalist meant university training in Oriental stwliffi (by 1850 every major 
European university had a fully developed curriculum in one or another of the 
Orientalist disciplines), it meant subvention for one's travel (perhaps by one of the 
Asiatic societies or a geographical eqdoration fund or a government grant), it meant 
publication in accredited f arm (perhaps under the inisintcf a leanic^ society or an 
Oriental translation fund). And both within the guild of Orientalist scholars and to 
the public at large, such uniform accreditation as clothed the work of Orientalist 
scholarship, not personal testimony nor subjectiveinixessionism,ireantSciaioe. 

Added to the oppressive regulation of Oriental matters was the accelerated attention 
paid by the Powers (as the European empires were called) to the Orient, and to the Levant 
in particular. Ever since the Treaty of Chanak of 1806 between the Ottoman Empire and 
Great Britain, the Eastern Question had hovered ever more prominently on Europe's 
Mediterranean horizons. Britain's interests were more substantial in the East than France's, 
but we must not forget Russia's movements into the Orient (Samarkand and Bokhara were 
taken in 1868; the Transcaspian Railroad was being extended systematically), nor 

Germany's and Austria-Hungary's. France's North African interventions, however, were 
not the only components of its Islamic policy. In I860, during the clashes between 
Maronites and Druzes in Lebanon (already predicted by Lamartine and Nerval), France 
supported the Christians, England the Druzes. For standing near the center of all European 
politics in the East was the guestion of minorities, whose "interests" the Powers, each in 
its own way, claimed to protect and represent. Jews, Greek and Russian Orthodox, 
Druzes, Circassians, Armenians, Kurds, the various small Christian sects: all these were 
studied, planned for, designed upon by European Powers improvising as well as 
constructing their Oriental policy. 


I mention such matters simply as a way of keeping vivid the sense of layer upon layer 
of interests, official learning, institutional pressure, that covered the Orient as a subject 
matter and as a territory during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Even the most 
innocuous travel book— and there were literally hundreds written after mid- century 16— 
contributed to the density of public awareness of the Orient; a heavily marked dividing 
line separated the delights, miscellaneous exploits, and testimonial portentousness of 
individual pilgrims in the East (which included some American voyagers, among them 
Mark Twain and Herman Melville') from the authoritative reports of scholarly travelers, 
missionaries, governmental functionaries, and other expert witnesses. This dividing line 
existed clearly in Flaubert's mind, as it must have for any individual consciousness that 
did not have an innocent perspective on the Orient as a terrain for literary exploitation. 

English writers on the whole had a more pronounced and harder sense of what Oriental 
pilgrimages might entail than the French. India was a valuably real constant in this sense, 
and therefore all the territory between the Mediterranean and India acquired a cor- 
respondingly weighty importance. Romantic writers like Byron and Scott consequently 
had a political vision of the Near Orient and a very combative awareness of how relations 
between the Orient and Europe would have to be conducted. Scott's historical sense in 
The Talisman and Count Robert of Paris allowed him to set these novels in Crusader 
Palestine and eleventh- century Byzantium, respectively, without at the same time 
detracting from his canny political appreciation of the way powers act abroad. The failure 
of Disraeli's Tancred can easily be ascribed to its author's perhaps over- developed 
knowledge of Oriental politics and the British Establishment's network of interests; 
Tancred's ingenuous desire to go to Jerusalem very soon mires Disraeli in ludicrously 
complex descriptions of how a Lebanese tribal chieftain tries to manage Druzes, 
Muslims, Jews, and Europeans to his political advantage. By the end of the novel 
Tancred's Eastern guest has more or less disappeared because there is nothing in 
Disraeli's material vision of Oriental realities to nourish the pilgrim's somewhat 
capricious im-pulses. Even George Eliot, who never visited the Orient herself, could not 

sustain the Jewish equivalent of an Oriental pilgrimage in Daniel Deronda (1876) 
without straying into the complexities of British realities as they decisively affected the 
Eastern project. 


Thus whenever the Oriental motif for the English writer was not principally a stylistic 
matter (as in FitzGerald'S Rubdiyat or in Morier's Adventures of Hajji Baba of 
Ispahan), it forced him to confront a set of imposing resistances to his individual fantasy. 
There are no English equivalents to the Oriental works by Chateaubriand, Lamartine, 
Nerval, and Flaubert, just as Lane's early Orientalist counterparts— Sacy and Renan— 
were considerably more aware than he was of how much they were creating what they 
wrote about. The form of such works as Kinglake's Eothen (1844) and Burton's Personal 
Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah (1855—1856) is rigidly 

chronological and dutifully linear, as if what the authors were describing was a shopping 
trip to an Oriental bazaar rather than an adventure. Kinglake's undeservedly famous and 
popular work is a pathetic catalogue of pompous ethnocentrisms and tiringly nondescript 
accounts of the Englishman's East. His ostensible purpose in the book is to prove that 
travel in the Orient is important to "moulding of your character— that is, your very 
identity," but in fact this turns out to be little more than solidifying "your" anti-Semitism, 
xenophobia, and general all-purpose race prejudice. We are told, for instance, that the 
Arabian Nights is too lively and inventive a work to have been created by a "mere 
Oriental, who, for creative purposes, is a thing dead and dry— a mental mummy." 
Although Kinglake blithely confesses to no knowledge of any Oriental language, he is not 
constrained by ignorance from making sweeping generalizations about the Orient, its 
culture, mentality, and society. Many of the attitudes he repeats are canonical, of course, 
but it is interesting how little the experience of actually seeing the Orient affected his 
opinions. Like many other travelers he is more interested in remaking himself and the 
Orient (dead and dry— a mental mummy) than he is in seeing what there is to be seen. 
Every being he encounters merely corroborates his belief that Easterners are best dealt 
with when intimidated, and what better instrument of intimidation than a sovereign 
Western ego? En route to Suez across the desert, alone, he glories in his self-sufficiency 
and power "I was here in this African desert, and I myself and no other, had charge 
of my life. " le It is .for the comparatively useless purpose of letting Kinglake take hold of 
him- self that the Orient serves him. 

Like Lamartine before him, Kinglake comfortably identified his superior consciousness 
with his nation's, the difference being that 


in the Englishman's case his government was closer to settling in the rest of the Orient 

than France was— for the time being. Flaubert saw this with perfect accuracy: 

It seems to me almost impossible that within a short time England won't become 

mistress of Egypt. She already keeps Aden full of her troops, the crossing of Suez 

will make it very easy for the redcoats to arrive in Cairo one fine morning— the news 

will reach France two weeks later and everyone will be very surprised! Re- member 

my prediction: at the first sign of trouble in Europe, England will take Egypt Russia 

will take Constantinople, and we, in retaliation, will get ourselves massacred in the 

mountains of 

Syria. n a 

For all their vaunted individuality Kinglake's views express a public and national will 

over the Orient; his ego is the instrument of this will's expression, not by any means its 

master. There is no evidence in his writing that he struggled to create a novel opinion of 

the Orient; neither his knowledge nor his personality was adeguate for that, and this is the 

great difference between him and Richard Burton. As a traveler, Burton was a real 

adventurer; as a scholar, he could hold his own with any academic Orientalist in Europe; 

as a character, he was fully aware of the necessity of combat between himself and the 

uniformed teachers who ran Europe and European knowledge with such precise 

anonymity and scientific firmness. Everything Burton wrote testifies to this 

combativeness, rarely with more candid contempt for his opponents than in the preface to 

his translation of the Arabian Nights. He seems to have taken a special sort of infantile 

pleasure in demonstrating that he knew more than any professional scholar, that he had 

acguired many more details than they had, that he could handle the material with more wit 

and tact and freshness than they. 

As I said earlier, Burton's work based on his personal experience occupies a median 
position between Orientalist genres represented on the one hand by Lane and on the other 
by the French writers I have discussed. His Oriental narratives are structured as 
pilgrimages and, in the case of The Land ofMidian Revisited, pilgrimages for a second 
time to sites of sometimes religious, sometimes political and economic significance. He is 
present as the principal character of these works, as much the center of fantastic adventure 
and even fantasy (like the French writers) as the authoritative commentator and detached 
Westerner on Oriental society and customs (like Lane). He has been rightly considered the 
first in a series of fiercely 

individualistic Victorian travelers in the East (the others being Blunt and Doughty) by 
Thomas Assad, who bases his work on the distance in tone and intelligence between his 

writers' work and SUCh works as Austen Layard'S Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh 
and Babylon (1851), Eliot Warburton's celebrated The Crescent and the Cross 
( 1844 ) , Robert Curzon's Visit to the Monasteries of the Levant ( 1849 ) , and (a work 

he does not mention) Thackeray's moderately amusing Notes of a Journey from 
Cornhill to Grand Cairo (1845). 120 Yet Burton's legacy is more complex than 
individualism precisely because in his writing we can find exemplified the struggle 
between individualism and a strong feeling of national identification with Europe 
(specifically England) as an imperial power in the East. Assad sensitively points out that 
Burton was an imperialist for all his sympathetic self-association with the Arabs; but 
what is more relevant is that Burton thought of himself both as a rebel against authority 
(hence his identification with the East as a place of free-dom from Victorian moral 
authority) and as a potential agent of authority in the East. It is the manner of that 
coexistence, between two antagonistic roles for himself, that is of interest. 

The problem finally reduces itself to the problem of knowledge of the Orient, which is 
why a consideration of Burton's Orientalism ought to conclude our account of Orientalist 
structures and re-structures in most of the nineteenth century. As a traveling ad-venturer 
Burton conceived of himself as sharing the life of the people in whose lands he lived. Far 
more successfully than T. E. Lawrence, he was able to become an Oriental; he not only 
spoke the language flawlessly, he was able to penetrate to the heart of Islam and, 
disguised as an Indian Muslim doctor, accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca. Yet Burton's 
most extraordinary characteristic is, I believe, that he was preternaturally knowledgeable 
about the degree to which human life in society was governed by rules and codes. All of 
his vast information about the Orient, which dots every page he wrote, reveals that he 
knew that the Orient in general and Islam in particular were systems of information, 
behavior, and belief, that to be an Oriental or a Muslim was to know certain things in a 
certain way, and that these were of course subject to history, geography, and the 
development of society in circumstances specific to it. Thus his accounts of travel in the 
East reveal to us a consciousness aware of these things and able to steer a narrative course 
through them: no man who did not know Arabic and islam as well as Burton could have 
gone as far as he did in actually becom- 

ing a pilgrim to Mecca and Medina. So what we read in his prose is the history of a 
consciousness negotiating its way through an alien culture by virtue of having 
successfully absorbed its systems of information and behavior. Burton's freedom was in 
having shaken himself loose of his European origins enough to be able to live as an 
Oriental. Every scene in the Pilgrimage reveals him as winning out over the obstacles 
confronting him, a foreigner, in a strange place. He was able to do this because he had 
sufficient knowledge of an alien society for this purpose. 

In no writer on the Orient so much as in Burton do we feel that generalizations about 
the Oriental— for example, the pages on the notion of Kay/ for the Arab or on how 
education is suited to the Oriental mind (pages that are clearly meant as a rebuttal to 
Macaulay's simple-minded assertions)^ 1 — are the result of knowledge acguired about the 
Orient by living there, actually seeing it firsthand, truly trying to see Oriental life from the 
viewpoint of a person immersed in it. Yet what is never far from the surface of Burton's 
prose is another sense it radiates, a sense of assertion and domination over all the 

complexities of Oriental life. Every one of Burton's footnotes, whether in the Pilgrimage 
or in his translation of the Arabian Nights (the same is true of his "Terminal Essay" for 
itl22) was mean t to be testimony to his victory over the some- times scandalous system of 
Oriental knowledge, a system he had mastered by himself. For even in Burton's prose we 
are never directly given the Orient; everything about it is presented to us by way of 
Burton's knowledgeable (and often prurient) interventions, which remind us repeatedly 
how he had taken over the management of Oriental life for the purposes of his narrative. 
And it is this fact —for in the Pilgrimage it is a fact— that elevates Burton's con- 
sciousness to a position of supremacy over the Orient. In that position his individuality 
perforce encounters, and indeed merges with, the voice of Empire, which is itself a system 
of rules, codes, and concrete epistemological habits. Thus when Burton tells us in the 
Pilgrimage that "Egypt is a treasure to be won," that it "is the most tempting prize which 
the East holds out to the ambition of Europe, not excepted even the Golden Horn,' we 
must recognize how the voice of the highly idiosyncratic master of Oriental knowledge 
informs, feeds into the voice of European ambition for rule over the Orient. 

Burton's two voices blending into one presage the work of Orientalists- cum- imperial 
agents like T. E. Lawrence, Edward 


Henry Palmer, D. G. Hogarth, Gertrude Bell, Ronald Storm, St. John Philby, and 
William G if ford Palgrave, to name only soma English writers. The double-pronged 
intention of Burton's work Is at the same time to use his Oriental residence for 
scientific observation and not easily to sacrifice his individuality to that end. The 
second of these two intentions leads him inevitably to submit to the first because, as 
will appear increasingly obvious, he is a European for whom such knowledge of 
Oriental society as he has is possible only for a European, with a European's self- 
awareness of society as a collection of rules and practices. In other words, to be a 
European in the Orient, and to be one knowledgeably, one must see and know the 
Orient as a domain ruled over by Europe. Oriental-ism, which is the system of 
European or Western knowledge about the Orient, thus becomes synonymous with 
European domination of the Orient, and this domination effectively overrules even 
the eccentricities of Burton's personal style. 

Burton took the assertion of personal, authentic, sympathetic, and humanistic 
knowledge of the Orient as far as it would go in its struggle with the archive of official 
European knowledge about the Orient. In the history of nineteenth-century attempts to 
restore, restructure, and redeem all the various provinces of knowledge and life, 
Orientalism- like all the other Romantically inspired learned disciplines- contributed an 
important share. For not only did the field evolve from a system of inspired observation 

into what Flau-bert called a regulated college of learning, it also reduced the personalities 
of even its most redoubtable individualists like Burton to the role of imperial scribe. From 
being a place, the Orient be- came a domain of actual scholarly rule and potential imperial 
sway. The role of the early Orientalists like Renan, Sacy, and Lane was to provide their 
work and the Orient together with a raise en scene; later Orientalists, scholarly or 
imaginative, took firm hold of the scene. Still later, as the scene reguired management, it 
became clear that institutions and governments were better at the game of management 
than individuals. This is the legacy of nineteenth- century Orientalism to which the 
twentieth century has become inheritor. We must now investigate as exactly as possible 
the way twentieth- century Orientalism— inaugurated by the long process of the West's 
occupation of the Orient from the 1880s on— successfully con-trolled freedom and 
knowledge; in short, the way Orientalism was fully formalized into a repeatedly produced 
copy of itself. 

3. Orientalism Now 

On les apercevait tenant kurs idoles entre leurs bras comme de grands enfants 

— Gustave Flaubert, La Tentation de Saint Antoine 

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have 
a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when 
you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; 
not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea— something 
you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. ... 
— Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness 

/Latent and Manifest Orientalism 

In Chapter One, I tried to indicate the scope of thought and action covered by 
the word Orientalism, using as privileged types the British and French experiences of 
and with the Near Orient, Islam, and the Arabs. In those experiences I discerned an 
intimate, perhaps even the most intimate, and rich relationship between Occident and 
Orient. Those experiences were part of a much wider European or Western 
relationship with the Orient, but what seems to have influenced Orientalism most was 
a fairly constant sense of confrontation felt by Westerners dealing with the East. The 
boundary notion of East and West, the varying degrees of projected inferiority and 
strength, the range of work done, the kinds of characteristic features ascribed to the 
Orient: all these testify to a willed imaginative and geographic division made between 
East and West, and lived through during many centuries. In Chapter Two my focus 
narrowed a good deal. I was interested in the earliest phases of what I call modern 

Orientalism, which began during the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early 
years of the nineteenth. Since I did not intend my study to become a narrative 
chronicle of.the development of Oriental studies in the modern West, I proposed 
instead an account of the rise, development, and institutions of Orientalism as they 
were formed against a back-ground of intellectual, cultural, and political history until 
about 1870 or 1880. Although my interest in Orientalism there included a decently 
ample variety of scholars and imaginative writers, I cannot claim by any means to have 
presented more than a portrait of the typical structures (and their ideological 
tendencies) constituting the field, its associations with other fields, and the work of 
some of its most influential scholars. My principal operating assumptions were — and 
continue to be — that fields of learning, as much as the works of even the most 
eccentric artist, are con-strained and acted upon by society, by cultural traditions, by 
worldly circumstance, and by stabilizing influences like schools, libraries, and 
governments; moreover, that both learned and imaginative 


writing are never free, but are limited in their imagery, assumptions, and 
intentions; and finally, that the advances made by a "science" like Orientalism in 
its academic form are less objectively true than we often like to think. In short, my 
study hitherto has tried to describe the economy that makes Orientalism a coherent 
subject matter, even while allowing that as an idea, concept, or image the word 
Orienthas a considerable and interesting cultural resonance in the West. 

I realize that such assumptions are not without their controversial side. Most of us 
assume in a general way that learning and scholarship move forward; they get 
better, we feel, as time passes and as more information is accumulated, methods 
are refined, and later generations of scholars improve upon earlier ones. In addition, 
we entertain a mythology of creation, in which it is believed that artistic genius, an 
original talent, or a powerful intellect can leap beyond the confines of its own time 
and place in order to put before the world a new work. It would be pointless to deny 
that such ideas as these carry some truth. Nevertheless the possibilities for work 
present in the culture to a great and original mind are never un-limited, just as it is 
also true that a great talent has a very healthy respect for what others have done 
before it and for what the field already contains. The work of predecessors, the 
institutional life of a scholarly field, the collective nature of any learned enterprise: 
these, to say nothing of economic and social circumstances, tend to diminish the 
effects of the individual scholar's production. A field like Orientalism has a cumulative 
and corporate identity, one that is particularly strong given its associations with 
traditional learning (the classics, the Bible, philology), public institutions (govern- 

ments, trading companies, geographical societies, universities), and generically 
determined writing (travel books, books of exploration, fantasy, exotic description). 
The result for Orientalism has been a sort of consensus: certain things, certain types 
of statement, certain types of work have seemed for the Orientalist correct. He has 
built his work and research upon them, and they in turn have pressed hard upon new 
writers and scholars. Orientalism can thus be regarded as a manner of regulari2ed (or 
Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and 
ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient. The Orient is taught, re-searched, 
administered, and pronounced upon in certain discrete ways. 
The Orient that appears in Orientalism, then, is a system of 


representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into 
Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire. If this definition 
of Orientalism seems more political than not, that is simply because I think 
Orientalism was itself a product of certain political forces and activities. Orientalism is 
a school of interpretation whose material happens to be the Orient, its civilizations, 
peoples, and localities. Its objective discoveries — the work of innumerable devoted 
scholars who edited texts and translated them, codified grammars, wrote dictionaries, 
reconstructed dead epochs, produced positivistically verifiable learning — are and 
always have been conditioned by the fact that its truths, like any truths delivered by 
language, are embodied in language, and what is the truth of language, Nietzsche once 
said, but 

a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a 
sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished 
poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and 
obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this 
is what they are.' 

Perhaps such a view as Nietzsche's will strike us as too nihilistic, but at least it will 
draw attention to the fact that so far as it existed in the West's awareness, the Orient 
was a word which later accrued to it a wide field of meanings, associations, and 
connotations, and that these did not necessarily refer to the real Orient but to the field 
surrounding the word. 

Thus Orientalism is not only a positive doctrine about the Orient that exists at any 
one time in the West; it is also an influential academic tradition (when one refers to an 
academic specialist who is called an Orientalist), as well as an area of concern defined 
by travelers, commercial enterprises, governments, military expeditions, readers of 
novels and accounts of exotic adventure, natural historians, and pilgrims to whom the 
Orient is a specific kind of knowledge about specific places, peoples, and civilizations. 

For the Orient idioms became frequent, and these idioms took firm hold in European 
discourse. Beneath the idioms there was a layer of doctrine about the Orient; this 
doctrine was fashioned out of the experiences of many Europeans, all of them 
converging upon such essential aspects of the Orient as the Oriental character, 
Oriental despotism, Oriental sensuality, and the like. For any European during the 
nineteenth century — and I think one 


can say this almost without qualification— Orientalism was such a system of truths, truths 
in Nietzsche's sense of the word. It is there- fore correct that every European, in what he 
could say about the Orient was consequently a racist an imperialist and almost totally 
ethnocentric. Some of the immediate stinq will be taken out of these labels if we recall 
additionally that human societies, at least the more advanced cultures, have rarely offered 
the individual anythinq but imperialism, racism, and ethnocentrism for dealinq with 
"other" cultures. So Orientalism aided and was aided by qeneral cultural pressures that 
tended to make more rigid the sense of difference between the European and Asiatic parts 
of the world. My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine 
willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the 
Orient's difference with its weakness. 

This proposition was introduced early in Chapter One, and nearly everythinq in the 
paqes that followed was intended in part as a corroboration of it. The very presence of a 
"field" such as Orientalism, with no correspondinq equivalent in the Orient itself, 
suqqests the relative strenqth of Orient and Occident. A vast number of paqes on the 
Orient exist, and they of course siqnify a deqree and quantity of interaction with the 
Orient that are quite formidable; but the crucial index of Western strenqth is that there is 
no possibility of comparinq the movement of Westerners eastwards (since the end of the 
eiqhteenth century) with the movement of Easterners westwards. Leavinq aside the fact 
that Western armies, consular corps, merchants, and scientific and archaeoloqical 
expeditions were always qoinq East, the number of travelers from the Islamic East to 
Europe between 1800 and 1900 is minuscule when compared with the number in the 
other direction.' Moreover, the Eastern travelers in the West were there to learn from and 
to qape at an advanced culture; the purposes of the Western travelers in the Orient were, 
as we have seen, of quite a different order. In addition, it has been estimated that around 
60,000 books dealinq with the Near Orient were written between 1800 and 1950; there is 
no remotely comparable fiqure for Oriental books about the West. Asa cultural apparatus 
Orientalism is all aqqression, activity, judqment, willto-truth, and knowledqe. The Orient 
existed for the West, or so it seemed to countless Orientalists, whose attitude to what they 
worked on was either paternalistic or candidly condescendinq— unless, of course, they 
were antiquarians, in which case the "classical" Orient was a credit to them and not to 
the lamentable modern Orient. 


And then, beefing up the Western scholars' work, there wen numerous agencies and 
institutions with no parallels in Oriental society. 

Such an imbalance between East and West is obviously a function of changing 
historical patterns. During its political and military heyday from the eighth century to the 
sixteenth, Islam dominated both East and West. Then the center of power shifted 
westwards, and now in the late twentieth century it seems to be directing itself back 
towards the East again. My account of nineteenth- century Orientalism in Chapter Two 
stopped at a particularly charged period in the latter part of the century, when the often 
dilatory, abstract, and projective aspects of Orientalism were about to take on a new sense 
of worldly mission in the service of formal colonial-ism. It is this project and this moment 
that I want now to describe, especially since it will furnish us with some important 
background for the twentieth- century crises of Orientalism and the resurgence of political 
and cultural strength in the East. 

On several occasions I have alluded to the connections between Orientalism as a body 
of ideas, beliefs, cliches, or learning about the East, and other schools of thought at large 
in the culture. Now one of the important developments in nineteenth-century Oriental-ism 
was the distillation of essential ideas about the Orient- its sensuality, its tendency to 
despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habits of inaccuracy, its backwardness- into a 
separate and un-challenged coherence; thus for a writer to use the word Oriental was a 
reference for the reader sufficient to identify a specific body of information about the 
Orient. This information seemed to be morally neutral and objectively valid; it seemed to 
have an epistemological status egual to that of historical chronology or geographical 
location. In its most basic form, then, Oriental material could not really be violated by 
anyone's discoveries, nor did it seem ever to be reevaluated completely. Instead, the work 
of various nineteenth- century scholars and of imaginative writers made this essential body 
of knowledge more clear, more detailed, more substantial— and more distinct from 
"Occidentalism." Y et Orientalist ideas could enter into alliance with general philosophical 
theories (such as those about the history of mankind and civilization) and diffuse world- 
hypotheses, as philosophers sometimes call them; and in many ways the professional 
contributors to Oriental knowledge were anxious to couch their formulations and ideas, 
their scholarly work, their considered contemporary observations, in language and 


terminology whose cultural validity derived from other sciences and systems of thought. 
The distinction I am making is really between an almost unconscious (and certainly an 

untouchable) positivity, which I shall call latent Orientalism, and the various stated views 
about Oriental society, languages, literatures, history, sociology, and so forth, which I 
shall call manifest Orientalism. Whatever change occurs in knowledge of the Orient is 
found almost exclusively in manifest Orientalism; the unanimity, stability, and durability 
of latent Orientalism are more or less constant. In the nineteenth- century writers I 
analyzed in Chapter Two, the differences in their ideas about the Orient can be 
characterized as exclusively manifest differences, differences in form and personal style, 
rarely in basic content. Every one of them kept intact the separateness of the Orient, its 
eccentricity, its backwardness, its silent indifference, its feminine penetrability, its supine 
malleability; this is why every writer on the Orient, from Renan to Marx (ideologically 
speaking), or from the most rigorous scholars (Lane and Sacy) to the most powerful 
imaginations (Flaubert and Nerval), saw the Orient as a locale reguiring Western 
attention, reconstruction, even redemption. The Orient existed as a place isolated from the 
mainstream of European progress in the sciences, arts, and commerce. Thus whatever 
good or bad values were imputed to the Orient appeared to be functions of some highly 
specialized Western interest in the Orient. This was the situation from about the 1870s on 
through the early part of the twentieth century— but let me give some examples that 
illustrate what I mean. 

Theses of Oriental backwardness, degeneracy, and inequality with the West most easily 
associated themselves early in the nineteenth century with ideas about the biological 
bases of racial inequality. Thus the racial classifications found in Cuvier's Le Regne 
animal, Gobineau'S Essai Slir I'inegalite des races humaines, and Robert Knox's The 
Dark Races of Man found a willing partner in latent Orientalism. To these ideas was 
added second-order Darwinism, which seemed to accentuate the "scientific" validity of 
the division of races into advanced and backward, or European- Aryan and Oriental- 
African. Thus the whole guestion of imperialism, as it was debated in the late nineteenth 
century by pro- imperialists and anti- imperialists alike, carried forward the binary 
typology of advanced and backward (or subject) races, cultures, and societies. John 

Westlake'S Chapters on the Principles 


of international Law (1894) argues, for example, that regions of the earth designated as 
"uncivilized" (a word carrying the freight of Orientalist assumptions, among others) 
ought to be annexed or occupied by advanced powers. Similarly, the ideas of such writers 
as Carl Peters, Leopold de Saussure, and Charles Temple draw on the advanced/backward 
binarism^ so centrally advocated in late- nineteenth- century Orientalism. 

Along with all other peoples variously designated as backward, degenerate, uncivilized, 
and retarded, the Orientals were viewed in a framework constructed out of biological 
determinism and moral-political admonishment. The Oriental was linked thus to elements 

in Western society (delinquents, the insane, women, the poor) having in common an 
identity best described as lamentably alien. Orientals were rarely seen or looked at; they 
were seen through, analyzed not as citizens, or even people, but as problems to be solved 
or confined or— as the colonial powers openly coveted their territory— taken over. The 
point is that the very designation of something as Oriental involved an already 
pronounced evaluative judgment, and in the case of the peoples inhabiting the decayed 
Ottoman Empire, an implicit program of action. Since the Oriental was a member of a 
subject race, he had to be subjected: it was that simple. The locus classicus for such 
judgment and action is to be found in Gustave Le Bon's Les Lois psychologiques de 
revolution des peuples (1894) . 

But there were other uses for latent Orientalism. If that group of ideas allowed one to 
separate Orientals from advanced, civilizing powers, and if the "classical" Orient served to 
justify both the Orientalist and his disregard of modern Orientals, latent Oriental-ism also 
encouraged a peculiarly (not to say invidiously) male conception of the world. I have 
already referred to this in passing during my discussion of Renan. The Oriental male was 
considered in isolation from the total community in which he lived and which many 
Orientalists, following Lane, have viewed with something resembling contempt and fear. 
Orientalism itself, furthermore, was an exclusively male province; like so many 
professional guilds during the modern period, it viewed itself and its subject matter with 
sexist blinders. This is especially evident in the writing of travelers and novelists: women 
are usually the creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they 
are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing. Flaubert's Kuchuk Hanem is the 
prototype of such caricatures, which were common 


enough in pornographic novels (e.g., Pierre Louys's Aphrodite) whose novelty draws on 
the Orient for their interest. Moreover the male conception of the world, in its effect upon 
the practicing Orientalist, tends to be static, frozen, fixed eternally. The very possibility of 
development, transformation, human movement— in the deepest sense of the word— is 
denied the Orient and the Oriental. As a known and ultimately an immobilized or 
unproductive quality, they come to be identified with a bad sort of eternality: hence, when 
the Orient is being approved, such phrases as "the wisdom of the East." 

Transferred from an implicit social evaluation to a grandly cultural one, this static male 
Orientalism took on a variety of forms in the late nineteenth century, especially when 
Islam was being discussed. General cultural historians as respected as Leopold von 
Ranke and Jacob Burckhardt assailed Islam as if they were dealing not so much with an 
anthropomorphic abstraction as with a religiopolitical culture about which deep 
generalizations were possible and warranted: in his Weltgeschichte (188 1-1888) Ranke 
spoke of Islam as defeated by the Germanic- Romanic peoples, and in his "Historische 

Fragmente" (unpublished notes, 1893) Burckhardt spoke of Islam as wretched, bare, and 
trivial.* Such intellectual operations were carried out with considerably more flair and en- 
thusiasm by Oswald Spengler, whose ideas about a Magian personality (typified by the 
Muslim Oriental) infuse Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-1922) and the 
"morphology" of cultures it advocates. 

What these widely diffused notions of the Orient depended on was the almost total 
absence in contemporary Western culture of the Orient as a genuinely felt and 
experienced force. For a number of evident reasons the Orient was always in the position 
both of outsider and of incorporated weak partner for the W est. To the extent that W estern 
scholars were aware of contemporary Orientals or Oriental movements of thought and 
culture, these were perceived either as silent shadows to be animated by the Orientalist, 
brought into reality by him, or as a kind of cultural and intellectual proletariat useful for 
the Orientalist's grander interpretative activity, necessary for his performance as superior 
judge, learned man, powerful cultural will. I mean to say that in discussions of the Orient, 
the Orient is all absence, whereas one feels the Orientalist and what he says as presence; 
yet we must not forget that the Orientalist's presence is enabled by the Orient's effective 


This fact of substitution and displacement, as we must call it, clearly places 
on the Orientalist himself a certain pressure to reduce the Orient in his 
work, even after he has devoted a good deal of time to elucidating and 
exposing it. How else can one explain major scholarly production of the 
type we associate with Julius Well-hausen and Theodor Noldeke and, 
overriding it, those bare, sweep-ing statements that almost totally denigrate 
their chosen subject matter? Thus Noldeke could declare in 1887 that the 
sum total of his work as an Orientalist was to confirm his "low opinion" of 
the Eastern peoples.' And like Carl Becker, Noldeke was a phil-hellenist, 
who showed his love of Greece curiously by displaying a positive dislike 
of the Orient, which after all was what he studied as a scholar. 

A very valuable and intelligent study of Orientalism— J acgues 
Waardenburg's L'lslam dans le miroir de l'Occident- examines five 
important experts as makers of an image of Islam. Waardenburg's mirror- 
image metaphor for late- nineteenth- and early-twentieth- century 
Orientalism is apt. In the work of each of his eminent Orientalists there is a 
highly tendentious— in four cases out of the five, even hostile— vision of 
Islam, as if each man saw Islam as a reflection of his own chosen 
weakness. Each scholar was profoundly learned, and the style of his 
contribution was unigue. The five Orientalists among them exemplify what 
was best and strongest in the tradition during the period roughly from the 

1880s to the interwar years. Yet Ignaz Goldziher's appreciation of Islam's 
tolerance towards other religions was undercut by his dis-like of 
Mohammed's anthropomorphisms and Islam's too-exterior theology and 
jurisprudence; Duncan Black Macdonald's interest in Islamic piety and 
orthodoxy was vitiated by his perception of what he considered Islam's 
heretical Christianity; Carl Becker's under- standing of Islamic civilization 
made him see it as a sadly un- developed one; C. Snouck Hurgnonje's 
highly refined studies of Islamic mysticism (which he considered the 
essential part of Islam) led him to a harsh judgment of its crippling 
limitations; and Louis Massignon's extraordinary identification with 
Muslim theology, mystical passion, and poetic art kept him curiously 
unforgiving to Islam for what he regarded as its unregenerate revolt against 
the idea of incarnation. The manifest differences in their methods emerge 
as less important than their Orientalist consensus on Islam: latent 
W aardenburg's study has the additional virtue of showing how 


, these five scholars shared a common intellectual and methodological tradition 
whose unity was truly international. Ever since the first Orientalist congress in 1873, 
scholars in the field have known each other's work and felt each other's presence very 
directly. What Waardenburg does not stress enough is that most of the late- 
nineteenth-century Orientalists were bound to each other politically as well. Snouck 
Hurgronje went directiy from his studies of Islam to being an adviser to the Dutch 
government on handling its Muslim Indonesian colonies; Alacdonald and Alassignon 
were widely sought after as experts on Islamic matters by colonial administrators 
from North Africa to Pakistan; and, as Waardenburg says (all too briefly) at one 
point, all five scholars shaped a coherent vision of Islam that had a wide influence on 
government circles throughout the Western world.' What we must add to Waarden- 
burg's observation is that these scholars were completing, bringing to an ultimate 
concrete refinement, the tendency since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to 
treat the Orient not only as a vague literary problem but — according to Masson- 
Oursel — as "un ferme propos d'assimiler adequatement la valeur des langues pour 
penetrer les moeurs et les pensees, pour forcer meme des secrets de l'histoire."8 

I spoke earlier of incorporation and assimilation of the Orient, as these activities 
were practiced by writers as different from each other as Dante and d'Herbelot. 
Clearly there is a difference between those efforts and what, by the end of the 
nineteenth century, had become a truly formidable European cultural, political, and 
material enterprise. The nineteenth-century colonial "scramble for Africa" was by no 
means limited to Africa, of course. Neither was the penetration of the Orient entirely 

a sudden, dramatic after-thought following years of scholarly study of Asia. What we 
must reckon with is a long and slow process of appropriation by which Europe, or 
the European awareness of the Orient, transformed itself from being textual and 
contemplative into being administrative, economic, and even military. The 
fundamental change was a spatial and geographical one, or rather it was a change in 
the quality of geographical and spatial apprehension so far as the Orient was 
concerned. The centuries-old designation of geographical space to the east of Europe 
as "Oriental" was partly political, partly doctrinal, and partly imaginative; it implied 
no necessary connection between actual experience of the Orient and knowledge of 
what is 


Oriental, and certainly Dante and d'Herbelot made no claims about their Oriental ideas 
except that they were corroborated by a long learned (and not existential) tradition. But 
when Lane, Renan, Burton, and the many hundreds of nineteenth- century European 
travelers and scholars discuss the Orient, we can immediately note a far more intimate 
and even proprietary attitude towards the Orient and things Oriental. In the classical and 
often temporally remote form in which it was reconstructed by the Orientalist, in the 
precisely actual form in which the modern Orient was lived in, studied, or imagined, the 
geographical space of the Orient was penetrated, worked over, taken hold of. The 
cumulative effect of decades of so sovereign a Western handling turned the Orient from 
alien into colonial space. What was important in the latter nineteenth century was not 
whether the West had penetrated and possessed the Orient, but rather how the British 
and French felt that they had done it. 

The British writer on the Orient, and even more so the British colonial administrator, 
was dealing with territory about which there could be no doubt that English power was 
truly in the ascendant, even if the natives were on the face of it attracted to France and 
French modes of thought. So far as the actual space of the Orient was concerned, 
however, England was really there, France was not, except as a flighty temptress of the 
Oriental yokels. There is no better indication of this qualitative difference in spatial 
attitudes than to look at what Lord Cromer had to say on the subject, one that was 
especially dear to his heart: 

The reasons why French civilisation presents a special degree of attraction to 
Asiatics and Levantines are plain. It is, as a matter of fact, more attractive than the 
civilisations of England and Germany, and, moreover, it is more easy of imitation. 
Compare the undemonstrative, shy Englishman, with his social exclusiveness and 
insular habits, with the vivacious and cosmopolitan Frenchman, who does not know 
what the word shyness means, and who in ten minutes is apparently on terms of 
intimate friend- ship with any casual acguaintance he may chance to make. The semi- 
educated Oriental does not recognise that the former has, at all events, the merit of 
sincerity, whilst the latter is often merely acting a part. He looks coldly on the 
Englishman, and rushes into the arms of the Frenchman. 

The sexual innuendoes develop more or less naturally thereafter. 
The Frenchman is all smiles, wit, grace, and fashion; the English- 


man is plodding, industrious, Baconian, precise. Cromer's case is of course based on 
British solidity as opposed to a French seductiveness without any real presence in 
Egyptian reality. 

Can it be any matter for surprise [Cromer continues] that the Egyptian, with his light 
intellectual ballast, fails to see that some fallacy often lies at the bottom of the 
Frenchman's reasoning, or that he prefers the rather superficial brilliancy of the 
Frenchman to the plodding, unattractive industry of the Englishman or the German? 
Look, again, at the theoretical perfection of French administrative systems, at their 
elaborate detail, and at the pro-vision which is apparently made to meet every 
possible contingency which may arise. Compare these features with the Englishman's 
practical systems, which lay down rules as to a few main points, and leave a mass of 
detail to individual discretion. The half-educated Egyptian naturally prefers the 
Frenchman's system, for it is to all outward appearance more perfect and more easy 
of application. He fails, moreover, to see that the Englishman desires to elaborate a 
system which will suit the facts with which he has to deal, whereas the main 
objection to applying French administrative procedures to Egypt is that the facts have 
but too often to conform to the ready-made system. 

Since there is a real British presence in Egypt, and since that presence— according to 
Cromer— is there not so much to train the Egyptian's mind as to "form his character," it 
follows therefore that the ephemeral attractions of the French are those of a pretty damsel 
with "somewhat artificial charms," whereas those of the British belong to "a sober, elderly 
matron of perhaps somewhat greater moral worth, but of less pleasing outward 
appearance." 9 

Underlying Cromer's contrast between the solid British nanny and the French coguette 
is the sheer privilege of British emplace-ment in the Orient. "The facts with which he [the 
Englishman] has to deal" are altogether more complex and interesting, by virtue of their 
possession by England, than anything the mercurial French could point to. Two years after 
the publication of his Modern Egypt (1908), Cromer expatiated philosophically in 
Ancient and Modern Imperialism. Compared with Roman imperialism, with its frankly 
assimilationist, exploitative, and repressive policies, British imperial-ism seemed to 
Cromer to be preferable, if somewhat more wishy-washy. On certain points, however, the 
British were clear enough, even if "after a rather dim, slipshod, but characteristically 


Saxon fashion," their Empire seemed undecided between "one of two bases— an 
extensive military occupation or the principle of nationality [for subject races]." But this 
indecision was academic finally, for in practice Cromer and Britain itself had opted 
against "the principle of nationality." And then there were other things to be noted. One 
point was that the Empire was not going to be given up. Another was that intermarriage 
between natives and English men and women was undesirable. Third and most important, 
I think— Cromer conceived of British imperial presence in the Eastern colonies as having 
had a lasting, not to say cataclysmic, effect on the minds and societies of the East. His 
metaphor for expressing this effect is almost theological, so powerful in Cromer's mind 
was the idea of Western penetration of Oriental expanses. "The country," he says, "over 
which the breath of the West, heavily charged with scientific thought, has once passed, 
and has, in passing, left an enduring mark, can never be the same as it was before." 10 

In such respects as these, nonetheless, Cromer's was far from an original intelligence. 

What he saw and how he expressed it were common currency among his colleagues both 

in the imperial Establishment and in the intellectual community. This consensus is notably 

true in the case of Cromer's viceregal colleagues, Curzon, Swettenham, and Lugard. Lord 

Curzon in particular always spoke the imperial lingua franca, and more obtrusively even 

than Cromer he delineated the relationship between Britain and the Orient in terms of 

possession, in terms of a large geographical space wholly owned by an efficient colonial 

master. For him, he said on one occasion, the Empire was not an "object of ambition" but 

"first and foremost, a great historical and political and sociological fact." In 1909 he 

reminded delegates to the Imperial Press Conference meeting at Oxford that "we train 

here and we send out to you your governors and administrators and judges, your teachers 

and preachers and lawyers." And this almost pedagogical view of empire had, for Curzon, 

a specific setting in Asia, which as he once put it, made "one pause and think." 

I sometimes like to picture to myself this great Imperial fabric as a huge structure like 

some Tennysonian "Palace of Art," of which the foundations are in this country, 

where they have been laid and must be maintained by British hands, but of which the 

Colonies are the pillars, and high above all floats the vastness of an Asiatic dome." 


With such a Tennysonian Palace of Art in mind, Curzon and Cromer were enthusiastic 

members together of a departmental committee formed in 1909 to press for the creation of 

a school of Oriental studies. Aside from remarking wistfully that had he known the 

vernacular he would have been helped during his "famine tours" in India, Curzon argued 

for Oriental studies as part of the British responsibility to the Orient. On September 27, 

1909, he told the House of Lords that 

our familiarity, not merely with the languages of the people of the East but with their 

customs, their feelings, their traditions, their history and religion, our capacity to 

understand what may be called the genius of the East, is the sole basis upon which we 

are likely to be able to maintain in the future the position we have won, and no step 

that can be taken to strengthen that position can be considered undeserving of the 

attention of His Majesty's Government or of a debate in the House of Lords. 

At a Mansion House conference on the subject five years later, Curzon finally dotted the 
i's. Oriental studies were no intellectual luxury; they were, he said, 

a great Imperial obligation. In my view the creation of a school [of Oriental studies- 
later to become the London University School of Oriental and African Studies] like 
this in London is part of the necessary furniture of Empire. Those of us who, in one 
way or another, have spent a number of years in the East, who regard that as the 
happiest portion of our lives, and who think that the work that we did there, be it 
great or small, was the high- est responsibility that can be placed upon the shoulders 
of Englishmen, feel that there is a gap in our national eguipment which ought 
emphatically to be filled, and that those in the City of London who, by financial 
support or by any other form of active and practical assistance, take their part in 
filling that gap, will be rendering a patriotic duty to the Empire and promoting the 
cause and goodwill among mankind. 12 

To a very great extent Curzon's ideas about Oriental studies derive logically from a 
good century of British utilitarian administration of and philosophy about the Eastern 
colonies. The influence of Bentham and the Mills on British rule in the Orient (and India 
particularly) was- considerable, and was effective in doing away with too much regulation 
and innovation; instead, as Eric Stokes has convincingly shown, utilitarianism combined 
with the legacies 


of liberalism and evangelicalism as philosophies of British rule in the East stressed the 
rational importance of a strong executive armed with various legal and penal codes, a 
system of doctrines on such matters as frontiers and land rents, and everywhere an irre- 
ducible supervisory imperial authority. 18 The cornerstone of the whole system was a 
constantly refined knowledge of the Orient, so that as traditional societies hastened 
forward and became modern commercial societies, there would be no loss of paternal 
British control, and no loss of revenue either. However, when Curzon referred somewhat 
inelegantly to Oriental studies as "the necessary furniture of Empire," he was putting into 
a static image the trans- actions by which Englishmen and natives conducted their business 
and kept their places. From the days of Sir William Jones the Orient had been both what 
Britain ruled and what Britain knew about it: the coincidence between geography, 
knowledge, and power, with Britain always in the master's place, was complete. To have 
said, as Curzon once did, that "the East is a University in which the scholar never takes 
his degree" was another way of saying that the East reguired one's presence there more or 
less forever." 

But then there were the other European powers, France and Russia among them, that 
made the British presence always a (perhaps marginally) threatened one. Curzon was 
certainly aware that all the major Western powers felt towards the world as Britain did. 

The transformation of geography from "dull and pedantic"— Curzon's phrase for what had 
now dropped out of geography as an academic subject— into "the most cosmopolitan of 
all sciences" argued exactly that new Western and widespread predilection. Not for 
nothing did Curzon in 1912 tell the Geographical Society, of which he was president, that 

an absolute revolution has occurred, not merely in the manner and methods of 
teaching geography, but in the estimation in which it is held by public opinion. 
Nowadays we regard geographical knowledge as an essential part of knowledge in 
general. By the aid of geography, and in no other way, do we understand the action of 
great natural forces, the distribution of population, the growth of commerce, the 
expansion of frontiers, the development of States, the splendid achievements of 
human energy in its various manifestations. 

We recognize geography as the handmaid of history Geography, too, is a sister 

science to economics and politics; and 


to any of us who have attempted to study geography it is known that the moment you 
diverge from the geographical field you find yourself crossing the frontiers of 
geology, zoology, ethnology, chemistry, physics, and almost all the kindred sciences. 
There- fore we are justified in saying that geography is one of the first and foremost of 
the sciences: that it is part of the eguipment that is necessary for a proper conception 
of citizenship, and is an indispensable adjunct to the production of a public man. 15 

Geography was essentially the material underpinning for knowledge about the Orient. All 
the latent and unchanging characteristics of the Orient stood upon, were rooted in, its 
geography. Thus on the one hand the geographical Orient nourished its inhabitants, 
guaranteed their characteristics, and defined their specificity; on the other hand, the 
geographical Orient solicited the West's attention, even as —by one of those paradoxes 
revealed so freguently by organized knowledge— East was East and West was West. The 
cosmopolitan- ism of geography was, in Curzon's mind, its universal importance to the 
whole of the West, whose relationship to the rest of the world was one of frank 
covetousness. Yet geographical appetite could also take on the moral neutrality of an 
epistemological im-pulse to find out, to settle upon, to uncover— as when in Heart of 
Darkness Marlow confesses to having a passion for maps. 

I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in 
all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, 
and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) 
I would put my finger on it and say, W hen I grow up I will go there. 16 
Seventy years or so before Marlow said this, it did not trouble Lamartine that what on a 

map was a blank space was inhabited by natives; nor, theoretically, had there been any 
reservation in the mind of Emer de Vattel, the Swiss-Prussian authority on inter- national 
law, when in 1758 he invited European states to take possession of territory inhabited only 
by mere wandering tribes.^ 7 The important thing was to dignify simple conguest with an 
idea, to turn the appetite for more geographical space into a theory about the special 
relationship between geography on the one hand and civilized or uncivilized peoples on 
the other. But to these rationalizations there was also a distinctively French contribution. 


By the end of the nineteenth century, political and intellectual circumstances coincided 
sufficiently in France to make geography, and geographical speculation (in both senses 

of that word), an attractive national pastime. The general climate of opinion in Europe 
was propitious; certainly the successes of British imperialism spoke loudly enough for 
themselves. However, Britain always seemed to France and to French thinkers on the 
subject to block even a relatively successful French imperial role in the Orient. Before the 
Franco- Prussian War there was a good deal of wishful political thinking about the Orient, 
and it was not confined to poets and novelists. Here, for instance, is Saint-Marc Girardin 
writing in the Revue des Deux Mondes on March 15, 1862: 

La France a beaucoup a faire en Orient, parce que 1 'Orient attend beaucoup d'elle. 

