I begin by clarifying for the reader the purpose of this text:1
In only four pages of his book Orientalism, which continues to stimulate significant interest and wide-ranging debate in the Arab world and outside it, Edward Said discusses Marx's relationship to Orientalist thought and the Asian East but then makes striking remarks. The purpose of this text is to discuss these statements; it is limited to pages 170 to 173 out of the 366-page Arabic edition.2
1. Thought of the Nation or Thought of the Ruling Class?
We read the following in Said's text: “What the early Orientalist achieved, and what the non-Orientalist in the West exploited, was a reduced model of the Orient suitable for the prevailing, dominant culture and its theoretical (and hard after the theoretical, the practical) exigencies.”3
I begin with this sentence from Said's book to situate the reader within the framework of the principal category governing the author's thought throughout the entire book. The East that is the subject of Orientalist discourse is not the East itself. Rather, the “Orient” is produced by Orientalist thought in its own image and “suitable for the prevailing, dominant culture.”4 In the West, this culture is the dominant bourgeois culture. However, Said's text does not specify the historical class character of this culture. Said settles for referring to it as the culture of the West, or Western European culture. It is “prevailing [and] dominant” on the grounds that it is a Western culture, rather than because it is the culture of the dominant bourgeoisie. The Saidian position entails the negation of a culture's historical class character, which results in the negation of the possibility of the existence of this class's contradictory opposite. Due to the exclusion of class from Said's analysis, the dominant bourgeois culture acquires a totalizing character that enables it to occupy the entire cultural space. From its dominant position, bourgeois culture aspires to abolish everything that is not in its own image and to appear as the one absolute culture. However, there is a difference between its actual historical existence as a dominant bourgeois culture—that is, as the culture of the dominant class—and the form in which it aspires to exist as culture in the absolute, or as the culture of the entire nation. This difference is eliminated by those who view history from the perspective of the dominant class's thought structure, even if they observe it with a critical eye. This difference is, by contrast, upheld by those viewing history, and its movements of conflict and contradiction between two opposite positions, from the theoretical position opposite the dominant. For this reason, historical thinking needs to be materialist in order to be scientific. Historical thinking that equates the appearance of the thing with the thing in itself abolishes contradiction and struggle between different ideas within the history of thought. It embraces a monism of culture and therefore assumes that the dominant culture, or the “prevailing, dominant” culture, is culture as a whole, and thereby denies the possibility of existence to its contradictory opposite. This is idealist thought, to say the least. It sees history seen from the viewpoint of dominant thought even though it claims to be against it.
It seems to me that Said views Marx and his relationship to Orientalist thought in this way. Said follows the aforementioned passage by writing:
Occasionally one comes across exceptions, or if not exceptions then interesting complications, to this unequal partnership between East and West. Karl Marx identified the notion of an Asiatic economic system in his 1853 analyses of British rule in India, and then put beside that immediately the human depredation introduced into this system by English colonial interference, rapacity, and outright cruelty. In article after article, he returned with increasing conviction to the idea that even in destroying Asia, Britain was making possible there a real social revolution. Marx's style pushes us right up against the difficulty of reconciling our natural repugnance as fellow creatures to the sufferings of Orientals while their society is being violently transformed with the historical necessity of these transformations.5
Let us briefly stop here to examine this passage before we turn to the text by Marx discussed by Said.
According to Said, Orientalist thought establishes an “unequal partnership” between East and West. This implies that no scholar in the West can escape this relation, even if he is not an Orientalist. As such, one can deduce that all Western thought is, in its relation to the East, Orientalist thought, by merely viewing the East from the West. Furthermore, because this East is the Orient constructed by Orientalism, and not the East itself, the relationship between East and West in Western thought is always already governed by the logic of Orientalist thought. No thought can escape from Orientalist thought, including Marx's thought. In the aforementioned passage, this is clearly affirmed as a general principle that applies for Marx as it does for others. As a general principle, the rule need not distinguish between one specific thinker and another. According to this logic, the prevailing thought in a nation is the national thought that governs all individuals; Orientalist thought, which is prevalent in the West, is the one thought through which all Western scholars must think: “No scholar . . . can resist the pressures on him of his nation or of the scholarly tradition in which he works.”6
This is the general law that Said devises for analyzing thought. It is premised on the abolition of the historical class character of ideas, and accordingly on the abolition of the movement of struggle and the contradiction between ideas. For Said, the intellectual sphere in any given society is strictly the field of prevailing thought alone, and the structure of this sphere is a simple structure, the structure of that prevailing thought. Hence, there is no other to this prevailing thought. The structure of the intellectual sphere is not understood as a complex structure constituted by antagonistic, opposing thought structures within a historical movement that is unified by the movement of class struggle. Quite the contrary, it is a unitary structure, corresponding to the dominant class's thought structure, which Said calls the thought structure of a nation.7 In such a proposition—in which the reader can sense the distinctive feature of what we call, in colloquial political discourse, “nationalist thought”—the relation of internal contradiction within the ideological field of class struggle, between opposing thought structures, is inverted into an external contradiction between national thought and the thought of the individual. However, this individual appears incapable of resisting the prevailing national thought with his own thought. Ultimately, national thought triumphs over individual thought as necessitated by this general law governing the history of thought. This is nothing other than the ruse of nationalist thought's sovereignty: no individual can displace it except “occasionally,” in exceptional circumstances. Yet, if these circumstances were to be found, they would serve to affirm the sovereignty of nationalist thought rather than negate it. The exception serves to prove the rule through its transgression. The exception, within the field of thought, is in fact nothing but the antithesis of prevailing thought (that is, the antithesis of the thought in the dominant position). One ought to ask: why should it be that the dominant thought of the dominant class is a rule and its contradictory opposite the exception? The answer lies in the law or general principle that the author of Orientalism has devised for thought in general and whose governing logic is none other than the logic of identification.8
2. The Mind between the Identity of Opposites and Contradiction
According to this logic, a mind9 can only identify, and be in identity, with its rule. As for contradiction in thought, it can only be considered an exception to the rule, and deemed external to it; that is, contradiction is without reason. Contradiction, according to the logic of the identity of opposites, can only be apprehended in its denegation, which impoverishes knowledge by omitting material reality from it. Even if the logic of the identity of opposites were to strive to find a different rule to ground contradiction's exception, then the endeavor would terminate similarly in the negation of contradiction. In this case, the relation between two different rules remains an external one, governed by the same logic of the identity of opposites. Contradiction cannot be apprehended through this logic, but through the materialist logic of contradiction. If thought appraises the material contradiction through the logic of identity of opposites, it would negate the material contradiction and obfuscate reality, its object.
