- Genealogies of Orientalism: History, Theory, Politics
Genealogies of Orientalism is an edited collection of twelve articles (most reprinted) plus a critical introduction. It seeks to historicize the evolution of the scholarly and nationalist critiques of orientalism, and by doing so to point to the potential avenues for a reinvigorated engagement with the terms of orientalism in contemporary scholarship. The selection of essays represented here is intriguing and largely unique, for the editors have included a wide range of scholarly work on orientalism and imperialism, ranging from studies of gender and violence to language and memory. Moreover, in keeping with the volume's aim of complicating Anglo-centric analyses of imperialism and orientalism, it also contains a number of chapters grounded in the contexts of the French Arab world, as well as China and Japan. As the editors rightfully note, coming to an understanding of the complexity of orientalism as a set of historical phenomena requires a critical approach that can encompass not only an interdisciplinarity, but also a willingness to acknowledge the partiality of any one national-historical experience of imperialism. It is to be understood that there are many orientalisms, in other words, arising from distinct experiences of empire and the contingencies of historical context, just as there are multiple critiques of orientalism, with similarly distinct intellectual genealogies. Thus brought together in this volume is the work of Arif Dirlik, Nicholas Dirks, Fanny Colonna, David Ludden, Zeynep Çelik, and others, which date principally from the late 1970s to the 1990s, although the volume includes a few newly published articles also.
Of particular value here is the complex and thoughtful introduction of the editors, which at some fifty pages of text should find a wide readership, especially in graduate colloquia. The principal argument elaborated here is that the critiques of orientalist scholarship have been well theorized in the decades since Edward Said's intervention, especially in literary circles, but that the wider genealogy of these critiques has not been terribly well historicized. The editors thus review not only the work of Said, but also that of Talal Asad, Pierre Bourdieu, Frantz Fanon, and others, and assert that the move away from Marxist critiques of empire to ones dominated by discursive analysis has resulted in an impoverishment of historical context and a virtual forgetting of the wider body of scholarship engaged with the anticolonial struggle prior to the Said juggernaut. The introduction also seeks to situate in an unusually detailed and complex way the essays that appear here, [End Page 781] tracing in essence the principal veins of critical interrogations of colonial knowledge and power over the past thirty-odd years. The bringing together of studies considered foundational in such a diversity of historical contexts and critical genealogies is extremely informative, for the ways in which these both coincide and diverge in their methodological genesis.
The editors conclude their introduction with the dual assertion that orientalism (and its critique) was far more complex than has been generally acknowledged, and that an understanding of this complexity can drive a reinvigoration of historical analyses of colonialism. This seems to me to be unproblematic, especially in the editors' call to make more complex the methodologies of world history through an engagement with the theorization of modernity; that is, a rethinking of the place of the West and its Enlightenment in the terms of a longer-term world history. Nevertheless, my one quibble with Genealogies of Orientalism is that it doesn't look substantially to the new work emerging in the history of South Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Middle East. The volume instead contains only three original essays, in addition to the introduction: Nicholas Dirks tackles again the issue of caste in India (the subject of his 2001 book Castes of Mind), David Prochaska contributes an interesting meditation about the nature of photography in India and Algeria, and Alan Christy provides an introductory discussion of interwar Japanese studies of Okinawa. The sense imparted that scholarship produced in the wake of Orientalism is at...