II lui demande mime plus qu'elle ne peut faire; il lui remettrait volontiers le soin 

entier de son avenir, ce qui serait pour la France et pour 1 'Orient un grand danger: 

pour la France, parce que, disposee a prendre en mains la cause des populations 

souffrantes, elle se charge le plus souvent de plus d'obligations qu'elle n'en peut 

remplir; pour I'Orient, parce que tout peuple qui attend sa destinee de I'etranger n'a 

jamais qu'une condition precaine et qu'il n'y a de salut pour les nations que celui 

qu'elles se font elles- mimes. 18 

Of such views as this Disraeli would doubtless have said, as he often did, that France had 

only "sentimental interests" in Syria (which is the "Orient" of which Girardin was 

writing). The fiction of "populations souffrantes" had of course been used by Napoleon 

when he appealed to the Egyptians on their behalf against the Turks and for Islam. During 

the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties the suffering populations of the Orient were limited 

to the Christian minorities in Syria. And there was no record of "I'Orient" appeal-ing to 

France for its salvation. It would have been altogether more truthful to say that Britain 

stood in France's way in the Orient, for even if France genuinely felt a sense of obligation 

to the Orient (and there were some Frenchmen who did), there was very little France 

could do to get between Britain and the huge land mass it commanded from India to the 


Among the most remarkable consequences of the War of 1870 in France were a 
tremendous efflorescence of geographical societies and a powerfully renewed demand for 

territorial acquisition. At the end of 1871 the Societe de geographie de Paris declared 




no longer confined to "scientific speculation." It urged the citizenry not to "forget 
that our former preponderance was contested from the day we ceased to compete . . 
. in the conquests of civilization over barbarism." Guillaume Depping, a leader of 
what has come to be called the geographical movement asserted in 1881 that 
during the 1870 war "it was the schoolmaster who triumphed/' meaning that the 
real triumphs were those of Prussian scientific geography over French strategic 
sloppiness. The government's Journal offidei sponsored issue after issue centered 
on the virtues (and profits) of geographical exploration and colonial adventure; a 
citizen could learn in one issue from de Lesseps of "the opportunities in Africa" 
and from Gamier of "the exploration of the Blue River." Scientific geography soon 
gave way to "commercial geography," as the connection between national pride in 
scientific and civilizational achievement and the fairly rudimentary profit motive 
was urged, to be channeled into support for colonial acquisition. In the words of 
one enthusiast "The geographical societies are formed to break the fatal charm that 
holds us enchained to our shores." In aid of this liberating quest all sorts of 
schemes were spun out including the enlisting of Jules Verne— whose 
"unbelievable success/' as it was called, ostensibly displayed the scientific mind at 
a very high peak of ratiocination— to head "a round-the-world campaign of 
scientific exploration/' and a plan for creating a vast new sea just south of the 
North African coast as well as a project for "binding" Algeria to Senegal by 
railroad— "a ribbon of steel/' as the projectors called it. 19 

Much of the expansionist fervor in France during the last third of the nineteenth 
century was generated out of an explicit wish to compensate for the Prussian 
victory in 1870-1871 and, no less important, the desire to match British imperial 
achievements. So powerful was the latter desire, and out of so long a tradition of 
Anglo-French rivalry in the Orient did it derive, that France seemed literally 
haunted by Britain, anxious in all things connected with the Orient to catch up with 
and emulate the British. When in the late 1870s, the Societe acad6mique indo- 
chinoise reformulated its goals, it found it important to "bring Indochina into the 
domain of Orientalism." Why? In order to turn Cochin China into a "French India." 
The absence of substantial colonial holdings was blamed by military men for that 
combination of military and commercial weakness in the war with Prussia, to say 
nothing of long-standing and pronounced colonial inferiority compared with 
Britain. The 


"power of expansion of the Western races," argued a leading geographer, La Ronciere Le 
Noury, "its superior causes, its elements, its influences on human destinies, will be a 
beautiful study for future historians." Yet only if the white races indulged their taste for 
voyaging— a mark of their intellectual supremacy— could colonial expansion occur.20 

From such theses as this came the commonly held view of the Orient as a geographical 
space to be cultivated, harvested, and guarded. The images of agricultural care for and 
those of frank sexual attention to the Orient proliferated accordingly. Here is a typical 
effusion by Gabriel Charmes, writing in 1880: 

On that day when we shall be no longer in the Orient, and when other great 
European powers will be there, all will be at an end for our commerce in the 
Mediterranean, for our future in Asia, for the traffic of our southern ports. One of the 
most fruitful sources of our national wealth will be dried up. (Emphasis added) 

Another thinker, Leroy-Beaulieu, elaborated this philosophy still further: 

A society colonizes, when itself having reached a high degree of maturity and of 
strength, it procreates, it protects, it places in good conditions of development, and it 
brings to virility a new society to which it has given birth. Colonization is one of the 
most complex and delicate phenomena of social physiology. 

This eguation of self- reproduction with colonization led Leroy-Beaulieu to the somewhat 
sinister idea that whatever is lively in a modern society is "magnified by this pouring out 
of its exuberant activity on the outside." Therefore, he said, 

Colonization is the expansive force of a people; it is its power of reproduction; it is its 
enlargement and its multiplication through space; it is the subjection of the universe 
or a vast part of it to that people's language, customs, ideas, and laws?l 

The point here is that the space of weaker or underdeveloped regions like the Orient was 
viewed as something inviting French interest, penetration, insemination- in short, 
colonization. Geo-graphical conceptions, literally and figuratively, did away with the 
discrete entities held in by borders and frontiers. No less than entrepreneurial visionaries 
like de Lesseps, whose plan was to liberate the Orient and the Occident from their 
geographical bonds, 


French scholars, administrators, geographers, and commercial agents poured out their 
exuberant activity onto the fairly supine, feminine Orient. There were the geographical 
societies, whose number and membership outdid those of all Europe by a factor of two; 
there were such powerful organizations as the Comite de l'Asie francaise and the Comite 
d'Orient; there were the learned societies, chief among them the Societe asiatique, with 
its organization and membership firmly embedded in the universities, the institutes, and 
the government. Each in its own way made French interests in the Orient more real, more 
substantial. Almost an entire century of what now seemed passive study of the Orient had 
had to end, as France faced up to its transnational responsibilities during the last two 
decades of the nineteenth century. 

In the only part of the Orient where British and French interests literally overlapped, the 
territory of the now hopelessly ill Ottoman Empire, the two antagonists managed their 
conflict with an almost perfect and characteristic consistency. Britain was in Egypt and 
Mesopotamia; through a series of quasi-fictional treaties with local (and powerless) 
chiefs it controlled the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Suez Canal, as well as most of 
the intervening land mass between the Mediterranean and India. France, on the other 
hand, seemed fated to hover over the Orient, descending once in a while to carry out 
schemes that repeated de Lesseps's success with the canal; for the most part these 
schemes were railroad projects, such as the one planned across more or less British 
territory, the Syrian-Mesopotamian line. In addition France saw itself as the protector of 
Christian minorities- Maronites, Chaldeans, Nestorians. Yet together, Britain and France 
were agreed in principle on the necessity, when the time came, for the partition of A siatic 
Turkey. Both before and during World War I secret diplomacy was bent on carving up 
the Near Orient first into spheres of influence, then into mandated (or occupied) 
territories. In France, much of the expansionist sentiment formed during the heyday of 
the geo-graphical movement focused itself on plans to partition Asiatic Turkey, so much 
so that in Paris in 1914 "a spectacular press campaign was launched" to this end. 22 in 
England numerous committees were empowered to study and recommend policy on the 
best ways of dividing up the Orient. Out of such commissions as the Bunsen Committee 
would come the joint Anglo-French teams of which the most famous was the one headed 
by Mark Sykes and Georges Picot. Equitable division of geographical space was the 


rule of these plans, which were deliberate attempts also at calming Anglo-French rivalry. 
For, as Sykes put it in a memorandum, 

it was clear . . . that an Arab rising was sooner or later to take place, and that the 
French and ourselves ought to be on better terms if the rising was not to be a curse 

instead of a blessing 28 

The animosities remained. And to them was added the irritant provided by the 

Wilsonian program for national self-determination, which, as Sykes himself was to note, 
seemed to invalidate the whole skeleton of colonial and partitionary schemes arrived at 
jointly between the Powers. It would be out of place here to discuss the entire labyrinthine 
and deeply controversial history of the Near Orient in the early twentieth century, as its 
fate was being decided between the Powers, the native dynasties, the various nationalist 
parties and movements, the Zionists. What matters more immediately is the peculiar 
epistemological framework through which the Orient was seen, and out of which the 
Powers acted. For despite their differences, the British and the French saw the Orient as a 
geographical— and cultural, political, demographical, sociological, and historical— entity 
over whose destiny they believed themselves to have traditional entitlement. The Orient to 
them was no sudden discovery, no mere historical accident, but an area to the east of 
Europe whose principal worth was uniformly defined in terms of Europe, more 
particularly in terms specifically claiming for Europe— European science, scholarship, 
understanding, and administration— the credit for having made the Orient what it was 
now. And this had been the achievement— inadvertent or not is beside the point— of 
modem Orientalism. 

There were two principal methods by which Orientalism delivered the Orient to the 
West in the early twentieth century. One was by means of the disseminative capacities of 
modem learning, its diffusive apparatus in the learned professions, the universities, the 
professional societies, the explorational and geographical organizations, the publishing 
industry. All these, as we have seen, built upon the prestigious authority of the pioneering 
scholars, travelers, and poets, whose cumulative vision had shaped a guintessential Orient; 
the doctrinal— or doxological— manifestation of such an Orient is what I have been 
calling here latent Orientalism. So far as anyone wishing to make a statement of any 
conseguence about the Orient was concerned, latent Orientalism supplied him with an 
enunciative capacity that could be used, or rather mobilized,-and turned into 


sensible discourse for the concrete occasion at hand. Thus when Balfour spoke about the 
Oriental to the House of Commons in 1910, he must surely have had in mind those 
enunciative capacities in the current and acceptably rational language of his time, by 
which something called an "Oriental" could be named and talked about without danger of 
too much obscurity. But like all enunciative capacities and the discourses they enable, 
latent Orientalism was profoundly conservative— dedicated, that is, to its self-preserva- 
tion. Transmitted from one generation to another, it was a part of the culture, as much a 
language about a part of reality as geometry or physics. Orientalism staked its existence, 
not upon its openness, its receptivity to the Orient, but rather on its internal, repetitious 
consistency about its constitutive will-to-power over the Orient. In such a way 
Orientalism was able to survive revolutions, world wars, and the literal dismemberment 
of empires. 
The second method by which Orientalism delivered the Orient to the West was the 

result of an important convergence. For decades the Orientalists had spoken about the 
Orient they had translated texts, they had explained civilizations, religions, dynasties, 
cultures, mentalities— as academic objects, screened off from Europe by virtue of their 
inimitable foreignness. The Orientalist was an expert, like Renan or Lane, whose job in 
society was to interpret the Orient for his compatriots. The relation between Orientalist 
and Orient was essentially hermeneutical: standing before a distant, barely intelligible 
civilization or cultural monument, the Orientalist scholar reduced the obscurity by 
translating, sympathetically portraying, inwardly grasping the hard-to-reach object. Yet 
the Orientalist remained outside the Orient, which, however much it was made to appear 
intelligible, remained beyond the Occident. This cultural, temporal, and geographical 
distance was expressed in metaphors of depth, secrecy, and sexual promise: phrases like 
"the veils of an Eastern bride" or "the inscrutable Orient" passed into the common 

Y et the distance between Orient and Occident was, almost paradoxically, in the process 
of being reduced throughout the nineteenth century. As the commercial, political, and 
other existential encounters between East and West increased (in ways we have been 
discussing all along), a tension developed between the dogmas of latent Orientalism, with 
its support in studies of the "classical" Orient, and the descriptions of a present, modern, 
manifest Orient 


articulated by travelers, pilgrims, statesmen, and the like. At some moment impossible to 
determine precisely, the tension caused a convergence of the two types of Orientalism. 
Probably— and this is only a speculation— the convergence occurred when Orientalists, 
beginning with Sacy, undertook to advise governments on what the modem Orient was all 
about. Here the role of the specially trained and eguipped expert took on an added 
dimension: the Orientalist could be regarded as the special agent of Western power as it 
attempted policy vis-a-vis the Orient. Every learned (and not so learned) European 
traveler in the Orient felt himself to be a representative Westerner who had gotten beneath 
the films of obscurity. This is obviously true of Burton, Lane, Doughty, Flaubert, and the 
other major figures I have been discussing. 

The discoveries of Westerners about the manifest and modem Orient acguired a 
pressing urgency as Western territorial acguisition in the Orient increased. Thus what the 
scholarly Orientalist defined as the "essential" Orient was sometimes contradicted, but in 
many cases was confirmed, when the Orient became an actual administrative obligation. 
Certainly Cromer's theories about the Oriental— theories acguired from the traditional 
Orientalist archive — were vindicated plentifully as he ruled millions of Orientals in actual 
fact. This was no less true of the French experience in Syria, North Africa, and elsewhere 
in the French colonies, such as they were. But at no time did the convergence between 
latent Orientalist doctrine and manifest Orientalist experience occur more dramatically 
than when, as a result of World War I, Asiatic Turkey was being surveyed by Britain and 
France for its dismemberment. There, laid out on an operating table for surgery, was the 

Sick Man of Europe, revealed in all his weakness, characteristics, and topographical 

The Orientalist with his special knowledge, played an in-estimably important part in 
this surgery. Already there had been intimations of his crucial role as a kind of secret 
agent inside the Orient when the British scholar Edward Henry Palmer was sent to the 
Sinai in 1882 to gauge anti-British sentiment and its possible enlistment on behalf of the 
Arabi revolt. Palmer was killed in the process, but he was only the most unsuccessful of 
the many who performed similar services for the Empire, now a serious and exact-ing 
business entrusted in part to the regional "expert." Not for nothing was another Orientalist, 
D . G . Hogarth, author of the 


'famous account of the exploration of Arabia aptly titled The Pene-tration of Arabia 
(1904) ,24 made the head of the Arab Bureau in Cairo during World War I. And 
neither was it by accident that men and women like Gertrude Bell, T. E. Lawrence, 
and St. John Philby, Oriental experts all, posted to the Orient as agents of empire, 
friends of the Orient, formulators of policy alternatives be-cause of their intimate 
and expert knowledge of the Orient and of Orientals. They formed a "band" — as 
Lawrence called it once — bound together by contradictory notions and personal 
similarities: great individuality, sympathy and intuitive identification with the Orient, 
a jealously preserved sense of personal mission in the Orient, cultivated eccentricity, 
a final disapproval of the Orient. For them all the Orient was their direct, peculiar 
experience of it. In them Orientalism and an effective praxis for handling the Orient 
received their final European form, before the Empire disappeared and passed its 
legacy to other candidates for the role of dominant power. 

Such individualists as these were not academics. We shall soon see that they were 
the beneficiaries of the academic study of the Orient, without in any sense 
belonging to the official and professional company of Orientalist scholars. Their 
role, however, was not to scant academic Orientalism, nor to subvert it, but rather 
to make it effective. In their genealogy were people like Lane and Burton, as much 
for their encyclopedic autodidacticism as for the accurate, the quasi-scholarly 
knowledge of the Orient they had obviously deployed when dealing with or writing 
about Orientals. For the curricular study of the Orient they substituted a sort of 
elaboration of latent Orientalism, which was easily available to them in the imperial 
culture of their epoch. Their scholarly frame of reference, such as it was, was 
fashioned by people like William Muir, Anthony Bevan, D. S. Alargoliouth, Charles 
Lyall, E. G. Browne, R. A. Nicholson, Guy Le Strange, E. D. Ross, and Thomas 
Arnold, who also followed directly in the line of descent from Lane. Their 
imaginative perspectives were provided principally by their illustrious contemporary 

Rudyard Kipling, who had sung so memorably of holding "dominion over palm and 

The difference between Britain and France in such matters was perfectly 
consistent with the history of each nation in the Orient: the British were there; the 
French lamented the loss of India and the intervening territories. By the end of the 
century, Syria had 


become the main focus of French activity, but even there it was a matter of 
common consensus that the French could not match the British either in quality of 
personnel or in degree of political influence. The Anglo-French competition over 
the Ottoman spoils was felt even on the field of battle in the Hejaz, in Syria, in 
Mesopotamia— but in all these places, as astute men like Edmond Bremond noted, 
the French Orientalists and local experts were out-classed in brilliance and tactical 
maneuvering by their British counterparts. ^ Except for an occasional genius like 
Louis Massignon, there were no French Lawrences or Sykeses or Bells. But there 
were determined imperialists like Etienne Flandin and Franklin-Bouillon. Lecturing 
to the Paris Alliance frangaise in 1913, the Comte de Cressaty, a vociferous 
imperialist, proclaimed Syria as France's own Orient, the site of French political, 
moral, and economic interests— interests, he added, that had to be de-fended during 
this "age des envahissants impbrialistes"; and yet Cressaty noted that even with 
French commercial and industrial firms in the Orient, with by far the largest 
number of native students enrolled in French schools, France was invariably being 
pushed around in the Orient, threatened not only by Britain but by Austria, 
Germany, and Russia. If France was to continue to prevent "le retour de l'Islam," it 
had better take hold of the Orient: this was an argument proposed by Cressaty and 
seconded by Senator Paul Doumer.28 These views were repeated on numerous 
occasions, and indeed France did well by itself in North Africa and in Syria after 
World War I, but the special, concrete management of emerging Oriental 
populations and theoretically independent territories with which the British always 
credited themselves was something the French felt had eluded them. Ultimately, 
perhaps, the difference one always feels between modern British and modem 
French Orientalism is a stylistic one; the import of the generalizations about Orient 
and Orientals, the sense of distinction preserved between Orient and Occident, the 
desirability of Occidental dominance over the Orient— all these are the same in 
both traditions. For of the many elements making up what we customarily call 
"expertise," style, which is the result of specific worldly circumstances being molded 
by tradition, institutions, will, and intelligence into formal articulation, is one of the 
most manifest. It is to this determinant, to this perceptible and modernized 
refinement in early-twentiethcentury Orientalism in Britain and France, that we 

must now turn. 


// Style, Expertise, Vision: Orientalism r s 

As he appears in several poems, in novels like Kim, and in too many catchphrases 
to be an ironic fiction, Kipling's White Man, as an idea, a persona, a style of being, 
seems to have served many Britishers while they were abroad. The actual color of 
their skin set them off dramatically and reassuringly from the sea of natives, but for 
the Britisher who circulated amongst Indians, Africans, or Arabs there was also the 
certain knowledge that he belonged to, and could draw upon the empirical and 
spiritual reserves of, a long tradition of executive responsibility towards the colored 
races. It was of this tradition, its glories and difficulties, that Kipling wrote when he 
celebrated the " road" taken by White Men in the colonies: 

Now, this is the road that the White Men tread 

When they go to clean a land— Iron underfoot and the vine 

overhead And the deep on either hand. 

We have trod that road— and a wet and windy road 

Our chosen star for guide. 

Oh, well for the world when the White Men tread 

Their highway side by side!" 
"Cleaning a land" is best done by White Men in delicate concert with each other, an 
allusion to the present dangers of European rivalry in the colonies; for failing in the 
attempt to coordinate policy, Kipling's White Men are guite prepared to go to wan "Free- 
dom for ourselves and freedom for our sons/And, failing freedom, War." Behind the 
White Man's mask of amiable leadership there is always the express willingness to use 
force, to kill and be killed. What dignifies his mission is some sense of intellectual 
dedication; he is a White Man, but not for mere profit, since his "chosen star"' presumably 
sits far above earthly gain. Certainly many White Men often wondered what it was they 
fought for on that "wet and windy road," and certainly a great number of them must 
have been puzzled as to how the color of their skins gave them superior ontological 
status plus great power over much of the inhabited 


world. Yet in the end, being a White Man, for Kipling and for those whose perceptions 
and rhetoric he influenced, was a self- confirming business. One became a White Man 

because one was a White Man; more important "drinking that cup," living that 
unalterable destiny in "the White Man's day/ 1 left one little time for idle speculation on 
origins, causes, historical logic. 

Being a White Man was therefore an idea and a reality. It involved a reasoned position 
towards both the white and the non- white worlds. It meant— in the colonies— speaking in 
a certain way, behaving according to a code of regulations, and even feeling certain things 
and not others. It meant specific judgments, evaluations, gestures. It was a form of 
authority before which nonwhites, and even whites themselves, were expected to bend. In 
the institutional forms it took (colonial governments, consular corps, commercial 
establishments) it was an agency for the expression, diffusion, and implementation of 
policy towards the world, and within this agency, although a certain personal latitude was 
allowed, the impersonal communal idea of being a White Man ruled. Being a White Man, 
in short, was a very concrete manner of being-in-theworld, a way of taking hold of reality, 
language, and thought. It made a specific style possible. 

Kipling himself could not merely have happened; the same is true of his White Man. 
Such ideas and their authors emerge out of complex historical and cultural circumstances, 
at least two of which have much in common with the history of Orientalism in the nine- 
teenth century. One of them is the culturally sanctioned habit of deploying large 
generalizations by which reality is divided into various collectives: languages, races, 
types, colors, mentalities, each category being not so much a neutral designation as an 
evaluative interpretation. Underlying these categories is the rigidly binomial opposition of 
"ours" and "theirs," with the former always encroaching upon the latter (even to the point 
of making "theirs" exclusively a function of "ours"). This opposition was reinforced not 
only by anthropology, linguistics, and history but also, of course, by the Darwinian theses 
on survival and natural selection, and— no less decisive— by the rhetoric of high cultural 
humanism. What gave writers like Renan and Arnold the right to generalities about race 
was the official character of their formed cultural literacy. "Our" values were (let us say) 
liberal, humane, correct; they were sup- ported by the tradition of belles-lettres, informed 
scholarship, rational inguiry; as Europeans (and white men) "we" shared in 


them every time their virtues were extolled. Nevertheless, the human partnerships formed 
by reiterated cultural values excluded as much as they included. For every idea about 
"our" art spoken for by Arnold, Ruskin, Mill, Newman, Carlyle, Renan, Gobineau, or 
Comte, another link in the chain binding "us" together was formed while another outsider 
was banished. Even if this is always the result of such rhetoric, wherever and whenever it 
occurs, we must re- member that for nineteenth- century Europe an imposing edifice of 
learning and culture was built, so to speak, in the face of actual outsiders (the colonies, the 

poor, the delinquent), whose role in the culture was to give definition to what they were 
constitutionally unsuited for." 

The other circumstance common to the creation of the White Man and Orientalism is 
the "field" commanded by each, as well as the sense that such a field entails peculiar 
modes, even rituals, of behavior, learning, and possession. Only an Occidental could 
speak of Orientals, for example, just as it was the White Man who could designate and 
name the coloreds, or nonwhites. Every statement made by Orientalists or White Men 
(who were usually interchange- able) conveyed a sense of the irreducible distance 
separating white from colored, or Occidental from Oriental; moreover, behind each 
statement there resonated the tradition of experience, learning, and education that kept the 
Oriental- colored to his position of object studied the Occidental-white, instead of vice 
versa. Where one was in a position of power— as Cromer was, for example— the Oriental 
belonged to the system of rule whose principle was simply to make sure that no Oriental 
was ever allowed to be independent and rule himself. The premise there was that since the 
Orientals were ignorant of self-government, they had better be kept that way for their own 

Since the White Man, like the Orientalist, lived very close to the line of tension keeping 
the coloreds at bay, he felt it incumbent on him readily to define and redefine the domain 
he surveyed. Passages of narrative description regularly alternate with passages of re- 
articulated definition and judgment that disrupt the narrative; this is a characteristic style 
of the writing produced by Oriental experts who operated using Kipling's White Man as a 
mask. Here is T. E. Lawrence, writing to V. W. Richards in 1918: 

... the Arab appealed to my imagination. It is the old, old civilisation, which has 
refined itself clear of household gods, and 


half the trappings which ours hastens to assume. The gospel of bareness in materials 
is a good one, and it involves apparently a sort of moral bareness too. They think for 
the moment, and endeavour to slip through life without turning corners or climbing 
hills. In part it is a mental and moral fatigue, a race trained out, and to avoid 
difficulties they have to jettison so much that we think honorable and grave: and yet 
without in any way sharing their point of view, I think I can understand it enough to 
look at myself and other foreigners from their direction, and without condemning it. I 
know I am a stranger to them, and always will be; but I cannot believe them worse, 
any more than I could change to their ways.29 

A similar perspective, however different the subject under discussion may seem to be, is 
found in these remarks by Gertrude Bell: 

How many thousand years this state of things has lasted [namely, that Arabs live in "a 
state of war"], those who shall read the earliest records of the inner desert will tell us, 
for it goes back to the first of them, but in all the centuries the Arab has bought no 

wisdom from experience. He is never safe, and yet he behaves as though security 
were his daily bread30 

To which, as a gloss, we should add her further observation, this time about life in 

I begin to see dimly what the civilisation of a great Eastern city means, how they live, 
what they think; and I have got on to terms with them. I believe the fact of my being 
English is a great help. ... We have gone up in the world since five years ago. The 
difference is very marked. I think it is due to the success of our government in Egypt 
to a great extent. . . . The defeat of Russia stands for a great deal, and my impression 
is that the vigorous policy of Lord Curzon in the Persian Gulf and on the India 
frontier stands for a great deal more. No one who does not know the East can realise 
how it all hangs together. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that if the English 
mission had been turned back from the gates of Kabul, the English tourist would be 
frowned upon in the streets of Damascus.^l 

In such statements as these, we note immediately that "the Arab" or "Arabs" have an 
aura of apartness, definiteness, and collective self- consistency such as to wipe out any 
traces of individual Arabs with narratable life histories. What appealed to Lawrence's 
imagination was the clarity of the Arab, both as an image and as a sup- posed philosophy 
(or attitude) towards life: in both cases what 


Lawrence fastens on is the Arab as if seen from the cleansing per-spective of one not an 
Arab, and one for whom such un- self conscious primitive simplicity as the Arab possesses 
is something defined by the observer, in this case the White Man. Yet Arab refinement, 
which in its essentials corresponds to Y eats's visions of Byzantium where 

Flames that no faggot feeds, flint nor steel has lit, Nor storm disturbs, 
flames begotten of flame, Where blood-begotten spirits come 
And all complexities of fury leave^ 

is associated with Arab perdurability, as if the Arab had not been subject to the ordinary 
processes of history. Paradoxically, the Arab seems to Lawrence to have exhausted 
himself in his very temporal persistence. The enormous age of Arab civilization has thus 
served to refine the Arab down to his guintessential attributes, and to tire him out morally 
in the process. What we are left with is Bell's Arab: centuries of experience and no 
wisdom. As a collective entity, then, the Arab accumulates no existential or even 
semantical thickness. He remains the same, except for the exhausting refinements 
mentioned by Lawrence, from one end to the other of "the records of the inner desert." We 
are to assume that if an Arab feels joy, if he is sad at the death of his child or parent, if he 
has a sense of the injustices of political tyranny, then those experiences are necessarily 

subordinate to the sheer, unadorned, and persistent fact of being an Arab. 

The primitiveness of such a state exists simultaneously on at least two levels: one, in the 
definition, which is reductive; and two (according to Lawrence and Bell), in reality. This 
absolute coincidence was itself no simple coincidence. For one, it could only have been 
made from the outside by virtue of a vocabulary and epistemological instruments 
designed both to get to the heart of things and to avoid the distractions of accident, 
circumstance, or experience. For another, the coincidence was a fact uniguely the result of 
method, tradition, and politics all working together. Each in a sense obliterated the 
distinctions between the type— the Oriental, the Semite, the , the Orient— and ordinary 
human reality, Yeats's "uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor," in which all human 
beings live. The scholarly investigator took a type marked "Oriental" for the same thing as 
any individual Oriental he might encounter. Years of tradition had encrusted discourse 
about such 


matters as the Semitic or Oriental spirit with some legitimacy. And political good sense 
taught, in Bell's marvelous phrase, that in the East "it all hangs together." Primitiveness 
therefore inhered in the Orient, was the Orient, an idea to which anyone dealing with or 
writing about the Orient had to return, as if to a touchstone out- lasting time or experience. 

There is an excellent way of understanding all this as it applied to the white agents, 
experts, and advisers for the Orient. What mattered to Lawrence and Bell was that their 
references to A cabs or Orientals belonged to a recognizable, and authoritative, convention 
of formulation, one that was able to subordinate detail to it. But from where, more 
particularly, did "the Arab," "the Semite," or "the Oriental" come? 

We have remarked how, during the nineteenth century in such writers as Renan, Lane, 
Flaubert, Caussin de Perceval, Marx, and Lamartine, a generalization about "the Orient" 
drew its power from the presumed representativeness of everything Oriental; each particle 
of the Orient told of its Orientalness, so much so that the attribute of being Oriental 
overrode any countervailing instance. An Oriental man was first an Oriental and only 
second a man. Such radical typing was naturally reinforced by sciences (or discourses, as 
I prefer to call them) that took a backward and downward direction towards the species 
category, which was supposed also to be an ontogenetic explanation for every member of 
the species. Thus within broad, semipopular designations such as "Oriental" there were 
some more scientifically valid distinctions being made; most of these were based 
principally on language types— e.g., Semitic, Dravidic, Hamitic— but they were guickly 
able to acguire anthropological, psychological, biological, and cultural evidence in their 
support. Renan's "Semitic," as an instance, was a linguistic generalization which in 
Renan's hands could add to itself all sorts of parallel ideas from anatomy, history, 
anthropology, and even geology. "Semitic" could then be employed not only as a simple 
description or designation; it could be applied to any complex of historical and political 

events in order to pare them down to a nucleus both antecedent to and inherent in them. 
"Semitic/ 1 there- fore, was a transtemporal, transindividual category, purporting to predict 
every discrete act of "Semitic" behavior on the basis of some pre-existing "Semitic" 
essence, and aiming as well to interpret all aspects of human life and activity in terms of 
some common "Semitic" element. 


The peculiar hold on late- nineteenth- century liberal European culture of such relatively 
punitive ideas will seem mysterious unless it is remembered that the appeal of sciences 
like linguistics, anthropology, and biology was that they were empirical, and by no means 
speculative or idealistic. Renan's Semitic, like Bopp's Indo-European, was a constructed 
object, it is true, but it was considered logical and inevitable as a protoform, given the 
'scientifically apprehendable and empirically analyzable data of specific Semitic 
languages. Thus, in trying to formulate a prototypical and primitive linguistic type (as 
well as a cultural, psychological, and historical one), there was also an "attempt to define 
a primary human potential," 33 out of which completely specific instances of behavior 
uniformly derived. Now this attempt would have been impossible had it not also been 
believed— in classical empiricist terms— that mind and body were interdependent 
realities, both determined originally by a given set of geographical, biological, and guasi- 
historical conditions "* From this set, which was not available to the native for discovery 
or introspection, there was no subseguent escape. The antiguarian bias of Orientalists was 
supported by these empiricist ideas. In all their studies of "classical" Islam, Buddhism, or 
Zoroastrianism they felt themselves, as George Eliot's Dr. Casaubon confesses, to be 
acting "like the ghost of ag 4ncient, wandering about the world and trying mentally to 
construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes." 35 

Were these theses about linguistic, civilizational, and finally racial characteristics 
merely one side of an academic debate amongst European scientists and scholars, we 
might dismiss them as furnishing material for an unimportant closet drama. The point is, 
however, that both the terms of the debate and the debate itself had very wide circulation; 
in late- nineteenth- century culture, as Lionel Trilling 'has said, "racial theory, stimulated 
by a rising nationalism and a spreading imperialism, supported by an incomplete and mal- 
assimilated science, was almost undisputed." 38 Race theory, ideas about primitive origins 
and primitive classifications, modern decadence, the progress of civilization, the destiny 
of the white (or Aryan) races, the need for colonial territories— all these were elements in 
the peculiar amalgam of science, politics, and culture whose drift, almost without 
exception, was always to raise Europe or a European race to dominion over non-European 
portions of mankind. There was general agreement too that, according to a strangely 
transformed variety of Darwinism sanctioned by Darwin 


himself, the modem Orientals were degraded remnants of a former greatness; the 
ancient or "classical/ 1 civilizations of the Orient were perceivable through the 
disorders of present decadence, but only (a) because a white specialist with 
highly refined scientific techniques could do the sifting and reconstructing, 
and (b) because a vocabulary of sweeping generalities (the Semites, the 
Aryans, the Orientals) referred not to a set of fictions but rather to a whole 
array of seemingly objective and agreed-upon distinctions. Thus a remark 
about what Orientals were and were not capable of was supported by 
biological "truths" such as those spelled out in P. Charles Michel's "A 
Biological View of Our Foreign Policy" (1896), in Thomas Henry Huxley's 
The Struggle for Existence in Human Society (1888), Benjamin Kidd's Social 
Evolution (1894), John B. Crozier's History/ of Intellectual Development on the 
Lines of Modern Evolution (1897-1901), and Charles Harvey's The Biology/ of 
British Politics (1904)." It was assumed that if languages were as distinct from 
each other as the linguists said they were, then too the language users— their 
minds, cultures, potentials, and even their bodies— were different in similar 
ways. And these distinctions had the force of ontological, empirical truth 
behind them, together with the convincing demonstration of such truth in 
studies of origins, development, character, and destiny. 

The point to be emphasized is that this truth about the distinctive differences 
between races, civilizations, and languages was (or pretended to be) radical and 
ineradicable. It went to the bottom of things, it asserted that there was no escape 
from origins and the types these origins enabled; it set the real boundaries between 
human beings, on which races, nations, and civilizations were constructed; it 
forced vision away from common, as well as plural, human realities like joy, 
suffering, political organization, forcing attention instead in the downward and 
backward direction of immutable origins. A scientist could no more escape such 
origins in his research than an Oriental could escape "the Semites" or "the Arabs" 
or "the Indians" from which his present reality— debased, colonized, backward- 
excluded him, except for the white re- searcher's didactic presentation. 

The profession of specialized research conferred unique privileges. We recall 
that Lane could appear to be an Oriental and yet retain his scholarly detachment. 
The Orientals he studied became in fact his Orientals, for he saw them not only 
as actual people but as monumentalized objects in his account of them. This 
double per- 


spective encouraged a sort of structured irony. On the 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/ 1 "the Muslims/ 1 or "the Orientals." Only the scholar could see, 
and manipulate, the discrepancy between the two levels. The tendency of the former was 
always towards greater variety, yet this variety was always being restrained, compressed 
downwards and backwards to the radical terminal of the generality. Every modem, native 
instance of behavior became an effusion to be sent back to the original terminal, which 
was strengthened in the process. This kind of "dispatching" was precisely the discipline 
of Orientalism. 

Lane's ability to deal with the Egyptians as present beings and as validations of sui 
generis labels was a function both of Orientalist discipline and of generally held views 
about the Near Oriental Muslim or Semite. In no people more than in the Oriental Semites 
was it possible to see the present and the origin together. The Jews and the Muslims, as 
subjects of Orientalist study, were readily understandable in view of their primitive 
origins: this was (and to a certain extent still is) the cornerstone of modern Orientalism. 
Renan had called the Semites an instance of arrested development, and functionally 
speaking this came to mean that for the Orientalist no modern Semite, however much he 
may have believed himself to be modern, could ever outdistance the organizing claims on 
him of his origins. This functional rule worked on the temporal and spatial levels together. 
No Semite advanced in time beyond the development of a "classical" period; no Semite 
could ever shake loose the pastoral, desert environment of his tent and tribe. Every 
manifestation of actual "Semitic" life could be, and ought to be, referred back to the 
primitive explanatory category of "the Semitic." 

The executive power of such a system of reference, by which each discrete instance of 
real behavior could be reduced down and back to a small number of explanatory 
"original" categories, was considerable by the end of the nineteenth century. In 
Orientalism it was the equivalent of bureaucracy in public administration. The department 
was more useful than the individual file, and certainly the human being was significant 
principally as the occasion for a file. We must imagine the Orientalist at work in the role 
of a clerk putting together a very wide assortment of files in a large cabinet marked "the 
Semites." Aided by recent discoveries in comparative and primitive anthropology, a 
scholar like William Robertson Smith could group together the inhabitants of the Near 
Orient and write 


on their kinship and marriage customs, on the form and content of their religious practice. 
The power of Smith's work is its plainly radical demythologizing of the Semites. The 
nominal barriers presented to the world by Islam or Judaism are swept aside; Smith uses 

Semitic philology, mythology, and Orientalist scholarship "to construct ... a hypothetical 
picture of the development of the social systems, consistent with all the Arabian facts." If 
this picture succeeds in revealing the antecedent, and still influential, roots of monotheism 
in totemism or animal worship, then the scholar has been successful. And this, Smith says, 
despite the fact that "our Mohammedan sources draw a veil, as far as they can, over all 
details of the old heathenism."" 

Smith's work on the Semites covered such areas as theology, literature, and history; it 
was done with a full awareness of work done by Orientalists (see, for instance, Smith's 
savage attack in 1887 on Renan's Histoire du peuple d'lsrael), and more important, was 
intended as an aid to the understanding of the modern Semites. For Smith, I think, was a 
crucial link in the intellectual chain connecting the White- Man- as- expert to the modern 
Orient. None of the encapsulated wisdom delivered as Oriental expertise by Lawrence, 
Hogarth, Bell, and the others would have been possible without Smith. And even Smith 
the antiguarian scholar would not have had half the authority without his additional and 
direct experience of "the Arabian facts." It was the combination in Smith of the "grasp" of 
primitive categories with the ability to see general truths behind the empirical vagaries of 
contemporary Oriental behavior that gave weight to his writing. Moreover, it was this 
special combination that adumbrated the style of expertise upon which Lawrence, Bell, 
and Philby built their reputation. 

Like Burton and Charles Doughty before him, Smith voyaged in the Hejaz, between 
1880 and 1881. Arabia has been an especially privileged place for the Orientalist, not only 
because Muslims treat Islam as Arabia's genius loci, but also because the Hejaz appears 
historically as barren and retarded as it is geographically; the Arabian desert is thus 
considered to be a locale about which one can make statements regarding the past in 
exactly the same form (and with the same content) that one makes them regarding the 
present. In the Hejaz you can speak about Muslims, modem Islam, and primitive Islam 
without bothering to make distinctions. To this vocabulary devoid of historical grounding, 
Smith was able to bring the cachet of additional authority provided by his Semitic studies. 


What we hear in his comments is the standpoint of a scholar commanding all the 
antecedents for Islam, the Arabs, and Arabia. Hence: 

It is characteristic of Mohammedanism that all national feeling assumes a religious 
aspect, inasmuch as the whole polity and social forms of a Moslem country are 
clothed in a religious dress. But it would be a mistake to suppose that genuine 
religious feeling is at the bottom of everything that justifies itself by taking a religious 
shape. The prejudices of the Arab have their roots in a conservatism which lies 
deeper than his belief in Islam. It is, indeed, a great fault of the religion of the Prophet 
that it lends itself so easily to the prejudices of the race among whom it was first 
promulgated, and that it has taken under its protection so many barbarous and 
obsolete ideas, which even Mohammed must have seen to have no religious worth, 

but which he carried over into his system in order to facilitate the propagation of his 
reformed doctrines. Yet many of the prejudices which seem to us most distinctively 
Mohammedan have no basis in the Koran.30 

The "us" in the last sentence of this amazing piece of logic defines the White Man's 
vantage point explicitly. This allows "us" to say in the first sentence that all political and 
social life are "clothed" in religious dress (Islam can thus be characterized as totalitarian), 
then to say in the second that religion is only a cover used by Muslims (in other words, all 
Muslims are hypocrites essentially). In the third sentence, the claim is made that Islam- 
even while laying hold upon the Arab's faith— has not really reformed the Arab's basic 
pre-Islamic conservatism. Nor is this all. For if Islam was successful as a religion it was 
because it fecklessly allowed these "authentic" Arab prejudices to creep in; for such a 
tactic (now we see that it was a tactic on Islam's behalf) we must blame Mo-hammed, who 
was after all a ruthless crypto-Jesuit. But all this is more or less wiped out in the last 
sentence, when Smith assures "us" that everything he has said about Islam is invalid, since 
the guintessential aspects of Islam known to the West are not "Mohammedan" after all. 

The principles of identity and noncontradiction clearly do not bind the Orientalist. 
What overrides them is Orientalist expertise, which is based on an irrefutable collective 
verity entirely within the Orientalist's philosophical and rhetorical grasp. Smith is able 
without the slightest trepidation to speak about "the jejune, prac- 


tical and . . . constitutionally irreligious habit of the Arabic mind," Islam as a system of 

"organized hypocrisy," the impossibility of "feeling any respect for Moslem devotion, in 

which formalism and vain repetition are reduced to a system." His attacks on Islam are not 

relativist, for it is clear to him that Europe's and Christianity's superiority is actual, not 

imagined. At bottom, Smith's vision of the world is binary, as is evident in such passages 

as the following: 

The Arabian traveller is guite different from ourselves. The labour of moving from 

place to place is a mere nuisance to him, he has no enjoyment in effort [as "we" do], 

and grumbles at hunger or fatigue with all his might [as "we" do not]. Y ou will never 

persuade the Oriental that, when you get off your camel, you can have any other wish 

than immediately to sguat on a rug and take your rest (isterih), smoking and drinking. 

Moreover the Arab is little impressed by scenery [but "we" are]. 10 

"We" are this, "they" are that. Which Arab, which Islam, when, how, according to what 

tests: these appear to be distinctions irrelevant to Smith's scrutiny of and experience in the 

Hejaz. The crucial point is that everything one can know or learn about "Semites" and 

"Orientals" receives immediate corroboration, not merely in the archives, but directly on 

the ground. 

Out of such a coercive framework, by which a modern "colored" man is chained 
irrevocably to the general truths formulated about his prototypical linguistic, 
anthropological, and doctrinal forebears by a white European scholar, the work of the 
great twentieth- century Oriental experts in England and France derived. To this 
framework these experts also brought their private mythology and obsessions, which in 
writers like Doughty and Lawrence have been studied with considerable energy. Each- 
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Doughty, Lawrence, Bell, Hogarth, Philby, Sykes, Storrs— 
believed his vision of things Oriental was individual, self- created out of some intensely 
personal encounter with the Orient, Islam, or the Arabs; each expressed general contempt 
for official knowledge held about the East. "The sun made me an Arab," Doughty wrote in 
Arabia Deserta, "but never warped me to Orientalism." Yet in the final analysis they all 
(except Blunt) expressed the traditional Western hostility to and fear of the Orient. Their 
views refined and gave a personal twist to the academic style of modern Orientalism, with 
its repertoire of grand generalizations, tendentious "science" from which there was no 
appeal, reductive formulae. (Doughty again, 


on the same page as his sneer at Orientalism: "The Semites are like to a man sitting in a 

cloaca to the eyes, and whose brows touch heaven." 41) They acted, they promised, they 
recommended public policy on the basis of such generalizations; and, by a remarkable 
irony, they acguired the identity of White Orientals in their natal cultures— even as, in the 
instances of Doughty, Lawrence, Hogarth, and Bell, their professional involvement with 
the East (like Smith's) did not prevent them from despising it thoroughly. The main issue 
for them was preserving the Orient and Islam under the control of the White Man. 

A new dialectic emerges out of this project. What is reguired of the Oriental expert is 
no longer simply "understanding": now the Orient must be made to perform, its power 
must be enlisted on the side of "our" values, civilization, interests, goals. Knowledge of 
the Orient is directly translated into activity, and the results give rise to new currents of 
thought and action in the Orient. But these in turn will reguire from the White Man a new 
assertion of control, this time not as the author of a scholarly work on the Orient but as 
the maker of contemporary history, of the Orient as urgent actuality (which, because he 
began it, only the expert can understand adeguately). The Orientalist has now become a 
figure of Oriental history, indistinguishable from it, its shaper, its characteristic sign for 
the West. Here is the dialectic in brief: 

Some Englishmen, of whom Kitchener was chief, believed that a rebellion of Arabs 
against Turks would enable England, while fighting Germany, simultaneously to 
defeat her ally Turkey. Their knowledge of the nature and power and country of the 
Arabic-speaking peoples made them think that the issue of such a rebellion would be 
happy: and indicated its character and method. So they allowed it to begin, having 

obtained formal assurances of help for it from the British Government. Y et none the 

less the rebellion of the Sherif of Mecca came to most as a surprise, and found the 

Allies unready. It aroused mixed feelings and made strong friends and enemies, amid 

whose clashing jealousies its affairs began to miscarry.42 

This is Lawrence's own synopsis of chapter 1 of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The 

"knowledge" of "some Englishmen" authors a movement in the Orient whose "affairs" 

create a mixed progeny; the ambiguities, the half- imagined, tragicomic results of this 

new, revived Orient become the subject of expert writing, a new form of Orientalist 

discourse that presents a vision of the contemporary 


Orient, not as narrative, but as all complexity, problematics, betrayed hope— with the 
White Orientalist author as its prophetic, articulate definition. 

The defeat of narrative by vision— which is true evert in so patently storylike a work as 
The Seven Pillars— is something we have already encountered in Lane's Modern 
Egyptians. A conflict between a holistic view of the Orient (description, monumental 
record) and a narrative of events in the Orient is a conflict on several levels, involving 
several different issues. As the conflict is freguently renewed in the discourse of 
Orientalism, it is worthwhile analyzing it here briefly. The Orientalist surveys the Orient 
from above, with the aim of getting hold of the whole sprawling panorama before him— 
culture, religion, mind, history, society. To do this he must see every detail through the 
device of a set of reductive categories (the Semites, the Muslim mind, the Orient, and so 
forth). Since these categories are primarily schematic and efficient ones, and since it is 
more or less assumed that no Oriental can know himself the way an Orientalist can, any 
vision of the Orient ultimately comes to rely for its coherence and force on the person, 
institution, or discourse whose property it is. Any comprehensive vision is fundamentally 
conservative, and we have noted how in the history of ideas about the Near Orient in the 
West these ideas have maintained themselves regardless of any evidence disputing them. 
(Indeed, we can argue that these ideas produce evidence that proves their validity.) 

The Orientalist is principally a kind of agent of such comprehensive visions; Lane is a 
typical instance of the way an individual believes himself to have subordinated his ideas, 
or even what he sees, to the exigencies of some "scientific" view of the whole 
phenomenon known collectively as the Orient, or the Oriental nation. A vision therefore 
is static, just as the scientific categories informing late-nineteenth-century Orientalism 
are static: there is no recourse beyond "the Semites" or "the Oriental mind"; these are 
final terminals holding every variety of Oriental behavior within a general view of the 
whole field. As a discipline, as a profession, as specialized language or discourse, 
Orientalism is staked upon the permanence of the whole Orient, for without "the Orient" 
there can be no consistent, intelligible, and articulated knowledge called "Orientalism." 
Thus the Orient belongs to Orientalism, just as it is assumed that there is pertinent 
information belonging to (or about) the Orient. 


Against this static system of "synchronic essentialism"43 i have called vision because it 
presumes that the whole Orient can be seen panoptically, there is a constant pressure. The 
source of pressure is narrative, in that if any Oriental detail can be shown to move, or to 
develop, diachrony is introduced into the system. What seemed stable— and the Orient is 
synonymous with stability and unchanging etemality— now appears unstable. Instability 
suggests that history, with its disruptive detail, its currents of change, its tendency towards 
growth, decline, or dramatic movement, is possible in the Orient and for the Orient. 
History and the narrative by which history is represented argue that vision is insufficient, 
that "the Orient" as an unconditional ontological category does an injustice to the potential 
of reality for change. 

Moreover, narrative is the specific form taken by written history to counter the 
permanence of vision. Lane sensed the dangers of narrative when he refused to give linear 
shape to himself and to his information, preferring instead the monumental form of 
encyclopedic or lexicographical vision. Narrative asserts the power of men to be born, 
develop, and die, the tendency of institutions and actualities to change, the likelihood that 
modernity and contemporaneity will finally overtake "classical" civilizations; above all, it 
asserts that the domination of reality by vision is no more than a will to power, a will to 
truth and interpretation, and not an objective condition of history. Narrative, in short, 
introduces an opposing point of view, perspective, consciousness to the unitary web of 
vision; it violates the serene Apollonian fictions asserted by vision. 

When as a result of World War I the Orient was made to enter history, it was the 
Orientalist- as- agent who did the work. Hannah Arendt has made the brilliant observation 
that the counterpart of the bureaucracy is the imperial agent," which is to say that if the 
collective academic endeavor called Orientalism was a bureaucratic institution based on a 
certain conservative vision of the Orient, then the servants of such a vision in the Orient 
were imperial agents like T. E. Lawrence. In his work we can see most clearly the conflict 
between narrative history and vision, as— in his words— the "new Imperialism" attempted 
"an active tide of imposing responsibility on the local peoples [of the Orient]." 46 The 
competition between the European Powers now caused them to prod the Orient into active 
life, to press the Orient into service, to turn the Orient from un-changing "Oriental" 
passivity into militant modern life. It would be important, nevertheless, never to let the 
Orient go its own way or 


get out of hand, the canonical view being that Orientals had no tradition of freedom. 

