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  • German Orientalism:Introduction
  • Jennifer Jenkins

Edward Said famously claimed that Germany did not have a "protracted sustained national interest in the Orient" and thus no Orientalism of a politically motivated sort.1 With this statement he omitted Germany and German scholarship from his exploration of the power/knowledge nexus that legitimated and sustained the project of European colonial empire. "There is a possibly misleading aspect to my study," he writes, "where, aside from an occasional reference, I do not exhaustively discuss the German developments after the inaugural period dominated by [the Arabist Silvestre de] Sacy. Any work that seeks to provide an understanding of academic Orientalism and pays little attention to scholars like Steinthal, Müller, Becker, Goldziher, Brockelmann, Nöldeke—to mention only a handful—needs to be reproached, and I freely reproach myself."2 Said writes that German Orientalism was interested in the professional study of texts rather than in the exercise of colonial power. Lacking a direct "national interest," Germany's Orientalist scholarship existed at one remove from colonial practice and administration. Germany "had in common with Anglo-French and later American Orientalism ... a kind of intellectual authority over the Orient," Said writes; yet "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."3 In short, Said's definition of Orientalism seems to leave no room for an exploration of the German case, which has consequently remained both underexplored and undertheorized until recently.4

The question, however, can and should be posed: Did Germany develop an Orientalist tradition of the sort described by Said? As the articles in this issue demonstrate, the answer is yes and no. In Said's own words, Germany shared "a kind of intellectual authority" over the Orient, and it is well known that German Orientalists filled prominent university positions in a number of European countries where they engaged directly in the work of empire building.5 Tuska Benes's article in this issue, for example, sets out the case for German Orientalists in Russia. The presence and international reputation of German philologists, linguists, historians, philosophers, and archaeologists in the world of nineteenth-century Oriental studies is also beyond dispute.6 So how can this tradition of scholarship be assessed in a way that productively connects it to histories of imperialism and the exercise of power? Possible approaches include an inquiry into the flexibility of Said's definition on the one hand, and an exploration of the distinctive characteristics of German Orientalism on the other.7 Can Said's definition of Orientalism be thought through in a way that allows for an analysis of German developments? Alternatively, which aspects of Orientalism become visible if the German case is analyzed? As scholarship has recently highlighted the presence of a variety of Orientalisms—Polish, Ottoman, Persian, and Japanese—a general broadening and rethinking of the topic seems to be in order.8

Said's definition of Orientalism is conceptually broad but historically specific. Orientalism is "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."9 Said ties this definition to the creation and maintenance of a colonial empire on the model of the British and French. Beginning with the work of Sacy, Said outlines a structure of thought and feeling in which scholarship aided and abetted territorial acquisition and provided crucial service to the creation of European hegemony over the East. Representations of the Orient gained currency through their portrayal of non-European realities and from their role in colonial policies. Clichés about the "manifestly different ... world" of Arabic culture and religion also acquired legitimacy and popularity through their constant circulation. With Orientalism, writes Said, "knowledge no longer requires application to reality; knowledge is what gets passed on silently, [End Page 97] without comment, from one text to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-226X
Print ISSN
1089-201X
Pages
pp. 97-100
Launched on MUSE
2005-04-19
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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