Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and Walther Mignolo’s Ideas on Modernity and ‘Border Thinking’

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Edward Said’s Orientalism Orientalism is a concept proposed by Edward Said in his essay with the same name and later extended upon by himself as well as many other academics. Said initially explains that Orientalism, first and foremost, is a construction regarding the view of the Orient created by Eurocentric thought processes (Ashcroft et al. 2000, 153). Further, it outlines the relationship between European domination and that which is created by such a force, by exposing a “positional superiority” (Said 2006, 26), which is abused by oppressive authorities (Said 2006 25) as well as embedded in the subconscious processes of both self and other, meaning, the individual, either Western or non-Western as well as its social environment. Orientalism provides a vast field of study which investigates the material and the immaterial substance of representation in discourse (Said 2006, 25), the causes and the effects of a colonialist ‘past’ in literary discourse (Said 1994, 54-5) as well as opening doors for future possibilities (Said 2006, 27), while acknowledging its fluidity regarding the concept of stereotyping and representation, in general.

Orientalism is a concept proposed by Edward Said in his essay with the same name and later extended upon by himself as well as many other academics. Said initially explains that Orientalism, first and foremost, is a construction regarding the view of the Orient created by Eurocentric thought processes (Ashcroft et al. 2000, 153). Further, it outlines the relationship between European domination and that which is created by such a force, by exposing a “positional superiority” (Said 2006, 26), which is abused by oppressive authorities (Said 2006 25) as well as embedded in the subconscious processes of both self and other, meaning, the individual, either Western or non-Western as well as its social environment. Orientalism provides a vast field of study which investigates the material and the immaterial substance of representation in discourse (Said 2006, 25), the causes and the effects of a colonialist ‘past’ in literary discourse (Said 1994, 54-5) as well as opening doors for future possibilities (Said 2006, 27), while acknowledging its fluidity regarding the concept of stereotyping and representation, in general.

A present-day example of Orientalism is the critically-acclaimed television series Homeland, which, regardless of its portrayal of the many individual shades of numerous people following the Islamic faith, still manages to boil them all down to one overarching symbolic reference: danger. The series follows a young CIA-operations officer now working for the counter-terrorism division and getting involved in different conspiracies to find a traitor whom she believes to have joined Al-Qaeda. The way in which the series portrays the other, in this case being anyone of Islamic faith reinforces the mental connotation of a threat. While being hailed a drama, which depicts a supposed “political reality”, the camera lingers in neighborhoods in Iraq which appear ‘scary’ and ‘chaotic’, through layers of distorted spectator influencing via cinematography such as utilizing music and sounds, as well as camera angles to provide the viewer with a “paranoid and defensive” gaze (Beaumont, 2012). By working with these techniques of cinematic dilution or distortion the creators of the series force the viewer to engage in processes of subconscious meaning-making which is how ideas of superiority which influence both colonized people as well as Westerners to acknowledge the superiority of Western society. In this way, it clearly shows the way in which, even to this day, Eurocentric thought processes remain dominant, how geographic superiority is still reinforced, and how institutions, in this case, media representatives are still spreading an image of Western supremacy by means of influencing the minds of viewers.

Walther Mignolo’s Ideas on Modernity & Border ThinkingMignolo’s ideas on modernity are closely tied to the concept of neo-colonialism, which is described by Altbach as “a new, subtler, but perhaps equally influential kind of colonialism”, which differs from colonialism “in that it does not involve direct political control” or a “continuation of past practices” (Altbach 1995, 381). Mignolo extends upon this concept to investigate the idea of modernity by saying that “’modernity’ is a European narrative that hides its darker side, ‘coloniality’”, also saying that when we speak of global modernity, what we really mean is global coloniality (Mignolo, 39). Mignolo describes modernity as heavily influenced by the narrative which established white, male supremacy: enlightenment. The way in which this relates to modernity is that it has established an essentialized human norm, with everything existing outside of it being implicitly viewed and treated as mentally and physically inferior. Nowadays this is done by means of flaunting liberal and democratic ideals while moving within a framework of capitalism, a global economic system born out of the ideals and methods of colonialism, liberal ideals of progress now hiding within them subconscious processes established during the time of colonialism (Mignolo, 40-2).