Said's text is mired in a similar confusion: How can Marx and his relationship to the East and Orientalist thought be interpreted? Is Marx an exception to Orientalist thought, or is he part of it? The confusion is evident at the beginning of the text. Let us read it once more: “Occasionally one comes across exceptions . . .” At this point in the text, the reader thinks that Marx is an exception to Orientalist thought and from the general principle that governs it. It could also be that the text, at the outset, leans toward this assumption: “or if not exceptions then interesting complications, to this unequal partnership between East and West.” The text, or more accurately the thought governing it, is confused: Is Marx an exception to this “partnership”? Or is Marx an aspect of it in the form of an “interesting complication”? The confusion is clearly confirmed as the text continues, when the author writes about the “difficulty of reconciling” the repugnance to the sufferings of the Orientals and the historical necessity in Marx's text.
The reader wonders: Why this confusion? What is the basis of this confusion? Is it a consequence of the Marxian text? Is there any justification for it in Marx's text? Does it have an objective basis in the text? In other words, does Marx occasionally fall captive to Orientalist thought at times, whereas he manages to elude it, or at least tries to escape it, at other times? Does a critic really get lost in his thoughts as the author of Orientalism does at the beginning of his text? This is what the author demonstrates in the passage that we have read, as well as in what follows it, which we will read shortly. But what if this were not the case and Marx was innocent of the attributed indecisiveness, if not struggle, in his thought, between subjugation and submission to the Orientalist thought structure and a rebellion against it, an effort to escape it but to no avail? What if Said's confusion is born from the very logic of thought through which Said reads and interprets Marx's text, which is precisely logical formalism,10 (that is, the logic of the identity of opposites)? This logic does not allow for materialist contradiction, nor is it capable of grasping its reason. For this logic, objects, like ideas, are to be arranged solely according to the following formula: “either . . . or . . .” This is why thought premised on formalistic logic—which is empiricist logic—slips into confusion, or, in fact, a crisis whenever it collides with materialist contradiction, whether in thought or in reality: How can this logic rationalize materialist contradiction if it rejects contradiction? How can materialist contradiction be rationalized if nothing in this logic corresponds to the logic of materialist contradiction? This logic apprehends material contradictions by negating them, through a formalist approach bound by the “either . . . or . . .” formula. This formulation has nothing to do with the logic of contradiction. In this way, thought governed by the logic of the identity of opposites falls into the dilemma that it, in turn, ascribes to thought governed by the logic of contradiction. The former attributes to the latter a contrived binary between two irreconcilable poles, between human feeling and historical necessity. Meanwhile, the actual contradiction in Marx's text is established by a material antagonism between the stagnancy of traditional social structures that resist change, on the one hand, and the historical necessity of changing those very structures, on the other. This movement is precisely the dialectical movement of history. Furthermore, there is no reconciliation between two poles of contradiction; rather, there is a contradictory unity—that is, the unity of struggle.
This confusion characterizes Said's reading of Marx. He reads Marx through a logic that takes many forms yet is one and the same. This is the logic of identity, which defines empiricist and positivist thought, as well as nationalist thought. Nationalist thought presents itself in the general principle of thought formulated by the author of Orientalism, and it is through it that Marx's text is interpreted. As a consequence of this reading and in accordance with the theoretical necessity of this principle of national identity, Marxist thought is enlisted as part of the prevailing thought in the West—namely, bourgeois thought. Marxist thought is also somehow identified with bourgeois thought despite being different from it, if not its direct class opposite. This interpretation is unsurprising, as the principle seems to apply to all, voluntarily or by coercion. If one were to deviate, then the interpretation would enforce compliance, so that the principle would remain intact against all difference or deviation.