The great drama of Lawrence's work is that it symbolizes the struggle, first, to stimulate 
the Orient (lifeless, timeless, forceless) into movement; second, to impose upon that 
movement an essentially Western shape; third, to contain the new and aroused Orient in a 
personal vision, whose retrospective mode includes a powerful sense of failure and 

I meant to make a new nation, to restore a lost influence, to give twenty millions of 
Semites the foundation on which to build an inspired dream-palace of their national 

thoughts All the subject provinces of the Empire to me were not worth one dead 

English boy. If I have restored to the East some self-respect a goal, ideals: if I have 
made the standard rule of white over red more exigent, I have fitted those peoples in a 
degree for the new commonwealth in which the dominant races will forget their brute 
achievements, and white and red and yellow and brown and black will stand up 
together without side-glances in the service of the world.46 

None of this, whether as intention, as an actual undertaking, or as a failed project, would 
have been remotely possible without the White Orientalist perspective at the outset: 

The Jew in the Metropole at Brighton, the miser, the worshipper of Adonis, the lecher 
in the stews of Damascus were alike signs of the Semitic capacity for enjoyment, and 
expressions of the same nerve which gave us at the other pole the self-denial of the 
Essenes, or the early Christians, or the first Khalifas, finding the ways to heaven 
fairest for the poor in spirit. The Semite hovered between lust and self-denial. 

Lawrence is backed in such statements by a respectable tradition stretching like a 
lighthouse beam through the whole nineteenth century; at its light- emanating center, of 
course, is "the Orient," and that is powerful enough to light up both the gross and the 
refined topographies within its range. The Jew, the worshipper of Adonis, the Damascene 
lecher, are signs not so much of humanity, let us say, as of a semiotic field called Semitic 
and built into coherence by the Semitic branch of Orientalism. Inside this field, certain 
things were possible: 

Arabs could be swung on an idea as on a cord; for the unpledged allegiance of their 
minds made them obedient servants. None of 


them would escape the bond till success had come, and with it responsibility and duty 
and engagement. Then the idea was gone and the work ended— in ruins. Without a 
creed they could be taken to the four corners of the world (but not to heaven) by 
being shown the riches of the earth and the pleasures of it; but if on the road . . . they 
met the prophet of an idea, who had no-where to lay his head and who depended for 
his food on charity or birds, then they would all leave their wealth for his inspiration. 
. . . They were as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail. 
Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing themselves against 
the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken. . . . One such wave (and not the least) I 
raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over 
and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested 
things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in fullness of time the sea 
shall be raised once more. 
"Could," "would," and "if" are Lawrence's way inserting himself in the field, as it were. 
Thus the possibility is prepared for the last sentence, in which as manipulator of the Arabs 
Lawrence puts himself at their head. Like Conrad's Kurtz, Lawrence has cut himself loose 

from the earth so as to become identified with a new reality in order— he says later— that 
he might be responsible for "hustling into form ... the new Asia which time was 
inexorably bringing upon us.'" T 

The Arab Revolt acguires meaning only as Lawrence designs meaning for it; his 
meaning imparted thus to Asia was a triumph, "a mood of enlargement ... in that we felt 
that we had assumed another's pain or experience, his personality." The Orientalist has 
become now the representative Oriental unlike earlier participant observers such as Lane, 
for whom the Orient was something kept carefully at bay. But there is an unresolvable 
conflict in Lawrence between the White Man and the Oriental, and although he does not 
explicitly say so, this conflict essentially restages in his mind the historical conflict 
between East and West. Conscious of his power over the Orient, conscious also of his 
duplicity, unconscious of any-thing in the Orient that would suggest to him that history, 
after all, is history and that even without him the Arabs would finally attend to their 
guarrel with the Turks, Lawrence reduces the entire narrative of the revolt (its momentary 
successes and its bitter failure) to his vision of himself as an unresolved, "standing civil 


Y et in reality we had borne the vicarious for our own sakes, or at least because it 
was pointed for our benefit: and could escape from this knowledge only by a make- 
belief in sense as well as in motive... . 

There seemed no straight walking for us leaders in this crooked lane of conduct, 
ring within ring of unknown, shamefaced motives cancelling or double-charging their 

To this intimate sense of defeat Lawrence was later to add a theory about "the old men" 
who stole the triumph from him. In any event, what matters to Lawrence is that as a white 
expert, the legatee of years of academic and popular wisdom about the Orient, he is able 
to subordinate his style of being to theirs, thereafter to assume the role of Oriental prophet 
giving shape to a movement in "the new Asia." And when, for whatever reason, the 
movement fails (it is taken over by others, its aims are betrayed, its dream of inde- 
pendence invalidated), it is Lawrence's disappointment that counts. So far from being a 
mere man lost in the great rush of confusing events, Lawrence eguates himself fully with 
the struggle of the new Asia to be born. 

Whereas Aeschylus had represented Asia mourning its losses, and Nerval had espressed 
his disappointment in the Orient for not being more glamorous than he had wanted, 
Lawrence becomes both the mourning continent and a subjective consciousness ex- 
pressing an almost cosmic disenchantment. In the end Lawrence— and thanks not only to 
Lowell Thomas and Robert Graves— and Lawrence's vision became the very symbol of 
Oriental trouble: Lawrence, in short, had assumed responsibility for the Orient by 
interspersing his knowing experience between the reader and his-tory. Indeed what 
Lawrence presents to the reader is an unmediated expert power— the power to be, for a 

brief time, the Orient. All the events putatively ascribed to the historical Arab Revolt are 
reduced finally to Lawrence's experiences on its behalf. 

In such a case, therefore, style is not only the power to symbolize such enormous 
generalities as Asia, the Orient, or the Arabs; it is also a form of displacement and 
incorporation by which one voice becomes a whole history, and— for the white 
Westerner, as reader or writer— the only kind of Orient it is possible to know. Just as 
Renan had mapped the field of possibility open to the Semites in culture, thought, and 
language, so too Lawrence charts the space (and indeed, appropriates that space) and time 
of modern Asia. 


The effect of this style is that it brings Asia tantalizingly close to the West, but only for a 
brief moment. We are left at the end with a sense of the pathetic distance still separating 
"us" from an Orient destined to bear its foreignness as a mark of its permanent estrange- 
ment from the West. This is the disappointing conclusion corroborated 
(contemporaneously) by the ending of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, where Aziz and 
Fielding attempt, and fail at, reconciliation: 

"W hy can't we be friends now?" said the other, holding him affectionately. "It's 
what I want. It's what you want." 

But the horses didn't want it— they swerved apart; the earth didn't want it, sending 
up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the 
palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued 
from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn't want it, they said in their hundred 
voices, "No, not yet," and the sky said, "No, notthere."49 

This style, this compact definition, is what the Orient will always come up against. 

Despite its pessimism, there is a positive political message behind its phrases. The gulf 
between East and West can be modulated, as Cromer and Balfour knew well, by superior 
Western knowledge and power. Lawrence's vision is complemented in France by Maurice 
BarrBs's Une Enquete aux pays du Levant, the record of a journey through the Near 
Orient in 1914. Like so many works before it, the Enquete is a work of recapitulation 
whose author not only searches out sources and origins of Western culture in the Orient 
but also redoes Nerval, Flaubert, and Lamartine in their voyages to the Orient. For Barros, 
however, there is an additional political dimension to his journey: he seeks proof, and 
conclusive evidence, for a constructive French role in the East. Y et the difference between 
French and British expertise remains: the former manages an actual conjunction of 
peoples and territory, whereas the latter deals with a realm of spiritual possibility. For 
Barros the French presence is best seen in French schools where, as he says of a school in 
Alexandria, "It is ravishing to see those little Oriental girls welcoming and so wonderfully 
reproducing the fantaisie and the melody [in their spoken French] of the Ile-de- France." If 

France does not actually have any colonies there, she is not entirely without possessions: 


There is, there in the Orient a feeling about France which is so religious and strong 
that it is capable of absorbing and reconciling all our most diverse aspirations. In the 
Orient we represent spirituality, justice, and the category of the ideal. England is 
powerful there; Germany is all-powerful; but we possess Oriental souls. 

Arguing vociferously with Jaures, this celebrated European doctor proposes to vaccinate 
Asia against its own illnesses, to occidentalize the Orientals, to bring them into salubrious 
contact with France. Yet even in these projects Barres's vision preserves the very distinc- 
tion between East and West he claims to be mitigating. 

How will we be able to form for ourselves an intellectual elite with which we can 
work, made out of Orientals who would not be deracinated, who would continue to 
evolve according to their own norms, who would remain penetrated by family 
traditions, and who would thus form a link between us and the mass of natives? How 
will we create relationships with a view towards preparing the way for agreements 
and treaties which would be the desirable form taken by our political future [in the 
Orient]? All these things are finally all about soliciting in these strange peoples the 
taste for maintaining contact with our intelligence, even though this taste may in 
fact come out of their own sense of their national destiny.'" 

The emphasis in the last sentence is Barres's own. Since unlike Lawrence and Hogarth 
(whose book The Wandering Scholar is the wholly informative and unromantic record 
of two trips to the Levant in 1896 and 1910^1) he writes of a world of distant prob- 
abilities; he is more prepared to imagine the Orient as going its own way. Y et the bond (or 
leash) between East and West that he advocates is designed to permit a constant variety of 
intellectual pressure going from West to East. Barres sees things, not in terms of waves, 
battles, spiritual adventures, but in terms of the cultivation of intellectual imperialism, as 
ineradicable as it is subtle. The British vision, exemplified by Lawrence, is of the 
mainstream Orient, of peoples, political organizations, and movements guided and held in 
check by the White Man's expert tutelage; the Orient is "our"' Orient, "our" people, "our" 
dominions. Discriminations between elites and the masses are less likely to be made by 
the British than by the French, whose perceptions and policy were always based on 
minorities and on the insidious pressures of spiritual community between France and its 
colonial children. The 


British agent- Orientalist— Lawrence, Bell, Philby, Storrs, Hogarth —during and after 
World War I took over both the role of expertadventurer- eccentric (created in the 
nineteenth century by Lane, Burton, Hester Stanhope) and the role of colonial authority, 
whose position is in a central place next to the indigenous ruler: Lawrence with the 
Hashimites, Philby with the house of Saud, are the two best- known instances. British 
Oriental expertise fashioned itself around consensus and orthodoxy and sovereign 
authority; French Oriental expertise between the wars concerned itself with heterodoxy, 
spiritual ties, eccentrics. It is no accident, then, that the two major scholarly careers of 
this period, one British, one French, were H. A. R. Gibb's and Louis Massignon's, one 
whose interest was defined by the notion of Sunna (or orthodoxy) in Islam, the other 
whose focus was on the guasi- Christlike, theosophical Sufi figure, Mansur al-Hallaj. I 
shall return to these two major Orientalists a little later. 

If I have concentrated so much on imperial agents and policy-makers instead of 
scholars in this section, it was to accentuate the major shift in Orientalism, knowledge 
about the Orient, inter-course with it, from an academic to an instrumental attitude. 
What accompanies the shift is a change in the attitude as well of the individual 
Orientalist, who need no longer see himself— as Lane, Sacy, Renan, Caussin, Muller, and 
others did— as belonging to a sort of guild community with its own internal traditions and 
rituals. Now the Orientalist has become the representative man of his Western culture, a 
man who compresses within his own work a major duality of which that work (regardless 
of its specific form) is the symbolic expression: Occidental consciousness, knowledge, 
science taking hold of the furthest Oriental reaches as well as the most minute Oriental 
particulars. Formally the Orientalist sees him-self as accomplishing the union of Orient 
and Occident, but mainly by reasserting the technological, political, and cultural 
supremacy of the West. History, in such a union, is radically attentuated if not banished. 
Viewed as a current of development, as a narrative strand, or as a dynamic force 
unfolding systematically and materially in time and space, human history— of the East or 
the West — is subordinated to an essentialist, idealist conception of Occident and Orient. 
Because he feels himself to be standing at the very rim of the East-West divide, the 
Orientalist not only speaks in vast generalities; he also seeks to convert each aspect of 
Oriental or 


Occidental life into an unmediated sign of one or the other geo- graphical half. 

The interchange in the Orientalist's writing between his expert self and his testimonial, 
beholding self as Western representative is pre-eminently worked out in visual terms. 
Here is a typical passage (guoted by Gibb) from Duncan Macdonald's classic work The 

Religious Attitude and Life in Islam (1909): 

The Arabs show themselves not as especially easy of belief, but as hard-headed, 
materialistic, questioning, doubting, scoffing at their own superstitions and usages, 
fond of tests of the supernatural— and all this in a curiously light-minded, almost 
childish fashion.S^ 

The governing verb is show, which here gives us to understand that the Arabs display 
themselves (willingly or unwillingly) to and for expert scrutiny. The number of attributes 
ascribed to them, by its crowded set of sheer appositions, causes "the Arabs" to acguire a 
sort of existential weightlessness; thereby, "the Arabs" are made to rejoin the very broad 
designation, common to modern anthropological thought, of "the childish primitive." 
What Macdonald also implies is that for such descriptions there is a peculiarly privileged 
position occupied by the Western Orientalist, whose representative function is precisely to 
show what needs to be seen. All specific history is capable of being seen thus at the apex, 
or the sensitive frontier, of Orient and Occident together. The complex dynamics of 
human life— what I have been calling 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 Westemness of the observer. 

If such a vision in some ways recalls D ante's, we should by no means fail to notice what 
an enormous difference there is between this Orient and Dante's. Evidence here is meant 
to be ( and probably is considered) scientific; its pedigree, genealogically speaking, is 
European intellectual and human science during the nineteenth century. Moreover, the 
Orient is no simple marvel, or an enemy, or a branch of exotica; it is a political actuality 
of great and significant moment. Like Lawrence, Macdonald cannot really detach his 
representative characteristics as a Westerner from his role as a scholar. Thus his vision of 
Islam, as much as Lawrence's of the Arabs, implicates definition of the object with the 

identity of the 


person defining. All Arab Orientals must be accommodated to a vision of an Oriental 
type as constructed by the Western scholar, as well as to a specific encounter with the 
Orient in which the Westerner regrasps the Orient's essence as a consequence of his 
intimate estrangement from it. For Lawrence as for Forster, this latter sensation produces 
the despondency as well of personal failure; for such scholars as Macdonald, it 
strengthens the Orientalist dis-course itself. 

And it puts that discourse abroad in the world of culture, politics, and actuality. In the 
period between the wars, as we can easily judge from, say, Malraux's novels, the relations 
between East and West assumed a currency that was both widespread and anxious. The 
signs of Oriental claims for political independence were everywhere; certainly in the 
dismembered Ottoman Empire they were encouraged by the Allies and, as is perfectly 
evident in the whole Arab Revolt and its aftermath, guickly became problematic. The 
Orient now appeared to constitute a challenge, not just to the West in general, but to the 
West's spirit, knowledge, and imperium. After a good century of constant intervention in 
(and study of) the Orient, the West's role in an East itself responding to the crises of 
modernity seemed considerably more delicate. There was the issue of outright 
occupation; there was the issue of the mandated territories; there was the issue of 
European competition in the Orient; there was the issue of dealing with native elites, 
native popular movements, and native demands for self-government and independence; 

there was the issue of civilizational contacts between Orient and Occident. Such issues 
forced reconsideration of Western knowledge of the Orient. No less a personage than 
Sylvain Levi, president of the Societe asiatigue between 1928 and 1935, professor of 
Sanskrit at the College de France, reflected seriously in 1925 on the urgency of the East- 
West problem: 

Our duty is to understand Oriental civilization. The humanistic problem, which 
consists, on an intellectual level, in making a sympathetic and intelligent effort to 
understand foreign civilizations in both their past and their future forms, is 
specifically posed for us Frenchmen [although similar sentiments could have been 
expressed by an Englishman: the problem was a one] in a practical way with regard to 

our great Asiatic colonies 

These peoples are the inheritors of a long tradition of history, of art, and of religion, 
the sense of which they have not entirely lost and which they are probably anxious to 
prolong. We have 


assumed the responsibility of intervening in their development, sometimes without 
consulting them, sometimes in answer to their reguest. ... We claim, rightly or 
wrongly, to represent a superior civilization, and because of the right given us by 
virtue of this superiority, which we regularly affirm with such assurance as makes it 
seem incontestable to the natives, we have called in guestion all their native 
traditions... . 

In a general way, then, wherever the European has intervened, the native has 
perceived himself with a sort of general despair which was really poignant since he 
felt that the sum of his well-being, in the moral sphere more than in sheer material 
terms, instead of increasing had in fact diminished. All of which has made the 
foundation of his social life seem to be flimsy and to crumble under him, and the 
golden pillars on which he had thought to rebuild his life now seem no more than 
tinseled cardboard. 

This disappointment has been translated into rancor from one end to the other of the 
Orient, and this rancor is very close now to turning to hate, and hate only waits for 
the right moment in order to turn into action. 

If because of laziness or incomprehension Europe does not make the effort that its 

interests alone reguire from it, then the Asiatic drama will approach the crisis 

It is here that that science which is a form of life and an instrument of policy— that 
is, wherever our interests are at stake— owes it to itself to penetrate native civilization 
and life in their intimacy in order to discover their fundamental values and durable 
characteristics rather than to smother native life with the incoherent threat of 
European civilizational imports. We must offer ourselves to these civilizations as we 

do our other products, that is, on the local exchange market. [Emphasis in original] 1 
Levi has no difficulty in connecting Orientalism with politics, for the long- or rather, 
the prolonged- Western intervention in the East cannot be denied either in its 
consequences for knowledge or in its effect upon the hapless native; together the two add 
up to what could be a menacing future. For all his expressed humanism, his admirable 
concern for fellow creatures, Levi conceives the present juncture in unpleasantly 
constricted terms. The Oriental is imagined to feel his world threatened by a superior 
civilization; yet his motives are impelled, not by some positive desire for freedom, 
political independence, or cultural achievement on their own terms, but instead by 
rancor or jealous malice. The panacea offered for this potentially ugly turn of affairs is 
that the Orient be marketed for a Western consumer, be put before him as one among 


wares beseeching his attention. By a single stroke you will defuse the Orient (by letting it 
think itself to be an "egual" guantity on the Occidental marketplace of ideas), and you will 
appease Western fears of an Oriental tidal wave. At bottom, of course, Levi's principal 
point— and his most telling confession— is that unless something is done about the Orient, 
"the Asiatic drama will approach the crisis point." 

Asia suffers, yet in its suffering it threatens Europe: the eternal, bristling frontier 
endures between East and West, almost unchanged since classical antiguity. What Ldvi 
says as the most august of modern Orientalists is echoed with less subtlety by cultural 
humanists. Item: in 1925 the French periodical Les Cahiers du mois conducted a survey 
among notable intellectual figures; the writers canvassed included Orientalists (Ldvi, 
Emile Senart) as well as literary men like Andre Gide, Paul Valery, and Edmond Jaloux. 
The guestions dealt with relations between Orient and Occident in a timely, not to say 
brazenly provocative, way, and this already indicates something about the cultural 
ambience of the period. We will immediately recognize how ideas of the sort promulgated 
in Orientalist scholarship have now reached the level of accepted truth. One guestion asks 
whether Orient and Occident are mutually im- penetrable (the idea was Maeterlinck's) or 
not; another asks whether or not Oriental influence represented "un peril grave"— Henri 
Massis's words— to French thought; a third asks about those values in Occidental culture 
to which its superiority over the Orient can be ascribed. Valery's response seems to me 
worth guoting from, so forthright are the lines of its argument and so time-honored, at 
least in the early twentieth century: 

From the cultural point of view, .1 do not think that we have much to fear now from 
the Oriental ih luence. It is not unknown to us. We owe to the Orient all the 
beginnings of our arts and of a great deal of our knowledge. We can very well 
welcome what now comes out of the Orient, if something new is coming out of there 
— which I very much doubt. This doubt is precisely our guarantee and our European 
Besides, the real guestion in such matters is to digest. But that has always been, just 

as precisely, the great specialty of the European mind through the ages. Our role is 
therefore to maintain this power of choice, of universal comprehension, of the 
transformation of everything into our own substance, powers which have made us 
what we are. The Greeks and the Romans showed us 


how to deal with the monsters of Asia, how to treat them by analysis, how to extract 
from them their guintessence. ... The Mediterranean basin seems to me to be like a 
closed vessel where the essences of the vast Orient have always come in order to be 
condensed. [Emphasis and ellipses in originalfi^ 1 

If European culture generally has digested the Orient, certainly Valery was aware that 
one specific agency for doing the job has been Orientalism. In the world of Wilsonian 
principles of national self-determination, Valery relies confidently on analyzing the 
Orient's threat away. "The power of choice" is mainly for Europe first to acknowledge 
the Orient as the origin of European science, then to treat it as a superseded origin. Thus, 
in another context, Balfour could regard the native inhabitants of Palestine as having 
priority on the land, but nowhere near the subseguent authority to keep it; the mere 
wishes of 700,000 Arabs, he said, were of no moment compared to the destiny of an 
essentially European colonial movement. °6 

Asia represented, then, the unpleasant likelihood of a sudden eruption that would 

destroy "our"' world; as John Buchan put it in 1922: 

The earth is seething with incoherent power and unorganized intelligence. Have you 

ever reflected on the case of China? There you have millions of guick brains stifled 

in trumpery crafts. They have no direction, no driving power, so the sum of their 

efforts is futile, and the world laughs at China.56 

But if China organized itself (as it would), it would be no laughing matter. Europe's effort 

therefore was to maintain itself as what Valery called "une machine puissante,"5 7 

absorbing what it could from outside Europe, converting everything to its use, 

intellectually and materially, keeping the Orient selectively organized (or dis- organized). 

Y et this could be done only through clarity of vision and analysis. Unless the Orient was 

seen for what it was, its power — military, material, spiritual— would sooner or later 

overwhelm Europe. The great colonial empires, great systems of systematic repression, 

existed to fend off the feared eventuality. Colonial subjects, as George Orwell saw them 

in Marrakech in 1939, must not be seen except as a kind of continental emanation, 

African, Asian, Oriental: 

When you walk through a town like this— two hundred thousand inhabitants, 
of whom at least twenty thousand own 


literally nothing except the rags they stand up in— when you see how the people live, 
and still more, how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are 
walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that 
fact. The people have brown faces— besides they have so many of them! Are they 
really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a 
kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? 
They arise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink 
back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are 
gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil." 

Aside from the picturesgue characters offered European readers in the exotic fiction of 
minor writers (Pierre Loti, Marmaduke Pickthall, and the like), the non-European known 
to Europeans is precisely what Orwell says about him. He is either a figure of fun, or an 
atom in a vast collectivity designated in ordinary or cultivated discourse as an 
undifferentiated type called Oriental, African, yellow, brown, or Muslim. To such 
abstractions Orientalism had contributed its power of generalization, converting instances 
of a civilization into ideal bearers of its values, ideas, and positions, which in turn the 
Orientalists had found in "the Orient" and trans-formed into common cultural currency. 

If we reflect that Raymond Schwab brought out his brilliant biography of Anguetil- 
Duperron in 1934— and began those studies which were to put Orientalism in its proper 
cultural context— we must also remark that what he did was in stark contrast to his fellow 
artists and intellectuals, for whom Orient and Occident were still the secondhand 
abstractions they were forValery. Not that Pound, Eliot, Yeats, Arthur Waley, Fenollosa, 
Paul Claudel(in his Con-naissance de rest), Victor Stigalen, and others were ignoring 
"the wisdom of the East," as Max Muller had called it a few generations earlier. Rather 
the culture viewed the Orient, and Islam in particular, with the mistrust with which its 
learned attitude to the Orient had always been freighted. A suitable instance of this con- 
temporary attitude at its most explicit is to be found in a series of lectures given at the 
University of Chicago in 1924 on "The Occident and the Orient" by Valentine Chirol, a 
well-known European newspaperman of great experience in the East; his purpose was to 
make clear to educated Americans that the Orient was not 


as far off as perhaps they believed. His line is a simple one: that Orient and Occident are 
irreducibly opposed to each other, and that the Orient— in particular 
"Mohammedanism"— is one of "the great world-forces" responsible for "the deepest lines 
of cleavage" in the world.39 Chirol's sweeping generalizations are, I think, adeguately 
represented by the titles of his six lectures: "Their Ancient Battleground"; "The Passing 

of the Ottoman Empire, the Peculiar Case of Egypt"; "The Great British Experiment in 
Egypt"; "Protectorates and Mandates"; "The New Factor of Bolshevism"; and "Some 
General Conclusions." 

To such relatively popular accounts of the Orient as Chirol's, we can add a testimonial 
by Elie Faure, who in his ruminations draws, like Chirol, on history, cultural expertise, 
and the familiar contrast between White Occidentalism and colored Orientalism. While 
delivering himself of paradoxes like "le carnage permanent de l'indifference orientale" 
(for, unlike "us," "they" have no conception of peace), Faure goes on to show that the 
Orientals' bodies are lazy, that the Orient has no conception of history, of the nation, or of 
patrie, that the Orient is essentially mystical— and so on. Faure argues that unless the 
Oriental learns to be rational, to develop technigues of knowledge and positivity, there 
can be no rapprochement between East and West. 80 A far more subtle and learned 
account of the East-West dilemma can be found in Femand Baldensperger's essay "Oil 
s'affrontent 1 'Orient et 1 'Occident intellectuels," but he too speaks of an inherent Oriental 
disdain for the idea, for mental discipline, for rational interpretation.81 

Spoken as they are out of the depths of European culture, by writers who actually 
believe themselves to be speaking on behalf of that culture, such commonplaces (for they 
are perfect idees revues) cannot be explained simply as examples of provincial 
chauvinism. They are not that, and— as will be evident to anyone who knows anything 
about Fame's and Baldensperger's other work— are the more paradoxical for not being 
that. Their background is the trans- formation of the exacting, professional science of 
Orientalism, whose function in nineteenth- century culture had been the restoration to 
Europe of a lost portion of humanity, but which had become in the twentieth century both 
an instrument of policy and, more important, a code by which Europe could interpret 
both itself and the Orient to itself. For reasons discussed earlier in this book, modern 
Orientalism already carried within itself the imprint of 


the great European fear of Islam, and this was aggravated by the political challenges of 
the entre-deux-guerres. My point is that the metamorphosis of a relatively innocuous 
philological subspecialty into a capacity for managing political movements, administering 
colonies, making nearly apocalyptic statements representing the White Man's difficult 
civilizing mission— all this is something at work within a purportedly liberal culture, one 
full of concern for its vaunted norms of catholicity, plurality, and open-mindedness. In 
fact, what took place was the very opposite of liberal: the hardening of doctrine and 
meaning, imparted by "science," into "truth." For if such truth reserved for itself the right 
to judge the Orient as immutably Oriental in the ways I have indicated, then liberality was 
no more than a form of oppression and mentalistic prejudice. 

The extent of such illiberality was not— and is not— often recognized from within the 
culture, for reasons that this book is trying to explore. It is heartening, nevertheless, that 
such illiberality has occasionally been challenged. Here is an instance from I. A. 
Richards's foreword to his Mencius on the Mind (1932) ; we can guite easily substitute 

"Oriental" for "Chinese" in what follows. 

A s to the effects of an increased knowledge of C hinese thought upon the W est, it is 
interesting to notice that a writer so unlikely to be thought either ignorant or careless 
as M. Etienne ,Gilson can yet, in the English Preface of his The Philosophy of St. 
Thomas Aquinas, speak of Thomistic Philosophy as "accepting and gather-ing up the 
whole of human tradition." This is how we all think, to us the Western world is still 
the World [or the part of the World that counts]; but an impartial observer would 
perhaps say that such provincialism is dangerous. And we are not yet so happy in the 
West that we can be sure that we are not suffering from its effects.82 
Richards's argument advances claims for the exercise of what he calls M ultiple D efinition, 
a genuine type of pluralism, with the combativeness of systems of definition eliminated. 
Whether or not we accept his counter to Gilson's provincialism, we can accept the 
proposition that liberal humanism, of which Orientalism has historically been one 
department, retards the process of enlarged and enlarging meaning through which true 
understanding can be attained. What took the place of enlarged meaning in twentieth- 
century Orientalism— that is, within the technical field— is the subject most immediately 
at hand. 



Modern Anglo-French rlen ta Us m in F u lie s t 

flow er 

Because we have become accustomed to think of a contemporary expert on some 
branch of the Orient, or some aspect of its life, as a specialist in "area studies," we have 
lost a vivid sense of how, until around World War II, the Orientalist was considered to be 
a generalist (with a great deal of specific knowledge, of course) who had highly developed 
skills for making summational statements. By summational statements I mean that in 
formulating a relatively uncomplicated idea, say, about Arabic grammar or Indian 
religion, the Orientalist would be understood (and would understand him- self) as also 
making a statement about the Orient as a whole, thereby summing it up. Thus every 
discrete study of one bit of Oriental material would also confirm in a summary way the 
pro-found Orientality of the material. And since it was commonly be-lieved that the whole 
Orient hung together in some profoundly organic way, it made perfectly good 
hermeneutical sense for the Orientalist scholar to regard the material evidence he dealt 

with as ultimately leading to a better understanding of such things as the Oriental 
character, mind, ethos, or world-spirit. 

Most of the first two chapters of this book have made similar arguments about earlier 
periods in the history of Orientalist thought. The differentiation in its later history that 
concerns us here, how-ever, is the one between the periods immediately before and after 
World War I. In both instances, as with the earlier periods, the Orient is Oriental no matter 
the specific case, and no matter the style or technigue used to describe it; the difference 
between the two periods in guestion is the reason given by the Orientalist for seeing the 
essential Orientality of the Orient. A good example of the prewar rationale can be found 
in the following passage by Snouck Hurgronje, taken from his 1899 review of Eduard 
Sachau'S Recht: 

... the law, which in practice had to make ever greater concessions to the use and 
custom s of the people and the arbitrariness of 


their rulers, nevertheless retained a considerable influence on the intellectual life of 
the Muslims. Therefore it remains, and still is for us too, an important subject of 
study, not only for abstract reasons connected with the history of law, civilization and 
religion, but also for practical purposes. The more intimate the relations of Europe 
with the Muslim East become, the more Muslim countries fall under European 
suzerainty, the more important it is for us Europeans to become acguainted with the 
intellectual life, the religious law, and the conceptual background of Islam ea 

Although Hurgronje allows that something so abstract as "Islamic law" did occasionally 
yield to the pressure of history and society, he is more interested than not in retaining the 
abstraction for intellectual use because in its broad outline "Islamic law" confirms the 
disparity between East and West. For Hurgronje the distinction between Orient and 
Occident was no mere academic or popular cliche: guite the contrary. For him it signified 
the essential, historical power relationship between the two. Knowledge of the Orient 
either proves, enhances, or deepens the difference by which European suzerainty (the 
phrase has a venerable nineteenth- century pedigree) is extended effectively over Asia. To 
know the Orient as a whole, then, is to know it because it is entrusted to one's keeping, if 
one is a Westerner. 

An almost symmetrical passage to Hurgronje's is to be found in the concluding 
paragraph of Gibb's article "Literature" in The Legacy of Islam, published in 1931. After 
having described the three casual contacts between East and West up till the eighteenth 
century, Gibb then proceeds to the nineteenth century: 

Following on these three moments of casual contact the German romantics turned 
again to the East and for the first time made it their conscious aim to open a way for 
the real heritage of oriental poetry to enter into the poetry of Europe. The nineteenth 
century, with its new sense of power and superiority, seemed to clang the gate 
decisively in the face of their design. Today, on the other hand, there are signs of a 
change. Oriental literature has begun to be studied again for its own sake, and a new 
under- standing of the East is being gained. As this knowledge spreads and the East 
recovers its rightful place in the life of humanity, oriental literature may once again 
perform its historic function, and assist us to liberate ourselves from the narrow and 
oppressive conceptions which would limit all that is significant in literature, thought, 
and history to our own segment of the globe. 01 


Gibb's phrase "for its own sake" is in diametrical opposition to the string of reasons 
subordinated to Hurgronje's declaration about European su2erainty over the East. 
What remains, nevertheless, is that seemingly inviolable over-all identity of something 
called "the East" and something else called "the West." Such entities have a use for 
each other, and it is plainly Gibb's laudable intention to show that the influence on 
Western of Oriental literature need not be (in its results) what Brunetiere had called 
"a national disgrace." Rather, the East could be confronted as a sort of humanistic 
challenge to the local confines of Western efhnocentricity. 

His earlier solicitation of Goethe's idea of Weltliteratur notwithstanding, Gibb's 
call for humanistic interinanimation between East and West reflects the changed 
political and cultural realities of the postwar era. European suzerainty over the Orient 
had not passed; but it had evolved — in British Egypt — from a more or less placid 
acceptance by the natives into a more and more contested political issue 
compounded by fractious native demands for independence. These were the years of 
constant British trouble with Zaghlul, the Wafd party, and the like. 85 Moreover, since 
1925 there had been a worldwide economic recession, and this too increased the 
sense of tension that Gibb's prose reflects. But the specifically cultural message in 
what he says is the most compelling. Heed the Orient, he seems to be telling his 
reader, for its use to the Western mind in the struggle to overcome narrowness, 
oppressive specialization, and limited perspectives. 

The ground had shifted considerably from Hurgronje to Gibb, as had the priorities. 
No longer did it go without much controversy that Europe's domination over the 
Orient was almost a fact of nature; nor was it assumed that the Orient was in need of 
Western enlightenment. What mattered during the interwar years was a cultural self- 

definition that transcended the provincial and the xenophobic. For Gibb, the West 
has need of the Orient as something to be studied because it releases the spirit from 
sterile specialization, it eases the affliction of excessive parochial and nationalistic 
self-centeredness, it increases one's grasp of the really central issues in the study of 
culture*. If the Orient appears more a partner in this new rising dialectic of cultural 
self-consciousness, it is, first, because the Orient is more of a challenge now than it 
was before, and second, because the West is entering a relatively new phase of 
cultural crisis, caused in part by the diminishment of Western suzerainty over the rest 
of the world. 


Therefore, in the best Orientalist work done during the interwar period — 
represented in the impressive careers of Massignon and Gibb himself — we will find 
elements in common with the best humanistic scholarship of the period. Thus the 
summational attitude of which I spoke earlier can be regarded as the Orientalist 
equivalent of attempts in the purely Western humanities to under-stand culture as a 
whole, antipositivistically, intuitively, sympathetically. Both the Orientalist and 
the non-Orientalist begin with the sense that Western culture is passing through 
an important phase, whose main feature is the crisis imposed on it by such threats as 
barbarism, narrow technical concerns, moral aridity, strident nationalism, and so forth. 
The idea of using specific texts, for in-stance, to work from the specific to the general 
(to understand the whole life of a period and consequentiy of a culture) is common to 
those humanists in the West inspired by the work of Wilhelm Dilthey, as well as to 
towering Orientalist scholars like Massignon and Gibb. The project of revitalizing 
philology — as it is found in the work of Curtius, Vossler, Auerbach, Spitzer, Gundolf, 
Hofmannsfhal 88 — has its counterpart therefore in the invigorations provided to 
strictly technical Orientalist philology by Massignon's studies of what he called the 
mystical lexicon, the vocabulary of Islamic devotion, and so on. 

But there is another, more interesting conjunction between Orientalism in this 
phase of its history and the European sciences of man (sciences de Vhomme), the 
G eisteswissenschaften con-temporary with it. We must note, first, that non- 
Orientalist cultural studies were perforce more immediately responsive to the threats 
to humanistic culture of a self-aggrandizing, amoral technical specialization 
represented, in part at least, by the rise of fascism in Europe. This response extended 
the concerns of the interwar period into the period following World War II as well. 
An eloquent scholarly and personal testimonial to this response can be found in Erich 

Auerbach's magisterial Mimesis, and in his last methodological reflections as a 
Philolog. 6T He tells us that Mimesis was written during his exile in Turkey and was 
meant to be in large measure an attempt virtually to see the development of Western 
culture at almost the last moment when that culture still had its integrity and 
civilizational coherence; therefore, he set himself the task of writing a general work 
based on specific textual analyses in such a way as to lay out the principles of Western 
literary performance in all their variety, richness, and fertility. The aim was a 


synthesis of Western culture in which the synthesis itself was matched in importance 
by the very gesture of doing it, which Auerbach believed was made possible by what 
he called "late bourgeois humanism. 888 The discrete particular was thus converted 
into a highly mediated symbol of the world-historical process. 

No less important for Auerbach — and this fact is of immediate relevance to 
Orientalism — was the humanistic tradition of involve-ment in a national culture or 
literature not one's own. Auerbach's example was Curtius, whose prodigious output 
testified to his deliberate choice as a German to dedicate himself professionally to the 
Romance literatures. Not for nothing, then, did Auerbach end his autumnal 
reflections with a significant quotation from Hugo of St. Victor's Didascalicon: "The 
man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is 
as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a 
foreign land." R9 The more one is able to leave one's cultural home, the more easily is 
one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and 
generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and 
alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance. 

No less important and methodologically formative a cultural force was the use in 
the social sciences of "types" both as an analytical device and as a way of seeing 
familiar things in a new way. The precise history of the "type" as it is to be found in 
early-twentieth-century thinkers like Weber, Durkheim, Lukacs, Alann-heim, and the 
other sociologists of knowledge has been examined often enough:" yet it has not 
been remarked, I think, that Weber's studies of Protestantism, Judaism, and 
Buddhism blew him (perhaps unwittingly) into the very territory originally charted 
and claimed by the Orientalists. There he found encouragement amongst all those 
nineteenth-century thinkers who believed that there was a sort of ontological 
difference between Eastern and Western economic (as well as religious) "mentalities." 
Although he never thoroughly studied Islam, Weber nevertheless influenced the field 

considerably, mainly because his notions of type were simply an "outside" con- 
firmation of many of the canonical theses held by Orientalists, whose economic ideas 
never extended beyond asserting the Oriental's fundamental incapacity for trade, 
commerce, and economic rationality. In the Islamic field those cliches held good for 
literally hundreds of years — until Maxime Rodinson's important study Islam and 
Capitalism appeared in 1966. Still, the notion of a type — 


Oriental, Islamic, Arab, or whatever — endures and is nourished by similar kinds 
of abstractions or paradigms or types as they emerge out of the modern social 

I have often spoken in this book of the sense of estrangement experienced by 
Orientalists as they dealt with or lived in a culture so profoundly different from 
their own. Now one of the striking differences between Orientalism in its Islamic 
version and all the other humanistic disciplines where Auerbach's notions on 
the necessity of estrangement have some validity is that Islamic Orientalists 
never saw their estrangement from Islam either as salutary or as an attitude 
with implications for the better understanding of their own culture. Rather, their 
estrangement from Islam simply intensified their feelings of superiority about 
European culture, even as their antipathy spread to include the entire Orient, of 
which Islam was considered a degraded (and usually, a virulently dangerous) 
representative. Such tendencies — it has also been my argument — became built 
into the very traditions of Orientalist study throughout the nineteenth century, 
and in time became a standard component of most Orientalist training, handed 
on from generation to generation. In addition, I think, the likelihood was very 
great that European scholars would continue to see the Near Orient through the 
perspective of its Biblical "origins, " that is, as a place of unshakably influential 
religious primacy. Given its special relationship to both Christianity and 
Judaism, Islam remained forever the Orientalist's idea (or type) of original 
cultural effrontery, aggravated naturally by the fear that Islamic civilization 
originally (as well as contemporaneously) continued to stand somehow opposed 
to the Christian West. 

For these reasons; Islamic Orientalism between the wars shared in the general 
sense of cultural crisis adumbrated by Auerbach and the others I have spoken 
of briefly, without at the same time developing in the same way as the other 
human sciences. Because Islamic Orientalism also preserved within it the 
peculiarly polemical religious attitude it had had from the beginning, it remained 
fixed in certain methodological tracks, so to speak. Its cultural alienation, for 
one, needed to be preserved from modem history and socio-political 
circumstance, as well as from the necessary revisions im-posed on any 

theoretical or historical "type" by new data. For another, the abstractions offered 
by Orientalism (or rather, the opportunity for making abstractions) in the case of 
Islamic civilization were considered to have acquired a new validity; since it 


assumed that Islam worked the way Orientalists said it did ( without reference 
to actuality, but only to a set of "classical" principles), it was also assumed that 
modern Islam would be nothing more than a reasserted version of the old, 
especially since it was also supposed that modernity for Islam was less of a 
challenge than an insult. (The very large number of assumptions and 
suppositions in this description, incidentally, are intended to portray the rather 
eccentric twists and turns necessary for Orientalism to have maintained its 
peculiar way of seeing human reality.) Finally, if the synthesizing ambition in 
philology (as conceived by Auerbach or Curtius) was to lead to an enlargement of 
the scholar's awareness, of his sense of the brotherhood of man, of the 
universality of certain principles of human behavior, in Islamic Orientalism 
synthesis led to a sharpened sense of difference between Orient and Occident as 
reflected in Islam. 

What I am describing, then, is something that will characterize Islamic 
Orientalism until the present day: its retrogressive position when compared with 
the other human sciences (and even with the other branches of Orientalism), its 
general methodological and ideological backwardness, and its comparative 
insularity from developments both in the other humanities and in the real world 
of historical, economic, social, and political circumstances." Some awareness of 
this lag in Islamic (or Semitic) Orientalism was al-ready present towards the end 
of the nineteenth century, perhaps because it was beginning to be apparent to 
some observers how very little either Semitic or Islamic Orientalism had shaken 
itself loose from the religious background from which it originally derived. The 
first Orientalist congress was organized and held in Paris in 1873, and almost 
from the outset it was evident to other scholars that the Semiticists and 
Islamicists were in intellectual arrears, generally speaking. Writing a survey of 
all the congresses that had been held between 1873 and 1897, the English 
scholar R. N. Cust had this to say about the Semitic-Islamic subfield: 

Such meetings [as those held in the ancient-Semitic field], indeed, advance 
Oriental learning. 

The same cannot be said with regard to the modern-Semitic section; it was 
crowded, but the subjects discussed were of the smallest literary interest, 
such as would occupy the minds of the dilettanti scholars of the old school, 

not the great class of "indicatores" of the nineteenth century. I am forced to 
go back to Pliny to find a word. There was an absence from this section both 


of the modem philological and archeological spirit and the report reads more like 
that of a congress of University tutors of the last century met to discuss the reading 
of a passage in a Greek play, or the accentuation of a vowel, before the dawn of 
Comparative Philology had swept away the cobwebs of the Scholiasts. Was it worth 
while to discuss whether Mahomet could hold a pen or write? 72 

To some extent the polemical antiquarianism that Cust de- scribed was a scholarly 
version of European anti-Semitism. Even the designation "modem- Semitic," which was 
meant to include both Muslims and Jews (and which had its origin in the so-called 
ancient- Semitic field pioneered by Renan), carried its racist banner with what was 
doubtless meant to be a decent ostentation A little later in his report Cust comments on 
how in the same meeting " "the Aryan 1 supplied much material for reflection" Clearly 
"the Aryan" is a coiinterabstraction to "the Semite," but for some of the reasons I listed 
earlier, such atavistic labels were felt to be especially pertinent to Semites— with what 
expensive moral and human consequences for the human community as a whole, the 
history of the twentieth century amply demonstrates. Yet what has not been sufficiently 
stressed in histories of modem anti- Semitism has been the legitimation of such atavistic 
designations by Orientalism and more important for my purposes here, the way this 
academic and intellectual legitimation has persisted right through the modem age in 
discussions of Islam the Arabs, or the Near Orient For whereas it is no longer possible to 
write learned (or even popular) disquisitions on either "the Negro mind" or "the Jewish 
personality," it is perfectly possible to engage in such research as "the Islamic mind," or 
"the Arab character"— but of this subject more later. 

Thus, in order properly to understand the intellectual genealogy of interwar Islamic 
Orientalism— as it is most interestingly and satisfyingly seen (no irony intended) in the 
careers of Massignon and Gibb— we must be able to understand the differences between 
the Orientalist's summational attitude towards his material and the kind of attitude to 
which it bears a strong cultural resemblance, that in the work of philologists such as 
Auerbach and Curtius. The intellectual crisis in Islamic Orientalism was another aspect of 
the spiritual crisis of "late bourgeois humanism"; in its form and style, however, Islamic 
Orientalism viewed the problems of mankind as 


separable into the categories called "Oriental" or"Octidgntal." It was believed, then, that 
for the Oriental, liberation, self-expression, and self-enlargement were not the issues that 
they were for the Occidental. Instead, the Islamic Orientalist expressed his ideas about 
Islam in such a way as to emphasize his, as well as putatively the Muslim's, resistance to 
change, to mutual comprehension between East and West, to the development of men and 
women out of archaic, primitive classical institutions and into modernity. Indeed, so fierce 
was this sense of resistance to change, and so universal were the powers ascribed to it, 
that in reading the Orientalists one understands that the apocalypse to be feared was not 
the destruction of Western civilization but rather the destruction of the barriers that kept 
East and West from each other. When Gibb opposed national-ism in the modern Islamic 
states, he did so because he felt that nationalism would corrode the inner structures 
keeping Islam Oriental; the net result of secular nationalism would be to make the Orient 
no different from the West. Y et it is a tribute to Gibb's extraordinarily sympathetic powers 
of identification with an alien religion that he put his disapproval in such a way as to seem 
to be speaking for the Islamic orthodox community. How much such pleading was a 
reversion to the old Orientalist habit of speaking for the natives and how much it was a 
sincere attempt at speaking in Islam's best interests is a guestion whose answer lies 
somewhere between the two alternatives. 

No scholar or thinker, of course, is a perfect representative of some ideal type or school 
in which, by virtue of national origin or the accidents of history, he participates. Y et in so 
relatively insulated and specialized a tradition as Orientalism, I think there is in each 
scholar some awareness, partly conscious and partly non-conscious, of national tradition, 
if not of national ideology. This is particularly true in Orientalism, additionally so because 
of the direct political involvement of European nations in the affairs of one or another 
Oriental country: the case of Snouck Hurgronje, to cite a non-British and non-French 
instance where the scholar's sense of national identity is simple and clear, comes to mind 
immediately. 43 Yet even after making all the proper o^ific^or^arxiut me difference 
between an individual and a type (or between an individual and a tradition), it is 
nevertheless striking to note the extent to which Gibb and Massignon were representative 
types. Perhaps it would be better to say that Gibb and Massignon fulfilled 


all the expectations created for them by their national traditions, by the politics of their 
nations, by the internal history of their national "schools" of Orientalism. 

Sylvain Levi put the distinction between the two schools trenchantly: 

The political interest that ties England to India holds British work to a sustained 
contact with concrete realities, and maintains the cohesion between representations 
of the past and the spectacle of the present. 

Nourished by classical traditions, France seeks out the human mind as it manifests 
itself in India in the same way that it is interested in China. 74 

It would be too easy to say that this polarity results, on the one hand, in work that is sober, 
efficient, concrete, and on the other, inworicthatisuniversalistic, speculative, brilliant 
Yet the polarity serves to illuminate two long and extremely distinguished careers that 
between them dominated French and Anglo-American Islamic Orientalism until the 
1960s; if the domination mates any sense at all, it is because each scholar derived from 
and worked in a self-conscious tradition whose constraints (or limits, intellectually and 
politically speaking) can be described as Levi describes them above. 

Gibb was born in Egypt, Massignon in France. Both were to become deeply religious 
men, students not so much of society as of the religious life in society. Both were also 
profoundly worldly; one of their greatest achievements was putting traditional scholarship 
to use in the modern political world. Y et the range of their work— the texture of it, 
almost— is vastly different, even allowing for the obvious disparities in their schooling 
and religious education. In his lifelong devotion to the work of al-Hallaj-— "whose 
traces," Gibb said in his obituary notice for Massignon in 1962, he "never ceased to seek 
out in later Islamic literature and devotion"— Massignon's almost unrestricted range of 
research would lead him virtually everywhere, finding evidence for "1 'esprit humaine a 
travers l'espace et le temps." In an oeuvre that took "in every aspect and region of 
contemporary Muslim life and thought," Massignon's presence in Orientalism was a 
constant challenge to his colleagues. Certainly Gibb for one admired— but finally drew 
back from— the way Massignon pursued 


themes that in some way linked the spiritual life of Muslims and Catholics [and enabled 
him to find] a congenial element in the veneration of Fatima, and consequently a 
special field of interest in the study of Shi'ite thought in many of its manifestations, or 
again in the community of Abrahamanic origins and such themes as the Seven 
Sleepers. His writings on these subjects have acguired from the gualities that he brought 
to them a permanent significance in Islamic studies. But just because of these gualities 
they are composed, as it were, in two registers. One was at the ordinary level of 
objective scholarship, seeking to elucidate the nature of the given phenomenon by a 
masterly use of established tools of academic research. The other was at a level on 

which objective data and understanding were absorbed and transformed by an 
individual intuition of spiritual dimensions. It was not always easy to draw a dividing 
line between the former and the transfiguration that resulted from the outpouring of the 
riches of his own personality. 

