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[There is] a long tradition of what I shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of the deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of tis Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture. Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles.


Edward Said, Orientalism.

Of interest, perhaps, to those of you on the current blogsphere topic of representing 'the other'. Especially since, if you're white, you are always writing from the position of power, and always in the position of creating another form of Orientalism, if only through the misuse of your good intentions. So read, and be knowledgeable, as I am forced to be. It never feels as if I'm knowledgeable, though, and that must be said. So many books I just don't have time to read. So many thoughts never heard.

Lastly, to continue on the trend of public service announcements, Jeff VanderMeer is selling books. Indeed, he's giving stuff away with the books. You should see if you can get the City of Saints Fortune Cookies.

Comments

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sirius2canopus
Feb. 6th, 2006 02:56 am (UTC)
Books are not enough though. We need to 'know' the 'other' personally. We need dialogue -- real dialogue -- bridges between cultures. How can we create bridges if we are afraid to try?
benpeek
Feb. 6th, 2006 04:02 am (UTC)
sure. you're not wrong--though you risk running the whole kind of benevolent white culture thing with that 'we need bridges' stuff. but i get what you mean. still, i don't think writing a book means you're a afraid to talk to someone who is black, or go to africa, or sit in a gay pub when you're straight and have a drink with your mate. it's just another part of the battle for equality.
sirius2canopus
Feb. 6th, 2006 04:18 am (UTC)
No... I don't mean to sound benevolent. What I'm trying to say is that if I want to include people from different cultures in my writing, I need to be able to speak with those people as well. Last year I tried to write an alternative history of Australia story which included some WA Nyoongar people. (How can you leave them out and write a believable history?) I've read Orientalism, read books written by Nyoongar people (not many around), read other books by poeple of other indigenous groups; but still couldn't get it right. In the end I met up with a Bardi lady (from north west WA). That one conversation I had with her taught me more than a year's worth of reading. I'm still working on that story...and it's not getting sent anywhere until it's been read by a Nyoongar elder at least. Not easy to arrange, I might add, but I don't trust my white instincts to do it alone.
benpeek
Feb. 6th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)
sure, but that's just research for a specific group of individuals. of course you'd do that if you wanted to have them properly portrayed. however, saying that you should go out and talk to a black person, an asian woman, whatever, so you can write a character about them is a bit of a mistake, as far as i believe.
sirius2canopus
Feb. 6th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
But why is that a mistake? Maybe because I'm using them for an ulterior motive? The sake of accuracy? That's one reason, I guess. But also I want to know these people because it really irks me that we live like strangers in the same country. Not because I'm benevolent, but because it's stupid. Living in my middleclass white suburb (I'm a mum with 3 kids), I'm not likely to meet a Nyoongar woman on my daily walk. And in Fremantle I'm no more or less likely to talk to a Nyoongar stranger on the street than I would be to talk to a white middle class stranger. I've got to make the first step in a manner that I know how. I'm a writer (an unknown one, which makes it even harder) not a social worker or a nurse etc etc. (When I was nursing I used to look after Pitjinjara people who came down from Alice to get their eyes fixed, but I never got to know them because I was too busy).
benpeek
Feb. 6th, 2006 10:42 am (UTC)
well, as you said, it can be argued you're using them. but, really, i don't find a fault here. i just don't think a blanket statement that everyone interested in writing a minority or other needs go and visit such a person for research. by doing this, you reinforce the idea that the other is truly different to whiteness, that you must use your character to represent them, and so on and so forth. you don't always need to do this. sometimes you're just writing a character--and the character and fiction will benefit from simply treating everyone as if they were a character, if you follow me?
sirius2canopus
Feb. 7th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
>you don't always need to do this. sometimes you're just writing a character--and the character and fiction will benefit from simply treating everyone as if they were a character, if you follow me?

Yes. I do follow you. I guess I wouldn't always need to do go out and meet people if my character didn't do or say too much, so I was wrong to make such a generalization. But if I want a well-rounded character, I feel I have to be doubly sure I am taking into account cultural influences. Yes I agree we're all human beings; but we're also products of our respective cultures: and sometimes we confuse human nature with cultural construction and vica versa. Ways of doing, saying and seeing that are taken for granted in one culture are not okay in another. Plus there's variations within cultures, according to gender, class, religion, personal history etc etc. It's all too complicated for me to figure out on my own; and, as I discovered when I tried to create a Nyoongar character, I had him saying and doing things that ranged from being ridiculous to insulting. Nothing stereotypical or intentionally racist, but just innocent little ways of seeing things that I learned from my own culture and then tried to superimpose onto someone else's. And this for me was a practical lesson in why there is so much talk about misrepresentation etc.

I don't mean to pester you. I'm really interested in other opinions as I'm about to start my dissertation on this very subject.
benpeek
Feb. 7th, 2006 03:56 am (UTC)
yeah, i've no problem with what you said about doing the research. it's fine. given your desire to represent an actual bit of a culture, it's probably the way to go, i think. but there is, i reckon, a line you can cross by saying that everyone who is writing fiction should be an ethnographer. i mean, if we do that, then male writers have to interview female writers, and female writers males, and so on and so forth, you know?
sonanova
Feb. 6th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
If you're ever interested in reading one of the premier debates of culture politics (and have not yet done so...), look up the whole Keesing-Trask-Linnekin debate on "authenticity and spurious or genuine culture." It runs along the lines of who can represent the 'Other' and, even more interesting to me, who is allowed to and by what rights one can claim to be 'Other.'
benpeek
Feb. 6th, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)
neat. cool. i shall keep an eye out for it. though, as i said to the other comment, right now i'm reading to fill gaps. in another five weeks, though, i can proper like.
frumiousb
Feb. 6th, 2006 10:12 am (UTC)
Have you read Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies? It's flawed, I think, but an interesting counterpoint to the Said.
benpeek
Feb. 6th, 2006 10:45 am (UTC)
cool. thanks. right now, i'm reading to fill gaps in my thesis, y'know? but i'll keep an eye out for it after.

welcome to the blog, btw.
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