In accordance with this principle, Marx must be Orientalist (that is, bourgeois), in his view of the East, even if he actually was not. It is also necessary, pursuant to the same principle, that Said's interpretation of Marx's text would seek to affirm the accusation made against the text. All this is for the purpose of affirming the validity of the principle and the soundness of its premise. The Marxian text's resistance to such interpretation is, therefore, the source of interpretive confusion in Said's text. Here we can see how empiricist or positivist thought reads dialectical thought in Marx's text and represents it as Orientalist. This is an arduous task, if not an impossible one. It is as if you were trying to prove that the Marxist thought structure is expressed in the dominant bourgeois thought structure, and that the two thought structures are just one within the Western thought structure, where Marxist thought and national thought are in identity within Orientalist thought. In other words, it is as if you were trying to prove, on the level of conceptual abstraction, that the two opposites of a contradiction are one and that both poles of a contradiction are identical to one another (that is, self-identical). Additionally, this is an attempt to assert that the relationship between these poles is a relationship of identification, not one of difference, and that their unity is not one of conflict and contradiction. According to this assertion, the mind rejects the contradiction, since contradiction, whether in thought or in reality, does not pertain to rationality.
This is precisely positivist reason. That is to say, it is the mind from the theoretical viewpoint of the dominant bourgeois class. Such reason rejects and deplores difference, and it certainly rejects contradiction in its dialectical movement. This reason would certainly reach an impasse in reading a text like Marx's: How can the antinomic poles of contradiction be reconciled and their difference dematerialized? The difference between opposites is material, like the antagonism of their contradiction. The crisis of positivism lies in this predicament. The solution sought by this thought in order to resolve the crisis remains an impossible one; it relies on the abolishing of contradiction. Yet the contradiction cannot be abolished, since it is material. Therefore, the solution that this thought seeks to resolve contradiction proceeds by denying its material existence. However, there is no possible reconciliation between these contradictory poles—except in fantasy, in a class-based fantasy. There is only a struggle that is situated within the dialectical movement of history. In this case, the solution would be to read back dialectical thought's logic of contradiction into positivist thought's logic of identity, and to dissolve the former into the latter, as though the latter were the one and only thought. Nevertheless, between the two there is a struggle, a struggle in thought corresponding to the struggle in material reality. This struggle is also a class struggle between contradictory class positions in thought and reality.
In moving from the level of conceptual abstraction to the level of the text, we discover that the crisis of positivist thought within Said's text appears in the following manner: in his interpretation of the Marxian text, the author of Orientalism forces Marx into the aforementioned formalization: Marx is either an exception to the rule of Orientalist thought or is bound by it in his thought. Although the author makes allusions to both situations in Marx's text, the interpretation struggles to syncretize them. Said attempts to reconcile the two at first, but he discovers in the end that the rule is stronger than the exception, and he finds the general principle whereby all individuals and all ideas must necessarily subscribe to the banner of a single nationalist thought, or a national thought, to be the only absolute truth. He also discovers that thought in the West is uniform in its structure and reducible to the category of Western thought as such. In this formulation, there is no difference between a dominant bourgeois thought and a revolutionary proletarian thought—as the logic of contradiction in materialism purports—and Western thought is indistinguishable from that of the dominant thought structure.
3. The Heart Is for the East and Reason for the West
It is useful for the reader to see by virtue of what ideas Marxist thought was deemed by Said an exception to the rule and by virtue of what ideas it was deemed Orientalist. Upon consulting Said's text, we find the claim that Marx escapes the bounds of Orientalist thought in his condemnation of the sufferings of Easterners, only to submissively return to it in his remarks on the historical necessity of the transformation of Eastern societies. This is a truly striking interpretation, not only for its misapprehension of Marx but also because it exposes the thought structure through which Said interprets the Marxian text. According to him, Marx renounces the Orientalist thought structure through emotion, feeling, senses, or in a word, when he speaks from the heart but returns to it through reason. It is as if Marx were caught in a struggle between reason and the heart. It is as though the heart were for the East and reason for the West, so that if the heart speaks and reason falls silent, then Orientalist thought is defeated. But as soon as reason speaks through Marx's espousal of historical necessity, Orientalist thought prevails. There is a contradiction between what Said, in the following passage, will call “human sympathy” and an objective, scientific analysis of historical necessity. The opposing poles of this contradiction are difficult to reconcile; it is one or the other. Thought can either side with the former, with the East against Orientalism, or it can side with the latter, with Orientalism, or the West against the East. It is as though every scientific or rational appraisal of the East were bound by the necessity of succumbing to Orientalist logic as the logic of Western thought. In other words, it is as if this thought were rational insofar as it is Western thought. Meanwhile, the only approach that can evade the dangers of falling into the logic of Western thought is a spiritual approach to the East, on the side of the heart and excluding reason—on account of reason being necessarily Western—from a position of “committedness to the vital forces that have given meaning and value to the diverse aspects of Eastern cultures” and “identifying” with them. Here lies, for example, according to the author, “Massignon's greatest contribution”11 to the field of Oriental studies, an approach to the East based on an “individual intuition of spiritual dimensions” that Massignon was singular, out of all the Orientalists, in employing. Through this approach, Massignon's own soul unified with the spirit of the East, enabling him to bypass the Orientalist thought structure and to occasionally transgress the limits of this structure. I use the term “occasionally,” so that I do not wrong the author by misquoting him. Despite Said's profound admiration for Massignon's spiritual ability to commit to the “vital forces” of the East throughout his research, Said argues that “in one direction [Massignon's] ideas about the Orient remained thoroughly traditional and Orientalist, their personality and remarkable eccentricity notwithstanding.” Yet Said does not specify, within his text at least, where these ideas remained as such. Following is the passage in its entirety, which I will reproduce at the risk of some repetition:
