Edward Said’s Orientalism and Its Afterlives

It is important to see the implications of Said’s perspective despite its flaws and it might be of interest to consider the issue in terms of the ‘eonic model’ and the way it points to the ‘mechanism’ of the evolution of civilizations: transition and oikoumene/diffusion. The sudden advance of given regions must generate a diffusion field to make real the globalization of advances. But this creates a problem if the distinction of ‘system action’ and ‘free agency’ is left to do all this in ‘best of luck’ fashion. Clearly, the directionality of the macro process will suddenly wane and leave the realization to free agents who are to a high probability at best imperial and at worst pirates. One after another we see the transition regions devolve in their wake to imperialism, colonialism and economic domination via capitalism. The eonic sequence tacitly projects a high ethical standard but provides no action to realize or enforce that. The result is that the evolution of civilization is mostly a botch as everything falls into the hands of psychopaths. After all we can see the problem already in the case of the (originally) underdog Israelites in relation to dominant era of Egypt, etc… And the expansion of Islam was no picnic in the outcome of jihad via plunder. In almost every case the advances in evolutionary civilization have devolved into dangerous forms of mayhem and domination. Athenian democracy disappears and the era of Alexander appears.
It is essential to consider Said’s perspective in order to at least hope to refine ‘modernism’ and its diffusion fields. The modern transition, orientalism or not, has in two centuries transformed the planet with a first: globally integrating cultures in the context of ‘modernity’, a term requiring a vast expansion. By and large, the result has been an enthusiastic embrace of the elements of the modern diffusion field globally even as the imperial aspect falls away sooner or later: note that each phase of the modern transition has had the same problem of imperialism: Germany, Holland, England, France and Spain: in each case the imperialist factions and their colonialism has fallen away. The case of the US is especially ambiguous: it was never part of the modern transition until the very end ca. 1800 when it suddenly became the zone for a democratic experiment which sadly emerged in a field of utter ruffians who have wrecked the whole thing with indigenous genocide and in the last generation the utter mayhem inflicted on the Middle East as apparently intentional state destruction and genocide of Islamic nations egged on by the zionist mafia. The issues of Orientalism seem if anything a quaint understatement of the dreadful reality. And now, finally, in this generation, we see the beginning of the waning of the US version of ‘colonialism’, never quite that, rather a capitalist/imperialist/fascist-genocidal menace. We will soon see the Chinese version of Occidentalism, no doubt, along with the retarded pre-modern Russian zone of …enough. Complete the sentence if you must. But for Americans it is a sad commentary that the very generation of Said’s work and influence has seen an horrific of militarism for profit, and capitalist extremes in the deliberate mayhem inflicted on the Middle East.

Edward Said’s Orientalism instilled an anti-imperial sensibility into an entire generation of Western scholars. But even while it castigated the imperial project, its actual analysis didn’t give us the intellectual resources to overturn it.

Source: Edward Said’s Orientalism and Its Afterlives

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