There is a hint here that Catholics are more likely to be drawn to a study of "the 
veneration of Fatima" than Protestants, but there is no mistaking Gibb's suspicion of 
anyone who blurred the distinction between "objective" scholarship and one based on 
(even an elaborate) "individual intuition of spiritual dimensions." Gibb was right, 
however, in the next paragraph of the obituary to acknowledge Massignon's "fertility" of 
mind in such diverse fields as "the symbolism of Muslim art, the structure of Muslim 
logic, the intricacies of medieval finance, and the organization of artisan corporations"; 
and he was right also, immediately after, to characterize Massignon's early interest in the 
Semitic languages as giving rise to "elliptic studies that to the uninitiate almost rivalled 
the mysteries of the ancient Hermetica." Nevertheless, Gibb ends on a generous note, 
remarking that 

for us, the lesson which by his example he impressed upon the Orientalists of his 
generation was that even classical Orientalism is no longer adequate without some 
degree of committedness to the vital forces that have given meaning and value to the 
diverse aspects of Eastern cultures. 45 

That, of course, was Massignoris greatest contribution, and it is true that in ranternporary 
French Islamology (as it is sometimes called) there has grown up a tradition of identifying 
with "the vital forces" informing "Eastern culture"; one need only mention 


the extraordinary achievements of scholars like Jacques Berque, Maxime 
Rodinson, Yves Lacoste, Roger Arnalde2— all of them differing widely among 
themselves in approach and intention — to be struck with the seminal example of 
Massignon, whose intellectual impress upon them all is unmistakable. 

Yet in choosing to focus his comments almost anecdotally upon Massignon's 
various strengths and weaknesses, Gibb misses the obvious things about 
Massignon, things that make him so different from Gibb and yet, when taken 
as a whole, make him die mature symbol of so crucial a development within French 
Orientalism. One is Massignon's personal background, which quite beautifully 
illustrates the simple trudi of Levi's description of French Orientalism. The very idea 
of "un esprit humain" was something more or less foreign to the intellectual and 
religious background out of which Gibb, like so many modern British Orientalists, 
developed: in Massignon's case the notion of "esprit," as an aesthetic as well as 

religious, moral, and historical reality, was something he seemed to have been 
nourished upon from childhood. His family was friendly with such people as 
Huysmans, and in nearly everything he wrote Massignon's early education in the 
intellectual ambience as well as the ideas of late Symbolisme is evident, even to the 
particular brand of Catholicism (and Sufi mysticism) in which he was interested. 
There is no austerity in Massignon's work, which is formulated in one of the great 
French styles of the century. His ideas about human experience draw plentifully upon 
thinkers and artists contemporary with him, and it is the very wide cultural range of 
his style itself that puts him in a different category altogether from Gibb's. His early 
ideas come out of the period of so-called aesthetic decadence, but they are also 
indebted to people like Bergson, Durkheim, and Mauss. His first contact with 
Orientalism came through Renan, whose lectures he heard as a young man; he was 
also a student of Sylvain Levi, and came to include among his friends such figures as 
Paul Claudel, Gabriel Bounoure, Jacques and Rafssa Alaritain, and Charles de 
Foucauld. Later he was able to absorb work done in such relatively recent fields as 
urban sociology, structural linguistics, psychoanalysis, contemporary anthropology, 
and the New History. His essays, to say nothing of the monumental study of al- 
Hallaj, draw effortlessly on the entire corpus of Islamic literature; his mystifying 
erudition and almost familiar personality sometimes make him appear to be a scholar 
invented by Jorge Luis Borges. He was very sensitive to "Oriental" themes in 
European literature; 


this was one of Gibb's interests, too, but unlike Gibb, Alassignon was attracted 
primarily neither to European writers who "under-stood" the Orient nor to European 
texts that were independent artistic corroborations of what later Orientalist scholars 
would reveal (e.g., Gibb's interest in Scott as a source for the study of Saladin). 
Massignon's "Orient" was completely consonant with the world of the Seven Sleepers 
or of the Abrahamanic prayers (which are the two themes singled out by Gibb as 
distinctive marks of Massignon's unorthodox view of Islam) : offbeat, slightly peculiar, 
wholly responsive to the da22ling interpretative gifts which Alassignon brought to it 
(and which in a sense made it up as a subject). If Gibb liked Scott's Saladin, then 
Alassignon's symmetrical predilection was for Nerval, as suicide, poete maudit, 
psychological oddity. This is not to say that Alassignon was essentially a student of the 
past; on the contrary, he was a major presence in Islamic-French relations, in politics 
as well as culture. He was obviously a passionate man who believed that the world of 
Islam could be penetrated, not by scholarship exclusively, but by devotion to all of its 
activities, not the least of which was the world of Eastern Christianity subsumed 

within Islam, one of whose subgroups, the Badaliya Sodality, was warmly encouraged 
by Massignon. 

Massignon's considerable literary gifts sometimes give his scholarly work an 
appearance of capricious, overly cosmopolitan, and often private speculation. This 
appearance is misleading, and in fact is rarely adequate as a description of his writing. 
What he wished deliberately to avoid was what he called "l'analyse analytique et 
statique de i'orientarisme,"' R a sort of inert piling up, on a supposed Islamic text or 
problem, of sources, origins, proofs, demonstrations, and the like. Everywhere his 
attempt is to include as much of the context of a text or problem as possible, to 
animate it, to surprise his reader, almost, with the glancing insights available to anyone 
who, like Massignon, is willing to cross disciplinary and traditional boundaries in order 
to penetrate to the human heart of any text. No modern Orientalist — and certainly 
not Gibb, his closest peer in achievement and influence — could refer so easily (and 
accurately) in an essay to a host of Islamic mystics and to Jung, Heisenberg, Mallarme, 
and Kierkegaard; and certainly very few Orientalists had that range together with the 
concrete political experience of which he was able to speak in his 1952 essay 
"L'Occident devant l'Orient: Primaute d'une solution culturelle."" And yet his 
intellectual world was a clearly defined one. It had a 


definite structure, intact from the beginning to the end of his career, and it was laced 
up, despite its almost unparalleled richness of scope and reference, in a set of basically 
unchanging ideas. Let us briefly describe the structure and list the ideas in a summary 

Massignon took as his starting point the existence of the three Abrahamanic 
religions, of which Islam is the religion of Ishmael, the monotheism of a people 
excluded from the divine promise made to Isaac. Islam is therefore a religion of 
resistance (to God the Father, to Christ the Incarnation), which yet keeps within it the 
sadness that began in Hagar's tears. Arabic as a result is the very language of tears, just 
as the whole notion of jihad in Islam (which Alassignon explicitly says is the epic form 
in Islam that Renan could not see or understand) has an important intellectual dimen- 
sion whose mission is war against Christianity and Judaism as exterior enemies, and 
against heresy as an interior enemy. Yet within Islam, Massignon believed he was able 
to discern a type of countercurrent, which it became his chief intellectual mission to 
study, embodied in mysticism, a road towards divine grace. The principal feature of 
mysticism was of course its subjective character, whose nonrational and even 
inexplicable tendencies were towards the singular, the individual, the momentary 

experience of participation in the Divine. All of Alassignon's extraordinary work on 
mysticism was thus an attempt to describe the itinerary of souls out of the limiting 
consensus imposed on them by the orthodox Islamic community, or Sunna. An 
Iranian mystic was more intrepid than an Arab one, partly because he was Aryan (the 
old nineteenth-century labels "Aryan" and "Semitic" have a compelling urgency for 
Massignon, as does also the legitimacy of Schlegel's binary opposition between the 
two language families") and partly because he was a man seeking the Perfect; the Arab 
mystic, in Massignon's view, inclined towards what Waardenburg calls a testimonial 
monism. The exemplary figure for Massignon was al-Hallaj, who sought liberation for 
himself outside the orthodox community by asking for, and finally getting, the very 
crucifixion refused by Islam as a whole; Mohammed, according to Massignon, had 
deliberately rejected the opportunity offered him to bridge the gap separating him 
from God. Al-Hallaj's achievement was therefore to have achieved a mystical union 
with God against the grain of Islam. 

The rest of the orthodox community lives in a condition of what Massignon calls 
"soif ontologique" — ontological thirst. God presents himself to man as a kind of 
absence, a refusal to be present, 


yet the devout Muslim's consciousness of his submission to God's will (Islam) gives 
rise to a jealous sense of God's transcendence and an intolerance of idolatry of any 
sort. The seat of these ideas, according to Massignon, is the "circumcised heart," 
which while it is in the grip of its testimonial Muslim fervor can, as is the case with 
mystics like al-Hallaj, also be inflamed with a divine passion or love of God. In either 
case, God's transcendental unity (tawhid) is something to be achieved and understood 
over and over by the devout Muslim, either through testifying to it or through mystic 
love of God: and this, Massignon wrote in a complex essay, defines the "intention" of 
Islam." Clearly Massignon's i sympathies lay with the mystic vocation in Islam, as much 
for its closeness to his own temperament as a devout Catholic as for its disrupting 
influence within the orthodox body of beliefs. Massignon's image of Islam is of a 
religion ceaselessly implicated in its refusals, its latecoming (with reference to the 
other Abrahamanic creeds), its comparatively barren sense of worldly reality, its 
massive structures of defense against "psychic commotions" of the sort practiced by 
al-Hallaj and other Sufi mystics, its loneliness as the only remaining "Oriental" religion 
of the three great monotheisms. 80 

But so obviously stern a view of Islam, with its "invariants simples" 81 (especially for 
so luxuriant a thought as Massignon's), entailed no deep hostility towards it on his 

part. In reading Massignon one is struck by his repeated insistence on the need for 
complex reading — injunctions whose absolute sincerity it is impossible to doubt. He 
wrote in 1951 that his kind of Orientalism was "ni line manie d'exotisme, ni un 
reniement de l'Europe, mais line mise au niveau entie nos methodes de recherches et 
les traditions vecues d'antiques civilisations." 82 Put into practice in the reading of an 
Arabic or Islamic text, this kind of Orientalism produced interpretations of an almost 
overwhelming intelligence; one would be foolish not to respect the sheer genius and 
novelty of Massignon' s mind. Yet what must catch our attention in his definition of 
his Oriental-ism are two phrases: "nos methodes de recherches" and "les traditions 
vecues d'antiques civilisations." Massignon saw what he did as the synthesis of two 
roughly opposed quantities, yet it is the peculiar asymmetry between them that 
troubles one, and not merely the fact of the opposition between Europe and Orient. 
Massignon's implication is that the essence of the difference between East and West is 
between modernity and ancient tradition. And indeed in his writings on political and 
contemporary problems, 


which is where one can see most immediately the limitations of Massignon's method, the 
East-W est opposition turns up in a most peculiar way. 

At its best Massignon's vision of the East-West encounter assigned great responsibility 
to the West for its invasion of the East its colonialism, its relentless attacks on Islam. 
Massignon was a tireless fighter on behalf of Muslim civilization and, as his numerous 
essays and letters after 1948 testify, in support of Palestinian refugees, in the defense of 
Arab Muslim and Christian rights in Palestine against Zionism, against what with 
reference to some-thing said by Abba Eban, he scathingly called Israeli "bourgeois 
colonialism." ' Y et the framework in which Massignon's vision was held also assigned the 
Islamic Orient to an essentially ancient time and the West to modernity. Like Robertson 
Smith, Massignon con-sidered the Oriental to be not a modern man but a Semite; this 
reductive category had a powerful grip on his thought. When, for example, in 1960 he and 
Jacgues Bergue, his colleague at the College de France, published their dialogue on "the 
Arabs" in Esprit, a good deal of the time was spent in arguing whether the best way to 
look at the problems of the contemporary Arabs was simply to say, in the main instance, 
that the Arab-Israeli conflict was really a Semitic problem. Bergue tried to demur gently, 
and to nudge Massignon towards the possibility that like the rest of the world the Arabs 
had undergone what he called an "anthropological variation": Massignon refused the 
notion out of hand. 84 His repeated efforts to understand and report on the Palestine 
conflict for all their profound humanism, never really got past the quarrel between Isaac 
andlshmael or, so far as his quarrel with Israel was raricemed, the tension between 
Judaism and Christianity. When Arab cities and villages were captured by the Zionists, it 
was Massignoris religious sensibilities that were offended. 

Europe, and France in particular, were seen as contemporary realities. Partly because of 
his initial political encounter with the British during the First World War, Massignon 
retained a pronounced dislike of England and English policy; Lawrence and his type 
represented a too-complex policy which he, Massignon, opposed in his dealings with 
Faisal. "Je cherchais avec Faysal ... a penetrer dans le sens meme de sa tradition a lui." 
The British seemed to represent "expansion" in the Orient, amoral economic policy, and 
an outdated philosophy of political influence. 85 The Frenchman was a more modern man, 
who was obliged to get from 


the rient what he had lost in spirituality, traditional values, and the like. M assignon's 
investment in this view came, I think, by way of the entire nineteenth-century tradition of 
the Orient as therapeutic for the West, a tradition whose earliest adumbration is to be 
found in Quinet. In Massignon, it was joined to a sense of Christian compassion: 

So far as Orientals are concerned, we ought to have recourse to this science of 
compassion, to this "participation" even in the construction of their language and of 
their mental structure, in which indeed we must participate: because ultimately this 
science bears witness either to verities that are ours too, or else to verities that we 
have lost and must regain. Finally, because in a profound sense everything that exists 
is good in some way, and those poor colonized people do not exist only for our 
purposes but in and for themselves [en .soil. 86 

Nevertheless the Oriental, en soi, was incapable of appreciating or understanding himself. 
Partly because of what Europe had done to him, he had lost his religion and his 
philosophie; Muslims had "un vide immense" within them; they were close to anarchy 
and suicide. It became France's obligation, then, to associate itself with the Muslims' 
desire to defend their traditional culture, the rule of their dynastic life, and the patrimony 
of believers. 87 

No scholar, not even a Massignon, can resist the pressures on him of his nation or of the 
scholarly tradition in which he works. In a great deal of what he said of the Orient and its 
relationship with the Occident, Massignon seemed to refine and yet to repeat the ideas of 
other French Orientalists. We must allow, however, that the refinements, the personal 
style, the individual genius, may finally supersede the political restraints operating 
impersonally through tradition and through the national ambience. Even so, in 
Massignon's case we must also recognize that in one direction his ideas about the Orient 
remained thoroughly traditional and Orientalist, their personality and remarkable 
eccentricity notwithstanding. According to him the Islamic Orient was spiritual, Semitic, 
tribalistic, radically monotheistic, »n- Aryan: the adjectives resemble a catalogue of late- 
nineteenth-century anthropological descriptions. The relatively earthbound experiences of 
war, colonial-ism, imperialism economic oppression, love, death, and cultural exchange 

seem always in Massignon's eyes to be filtered through metaphysical, ultimately 
dehumanized lenses: they are Semitic, 


European, Oriental, Occidental, Aryan, and so on. The categories structured his 
world and gave what he said a kind of deep sense— to him, at least. In the other 
direction, among the individual and immensely detailed ideas of the scholarly 
world, Massignon maneuvered himself into a special position. He reconstructed 
and defended Islam against Europe on the one hand and against its own orthodoxy 
on the other. This intervention— for it was that— into the Orient as animator and 
champion symbolized his own acceptance of the Orient's difference, as well as his 
efforts to change it into what he wanted. Both together, the will to knowledge over 
the Orient and on its behalf in Massignon are very strong. His al-Hallaj represents 
that will perfectly. The disproportionate importance accorded al-Hallaj by 
Massignon signifies first, the scholar's decision to promote one figure above his 
sustaining culture, and second, the fact that al-Hallaj had come to represent a 
constant challenge, even an irritant, to the Western Christian for whom belief was 
not (and perhaps could not be) the extreme self-sacrifice it was for the Sufi. In 
either case, Massignon's al-Hallaj was intended literally to embody, to incarnate, 
values essentially outlawed by the main doctrinal system of Islam, a system that 
Massignon himself de-scribed mainly in order to circumvent it with al-Hallaj. 

Nevertheless we need not say 
immediately of Massignon's work 
that it was perverse, or that its 
greatest weakness was that it mis- 
represented Islam as an "average" 
or "common" Muslim might 
adhere to the faith. A 
distinguished Muslim scholar has 
argued precisely for this last 
position, although his argument 
did not name Massignon as an 
offender. 8M Much as one may be 
inclined to agree with such 
theses— since, as this book has 
tried to demonstrate, Islam has 
been fundamentally 
misrepresented in the West— the 
real issue is whether indeed there 
can be a true representation of 
anything, or whether any and all 

representations, because they are 
representations, are embedded 
first in the language and then in 
the culture, institutions, and 
political ambience of the 
representer. If the latter 
alternative is the correct one (as I 
believe it is), then we must be 
prepared to accept the fact that a 
representation is eo ipso 
implicated, intertwined, 
embedded, interwoven with a 
great many other things besides 
the "truth," which is itself a 
representation. What this must 
lead us to methodologically is to 
view representations (or 
misrepresentations— the 
distinction is at best a matter of 
degree) as inhabiting a common 
field of play defined for them, not 
by some inherent common subject 
matter alone, but by some 


common history, tradition, universe of discourse. Within this field, which no single 
scholar can create but which each scholar receives and in which he then finds a place 
for himself, the individual researcher makes his contribution. Such contributions, even 
for the exceptional genius, are strategies of redisposing material within the field; even 
the scholar who unearths a once-lost manuscript produces the "found" text in a 
context already prepared for it, for that is the real meaning of finding a new text. Thus 
each individual contribution first causes changes within the field and then promotes a 
new stability, in the way that on a surface covered with twenty compasses the 
introduction of a twenty-first will cause all the others to quiver, then to settle into a 
new accommodating configuration. 

The representations of Orientalism in European culture amount to what we can call 
a discursive consistency, one that has not only history but material (and institutional) 

presence to show for itself. As I said in connection with Renan, such a consistency 
was a form of cultural praxis, a system of opportunities for making statements about 
the Orient. My whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of 
some Oriental essence — in which I do not for a moment believe — but that it operates 
as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific 
historical, intellectual, and even economic setting. In other words, representations 
have purposes, they are effective much of the time, they accomplish one or many 
tasks. Representations are formations, or as Roland Barthes has said of all the 
operations of language, they are deformations. The Orient as a representation in 
Europe is formed — or deformed — out of a more and more specific sensitivity 
towards a geographical region called "the East." Specialists in this region do their 
work on it, so to speak, because in time their profession as Orientalists requires that 
they present their society with images of the Orient, knowledge about it, insight into 
it. And to a very large extent the Orientalist provides his own society with 
representations of the Orient (a) that bear his distinctive imprint, (b) that illustrate his 
conception of what the Orient can or ought to be, (c) that consciously contest 
someone else's view of the Orient, (d) that provide Orientalist discourse with what, at 
that moment, it seems most in need of, and (e) that respond to certain cultural, 
professional, national, political, and economic requirements of the epoch. It will be 
evident that even though it will never be absent, the role of positive knowledge is far 
from absolute. Rather, "knowledge" — never raw, unmediated, or simply objective — is 
what the 


five attributes of Orientalist representation listed above distribute, and redistribute. 

Seen in such a way, Massignon is less a mythologi2ed "genius" than he is a kind of 
system for producing certain kinds of statements, disseminated into the large mass of 
discursive formations that together make up the archive, or cultural material, of his 
time. I do not think that we dehumani2e Massignon if we recogni2e this, nor do we 
reduce him to being subject to vulgar determinism. On the contrary, we will see in a 
sense how a very human being had, and was able to acquire more of, a cultural and 
productive capacity that had an institutional, or extrahuman, dimension to it: and 
this surely is what the finite human being must aspire to if he is not to be content with 
his merely mortal presence in time and space. When Massignon said "nous sommes 
tous des Semites" he was indicating the range of his ideas over his society, showing 
the extent to which his ideas about the Orient could transcend the local anecdotal 
circumstances of a Frenchman and of French society. The category of Semite drew its 
nourishment out of Massignon's Orientalism, but its force derived from its tendency 

to extend out of the confines of the discipline, out into a broader history and 
anthropology, where it seemed to have a certain validity and power. 89 

On one level at least, Massignon's formulations and his representations of the 
Orient did have a direct influence, if not an un-questioned validity: among the guild of 
professional Orientalists. As I said above, Gibb's recognition of Massignon's 
achievement constitutes an awareness that as an alternative to Gibb's own work (by 
implication, that is), Alassignon was to be dealt with. I am of course imputing things 
to Gibb's obituary that are there only as traces, not as actual statements, but they are 
obviously important if we look now at Gibb's own career as a foil for Massignon's. 
Albert Hourani's memorial essay on Gibb for the British Academy (to which I have 
referred several times) admirably summari2es the man's career, his leading ideas, and 
the importance of his work: with Hourani's assessment, in its broad lines, I have no 
disagree-ment. Yet something is missing from it, although this lack is partly made up 
for in a lesser piece on Gibb, William Polk's "Sir Hamilton Gibb Between Orientalism 
and History." 90 Hourani tends to view Gibb as the product of personal encounters, 
personal influences, and the like; whereas Polk, who is far less subtie in his general 
understanding of Gibb than Hourani, sees Gibb as the culmination 


of a specific academic tradition, what— to use an expression that does not occur in Polk's 
prose— we can call an academic- research consensus or paradigm. 

Borrowed in this rather gross fashion from Thomas Kuhn, the idea has a worthwhile 
relevance to Gibb, who as Hourani reminds us was in many ways a profoundly 
institutional figure. Everything that Gibb said or did, from his early career at London to 
the middle years at Oxford to his influential years as director of Harvard's Center for 
Middle Eastern Studies, bears the unmistakable stamp of a mind operating with great ease 
inside established institutions. Massignon was irremediably the outsider, Gibb the insider. 
Both men, in any case, achieved the very pinnacle of prestige and influence in French and 
Anglo-American Orientalism, respectively. The Orientfor Gibb was nota place one 
encountered directly; it was something one read about, studied, wrote about within the 
confines of learned societies, the university, the scholarly conference. Like M assignon, 
G ibb boasted of friendships with M uslims, but they seemed- like Lane's- to have been 
useful friendships, not determining ones. Consequently Gibb is a dynastic figure within 
the academic framework of British (and later of American) Orientalism, a scholar whose 
work quite consciously demonstrated the national tendencies of an academic tradition, set 
inside universities, governments, and research foundations. 

One index of this is that in his mature years Gibb was often to be met with speaking and 
writing for policy- determining organizations. In 1951, for instance, he contributed an 

essay to a book Significantly entitled The Near East and the Great Powers, in which he 
tried to explain the need for an expansion in Anglo-American programs of Oriental 

... the whole situation of the W estern countries in regard to the countries of A sia and 
A frica has changed. W e can no longer rely on that factor of prestige which seemed to 
play a large part in prewar thinking, neither can we any longer expect the peoples of 
Asia and Africa or of Eastern Europe to come to us and learn from us, while we sit 
back. We have to learn about them so that we can learn to work with them in a 
relationship that is closer to terms of mutuality. 01 
The terms of this new relationship were spelled out later in "Area Studies Reconsidered." 
Oriental studies were to be thought of not so much as scholarly activities but as 
instruments of national policy towards the newly independent, and possibly intractable, 


nations of the postcolonial world. Armed with a refocused awareness of his importance to 
the Atlantic commonwealth, the Oriental-ist was to be the guide of policymakers, of 
businessmen, of a fresh generation of scholars. 

What counted most in Gibb's later vision was not the Orientalist's positive work as a 
scholar (for example, the kind of scholar Gibb had been in his youth when he studied the 
Muslim invasions of Central Asia) but its adaptability for use in the public world. 
Hourani puts this well: 

... it became clear to him [Gibb] that modem governments and elites were acting in 
ignorance or rejection of their own traditions of social life and morality, and that 
their failures sprang from this. Henceforth his main efforts were given to the 
elucidation, by careful study of the past, of the specific nature of Muslim society and 
the beliefs and culture which lay at the heart of it. Even this problem he tended to see 
at first mainly in political terms. 92 

Yet no such later vision could have been possible without a fairly rigorous amount of 
preparation in Gibb's earlier work, and it is there that we must fh^ seek to urderstand his 
ideas. Among Gibb's earliest influences was Duncan Macdonald, from whose work Gibb 
clearly derived the concept that Islam was a coherent system of life, a system made 
coherent not so much by the people who led that life as by virtue of some body of 
doctrine, method of religious practice, idea of order, in which all the Muslim people 
participated. Between the people and "Islam" there was obviously a dynamic en-counter 
of sorts, yet what mattered to the Western strident was the supervening power of Islam to 
make intelligible the experiences of the Islamic people, not the other way around. 

For Macdonald and subsequently for Gibb, the epistemological and methodological 
difficulties of "Islam" as an object (about which large, extremely general statements 
could be made) are never tackled. Macdonald for his part believed that in Islam one could 
perceive aspects of a still more portentous abstraction, the Oriental mentality. The entire 
opening chapter of his most influential book (whose importance for Gibb cannot be 
minimized), The Religious Attitude and Life in Islam, is an anthology of unarguable 
declaratives about the Eastern or Oriental mind. He begins by saying that "it is plain, I 
think,, and admitted that the conception of the Unseen is much more immediate and real 
to the Oriental than to the western peoples." The "large modifying elements which seem, 


time to time, almost to upset the general law" do not upset it, nor do they upset the other 
equally sweeping and general laws governing the Oriental mind. "The essential difference 
in the Oriental mind is not credulity as to unseen things, but inability to construct a system 
as to seen things." A nother aspect of this difficulty- which G ibb was later to blame for 
the absence of form in Arabic literature and for the Muslim's essentially atomistic view of 
reality- is "that the difference in the Oriental is not essentially religiosity, but the lack of 
the sense of law. For him, there is no immovable order of nature." If such a "fact" seems 
not to account for the extraordinary achievements of Islamic science, upon which a great 
deal in modern W est-ern science is based, then M acdonald remains silent. He continues 
his catalogue: "It is evident that anything is possible to the riental. The supernatural is so 
near that it may touch him at any moment." That an occasion- namely, the historical and 
geographical birth of monotheism in the rient- should in M acdonald's argument 
become an entire theory of difference between East and W est signifies the degree of 
intensity to which "Orientalism" has committed Macdonald. Here is his summary: 

Inability, then, to see life steadily, and see it whole, to under-stand that a theory of 
life must cover all the facts, and liability to be stampeded by a single idea and blinded 
to everything else— therein, I believe, is the difference between the East and the 

None of this, of course, is particularly new. From Schlegel to Renan, from Robertson 
Smith to T. E. Lawrence, these ideas get repeated and re- repeated. They represent a 
decision about the Orient, not by any means a fact of nature. Anyone who, like Mac- 
donald and Gibb, consciously entered a profession called Oriental-ism did so on the basis 
of a decision made: that the Orient was the Orient, that it was different, and so forth. The 
elaborations, refinements, consequent articulations of the field therefore sustain and 
prolong the decision to confine the Orient. There is no perceivable irony in Macdonald's 

(or Gibb's) views about Oriental liability to be stampeded by a single idea; neither man 
seems able to recognize the extent of Orientalism's liability to be stampeded by the single 
idea of Oriental difference. And neither man is concerned by such wholesale designations 
as "Islam" or "the Orient" being used as proper nouns, with adjectives attached and verbs 
streaming forth, as if they referred to persons and not to Platonic ideas. 


It is no accident, therefore, that G ibb's master theme, in almost everything he wrote 
about Islam and the Arabs, was the tension between "Islam" as a transcendent, compelling 
Oriental fact and the realities of everyday human experience. His investment as a scholar 
and as a devout Christian was in "Islam," not so much in the (to him) relatively trivial 
complications introduced into Islam by nationalism, class struggle, the individualizing 
experiences of love, anger, or human work. Nowhere is the impoverishing character of 
this investment more evident than in Whither Islam? , a volume edited and contributed to, 
in the title essay, by Gibb in 1932. (It also includes an impressive article on North African 
Islam by Massignon.) Gibb's task as he saw it was to assess Islam, its present situation, its 
possible future course. In such a task the individual and manifestly different regions of the 
Islamic world were to be, not refutations of Islam's unity, but examples of it. Gibb himself 
proposed an introductory definition of Islam; then, in the concluding essay, he sought to 
pronounce on its actuality and its real future. Like Macdonald, Gibb seems entirely com- 
fortable with the idea of a monolithic East, whose existential circumstances cannot easily 
be reduced to race or racial theory; in resolutely denying the value of racial generalization 
Gibb rises above what had been most reprehensible in preceding generations of 
Orientalists. Gibb has a correspondingly generous and sympathetic view of Islam's 
universalism and tolerance in letting diverse ethnic and religious communities coexist 
peacefully and democratically within its imperium. There is a note of grim prophecy in 
Gibb's singling out the Zionists and the Maronite Christians, alone amongst ethnic 
communities in the Islamic world, for their inability to accept coexistence." 

But the heart of Gibb's argument is that Islam, perhaps because it finally represents the 
Oriental's exclusive concern not with nature but with the Unseen, has an ultimate 
precedence and domination over all life in the Islamic Orient. For Gibb Islam is Islamic 
orthodoxy, is also the community of believers, is life, unity, intelligibility, values. It is 
law and order too, the unsavory disruptions of jihadists and communist agitators 
notwithstanding. In page after page of Gibb's prose in Whither Islam?, we leam that the 
new commercial banks in Egypt and Syria are facts of Islam or an Islamic initiative; 
schools and an increasing literacy rate are Islamic facts, too, as are journalism, 
Westernization, and intellectual societies. At no point does Gibb speak of European 


when he discusses the rise of nationalism and its "toxins." That the history of modern 
Islam might be more intelligible for its resistance, political and nonpolitical, to 
colonialism , never occurs to G ibb, just as it seem s to him finally irrelevant to note 
whether the "Islamic" governments he discusses are republican, feudal, or monarchical. 

"Islam" for G ibb is a sort of superstructure imperiled both by politics (nationalism, 
communist agitation, Westernization) and by dangerous Muslim attempts to tamper with 
its intellectual sovereignty. In the passage that follows, note how the word religion and its 
cognates are made to color the tone of Gibb's prose, so much so that we feel a decorous 
annoyance at the mundane pressures directed at "Islam": 

Islam, as a religion, has lost little of its force, but Islam as the arbiter of social life [in 
the modern world] is being dethroned; alongside it, or above it, new forces exert an 
authority which is sometimes in contradiction to its traditions and its social prescrip- 
tions, but nevertheless forces its way in their teeth. To put the position in its simplest 
terms, what has happened is this. Until recently, the ordinary Muslim citizen and 
cultivator had no political interests or functions, and no literature of easy access 
except religious literature, had no festivals and no communal life except in 
connection with religion, saw little or nothing of the outside world except through 
religious glasses. To him, in consequence, religion meant everything. Now, 

however, more in all the advanced countries, his interests have expanded and his 
activities are no longer bounded by religion. He has political guestions thrust on his 
notice; he reads, or has read to him, a mass of articles on subjects of all kinds which 
have nothing to do with religion, and in which the religious point of view may not be 
discussed at all and the verdict held to lie with some guite different principles. ... 
[Emphasis added] 05 

Admittedly, the picture is a little difficult to see, since unlike any other religion Islam 
is or means everything. As a description of a human phenomenon the hyperbole is, I 
think, unigue to Orientalism. Life itself— politics, literature, energy, activity, growth — is 
an intrusion upon this (to a Westerner) unimaginable Oriental totality. Y et as "a 
complement and counterbalance to European civilisation" Islam in its modern form is 
nevertheless a useful object: this is the core of Gibb's proposition about modern Islam. For 
"in the broadest aspect of history, what is now happening between 


Europe and Islam is the reintegration of western civilization, artificially sundered at the 
Renaissance and now reasserting its unity with overwhelming force." 

Unlike Massignon, who made no effort to conceal his meta- physical speculations, Gibb 
delivered such observations as this as if they were objective knowledge (a category he 
found wanting in Massignon) . Y et by almost any standards most of Gibb's general works 
on Islam are metaphysical, not only because he uses abstractions like "Islam" as if they 
have a clear and distinct meaning but also because it is simply never clear where in 
concrete time and space Gibb's "Islam" is taking place. If on the one hand, following 
Macdonald, he puts Islam definitively outside the West on the other hand, in much of his 
work, he is to be found "reintegrating" it with the West. In 1955 he made this inside- 
outside guestion a bit clearer: the West took from Islam only those nonscientific elements 
that it had originally derived from the West whereas in borrowing much from Islamic 
science, the West was merely follow- ing the law making "natural science and technology . 
. . indefinitely transmissible." 97 The net result is to make Islamin "art, aesthetics, 
philosophy and religious thought" a second-order phenomenon (since those came from the 
West), and so far as science and technology are concemed, a mere conduit for elements 
that are not sui generis Islamic. 

Any clarity about what Islam is in Gibb's thought ought to be found within these 
metaphysical constraints, and indeed his two important works of the forties, Modern 
Trends in Islam and Mohammedanism: An Historical Survey, flesh out matters con- 
siderably. In both books Gibb is at great pains to discuss the present crisis in Islam, 
opposing its inherent, essential being to modem attempts at modifying it. I have already 
mentioned Gibb's hostility to modernizing currents in Islam and his stubborn commitment 
to Islamic orthodoxy. Now it is time to mention Gibb's preference for the word 
Mohammedanism over islam (since he says that Islam is really based upon an idea of 
apostolic succession culminating in Mohammed) and his assertion that the Islamic master 
science is law, which early on replaced theology. The curious thing about these statements 
is that they are assertions made about Islam, not on the basis of evidence internal to Islam, 
but rather on the basis of a logic deliberately outside Islam. No Muslim would call himself 
a Mohammedan, nor so far as is known would he necessarily feel the importance of law 
over theology. But what G ibb does is to 


situate himself as a scholar within contradictions he himself discerns, at that point in 
"Islam" where "there is a certain unexpressed dislocation between the formal outward 
process and the inner realities." 98 

The Orientalist, then, sees his task as expressing the dislocation and consequentiy 
speaking the truth about Islam, which by definition — since its contradictions inhibit 
its powers of self-discernment — it cannot express. Most of Gibb's general statements 
about Islam supply concepts to Islam that the religion or culture, again by his 
definition, is incapable of grasping: "Oriental philosophy had never appreciated the 
fundamental idea of justice in Greek philosophy." As for Oriental societies, "in 
contrast to most western societies, [they] have generally devoted [themselves] to 
building stable social organi2ations [more than] to constructing ideal systems of philo- 
sophical thought." The principal internal weakness of Islam is the "breaking of 
association between the religious orders and the Muslim upper and middle classes." 99 
But Gibb is also aware that Islam has never remained isolated from the rest of the 
world and therefore must stand in a series of external dislocations, insufficiencies, and 
disjunctions between itself and the world. Thus he says that modern Islam is the result 
of a classical religion coming into disynchronous contact with Romantic Western 
ideas. In reaction to this assault, Islam developed a school of modernists whose ideas 
everywhere reveal hopelessness, ideas unsuited to the modern world: Mandism, 
nationalism, a revived caliphate. Yet the conservative reaction to modernism is no less 
unsuited to modernity, for it has produced a kind of stubborn Luddism. Well then, we 
ask, what is Islam finally, if it cannot conquer its internal dislocations nor deal 
satisfactorily with its external surroundings? The answer can be sought in the 
following central passage from Modern Trends: 

Islam is a living and vital religion, appealing to the hearts, minds, and consciences 
of tens and hundreds of millions, setting them a standard by which to live honest, 
sober, and god-fearing lives. It is not Islam that is petrified, but its orthodox 
formulations, its systematic theology, its social apologetic. It is here that the dis- 
location lies, that the dissatisfaction is felt among a large proportion of its most 
educated and intelligent adherents, and that the danger for the future is most 
evident. No religion can ultimately resist disintegration if there is a perpetual gulf 
between its demands upon the will and its appeal to the intellect of its followers. 


That for the vast majority of Muslims the problem of dislocation has not yet arisen 
justifies the ulema in refusing to be rushed into the hasty measures which the 

modernists prescribe; but the spread of modernism is a warning that re- formulation 
cannot be in- definitely shelved. 

In trying to determine the origins and causes of this petrifaction of the formulas of 
Islam, we may possibly also find a clue to the answer to the question which the 
modernists are asking, but have so far failed to resolve- the question, that is, of the 
way in which the fundamental principles of Islam may be re-formulated without 
affecting their essential elements. 100 

The last part of this passage is familiar enough: it suggests the now traditional 
Orientalist ability to reconstruct and reformulate the Orient, given the Orient's inability to 
do so foritself. In part, then Gibb's Islam exists ahead of Islam as it is practiced, studied, 
or preached in the Orient. Y et this prospective Islam is no mere Orientalist fiction, spun 
out of his ideas: it is based on an "Islam" that— since it cannot truly exist— appeals to a 
whole community of believers. The reason that "Islam" can exist in some more or less 
future Orientalist formulation of it is that in the Orient Islam is usurped and traduced by 
the language of its clergy, whose claim is upon the community's mind. So long as it is 
silent in its appeal, Islam is safe; the moment the reforming clergy takes on its (legiti- 
mate) role of reformulating Islam in order for it to be able to enter modernity, the trouble 
starts. And that trouble, of course, is dislocation. 

D islocation in G ibb's work identifies something far more significant than a putative 
intellectual difficulty within Islam. It identifies, I think, the very privilege, the very 
ground on which the Orientalist places himself so as to write about, legislate for, and 
reformulate Islam. Far from being a chance discernment of Gibb's, dislocation is the 
epistemological passageway into his subject, and subsequently, the observation platform 
from which in all his writing, and in every one of the influential positions he filled, he 
could survey Islam. Between the silent appeal of Islam to a monolithic community of 
orthodox believers and a whole merely verbal articulation of Islam by misled corps of 
political activists, desperate clerks, and opportunistic reformers: there Gibb stood, wrote, 
reformulated. His writing said either what Islam could not say or what its clerics would 
not say. What Gibb wrote was in one sense temporally ahead of Islam, in that he allowed 
that at some point in the future 


Islam would be able to say what it could not say now. In another important sense, 
however, Gibb's writings on Islam predated the religion as a coherent body of "living" 

beliefs, since his writing was able to get hold of "Islam" as a silent appeal made to 
Muslims before their faith became a matter for worldly argument practice, or debate. 

The contradiction in Gibb's work- for it is a contradiction to speak of "Islam" as 
neither what its clerical adherents in fact say it is nor what, if they could, its lay followers 
would say about it- is muted somewhat by the metaphysical attitude governing his work, 
and indeed governing the whole history of modem Oriental-ism which he inherited, 
through mentors like M acdonald. The rient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, 
phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the 
W estern expert. From the beginning of W estern speculation about the rient, the one 
thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible 
only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist's 
work. G ibb's oeuvre purports to be Islam (or Mohammedanism) both as it is and as it 
might be. Metaphysically— and only metaphysically— essence and potential are made one. 
Only a meta- physical attitude could produce such famous Gibb essays as "The Structure 
of Religious Thought in Islam" or "An Interpretation of Islamic History" without being 
troubled by the distinction made between objective and subjective knowledge in Gibb's 
criticism of Massignon. 101 The statements about "Islam" are made with a confidence and a 
serenity that are truly Olympian. There is no dis-location no felt discontinuity between 
Gibb's page and the phenomenon it describes, for each, according to Gibb himself, is 
ultimately reducible to the other. As such, "Islam" and Gibb's description of it have a 
calm discursive plainness whose common element is the English scholar's orderly page. 

I attach a great deal of significance to the appearance of and to the intended model for 
the Orientalist's page as a printed object. I have spoken in this book about d'Herbelot's 
alphabetic encyclopedia, the gigantic leaves of the Description de VEgypte, Renan's 
laboratory-museum notebook, the ellipses and short episodes of Lane's Modern Egyptians, 
Sacy's anthological excerpts, and so forth. These pages are signs of some Orient, and of 
some Oriental-ist, presented to the reader. There is an order to these pages by which the 
reader apprehends not only the "Orient" but also the 


Orientalist, as interpreter, exhibitor, personality, mediator, representative (and 
representing) expert. In a remarkable way Gibb and Massignon produced pages that 
recapitulate the history of Orientalist writing in the West as that history has been 
embodied in a varied generic and topographical style, reduced finally to a scholarly, 
monographic uniformity. The Oriental specimen; the Oriental excess; the Oriental 
lexicographic unit; the Oriental series; the Oriental exemplum: all these have been 
subordinated in Gibb and Massignon to the linear prose authority of discursive analysis, 
presented in essay, short article, scholarly book. In their time, from the end of World War 
I till the early sixties, three principal forms of Orientalist writing were radically 

transformed: the encyclopedia, the anthology, the personal record. Their authority was 
redistributed or dispersed or dissipated: to a committee of experts (The Encyclopedia of 
Islam, The Cambridge History of Islam), to a lower order of service (elementary 
instruction in language, which would prepare one not for diplomacy, as was the case with 
Sacy's Chrestomathie, but for the study of sociology, economics, or history), to the realm 
of sensational revelation (having more to do with personalities or governments- 
Lawrence is the obvious example— than with knowledge). Gibb, with his guietly 
heedless but profoundly seguential prose; Massignon, with the flair of an artist for whom 
no reference is too extravagant so long as it is governed by an eccentric interpretative 
gift: the two scholars took the essentially ecumenical authority of European Orientalism 
as far as it could go. After them, the new reality— the new specialized style— was, 
broadly speaking, Anglo-American, and more narrowly speak-ing, it was American 
Social Scientese. In it, the old Orientalism was broken into many parts; yet all of them 
still served the traditional Orientalist dogmas. 

IV The Latest Phase 

Since World War II, and more noticeably after each of the Arab-Israeli wars, the Arab 
M uslim has become a figure in A merican popular culture, even as in the academic world, 
in the policy 


planner's world, and in the world of business very serious attention is being paid the 
Arab. This symbolizes a major change in the inter-national configuration of forces. 
France and Britain no longer occupy center stage in world politics; the American 
imperium has displaced them. A vast web of interests now links all parts of the former 
colonial world to the United States, just as a proliferation of academic subspecialties 
divides (and yet connects) all the former philological and European-based disciplines 
like Orientalism. The area specialist, as he is now called, lays claims to regional 
expertise, which is put at the service of government or business or both. The massive, 
quasi-material knowledge stored in the annals of modern European Orientalism — as 
recorded, for example, in Jules Molil's nineteenth-century logbook of the field — has 
been dissolved and released into new forms. A wide variety of hybrid representations 
of the Orient now roam the culture. Japan, Indochina, China, India, Pakistan: their 
representations have had, and continue to have, wide repercussions, and they have 
been discussed in many places for obvious reasons. Islam and the Arabs have their 
own representations, too, and we shall treat them here as they occur in that 

fragmentary — yet powerfully and ideologically coherent — persistence, a far less 
frequently discussed one, into which, in the United States, traditional European 
Orientalism disbursed itself. 

1 . Popular images and social science representations. Here are 

a few examples of how the Arab is often represented today. Note how readily "the 
Arab" seems to accommodate the transformations and reductions — all of a simply 
tendentious kind — into which he is continually being forced. The costume for 
Princeton's tenth-reunion class in 1967 had been planned before the June War. The 
motif — for it would be wrong to describe the costume as more than crudely 
suggestive — was to have been Arab: robes, headgear, sandals. Immediately after the 
war, when it had become clear that the Arab motif was an embarrassment, a change in 
the reunion plans was decreed. Wearing the costume as had been originally planned, 
the class was now to walk in procession, hands above heads in a gesture of abject 
defeat. This was what the Arab had become. From a faintly outlined stereotype as a 
camel-riding nomad to an accepted caricature as the embodiment of incompetence 
and easy defeat: that was all the scope given the Arab. 

Yet after the 1973 war the Arab appeared everywhere as some-thing more menacing. 
Cartoons depicting an Arab sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up 
consistently. These Arabs, how- 


ever, were clearly "Semitic": their sharply hooked noses, the evil mustachioed leer on 
their faces, were obvious reminders (to a largely non-Semitic population) that "Semites" 
were at the bottom of all "our" troubles, which in this case was principally a gasoline 
shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab 
target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same. 

Thus if the Arab occupies space enough for attention, it is as a negative value. He is 
seen as the disrupter of Israel's and the West's existence, or in another view of the same 
thing, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel's creation in 1948. Insofar as this Arab has any 
history, it is part of the history given him (or taken from him: the difference is slight) by 
the Orientalist tradition, and later, the Zionist tradition. Palestine was seen— by Lamartine 
and the early Zionists — as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom; such inhabitants 
as it had were supposed to be inconseguential nomads possessing no real claim on the 
land and therefore no cultural or national reality. Thus the Arab is conceived of now as a 
shadow that dogs the Jew. In that shadow— because Arabs and Jews are Oriental 
Semites— can be placed whatever traditional, latent mistrust a Westerner feels towards the 
Oriental. For the Jew of pre-Nazi Europe has bifurcated: what we have now is a Jewish 

hero, constructed out of a reconstructed cult of the adventurer- pioneer- Orientalist (Burton, 
Lane, Renan), and his creeping, mysteriously fearsome shadow, the Arab Oriental. 
Isolated from everything except the past created for him by Orientalist polemic, the Arab 
is chained to a destiny that fixes him and dooms him to a series of reactions periodically 
chastised by what Barbara Tuchman gives the theological name "Israel's terrible swift 

A side from his anti-Zionism, the A rab is an oil supplier. This is another negative 
characteristic, since most accounts of Arab oil equate the oil boycott of 1973-1974 (which 
principally benefitted Western oil companies and a small ruling Arab elite) with the 
absence of any A rab moral qualifications for owning such vast oil reserves. W ithout the 
usual euphemisms, the question most often being asked is why such people as the A rabs 
are entitled to keep the developed (free, democratic, moral) world threatened. From such 
questions comes the frequent suggestion that the A rab oil fields be invaded by the 

In the films and television the Arab is associated either with lechery or bloodthirsty 
dishonesty. He appears as an oversexed de- 


generate, capable, it is true, of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic, 
treacherous, low. Slave trader, camel driver, moneychanger, colorful scoundrel: these are 
some traditional Arab roles in the cinema. The Arab leader (of marauders, pirates, 
"native" insurgents) can often be seen snarling at the captured Western hero and the blond 
girl (both of them steeped in wholesomeness), "My men are going to kill you, but- they 
like to amuse themselves before." He leers sugge3tively as he speaks: this is a current 
debasement of Valentino's Sheik. In newsreels or news-photos, the Arab is always shown 
in large numbers. No individuality, no personal characteristics or experiences. Most of the 
pictures represent mass rage and misery, or irrational (hence hopelessly eccentric) 
gestures. Lurking behind all of these images is the menace of jihad. Conseguence: a fear 
that the Muslims (or Arabs) will take over the world. 