No scholar, not even a Massignon, can resist the pressures on him of his nation or of the scholarly tradition in which he works. In a great deal of what he said of the Orient and its relationship with the Occident, Massignon seemed to refine and yet to repeat the ideas of other French Orientalists. We must allow, however, that the refinements, the personal style, the individual genius, may finally supersede the political restraints operating impersonally through tradition and through the national ambience. Even so, in Massignon's case we must also recognize that in one direction his ideas about the Orient remained thoroughly traditional and Orientalist, their personality and remarkable eccentricity notwithstanding.12
The text begins by setting forth a general principle for nationalist thought, which we have previously encountered. This principle is held to be true for Massignon as for Marx. If we bring these two names together here, it is because they are the only possible exceptions referenced in Orientalism and because each of them is taken as an example that illuminates the other. This illumination, in turn, illustrates the book's method and its governing logic. The object of my critique is precisely the logic of Said's interpretation, or reading, of the Marxian text. Said's text asserts that no one, neither Massignon nor Marx, is excluded from the principle of nationalist thought. The text, however, revises this assertion and allows for the possibility of an exception. It thereby avows, on a purely abstract level, a singular possibility capable of undermining the principle governing an entire nation's thought: the existence of an individual genius. However, this possibility is not bound by a logic necessitating its existence but is contingent and subject to accident, or arbitrariness. In other words, Said's proposition operates outside the faculty of reason since it is not premised on a rational principle. This individual genius, for instance, is not sufficiently specified except as the breaking with a nation's mind, that is to say, reason as such for Said. In this regard, it is as though the author of Orientalism were implicitly restoring a common category of the prevailing—I mean dominant—thought of the nineteenth century. This replaces contradiction that has, in the social relation, a class character—whether in thought, politics, or economics—with another contradiction that has an individualist character, such that it is between the individual and society, between the individual and the nation, or between the individual and the state. The social contradiction, by contrast, is not one between the individual and the nation, except according to this nineteenth-century thought, which nationalist thought seeks to restore. In brief, the historical movement of this contradiction, between the nation and the individual, cannot proceed down a path that is not overdetermined by the nation—to the exclusion of its opposite pole, the individual. This means that the nature of this contradiction guarantees that national thought remains in a perpetual position of dominance. The dominance of national thought is eternalized in the movement of this contradiction, even if—or rather, in spite of—a contingency's actualization, in that the thought of an individual manages to overtake the thought of the nation. In this contradiction—located in thought and outside it—between the individual and the nation, the individual is bound to be vanquished by the nation even if he deviates from it. The nation, on the other hand, perpetually remains absolute, or in the position of the Absolute, a recurring essence. The movement of this contradiction establishes history as the process through which the nation realizes itself in opposition to individual deserters. It is as though history were not history, for the West appears to be the same West from the days preceding the Greeks until today. Stated differently, it is as if history were opposed to itself such that national thought cannot know, or accommodate, what is new; and all that is new must come from an individual. Meanwhile no individual, even someone with the genius of Massignon or Marx, “can resist the pressures on him of his nation”—these pressures, judging from what I make of Said's text, are not only intellectual but also political and nonpolitical—let alone displace its ruling thought structure. In fact, the individual is not capable of transgressing his own thought structure. According to this nationalist principle—the origins of which will be expounded later—all changes in thought assimilate to its preestablished structure and preserve it. Therefore, this change is not actual change, but the form through which this thought structure renews and, in consequence, eternalizes itself. Due to the nationalist character of this thought, which is the nation's prevailing thought, change rendered from outside this thought structure must necessarily assume an individualist character. Furthermore, in accordance with this principle of nationalist thought, individual thought is incapable of changing the nation's prevailing thought, even if it subverts it. This implies that the individual remains bound to the prevailing thought even in transgressing it.
This is what Said attempts to demonstrate in his treatment of two exceptions to Orientalist thought: Massignon and Marx. The two thinkers displace their respective nations' thought from the side of the heart, but they return to it from the side of reason. Massignon unites with the spirit of the East through a spiritual approach that enables him to escape the traditional Orientalist thought structure. However, he falls back into the Orientalist thought structure in some aspects of his thinking of the East. This is what the author asserts by stating: “Massignon's implication is that the essence of the difference between East and West is between modernity and ancient tradition. [Author's note: We did not find this sentence in the French text.—M. A.] And indeed in his writings on political and contemporary problems, which is where one can see most immediately the limitations of Massignon's method, the East-West opposition turns up in a most peculiar way.”13
In this text, Said clearly specifies the way in which Massignon's ideas about the East remained traditional and Orientalist. These ideas remained so with regard to modernity and, specifically, modern politics, thus attesting to the impossibility of an individual displacement of nationalist thought as well as the impossibility of resisting its political pressures. Nevertheless, this statement contains a more pernicious claim: that these ideas are different in regard to ancient tradition than modernity. If ideas are Orientalist in one regard, then by contrast they befit the East in another regard; they represent the East, and the East is representable by them. Accordingly, the spiritual approach to the East is the only approach that identifies with its object. At this stage, we are entitled to ask: Does this statement not here attest to the traditional Orientalist category that distinguishes between the spiritualism of the East and the materialism of the West? Does this statement not point to the fact that Said's text fails to escape the logic of Orientalist thought and rather remains, in his critique, captive to this logic?
