Posts Tagged ‘Orient’

Orientalist Images #1: Berbers of Algeria

May 13th, 2011 Comments off

[With this post I start a new series dedicated to photographs in an “Orientalist” mode. In addition to Reading Orientalism (which is also the title of my last book), the creation of an imagined Orient is very much a pictorial voyeuristic voyage. In this series I focus on Western images of the Middle East and North Africa, both those that perpetuate stereotypes and those that chip away at the bias. Readers of the blog are welcome to send in images they have found and want to share.]

I start with images from a 1933 edition of Richards Cyclopedia, with 24 volumes published in New York by J. A. Richards, Inc and edited by Ernest Hunter Wright and Mary Heritage Wright. This is an unusual encyclopedia, arranged by topics in a more or less arbitrary order but replete with images. One of the articles is called “The Green Girdle of the Sahara” (vol 18, pp. 4631-4636). The subtitle is: “What Men Live Now along the Northern Strip of Africa, Where the Egyptians Started the Clock of History and Where Grim Carthage Used to Frown across the Sea at Rome?”

The article starts out by describing the Barbary coast and then adds this comment:

Although the Barbary Coast is not an Eastern, or oriental, country, lying as it does due south from Europe, it seems to visitors from Europe and America like a corner of the Orient. It has a religion out of the East, Mohammedanism (mô-hâm’êd-ân-îz’m). Among the farming peoples who make their living from its soil are many restless Jews and fierce Arabs, whose Eastern ways have been taken up by the native peoples. Thus the Berber of this small fertile strip treats his women folk as an oriental might treat them, and he has an oriental’s indifference to dirt. Yet the Berbers are cousins of the northern races, many of them having blue eyes and fair hair.

To be an Oriental outside the literal Orient, to have an indifference to dirt and to be a Mohammedan: such is the fate for the Berber in 1930’s stereotyping. The image above illustrates the sentiment of an Algerian woman who has “much to learn about hygiene.” Given the Islamic duty of ablutions before prayer and the long history of anti-bathing practice in Europe, this is a very narrow put-down indeed.

The picture immediately above shows both the hardship of being female (carrying market items on one’s head) and the beauty of the maid with flowers in her hair. Exotica über alles.

to be continued

Daniel Martin Varisco

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UnOrienting Marx

September 18th, 2010 Comments off

Lord Curzon in white, left; Karl Marx, right (for a change)

Of all the passages in Edward Said’s polemical Orientalism (1978), the one that most offended his natural allies on the left was placing Karl Marx in the den of Orientalist iniquity. What are “the sources of Marx’s conceptions about the Orient”? For Said they are no different than the prejudice of Renan or Lord Curzon.

“These are Romantic and even messianic: as human material the Orient is less important than as an element in a Romantic redemptive project. Marx’s economic analyses are perfectly fitted thus to a standard Orientalist undertaking, even though Marx’s humanity, his sympathy for the mystery of people, are clearly engaged. Yet in the end it is the Romantic Orientalist vision that wins out, as Marx’s theoretic socio-economic views become submerged in this classically standard image…” (Said, Orientalism, 1979, p. 154)

The quote from Marx that follows, and supposedly damns him, is as follows:

“England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating – the annihilation of the Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia.”

Said does not bother to note that the above quote is not take from the same article he quotes extensively earlier, although that is the impression given.

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The Story Of The Ghost Ship. Part I/IV

July 28th, 2009 Comments off

My father owned a small store in Balsora; he was neither wealthy, nor poor, but one of those who do not like to risk anything, because they fear losing the little that they have. He brought me up plainly, but virtuously, and soon I advanced so far, that I was able to make valuable suggestions to him in his business affairs. When I reached my 18th year, in the middle of his first speculation of any importance, he died; probably because of anxiety at having entrusted a thousand gold pieces to the sea. I was obliged, soon after, to deem him happy in his fortunate death, for in a few weeks the intelligence reached us, that the ship, to which my father had committed his goods, had been wrecked at sea. This misfortune, however, could not depress my youthful spirits. I sold everything that my father had left and set out to try my luck in foreign countries, accompanied only by an old servant of the family, who, on account of ancient attachment, would not part from me and my destiny.

In the port of Balsora we embarked, with a favourable wind. The vessel, in which I had taken passage, was headed for India. We had now for fifteen days sailed in the usual track, when the Captain warned us of an approaching storm. He wore a pensative look, for it seemed he knew that, in this place, there was not sufficient depth of water to encounter a storm with safety. He ordered them to take in all sail, and we moved along quite slowly. The night set in clear and cold, and the Captain began to think that he had been mistaken in his forebodings. All at once there floated close by ours, a ship which none of us had observed before. A wild shout and cry ascended from the deck, at which, occurring at this anxious season, before a storm, I wondered not a little. But the Captain by my side was deadly pale: “My ship is lost,” cried he; “there sails Death!” Before I could demand an explanation of these strange words, the sailors rushed in, weeping and crying. “Have you seen it? All is now over with us!”, they shouted.

But the Captain had words of comforting read to them out of the Quran, and seated himself at the front. But in vain! The tempest began visibly to rise with a roaring noise, and, before an hour passed by, the ship struck and remained aground. The boats were lowered, and scarcely had the last sailors saved themselves, when the vessel went down before our eyes, and I was launched, a beggar, upon the sea. But our misfortune had still no end. Frightfully roared the tempest, the boat could no longer be governed. I fastened myself firmly to my old servant, and we mutually promised not to be separated from each other. At last the day broke, but, with the first glance of the morning-red, the wind struck and upset the boat in which we were seated. After that I saw my shipmates no more. The shock deprived me of consciousness, and when I returned to my senses, I found myself in the arms of my old faithful attendant, who had saved himself on the boat which had been upturned, and had come in search of me. The storm had abated; of our vessel there was nothing any more to be seen, but we plainly descried, at no great distance from us, another ship, towards which the waves were driving us. As we approached, I recognised the vessel as the same which had passed by us in the night, and which had thrown the Captain into such consternation. I felt a strange horror of this ship; the intimation of the Captain, which had been so fearfully corroborated, the desolate appearance of the ship, on which, although as we drew near we uttered loud cries, no one was visible, alarmed me.
Nevertheless this was our only expedient; accordingly, we praised the Prophet, who had so miraculously preserved us.