Books and articles are regularly published on Islam and the Arabs that represent 
absolutely no change over the virulent anti-Islamic polemics of the Middle Ages and the 
Renaissance. For no other ethnic or religious group is it true that virtually anything can be 
written or said about it, without challenge or demurral. The 1975 course guide put out by 
the Columbia College undergraduates said about the Arabic course that every other word 
in the language had to do with violence, and that the Arab mind as "reflected" in the 
language was unremittingly bombastic. A recent article by Emmett Tyrrell in Harper's 
magazine was even more slanderous and racist, arguing that Arabs are basically murderers 
and that violence and deceit are carried in the Arab genes. 102 A survey entitled The Arabs 
in American Textbooks reveals the most astonishing misinformation, or rather the most 
callous representations of an ethnic- religious group. One book asserts that "few people of 
this [Arab] area even know that there is a better way to live," and then goes on to ask 

disarmingly, "What links the people of the Middle East together?" The answer, given 
unhesitatingly, is, "The last link is the Arab's hostility— hatred— toward the Jews and the 
nation of Israel." Along with such material goes this about Islam, in another book: "The 
Moslem religion, called Islam, began in the seventh century. It was started by a wealthy 
businessman of Arabia, called Mohammed. He claimed that he was a prophet. He found 
followers among other Arabs. He told them that they were picked to rule the world." This 
bit of knowledge is followed by another, egually accurate: "Shortly after Mohammed's 
death, his teachings 


were recorded in a book called the Koran. It became the holy book of Islam. "P 103 

These oxide ideas are supported, not ranti^ 
the study of the Arab Near East (It is worth noting incidentally that the Princeton event I 
referred to above took place in a university that prides itself on its department of Near 
Eastern Studies founded in 1927, the oldest such depart-ment in the country.) Take as an 
instance the report produced in 1967 by Monoe Berger, a professor of sociology and Near 
Eastern studies at Princeton, at the behest of the Department of Health, Education, and 
Welfare; he was then president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the 
professional association of scholars concerned with all aspects of the Near East, 
"primarily since the rise of Islam and from the viewpoint of the social science and 
humanistic disciplines," 1 ° 4 and founded in 1967. He called his paper "Middle Eastern and 
North African Studies: Developments and Needs," and had it published in the second 
issue of the MESA Bulletin. After surveying the strategic, economic, and political im- 
portance of the region to the United States, and after endorsing the various United States 
government and private foundation projects to support programs in universities— the 
National Defense Educa-tion Act of 1958 (a directly Sputnik- inspired initiative), the 
establishing of links between the Social Science Research Council and Middle Eastern 
studies, and so on— Berger came to the follow-ing conclusions: 
The modern Middle East and North Africa is not a center of great cultural 
achievement, nor is it likely to become one in the near future. The study of the region 
or its languages, therefore, does not constitute its own reward so far as modern 
culture is concerned. 

... Our region is not a center of great political power nor does it have the potential 

to become one The Middle East (less so North Africa) has been receding in 

immediate political importance to the U.S. (and even in "headline" or "nuisance" 
value) relative to Africa, Latin America and the Far East. 

. .. The contemporary Middle East, thus, has only in small degree the kinds of traits 
that seem to be important in attracting scholarly attention. This does not diminish the 
validity and intellectual value of studying the area or affect the quality of work 
scholars do on it. It does, however, put limits, of which we should be aware, on the 
field's capacity for growth in the numbers who study and teach. loa 


As a prophecy, of course, this is fairly lamentable; what makes it even more 
unfortunate is that Berger was commissioned not only because he was an expert on 
the modern Near East but also — as is clear from the report's conclusion — because he 
was expected to be in a good position to predict its future, and the future of policy. 
His failure to see that the Middle East was of great political significance, and 
potentially of great political power, was no chance aberration of judgment, I think. 
Both of Berger' s main mistakes derive from the first and last paragraphs, whose 
genealogy is the history of Orientalism as we have been studying it. In what Berger 
has to say about the absence of great cultural achievement, and in what he concludes 
about future study — that the Middle East does not attract scholarly attention because 
of its intrinsic weaknesses — we have an almost exact duplication of the canonical 
Orientalist opinion that the Semites never produced a great culture and that, as Renan 
frequently said, the Semitic world was too impoverished ever to attract universal 
attention. Moreover, in making such time-honored judgments and in being totally 
blind to what is before his eyes — after all, Berger was not writing fifty years ago, but 
during a period when the United States was already importing about 10 percent of its 
oil from the Middle East and when its strategic and economic investments in the area 
were unimaginably huge — Berger was ensuring the centrality of his own position as 
Orientalist. For what he says, in effect, is that without people such as he the Middle 
East would be neglected; and that without his mediating, interpretative role the place 
would not be understood, partly because what little there is to understand is fairly 
peculiar, and partly because only the Orientalist can interpret the Orient, the Orient 
being radically incapable of interpreting itself. 

The fact that Berger was not so much a classical Orientalist when he wrote (he 
wasn't and isn't) as he was a professional sociologist does not minimize the extent of 

his indebtedness to Orientalism and its ideas. Among those ideas is the specially 
legitimated antipathy towards and downgrading of the material forming the main basis 
of his study. So strong is this in Berger that it obscures the actualities before his eyes. 
And more impressively still, it makes it unnecessary for him to ask himself why, if the 
Middle East "is not a center of great cultural achievement," he should recommend 
that anyone devote his life, as he has, to the study of its culture. Scholars — more 
than, say, doctors — study what they like and what interests them; only an exaggerated 
sense of cultural duty drives a scholar 


to the study of what he does not think well of. Y et it is just such a sense of duty 
Orientalism has fostered, because for generations the culture at large put the 
Orientalist at the barricades, where in his professional work he confronted the 
East— its barbarities, its eccentricities, its unruliness— and held it at bay on behalf of 
the West. 

I mention Berger as an instance of the academic attitude towards the Islamic 
Orient, as an instance of how a learned perspective can support the caricatures 
propagated in the popular culture. Y et Berger stands also for the most current 
transformation overtaking Orientalism: its conversion from a fundamentally 
philological discipline and a vaguely general apprehension of the Orient into a social 
science specialty. No longer does an Orientalist try first to master the esoteric 
languages of the Orient; he begins instead as a trained social scientist and " applies" 
his science to the Orient, or anywhere else. This is the specifically American 
contribution to the history of Orientalism, and it can be dated roughly from the 
period immediately following World War II, when the United States found itself in 
the position recently vacated by Britain and France. The American experience of the 
Orient prior to that exceptional moment was limited. Cultural isolates like Melville 
were interested in it; cynics like Mark Twain visited and wrote about it; the 
American Transcendentalists saw affinities between Indian thought and their own; a 
few theologians and Biblical students studied the Biblical Oriental languages; there 
were occasional diplomatic and military encounters with Barbary pirates and the 
like, the odd naval expedition to the Far Orient, and of course the ubiquitous 
missionary to the Orient. But there was no deeply invested tradition of Oriental-ism, 
and consequently in the United States knowledge of the Orient never passed through 
the refining and reticulating and reconstruct-ing processes, whose beginning was in 
philological study, that it went through in Europe. Furthermore, the imaginative 
investment was never made either, perhaps because the American frontier, the one 
that counted, was the westward one. Immediately after World War II, then, the 

Orient became, not a broad catholic issue as it had been for centuries in Europe, but 
an administrative one, a matter for policy. Enter the social scientist and the new 
expert, on whose somewhat narrower shoulders was to fall the mantle of 
Orientalism. In their turn, as we shall see, they made such changes in it that it 
became scarcely recognizable. In any event, the new Orientalist took over the 
attitudes of cultural hostility and kept them. 


One of the striking aspects of the new American social-science attention to the Orient is 
its singular avoidance of literature. Y ou can read through reams of expert writing on the 
modern Near East and never encounter a single reference to literature. W hat seem to 
matter far more to the regional expert are "facts," of which a literary text is perhaps a 
disturber. The net effect of this remarkable omission in modern American awareness of 
the Arab or Islamic Orient is to keep the region and its people conceptually emasculated, 
reduced to "attitudes," "trends," statistics: in short, dehumanized. Since an Arab poet or 
novelist- and there are many- writes of his experiences, of his values, of his humanity 
(however strange that may be), he effectively disrupts the various patterns (images, 
cliches, abstractions) by which the rient is represented. A literary text speaks more or 
less directly of a living reality. Its force is not that it is Arab, or French, or English; its 
force is in the power and vitality of words that, to mix in Flaubert's metaphor from La 
Tentation de Saint Antoine, tip the idols out of the Orientalists' arms and make them 
drop those great paralytic children— which are their ideas of the Orient— that attempt to 
pass for the Orient. 

The absence of literature and the relatively weak position of philology in contemporary 
American studies of the Near East are illustrations of a new eccentricity in Orientalism, 
where indeed my use of the word itself is anomalous. For there is very little in what 
academic experts on the Near East do now that resembles traditional Orientalism of the 
sort that ended with Gibb and Massignon; the main things that are reproduced are, as I 
said, a certain cultural hostility and a sense based not so much on philology as on "ex- 
pertise." Genealogically speaking, modern American Orientalism derives from such 
things as the army language schools established during and after the war, sudden 
government and corporate interest in the non-Western world during the postwar period, 
Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, and a residual missionary attitude towards 
Orientals who are considered ripe for reform and re-education. The nonphilological study 
of esoteric Oriental languages is useful for obvious rudimentary strategic reasons; but it is 
also useful for giving a cachet of authority, almost a mystigue, to the "expert" who 
appears able to deal with hopelessly obscure material with firsthand skill. 

In the social-science order of things, language study is a mere tool for higher aims, 
certainly not for reading literary texts. In 1958, for example, the Middle East Institute- 
quasi- govem- 


mental body founded to oversee and sponsor research interest in the Middle East- 
produced a Report on Current Research. The contribution "Present State of Arabic 
Studies in the United States" (done, interestingly enough, by a professor of Hebrew) is 
prefaced by an epigraph announcing that "no longer is knowledge of foreign languages, 
for instance, the sole province of the scholars in the humanities. It is a working tool of the 
engineer, the economist, the social scientist, and many other specialists." The whole report 
stresses the importance of Arabic to oil-company executives, technicians, and military 
personnel. But the report's main talking point is this trio of sentences: "Russian 
universities are now producing fluent Arabic speakers. Russia has realized the importance 
of appealing to men through their minds, by using their own language. The United States 
need wait no longer in developing its foreign language program." 108 Thus Oriental 
languages are part of some policy objective— as to a certain extent they have always 
been— or part of a sustained propaganda effort In both these aims the study of Oriental 
languages becomes the instiument carrying out Harold Lasswell's theses about 
propaganda, in which what counts is not what people are or tMrik but what they can be 
made to be and think. 

The propagandist outlook in fact combines respect for individuality with indifference 
to formal democracy. The respect for individuality arises from the dependence of large 
scale operations upon the support of the mass and upon experience with the variability 

of human preferences This regard for men in the mass rests upon no democratic 

dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests. The modern 
propagandist, like the modern psychologist, recognizes that men are often poor judges 
of their own interests, flitting from one alternative to the next without solid reason or 
clinging timorously to the fragments of some mossy rock of ages. Calculating the 
prospect of securing a permanent change in habits and values involves much more 
than the estimation of the preferences of men in general. It means taking account of 
the tissue of relations in which men are webbed, searching for signs of preference 
which may reflect no deliberation and directing a program towards a solution which 

fits in fact With respect to those adjustments which do require mass action the 

task of the propagandist is that of inventing goal symbols which serve the double 
function of facilitating adoption and adaptation. The symbols must induce acceptance 
spontaneously. ... It follows that the management ideal is control of a situation not by 
imposition but by divination The propagandist takes 


it for granted that the world is completely caused but that it is only partly 
predictable. ... 107 

The acquired foreign language is therefore made part of a subtle assault upon 
populations, just as the study of a foreign region like the Orient is turned into a 
program for control by divination. 

Yet such programs must always have a liberal veneer, and usually this is left to 
scholars, men of good will, enthusiasts to attend to. The idea encouraged is that in 
studying Orientals, Muslims, or Arabs "we" can get to know another people, their way 
of life and thought, and so on. To this end it is always better to let them speak for 
themselves, to represent themselves (even though underlying this fiction stands 

I li phrase — with which Lasswell is in agreement — for Louis Napoleon: "They 
cannot represent themselves; they must be represented"). But only up to a point, and 
in a special way. In 1973, during the anxious days of the October Arab-Israeli War, 
the New York Times Magazine commissioned two articles, one representing the Israeli 
and one the Arab side of the conflict. The Israeli side was presented by an Israeli 
lawyer; the Arab side, by an American former ambassador to an Arab country who 
had no formal training in Oriental studies. Lest we jump immediately to the simple 
conclusion that the Arabs were believed incapable of representing them-selves, we 
would do well to remember that both Arabs and Jews in this instance were Semites (in 
the broad cultural designation I have been discussing) and that both were being made 
to be represented for a Western audience. It is worthwhile here to remember this 
passage from Proust, in which the sudden appearance of a Jew into an aristocratic 
salon is described as follows: 

The Rumanians, the Egyptians, the Turks may hate the Jews. But in a French 
drawing-room the differences between those people are not so apparent, and an 
Israelite making his entry as though he were emerging from the heart of the desert, 
his body crouching like a hyaena's, his neck thrust obliquely forward, spreading 
him-self in proud "salaams," completely satisfies a certain taste for the oriental [un 
gout pour Vorientalisme] .'° 8 

2. Cultural relations policy. While it is true to say that the United States did not in 
fact become a world empire until the twentieth century, it is also true that during the 
nineteenth century the United States was concerned with the Orient in ways that pre- 
pared for its later, overtly imperial concern. Leaving aside the 


campaigns against the Barbary pirates in 1801 and 1815, let us consider the founding of 
the American Oriental Society in 1842. Atits first annual meeting in 1843 its president, 
John Pickering, made the very clear point that America proposed for itself the study of the 
Orient in order to follow the example of the imperial European powers. Pickering's 
message was that the framework of Oriental studies- then as now- was political, not 
simply scholarly. Note in the following summary how the lines of argument for 
Orientalism leave little room for doubt as to their intention: 

At the first annual meeting of the American Society in 1843, President Pickering 
began a remarkable sketch of the field it was proposed to cultivate by calling 
attention to the especially favor- able circumstances of the time, the peace that reigned 
everywhere, the freer access to Oriental countries, and the greater facilities for 
communication. The earth seemed guiet in the days of Metternich and Louis Philippe. 
The treaty of Nanking had opened Chinese ports. The screw-propellor had been 
adopted in ocean-going vessels; Morse had completed his telegraph and he had 
already suggested the laying of a trans- Atlantic cable. The objects of the Society were 
to cultivate learning in Asiatic, African, and Polynesian language, and in everything 
concerning the Orient, to create a taste for Oriental Studies in this country, to publish 
texts, translations and communications, and to collect a library and cabinet. Most of 
the work has been done in the Asiatic field, and particularly in Sanskrit and the 
Semitic languages. 109 

Metternich, Louis-Philippe, the Treaty of Nanking, the screw propellon all suggest the 
imperial constellation facilitating Euro- American penetration of the Orient This has never 
stopped Even the legendary American missionaries to the Near East during the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries took their role as set not so much by God as by their God, their 
culture, and their destiny. 110 The early missionary institutions— printing presses, schools, 
universities, hospitals, and the like— contributed of course to the area's well-being, but in 
their specifically imperial character and their support by the United States government, 
these institutions were no different from their French and British counterparts in the 
Orient. During the First World War, what was to become a major United States policy 
interest in Zionism and the colonization of Palestine played an estimable role in getting 
the United States into the war; British discussions prior to and after the Balfour 
Declaration (November 1917) reflect the seriousness with which the declaration was taken 


by the United States. Ill During and after the Second World War, the escalation in 
United States interest in the Middle East was remarkable. Cairo, Teheran, and North 
Africa were important arenas of war, and in that setting, with the exploitation of its 
oil, strategic, and human resources pioneered by Britain and France, the United States 
prepared for its new postwar imperial role. 

Not the least aspect of this role was "a cultural relations policy," as it was defined by 
Mortimer Graves in 1950. Part of this policy was, he said, the attempt to acquire 
"every significant publication in every important Near Eastern language published 
since 1900," an attempt "which our Congress ought to recognize as a measure of our 
national security." For what was clearly at stake, Graves argued (to very receptive ears, 
by the way), was the need for "much better American understanding of the forces 
which are contending with the American idea for acceptance by the Near East. The 
principal of these are, of course, communism and Islam.'" Out of such a concern, and 
as a contemporary adjunct to the more backward-looking American Oriental Society, 
was born the entire vast apparatus for research on the Middle East. The model, both 
in its frankly strategic attitude and in its sensitivity to public security and policy (not, 
as is often postured, to pure scholarship), was the Middle East Institute, founded May 
1946 in Washington under the aegis of, if not entirely within or by, the federal 

Out of such organizations grew the Middle East Studies Association, the powerful 
support of the Ford and other foundations, the various federal programs of support 
to universities, the various federal research projects, research projects carried out by 
such entities as the Defense Department, the RAND Corporation, and the Hudson 
Institute, and the consultative and lobbying efforts of banks, oil companies, 
multinationals, and the like. It is no reduction to say of all this that it retains, in most 
of its general as well as its detailed functioning, the traditional Orientalist outlook 
which had been developed in Europe. 

The parallel between European and American imperial designs on the Orient (Near 
and Far) is obvious. What is perhaps less obvious is (a) the extent to which the 
European tradition of Orientalist scholarship was, if not taken over, then 
accommodated, normalized, domesticated, and popularized and fed into the postwar 
efflorescence of Near Eastern studies in the United States; and (b) the extent to which 

the European tradition has given rise in the United States to a coherent attitude 
among most scholars, institu- 


tions, styles of discourse, and orientations, despite the contemporary appearance of 
refinement, as well as the use of (again) highly sophisticated-appearing social-science 
techniques. I have already discussed Gibb's ideas; it needs to be pointed out, 
however, that in the middle 1950s he became director of the Harvard Center for 
Middle East Studies, from which position his ideas and style exerted an important 
influence. Gibb's presence in the United States was different in what it did for the 
field from Philip Hitti's presence at Princeton since the late 1920s. The Princeton 
department produced a large group of important scholars, and its brand of Oriental 
studies stimulated great scholarly interest in the field. Gibb, on the other hand, was 
more truly in touch with the public -policy aspect of Orientalism, and far more than 
Hitti's at Princeton his position at Harvard focused Orientalism on a Cold War area- 
studies approach. 

Gibb's own work, nevertheless, did not overfly employ the language of cultural 
discourse in the tradition of Renan, Becker, and Alassignon. Yet this discourse, its 
intellectual apparatus, and its dogmas were impressively present, principally (although 
not exclusively) in the work and institutional authority, at Chicago and then at UCLA, 
of Gustave von Grunebaum. He came to the United States as part of the intellectual 
immigration of European scholars fleeing fascism."* Thereafter he produced a solid 
Orientalist oeuvre that concentrated on Islam as a holistic culture about which, from 
beginning to end of his career, he continued to make the same set of essentially 
reductive, negative generalizations. His style, which bore often chaotic evidence of 
his Austro-Germanic polymathy, of his absorption of the canonical pseudoscientific 
prejudices of French, British, and Italian Orientalism, as well as of an almost 
desperate effort to remain the impartial scholar-observer, was next to un-readable. A 
typical page of his on the Islamic self-image will jam together half-a-dozen references 
to Islamic texts drawn from as many periods as possible, references as well to Husserl 
and the pre-Socratics, references to Levi-Strauss and various American social 
scientists. All this, nevertheless, does not obscure von Grunebaum's almost virulent 
dislike of Islam. He has no difficulty presuming that Islam is a unitary phenomenon, 
unlike any other religion or civilization, and thereafter he shows it to be antihuman, 
incapable of development, self-knowledge, or objectivity, as well as uncreative, 
unscientific, and authoritarian. Here are two typical excerpts — and we must 

remember that von Grunebaum wrote with the unique authority of a European 
scholar in the United States, teaching, 


administering, giving grants to a large network of scholars in the field. 

It is essential to realize that Muslim civilization is a cultural entity that does not share 
our primary aspirations. It is not vitally interested in the structured study of other 
cultures, either as an end in itself or as a means towards clearer understanding of its 
own character and history. If this observation were to be valid merely for 
contemporary Islam, one might be inclined to connect it with the profoundly 
disturbed state of Islam, which does not permit it to look beyond itself unless forced 
to do so. But as it is valid for the past as well, one may perhaps seek to connect it 
with the basic anti-humanism of this [Islamic] civilization, that is, the determined 
refusal to accept man to any extent whatever as the arbiter or the measure of things, 
and the tendency to be satisfied with the truth as the description of mental structures, 
or in other words, with psychological truth. 

[Arab or Islamic nationalism] lacks, in spite of its occasional use as a catchword, the 
concept of the divine right of a nation, it lacks a formative ethic, it also lacks, it 
would seem, the later nineteenth century belief in mechanistic progress; above all it 
lacks the intellectual vigor of a primary phenomenon. Both power and the will to 
power are ends in themselves. [This sentence seems to serve no purpose in the 
argument; yet it doubtless gives von Grunebaum the security of a philosophical- 
sounding nonsentence, as if to assure himself that he speaks wisely, not 
disparagingly, of Islam.] The resentment of political slights [felt by Islam] engenders 
im- patience and impedes long-range analysis and planning in the intellectual 
sphere. 15 

In most other contexts such writing would politely be called polemical. For Orientalism, 
of course, it is relatively orthodox, and it passed for canonical wisdom in American study 
of the Middle East after World War II, mainly because of the cultural prestige associated 
with European scholars. The point is, however, that von Grunebaum's work is accepted 
uncritically by the field, even though the field itself today cannot reproduce people like 
him Yet only one scholar has undertaken a serious critigue of von Grunebaum's views: 
Abdullah Laroui, a Moroccan historian and political theorist 

Using the motif of reductive repetition in von Grunebaum's work as a practical tool of 
critical anti- Orientalist study, Laroui manages his case impressively on the whole. He 
asks himself what it is that 


caused von Grunebaum's work, despite the enormous mass of its detail and its 
apparent range, to remain reductive. As Laroui says, "the adjectives that von 
Grunebaum affixes to the word Islam (medieval, classical, modern) are neutral 
or even superfluous: there is no difference between classical Islam and medieval 
Islam or Islam plain and simple.... There is therefore [for von Grunebaum] only one 
Islam that changes within itself.'"" Modern Islam, accord-ing to von Grunebaum, 
has turned away from the West because it remains faithful to its original sense of 
itself; and yet Islam can modernize itself only by a self-reinterpretation from a 
Western point of view — which, of course, von Grunebaum shows is impossible. 
In describing von Grunebaum's conclusions, which add up to a portrait of Islam 
as a culture incapable of innovation, Laroui does not mention that the need for 
Islam to use Western methods to improve itself has, as an idea, perhaps because of 
von Grunebaum's wide influence, become almost a truism in Middle Eastern 
studies. (For example, David Gordon, in Self -Determination and History in me Third 
World,'" urges "maturity" on Arabs, Africans, and Asians; he argues that this can 
be gained only by learning from Western objectivity.) 

Laroui's analysis shows also how von Grunebaum employed A. L. Kroeber's 
culturalist theory to understand Islam, and how this tool necessarily entailed a series 
of reductions and eliminations by which Islam could be represented as a closed 
system of exclusions. Thus, each of the many diverse aspects of Islamic culture could 
be seen by von Grunebaum as a direct reflection of an unvarying matrix, a 
particular theory of God, that compels them all into meaning and order: 
development, history, tradition, reality in Islam are therefore interchangeable. 
Laroui rightly maintains that history as a complex order of events, temporalities, and 
meanings cannot be reduced to such a notion of culture, in the same way that culture 
cannot be reduced to ideology, nor ideology to theology. Von Grunebaum has fallen 
prey both to the Orientalist dogmas he inherited and to a particular feature of Islam 
which he has chosen to interpret as a shortcoming: that there is to be found in Islam a 
highly articulated theory of religion and yet very few accounts of religious 
experience, highly articulate political theory and few precise political documents, a 
theory of social structure and very few individualized actions, a theory of history 
and very few dated events, an articulated theory of economics and very few 
quantified series, and so on. 118 The net result is a historical vision of Islam 


entirely hobbled by the theory of a culture incapable of doing justice to, or even 
examining, its existential reality in the experience of its adherents. Von. Grunebaum's 
Islam, after all, is the Islam of the earlier European Orientalists — monolithic, scornful 
of ordinary human experience, gross, reductive, unchanging. 

At bottom such a view of Islam is political, not even euphemistically impartial. The 
strength of its hold on the new Orientalist (younger, that is, than von Grunebaum) is 
due in part to its traditional authority, and in part to its use-value as a handle for 
grasping a vast region of the world and proclaiming it an entirely coherent 
phenomenon. Since Islam has never easily been encompassed by the West 
politically — and certainly since World War II Arab nationalism has been a movement 
openly declaring its hostility to Western imperialism — the desire to assert intellectually 
satisfying things about Islam in retaliation increases. One authority has said of Islam 
(without specifying which Islam or aspect of Islam he means) that it is "one prototype 
of closed traditional societies." Note here the edifying use of the word Islam to signify 
all at once a society, a religion, a prototype, and an actuality. But all this will be 
subordinated by the same scholar to the notion that, unlike normal ("our") societies, 
Islam and Middle Eastern societies are totally "political," an adjective meant as a 
reproach to Islam for not being "liberal," for not being able to separate (as "we" do) 
politics from culture. The result is an invidiously ideological portrait of "us" and 

To understand Middle Eastern society as a whole must remain our great aim. 
Only a society [like "ours"] that has already achieved a dynamic stability can 
afford to think of politics, economics, or culture as genuinely autonomous realms 
of existence and not merely convenient divisions for study. In a traditional society 
that does net separate the things of Caesar from those of God, or that is entirely 
in flux, the connection between, say, politics and all other aspects of life is the 
heart of the issue. Today, for example, whether a man is to marry four wives or 
one, fast or eat, gain or lose land, rely on revelation or reason, have all become 
political issues in the Middle East. . . . No less than the Moslem himself, the new 
Orientalist must inquire anew what the significant structures and relationships of 
Islamic society may be.'" 

The triviality of most of the examples (marrying four wives, fasting or eating, etc.) is 
meant as evidence of Islam's all-inclusiveness, and its tyranny As to where this is 
supposed to be happening, we 


are not told. But we are reminded of the doubtless nonpolitical fact that Orientalists "are 
largely responsible for having given Middle Easterners themselves an accurate 
appreciation of their past," 120 just incase we might forget that (^entalists know things by 
definition that Orientals cannot know on their own. 

If this sums up the "hard" school of the new American Oriental-ism, the "soft" school 
emphasizes the fact that traditional Orientalists have given us the basic outlines of Islamic 
history, religion, and society but have been "all too often content to sum up the meaning 
of a civilization on the basis of a few manuscripts." 121 Against the traditional Orientalist, 
therefore, the new area-studies specialist argues philosophically: 

Research methodology and disciplinary paradigms are not to deter-mine what is 
selected for study, and they are not to limit observation. Area studies, from this 
perspective, hold that true knowledge is only possible of things that exist, while 
methods and theories are abstractions, which order observations and offer 
explanations according to non-empirical criteria. 122 

Good. But how does one know the "things that exist," and to what extent are the "things 
that exist" constituted by the knower? This is left moot, as the new value- free 
apprehension of the Orient as something that exists is institutionalized in area-studies 
programs. Without tendentious theorizing, Islam is rarely studied, rarely re-searched, 
rarely known: the naivete of this conception scarcely conceals what ideologically it 
means, the absurd theses that man plays no part in setting up both the material and the 
processes of knowledge, that the Oriental reality is static and "exists," that only a 
messianic revolutionary (in Dr. Kissinger's vocabulary) will not admit the difference 
between reality out there and in his head. 

Between the hard and soft schools, however, more or less diluted versions of the old 
Orientalism flourish— in the new academic jargons in some cases, in the old ones in 
others. But the principal dogmas of Orientalism exist in their purest form today in studies 
of the Arabs and Islam. Let us recapitulate them here: one is the absolute and systematic 
difference between the West, which is rational, developed, humane, superior, and the 
Orient, which is aberrant, undeveloped, inferior. Another dogma is that abstractions about 
the Orient, particularly those based on texts representing a "classical" Oriental 
civilization, are always preferable to direct 


that the Orient is eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself; therefore it is assumed 
that a highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the rient from a 
Western standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically "objective." A fourth dogma is 
that the Orient is at bottom something either to be feared (the Yellow Peril, the Mongol 
hordes, the brown dominions) or to be controlled (by pacification, research and 
development, outright occupation whenever possible). 

The extraordinary thing is that these notions persist without significant challenge in the 
academic and governmental study of the modern Near Orient. Lamentably, there has been 
no demonstrable effect— if there has been a challenging gesture at all— made by Islamic 
or Arab scholars' work disputing the dogmas of Oriental-ism; an isolated article here or 
there, while important for its time and place, cannot possibly affect the course of an 
imposing research consensus maintained by all sorts of agencies, institutions, and 
traditions. The point of this is that Islamic Orientalism has led a contemporary life guite 
different from that of the other Orientalist subdisciplines. The Committee of Concerned 
Asia Scholars (who are primarily Americans) led a revolution during the 1960s in the 
ranks of East Asia specialists; the African studies specialists were similarly challenged by 
revisionists; so too were other Third World area specialists. Only the Arabists and 
Islamologists still function unrevised. For them there are still such things as an Islamic 
society, an Arab mind, an Oriental psyche. Even the ones whose specialty is the modern 
Islamic world anachronistically use texts like the Koran to read into every facet of 
contemporary Egyptian or Algerian society. Islam, or a seventh-century ideal of it 
constituted by the Orientalist, is assumed to possess the unity that eludes the more recent 
and important influences of colonialism, imperialism, and even ordinary politics. Cliches 
about how Muslims (or Mohammedans, as they are still sometimes called) behave are 
bandied about with a nonchalance no one would risk in talking about blacks or Jews. At 
best, the Muslim is a "native informant" for the Orientalist. Secretly, however, he remains 
a despised heretic who for his sins must additionally endure the entirely thankless position 
of being known— negatively, that is— as an anti-Zionist. 

There is of course a Middle East studies establishment, a pool of interests, "old boy" or 
"expert" networks linking corporate business, the foundations, the oil companies, the 
missions, the 


with the academic world. There are grants and other rewards, there are organizations, 
there are hierarchies, there are institutes, centers, faculties, departments, all devoted to 
legitimizing and maintaining the authority of a handful of basic, basically unchanging 
ideas about Islam, the Orient, and the Arabs. A recent critical analysis of the Middle East 
studies operation in the United States shows, not that the field is "monolithic," but that it 
is complex, that it contains old-style Orientalists, deliberately marginal specialists, 
counterinsurgency specialists, policymakers, as well as "a small minority ... of academic 
power brokers." 1 " In any event, the core of Orientalist dogma persists. 

As an instance of what, in its highest and most intellectually prestigious form, the field 
now produces, let us consider briefly the two-volume Cambridge History of Islam, which 
was first published in England in 1970 and is a regular summa of Orientalist orthodoxy. 
To say of this work by numerous luminaries that it is an intellectual failure by any 
standards other than those of Orientalism is to say that it could have been a different and 
better history of Islam. In fact, as several more thoughtful scholars have noted, 124 this kind 
of history was already doomed when first planned and could not have been different or 
better in execution: too many ideas were uncritically accepted by its editors; there was too 
much reliance on vague concepts; little emphasis was placed on methodological issues 
(which were left as they have been standing in Orientalist discourse for almost two 
centuries); and no effort was put forth to make even the idea of Islam seem interesting. 
More-over, not only does The Cambridge History of Islam radically misconceive and 
misrepresent Islam as a religion; it also has no corporate idea of itself as a history. Of few 
such enormous enter- prises can it be true, as it is of this one, that ideas and methodo- 
logical intelligence are almost entirely absent from it. 

Erfan Shahid's chapter on pre-Islamic Arabia, which opens the history, intelligently 
sketches the fruitful consonance between to p ogiaphy and human economy out of which 
Islam appeared in the seventh century. But what can one fairly say of a history of Islam, 
defined by P. M. Holt's introduction rather airily as a "cultural synthesis / ,, 126 that proceeds 
directly from pre-Islamic Arabia to a chapter on Mohammed, then to a chapter on the 
Patriarchal and Umayyad caliphates, and entirely bypasses any account of Islam as a 
system of belief, faith, or doctrine? For hundreds of pages in volume 1, Islam is 
understood to mean an unrelieved 


chronology of battles, reigns, and deaths, rises and heydays, comings and 
passings, written for the most part in a ghastly monotone. 

Take the Abbasid period from the eighth to the eleventh century as an 
instance. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Arab or Islamic 
history will know that it was a high point of Islamic civilization, as brilliant a 
period of cultural history as the High Renaissance in Italy. Yet nowhere in the 
forty pages of description does one get an inkling of any richness: what is found 
in-stead is sentences like this: "Once master of the caliphate, [al-Ma'mun] 
seemed henceforth to shrink from contact with Baghdad society and remained 
settled at Merv, entrusting the government of Iraq to one of his trusted men, al- 
Hasan b. Sahl, the brother of al-Fadl, who was faced almost at once with a 
serious Shi'i revolt, that of Abu'l-Saraya, who in Jumada II 199/ January 815 
sent out a call to arms from Kufa in support of the Hasanid Ibn Tabataba.'" 26 A 
non-Islamicist will not know at this point what a Shi'i or a Hasanid is. He will 
have no idea what Jumada II is, except that it clearly designates a date of some 
sort. And of course he will believe that the Abbasids, including Harun al-Rashid, 
were an incorrigibly dull and murderous lot, as they sat sulking in Merv. 

The Central Islamic lands are defined as excluding North Africa and 
Andalusia, and their history is an orderly march from the past till modern times. 
In volume 1 , therefore, Islam is a geographical designation applied 
chronologically and selectively as it suits the experts. But nowhere in the 
chapters on classical Islam is there an adequate preparation for the 
disappointments in store for us when we come to "recent times," as they are 
called. The chapter on the modern Arab lands is written without the slightest 
understanding of the revolutionary developments in the area. The author takes 
a schoolmarmish, openly reactionary attitude towards the Arabs ("it must be 
said that during this period the educated and uneducated youth of the Arab 
countries, with their enthusiasm and idealism, became a fertile soil for political 
exploitation and, at times, perhaps without realizing it, the tools of 
unscrupulous extremists and agitators" 127 ), tempered by occasional praise of 
Lebanese nationalism (although we are never told that the appeal of fascism to a 
small number of Arabs during the thirties also infected the Lebanese Maronites, 
who in 1936 founded the Falanges libanaises as a copy of Mussolini's Black 
Shirts). "Unrest and agitation" are ascribed to 1936 without a mention of 
Zionism, and the very notions of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are 
never allowed to violate the 


serenity of the narrative. A s for the chapters on "the political impact of the W est" and 
"economic and social change"- ideas left no more specific than that- they are tacked on 
as reluctant concessions to Islam as having something to do with "our" world in general. 
Change is unilaterally equated with modernization, even though it is nowhere made clear 
why other kinds of change need be so imperiously dismissed. Since it is assumed that 
Islam's only worthwhile relations have been with the West, the importance of Bandung or 

of Africa or of the Third World generally is ignored; this blithe indifference to a good 
three- guarters of reality somewhat explains the amazingly cheerful statement that "the 
historical ground has been cleared [by whom, for what in what way?] for a new 
relationship between the West and Islam . . . based on eguality and cooperation." 121 

If by the end of volume 1 we are mired in a number of contradictions and difficulties 
about what Islam really is, there is no help to be had in volirme 2. Half the book is devoted 
to covering the tenth to the twentieth centuries in India Pakistan, Indonesia Spain, North 
Africa, and Sicily; there is more distinction in the chapters on North Africa, although the 
same combination of professional Orientalist jargon with unguided historical detail 
prevails pretty much everywhere. So far, after approximately twelve hundred pages of 
dense prose, "Islam" appears to be no more a cultural synthesis than any other roll call of 
kings, battles, and dynasties. But in the last half of volume 2, the great synthesis 
completes itself with articles on "The Geographical Setting," "Sources of Islamic 
Civilization," "Religion and Culture," and "Warfare." 

Now one's legitimate questions and objections seem more justified. W hy is a chapter 
commissioned on Islamic warfare when what is really discussed (interestingly, by the 
way) is the sociology of some Islamic armies? Is one to assume that there is an Islamic 
mode of war different, say, from Christian warfare? Communist war versus capitalist war 
proposes itself as a suitably analogous topic. f what use for the understanding of Islam - 
except as a display of Gustave von Grunebaum's indiscriminate erudition— are the opague 
guotations from Leopold von Ranke which, along with other egually ponderous and 
irrelevant material, dot his pages on Islamic civilization? Is it not mendacious thus to 
disguise the real Grunebaumian thesis, that Islamic civilization rests on an un- principled 
borrowing by Muslims from the J udeo- Christian, Hellenistic, and Austro-Germanic 
civilizations? Compare with this idea— 


that Islam is by definition a plagiaristic culture — the one put for-ward in 
volume 1 that "so-called Arabic literature" was written by Persians (no 
proof offered, no names cited). When Louis Gardet treats "Religion and 
Culture," we are told summarily that only the first five centuries of 
Islam are to be discussed; does this mean that religion and culture in 
"modern times" cannot be "synfhesi2ed," or does it mean that Islam 
achieved its final form in the twelfth century? Is there really such a 
thing as "Islamic geography," which seems to include the "planned 
anarchy" of Muslim cities, or is it mainly an invented subject to 
demonstrate a rigid theory of geographical-racial determinism? As a hint 
we are reminded of "the Ramadan fast with its active nights," from 

which we are expected to conclude that Islam is a religion "designed for 
town dwellers." This is explanation in need of explanation. 

The sections on economic and social institutions, on law and justice, 
mysticism, art and architecture, science, and the various Islamic 
literatures are on an altogether higher level than most of the History. 
Yet nowhere is there evidence that their authors have much in common 
with modern humanists or social scientists in other disciplines: the 
techniques of the conventional history of ideas, of Marxist analysis, of 
the New History, are noticeably absent. Islam, in short, seems to its 
historians to be best suited to a rather Platonic and antiquarian bias. To 
some writers of the History Islam is a politics and a religion; to others it 
is a style of being; to others it is "distinguishable from Muslim society"; 
to still others it is a mysteriously known essence; to all the authors 
Islam is a remote, tensionless thing, without much to teach us about the 
complexities of today's Muslims. Hanging over the whole disjointed 
enterprise which is The Cambridge History of Islam is the old Orientalist 
truism that Islam is about texts, not about people. 

The fundamental question raised by such contemporary Orientalist 
texts as The Cambridge History is whether ethnic origins and religion 
are the best, or at least the most useful, basic, and clear, definitions of 
human experience. Does it matter more in understanding contemporary 
politics to know that X and Y are disadvantaged in certain very concrete 
ways, or that they are Muslims or Jews? This is of course a debatable 
question, and we are very likely in rational terms to insist on both the 
religious-ethnic and the socio-economic descriptions; Orientalism, 
however, clearly posits the Islamic category as the dominant one, and 
this is the main consideration about its retrograde intellectual tactics. 


3. Merely Islam. So deeply entrenched is the theory of Semitic simplicity as it is to be 
found in modern Orientalism that it operates with little differentiation in such well- 
known anti-Semitic European writings as The Protocols of the Elders ofZion and in 
remarks such as these by Chaim Weizmann to Arthur Balfour on May 30, 1918: 

The Arabs, who are superficially clever and quickwitted, worship one thing, and 
one thing only- power and success... . The B ritish authorities . . . knowing as they 
do the treacherous nature of the Arabs . . . have to watch carefully and constantly... . 

The fairer the English regime tries to be, the more arrogant the Arab becomes.... The 
present state of affairs would necessarily tend toward the creation of an Arab 
Palestine, if here were an Arab people in Palestine. It will not in fact produe that 
result because the fellah is at least four centuries behind the times, and the effendi . . 
. is dishonest uneducated, greedy, and as un-patriotic as he is inefficient.' 29 
The common denominator between Weizmann and the European anti-Semite is the 
Orientalist perspective, seeing Semites (or sub-divisions thereof) as by nature lacking the 
desirable gualities of Occidentals. Y et the difference between Renan and Weizmann is 
that the latter had already gathered behind his rhetoric the solidity of institutions whereas 
the former had not. Is there not in twentieth- century Orientalism that same unaging 
"gracious childhood" — heedlessly allied now with scholarship, now with a state and all 
its institutions— that Renan saw as the Semites' unchanging mode of 

Y et with what greater harm has the twentieth-century version of the myth been 
maintained. It has produced a picture of the A rab as seen by an "advanced" quasi- 
Occidental society. In his resistance to foreign colonialists the Palestinian was either a 
stupid savage, or a negligible quantity, morally and even existentially. According to 
Israeli law only a Jew has full civic rights and unqualified immigration privileges; even 
though they are the land's inhabitants, A rabs are given less, more simple rights: they 
cannot immigrate, and if they seem not to have the same rights, it is because they are 
"less developed." Orientalism governs Israeli policy towards the Arabs throughout, as the 
recently published 


Koenig Report amply proves. There are good Arabs (the ones who do as they are told) 
and bad Arabs (who do not, and are therefore terrorists). Most of all there are all those 
Arabs who, once defeated, can be expected to sit obediently behind an infallibly fortified 
line, manned by thesmallest possible number of men, on the theory that Arabs have had 
to accept the myth of Israeli superiority and will never dare attack. One need only glance 
through the pages of General Y ehoshafat Harkabi's Arab Attitudes to Israel to see how— 
as Robert Alter put it in admiring language in Commentary 10 — the Arab mind, depraved, 
anti-Semitic to the core, violent, unbalanced, could pro-duce only rhetoric and little more. 
One myth supports and produces another. They answer each other, tending towards 
symmetries and patterns of the sort that as Orientals the Arabs themselves can be 
expected to produce, but that as a human being no Arab can truly sustain. 

Of itself, in itself, as a set of beliefs, as a method of analysis, Orientalism cannot 
develop. Indeed, it is the doctrinal antithesis of development. Its central argument is the 
myth of the arrested development of the Semites. From this matrix other myths pour forth, 
each of them showing the Semite to be the opposite of the Westerner and irremediably the 
victim of his own weaknesses. By a concatenation of events and circumstances the 

Semitic myth bifurcated in the Zionist movement; one Semite went the way of 
Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental. Each time tent 
and tribe are solicited, the myth is being employed; each time the concept of Arab 
national character is evoked, the myth is being employed. The hold these instruments have 
on the mind is increased by the institutions built around them. For every Orientalist, guite 
literally, there is a support system of staggering power, considering the ephemerality of 
the myths that Orientalism propagates. This system now culminates in the very 
institutions of the state. To write about the Arab Oriental world, therefore, is to write with 
the authority of a nation, and not with the affirmation of a strident ideology but with the 
unguestioning certainty of absolute truth backed by absolute force. 

In its February 1974 issue Commentary gave its readers an article by Professor Gil Carl 
Alroy entitled "Do the Arabs Want Peace?" Alroy is a professor of political science and is 
the author of two works, Attitudes Towards Jewish Statehood in the Arab World and 
Images of Middle East Conflict; he is a man who professes to "know" the Arabs, and is 
obviously an expert on image making. His argument is guite predictable: that the Arabs 
want to destroy Israel, that the Arabs really say what they mean (and Alroy makes 
ostentatious use of his ability to cite evidence from Egyptian news- papers, evidence he 
everywhere identifies with "Arabs" as if the 


two, Arabs and Egyptian newspapers, were one), and so on and on, with unflagging, one- 
eyed zeal. Quite the center of his article, as it is the center of previous work by other 
"A rabists" (synonymous with "Orientalists"), like General Harkabi, whose province is the 
"Arab mind," is a working hypothesis on what Arabs, if one peels off all the outer 
nonsense, are really like. In other words, Alroy must prove that because Arabs are, first of 
all, as one in their bent for bloody vengeance, second, psychologically incapable of peace, 
and third, congenially tied to a concept of justice that means the opposite of that, they are 
not to be trusted and must be fought interminably as one fights any other fatal disease. For 
evidence Alroy's principal exhibit is a quotation taken from Harold W. Glidden's essay 
"The A rab W orld" (to which I referred in C hapter ne). A lroy finds G lidden able to have 
"captured the cultural differences between the Western and the Arab view" of things "very 
well." Alroy's argument is clinched, therefore- the Arabs are unregenerate savages- and 
thus an authority on the Arab mind has told a wide audience of presumably concerned 
Jews that they must continue to watch out. A nd he has done it academically, dis- 
passionately, fairly, using evidence taken from the Arabs themselves — who, he says with 

Olympian assurance, have "emphatically ruled out . . . real peace"— and from 
psychoanalysis. 131 

One can explain such statements by recognizing that a still more implicit and powerful 
difference posited by the Orientalist as against the Oriental isthatthefonnerwrztos about 
whereas the latter fs written about. For the latter, passivity is the presumed role; for the 
former, the power to observe, study, and so forth; as Roland Barthes has said, a myth (and 
its perpetuators) can invent itself (themselves) ceaselessly. 182 The Oriental is given as 
fixed, stable, in need of investigation, in need even of knowledge about himself. No 
dialectic is either desired or allowed. There is. a source of information (the Oriental) and a 
source of knowledge (the Orientalist), in short, a writer and a subject matter otherwise 
inert. The relationship between the two is radically a matter of power, for which there are 
numerous images. Here is an instance taken from Raphael Patai's Golden River to Golden 

In order properly to evaluate what Middle Eastern culture will willingly accept 
from the embarrassingly rich storehouses of Western civilization, a better and 
sounder understanding of Middle Eastern culture must first be acquired. The same 
prereguisite is necessary in order to gauge the probable effects of newly intro- 


duced traits on the cultural context of tradition directed peoples. Also, the ways and 

means in which new cultural oferings can be made palatable must be Studied 
much more thoroughly than was hitherto the case. In brief, the only way in which the 
Gordian knot of resistance to Westernization in the Middle East can be unraveled 
is that of studying the Middle East, of obtaining a fuller picture of its traditional 
culture, a better understanding of the processes of change taking place in it at 
present, and a deeper insight into the psychology of human groups brought up in 
Middle Eastern culture. The task is taxing, but the prize, harmony between the 
West and a neighboring world area of crucial importance, is well worth it.' 33 

The metaphorical figures propping up this passage (I have indicated them by italics) come 
from a variety of human activities, some commercial, some horticultural, some religious, 
some veterinary, some historical. Y et in each case the relation between the Middle East 
and the West is really defined as sexual: as I said earlier in discussing Flaubert, the 
association between the Orient and sex is remarkably persistent. The Middle East is 
resistant, as any virgin would be, but the male scholar wins the prize by bursting open, 
penetrating through the Gordian knot despite "the taxing task." "Harmony" is the result of 
the conguest of maidenly coyness; it is not by any means the coexistence of eguals. The 

underlying power relation between scholar and subject matter is never once altered: it is 
uniformly favorable to the Orientalist. Study, understanding, knowledge, evaluation, 
masked as blandishments to "harmony," are instruments of conguest. 

The verbal operations in such writing as Patai's (who has out-stripped even his previous 
work in his recent The Arab Mind™) aim at a very particular sort of compression and 
reduction. Much of his paraphernalia is anthropological— he describes the Middle East as 
a "culture area"— but the result is to eradicate the plurality of differences among the Arabs 
(whoever they may be in fact) in the interest of one difference, that one setting Arabs off 
from every- one else. Asa subject matter for study and analysis, they can be controlled 
more readily. Moreover, thus reduced they can be made to permit, legitimate, and valorize 
general nonsense of the sort one finds in works such as Sania Hamady's Temperament 
and Character of the Arabs. Item: 

The Arabs so far have demonstrated an incapacity for disci 

plined and abiding unity. They experience collective outbursts 


of enthusiasm but do not pursue patiently collective endeavors, which are usually 
embraced half-heartedly. They show lack of coordination and harmony in 
organization and function, nor have they revealed an ability for cooperation. 
Any collective action for common benefit or mutual profit is alien to them. 1 " 

The style of this prose tells more perhaps than Hamady intends. Verbs like 
"demonstrate," "reveal," "show," are used without an indirect object: to whom are the 
Arabs revealing, demonstrating, showing? To no one in particular, obviously, but to 
everyone in general. This is another way of saying that these truths are self-evident only 
to a privileged or initiated observer, since nowhere does Hamady cite generally available 
evidence for her observations. Besides, given the inanity of the observations, what sort of 
evidence could there be? As her prose moves along, her tone increases in confidence: 
"Any collective action ... is alien to them." The categories harden, the assertions are 
more unyielding, and the Arabs have been totally transformed from people into no more 
than the putative subject of Hamady's style. The Arabs exist only as an occasion for the 
tyrannical observer: "The world is my idea." 