4. Marx in Said's Interpretation
Marx is far less fortunate in his share of Said's critique than Massignon. He does not receive a modicum of the flattery that the latter received. Whatever could represent an exception to the rule and displacement of Orientalist thought in Marx's writings on the East is not perceived as such. With great confidence, and without any doubt, Said asserts his claim and substantiates it based on a single passage from Marx. He proceeds to draw out all of Marx's judgments from that sole passage through a particular reading bound entirely by the logic governing Said's critique of Orientalism and its thought structure. I provide the original passage in its entirety so that we can discuss Said's reading. Marx writes:
Now, sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members losing at the same time their ancient form of civilization and their hereditary means of subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath the traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies. . . .
England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.
Then, whatever bitterness the spectacle of the crumbling of an ancient world may have for our personal feelings, we have the right, in point of history, to exclaim with Goethe:Should this torture then torment usSince it brings us greater pleasure?Were not through the rule of TimurSouls devoured without measure?14
This text consists of three paragraphs. In the first and second paragraphs, Marx presents his view on the historical relationship between British colonialism and India, and its effects on the Indian social structure. In the third paragraph, Marx illustrates his view by citing from Goethe. The rationale behind a sound reading dictates that we place the quotation in its context as well as look for its denotation in light of what precedes it. Particularly, it dictates that we read the quotation in the context of the first two paragraphs, since its meaning is bound by the content of the two paragraphs, not the other way around.
What does Marx actually say in his text? If the reader of this text asks this question, which I am posing to the author of Orientalism, the reader would have to search for an answer in Marx's text and not in Goethe's poetry. Reversing the relation of text and quotation is erroneous, for it leads to the distortion of both. This is what Said does in his interpretation of Marx's text. Moreover, Said's interpretation takes no account of the first two paragraphs of the quoted text, retaining only Goethe's verses from the third paragraph. The interpretation dissociates the verses from their context within Marx's thought, only to place them in the context of his own thought, through which they acquire a meaning other than the one they had in Marx's context. This transposition of Marx into Goethe is what sustains Said's interpretation, whenceforth it becomes sufficient for Said to read the latter to understand the former.
In returning to the original text, we find that Marx's discussion in the first two paragraphs pertains to an objective dialectical movement; that is, the materialist historical movement, apropos of the dissolution of “patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations” in India—the result of British colonialism and the expansion of capitalism. These remarks, of course, condemn a colonization that is “sickening as it must be to human feeling.” They are nonetheless not descriptive remarks. That is to say, Marx neither limits himself to describing the destructive effects of that colonialization, nor to describing these feelings. Rather, the utmost importance of this passage lies in a question that Marx formulated as follows: “Can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia?” The principal question in Marx's text is therefore the question of revolution, and its necessity, as a precondition for humanity's liberation in Asia.
Surely if we were to read the first paragraph of this passage with equanimity, we could see that what impedes liberation is precisely the “idyllic village communities” that “had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism,” and that are depriving mankind of “all grandeur and historical energies.” This implies that the undermining of these communities is a historical necessity for history's liberation and the consequent liberation of humanity. Neither history nor humankind within this history can escape the fetters of this necessity—the very necessity of revolution in history. Marx observes the historical movement of undermining and dissolving Asian societies, and its respective relation to English colonization, from this viewpoint—the site of the objective process of history in its necessity and not from a moral or “humanist” position. For this reason, Marx would see in England “the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.” In this regard, it is worth pointing out the inaccuracy of the Arabic translation of the last phrase of the passage.15 The original text in English16 does not speak of “achieving the revolution” [injāz al-thawra] but rather, literally, of “bringing about” [al-atyān] the revolution, or of “provoquant” [prompting it], as it has been translated into French.17 I would not refer to this inaccuracy had it not contributed to a misreading. I only refer to this inaccuracy because it falls along the lines of Said's interpretation or distortion of the Marxian text. There is a big difference between prompting a revolution and achieving it, one that corresponds to two contrary conceptions of historical movement. This is the difference between a materialist, objective, movement of history that institutes the new on the grounds of the destruction of the old and a volitional movement of history, which characterizes an idealist account that negates material contradictions. This idealist account is evident in Said's interpretation: a historical movement “regenerating a fundamentally lifeless Asia.”18 The distinction is therefore between two conceptions of history: the materialist and idealist, or subjective. According to the former, as in Marx's interpretation, England is the “unconscious tool of history,” located within an objective movement where history proceeds according to its dialectical materialist logic—outside, if not against, human consciousness and will. Whereas for the latter, as in Said's interpretation, England is history's master, located within an intentional movement where history proceeds according to its ideological logic, which is the logic of Orientalist, and colonial, consciousness. For this reason, the Marxian text cannot be interpreted though the latter conception, but this is what Said does. In fact, the third paragraph of the text, where Marx cites Goethe's poetry, clearly confirms that Marx's writings and Goethe's verses are written “in [regard to] history.”19 Said's interpretation not only leaves out the first two paragraphs of Marx's text; it also omits the aforementioned phrase from the last paragraph. This phrase determines the meaning of the entire text, as well as the meaning of Goethe's verses.
