The "Overscale Images" of the World System Map

Edward Said

[From "Figures, Configurations, Transfigurations," Race & Class 32 (1) (1990)]

The world system map, articulating and producing culture, economics and political power along with their military and demographic coefficients, has also developed an institutionalized tendency to produce out-of-scale transnational images that are now in the process of re-orienting international social discourses and processes. Take as a case in point the emergence of terrorism and fundamentalism during the 1980's. For one, you can hardly begin (in the public space provided by international discourse) to analyse political conflicts involving Kurds and Iraquis, or Tamils and Sinhalese, or Sikhs and Hindus--the list is infinitely extendable--without having resort to categories and images of terrorism and fundamentalism. For another, these images derive entirely from the concerns and from the intellectual factories in metropolitan centres like Washington and London. Moreover, they are fearful images that seem to lack discriminate contents or definitions, and they signify moral power and approval for whoever they designate.

...The fear and terror induced by the overscale images of terrorism and fundamentalism--call them the figures of an international or transnational imaginary made up of foreign devils--contribute to hastening the individual's subordination to the dominant norms of the moment. This is as true in the new post-colonial societies as it is in the West. Thus, to oppose the abnormality and extremism embedded in terrorism and fundamentalism--I provide what is only a small degree of parody with my example--is also to uphold the moderation, rationality, executive centrality of a vaguely designated 'western' (or otherwise local and patriotically assumed) ethos. The irony is that far from simply endowing the western ethos with the confidence and secure 'normality' we tend to associate with privilege and rectitude, this dynamic imbues 'us' with a righteous anger and defensiveness in which all 'others' are seen as enemies, bent on destroying our civilisation and way of life. (8-10)

Postcolonial OV discourseov postimperialov Edward Said