And so it is throughout the work of the contemporary Oriental- ist: assertions of the 
most bizarre sort dot his or her pages, whether it is a Manfred Halpern arguing that even 
though all human thought processes can be reduced to eight, the Islamic mind is capable 
of only four, 186 or a Morroe Berger presuming that since the Arabic language is much 
given to rhetoric Arabs are conseguently in-capable of true thought. 187 One can call these 
assertions myths intMrtiinctionand structure, and yet one must try to understand what 
other imperatives govern their use. Here one is speculating, of course. Orientalist 
generalizations about the Arabs are very detailed when it comes to itemizing Arab 
characteristics critically, far less so when it comes to analyzing Arab strengths. The Arab 

family, Arab rhetoric, the Arab character, despite copious descriptions by the Orientalist 
appear de-natured, without human potency, even as these same descriptions possess a 
fullness and depth in their sweeping power over the subject matter. Hamady again: 

Thus, the Arab lives in a hard and frustrating environment. He has little chance to 
develop his potentialities and define his position in society, holds little belief in 
progress and change, and finds salvation only in the hereafter. 1 " 


What the Arab cannot achieve himself is to be found in the writing about him. The 
Orientalist is supremely certain of his potential, is not a pessimist, is able to define his 
position, his own and the Arab's. The picture of the Arab Oriental that emerges is 
determinedly negative; yet, we ask, why this endless series of works on him? What grips 
the Orientalist, if i+' is not— as it certainly is not— love of Arab science, mind, society, 
achievement? In other words, what is the nature of Arab presence in mythic discourse 
about him? 

Two things: number and generative power. Both gualities are reducible to each other 
ultimately, but we ought to separate them for the purposes of analysis. Almost without 
exception, every con- temporary work of Orientalist scholarship (especially in the social 
sciences) has a great deal to say about the family, its male- dominated structure, its all- 
pervasive influence in the society. Patai's work is a typical example. A silent paradox 
immediately presents itself, for if the family is an institution for whose general failures the 
only remedy is the placebo of "modernization," we must acknowledge that the family 
continues to produce itself, is fertile, and is the source of Arab existence in the world, 
such as it is. What Berger refers to as "the great value men place upon their own sexual 
prowess' suggests the lurking power behind Arab presence in the world If Arab society is 
represented in almost completely negative and generally passive terms, to be ravished and 
won by the Orientalist hero, we can assume that such a representation is a way of dealing 
with the great variety and potency of Arab diversity, whose source is, if not intellectual 
and social, then sexual and biological. Yet the absolutely inviolable taboo in Orientalist 
dis-course is that that very sexuality must never be taken seriously. It can never be 
explicitly blamed for the absence of achievement and "real" rational sophistication the 
Orientalist everywhere discovers among the Arabs. And yet this is, I think, the missing 
link in arguments whose main object is criticism of "traditional" Arab society, such as 
Hamady's, Berger's, and Lemer's. They recognize the power of the family, note the 
weaknesses of the Arab mind, remark the "importance" of the Oriental world to the West, 
but never say what their discourse implies, that what is really left to the Arab after all is 
said and done is an uncMerentiated sexual drive. On rare occasions— as in the work of 

Leon Mugniery— we do find the implicit made clear: that there is a "powerful sexual 
appetite ... characteristic of those hot-blooded southerners." 10 Most of the time, how- 


ever, the belittlement of A rab society and its reduction of platitudes inconceivable for any 
except the racially inferior are carried on over an undercurrent of sexual exaggeration: 
the Arab produces himself, endlessly, sexually, and little else. The Orientalist says 
nothing about this, although his argument depends on it: "But co-operation in the Near 
East is still largely a family affair and little of it is found outside the blood group or 
village." 141 Which is to say that the only way in which Arabs count is as mere biological 
beings; institutionally, politically, culturally they are nil, or next to nil. Numerically and 
as the producers of families, Arabs are actual. 

The difficulty with this view is that it complicates the passivity amongst Arabs 
assumed by Orientalists like Patai and even Hamady and the others. But it is in the logic 
of myths, like dreams, exactly to welcome radical antitheses. For a myth does not analyze 
or solve problems. It represents them as already analyzed and solved; that is, it presents 
them as already assembled images, in the way a scare-crow is assembled from bric-a-brac 
and then made to stand for a man. Since the image uses all material to its own end, and 
since by definition the myth displaces life, the antithesis between an over- fertile Arab and 
a passive doll is not functional. The discourse papers over the antithesis. An Arab 
Oriental is that impossible creature whose libidinal energy drives him to paroxysms of 
overstimulation— and yet, he is as a puppet in the eyes of the world, staring vacantly out 
at a modern landscape he can neither understand nor cope with. 

It is in recent discussions of Oriental political behavior that such an image of the Arab 
seems to be relevant, and it is often occasioned by scholarly discussion of those two 
recent favorites of Orientalist expertise, revolution and modernization. Under the 
auspices of the School of Oriental and African Studies there appeared in 1972 a volume 
entitled Revolution in the Middle East and Other Case Studies, edited by P. J. Vatikiotis. 
The title is overtly medical, for we are expected to think of Orientalists as finally being 
given the benefit of what "traditional" Orientalism usually avoided: psychoclinical 
attention. Vatikiotis sets the tone of the collection with a guasi-medical definition of 
revolution, but since Arab revolution is in his mind and in his readers', the hostility of the 
definition seems acceptable. There is a very clever irony here about which I shall speak 

later. Vatikiotis's theoretical support is Camus— whose colonial mentality was no friend 
of revolution or of the Arabs, as Conor Cruise O'Brien has recently shown— but the 
phrase "revolu- 


tion destroys both men and principles" is accepted from Camus as having "fundamental 
sense." Vatikiotis continues: 

... all revolutionary ideology is in direct conflict with (actually, is a head-on attack 

upon) man's rational, biological and psycho-logical make-up. 

Committed as it is to a methodical metastasis, revolutionary ideology demands 
fanaticism from its adherents. Politics for the revolutionary is not only a guestion of 
belief, or a substitute for religious belief. It must stop being what it has always been, 
namely, an adaptive activity in time for survival. Metastatic, soteriological politics 
abhors adaptiveness, for how else can it eschew the difficulties, ignore and bypass the 
obstacles of the complex biological-psychological dimension of man, or mesmerize 
his subtle though limited and vulnerable rationality? It fears and shuns the concrete 
and discrete nature of human problems and the preoccupations of political life: it 
thrives on the abstract and the Promethean. It sub-ordinates all tangible values to the 
one supreme value: the harnessing of man and history in a grand design of human 
liberation. It is not satisfied with human politics, which has so many irritating 
limitations. It wishes instead to create a new world, not adaptively, precariously, 
delicately, that is, humanly, but by a terrifying act of Olympian pseudo-divine 
creation. Politics in the service of man is a formula that is unacceptable to the 
revolutionary ideologue. Rather man exists to serve a politically con-trived and 
brutally decreed order. 142 

Whatever else this passage says— purple writing of the most extreme sort, 
countenevolutionary zealotry— it is saying nothing less than that revolution is a bad kind 
of sexuality (pseudo-divine act of creation), and also a cancerous disease. Whatever is 
done by the "human," according to Vatikiotis, is rational, right, subtle, discrete, concrete; 
whatever the revolutionary proclaims is brutal, irrational, mesmeric, cancerous. 
Procreation, change, and continuity are identified not only with sexuality and with 
madness but, a little paradoxically, with abstraction. 

Vatikiotis's terms are weighted and colored emotionally by appeals (from the right) to 
humanity and decency and by appeals (against the left) safeguarding humanity from 
sexuality, cancer, madness, irrational violence, revolution. Since it is Arab revolution that 
is in guestion, we are to read the passage as follows: This is what revolution is, and if the 

Arabs want it, then that is a fairly telling comment on them, on the kind of inferior race 
they are. They are only capable of sexual incitement and not of Olympian (West- 


ern, modern) reason. The irony of which I spoke earlier now comes into play, for a 
few pages later we find that the Arabs are so inept that they cannot even aspire to, 
let alone consummate, the ambitions of revolution. By implication, Arab sexuality 
need not be feared for itself but for its failure. In short, Vatikiotis asks his reader to 
believe that revolution in the Middle East is a threat precisely because revolution 
cannot be attained. 

The major source of political conflict and potential revolution in many countries 
of the Middle East, as well as Africa and Asia today, is the inability of so-called 
radical nationalist regimes and movements to manage, let alone resolve, the 

social, economic and political problems of independence Until the states in 

the Middle East can control their economic activity and create or produce their 
own technology, their access to revolutionary experience will remain limited. 
The very political categories essential to a revolution will be lacking." 

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. In this series of dis-solving definitions 
revolutions emerge as figments of sexually crazed minds which on closer analysis turn out 
not to be capable even of the craziness Vatikiotis truly respects— which is human, not 
Arab, concrete, not abstract, asexual, not sexual. 

The scholarly centerpiece of Vatikiotis's collection is Bernard Lewis's essay "Islamic 
Concepts of Revolution." The strategy here appears refined. Many readers will know that 
for Arabic speakers today the word thawra and its immediate cognates mean revolution; 
they will know this also from Vatikiotis's introduction. Y et Lewis does not describe the 
meaning of thawra until the very end of his article, after he has discussed concepts such 
as dawk, fitna, and bughat in their historical and mostly religious context. The point 
there is mainly that "the Western doctrine of the right to resist bad government is alien to 
Islamic thought," which leads to "defeatism" and "guietism" as political attitudes. At no 
point in the essay is one sure where all these terms are supposed to be taking place except 
somewhere in the history of words. Then near the end of the essay we have this: 

In the Arabic-speaking countries a different word was used for [revolution] 
thawra. The root th-w-r in classical Arabic meant to rise up (e.g. of a camel), to be 
stirred or excited, and hence, especially in Maghribi usage, to rebel. It is often used in 
the context of establishing a petty, independent sovereignty; thus, for 


example, the so-called party kings who ruled in eleventh century Spain after the 
break-up of the Caliphate of Cordova are called thuwwar (sing, tha'ir). The noun 
thawra at first means excite- ment, as in the phrase, cited in the Sihah, a standard 
medieval Arabic dictionary, intazir hatta taskun Ha.dh.ihx "thawra, wait till 
this excitement dies down— a very apt recommendation. The verb is used by al-Iji, in 
the form of thawaran or itharat fatna, stirring up sedition, as one of the dangers 
which should discourage a man from practising the duty of resistance to bad 
government. Thawra is the term used by Arabic writers in the nineteenth century for 
the French Revolution, and by their successors for the approved revolutions, 
domestic and foreign, of our own time.'" 

The entire passage is full of condescension and bad faith. Why introduce the idea of a 
camel rising as an etymological root for modern Arab revolution except as a clever way 
of discrediting the modern? Lewis's reason is patently to bring down revolution from its 
contemporary valuation to nothing more noble (or beautiful) than a camel about to raise 
itself from the ground. Revolution is excitement, sedition, setting up a petty 
sovereignty— nothing more; the best counsel (which presumably only a Western scholar 
and gentleman can give) is "wait till the excitement dies down." One wouldn't know from 
this slighting account of thawra that innumerable people have an active commitment to 
it, in ways too complex for even Lewis's sarcastic scholarship to comprehend. But it is 
this kind of essentialized description that is natural for students and policymakers 
concerned with the Middle East: that revolutionary stirrings among "the Arabs" are about 
as conseguential as a camel's getting up, as worthy of attention as the babblings of 
yokels. All the canonical Orientalist literature will for the same ideological reason be 
unable to explain or prepare one for the confirming revolutionary upheaval in the Arab 
world in the twentieth century. 

Lewis's association of thawra with a camel rising and generally with excitement (and 
not with a struggle on behalf of values) hints much more broadly than is usual for him 
that the Arab is scarcely more than a neurotic sexual being. Each of the words or phrases 
he uses to describe revolution is tinged with sexuality: stirred, excited, rising up. But 
for the most part it is a "bad" sexuality he ascribes to the Arab. In the end, since Arabs 
are really not eguipped for serious action, their sexual excitement is no more noble than a 
camel's rising up. Instead of revolution there is sedition, setting up a petty sovereignty, 
and more excitement, which is as much as saying that 


instead of copulation the Arab can only achieve fo replay, masturbation, coitus 
interruptus. These, I think, are Lewis's implications, no matter how innocent his air of 
learning, or parlorlike his language. For since he is so sensitive to the nuances of words, 
he must be aware that his words have nuances as well. 

Lewis is an interesting case to examine further because his standing in the political 
world of the Anglo-American Middle Eastern Establishment is that of the learned 
Orientalist, and every-thing he writes is steeped in the "authority" of the field. Yet for at 
least a decade and a half his work in the main has been aggressively ideological, despite 
his various attempts at subtlety and irony. I mention his recent writing as a perfect 
exemplification of the academic whose work purports to be liberal objective scholarship 
but is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material. But this 
should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of Orientalism; it is only 
the latest— and in the West, the most uncriticized— of the scandals of "scholarship." 

So intent has Lewis become upon his project to debunk, to whittle down, and to 
discredit the Arabs and Islam that even his energies as a scholar and historian seem to 
have failed him. He will, for example, publish a chapter called "The Revolt of Islam" in a 
book in 1964, then republish much of the same material twelve years later, slightly altered 
to suit the new place of publication (in this case Commentary) and retitled "The Return 
of Islam." From "Revolt" to "Return" is of course a change for the worse, a change 
intended by Lewis to explain to his latest public why it is that the Muslims (or Arabs) still 
will not settle down and accept Israeli hegemony over the Near East. 

Let us look more closely at how he does this. In both of his pieces he mentions an anti- 
imperialist riot in Cairo in 1945, which in both cases he describes as anti-Jewish. Yet in 
neither instance does he tell us how it was anti-Jewish; in fact, as his material evidence for 
anti-Jewishness, he produces the somewhat surprising intelligence that "several churches, 
Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, were attacked and damaged." Consider the first 
version, done in 1964: 
On November 2, 1945 political leaders in Egypt called for demonstrations on the 
anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. These rapidly developed into anti- 
Jewish riots, in the course of which a Catholic, an Armenian, and a Greek 
Orthodox church were 


attacked and damaged. What, it may be asked, had Catholics, Armenians and 
Greeks to do with the Balfour Declaration?!!^ 
And now the Commentary version, done ia 1976: 

As the nationalist movement has become genuinely popular, so it has become less 
national and more religious— in other words less Arab and more Islamic. In moments 
of crisis— and these have been many in recent decades— it is the instinctive 
communal loyalty which outweighs all others. A few examples may suffice. On 

November 2, 1945, demonstrations were held in Egypt [note here how the phrase 
"demonstrations were held" is an attempt to show instinctive loyalties; in the previous 
version "political leaders" were responsible for the deed] on the anniversary of the 
issue by the British Government of the Balfour Declaration. Though this was 
certainly not the intention of the political leaders who sponsored it, the demonstration 
soon developed into an anti-Jewish riot and the anti-Jewish riot into a more general 
outbreak in the course of which several churches, Catholic, Armenian, and Greek 
Orthodox [another instructive change: the impression here is that many churches, of 
three kinds, were attacked; the earlier version is specific about three churches], were 
attacked and damaged. 146 

Lewis's polemical, not scholarly, purpose is to show, here and elsewhere, that Islam is 
an anti-Semitic ideology, not merely a religion. He has a little logical difficulty in trying 
to assert that Islam is a fearful mass phenomenon and at the same time "not genuinely 
popular," but this problem does not detain him long. As the second version of his 
tendentious anecdote shows, he goes on to proclaim that Islam is an irrational herd or 
mass phenomenon, ruling Muslims by passions, instincts, and unreflecting hatreds. The 
whole point of his exposition is to frighten his audience, to make it never yield an inch to 
Islam. According to Lewis, Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely 
are, and they are to be watched, on account of that pure essence of theirs (according to 
Lewis), which happens to include a long-standing hatred of Christians and Jews. Lewis 
everywhere restrains himself from making such inflammatory statements flat out; he 
always takes care to say that of course the Muslims are not anti-Semitic the way the Nazis 
were, but their religion can too easily accommodate itself to anti-Semitism and has done 
so. Similarly with regard to Islam and racism, slavery, and other more or less "Western" 
evils. The core of Lewis's ideology about Islam is that it never changes, and his 


whole mission is now to inform conservative segments of the Jewish reading public, and 
anyone else who cares to listen, that any political, historical, and scholarly account of 
Muslims must begin and end with the fact that Muslims are Muslims. 

For to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too 
much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, 
always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its 
wards. This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly 
alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the 
Muslim world and in the conseguent recourse to the language of left-wing and right- 
wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology, the use 
of which in explaining Muslim political phenomena is about as accurate and as 

enlightening as an account of a cricket match by a baseball correspondent. [Lewis is 
so fond of this last simile that he guotes it verbatim from his 1964 polemic.]147 

In a later work Lewis tells us what terminology is more accurate and useful, although 
the terminology seems no less "Western" (whatever "Western" means): Muslims, like 
most other former colonial peoples, are incapable of telling the truth or even of seeing it. 
According to Lewis, they are addicted to mythology, along with "the so-called revisionist 
school in the United States, which look back to a golden age of American virtue and 
ascribe virtually all the sins and crimes of the world to the present establishment in their 
country." H8 Aside from being a mischievous and totally inaccurate account of revisionist 
history, this kind of remark is designed to put Lewis as a great historian above the petty 
underdevelopment of mere Muslims and revisionists. 

Y et so far as being accurate is concerned, and so far as living up to his own rule that 
"the scholar, however, will not give way to his prejudices," 14A Lewis is cavalier with 
himself and with his cause. He will, for example, recite the Arab case against Zionism 
(using the "in" language of the Arab nationalist) without at the same time mentioning— 
anywhere, in any of his writings— that there was such a thing as a Zionist invasion and 
colonization of Palestine despite and in conflict with the native Arab inhabitants. No 
Israeli would deny this, but Lewis the Orientalist historian simply leaves it out. He will 
speak of the absence of democracy in the Middle East, 


except for Israel, without ever mentioning the Emergency Defense 
Regulations used in Israel to rule the Arabs; nor has he anything to 
say about " preventive detention" of Arabs in Israel, nor about the 

dozens of illegal settlements on the militarily occupied West Bank of Gaza, 
nor about the absence of human rights for Arabs, principal among them the 
right of immigration, in former Palestine. Instead, Lewis allows himself the 
scholarly liberty to say that "imperialism and Zionism [so far as the Arabs 
are concerned were] long familiar under their older names as the Christians 
and Jews." 160 He guotes T. E. Lawrence on "the Semites" to bolster his 
case against Islam, he never discusses Zionism in parallel with Islam (as if 
Zionism were a French, not a religious, movement), and he tries 
everywhere to demonstrate that any revolution anywhere is at best a form 
of "secular millenarianism." 

One would find this kind of procedure less objectionable as political 
propaganda— which is what it is, of course— were it not accompanied by 
sermons on the objectivity, the fairness, the im-partiality of a real historian, 
the implication always being that Muslims and Arabs cannot be objective 
but that Orientalists like Lewis writing about Muslims and Arabs are, by 
definition, by train-ing, by the mere fact of their Westemness. This is the 
culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only degrades its subject 

matter but also blinds its practitioners. But let us listen finally to Lewis 

telling us how the historian ought to conduct himself. We may well ask 

whether it is only the Orientals who are subject to the prejudices he 


[The historian's] loyalties may well influence his choice of subject of 

research; they should not influence his treatment of it. If, in the course 

of his researches, he finds that the group with which he identifies 

himself is always right, and those other groups with which it is in 

conflict are always wrong, then he would be well advised to guestion 

his conclusions, and to reexamine the hypothesis on the basis of which 

he selected and interpreted his evidence; for it is not in the nature of 

human communities [presumably, also, the community of Orientalists] 

always to be right. 

Finally the historian must be fair and honest in the way he presents 
his story. That is not to say that he must confine himself to a bare 
recital of definitely established facts. At many stages in his work the 
historian must formulate hypotheses and make judgments. The 
important thing is that he should do so consciously 


and explicitly, reviewing the evidence for and against his conclusions, examining 
the various possible interpretations, and stating explicitly what his decision is, and 
how and why he reached it. 151 

To look for a conscious, fair, and explicit judgment by Lewis of the Islam he has treated 
as he has treated it is to look in vain. He prefers to work, as we have seen, by suggestion 
and insinuation. One suspects, however, that he is unaware of doing this (except perhaps 
with regard to "political" matters like pro-Zionism, anti-Arab nationalism, and strident 
Cold Warriorism), since he would be certain to say that the whole history of Orientalism, 
of whom he is the beneficiary, has made these insinuations and hypotheses into 
indisputable truths. 

Perhaps the most indisputable of these rock-bottom "truths," and the most peculiar 
(since it is hard to believe it could be maintained for any other language), is that Arabic as 
a language is a dangerous ideology. The contemporary locus classicus for this view of 
Arabic is E. Shouby's essay "The Influence of the Arabic Language on the Psychology of 
the Arabs." 152 The author is described as "a psychologist with training in both Clinical 

and Social Psychology/ 1 and one presumes that a main reason his views have such wide 
currency is that he is an Arab himself (a self- incriminating one, at that). The argument he 
proposes is lamentably simple-minded, perhaps because he has no notion of what 
language is and how it operates. Nevertheless the subheadings of his essay tell a good deal 
of his story; Arabic is characterized by "General vagueness of Thought/ 1 "Overemphasis 
on Linguistic Signs/ 1 "Over-assertion and Exaggeration." Shouby is freguently guoted as 
an authority because he speaks like one and because what he hypostasizes is a sort of 
mute Arab who at the same time is a great word- master playing games without much 
seriousness or purpose. Muteness is an important part of what Shouby is talking about 
since in his entire paper he never once guotes from the literature of which the Arab is so 
inordinately proud. Where, then, does Arabic influence the Arab mind? Exclusively 
within the mythological world created for the Arab by Orientalism. The Arab is a sign for 
dumbness combined with hopeless overarticulateness, poverty combined with excess. 
That such a result can be attained by philological means testifies to the sad end of a 
formerly complex philological tradition, exemplified today only in very rare individuals. 
The reliance of today's Orientalist on "philology" is the last 


infirmity of a scholarly discipline completely transformed into social- science 
ideological expertise. 

In everything I have been discussing, the language of Orientalism plays the 
dominant role. It brings opposites together as "natural," it presents human types in 
scholarly idioms and methodologies, it ascribes reality and reference to objects 
(other words) of its own making. Mythic language is discourse, that is, it cannot be 
anything but systematic; one does not really make discourse at will, or statements 
in it, without first belonging— in some cases unconsciously, but at any rate 
involuntarily— to the ideology and the institutions that guarantee its existence. 
These latter are always the institutions of an advanced society dealing with a less 
advanced society, a strong culture encountering a weak one. The principal feature 
of mythic discourse is that it conceals its own origins as well as those of what it 
describes. "Arabs" are presented in the imagery of static, almost ideal types, and 
neither as creatures with a potential in the process of being realized nor as history 
being made. The exaggerated value heaped upon Arabic as a language permits the 
Orientalist to make the language equivalent to mind, society, history, and nature. 
For the Orientalist the language speaks the Arab Oriental, not vice versa. 

4. Orientals Orientals Orientals. The system of ideological fictions I have been 
calling Orientalism has serious implications not only because it is intellectually 
discreditable. For the United States today is heavily invested in the Middle East, 
more heavily than any-where else on earth: the Middle East experts who advise 
policy- makers are imbued with Orientalism almost to a person. Most of this 

investment appropriately enough, is built on foundations of sand, since the 
experts instruct policy on the basis of such market- able abstractions as political 
elites, modernization, and stability, most of which are simply the old Orientalist 
stereotypes dressed up in policy jargon, and most of which have been completely 
inadequate to describe what took place recently in Lebanon or earlier in Palestinian 
popular resistance to Israel. The Orientalist now tries to see the Orient as an 
imitation West which, according to Bernard Lewis, can only improve itself when 
its nationalism "is prepared to come to terms with the West.'" If in the meantime 
the Arabs, the Muslims, or the Third and Fourth Worlds go unexpected ways after 
all, we will not be surprised to have an Orientalist tell us that this testifies to the 
incorrigibility of Orientals and therefore proves that they are not to be trusted. 


The methodological failures of Orientalism cannot be accounted for either by 
saying that the real Orient is different from Orientalist portraits of it, or by saying 
that since Orientalists are Westerners for the most part, they cannot be expected to 
have an inner sense of what the Orient is all about. Both of these propositions are 
false. It is not the thesis of this book to suggest that there is such a thing as a real or 
true Orient (Islam, Arab, or whatever) ; nor is it to make an assertion about the 
necessary privilege of an " insider" perspective over an " outsider" one, to use Robert 
K. Merton's useful distinction. 1 * On the contrary, I have been arguing that "the 
Orient" is itself a constituted entity, and that the notion that there are geographical 
spaces with indigenous, radically " different" in-habitants who can be defined on the 
basis of some religion, culture, or racial essence proper to that geographical space is 
equally a highly debatable idea. I certainly do not believe the limited proposition that 
only a black can write about blacks, a Muslim about Muslims, and so forth. 

And yet despite its failures, its lamentable jargon, its scarcely concealed racism, its 
paper-thin intellectual apparatus, Orientalism flourishes today in the forms I have 
tried to describe. Indeed, there is some reason for alarm in the fact that its influence 
has spread to "the Orient" itself: the pages of books and journals in Arabic (and 
doubtless in Japanese, various Indian dialects, and other Oriental languages) are 
filled with second-order analyses by Arabs of " the Arab mind," " Islam," and other 
myths. Orientalism has also spread in the United States now that Arab money and 
resources have added considerable glamour to the traditional " concern" felt for the 
strategically important Orient. The fact is that Orientalism has been successfully 
accommodated to the new imperialism, where its ruling paradigms do not contest, 
and even confirm, the continuing imperial design to dominate Asia. 

In the one part of the Orient that I can speak about with some direct knowledge, 

the accommodation between the intellectual class and the new imperialism might 
very well be accounted one of the special triumphs of Orientalism. The Arab world 
today is an intellectual, political, and cultural satellite of the United States. This is 
not in itself something to be lamented; the specific form of the satellite relationship, 
however, is. C onsider first of all that universities in the Arab world are generally run 
according to some pattern inherited from, or once directly imposed by, a former 
colonial power. New circumstances make the curricular actualities 


almost grotesque: classes populated with hundreds of students, badly trained, 
overworked, and underpaid faculty, political appointments, the almost total absence of 
advanced research and of re-search facilities, and most important, the lack of a single 
decent library in the entire region. Whereas Britain and France once dominated 
intellectual horizons in the East by virtue of their prominence and wealth, it is now the 
United States that occupies that place, with the result that the few promising students 
who manage to make it through the system are encouraged to come to the United States 
to continue their advanced work. And while it is certainly true that some students from 
the Arab world continue to go to Europe to study, the sheer numerical preponderance 
comes to the United States; this is as true of students from so-called radical states as it is 
of students from conservative states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Besides, the 
patronage system in scholarship, business, and research makes the United States a virtual 
hegemonic commander of affairs; the source, however much it may not be a real source, 
is considered to be the United States. 

Two factors make the situation even more obviously a triumph of Orientalism. Insofar 
as one can make a sweeping generalization, the felt tendencies of contemporary culture in 
the Near East are guided by European and American models. When Taha Hussein said of 
modem Arab culture in 1936 that it was European, not Eastern, he was registering the 
identity of the Egyptian cultural elite, of which he was so distinguished a member. The 
same is true of the Arab cultural elite today, although the powerful current of anti- 
imperialist Third World ideas that has gripped the region since the early 1950s has 
tempered the Western edge of the dominant culture. In addition, the Arab and Islamic 
world re- mains a second-order power in terms of the production of culture, knowledge, 
and scholarship. Here one must be completely realistic about using the terminology of 
power politics to describe the situation that obtains. No Arab or Islamic scholar can 
afford to ignore what goes on in scholarly journals, institutes, and universities in the 
United States and Europe; the converse is not true. For example, there is no major journal 
of Arab studies published in the Arab world today, just as there is no Arab educational 
institution capable of challenging places like Oxford, Harvard, or UCLA in the study of 
the Arab world, much less in any no n- Oriental subject matter. The predictable result of 
all this is that Oriental students (and Oriental professors) still want to come and sit at the 

feet of 


American Orientalists, and later to repeat to their local audiences the cliches I have been 
characterizing as Orientalist dogmas. Such a system of reproduction makes it inevitable 
that the Oriental scholar will use his American training to feel superior to his own people 
because he is able to "manage" the Orientalist system; in his relations with his superiors, 
the European or American Orientalists, he will remain only a "native informant." And 
indeed this is his role in the West, should he be fortunate enough to remain there after his 
advanced training. Most elementary courses in Oriental languages are taught by "native 
informants" in United States universities today; also, power in the system (in universities, 
foundations, and the like) is held almost exclusively by non-Orientals, although the 
numerical ratio of Oriental to non-Oriental resident professionals does not favor the latter 
so overwhelmingly. 

There are all kinds of other indications of how the cultural domination is maintained, as 
much by Oriental consent as by direct and crude economic pressure from the United 
States. It is sobering to find, for instance, that while there are dozens of organizations in 
the United States for studying the Arab and Islamic Orient, there are none in the Orient 
itself for studying the United States, by far the greatest economic and political influence in 
the region. Worse, there are scarcely any institutes of even modest stature in the Orient 
devoted to study of the Orient. But all this, I think, is small in comparison with the second 
factor contributing to the triumph of Orientalism: the fact of consumerism in the Orient. 
The Arab and Islamic world as a whole is hooked into the Western market system. No one 
needs to be reminded that oil, the region's greatest resource, has been totally absorbed into 
the United States economy. By that I mean not only that the great oil companies are 
controlled by the American economic system; I mean also that Arab oil revenues, to say 
nothing of marketing, research, and industry management, are based in the United States. 
This has effectively made the oil-rich Arabs into huge customers of American exports: 
this is as true of states in the Persian Gulf as it is of Libya, Irag, and Algeria— radical 
states all. My point is that the relationship is a one-sided one, with the United States a 
selective customer of a very few products (oil and cheap manpower, mainly), the Arabs 
highly diversified consumers of a vast range of United States products, material and 

This has had many conseguences. There is a vast standardization of taste in the region, 
symbolized not only by transistors, blue jeans, 


and Coca-Cola but also by cultural images of the Orient supplied by American mass 
media and consumed unthinkingly by the mass television audience. The paradox of an 
Arab regarding himself as an "Arab" of the sort put out by Hollywood is but the simplest 
result of what I am referring to. Another result is that the Western market economy and its 
consumer orientation have produced (and are producing at an accelerating rate) a class of 
educated people whose intellectual formation is directed to satisfying market needs. There 
is a heavy emphasis on engineering, business, and economics, obviously enough; but the 
intelligentsia itself is auxiliary to what it considers to be the main trends stamped out in 
the West. Its role has been prescribed and set for it as a "modernizing" one, which means 
that it gives legitimacy and authority to ideas about modernization, progress, and culture 
that it receives from the United States for the most part. Impressive evidence for this is 
found in the social sciences and, surprisingly enough, among radical intellectuals whose 
Marxism is taken wholesale from Marx's own homogenizing view of the Third World, as 
I discussed it earlier in this book. So if all told there is an intellectual acguiescence in the 
images and doctrines of Orientalism, there is also a very powerful reinforcement of this in 
economic, political, and social exchange: the modern Orient, in short, participates in its 
own Orientalizing. 

But in conclusion, what of some alternative to Orientalism? Is this book an argument 
only against something, and not for some-thing positive? Here and there in the course of 
this book I have spoken about "decolonializing" new departures in the so-called area 
studies— the work of Anwar Abdel Malek, the studies published by members of the Hull 
group on Middle Eastern studies, the innovative analyses and proposals of various 
scholars in Europe, the United States, and the Near East 1 "— but I have not attempted to do 
more than mention them or allude to them guickly. My project has been to describe a 
particular system of ideas, not by any means to displace the system with a new one. In 
addition, I have attempted to raise a whole set of guestions that are relevant in discussing 
the problems of human experience: How does one represent other cultures? What is 
another culture? Is the notion of a distinct culture (or race, or religion, or civilization) a 
useful one, or does it always get involved either in self- congratulation (when one 
discusses one's own) or hostility and aggression (when one discusses the "other")? Do 
cultural, religious, and racial differences matter more than socio-economic categories, or 
politicohistorical ones? How do ideas 


acguire authority, "normality," and even the status of "natural" truth? What is the role of 
the intellectual? Is he there to validate the culture and state of which he is a part? What 
importance must he give to an independent critical consciousness, an oppositional critical 

I hope that some of my answers to these questions have been implicit in the foregoing, 
but perhaps I can speak a little more explicitly about some of them here. As I have 
characterized it in this study, Orientalism calls in question not only the possibility of 
nonpolitical scholarship but also the advisability of too close a relationship between the 
scholar and the state. It is equally apparent I think, that the circumstances making 
Orientalism a continuingly persuasive type of thought will persist: a rather depressing 
matter on the whole. Nevertheless there is some rational expectation in my own mind that 
Orientalism need not always be so unchallenged, intellectually, ideologically, and 
politically, as it has been. 

I would not have undertaken a book of this sort if I did not also believe that there is 
scholarship that is not as corrupt, or at least as blind to human reality, as the kind I have 
been mainly depicting. Today there are many individual scholars working in such fields as 
Islamic history, religion, civilization, sociology, and anthropology whose production is 
deeply valuable as scholarship. The trouble sets in when the guild tradition of Orientalism 
takes over the scholar who is not vigilant, whose individual consciousness as a scholar is 
not on guard against idees revues all too easily handed down in the profession. Thus 
interesting work is most likely to be produced by scholars whose allegiance is to a 
discipline defined intellectually and not to a "field" like Orientalism defined either 
canonically, imperially, or geographically. An excellent recent instance is the 
anthropology of Clifford Geertz, whose interest in Islam is discrete and concrete enough 
to be animated by the specific societies and problems he studies and not by the rituals, 
preconceptions, and doctrines of Orientalism. 

On the other hand, scholars and critics who are trained in the traditional Orientalist 
disciplines are perfectly capable of freeing themselves from the old ideological 
straitjacket. Jacques Berque's and Maxime Rodinson's training ranks with the most 
rigorous avail- able, but what invigorates their investigations even of traditional problems 
is their methodological self- consciousness. For if Oriental- ism has historically been too 
smug, too insulated, too positivistically confident in its ways and its premises, then one 
way of opening 


oneself to what one studies in or about the Orient is reflexively to submit one's method 
to critical scrutiny. This is what characterizes Berque and Rodinson, each in his own 
way. What one finds in their work is always, first of all, a direct sensitivity to the 
material before them, and then a continual self-examination of their methodology and 
practice, a constant attempt to keep their work responsive to the material and not to a 
doctrinal preconception. Certainly Berque and Rodinson, as well as Abdel Malek and 
Roger Owen, are aware too that the study of man and society— whether Oriental or 
not— is best conducted in the broad field of all the human sciences; therefore these 

scholars are critical readers, and students of what goes on in other fields. Berque's 
attention to recent discoveries in structural anthropology, Rodinson's to sociology and 
political theory, Owen's to economic history: all these are instructive correctives brought 
from the contemporary human sciences to the study of so-called Oriental problems. 

But there is no avoiding the fact that even if we disregard the Orientalist distinctions 
between "them" and "us," a powerful series of political and ultimately ideological 
realities inform scholarship today. No one can escape dealing with, if not the East/West 
division, then the North/South one, the have/have-not one, the imperialist/anti- 
imperialist one, the white/colored one. We cannot get around them all by pretending 
they do not exist; on the contrary, contemporary Orientalism teaches us a great deal 
about the intellectual dishonesty of dissembling on that score, the result of which is to 
intensify the divisions and make them both vicious and permanent. Yet an openly 
polemical and right-minded "progressive" scholarship can very easily degenerate into 
dogmatic slumber, a prospect that is not edifying either. 

My own sense of the problem is fairly shown by the kinds of questions I formulated 
above. Modern thought and experience have taught us to be sensitive to what is involved 
in representation, in studying the Other, in racial thinking, in unthinking and uncritical 
acceptance of authority and authoritative ideas, in the socio-political role of intellectuals, 
in the great value of a skeptical critical 

• consciousness. Perhaps if we remember that the study of human experience usually has 
an ethical, to say nothing of a political, consequence in either the best or worst sense, we 
will not be in- different to what we do as scholars. And what better norm for the scholar 
than human freedom and knowledge? Perhaps too we should remember that the study of 
man in society is based on concrete 


human history and experience, not on. donnish abstractions, or on obscure laws or 
arbitrary systems. The problem then is to make the study fit and in some way be 
shaped by the experience, which would be illuminated and perhaps changed by the 
study. At all costs, the goal of Orientalizing the Orient again and again is to be 
avoided, with conseguences that cannot help but refine knowledge and reduce the 
scholar's conceit. Without "the Orient" there would be scholars, critics, 
intellectuals, human beings, for whom the racial, ethnic, and national distinctions 
were less important than the common enterprise of promoting human community. 

Positively, I do believe— and in my other work have tried to show — that enough 
is being done today in the human sciences to pro-vide the contemporary scholar 
with insights, methods, and ideas that could dispense with racial, ideological, and 
imperialist stereo-types of the sort provided during its historical ascendancy by 
Orientalism. I consider Orientalism's failure to have been a human as much as an 

intellectual one; for 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. The worldwide 
hegemony of Orientalism and all it stands for can now be challenged, if we can 
benefit properly from the general twentieth-century rise to political and historical 
awareness of so many of the earth's peoples. If this book has any future use, it will 
be as a modest contribution to that challenge, and as a warning: that systems of 
thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions— mind-forg'd 
manacles— are all too easily made, applied, and guarded. Above all, I hope to have 
shown my reader that the answer to Orientalism is not Occidentalism. No former 
"Oriental" will be comforted by the thought that having been an Oriental himself 
he is likely— too likely— to study new " Orientals" — or "Occidentals" — of his own 
making. If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder 
of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any 
time. Now perhaps more than before. 

Afterword (1995) 


orientalism was completed in the last part of 1977, and was 
published a year later. It was (and still is) the only book that I wrote 
as one continuous gesture, from research, through several drafts, to 
final version, each following the other without interruption or serious 
distraction. With the exception of a wonderfully civilized and 
relatively burdenless year spent as a Fellow at the Stanford Center for 
Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences ( 1975- 6) , I had very 
little in the way of support or interest from the outside world. I 
received encouragement from one or two friends and my immediate 
family, but it was far from clear whether such a study of the ways in 
which the power, scholarship and imagination of a two- hundred- 
year- old tradition in Europe and America viewed the Middle East, 
the Arabs and Islam might interest a general audience. I recall, for 
instance, that it was very difficult at first to interest a serious 
publisher in the project. One academic press in particular very 
tentatively suggested a modest contract for a small monograph, so 
unpromising and slender did the whole enterprise seem at the outset. 
But luckily (as I describe my good fortune with my first publisher in 
orientalism's original page of Acknowledgments) things changed for 
the bet- ter very quickly after I finished writing the book. 

In both America and England (where a separate UK edition 
appeared in 1979) the book attracted a great deal of attention, some 
of it (as was to be expected) very hostile, some of it 

uncomprehending, but most of it positive and enthusiastic. Beginning 
in 1980 with the French edition, a whole series of translations started 
to appear, increasing in number to this day, many of which have 
generated controversies and discussions in languages that I am 
incompetent to understand. There was a 



remarkable and still controversial Arabic translation by the gifted Syrian poet and 
critic Kamal Abu Deeb; I shall say more about that in a moment. Thereafter 
Orientalism has appeared in Japanese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, 
Spanish, Catalan, Turkish, Serbo-Croat, and Swedish (in 1993 it became a 
bestseller in Sweden, which mystified the local publisher as much as it did me). 
There are several editions (Greek, Russian, Norwegian, and Chinese) either under 
way or about to appear. Other European translations are rumored, as is an Israeli 
version, according to one or two reports. There have been partial translations 
pirated in Iran and Pakistan. Many of the translations that I have known about 
directly (in particular, the Japanese) have gone through more than one edition; all 
are still in print and appear on occasion to give rise to local discussions that go 
very far beyond anything I was thinking about when I wrote the book. 

The result of all this is that orientalism, in almost a Borgesian way, has become 
several different books. And in so far as I have been able to follow and understand 
these subsequent versions, that strange, often disquieting and certainly unthought- 
of polymorphousness is what I should like to dis-cuss here, reading back into the 
book that I wrote what others have said, in addition to what I myself wrote after 
orientalism (eight or nine books plus many articles). Obviously I shall try to 
correct misreadings and, in a few instances, wilful misinterpretations. 

Yet I shall also be rehearsing arguments and intellectual developments that 
acknowledge orientalism to be a helpful book in ways that I foresaw only very 
partially at the time. The point of all this is neither to settle scores nor to heap 
congratulations on myself, but to chart and record a much- expanded sense of 
authorship that goes well beyond the egoism of the solitary beings we feel 
ourselves to be as we undertake a piece of work. For in all sorts of ways 

Orientalism now seems to me a collective book that I think supersedes me as its 
author more than I could have expected when I wrote it. 

Let me begin with the one aspect of the book's reception that I most regret and 
find myself trying hardest now (in 1994) to overcome. That is the book's alleged 
anti-Westernism, as it has been misleadingly and rather too sonorously called by 
commentators both hostile and sympathetic. This notion has two 


parts to it sometimes argued together sometimes separately. The first is the claim 
imputed to me that the phenomenon of Orientalism is a synecdoche, or miniature 
symbol of the entire West and indeed ought to be taken to represent the West as a 
whole. Since this is so, the argument continues, therefore the entire West is an 
enemy of the Arab and Islamic or for that matter the Iranian, Chinese, Indian and 
many other non-European peoples who suffered Western colonialism and pre- 
judice. The second part of the argument ascribed to me is no less far reaching. It is 
that a predatory West and Orientalism have violated Islam and the Arabs. (Note 
that the terms "Orientalism" and "West" have been collapsed into each other.) 
Since that is so, the very existence of Orientalism and Orientalists is seized upon 
as a pretext for arguing the exact opposite, namely, that Islam is perfect, that it is 
the only way (ai-hai ai-wahid), and so on and so on. To criticize Orientalism, as I 
did in my book, is in effect to be a supporter of Islamism or Muslim 

One scarcely knows what to make of these caricatural per-mutations of a book 
that to its author and in its arguments is explicitly anti-essentialist, radically 
skeptical about all categorical designations such as Orient and Occident, and 
pains-takingly careful about not "defending" or even discussing the Orient and 
Islam. Yet orientalism has in fact been read and written about in the Arab world 
as a systematic defense of Islam and the Arabs, even though I say explicitly that I 
have no interest in, much less capacity for, showing what the true Orient or Islam 
really are. Actually I go a great deal further when, very early in the book, I say 
that words such as "Orient" and "Occident" correspond to no stable reality that 
exists as a natural fact. Moreover, all such geographical designations are an odd 
combination of the empirical and imaginative. In the case of the Orient as a notion 
in currency in Britain, France and America, the idea derives to a great extent from 
the im- pulse not simply to describe, but also to dominate and some- how defend 
against it. As I try to show, this is powerfully true with reference to Islam as a 
particularly dangerous embodiment of the Orient. 

The central point in all this is, however, as Vico taught us, that human history is 
made by human beings. Since the struggle for control over territory is part of that 

history, so too 


is the struggle over historical and social meaning. The task for the critical scholar 
is not to separate one struggle from another but to connect them, despite the 
contrast between the overpowering materiality of the former and the apparent 
other-worldly refinements of the latter. My way of doing this has been to show 
that the development and maintenance of every culture require the existence of 
another different and competing alter ego. The construction of identity — for 
identity, whether of Orient or Occident, France or Britain, while obviously a 
repository of distinct collective experiences, is finally a construction — involves 
establishing opposites and "others" whose actuality is always subject to the 
continuous interpretation and re- interpretation of their differences from "us". Each 
age and society re-creates its "Others". Far from a static thing then, identity of self 
or of "other" is a much worked- over historical, social, intellectual, and political 
process that takes place as a contest involving individuals and institutions in all 
societies. Debates today about "Frenchness" and "Englishness" in France and 
Britain respectively, or about Islam in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan, are 
part of that same interpretive process which involves the identities of different 
"others," whether they be outsiders and refugees, or apostates and infidels. It 
should be obvious in all cases that these processes are not mental exercises but 
urgent social contests involving such concrete political issues as immigration 
laws, the legislation of personal conduct, the constitution of orthodoxy, the 
legitimization of violence and/or insurrection, the character and content of 
education, and the direction of foreign policy, which very often has to do with the 
designation of official enemies. In short, the construction of identity is bound up 
with the disposition of power and powerlessness in each society, and is there- fore 
anything but mere academic wool-gathering. 

What makes all these fluid and extraordinarily rich actualities difficult to accept 
is that most people resist the under-lying notion: that human identity is not only 
not natural and stable, but constructed, and occasionally even invented out-right. 
Part of the resistance and hostility to books like oriental-ism, or after it The 

Invention of Tradition, and Black Athena, ' 

stems from the fact that they seem to undermine the naive belief in the certain 
positivity and unchanging historicity of a culture, a self, a national identity. 
orientalism can only be read 


as a defense of Islam by suppressing half of my argument, in which I say (as I do in a 
subseguent book, Covering Islam) that even the primitive community we belong to 
natally is not im-mune from the interpretive contest, and that what appears in the West to 
be the emergence, return to, or resurgence of Islam is in fact a struggle in Islamic societies 
over the definition of Islam. No one person, authority, or institution has total control over 
that definition; hence, of course, the contest. Fundamentalism's epistemo logical mistake is 
to think that "fundamentals" are ahistorical categories, not subject to and therefore outside 
the critical scrutiny of true believers, who are supposed to accept them on faith. To the 
adherents of a restored or revived version of early Islam, Orientalists are considered (like 
Salman Rushdie) to be dangerous because they tamper with that version, cast doubt on it, 
show it to be fraudulent and non-divine. To them, therefore, the virtues of my book were 
that it pointed out the malicious dangers of the Orientalists and somehow prised Islam 
from their clutches. 

Now this is hardly what I saw myself doing, but the view persists anyway. There are 
two reasons for this. In the first place, no one finds it easy to live uncomplainingly and 
fearlessly with the thesis that human reality is constantly being made and unmade, and 
that anything like a stable essence is constantly under threat. Patriotism, extreme 
xenophobic nationalism, and downright unpleasant chauvinism are common responses to 
this fear. W e all need some foundation on which to stand; the question is how extreme and 
unchangeable is our formulation of what this foundation is. My position is that in the case 
of an essential Islam or Orient, these images are no more than images, and are upheld as 
such both by the community of the Muslim faithful and (the correspondence is significant) 
by the community of Orientalists. My objection to what I have called Orientalism is not 
that it is just the antiquarian study of riental languages, societies, and peoples, but that as 
a system of thought it approaches a heterogeneous, dynamic, and complex human reality 
from an uncritically essentialist standpoint; this suggests both an enduring Oriental reality 
and an opposing but no less enduring Western essence, which observes the Orient from 
afar and, so to speak, from above. This false position hides historical change. Even more 
important, from my standpoint, it hides the interests of the 


Orientalist. Those, despite attempts to draw subtle distinctions between 
Orientalism as an innocent scholarly endeavor and Orientalism as an accomplice to 
empire, can never unilaterally be detached from the general imperial context that 
begins its modern global phase with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. 

I have in mind the striking contrast between the weaker and stronger party that is 
evident from the beginning of Europe's modern encounters with what it called the 
Orient. The studied solemnity and grandiose accents of Napoleon's Description de 
VEgypte — its massive, serried volumes testifying to the sytema-tic labors of an 

entire corps of savants backed by a modern army of colonial conquest — dwarfs 
the individual testimony of people like Abd al- Rahman al-Jabarti, who in three 
separate volumes describes the French invasion from the point of view of the 
invaded. One might say that the Description is just a scientific, and therefore 
objective, account of Egypt in the early nineteenth century, but the presence of 
Jabarti (who is both unknown and ignored by Napoleon) suggests otherwise. 
Napoleon's is an "objective" account from the standpoint of someone powerful 
trying to hold Egypt within the French im-perial orbit; Jabarti's is an account by 
someone who paid the price, was figuratively captured and vanquished. 