With this in mind, what does Said's interpretation say? Let us examine it closely. It states:
The quotation, which supports Marx's argument about torment producing pleasure, comes from the Westöstlicher Diwan and identifies the sources of Marx's conceptions about the Orient. 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 misery of people, are clearly engaged. Yet in the end it is the Romantic Orientalist vision that wins out, as Marx's theoretical socio-economic views become submerged in this classically standard image:
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.20
The idea of regenerating a fundamentally lifeless Asia is a piece of pure Romantic Orientalism, of course, but coming from the same writer who could not easily forget the human suffering involved, the statement is puzzling. It requires us first to ask how Marx's moral equation of Asiatic loss with the British colonial rule he condemned gets skewed back toward the old inequality between East and West we have so far remarked. Second, it requires us to ask where the human sympathy has gone, into what realm of thought it has disappeared while the Orientalist vision takes its place.21
7. The Individual and Collective Mind
I return to my previous task of trying to specify the logic governing the author's thought in Orientalism:
That Marx was still able to sense some fellow feeling, to identify even a little with poor Asia, suggests that something happened before the labels took over, before he was dispatched to Goethe as a source of wisdom on the Orient. It is as if the individual mind (Marx's, in this case) could find a pre-collective, pre-official individuality in Asia—find and give in to its pressures upon his emotions, feelings, senses—only to give it up when he confronted a more formidable censor in the very vocabulary he found himself forced to employ. What that censor did was to stop and then chase away the sympathy, and this was accompanied by a lapidary definition: Those people, it said, don't suffer—they are Orientals and hence have to be treated in other ways than the ones you've just been using. A wash of sentiment therefore disappeared as it encountered the unshakable definitions built up by Orientalist science, supported by “Oriental” lore (e.g., the Diwan) supposed to be appropriate for it. The vocabulary of emotion dissipated as it submitted to the lexicographical police action of Orientalist science and even Orientalist art. An experience was dislodged by a dictionary definition: one can almost see that happen in Marx's Indian essays, where what finally occurs is that something forces him to scurry back to Goethe, there to stand in his protective Orientalized Orient.
In part, of course, Marx was concerned with vindicating his own theses on socio-economic revolution; but in part also he seems to have had easy resource to a massed body of writing, both internally consolidated by Orientalism and put forward by it beyond the field, that controlled any statement made about the Orient. . . . In using Marx as the case by which a non-Orientalist's human engagements were first dissolved, then usurped by Orientalist generalizations, we find ourselves having to consider the process of lexicographical and institutional consolidation peculiar to Orientalism. What was this operation, by which whenever you discussed the Orient a formidable mechanism of omnicompetent definitions would present itself as the only one having suitable validity for your discussion? And since we must also show how this mechanism operated specifically (and effectively) upon personal human experiences that otherwise contradicted it, we must also show where they went and what forms they took, while they lasted.
. . . In essence these experiences continue the ones I described as having taken place in Sacy and Renan. But whereas those two scholars represent a wholly bookish Orientalism, since neither claimed any particular expertise with the Orient in situ, there is another tradition that claimed its legitimacy from the peculiarly compelling fact of residence in, actual existential contact with, the Orient. . . . Oriental residence, and its scholarly fruits, are thereby fed into the bookish tradition of the textual attitudes we found in Renan and Sacy: together the two experiences will constitute a formidable library against which no one, not even Marx, can rebel and which no one can avoid.
. . . So one of the things we can watch for is a more explicit conversion than in Marx of personal sentiments about the Orient into official Orientalist statements.22
I will not apologize for presenting this long text in its entirety, because our ongoing investigation necessitates it. What does the text say? What issue is being addressed? Said is trying to find a theoretical explanation for what he considered, in Marx's thought, to be a relapse into the Orientalist thought structure. This relapse is not deemed a contingency because it would have otherwise been accounted for by extraneous induced factors that do not undermine the theoretical apparatus of Marxist thought. This is not the case; rather, this relapse is bound by the logic of necessity. Thus, Said is required to find a theoretical explanation for this relapse. The relationship between this necessity and the Saidian interpretation is organic, since this necessity is nothing but the necessity of the theory and mode of interpretation in Said's text. What, then, is this theory? What kind of thought does this theory comprise? It is a theory on the relationship between the individual mind and the official institutional discourse, which is a collective language, or a language of the collective. The individual's mind in this relationship—which in Said's example is Marx's mind in its relationship to Asia—is caught in a binary, excluding the possibility of any third: Marx's mind could champion its individuality, thereby sublating reason into emotions, feelings, senses. It is through this negation alone that thought can apprehend Asia with a precollective individuality, which is precisely the individuality of “existential human identities.” Conversely, Marx's mind could champion reason—that is to say, rational, systematic knowledge, resulting in the disavowal of individuality, whereby the negation of Marx's individuality results in the negation of precollective individuality, thereby abolishing all individual emotions, feelings, and senses. Marx's thought, in turn, constructs an epistemological obstacle between itself and Asia—his knowledge object—that prevents him from making existential contact with it. Marx therefore slips into the preestablished rational language, which is the language of the collective, or Orientalist discourse in its official formation.
