Newsletter January 2016


In the academic memory, and through the bits and pieces that percolated down to popular opinion, orientalism has remained a concept of cultural critique largely attached to a Foucauldian intuition of power, authority and institutions. But going by this prevalent impression would be forgetting the high existential potential of the idea. Ever since its sprouting in the 1970s, but perhaps more lately, ‘the orientalist argument’ has been adopted from all sides to strengthen accusatory discourses of oppression and veiled domination. This ‘activist’ potential was certainly part of the design of Edward Said’s theory, and it has contributed till date to innumerous efforts of justice and respect between cultures.
But orientalism can also be the name of an abuse, an excess, an easy temptation. And not only for individuals and collective of nations previously or presently ‘dominated’ or ‘controlled’ by western powers. As the pendulum of the world order keeps swinging, the figure and features of the westerner too changes. Going to ‘the Orient’ is not today what it was one and a half century ago. But Said’s critique remains appealing always, and may even see its relevance revived in a way certainly unexpected by its author. Through an ironical feedback of history, the orientalist sentiment could encourage a cosy guilty feeling for the westerner, deceitfully productive through his presence away from his native land, and unconstructive for his own existential development.
A subject of predilection during the course of my second Masters programme, corresponding to my fourth and fifth year in India, orientalism has grown in and through me, and its temptation, perhaps out of me. A prediction of sorts, maybe, this essay from that very period, questioning the origins the orientalism, back to Herodotus, if indeed we would suspect Western historiography to have an inevitable agenda of reduction or negation of its cultural Other. Naturally, the hypothesis could not hold, and through the brief evocation of 20th figures underlining plurality in their thought just as in their life journey, such as Levinas and Derrida, a more reliable point de fuite for inter- and trans-culturality came to the foreground. Through them, an unexpected backdoor opened itself to me, inviting another exploration of the history of western philosophy, to discover a more subtle route for, yes, the universal, than the convenient and impatient overlooking of the bulk rejections of logocentrism or orientalism. Indeed, cultural affirmation and cultural critique form a fine pas de deux, unexpected duet of dancers always risking the faux pas, or just simply… to step on each other’s feet.


Herodotus : First Orientalist ? 10 May 2013
Derrida and Law 28 January 2016

Herodotus, First Orientalist ?

Edward Saïd’s critique of orientalism is sore and irritating. The target is transparent : Imperialist Europe, its historical roots and its modern days after-effects. The objective is clear : understanding the past to affect the present. Saïd’s voice is clearly political. But how far should this past go? When did the process start? If we follow the main trends of western intellectual traditions, we find Herodotus as the first historian. More than a recording writer, he himself, in person, visited numbers of countries. His profile was strangely similar to that of his French, British and American colleagues of the 18th to 21st centuries. Was Herodotus the first Orientalist ?

Herodotus, First Orientalist ?
Part 1.1 Part 1.2
Orientalism : The Theory Orientalism : Influences
Part 1.3 Part 2.1
Orientalism : Resistances Ancient Greece and the Barbaros
Part 2.2.1 Part 2.2.2
An Account of Egypt
Where is the Orientalist Hiding ?
On the Neutrality of the Historian
Part 2.2.3 Conclusion
Herodotus, or the Contagion of Foreignness Becoming Foreigner

Derrida and Law
Derrida and Law
28 January 2016

Judging by its ingredients, the alchemy of Derrida and Law was all but assured. In 1949, the young Jackie Derrida, freshly arrived in Paris from Algeria, opted for studies in philosophy as he believed to be unequipped to tackle the classics, logical pathway for the passionate reader of literature and aspiring writer whom he was. Only the patient labour of a few decades against the grain of academic writing would provide him with fame and recognition. By the early 1980s, Derrida’s initial domains of exploration, looking into the large question marks of writing, language or reason, widened to reach topics of immediate societal relevance. The scandals and pseudo-scandals of Paul De Man’s antisemitic texts, the rediscovery of Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations and a few other cases close to the life and thought of Derrida, brought the rising philosopher under the spotlight of popular judgement. “Deconstruction”, the composite and approximate appellation for the condensation of Derrida’s core intuitions, was then further discovered as a fertile land to explore many burning questions of society . . .