In other words, rather than remaining as inert documents that testify to an 
eternally opposed Occident and Orient, the Description and Jabarti's chronicles 
together constitute a historical experience, out of which others evolved, and before 
which others existed. Studying the historical dynamics of this set of experiences is 
more demanding than sliding back into stereotypes like "the conflict of East and 
West." That is one reason why orientalism is mistakenly read as a surreptitiously 
anti-Western work and, by an act of unwarranted and even wilful retrospective 
endowment, this reading (like all readings based on a supposedly stable binary 
opposition) elevates the image of an innocent and aggrieved Islam. 

The second reason why the anti-essentialism of my arguments has proved hard to 
accept is political and urgently ideological. I had absolutely no way of knowing 
that, a year after the book was published, Iran would be the site of an extra- 
ordinarily far-reaching Islamic revolution, nor that the battle between Israel and the 
Palestinians would take such savage and 


protracted forms, from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the start of the intifada in 
late 1987. The end of the Cold War did not mute, much less terminate, the 
apparently unending conflict between East and West as represented by the Arabs 
and Islam on one side and the Christian West on the other. More recent, but no less 
acute contests developed as a result of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan; 
the challenge to the status quo made during the 1980s and 1990s by Islamic groups 
in countries as diverse as Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Occupied 
Territories, and the various American and European responses; the creation of 
Islamic brigades to fight the Russians in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan; the 
Gulf War; the continued support of Israel; and the emergence of "Islam" as a topic 
of alarmed, if not always precise and informed, journalism and scholarship. All this 
inflamed the sense of persecution felt by people forced, on almost a daily basis, to 
declare themselves to be either Westerners or Easterners. No one seemed to be free 
from the opposition between "us" and "them," resulting in a sense of reinforced, 

deepened, hardened identity that has not been particularly edifying. 

In such a turbulent context, Orientalism's fate was both fortunate and 
unfortunate. To those in the Arab and Islamic world who felt Western 
encroachment with anxiety and stress it appeared to be the first book that gave a 
serious answer back to a West that had never actually listened to or forgiven the 
Oriental for being an Oriental at all. I recall one early Arabic review of the book 
that described the author as a champion of Arabism, a defender of the downtrodden 
and abused, whose mission was to engage Western authorities in a kind of epic and 
romantic mano-a-mano. Despite the exaggeration, it did convey some real sense of 
the West's enduring hostility as felt by Arabs, and it also conveyed a response that 
many educated Arabs felt was appropriate. 

I will not deny that I was aware, when writing the book, of the subjective truth 
insinuated by Marx in the little sentence I quoted as one of the book's epigraphs 
("They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented"), which is that if 
you feel you have been denied the chance to speak your piece, you will try 
extremely hard to get that chance. For indeed, the subaltern can speak, as the 
history of liberation movements in the twentieth century eloquently attests. But I 
never felt that I was 


perpetuating the hostility between two rival political and cultural monolithic 
blocks, whose construction I was describing and whose terrible effects I was trying 
to reduce. On the contrary, as I said earlier, the Orient- versus- Occident opposition 
was both misleading and highly undesirable; the less it was given credit for 
actually describing anything more than a fascinating history of interpretations and 
contesting interests, the better. I am happy to record that many readers in Britain 
and America, as well as in English-speaking Africa, Asia, Australia, and the 
Caribbean, saw the book as stressing the actualities of what was later to be called 
multiculturalism, rather than xenophobia and aggressive, race-oriented nationalism. 
Nevertheless, Orientalism has more often been thought of as a kind of 
testimonial to subaltern status — the wretched of the earth talking back — than as 
a multicultural critique of power using knowledge to advance itself. Thus as its 
author I have been seen as playing an assigned role: that of self- representing 
consciousness of what had formerly been suppressed and distorted in the learned 
texts of a discourse historically conditioned to be read not by Orientals but by 
other Westerners. This is an important point, and it adds to the sense of fixed 
identities battling across a permanent divide that my book quite specifically 
abjures, but which it paradoxically presupposes and de-pends on. None of the 
Orientalists I write about seems ever to have intended an Oriental as a reader. The 
discourse of Orientalism, its internal consistency and rigorous procedures, were all 

designed for readers and consumers in the metropolitan West. This goes as much 
for people I genuinely admire like Edward Lane and Gustave Flaubert, who were 
fascinated by Egypt as it does for haughty colonial administrators like Lord 
Cromer brilliant scholars like Ernest Renan, and baronial aristocrats like Arthur 
Balfour all of whom condescended to and disliked the Orientals they either ruled 
or studied. I must confess to a certain pleasure in listening in, uninvited, to their 
various pronouncements and inter- Orientalist discussions, and an equal pleasure in 
making known my findings to both Europeans and non- Europeans. I have no 
doubt that this was made possible because I traversed the imperial East— West 
divide, entered into the life of the West, and yet retained some organic connection 
with the place I originally came from. I would repeat that this was very much a 
procedure of crossing, rather than maintain- 


ing, barriers; I believe orientalism as a book shows it, especially when I speak of 
humanistic study as seeking ideally to go beyond coercive limitations on thought 
towards a non-dominative and non-essentialist type of learning. 

These considerations did in fact add to the pressures on my book to represent a 
sort of testament of wounds and a record of sufferings, the recital of which was felt 
as a long overdue striking back at the West. I deplore so simple a characterization 
of a work that is — here I am not going to be falsely modest — quite nuanced and 
discriminating in what it says about different people, different periods, and 
different styles of Orientalism. Each of my analyses varies the picture, increases 
the difference and discriminations, separates authors and periods from each other, 
even though all pertain to Orientalism. To read my analyses of Chateaubriand and 
Flaubert, or of Burton and Lane, with exactly the same emphasis, deriving the 
same reductive message from the banal formula "an attack on West-ern 
civilization" is, I believe, to be both simplistic and wrong. But I also believe that it 
is entirely correct to read recent Orientalist authorities such as the almost comically 
persistent Bernard Lewis as the politically motivated and hostile witnesses that 
their suave accents and unconvincing displays of learning attempt to hide. 

Once again, then, we return to the book's political and historical context, which I 
do not pretend is irrelevant to its contents. One of the most generously 
perspicacious and intelligently discriminating statements of that conjuncture was 
laid out in a review by Basim Musallam (MERIP, 1979). He begins by comparing 
my book with an earlier demystification of Orientalism by the Lebanese scholar 
Michael Rustum in 1895 (Kitab ai-Gharibfi ai-Gharb), but then says that the main 
difference between us is that my book is about loss, whereas Rustum's is not. 
Musallam says: 

Rustum writes as a free man and a member of a free society: a Syrian, Arab by 
speech, citizen of a still- independent Ottoman state ... unlike Michael Rustum, 
Edward Said has no generally accepted identity, his very people are in dispute. 
It is possible that Edward Said and his generation sometimes feel that they 
stand on nothing more solid than the remnants of the destroyed society of 


Michael Rustums Syria, and on memory. Others in Asia and Africa have had 
their successes in this age of national liberation; here, in painful contrast, there 
has been desperate resistance against overwhelming odds and, until now, 
defeat It is not just any 'Arab" who wrote this book, but one with a particular 
background and experience, (p. 22) 

Musallam correctly notes that an Algerian would not have written the same kind 
of generally pessimistic book, especially one like mine that does very little with 
the history of French relations with North Africa, Algeria most particularly. So 
while I would accept the overall impression that Orientalism is written out of an 
extremely concrete history of personal loss and national disintegration — only a 
few years before I wrote orientalism Golda Meir made her notorious and deeply 
Orientalist comment about there being no Palestinian people — I would also like 
to add that neither in this book nor in the two that immediately followed it, The 

Question of Palestine (1980) and Covering Islam (1981), did I want Only to 

suggest a political program of restored identity and resurgent nationalism. There 
was, of course, an attempt in both of the later books to supply what was missing in 
orientalism, namely a sense of what an alternative picture of parts of the Orient — 
Palestine and Islam respectively — might be, from a personal point of view. 

But in all my works I remained fundamentally critical of a gloating and 
uncritical nationalism. The picture of Islam that I represented was not one of 
assertive discourse and dogmatic orthodoxy, but was based instead on the idea that 
communities of interpretation exist within and outside the Islamic world, 
communicating with each other in a dialogue of equals. My view of Palestine, 
formulated originally in The Question of Palestine, remains the same today: I 
expressed all sorts of reservations about the insouciant nativism and militant 
militarism of the nationalist consensus; I suggested instead a critical look at the 
Arab environment, Palestinian history, and Israeli realities, with the explicit 
conclusion that only a negotiated settlement between the two communities of 
suffering, Arab and Jewish, would provide respite from the unending war. (I 
should mention in passing that although my book on Palestine was given a fine 
Hebrew translation in the early 1980sby Mifras, a small Israeli publishing house, it 
remains untranslated in Arabic to this day. Every Arabic publisher who was 

interested in the book wanted me to change or delete those sections that are openly 
critical of one or another Arab regime (including the PLO), a request that I have 
always refused to comply with.) 

I regret to say that the Arabic reception of orientalism, de-spite Kama] Abu 
Deeb's remarkable translation, still managed to ignore that aspect of my book 
which diminished the nationalist fervor that some inferred from my critique of 
Oriental- ism, which I associated with those drives to domination and control also 
to be found in imperialism. The main achievement of Abu Deeb's painstaking 
translation was an almost total avoidance of Arabized Western expressions; 
technical words 


like discourse, simulacrum, paradigm, OV code were rendered 

from within the classical rhetoric of the Arab tradition. His idea was to place my 
work inside one fully formed tradition, as if it were addressing another from a 
perspective of cultural adequacy and equality. In this way, he reasoned, it was 
possible to show that just as one could advance an epistemological critique from 
within the Western tradition, so too could one do it from within the Arabic 

Yet the sense of confrontation between an often emotionally defined Arab world 
and an even more emotionally experienced Western world drowned out the fact 
that orientalism was meant to be a study in critique, not an affirmation of warring 
and hopelessly antithetical identities. Moreover, the actuality I described in the 
book's last pages, of one powerful discursive system maintaining hegemony over 
another, was intended as the opening salvo in a debate that might stir Arab readers 
and critics to engage more determinedly with the sytem of Oriental- ism. I was 
either upbraided for not having paid closer attention to Marx (the passages in my 
own book that were most singled out by dogmatic critics in the Arab world and 
India, for in- stance, were those on Marx's own Orientalism), whose system of 
thought was claimed to have risen above his obvious prejudices, or I was criticized 
for not appreciating the great achievements of Orientalism, the West, etc. As with 
defenses of Islam, recourse to Marxism or "the West" as a coherent total system 
seems to me to have been a case of using one orthodoxy to shoot down another. 

The difference between Arab and other responses to orientalism is, I think, an 

accurate indication of how decades of loss, frustration and the absence of 
democracy have affected intellectual and cultural life in the Arab region. I intended 
my book as part of a pre-existing current of thought whose purpose was to liberate 
intellectuals from the shackles of systems such as Orientalism: I wanted readers to 
make use of my work so that they might then produce new studies of their own that 
would illuminate the historical experience of Arabs and others in a generous, 
enabling mode. That certainly happened in Europe, the United States, Australia, 
the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, Ireland, Latin America, and parts of Africa. 
The invigorated study of Africanist and Indological discourses, the analyses of 
subaltern history, the reconfiguration of post- colonial anthropology, political 
science, art history, literary criticism, musicology, in addition to the vast new 
developments in feminist and minority discourses — to all these, I am pleased and 
flattered that orientalism often made a difference. That does not seem to have been 
the case (in so far as I can judge it) in the Arab world where, partly because my 
work is correctly perceived as Eurocentric in its texts, and partly because, as 
Musallam says, the battle for cultural survival is too engross- ing, books like mine 
are interpreted less usefully, productively speaking, and more as defensive gestures 
either for or against the "West." 

Yet among American and British academics of a decidedly rigorous and 
unyielding stripe, orientalism, and indeed all of my other work, has come in for 
disapproving attacks because of its "residual" humanism, its theoretical 
inconsistencies, its insufficient, perhaps even sentimental, treatment of agency. I 
am glad that it has! orientalism is a partisan book, not a theoretical machine. No 
one has convincingly shown that individual effort is not at some profoundly 
unreachable level both eccentric and, in Gerard Manley Hopkins's sense, original; 
this despite the existence of systems of thought, dis- courses and hegemonies 
(although none of them are in fact seamless, perfect, or inevitable). The interest I 
took in Oriental- ism as a cultural phenomenon (like the culture of imperialism I 
talked about in Culture and imperialism, its 1993 sequel) derives from its 
variability and unpredictability, both qualities that give writers like Massignon and 
Burton their surprising force, 


and even attractiveness. What I tried to preserve in my analysis of 
Orientalism was its combination of consistency and inconsistency, 
its play, so to speak, which can only be rendered by preserving for 
oneself as writer and critic the right to some emotional force, the 
right to be moved, angered, surprised and even delighted. That is 
why, in the debate between Gayan Prakash on the one hand and 

Rosalind O'Hanlon and David Washbrook on the other, I think 
Prakash's more mobile post- structuralism has to be given its due. 1 By 
the same token the work of Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Ashis 
Nandy, predicated on the sometimes dizzying subjective 
relationships engendered by colonialism, cannot be gainsaid for its 
contribution to our understanding of the humanistic traps laid by 
systems such as Orientalism. 

Let me conclude this survey of Orientalism's critical trans- 
mutations with a mention of the one group of people who were, not 
unexpectedly, the most vociferous in responding to my book, the 
Orientalists themselves. They were not my principal intended 
audience at all; I meant to cast some light on their practices so as to 
make other humanists aware of one field's particular procedures and 
genealogy. The word "Orientalism" itself has been confined for too 
long to a professional specialty; I tried to show its application and 
existence in general culture, literature, ideology, and social as well 
as political attitudes. To speak of someone as an Oriental, as the 
Orientalists did, was not just to designate that person as someone 
whose language, geography and history were the stuff of learned 
treatises: it was often meant as a derogatory expression signifying a 
lesser breed of human being. This is not to deny that for artists like 
Nerval and Segalen the word "Orient" was wonderfully, ingeniously 
connected to exoticism, glamour, mystery, and promise. But it was 
also a sweeping historical generalization. In addition to these uses of 

the words Orient, Oriental, and Orientalism, the term Orientalist also 

came to represent the erudite scholarly, mainly academic specialist 
in the languages and histories of the East. Yet, as the late Albert 
Hourani wrote me in March 1992 a few months before his untimely 
and much regretted death, due to the force of my argument (for 
which he said he could not reproach me), my book had the 
unfortunate effect of making it almost impossible to use the term 
"Orientalism" in a neutral sense, so much had it become a term of 
abuse. He concluded 


that he would have still liked to retain the word for use in describing "a limited, 
rather dull but valid discipline of scholarship." 

In his generally balanced 1979 review of orientalism, Hourani formulated one of 
his objections by suggesting that while I singled out the exaggerations, racism and 
hostility of much Orientalist writing, I neglected to mention its numerous scholarly 
and humanistic achievements. Names that he brought up included Marshall 

Hodgson, Claude Cahen, Andre Raymond, all of whom (along with the German 
authors who come up de rigueur) should be acknowledged as real contributors to 
human knowledge. This does not however, conflict with what I say in Orientalism, 
with the difference that I do insist on the prevalence in the discourse itself of a 
structure of attitudes that cannot simply be waved away or discounted. Nowhere do 
I argue that Orientalism is evil, or sloppy, or uniformly the same in the work of 
each and every Orientalist. But I do say that the guild of Orientalists has a specific 
history of complicity with imperial power, which it would be Panglossian to call 

So while I sympathize with Hourani's plea, I have serious doubts whether the 
notion of Orientalism properly understood can ever, in fact, be completely 
detached from its rather more complicated and not always flattering circumstances. 
I suppose that one can imagine at the limit that a specialist in Ottoman or Fatimid 
archives is an Orientalist in Hourani's sense, but we are still required to ask where, 
how and with what supporting institutions and agencies such studies take place 
today? Many who wrote after my book appeared asked exactly those questions of 
even the most recondite and other-worldly scholars, with sometimes devastating 

Still, there has been one sustained attempt to mount an argument whose purport 
is that a critique of Orientalism (mine in particular) is both meaningless and 
somehow a violation of the very idea of disinterested scholarship. That attempt is 
made by Bernard Lewis, to whom I had devoted a few critical pages in my book. 
Fifteen years after orientalism appeared, Lewis produced a series of essays, some 
of them collected in a book entitled islam and the West. One of the main sections 
of this book consists of an attack on me, which he surrounds with chapters and 
other essays that mobilize a set of lax and charac- 


teristically Orientalist formulas — Muslims are enraged at modernity, Islam never 
made the separation between church and state, and so on, and so on — all of them 
pronounced with an extreme level of generalization and with scarcely a mention of 
the differences between individual Muslims, between Muslim societies, between 
Muslim traditions and eras. Since Lewis has in a sense appointed himself 
spokesman for the guild of Orientalists on which my critique was originally based, 
it may be worth spending a little more time on his procedures. His ideas are, alas, 
fairly current among his little acolytes and imitators, whose job seems to be to alert 
Western consumers to the threat of an enraged, congeni tally undemocratic and 
violent Islamic world. 
Lewis's verbosity scarcely conceals both the ideological underpinnings of his 

position and his extraordinary capacity for getting nearly everything wrong. Of 
course, these are familiar attributes of the Orientalists' breed, some of whom have 
at least had the courage to be honest in their active denigration of Islamic, as well 
as other non-European, peoples. Not Lewis. He proceeds by distorting the truth, 
making false analogies and, by innuendo, methods to which he adds that veneer of 
omniscient tranquil authority which he supposes is the way scholars talk. Take as a 
typical example the analogy he draws between my critique of Orientalism and a 
hypothetical attack on studies of classical antiquity, an attack which, he says, 
would be a foolish activity. It would be of course, but then Orientalism and 
Hellenism are radically incomparable. The former is an attempt to describe a whole 
region of the world as an accompaniment to that region's colonial conquest, the 
latter is not at all about the direct colonial conquest of Greece in the nineteenth and 
twentieth centuries; in addition Orientalism expresses antipathy to Islam, 
Hellenism sympathy for classical Greece. 

Additionally, the present political moment, with its reams of racist anti-Arab and 
anti-Muslim stereotypes (and no attacks on classical Greece), allows Lewis to 
deliver ahistorical and wilful political assertions in the form of scholarly argument, 
a practice thoroughly in keeping with the least creditable aspects of old-fashioned 
colonialist Orientalism. 3 Lewis's work there- fore is part of the present political, 
rather than purely intellectual, environment. 


To imply, as he does, that the branch of Orientalism dealing with Islam and the 
Arabs is a learned discipline that can there- fore be fairly put in the same category 
as classical philology is preposterous, as appropriate as comparing one of the 
many Israeli Arabists and Orientalists who have worked for the occupation 
authorities of the West Bank and Gaza with scholars like Wilamowitz or 
Mommsen. On the one hand Lewis wishes to reduce Islamic Orientalism to the 
status of an innocent and enthusiastic department of scholarship; on the other hand 
he wishes to pretend that Orientalism is too complex, various and technical to 
exist in a form for any non- Orientalist (like myself and many others) to criticize. 
Lewis's tactic here is to suppress a significant amount of historical experience. As 
I suggest, European interest in Islam derived not from curiosity but from fear of a 
monotheistic, culturally and militarily formidable competitor to Christianity. The 
earliest European scholars of Islam, as numerous historians have shown, were 
medieval polemicists writing to ward off the threat of Muslim hordes and 
apostasy. In one way or another that combination of fear and hostility has 
persisted to the present day, both in scholarly and non- scholarly attention to an 
Islam which is viewed as belonging to a part of the world — the Orient — 
counterposed imaginatively, geographically, and historically against Europe and 

the West. 

The most interesting problems about Islamic or Arabic Orientalism are, first, the 
forms taken by the medieval vestiges that persist so tenaciously, and, second, the 
history and sociology of connections between Orientalism and the societies that 
produced it. There are strong affiliations between Orientalism and the literary 
imagination, for example, as well as the imperial consciousness. What is striking 
about many periods of European history is the traffic between what scholars and 
specialists wrote and what poets, novelists, politicians, and journalists then said 
about Islam. In addition — and this is the crucial point that Lewis refuses to deal 
with - there is a remarkable (but none the less intelligible) parallel between the rise 
of modern Orientalist scholarship and the acquisition of vast Eastern empires by 
Britain and France. 

Although the connection between a routine British classical education and the 
extension of the British empire is more complex than Lewis might suppose, no 
more glaring parallel exists 


between power and knowledge in the modern history of philology than in the case 
of Orientalism. Much of the information and knowledge about Islam and the Orient 
that was used by the colonial powers to justify their colonialism derived from 
Orientalist scholarship: a recent study by many contributors, 

Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, 4 demonstrates 

with copious documentation how Orientalist knowledge was used in the colonial 
administration of South Asia. A fairly consistent interchange still continues 
between area scholars, such as Orientalists, and government departments of foreign 
affairs. In addition, many of the stereotypes of Islamic and Arabic sensuality, sloth, 
fatalism, cruelty, degradation and splendor, to be found in writers from John 
Buchan to V. S. Naipaul, have also been presuppositions underlying the adjoining 
field of academic Orientalism. In contrast, the trade in cliches between Indology 
and Sinology on the one hand, and general culture on the other hand is not quite as 
flourishing, although there are relationships and borrowings to be noted. Nor is 
there much similarity between what obtains among Western experts in Sinology 
and Indology and the fact that many professional scholars of Islam in Europe and 
the United States spend their lives studying the subject, yet still find the religion 
and culture impossible to like, much less admire. 

To say, as Lewis and his imitators do, that all such observations are only a matter 
of espousing "fashionable causes" is not quite to address the question of why, for 

example, so many Islamic specialists were and still are routinely consulted by, and 
actively work for, governments whose designs in the Islamic world are economic 
exploitation, domination or outright aggression, or why so many scholars of Islam 
— like Lewis himself — voluntarily feel that it is part of their duty to mount 
attacks on modern Arab or Islamic peoples with the pretense that "classical" 
Islamic culture can nevertheless be the object of dis- interested scholarly concern. 
The spectacle of specialists in the history of medieval Islamic guilds being sent on 
State Depart- ment missions to brief area embassies on US security interests in the 
Gulf does not spontaneously suggest anything resembling the love of Hellas 
ascribed by Lewis to the supposedly cognate field of classical philology. 

It is therefore not surprising that the field of Islamic and Arabic Orientalism, 
always ready to deny its complicity with 


state power, had never until very recently produced an internal critique of the 
affiliations I have just been describing, and that Lewis can utter the amazing 
statement that a criticism of Orientalism would be "meaningless." It is also not 
surprising that, with a few exceptions, most of the negative criticism my work has 
elicited from "specialists" turns out to be, like Lewis's, no more than banal 
description of a barony violated by a crude trespasser. The only specialists (again 
with a few exceptions) who attempted to deal with what I discuss - which is not 
only the content of Orientalism, but its relationships, affiliations, political 
tendencies, world-view - were Sinologists, Indologists, and the younger 
generation of Middle-East scholars, susceptible to newer influences and also to the 
political arguments that the critique of Orientalism has entailed. One example is 
Benjamin Schwartz of Harvard, who used the occasion of his 1982 presidential 
address to the Asian Studies Association not only to disagree with some of my 
criticism, but also to welcome my arguments intellectually. 

Many of the senior A rabists and Islamicists have responded with the aggrieved 
outrage that is for them a substitute for self- reflection; most use words such as 
"malign," "dishonor," "libel," as if criticism itself were an impermissible violation 
of their sacrosanct academic preserve. In Lewis's case the defense offered is an act 
of conspicuous bad faith, since he more than most Orientalists has been a 
passionate political partisan against Arab (and other) causes in such places as the 
US Congress, Commentary and elsewhere. The proper response to him must 
therefore include an account of what politically and sociologically he is all about 
when he pretends to be defending the "honour" of his field, a defense which, it 
will be evident enough, is an elaborate confection of ideological half-truths 
designed to mislead no n- specialist readers. 

In short, the relationship between Islamic or Arab Oriental-ism and modern 
European culture can be studied without at the same time cataloguing every 
Orientalist who ever lived, every Orientalist tradition, or everything written by 
Orientalists, then lumping them together as rotten and worthless imperialism. I 
never did that anyway. It is benighted to say that Orientalism is a conspiracy or to 
suggest that "the West" is evil: both are among the fatuities that Lewis and one of 
his epigones, the Iraqi publicist Kanan Makiya, have had the tern- 


erity to ascribe to me. On the other hand it is hypocritical to suppress the cultural, 
political, ideological, and institutional contexts in which people write, think and 
talk about the Orient, whether they are scholars or not. And as I said earlier, it is 
extremely important to understand that the reason why Orientalism is opposed by 
so many thoughtful non- Westerners is that its modern discourse is correctly 
perceived as a discourse of power originating in an era of colonialism, the subject 
of an excellent recent symposium, Colonialism and Cuiture s In this kind of 
discourse, based mainly upon the assumption that Islam is monolithic and 
unchanging and therefore marketable by "experts" for powerful domestic political 
interests, neither Muslims nor Arabs nor any of the other dehumanized lesser 
peoples recognize themselves as human beings or their observers as simple 
scholars. Most of all they see in the discourse of modern Orientalism, and its 
counterparts in similar know- ledges constructed for native Americans and 
Africans, a chronic tendency to deny, suppress or distort the cultural con- text of 
such systems of thought in order to maintain the fiction of its scholarly disinterest. 


Y et I would not want to suggest that, current though such views as Lewis's may be, 
they are the only ones that have either emerged or been reinforced during the past 
decade and a half. Yes, it is true that ever since the demise of the Soviet Union 
there has been a rush by some scholars and journalists in the United States to find 
in an Orientalized Islam a new empire of evil. Consequently, both the electronic 
and print media have been awash with demeaning stereotypes that lump together 
Islam and terrorism, or Arabs and violence, or the Orient and tyranny. And there 
has also been a return in various parts of the Middle and Far East to nativist 
religion and primitive national-ism, one particularly disgraceful aspect of which is 
the continuing Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie. But this is not the whole 
picture, and what I want to do in the remaining part of this essay is to talk about 
new trends in scholarship, criticism, 


and interpretation that although accepting the basic premises of my book, go well 
beyond it in ways, I think, that enrich our sense of the complexity of historical 

None of those trends has emerged out of the blue, of course; nor have they 
gained the status of fully established knowledges and practices. The worldly 
context remains both perplexingly stirred- up and ideologically fraught, volatile, 
tense, changeable and even murderous. Even though the Soviet Union has been 
dismembered and the East European countries have attained political 
independence, patterns of power and dominance re- main unsettlingly in evidence. 
The global South - once referred to romantically and even emotionally as the 
Third World - is enmeshed in a debt trap, broken into dozens of fractured or 
incoherent entities, beset with problems of poverty, disease and underdevelopment 
that have increased in the past ten or fifteen years. Gone are the Non- Aligned 
movement and the charisma-tic leaders who undertook decolonization and 
independence. An alarming pattern of ethnic conflict and local wars, not con- fined 
to the global South as the tragic case of the Bosnians attests, has sprung up all 
over again. And in places like Central America, the Middle East and Asia, the 
United States still re-mains the dominant power, with an anxious and still un- 
unified Europe straggling behind. 

Explanations for the current world scene and attempts to comprehend it 
culturally and politically have emerged in some strikingly dramatic ways. I have 
already mentioned fundamentalism. The secular equivalents are a return to 
nationalism and theories that stress the radical distinction - a falsely all-inclusive 
one, I believe - between different cultures and civilizations. Recently, for 
example, Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard University advanced the far- 
from- convincing proposition that Cold War bi-polarism has been superseded by 
what he called the "clash of civilizations", a thesis based on the premise that 
Western, Confucian and Islamic civilizations, among several others, were rather 
like water-tight compartments whose adherents were at bottom mainly interested 
in fending off all the others.6 

This is preposterous, since one of the great advances in modern cultural theory 
is the realization, almost universally acknowledged, that cultures are hybrid and 
heterogeneous and, as I argued in Culture and imperialism, that cultures and 


ations are so interrelated and interdependent as to beggar any unitary 
or simply delineated description of their individuality. How can one 
today speak of "Western civilization" except as in large measure an 
ideological fiction, implying a sort of detached superiority for a 
handful of values and ideas, none of which has much meaning 
outside the history of conquest im- migration, travel and the mingling 
of peoples that gave the Western nations their present mixed 
identities? This is especially true of the United States, which today 
can only be described as an enormous palimpsest of different races 
and cultures sharing a problematic history of conquests, extermin- 
ations, and of course major cultural and political achievements. And 
this was one of the implied messages of Orientalism, that any attempt 
to force cultures and peoples into separate and distinct breeds or 
essences exposes not only the misrepresentations and falsifications 
that ensue, but also the way in which understanding is complicit with 
the power to produce such things as the "Orient" or the "West." 

Not that Huntington, and behind him all the theorists and 
apologists of an exultant Western tradition, like Francis Fukuyama, 
haven't retained a good deal of their hold on the public 
consciousness. They have, as is evident in the symptomatic case of 
Paul Johnson, once a Left intellectual, now a retrograde social and 
political polemicist. In the 18 April 1993 issue of the New York 
Times Magazine, by no means a marginal publication, Johnson 
published an essay entitled "Colonialism's back — and not a moment 
too soon," whose main idea was that "the civilized nations" ought to 
take it upon themselves to re-colonize Third World countries "where 
the most basic conditions of civilized life had broken down," and to 
do this by means of a system of imposed trusteeships. His model is 
explicitly a nineteenth- century colonial one: he says that in order for 
the Europeans to trade profitably they had to impose political order. 

Johnson's argument has numerous subterranean echoes in the 
works of US policy-makers, the media, and of course US foreign 
policy itself, which remains interventionist in the Middle East, Latin 
America, and Eastern Europe, and frankly missionary everywhere 
else, especially in its policies towards Russia and the former Soviet 
republics. The important point, however, is that a largely unexamined 
but serious rift has 


opened in the public consciousness between the old ideas of Western hegemony (of 
which the sytem of Orientalism was a part) on the one hand, and, on the other 
hand, newer ideas that have taken hold among subaltern and disadvantaged 
communities and among a wide sector of intellectuals, academics, and artists. It is 
now very strikingly no longer the case that the lesser peoples — formerly 
colonized, enslaved, suppressed — are silent or unaccounted for except by senior 
European or American males. There has been a revolution in the consciousness of 
women, minorities and marginals so powerful as to affect mainstream thinking 
world-wide. Although I had some sense of it when I was working on orientalism in 
the 1970s, it is now so dramatically apparent as to demand the attention of 
everyone seriously concerned with the scholarly and theoretical study of culture. 

Two broad currents can be distinguished: post-colonialism and post-modernism; 
their use of the prefix "post" suggests not so much the sense of going beyond but 
rather, as Ella Shohat puts it in a seminal article on the post-colonial, "continuities 
and discontinuities; but its emphasis is on the new modes and forms of the old 
colonialist practices, not on a "beyond 1 ." Both post-colonialism and post- 
modernism emerged as related topics of engagement and investigation during the 
1980s and, in many instances, seemed to take account of such works as orientalism 
as antecedents. It would be impossible here to go into the immense terminological 
debates that surround both words, some of them dwelling at length on whether the 
phrases should or should not be hyphenated. The point here is there- fore not to talk 
about isolated instances of excess or risible jargon, but to locate those currents and 
efforts which, from the perspective of a book published in 1978, seem to some 
extent now to involve it in 1994. 

Much of the most compelling work on the new political and economic order has 
concerned what, in a recent article, Harry Magdoff has described as 
"globalisation," a system by which a small, financial elite expanded its power over 
the whole globe, inflating commodity and service prices, redistributing wealth 
from lower-income sectors (usually in the non-Western world) to the higher- 
income ones .8 Along with this, as discussed in astringent terms by Masao Miyoshi 
and Arif Dirlik, there has emerged a new transnational order in which states no 


have borders, labor and income are subject only to global managers, and 
colonialism has reappeared in the subservience of the South to the North.9 Both 
Miyoshi and Dirlik go on to show how the interest of Western academics in 
subjects such as multiculturalism and "post-coloniality" can in fact be a cultural 

and intellectual retreat from the new realities of global power: "What we need," 
Miyoshi says, "is a rigorous political and economic scrutiny rather than a gesture 
of pedagogic expediency/ 1 exemplified by the "liberal self-deception" contained in 
such new fields as cultural studies and multicultural- ism (751). 

But even if we take such injunctions seriously (as we must), there is a solid basis 
in historical experience for the appearance today of interest in both post- 
modernism and its quite different counterpart, post-colonialsim. First of all, there 
is a much greater Eurocentric bias in the former, as well as a preponderance of 
theoretical and aesthetic emphasis stressing the local and the contingent, as well as 
the almost decorative weightlessness of history, pastiche, and above all 
consumerism. The earliest studies of the post-colonial were by such distinguished 
thinkers as Anwar Abdel Malek, Samir Amin, C. L. R. James; almost all were 
based on studies of domination and control made from the standpoint of either a 
completed political independence or an incomplete liberationist project. Yet 
whereas post-modernism in one of its most famous programmatic statements (by 
Jean- Francois Lyotard) stresses the disappearance of the grand narratives of 
emancipation and enlightenment, the emphasis behind much of the work done by 
the first generation of post- colonial artists and scholars is exactly the opposite: the 
grand narratives remain, even though their implementation and realization are at 
present in abeyance, deferred, or circumvented. This crucial difference between 
the urgent historical and political imperatives of post- colonialism and post- 
modernism's relative detachment makes for altogether different approaches and 
results, although there is some overlap between them (in the technique of "magical 
realism," for example). 

I think it would be wrong to suggest that in much of the best post- colonial work 
that has proliferated so dramatically since the early 1980s there hasn't been a great 
emphasis on the local, regional and contingent: there has, but it seems to me to be 
most interestingly connected in its general approach to a uni- 


versal set of concerns, all of them relating to emancipation, revisionist attitudes 
towards history and culture, a widespread use of recurring theoretical models and 
styles. A leading motif has been the consistent critique of Eurocentrism and patri- 
archy. Across US and European campuses in the 1980s stu-dents and faculties 
alike worked assiduously to expand the academic focus of so-called core curricula 
to include writing by women, non-European artists and thinkers, subalterns. This 
was accompanied by important changes in approach to area studies, long in the 
hands of classical Orientalists and their equivalents in other fields. Anthropology, 

political science, literature, sociology, and above all history felt the effects of a 
wide-ranging critique of sources, the introduction of theory, and the dislodgement 
of the Eurocentric perspective. Perhaps the most brilliant revisionist work was 
done not in Middle East studies, but in the field of Indology with the advent of 
Subaltern Studies, a group of remarkable scholars and researchers led by Ranajit 
Guha. Their aim was nothing less than a revolution in historiography, the 
immediate goal being to rescue the writing of Indian history from the domination 
of the nationalist elite and restore to it the important role of the urban poor and the 
rural masses. I think it would be wrong to say of such mostly academic work that it 
was easily cooptable and complicit with "transnational" neo- colonialism. We need 
to record and acknowledge the achievement while warning of the later pitfalls. 
What has been of special interest for me is the extension of post- colonial concerns 
to the problems of geography. After all, orientalism is a study based on the re- 
thinking of what had for centuries been believed to be an unbridgeable chasm 
separating East from West. My aim, as I said earlier, was not so much to dissipate 
difference itself — for who can deny the constitutive role of national as well as 
cultural differences in the relations between human beings — but to challenge the 
notion that difference implies hostility, a frozen reified set of opposed essences, 
and a whole adversarial knowledge built out of those things. What I called for in 
orientalism was a new way of conceiving the separations and conflicts that had 
stimulated generations of hostility, war, and imperial control. And indeed, one of 
the most interesting developments in post- colonial studies was a re-reading of the 
canonical cultural works, not to demote 


or somehow dish dirt on them, but to re-investigate some of their 
assumptions, going beyond the stifling hold on them of some version of 
the master-slave binary dialectic. This has certainly been the comparable 
effect of astoundingly resourceful novels such as Rushdie's Midnight's 
children, the narratives of C. L. R. James, the poetry of A in- 16 Cesaire 
and of Derek Walcott, works whose daring new formal achievements are 
in effect a re- appropriation of the historical experience of colonialism, 
revitalized and transformed into a new aesthetic of sharing and often 
transcendent re- formulation. 

One sees a similar development in the work of the group of 
distinguished Irish writers who in 1980 established themselves as a 
collective called Field Day. The preface to a collection of their works says 
about them: 

(these writers) believed that Field Day could and should contribute to 

the solution of the present crisis by producing analyses of the 
established opinion, myths and stereotypes which had become both a 
symptom and cause of the current situation (between Ireland and the 
North). The collapse of constitutional and political arrangements and 
the recrudescence of the violence which they had been designed to 
repress or contain, made this a more urgent requirement in the North 
than in the Republic . . .The company, therefore, decided to embark 
upon a succession of publications, starting with a series of pamphlets 
(in addition to an impressive series of poems by Seamus Heaney, 
essays by Seamus Deane, plays by Brian Friel and Tom Paulin) in 
which the nature of the Irish problem could be explored and, as a 
result, more successfully confronted than it had been hitherto. 10 

The idea of rethinking and re- formulating historical experiences which 
had once been based on the geographical separation of peoples and 
cultures is at the heart of a whole spate of scholarly and critical works. It 
is to be found, to mention only three, in Amiel Alcalay's Beyond Arabs 

and Jews: Re- 
making Levantine Culture, Paul Gilroy'S The Black Atlantic: Modernity 
and Double Consciousness, and Moira Ferguson's Subject to Others: 
British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 

1670-1834. 11 In these works, domains once believed to have been 
exclusive to one people, gender, race or class are re- 


examined and shown to have involved others. Long represented as a 
battleground for Arabs and Jews, the Levant emerges in Alcalay's book as a 
Mediterranean culture common to both peoples; according to Gilroy a similar 
process alters, indeed doubles, our perception of the Atlantic Ocean, 
previously thought of as principally a European passage. And in re-examining 
the adversarial relationship between English slave-owners and African slaves, 
Ferguson allows a more complex pattern dividing white female from white 
male to stand out, with new demotions and dislocations appearing as a result 
in Africa. 

I could go on giving more and more examples. I shall conclude briefly by 
saying that although the animosities and inequities still exist from which my 
interest in Orientalism as a cultural and political phenomenon began, there is 
now at least a general acceptance that these represent not an eternal order but 
a historical experience whose end, or at least partial abate- ment, may be at 
hand. Looking back at it from the distance afforded by fifteen eventful years 
and the availability of a massive new interpretive and scholarly enterprise to 

reduce the effects of imperialist shackles on thought and human relations, 
orientalism at least had the merit of enlisting itself openly in the struggle, 
which continues of course in "West" and "East" together. 
New York 
March 1994 


l.Thierry Deajard0 Le Martyre du Liban (Paris: Pion, 1976), p. 14. 
2.K . M . Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance (London: 
George Allen & Unwin, 1959). 

3kD enys Hay, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, 2nd ed. 
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968). 

4iSteven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of 
Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century 
England (1966; reprint ed., New York: Bantam Books, 
1967), pp. 200-19. 

5.See my Criticism Between Culture and System 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 

(iPrincipally in his American Power and the New 
Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays (New York: 
Pantheon Books, 1969) and For Reasons of State (New 
York: Pantheon Books, 1973). 

7.W alter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the 
Era of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn (London: New 
Left Books, 1973), p. 71. 

&Harry Bracken, "Essence, Accident and Race," 
Hermathena 116 (Winter 1973) : 81-96- 
9.1n an interview published in Diacritics 6, no. 3 (Fall 1976): 38. 
lOLRaymond W illiams, The Long Revolution (London: 
Chatto & Windus, 1961), pp. 66-7. 
lLln my Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York: 
Basic Books, 1975). 

12.L ouis A lthusser , For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New 
York: Pantheon Books, 1969), pp. 65-7. 
13JUymond Schwab, La Renaissance orientate (Paris: 
Payot, 1950); Johann W. Fiick, Die Arabischen Studien in 
Europa bis in den Anfang des 20. J ahrhunderts (Leipzig: 

Otto Harrassowitz, 1955); Dorothee Metltzki, The Matter of 

Araby in Medieval England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale 

University Press, 1977). 

14.E . S. Shaffer, "Kubla Khan" and The Fall of J erusalem: 

The Mythological School in Biblical Criticism and Secular 

Literature, 1770-1880 (Cam-bridge: Cambridge University 

Press, 1975). 

15.G eorge Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life 

(1872; reprint ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1956), p. 


l&Antonio G ramsci, The Prison Notebooks: Selections, 

trans, and ed. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith 

(New Y ork: International Pub- 



Ushers, 1971), p. 324. The full passage, unavailable in the Hoare and Smith 
translation, is to be found in Gramsci, Quaderni del Carcere, ed. Valentino 
Gerratana (Turin: Einaudi Editor e, 1975), 2: 1363. 
17. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 1780-1950 (London: Chatto & 
Windus, 1958), p. 376. 

Chapter 1. The Scope of Orientalism 

LThis and the preceding quotations from Arthur James Balfour's speech to the 
House of Commons are from Great Britain, Par/iam entary Debates (Commons), 
5th ser., 17 (1910) : 1140-46. See also A. P. Thornton, The Imperial Idea and Its 
Enemies: A Study in British Power (London: Afec-Millan & Co., 1959), pp. 357-60. 
Balfour's speech was a defense of Eldon Gorst's policy in Egypt; for a discussion of 
that see Peter John Dreyfus Mellini, " Sir Eldon Gorst and British Imperial Policy 
in Egypt," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1971. 

ZDenis Judd, Balfour and the British Empire: A Study in Imperial Evolution, 
1874-1932 (London: MacMillan & Co., 1968), p. 286. See also p. 292: as late as 
1926 Balfour Woke — without irony— of Egypt as an " independent nation." 

3tEvelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Political and Literary Essays, 1908-1913 (1913; 
reprint ed., Freeport, N. Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), pp. 40, 53, 12-14. 

4.1bid., p. 171. 

S. Roger Owen, "The Influence of Lord Cromer's Indian Experience on British 

Policy in Egypt 1883-1907/' in Middle Eastern Affairs, Number Four: St Antony's 
Papers Number 17, ed. Albert Hourani (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 
pp. 109-39. 

6.Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt (New York: Macmillan Co., 
1908), 2: 146-67. For a British view of British policy in Egypt that runs totally 
counter to Cromer's, see Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Secret History of the English 
Occupation of Egypt Being a Personal Narrative of Events (New York: Alfred 
A. Knopf, 1922). There is a valuable discussion of Egyptian opposition to British 
rule in Mounah A. Khouri, Poetry and the Making of Modern Egypt, 1882-1922 
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971). 

7.C romer, Modern Egypt, 2: 164. 

8LC ited in John M arlowe, Cromer in Egypt (London: Elek Books, 1970), p. 271. 

9.Harry Magdoff, "Colonialism (1763-c. 1970)," Encyclopaedia Brittle, nica, 
15th ed. (1974), pp. 893-4. See also D. K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires: A 
Comparative Survey from the Eighteenth Century (New York: Delacorte Press, 
1967), p. 178. 

10.Q uoted in A faf L utfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer: A Study in Anglo- 
Egyptian Relations (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), p. 3. 

ll.The phrase is to be found in Ian Hacking, The Emergence of Probe, bility: 
A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas About Probability, Inductlost and 
Statistical Inference (London: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 17. 

12.V. G. Kiernan, The Lords of Human Kind: Black Man, Yellow Man, and 
White Man in an Age of Empire (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1969), p. 55. 


13.Edgar Quinet, Le Genie des religions, in Oeuvres completes (Paris: Paguerre, 1857), 
pp. 55-74. 

14.C romer, Political and Literary Essays, p. 35. 

IS. See Jonah Raskin, The Mythology of Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1971), 
p. 40. 

16.Henry A . Kissinger, American Foreign Policy (New Y ork: W . W . Norton & C o., 
1974), pp. 48-9. 

17.Harold W. G lidden, " The Arab World," American Journal ol Psychiatry 128, no. 8 
(February 1972): 984-8. 

18.R. W. Southern, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Cam-bridge, Mass.: 
Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 72. See also Francis Dvornik, The Ecumenical 
Councils (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1961), pp. 65-6: "Of special interest is the 
eleventh canon directing that chairs for teaching Hebrew, Greek, Arabic and Chaldean 
should be created at the main universities. The suggestion was Raymond Lull's, who 
advocated learning Arabic as the best means for the conversion of the Arabs. Although 
the canon remained almost without effect as there were few teachers of Oriental 
languages, its acceptance indicates the growth of the missionary idea in the West. 
Gregory X had already hoped for the conversion of the Mongols, and Franciscan friars 
had penetrated into the depths of Asia in their missionary zeal. Although these hopes 

were not fulfilled, the missionary spirit continued to develop." See also Johann W. Flick, 
Die Arabischen Studien in Europa bis in den Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: Otto 
Harrassowitz, 1955). 

19. Raymond Schwab, La Renaissance orientate (Paris: Payot, 1950). See also V.-V. 
Barthold, La DEcouverte de VAsie: Histoire de 1'orientalisme en Europe et en Russie, 
trans. B. Nikitine (Paris: Payot, 1947), and the rele-vant pages in Theodor Benfey, 
Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft and Orientalischen Philologie in Deutschland 
(Munich: Gottafschen, 1869). For an instructive contrast see James T. Monroe, Islam and 
the Arabs in Spanish Scholarship (L eiden: E.J. Brill, 1970). 

20.Victor Hugo, Oeuvres poftiques, ed. Pierre Albouy (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 1: 580. 

21.Jules Mohl, Vingt-sept Ans d'histoire des Etudes orientales: Rapports fairs d la 
SociEtE asiatique de Paris de 1840 a 1867, 2 vols. (Paris: Reinwald, 1879-80). 

22.Gustave Dugat, Histoire des orientahstes de I 'Europe du XH° au XIX- slick, 2 vols. 
(Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1868-70). 

23.SeeRenE Girard, L'Orient et la pens&e romantique allemande (Paris: Didier, 1963), 
p. 112. 

24.Kiernan, Lords of Human Kind, p. 131. 

2S. University Grants Committee, Report of the Sub-Committee on Oriental, Slavonic, 
East European and African Studies (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1961). 

26.H. A. R. G ibb, Area Studies Reconsidered (London: School of Oriental and African 
Studies, 1964). 

27.See Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1967), chaps. 1-7. 

28.G aston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. M aria J olas (New Y ork: rion Press, 


29.Southern, Western Views of Islam, p. 14. 
30.A eschylus, The Persians, trans. Anthony J. Podleck (Englewood Cliffs, N.I.: 
Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 73-4. 

3LEu rip ides, The Bacchae, trans. G eoffrey S. Kirk (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice- 
Hall, 1970), p. 3. For further discussion of the Europe-Orient distinction see Santo 
Mazzarino, Fra orients e Occidents: Ricerche distoria greca arcaica (Florence: La 
Nuova Italia, 1947), and Denys Hay, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea 
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968). 

32.Euripides, Bacchae, p. 52. 
33iRene Grousset, L' Empire du Levant Histoire de la question d Orient (Paris: 

Payot, 1946). 

34.E dward G ibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 

(Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1855), 6: 399. 

35.N orm an D aniel, The Arabs and Medieval Europe (London: Longmana, Green & 

Co., 1975), p. 56. 

36.Samuel C. Chew, The Crescent and the Rose: Islam and England During the 

Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 103. 

37.Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Edinburgh: 

University Press, 1960), p. 33. See also James Kritzeck, Peter the Venerable and 

Islam (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1964). 
38.Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 252. 
39.1bid., pp. 259-60. 

40.See for example William Wistar Comfort, " The Literary R61e of the Saracens in the 

French Epic," PMLA 55 (1940) : 628-59. 
41.Southern, Western Views of Islam, pp. -2, 108-9. 
42.Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 246, 96, and passim. 
43.1bid., p. 84. 

44.Duncan Black Macdonald, "Whither Islam?" Muslim World 23 (Janu- 
ary 1933): 2. 

45J. M . Holt, Introduction to The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P. M. Holt, Anne 

K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. xvi. 