This proposition is reminiscent of the approach in Freudian psychoanalysis to the psychical structure, not only since the vocabulary that Said employs borrows from the Freudian lexicon (the language of the censor, censorship, submission, displacement, repulsion, appropriation, and so on) but also because Said's conception of mind, understood as a collective mind, occupies the position of the superego within Freud's theoretical structure. The individual mind, in Said's theory, occupies the position of the ego, while emotions, feelings, and senses occupy the position of the “id.” Along these lines, the individual mind gets caught in a struggle between surrendering to repression by reason and the desire to emancipate itself from it. This theory's necessity dictates that the repressing mind has a collective—repressive—character, whereas liberation has an individualist—emancipatory—character. This emancipation is nevertheless not an emancipation from a repressive mind that is in the position of dominance, that is, that represents the thought of the dominant class—or that is the mind of this dominant class—but an emancipation from reason as such. It is the desire to emancipate oneself from reason—which for Said is identified with the dominant mind and appears to be the Absolute. As a result of this, a certain system of knowledge—Orientalism, the system of knowledge particular to the East—is established in its lexiconic structure, rules as a collective system of thought, represses through institutions, and ultimately exclusively exercises a blatant censorship over the individual mind. It is thus the censorship of every system, insofar as it is a system, that censors anyone outside of it. In the end, this newcomer can either accede to it and enter its system of knowledge, and the Realm of Dominion of its authority, or rebel against it and therefore be expelled by knowledge and consequently reason, left stranded, marginal, and bereft of a sultan.
This formulation holds true for the Orientalist science as for others, if not for every system of knowledge. The newcomer comes with his new object, which is individual and from outside, if not preceding, reason, since the mind is collective due to a necessity of the mind itself.23 Yet, following the logic of representation and propriety, there can be nothing new for a mind that is like a stomach, dissolving all that is new into the old. The newcomer brings to knowledge—where knowledge is a system, an institution, and an authority—new preconscious raw material, of personal sentiments and human feelings that have not yet been systematized into knowledge objects. Thus, these new objects collide with the authority of established knowledge—that is, established through systems and institutions—which submits them to the lexicographical police. If these new thoughts insist on becoming systematic, hence rational, knowledge, then they will certainly become shrouded in the official discourse's garb, which thereby abolishes their novelty. But if this newcomer refuses to submit to the lexicographical police, rational knowledge rejects him. Thenceforth all that remains for this newcomer is poetry; he roams the spaces of the imagination and fantasy, as a master of the language of intuition, a God in natural creation, situated above science and against reason. For him there is the Image, and for reason, the concept. (I leave the reader the freedom to indulge in deducing the consequences of such a logic that leads directly to Nietzsche, one of whose descendants is known very well by Said: Michel Foucault.) If Marx happens to be the newcomer to Orientalist knowledge, then his new object, according to the author of Orientalism, is nothing but a “wash of sentiment” (or “a non-Orientalist's human engagements,” or “personal sentiments about the Orient”), that is incapable of challenging the “unshakable definitions built up by Orientalist science.” Marx's new object is caught between two options: accepting the “vocabulary of emotion” as its language of discursivity, or articulation, and thus remaining novel and extrinsic to rational language, and to the language of knowledge; or being reconverted into the language of knowledge or discourse, and thereby submitting (according to the theoretical necessity latent within Said's text) to the “lexicographical police . . . of Orientalist science.” Accordingly, it is the conversion into “official Orientalist statements,” or “episteme,” that is, a form of knowledge that must necessarily be consolidated within the official discursive formation of the ruling collective mind, and in perfect identity with it. This is because this new object—which is, to reiterate, that of the heart and not the mind—is subject to a strict censorship during its transmission into the language of reason and knowledge; the censorship of the “very vocabulary [Marx] found himself forced to employ.” In particular, the vocabulary of the Orientalist mind and not of any other, for anything that is not in the Orientalist vocabulary of reason—since no other vocabularies of reason exist—can only be of the “vocabulary of emotion.” If this vocabulary came to exist in a language of its own, this language would not be one of knowledge—since knowledge, according to this logic, can only exist as official knowledge and accordingly the only source of authority—but rather it would be a language of preknowledge, or what is above knowledge, or what is below knowledge: something else that does not correspond to reason, but to the imagination.
The new object undergoes the process of its epistemic transformation into its determinate opposite in this manner outlined by Said, by transitioning from the “vocabulary of emotion” to that of reason, and from a preknowledge state to knowledge. Consequently, this new object abolishes its own novelty by sublating into the preestablished collective mind, of which there is no other or outside. It is now, instead, the efficacy of the theory operating latently in Said's text that which dislodges an “experience” by a “dictionary definition,” leading Said to find “something”—and what is this thing if not the same theory that we are in the process of critiquing?—that “forces [Marx] to scurry back to Goethe.” In this reading, “a non-Orientalist's human engagements were first dissolved, then usurped by Orientalist generalizations.” (The use of the terms “experience” and “human engagements” signifies something of great importance that we will discuss later.24) Said accordingly discovers that all that is new in the field of culture, resembling that “wash of sentiment,” in his desire to exist in a language of knowledge, constitutes a “formidable library against which no one, not even Marx, can rebel and which no one can avoid.”
This book was first published as the article “Marx fī Istishrāq Edward Said: Hal al-ʿaql li-l-gharb wa-l-qalb li-l-sharq” in Al-Karmel and Al-Tarik in October and December of 1982, respectively. In 1985 it was republished as the book Hal al-qalb li-l-sharq wa-l-ʿaql li-l-gharb: Marx fī istishrāq Edward Said with chapter titles and a revised title. This text contains a translation of five chapters (1, 2, 3, 4, and 7) of the eleven and is based on the fourth edition of the book (2018). The six remaining chapters are: (5) “A Moral Trial”; (6) “On the Logic of Interpretation”; (8) “On the Knowledge Production Process”; (9) “On Structuralism's Inability to Account for New Knowledge”; (10) “The Struggle in Knowledge is the Motive Force of the History of Knowledge”; and (11) “Prolegomenon for a Future Inquiry: The Mechanism of Expansion in the Reproduction of Knowledge and the Reproduction of Capital.”—Trans.
