Anwar Abdel Malek -- a Major Inspiration for Said's Conception of Orientalism

Edward Said

a) On the level of the position of the problem, and the problematic . . . the Orient and Orientals [are considered by Orientalism] as an "object" of study, stamped with an otherness -- 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, non-autonomous, non-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) On 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 considered; 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 evolution.

Thus one ends with a typology-based on a real specificity, but detached from history, and, consequently, conceived as being intangible, 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 antiquity. One sees how much, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the hegemonism of possessing 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. [Anwar Abdel Malek, "Orientalism in C risis," Diogenes 44 (1963): 107-8]

Abdel Malek sees Orientalism as having a history which, according to the "Oriental" of the late twentieth century, led it to the impasse described above. [97]

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