46tAntoine Galland, prefatory "Discours" to Barthelemy d'Herbelot, Biblioth2que 
orientate, ou Dictionnaire universel contenant tout ce qui fait connaitre les 
peuples de /"Orient (The Hague: Neaulme & van Daalen, 1777), 1: vii. Galland's point 
is that d'Herbelot presented real knowledge, not legend or myth of the sort associated 
with the " marvels of the East." See R. Wittkower, " Marvels of the East: A Study in the 
History of Monsters," J ournal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942) : 

47.G a Hand, prefatory "Discours" to d'Herbelot, Bibliothique orientate, pp. xvi, xxxiii. 
For the state of Orientalist knowledge immediately before d'Herbelot, see V. J. Parry, 
" Renaissance Historical Literature in Relation to the New and Middle East (with Special 
Reference to Paolo Giovio)," in Historians of the Middle East, ed. Bernard Lewis and 
P. M. Holt (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 277-89. 

48LBarthold, La DEcouverte de FAsie, pp. 137-8. 

49.D H erbelot, Bibtioth2que orientate, 2: 648. 


SO. See also Montgomery Watt, " Muhammad in the Eyes of the West," Boston University 
Journal 22, no. 3 (Fall 1974) : 61-9. 

51. Isaiah Berlin, Historical Inevitability (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 13— 

52.Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, trans. Bernard Miall (New York: W. W. 
Norton & Co., 1939), pp. 234, 283. 

53. Quoted by Henri Baudet in Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of 
Non-European Man, trans. Elizabeth Wentholt (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 
1965), p. xiii. 

54. G ibbon, DecUne and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6: 289. 

55. Baudet, Paradise on Earth, p. 4. 

56.See Fieldhouse, Colonial Empires, pp. 138-61. 

57.Schwab, La Renaissance orientale, p. 30. 

58.A . Arberry, Oriental Essays: Portraits of Seven Scholars (New Y ork: Macmillan Co., 

1960), pp. 30, 31. 

59. Raymond Schwab, Vie d'Anquetil-Duperron suivie des Usages civils et reUgieux des 
Perses par Anquetil-Duperron (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1934), pp. 10, 96, 4, 6. 

60.Arberry, Oriental Essays, pp. 62-6. 

61.Frederick Eden Pargiter, ed., Centenary Volume of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great 

Britain and Ireland -1923 (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1923),$. viii. 

62.Quinet, Le Girlie des reUgions, p. 47. 

63Jean Thiry, Bonaparte enEgypte dicembre-24 aofitl799 (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1973), 


64.Constantin-FrancoisVolney, Voyage en Egypte et en Syrie (Paris: Bossange, 1821), 2: 241 

and passim. 

65. Napoleon, Campagnes d' Egypte etde Syrfe, -1799: MEmoires pour servir d l'histoire de 

Napoleon (Paris: Comou, 1843), 1:211. 

66.Thiry, Bonaparte en Egypte, p. 126. See also Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Arab Rediscovery of 
Europe: A Study in Cultural Encounters (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1963), 
pp. 12- 20. 

67.Abu-Lughod, Arab Rediscovery of Europe, p. 22. 

68.Quoted from Arthur Helps, The Spanish Conquest of America (London, 1900), p. 196, by 
Stephen J. Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the 
Sixteenth Century," in First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old, 
ed. Fredi Chiapelli (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 573. 

69.T hiry, Bonaparte en Egypte, p. 200. Napoleon was not just being cynical. It is reported 

of him that he discussed Voltaire's Mahomet with Goethe, and defended Islam. See 

Christian Cherfils, Bonaparte et V Is/am d'apr2s les documents frantais arabes (Paris: A. 

Pedone, 1914), p. 249and passim. 

7 . T h ir y , Bonaparte en Egypte, p. 434. 

7LH ugo, Les Orientales, in Oeuvres pofti'ques, 1: 684. 

/2.E enri D eh 6rain, Silvestre de Sacy, ses contemporain etses disciples (Paris: Paul 

Geuthner, 1938), p. v. 

73.Descripti'on de 1' Egypte, ou Recueil des observations et des recherches 


qui ont iti Mites ill Egypte pendant I'expidition de ramie francaise, public par les ordres 

de sa majesti rempereur Napoiion le grand, 23 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie impfriale, 
1809- 28). 

74.F0lirier, Priface historique, vol. 1 Of Description de V Egypte, p. 1. 

75.1bid., p.iii. 
76.1bid., p. xcii. 

TZEUenne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Histoire naturelle des poissons du Nil,\0\. 17 
01 Description de V Egypte, p. 2. 

78LM .deChabrol, Essaisurles moeurs des habitants modernes de 1' Egypte, vol. 14 
Of Description de rEgypte, p. 376. 

79.This is evident in Baron Larrey, Notice sm la conformation physique des 

igyptiens et des dlffirentes races qui habitent en Egypte, SUlVie de quelques riflexions 
sur 1'embaumement des momies, vol. 13 of Description de FEgypte. 

80LC ited by John M arlowe, TheMaking of the Suez Canal (London: Cresset 
Press, 1964), p. 31. 

SLQuoted inJohnPudney, Suez: De Lesseps' Canal (New York: Frederick A. 
Praeger, 1969), pp. 141- 2. 
82.M arlowe, Making of the Suez C ami, p. 62. 

83tFerdinand de LeSSepS, Lettres, journal et documents pour Servir d '.histoire du 

Canal de Suez (Paris: Didier, 1881), 5: 310. For an apt characterization of de 
Lesseps and Cecil Rhodes as mystics, see Baudet, Paradise on Earth, p. 68. 

84.C ited in C harles Beatty, De Lesseps Of Suez: The Man and His Times (New 

York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), p. 220. 

85.D e L eSSepS, Lettres, journal et documents, 5: 17. 

86.1bid., pp. 324- 33. 

O/JIayden W hite, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century 

Europe (Baltimore: J ohns Hopkins University Press, 1973), p. 12. 
88LAnwar Abdel Malek, "Orientalism in Crisis," Diogenes 44 (Winter 1963): 
107- 8. 

89jriedrich Schlegel, fUber die Sprache and Weisheit der Indier: Ein Beitrag zur 

Begmndung der Aitertumstunde (Heidelberg: Mohr & Zimmer, 1808), pp. 44-59; 

Schlegel, Philosophic der Geschichte: In achtzehn Vorlesungen gehalten ZU Wien im 
Jahre 1828, ed. Jean-JacgueS Anstett, VOl. 9 Of Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, 

ed. Ernest Behler (Munich: Ferdinand, Schoningh, 1971), p. 275. 

90LLion Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History Of Racist and Nationahst Ideas in 

Europe, trans. Edmund Howard (New York: Basic Books, 1974). •. 

9LSee Derek HopwOOd, The Russian Presence in Syria and Palestine, 1843—1943: 

Church and Pontics in the Near East (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969). 
92^ . L . Tibawi, British interests in Palestine, 1800— 1901 (L ondon: 0* ford 
University Press, 1961), p. 5. 

93LG irard de Neival, Oeuvres, ed. Albert Biguin and Jean Richet (Paris: 
Gallimard, 1960), 1: 933. 

94.HligO, Oeuvres poitiques, 1: 580. 

95.Sir W alter Scott, The Talisman (1825; reprint ed., London: J. M. Dent, 1914), 
pp. 38- 9. 


9&See Albert Hourani, " Sir Hamilton Gibb, 1895- 1971," Proceedings of the British 
Academy 58 (1972): 495. 

97.Quoted by B. R. Jerman, The Young Disraeli (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University 
Press, 1960), p. 126. See also Robert Blake, Disraeli (L ondon: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966), 
pp. 59- 70. 

98.F/aufoert in Egypt A Sensibility on Tour, trans, and ed. Francis Steegmuller (Boston: 
Little, Brown & Co., 1973), pp. 44- 5. See Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, ed. Jean 
Bruneau (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 1: 542. 

99.This is the argument presented in Carl H. Becker, Das Erbe derAntike im Orient and 
Okzident (Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1931). 

lOOlSee L ouis M assignon, La Passion d'al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansoural-lfallaj (Paris: Paul 

Geuthner, 1922). 

lOl.Abdel Malek, " Orientalism in Crisis," p. 112. 

1Q2.H . A . R . G ibb, Modern Trends in Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 

p. 7. 

103.G ibb, Area Studies Reconsidered, pp. 12, 13. 

104.Bernard Lewis, "The Return of Islam," Commentary, J anuary 1976, pp. 39— 49. 

lGxSee Daniel Lerner and Harold Lasswell, ed s., The Policy Sciences: Recent 

Developments in Scope and Method (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1951). 

10&M orroe B erger, The Arab World Today (Garden City, N. Y .: Double-day & Co., 1962), 

p. 158. 

107.There is a compendium of such attitudes listed and criticized in Maxime Rodinson, 

Islam and Capitalism, trans. Brian Pearce (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973). 

lORlbrahim Abu-Lughod, " Retreat from the Secular Path? Islamic Di-lemmas of Arab 

Politics," Review of Politics 28, no. 4 (October 1966) : 475. 

Chapter 2. Orientalist Structures and Restructures 

1.G ustave Flaubert, Bouvard etPEcuchet, vol. 2 of Oeuvres, ed. A. Thibaudet and R. 
Dumesnil (Paris: Gallimard, 1952), p. 985. 

2.There is an illuminating account of these visions and Utopias in Donald G . Charlton, 
Secular Religions in France, 1815—1870 (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). 

3JM . H . A bram s, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic 
Literature (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1971), p. 66. 

4.For some illuminating material see John P. Nash, "The Connection of Oriental 
Studies with Commerce, Art, and Literature During the 18th— 19th Centuries," 
Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society J ournal 15 (1930) : 33-9; also John F. Laffey, 
"Roots of French Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Lyon, French 
Historical Studies 6, no. 1 (Spring 1969): 78-92, and R. Leportier, L'Orient Porte des 
Indes (Paris: Editions France-Empire, 1970). There is a great deal of information in Henri 
Omont, Missions archiologiques frangaises en Orient aux XVII° et XVIII siecles, 2 vols. 
(Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1902), and in Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in 
the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania 
Press, 1964), as well as in Norman 


Daniel, Islam, Europe and Empire (Edinburgh: University Press, 1966). Two 
indispensable short studies are Albert Hourani, "Islam and the Philosophers of 

History," Middle Eastern Studies 3, no. 


islam, i 1 Joseph Schacht and C. E. Bosworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 9- 

5. P. M. Holt, "The Treatment of Arab History by Prideaux, Ockley, and Sale," in 
Historians of the Middle East, ed. Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt (London: Oxford 
University Press, 1962), p. 302. See also Holt's The Study of Modern Arab History 
(London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1965). 
6. The view of Herder as populist and pluralist is advocated by Isaiah 

Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (New Y ork: 
Viking Press, 1976). 

7.For a discussion of such motifs and representations, see Jean Starobinski, The 
Invention of Liberty, 1700-1789, trans. Bernard C. Smith (Geneva: Skira, 1964). 

8.There are a small number of studies on this too-little-investigated subject. Some 
well-known ones are: Martha P. Conant, The Oriental Tale in England in the Eighteenth 
Century (1908; reprint ed., New York: Octagon Books, 1967); Marie E. de Meester, 
Oriental Influences in the English Literature of the Nineteenth Century, Anglistische 
Forschungen, no. 46 (Heidel-berg, 1915); Byron Porter Smith, Islam in English 
Literature (Beirut: American Press, 1939). See also Jean-Luc Doutrelant, "L'Orient 
tragique au XVIII sibcle," Revue des Sciences Humaines 146 (April-June 1972): 

9.Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human 
Sciences (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970), pp. 138, 144. See also Francois Jacob, The 
Logic of Life: A History of Heredity, trans. Betty E. Spillmann (NewYoric Pantheon Books, 

1973), p. 50 and passim, and Georges Canguilhem, La Connaissance de la vie (Paris: 
G ustave-J oseph V rin, 1969), pp. 44-63. 

10. See John G. Burke, "The Wild Man's Pedigree: Scientific Method and Racial 

Anthropology," in The Wild Man Within: An Image in Western Thought from the 

Renaissance to Romanticism, ed. Edward Dudley and 

Maxim illian E. Novak (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), pp. 

262—8. See also Jean Biou, "Lumie res et anthropophagie," Revue des Sciences 

Humaines 146 (April- June 1972) : 223- 34. 

ll.Henri Dehbrain, Silvestre de Sacy: SesContemporains etses disciples 
(Paris: Paul G euthner, 1938), p. 111. 

12.For these and other details see ibid., pp. i— xxxiii. 

13.Duc de Broglie, "Eloge de Silvestre de Sacy," in Sacy, Melanges de littErature 
orientale (Paris: E. Ducrocq, 1833), p. xii. 

14.Bon Joseph Dacier, Tableau historique de 1'erudition fmncaise, ou Rapport sir les 
progrPs de Chistoire etde la littErature ancienne depuis 1789 
(Paris: Imprimerie impiriale, 1810), pp. , 35, 31. 

15.M ichel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans 
Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), pp. 193-4. 

16.Broglie, " Eloge de Silvestre de Sacy," p. 107. 

17.Sacy, Melanges de littErature orientale, pp. ,110, 111-12. 


18.Silvestre de Sacy, Chrestomathie arabe, ou Extraits de divers Ecrivains arabes, tant 
en prose qu'en vers, avec une traduction francaise etdes notes, df usage des eleves 
de VEcole royale et speciale des langues orientaler vivantes (vol. 1, 1826; reprint ed., 
snabruck: Biblio Verlag, 1973), p. viii. 

19.For the notions of " supplementary, " "supply," and "supplication," see Jacques 
D errida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1967), p. 

20lFor a partial list of Sacy's students and influence see Johann W . Fuck, Die Arabischen 
Studien in Europa bis in den Anteing des 20. J ahrhunderts (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 
1955), pp. 156-7. 

21.Foucault's characterization of an archive can be found in The Archaeof Knowledge 
and the Discourse on Language, trans. A . M. Sheridan Smith and Rupert Sawyer (New York: 
Pantheon Books, 1972), pp. 79-131. Gabriel Monod, one of Renan's younger and very 
perspicacious contemporaries, remarks that Renan was by no means a revolutionary in 
linguistics, archaeology, or exegesis, yet because he had the widest and the most precise 
learning of anyone in his period, he was its most eminent representative (Renan, Taine, 
Michelet [Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1894], pp. 40-1). See also ]ean-Louis Dumas, "La 
Philosophic de ('histoire de Renan," Revue de Meta-physique et de Morale 77, no. 1 
(January-March 1972) : 100-28. 

22.Honors de Balzac, Louis Lambert (Paris: Calmann-Levy, n.d.), p. 4 
23.Nietzsche's remarks on philology are everywhere throughout his works. See 

principally his notes for "Wir Philologen" taken from his notebooks for the period 
January-July 1875, translated by William Arrowsmith as "Notes for 'We Philologists,' " 
Arson, N. S. l h (1974) : 279-380; also the passages on language and perspectivism in The 
Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 

24.E rnest R enan, L'Avenirdela science PensEes de 1848, 4th ed. (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 
1890), pp. 141, 142-5, 146, 148, 149. 
2S, Ibid., p. xiv and passim. 

2&The entire opening chapter- bk. 1, chap. 1- of the Histoire gEnErale et systeme 
compare des langues semitiques, in Oeuvres completes, ed. Henriette Psichari (Paris: 
Calmann-Levy, 1947-61), 8: 143-63, is a virtual encyclopedia of race prejudice directed 
against Semites (i.e., Moslems and Jews). The rest of the treatise is sprinkled generously with 
the same notions, as are many of Renan's other works, including L'Avenir de la science, 
especially Renan's notes. 

27.E rnest R enan, Correspondence; 1846-1871 (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1926), 1: 7-12. 
28.E rnest Renan, Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse, in Oeuvres completes, 

Renan, d'apres des documents Inedits (Paris: Perrin, 1923), pp. 48-68, and Lajeunesse clericals d'Ernest Renan (Paris: Les 
Belles Lettres, 1933). There is a more recent account in J. Chaix-Ruy, Ernest Renan (Paris: Emmanuel Vitte, 1956), pp. 89- 
111. The standard description— done more in terms of Renan's religious vocation — is still valuable also: Pierre Lasserre, La 
J eunesse d'Ernest Renan: Histoire de la crise religieuse au XIX" siecle, 3 vols. (Paris: G amier Freres, 1925). In vol. 2, pp. 50- 
166 and 265- 98 are useful on the relations between philol-ogy, philosophy, and science. 

29.Ernest Renan, " Des services rendus aux sciences historiques par la philologie," in Oeuvres completes 8: . 

30.Renan, Souvenirs, p. 892. 

31.Foucault, The Order of Things, pp. 290-300. Along with the discredit-ing of the Edenic origins of language, a number 
of other events— the Deluge, the building of the Tower Babel— also were discredited as explanations. The most 
comprehensive history of theories of linguistic origin is Arno Borst, Der Turmbau von Babel: Geschichte der Manungen 
abetUrsprung and Vielfalt der Sprachen and Volker, 6 vols. (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1957-63). 

32.Quoted by Raymond Schwab, La Renaissance orientate (Paris: Payot, 1950), p. 69. On the dangers of too quickly 
succumbing to generalities about Oriental discoveries, see the reflections of the distinguished contemporary Sinologist Abel 
Rbmusat, Melanges postumes d'histoire et U nit-attire orientates (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1843), p. 226 and passim. 

33.Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, chap. 16, in Selected Poetry and Prose of Coleridge, ed. Donald A. 
Stauffer (New York: Random House, 1951), pp. 276-7. 

34.Benjamin Constant, Oeuvres, ed. Alfred Roulin (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 78. 

35.Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, p. 29. 

36.Renan, De lorigine du langage, in Oeuvres completes, 8: . 

37.Renan, " De la part des peuples sbmitiques dans l'histoire de la civilisation," in Oeuvres completes, 2: 320. 

38.1bid., p. 333. 

39.Renan, "Trois Professeurs au College de France: Etienne Quatremere," in Oeuvres completes, 1: 129. Renan was not 
wrong about Quatremere, who had a talent for picking interesting subjects to study and then making them quite 
uninteresting. See his essays " Le GoOt des livres chez les orientaux" and " Des sciences chez les arabes," in his Melanges 
d'histoire etde philologie orientates (Paris: E. Ducrocq, 1861), pp. 1-57. 

40.Honorf de Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, vol. 9 (Etudes philosophiques 1) of La Comfdie humaine, ed. Marcel 
Bouteron (Paris: Gallimard, 1950), p. 39; Renan, Histoire generate des langues simitiques, p. 134. 

41.See, for instance, De lorigine du langage, p. 102, and Histoire ginirde, p. 180. 

42jlenan, L'Avenir de la science, p. 23. The whole passage reads as follows: "Pour moi, je ne connais qu'un seul 
resultat a la science, c'est de rfsoudre l'Enigme, c'est de dire dEflnitivement il l'homme le mot des chosen, c'est de l'expliquer 
il lui-m8me, c'est de lui donner, au nom de la seek autorite legitime qui est la nature humaine toute entiere, le symbole que 
les religions lui donnaient tout fait et qu'ils ne peut plus accepter." 

43.See M adeleine V : David, Le Dfbatsurles Ecritures et I'hiiroglyphe aWXVII etXVIIF siecles et I' application de 
la notion de dichi fjrementauxEcritures mortes (Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N., 1965), p. 130. 

44iRenan is mentioned only in passing in Schwab's La Renaissance orientate, not at all in Foucault's The Order of 
Things, and only somewhat disparagingly in Holger Pederson's The Discovery of Language: LinguistiO Science in the 
Nineteenth Century, trans. John Webster Spargo (1931 reprint ed., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972). Max 
Muller is' 

his Lectures on the Science of Language (1861— 64; reprint ed., New York: Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., 1875) and 
Gustave Dugat in his Histoire des orientalistes de VEurope du XIV au XIX e siecle, 2 vols. (Paris: Adrien 
Maisonneuve, 1868— 70) do not mention Renan at all. James Darmesteter's Essais Orientaux (Paris: A. Levy, 1883)— 
whose first item is a history, "L'Orientalisme en France"— is dedicated to Renan but does not mention his contribution. 
There are half-a-dozen short notices of Renan's production in Jules Mohl's encyclopedic (and extremely valuable) 
quasi-logbook, Vingtsept cms d'histoire des Etudes orientates-. Rapports faits d la Societe asiatique de Paris de 1840 d 
1867, 2 vols. (Paris: Reinwald, 1879-80). 
45.1n works dealing with race and racism Renan occupies a position of some importance. He is treated in the 
following: Ernest Seilli2re, La Philosophic de rimperialisme, 4 vols. (Paris: Pion, 1903— 8) ; Thbophile Simar, Etude 
critique sur la formation de la doctrine des races au XVIIP siecle et son expansion au XIX e siecle (Brussels: Hayez, 
1922); Erich Voegelin, Rasse and Staat (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1933), and here one must also mention his Die 

Rassenidee in der G eistesgeschichte von Ray bis Cams (Berlin: Junker and Dunnhaupt, ), which, although it 

does not deal with Renan's period, is an important complement to Rasse and Staat; 
Jacques Barzun, Race: A Study in Modern Superstition (New York: Harcourt, Brace & 
Co., 1937). 

46.1n La Renaissance orientate Schwab has some brilliant pages on the museum, on the parallelism between 
biology and linguistics, and on Cuvier, Balzac, and others; see p. 323 and passim. On the library and its 
importance for mid-nineteenth-century culture, see Foucaull, "La Bibhoth2que fantastique," which is his 
preface to Flaubert's la Tentation de Saint Antoine (Paris Gallimard, 1971), pp. 7-33. I am indebted to 
Professor Eugenio Donato for drawing my attention to these matters; see his "A Mere Labyrinth of Letters 
Flaubert and the Quest for Fiction," Modem Language Notes 
47. Renan, ifistoiregEnera/e, . 145—6. 
48.See L'Avenir de la science, p. 508 and passim. 
49.Renan, Histoire girth-ale, p. 214. 

SO. Ibid., p. 527. This idea goes back to Friedrich Schlegel's distinction between organic and agglutinative 
languages, of which latter type Semitic is an instance. Humboldt makes the same distinction, as have most Orientalists 
since Renan. 
51.1bid., pp. 531-2. 
52. Ibid., p. 515 and passim. 
53.See ] ean Seznec, Nouvelles Etudessur"La Tentation dc Saint Antoine" (London: Warburg Institute, 1949), 
p. 80. 

54.See Etienne G eoffroy Saint-H ilaire, Philosophic anatomique: Des monstruositfs humaines (Paris: published 
by the author, 1822). The complete title of Isidore Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire's work is: Histoire gEnerale et 
particuliere des anomalies de V organisation chez 'homme et ies animaux, ouvrage comprenante des recherche* sur ies 
caracteres, la classification, rinfluence physiohgque et pathologique, us rapports gEnEraux, ies Ms et ies causes des 
monstruositfs, des varietfs et vices de conformation, ou :raid de teratologic vols. (Paris: J.-B. Baillilre, 1832— 36). 
There are some valuable pages on Goethe's biological ideas in Erich Heller, The Disinherited mm (New York: 
Meridian Books, 1959), pp. 3—34. See also Jacob, TheLogic Life, and Canguilhem, La Connaissance rfelavie, 
pp. 174- 84, for 

very interesting accounts of the Saint-Hilaires' place in the development of the life sciences. 

55.E. Saint-Hilaire, Philosophic anatomique, pp. xxii-xxiii. 
56.Renan, Histoire ginErale, p. 156. 

57.Renan, Oeimes completes, 1: 621-2 and passim. See H. W. Wardman, Ernest Renan: A Critical Biography (London: 
Athlone Press, 1964), p. 66 and passim, for a subtle description of Renan's domestic life; although one would not wish to 
force a parallel between Renan's biography and what I have called his " masculine" world, Wardman's descriptions here 
are suggestive indeed— at least to me. 
58. Renan, " Des services rendus au sciences historiques par la philologie," in Oeuvres completes, 8: 1228, 1232. 

59.Ernst Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel, trans. William H. Woglom 

and Charles W. Hendel (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 307. 

60. Renan, " Reponse au discours de reception de M. de Lesseps (23 avril 1885)," in Oeuvres completes, h 817. Yet the 
value of being truly con-temporary was best shown with reference to Renan by Sainte-Beuve in his articles of June 1862. 
See also Donald G . C harlton, Positivist Thought in France During the Second Empire (Oxford: C larendon Press, 1959), 
and his Secular Religions in France. Also Richard M. Chadbourne, " Renan and Sainte-Beuve," Romanic Review^, no. 2 
(April 1953): 126-35. 

61.Renan, Oeuvres completes, 8: 156. 

62.1n his letter of June 26, 1856, to Gobineau, Oeuvres completes, 10: 203-4. Gobineau's ideas were expressed in his Essai 

SUr rinegaltte des races humaines (1853-55). 

63.C ited by Albert Hourani in his excellent article " Islam and the Philosophers of History," p. 222. 

64.CauSsin de Perceval, Essai Sur l'histoire des Arabes avant ITslamisms, pendant l'fpoquc dc Mahomet et jusqu'd la 

reduction de routes Ies tribus sous la loi musulmane (1847-48; reprint ed., Graz, Austria: Akademis0 { Druck- and 
Verlagsanstalt, 1967), 3: 332-9. 

65.Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in Hi (1841; reprint ed., New York: Longmans, G reen 
& Co., 1906), p. 63. 

66.M acaulay's Indian experiences are described by G . tto Trevelys The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (New 

York: Harper & Broths 1875), 1: 344-71. The complete text ofMacaulay's "Minute "is convened to be found in Philip D. 
Curtin, ed., Imperialism: The Documentary Histp of Western Civilization (New York: Walker & Co., 1971), pp. 178-11 
Some consequences ofMacaula) '« views for British Orientalism are dis in A. J. Arbeit rib , , . talists (London: 
William Collins, 1943). 

6 7 J o h n Henry Newman, The Turks in Their Relation to Europe, vol. 1 his Historical Sketches (1853; reprint ed., 

London: Longmans, Green & 1 1920). 

68.See Marguerite-Louise A ncelot, Salons de Paris, foyers 6teints Jules Tardieu, 1858). 
69.Karl Marx, Surveys from Exile, ed. David Fernbach (London: Books, 1973), pp. 306- 7. 
70.1bid., p. 320. 

71.Edward William Lane, Author's Preface to An Account of the Mannen and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836; 

reprint ed., London: J . M. Dent, 1936), pp. xx, xxi. 

72.1bid., p. 1. 

73.1bid., pp. 160-1. The standard biography of Lane, published in 1877, was by his great-nephew, Stanley Lane-Poole. 
There is a sympathetic account of Lane by A. J. Arberry in his Oriental Essays: Portraits of Seven Scholars (New York: 
Macmillan Co., 1960), pp. 87- 121. 

74.Frederick Eden Pargiter, ed., Centenary . Volume the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1823—1923 

(London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1923); p. x. 

75.Societe asiatique: Livre du centenaire, 1822—1922 (Paris: Paul G euthner, 1922), pp. 5-6. 

76Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, WestSstlicher Diwan (1819; reprint ed., Munich: Wilhelm Golmann, 1958) , pp. 8-9, 12. 
Sacy's name is invoked with veneration in G oethe's apparatus for the Diwan. 

77.Victor Hugo, Les Orientates, in Oeuvres P o6tiques, ed. Pierre Albouy (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 1: 616-18. 

78.Francois-RenE de Chateaubriand, Oeuvres romanesques et voyages, ed. Maurice Regard (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), 2: 

79.See Henri Bordeaux, Voyageurs d'Orient: Des pilerins aux m6haristes de Palmyre (Paris: Plon, 1926). I have found 
useful the theoretical ideas about pilgrims and pilgrimages contained in Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: 
Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, N.Y .: C ornell University Press, 1974), pp. 166-230. 

80.Hassan al-Nouty, Le Proche-Orient dans la littirature francaise de Nerval a Barris (Paris: Nizet, 1958), pp. 47- 8, 277, 272. 

81.Chateaubriand, Oeuvres, 2: 702 and note, 1684, 769- 70, 769, 701, 808, 908. 
Ibid., pp. 1011, 979,990, 1052. 
Ibid., p. 1069. 
Ibid., p. 1031. 
Ibid., p. 999. 

Ibid., pp. 1126- 27, 1049. 
Ibid., p. 1137. 
Ibid., pp. 1148, 1214. 

89.AlphonsedeLamartine, Voyage en Orient (1835; reprinted., Paris: Hachette, 1887), 1: 10,48-9, 179, 178, 148, 189, 118, 

90.1bid., 1: 363; 2: 74-5; 1: 475. 
91.1bid., 2: 92-3. 

92.1bid., 2: 526- 7, 533. Two important works on French writers in the Orient are Jean-Marie Carr&, Voyageurs et 
icrivains francais en Egyptc, 2 vols. (Cairo: I list i tut francais d'archiologie orientale, 1932), and Moenis Taha-Hussein, Le 
Romantisme francais et f 'Islam (Beirut: Dar-el-Maeref, 1962). 

93.G irard de Nerval, Les Filler du feu, in Oeuvres, ed. Albert BEguin and J ean Richet (Paris: G allimard, 1960), 1: 297-8. 
94.Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davison (Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Co., 1967). 
82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 

95.Jean Bruneau, Le "Conte Orientate" de Flaubert (P aris: D enoel, 1973), p. 79. 

9&These are all considered by Bruneau in ibid. 

97.N erval, Voyage Orient, in Oeuvres, 2 68, 194, 96, 342. 

98.1bid., p. 181. 

99. Michel Butor, "Travel and Writing," trans. John Powers and K. Lisker, Mosaic 8, n 

(Fall 1 974) : 

lOO.Nerval, Voyage en Orient, p. 628. 
lOl.Ibid., pp. 706, 718. 

1 02. Flaubert in Egypt. A Sensibility on Tour, irans. and ed. Francis Steegmuller (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1973), p. 200. I 
have also consulted the following texts, in which all Flaubert's "Oriental" material is to be found: Oeuvres completes de Gustave 
Flaubert (Paris: Club de l'Honnete homme, ), VOlS. 10, 11; Les Lettres dEgypte, de Gustave Flaubert, ed. A Y oussef 
Naaman (Paris: Nizet, 1965); Flaubert, Correspondence, ed. Jean Bruneau (Paris, Gallimard, 1973), 1: 518 if. 

103.H arry L ev in, The Gates of Horn: A Study of Five French Realists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 285. 

104.F/aubert Egypt, pp. 173, 75. 

105.Levin, Gates of Horn, p. 271. 

lOo.Flaubert, Cataloguedes opinions chic, in Oeuvres, 2: 1019. 

107. Flaubert in Egypt, p. 65. 

108. Ibid., pp.220, 130. 

109.F laubert, La Tentation de Saint Antoine, in Oeuvres, l: 85. 

llO.See Flaubert, Salammbo, in Oeuvres, l: 809 if. See also Maurice Shroder, "On Reading Salammb6," UE sprit createur 10, no. 
1 (Spring 1970) 24-35. 

1 1 I.Flaubert in Egypt, pp. 1 9 8 ■ 9 . 

112.Foucault, "La Bibliotheque fantastique," in Flaubert, La Tentation SaintAntoine, pp. 7-33. 

113.F laubert in Egypt, p. 79. 

114.1bid., pp. 211-2. 

115.For a discussion of this process see Foucault, Archaeology o/Kno edge; also Joseph Ben-David, The Scientists Role in 
Society (Englew Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice- Hall, 1971). See also Edward W. Said, "An Ethics Language," Diacritics 4, no. 2 (Summer 
1974): 28-37. 

116.S ee the invaluable listings in Richard Bevis, Bibliotheca Cisorien An Annotated Checklist of Early English Travel Books on 

the Near Middle East (Boston: G. K. Hall& Co., 1973). 

H7.For discussions of the American travelers see Dorothee Mett Finkelstein, Melville's Orienda (New Haven, Conn.: Yale 
University 1961), and Franklin Walker, Irreverent Pilgrims: Melville, Browne, Mark Twain in the Holy Land (Seattle; University of 
Washington P 1974). 

118.A lexander W illiam K inglake, Eothen, orTraces of Travel Br Home from the East, ed. D. G. Hogarth (1844; reprinted., 
London: Frowde, 1906), pp. 25, 68, 241, 220. 

119. Flaubert in Egypt p. 81 . 

120lThomas J. Assad, Three Victorian Travellers: Burton, Blunt and Doughty (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1964), p. 5. 

121. Richard Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Meccah, ed. Isabel Burton (London: 
Tylston & Edwards, 1893), 1: 9, 108- 10. 

122. Richard Burton, "Terminal Essay," in The Book of the Thousand and One Nights (London: BurtonClub, 
1886), 10: 63-302. 

123.Burton, Pilgrimage, 1: 112, 114. 

Chapter 3. Orientalism Now 

l.Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense," in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. 
Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1954), pp. 46- 7. 

2.The number of Arab travelers to the West is estimated and considered by Ibrahim Abu-Lughod in Arab 
Rediscovery of Europe: A Study in Cultural Encounters (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963), pp. 
75— 6 and passim. 

3.See Philip D . Curtin, ed., Imperialism : The Documentary History of Western Civilization (New York: Walker 
& Co., 1972), pp. 73- 105. 

4.See Johann W . Fuck, "Islam as an H istorical Problem in European Historiography since 1800," in Historians 
of the Middle East, ed. Bernard Lewis and P. M. Holt (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 307. 

5.1bid., p. 309. 

6.See Jacques Waardenburg, L'lslamdansle miroirde ('Occident (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1963). 

7.1bid., p. 311. 

8.P. Masson-Oursel, "La Connaissance scientifique de l'Asie en France depuis 1900 et les vari6t6s de 
rOrientalisme," Revue Philosophique 143, nos. 7- 9 (July- September 1953) : 345. 

9.Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt (New Y ork: Macmillan Co., 1908), 2: 237-8. 

10.Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Ancient and Modem Imperialism (Lon-don: John Murray, 1910), pp. 118, 

ll.George Nathaniel Curzon, Subjects of the Day: Being a Selection of Speeches and Writings (London: George 
Allen & Unwin, 1915), pp. 4-5, 10, 28. 

12.1bid., pp. 184, 191-2. For the history of the school, see C. H. Phillips, The School of Oriental and African 
Studies, University of London, 1917-1967: An Introduction (London: D esign for Print, 1967). 

13.Eric Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959). 

14.C ited in M ichael Edwardes, High Noon of Empire: India Under Curzon (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 
1965), pp. 38-9. 

15.Curzon, Subjects of the Day, pp. 155-6. 

16.Joseph Conrad, Heartof Darkness, in Youth and Two Other Stories (Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, Page, 
1925), p. 52. 

17.For an illustrative extract from de Vattel's work see Curtin, ed., Im- 
perialism, . 42-5. 

18.C ited by M . de C a ix , La Syriein Gabriel Hanotaux, Histoire des colonies 6-ancaises, 6 vols. (Paris: Societe de l'histoire 

nationals, 1929- 33), 3:481. 

19.T hese details are to be found in Vernon M cK ay, "Colonialism in the French G eo graphical M ovement," Geographical 

Review 33, no. 2 (April 1943): 214-32. 

20.Agnes Murphy, The Ideology of French Imperialism, 1817—1881 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 

1948), pp. 46,54, 36, 45. 
21.1bid., pp. 189, 110, 136. 

22.J ukka Nevakivi, Britain, France, and the Arab Middle East, 1914—1920 (London: Athlone Press, 1969), p. 13. 
23.1bid., p. 24. 

24j) . G . H ogarth, The Penetration of Arabia: A Record of the Develop-ment of Western Knowledge Concerning The 

Arabian Peninsula (TVewYork: Frederick A. Stokes, 1904). There is a good recent book on the same subject: Robin 

Bidwell, Travellers in Arabia (London: PaulHamlyn, 1976). 

25.Edmond Bremond, Le Hedjaz dans la guerre mondiale (Paris: Payot, 1931), pp. 242 if. 

26.LeComtedeC ressaty, Les Intirets de la France en Syrie (Paris: F loury, 1913). 

27.Rudyard Kipling, Verse (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1954), p. 280. 

28.The themes of exclusion and confinement in nineteenth-century culture have played an important role in Michel 

Foucault's work, most recently in his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 

and The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (New Y ork: Pantheon Books, 1978). 

29.The Letters ofT. E. Lawrence of Arabia, . David Garnett (1938; reprint ed., London: Spring Books, 1964), p. 244. 

30.Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown (London: William Heinemann, 1907) , p. 244. 

31.Gertrude Bell, From Her Personal Papers, 1889-1914, ed. Elizabeth Burgoyne (London: Ernest Benn, 1958), p. 204. 

32.William Butler Yeats, " Byzantium," The Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan Co., 1959), p. 244. 

33.Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization (New Brunswick, N.J .: T ransaction Books, 1974), 

p. 119. 

34.See Harry Bracken, " Essence, Accident and Race," Hermathena 116 (Winter 1973): pp. 81—96. 

35.George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1872; reprint ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1956), p. 13. 

36.L ionel T rilling, Matthew Arnold (1939; reprint ed., New Y ork: M dian Books, 1955), p. 214. 

37.See Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), p. 180, note 55. 

Stanley Cook (1907; reprint ed., Oesterhout, N.B.: Anthropological Publications, 1966), pp. xiii, 241. 

39.W. Robertson Smith, Lectures and Essays, ed. John Sutherland Black and George Chrystal (London: Adam& 
Charles Black, 1912), pp. 492- 3. 

40.1bid., pp. 492, 493, 511, 500, 498- 9. 

41.Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Random House, n.d.), 1: 95. See also the 
excellent article by Richard Bevis, " Spiritual Geology: C. M. Doughty and the Land of the Arabs," Victorian Studies 16 
(December 1972), 163- 81. 

42.T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (1926; reprint ed., G arden C ity, N.Y .: Doubleday, Doran 
& Co., 1935), p. 28. 

43.For a discussion of this see Talal Asad, "Two European Images of Non-European Rule," in Anthropology and the 
Colonial Encounter, ed. Talal Asad (London: Ithaca Press, 1975), pp. 103- 18. 

44.Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 218. 

45.T. E. Lawrence, Oriental Assembly, ed. A. W. Lawrence (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1940), p. 95. 

46.Cited in Stephen Ely Tabachnick, " The Two Veils of T. E. Lawrence," Studies in the Twentieth Century 16 (Fall 
1975): 96-7. 

47.Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pp. 42— 3, 661. 

48.1bid., pp. 549, 550-2. 

49.E . M . Forster, a Passage to India (1924; reprinted., New York: Har-court, Brace & Co., 1952), p. 322. 

50.M aurice Barr6s, UneEnqueteauxpays du Levant (Paris: Pion, 1923), 1: 20; 2: 181, 192, 193, 197. 
SI. . G. Hogarth, The Wandering Scholar (London: Oxford University Press, 1924). Hogarth describes his style as that of 
" the explorer first and the scholar second" (p. 4). 

52xited by H. A. E. G ibb, "Structure of Religious Tbougbt in Islam," in his Studies on the Civilization of Islam, ed. 
Stanford J . Shaw and William R. Polk (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), p. 180. 

53.FredEric Leftvre, "Une Heureavec SytvainLbvi," in Memorial Sylvain Levi, ed. Jacques Bacot (Paris: Paul Hartmann, 
1937), pp. 123-4. 

54.PaulValery, Oeuvres, ed. Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 2: 1556-7. 

55.Cited in C hristopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel (1965; reprinted., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), p. 

5frc ited in A Ian Sandison, The Wheel of Empire: a Study of the Imperial Idea in Some Late Nineteenth and Early 
Twentieth Century Fiction (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967), p. 158. An excellent study of the French equivalent is 
Marline Astier Loutfi, LitErasure et colonialisme: L'Expansion coloniale vue dans la litteratiiie romanesque 
francaise, 1871—1914 (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1971). 

57.PaulValbry, VarietE (Paris: Gallimard, 1924), p. 43. 

58.George Orwell, " Marrakech," in A Collection of Essays (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954), p. 187. 

59.Valentine C hirol, The Occident and the Orient (C hicago: University of C hicago Press, 1924), p. 6. 
374 Notes 

104." Statement of Purpose," MESA l, no. 1 (May 1967) : 33. 

105.M orroe B erger, " Middle Eastern and North African Studies: Developments and Needs," MESA l, no. 2 (November 1967): 


106.Menachem Mansoor, "Present State of Arabic Studies in the United States," in Report on Current Research 1958, ed. 

Kathleen H. Brown (Washington: Middle East Institute, 1958), pp. 55-6. 

1 7 Harold Lasswell, " Propaganda," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1934), 12: 527. 1 owe this reference to Professor 

Noam C homsky. 

108Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff (1925; reprinted., New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 


109.Nathaniel Schmidt, "Early Oriental Studies in Europe and the Work of the American Oriental Society, 1842-1922," 

Journal of the American OriSociety 43 (1923) : 11. See' also E. A. Speiser, "Near Eastern Studies in America, 1939-45," 

Archiv Orientalni 16 (1948) : 76-88. 

110.As an instance there is Henry Jessup, Fifty-Three Years in Syria, 2 vols. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1910). 

llX.For the connection between the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and United States war policy, see Doreen Ingrams, 

Palestine Papers 1917- 1922: Seeds ofConflict (London: Cox & Syman, 1972), pp. 10 if. 

112. Mortimer Graves, "A Cultural Relations Policy in the Near East," in The Near East and the Great Powers, ed. Frye, pp. 

113. George Camp Reiser, "The Middle East Institute: Its Inception and Its Place in American International Studies," in The 

NearEastand the Great Powers, ed. Frye, pp. 80, 84. 

114.For an account of this migration, see The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930-1960, ed. Donald Fleming 

and Bernard Bailyn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969). 

115.Gustave von Grunebaum, Modem Islam: The Search for Cultural (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), pp. 55, 261. 

116.Abdullah Laroui, " Pour une m6thodologie des etudes islamiques: L' Islam au miroir de Gustave von G runebaum," Diogene 

38 Quly- September 1973) : 30. This essay has been collected in Laroui's The Crisis of the Arab Intellectuals: 

Traditionalism or Historicism? trans. Diarmid Cammell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). 

117.David G ordon, Self-Determination and History in the Third World (Princeton, NJ .: Princeton University Press, 1971). 

118.Laroui, " Pour une m6thodologie des Etudes islamiques," p. 41. 

119.Manfred Halpern, " M iddle East Studies: A Review of the State of the Field with a Few Examples," World Politics 15 

(October 1962): 121-2. 

120.1bid., p. 117. 

121 Leonard Binder, " 1974 Presidential Address," MESA 9, no. 1 (February 1975) : 2. 

122.1bid., p. 5. 

123." Middle East Studies Network in the United States," MERIP Reports 38 (June 1975): 5. 

124.T he tw o best critical review s of the Cambridge History are by Albert Hourani, The English Historical Review 87, no. 

, no. 

2 (Autumn 

1973): 287- 


125.P. M . H o It, Introduction, The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P. M. Holt, Anne K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, 2 

vols. (Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press, 1970), 1: xi. 

126.D. Sourdel, " T he Abbasid C aliphate," Cambridge History of Islam, ed. Holt et al., 1: 121. 

\21.Z. N. , "The Arab Lands," Cambridge History of Islam, ed. Holtetal., 1: 575. 

128.Dankwart A. Rustow, "The Political Impact of the West," Cambridge History of Islam, ed. Holtetal., 1: 697. 

129.C ited in Ingrams, Palestine Papers, 1917-1922, pp. 31-2. 

130.Robert Alter, "Rhetoric and the Arab Mind," Commentary, October 1968, pp. 61-85. Alter's article was an adulatory 
review of G eneral Y ehoshafat Harkabi s Arab Attitudes to Israel (J erusalem: Keter Press, 1972). 
131.GU Carl Alroy, "Do The Arabs Want Peace?" Commentary, February 1974, pp. 56-61. 
132.Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill & Wang, 1972), pp. 109-59. 

133.Raphael Patai, Golden River to Road: Society, Guitar!, and Chein X e /,, the Middle Bast (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 

1962: 3rd rei: ed., 1969), p. 406. 

134Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind (New Y ork: C harles Scribner's Sons, 1973). For an even more racist work see J ohn Laffm, 

The Arab Mind Considered: A Need for Understanding (New York: Taplinger Publishing C O., 1976). 

135.Sania Hamady, Temperament and Character of the Arabs (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960), p. 100. Hamady's book is 

a favorite amongst Israelis and Israeli apologists; Alroy cites her approvingly, and so does Amos Elon in The Israelis: Founders and 

Sons (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971). Morroe Berger (see note 137 below) also cites her frequently. Her model is 

Lane's Maimers and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, but she has none of Lane's literacy or general learning. 

136. Manfred Halpem's thesis is presented in "Four Contrasting Repertories of Human Relations in Islam: Two Pre-Modern and Two 

Modem Ways of Dealing with Continuity and Change, Collaboration and Conflict and the Achieving of Justice," a paper presented to 

the 22nd Near East Conference at Princeton University on Psychology and Near Eastern Studies, May 8, 1973. This treatise was 

prepared for by Halpem's "A Re-definition of the Revolutionary Situation," Journal of Affairs 23, no. 1 (1969) : 54-75. 

137. Morroe Berger, The Arab World Today (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1964), p. 140. Much the same sort of implication 

underlies the clumsy work of guasi-Arabists like Joel Carmichael and Daniel Lemer; it is there more subtly in political and historical 

scholars such as Theodore Draper, Walter Laqueur, and Elie Kedourie. It is strongly in evidence in such highly regarded works as 

Gabriel Baer's Population and Society in the Arab East, . Hanna Szoke (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), and Alfred 

Bonnb's State and Economics in the Middle East: A Society in Transition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955). The 

consensus seems to be that if they think at all, Arabs think differently— i.e., not necessarily with reason, and often without it. See also 
A del Daher's RA ND study, Current Trends in Arab Intellectual Thought (RM -5979-FF, December 

1969) and its typical conclusion that " the concrete problem-solving approach is conspicuously absent from Arab thought" (p. 

29). In a review-essay for the J ournal of Interdisciplinary History (see note 124 above), Roger Owen attacks the very notion of 

" Islam" as a concept for the study of history. His focus is The Cambridge History of Islam, which, he finds, in certain ways 

perpetuates an idea of Islam (to be found in such writers as Carl Becker and Max Weber) "defined essentially as a religious, 

feudal, and antirational system, [that) lacked the necessary characteristics which had made European progress possible." For a 

sustained proof of Weber's total inaccuracy, see Maxime Rodinson's Islam and Capitalism, trans. Brian Pearce (New York: 

Pantheon Books, 1974), pp. 76-117. 

1 JO.H a m a d y , Character and Temperament, p. 197. 

139.Berger, Arab World, p. 102. 

140LQ uoted by Irene Gendzier in Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973), p. 94. 

141.Berger, Arab World, p. 151. 

142P. J . V atikiotis, ed., Revolution in the Middle East, and Other Case Studies; proceedings of a seminar (London: George 

Allen & Unwin, 1972), 

PP- 8-9. 

143.1bid., pp. 12, 13. 

144iBernard Lewis, "Islamic Concepts of Revolution," in ibid., pp. 33, 38-9. Lewis's study Race and Color in Islam (New 

York: Harper & Row, 1971) expresses similar disaffection with an air of great learning; more explicitly political— but no less 

acid— is his Islam in History: Ideas, Men and Events in the Middle East (London: Alcove Press, 1973). 

145^ernard Lewis, "The Revolt of Islam ," in The Middle East and The B%«f(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964), 

p. 95. 

146. Bernard Lewis, "The Return of Islam," Commentaryjanuary 1976, p. 44. 

147.1bid., p. 40. 

M&Bernard Lewis, History— Remembered, Recovered, Invented (Prince-ton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 68. 

149LL ew is, Islam in History, p. 65. 

150.L ew is, The Middle East and the West, pp. 60, 8 7 . 

151.Lewis, Islam in History, pp. 65-6. 

152.0 riginally published in Middle East J ournal 5 (1951). Collected Readings in Arab Middle Eastern Societies and Cultures, 

ed. Abdulla Lutfi and Charles W. C hurchill (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1970), pp. 688-7 

153.L ew is, The Middle East and the West, p. 140. 

X54iRobert K. Merton, "The Perspectives of Insiders and Outsiders," in The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical 

Investigations, Norman W. Storer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 136. 

155.Sse, for example, the recent work of A n war AbdelM alek, Y Lacoste, and the authors of essays published in Review of 
Middle Studies I and 2 (London: Ithaca Press, 1975, 1976), the various anal