Mignolo’s ideas on modernity are closely tied to the concept of neo-colonialism, which is described by Altbach as “a new, subtler, but perhaps equally influential kind of colonialism”, which differs from colonialism “in that it does not involve direct political control” or a “continuation of past practices” (Altbach 1995, 381). Mignolo extends upon this concept to investigate the idea of modernity by saying that “’modernity’ is a European narrative that hides its darker side, ‘coloniality’”, also saying that when we speak of global modernity, what we really mean is global coloniality (Mignolo, 39). Mignolo describes modernity as heavily influenced by the narrative which established white, male supremacy: enlightenment. The way in which this relates to modernity is that it has established an essentialized human norm, with everything existing outside of it being implicitly viewed and treated as mentally and physically inferior. Nowadays this is done by means of flaunting liberal and democratic ideals while moving within a framework of capitalism, a global economic system born out of the ideals and methods of colonialism, liberal ideals of progress now hiding within them subconscious processes established during the time of colonialism (Mignolo, 40-2).

As a way to counteract the effects, Mignolo offers his ideas on ‘border thinking’, a form of decolonization, first established by Gloria Anzaldua in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, which asserts that a decolonization could be possible if the borders between nations became a mental metaphor for a space where Eurocentric ideals could be nullified by understanding and being aware of them. Mignolo states that “[b]eing part of the modern-world system and entrenched unabashedly with European modernity, a global future lies in working toward the rejection of modernity and genocidal reason, and the appropriation of its emancipating ideals.” (42) He outlines the connection between decoloniality and border thinking by stating that “border thinking is the epistemic singularity of any decolonial project” and that decoloniality should be approached by exploration of “[i]mmigrant consciousness” as it represents the “dispersion of colonial and border thinking” (Mignolo 2011, I). In this way, tying thought-processes to the concept of borders as spaces for critical thinking and non-European practices leaves a new, untouched territory where the effects of the Enlightenment era and European colonization are being re-evaluated and redefined. This, of course has the potential for heightened awareness which can then be spread to others. Mignolo explains that it is vital for this space to be weary of European influence and led by non-European but multi-faceted views, acknowledging that modernity is not a European creation, because concepts regarding modernity and tradition have been investigated more frequently by non-European intellectuals (43-4), an important skillneeded to rewrite the narratives created by colonialization and the supposed establishment of European superiority. In brief, in order to “de-colonise the colonial matrix of power” (49) future needs to be viewed as something to be re-evaluated and re-constructed with the colonial past in mind

needed to rewrite the narratives created by colonialization and the supposed establishment of European superiority. In brief, in order to “de-colonise the colonial matrix of power” (49) future needs to be viewed as something to be re-evaluated and re-constructed with the colonial past in mind

Works Cited

Altbach, Philip G.: “Education and Neocolonialism.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, 2nd Edition. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. London/New York: Routledge, 1995.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
Mignolo, Walter D. “Coloniality: The Darker Side of Modernity”. 2009. 39-49.
Said, Edward W. „Orientalism.“ In: Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin (Eds.) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2006, 24-27.
Said, Edward W. ”Introduction.” Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1994, xixxviii.
Internet Sources
Beaumont, Peter. “Homeland is brilliant drama. But does it present a crude image of Muslims?,” The Guardian. Accessed 11 March 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2012/oct/13/homeland-drama-offensiveportrayal-islam-arab
Mignolo, Walther D. “Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing: On (De)Coloniality, Border Thinking, and Epistemic Disobedience”, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, 2011. Accessed: 11 February 2018 http://eipcp.net/transversal/0112/mignolo/en

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About AnekaB

Literature, Philosophy, Culture
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