Said, Orientalism, 153–57. Translated by Kamal Abu-Deeb as al-Istishrāq: al-Maʿrifa, al-sulṭa, al-inshāʾ .
Mahdi Amel distinguishes between different forms of relations throughout his theoretical writings: dominant (muṣayṭir), ruling (ḥākim), hegemonic (muhaymin), and reigning (sāʾid). The French edition of Orientalism, which Amel read alongside the Arabic edition, translated “prevailing” as “régnante.” For this reason, and in keeping with Amel's distinction between “dominant” and “prevailing” in this text, I translate “sāʾida” as “prevailing” to maintain consistency with Said's text.—Trans.
A “thought structure” (bunya fikriyya) corresponds to a theoretical apparatus with a class-character, which is different from the more general “ideological structure” (bunya aydiyulujiyya) in social formations. For Amel, thought, or fikr , and its levels (ideological, economic, political) have a “relative autonomy” (istiqlāl nisbī) in relation to the social formation. Therefore, in response to Said's identification of Orientalist thought with “national thought” and thought in general, Amel considers Orientalism the “thought structure” in dominance. By rendering Orientalism as a “thought structure,” Amel is approaching it as an Althusserian “empiricist-idealist problematic.” For more on thought and ideological structures, see the respective first chapters in On Contradiction and On the Colonial Mode of Production. Amel, Muqaddimāt naẓariyya.—Trans.
In Amel's theoretical system, tanāqud (contradiction) is opposed to tamāthul (identification) on grounds of ikhtilāf (difference), tamayyuz al-kawniyya (specification of the universal) and tafāwut bunyawī wa taṭawurī (structural and developmental unevenness). Amel rejected the “identity of opposites,” which he associated with the “Hegelian dialectic” and bourgeois capitalist ideology, in favor of a Leninist, uneven, and complex structured whole or “unity of opposites,” which he associated with a “Marxian dialectic” fit for studying the specificity of capitalist social formations. I translate tamāthul as “identity of opposites” to avoid confusion with formal logic's law of identity. It must be noted that Amel's relationship to Hegel is difficult to parse, and it's not clear to what extent his characterizations of Hegel are the result of a careful engagement with Hegel's texts. Much of what Amel says about Hegel is controversial if not tendentious. This may be attributable to the ambient anti-Hegelianism that was a distinctive feature of 1960s French thought and especially of Louis Althusser, who was a major influence on Amel. However, while Amel also draws on Lenin and Mao, his theory of contradiction is different in several key respects. See On Contradiction, the first part of his theoretical trilogy, in Amel, Muqaddimāt naẓariyya.—Trans.
“Mind” and “reason” share the same Arabic word, ʿaql. My translation is in accordance with Amel's use of this homonym.—Trans.
Amel here is arguing that the formalism of the “identity of opposites” is unable to grasp material contradictions that exist outside of thought due to its abstract conception of identity, which excludes their difference. He returns to and expands on this point in chapter 6, “On the Logic of Interpretation”:
Said's criticism of Marx's position on the East is Said's way at arriving at a critique of Marx's theory. However, this is not done according to the conventional rules of critique—that would require Said to write a different book, the criticism of Marxist thought which might not have the efficacy of Orientalism—but through a method of ideological wordplay and equivocation that could be summarized in the following syllogism (syllogism, as is known, is the form of reasoning in formal logic):
1—Every Western thought's position on the East, according to the principle of the sovereignty of the nation's thought and its tyranny over every individual thought, is an Orientalist position that the East cannot accept because the East does not recognize itself in it.
2—Marx's thought was Western.
3—Therefore, Marx's thought is an Orientalist one, and the East cannot accept it, because the East does not recognize itself in it. (Hal al-qalb, 50–51)—Trans.
Marx, “The British Rule in India”; written on June 10, 1853, first published in the New-York Daily Tribune, June 25, 1853.—Trans.
“Il est vrai que l'Angleterre, en provoquant une révolution sociale en Hindoustan, était guidée par les intérêts les plus abjects et agissait d'une façon stupide pour atteindre ses buts. Mais la question n'est pas là. Il s'agit de savoir si l'humanité peut accomplir sa destinée sans une révolution fondamentale dans l'état social de l'Asie. Sinon, quels que fussent les crimes de l'Angleterre, elle fut un instrument inconscient de l'histoire en provoquant cette révolution” (Marx, “La domination britannique en Inde,” 176, quoted in the French edition of Orientalism: Said, L'Orientalisme, 179).—Trans.
Marx's original line is “in point of history”; it has been rephrased here for clarity.—Trans.
I translate “al-jadīd” (the new) as “new object of knowledge” to denote its Althusserian roots. Although Amel compares Said's conception of Marx's “new” to an object of direct experience, he later clarifies that the object of knowledge is not a newly found real object, but a thought object transformed through theoretical practice.—Trans.
In chapter 10 of this book, Amel offers the following concluding remark:
Moreover, the empiricist character of [cultural structuralism] resides particularly in the fact that it deems the object of knowledge—which is transformed through determinate means of theoretical production in the knowledge production process—to be raw material that precedes all previous or current knowledge. In other words, the object of knowledge is “personal experience” in its immediate existence as preknowledge and, therefore, what is prelanguage or prediscourse, or what I have referred to as sensualism. . . . The reader can return to [Pour Marx and, in particular, Processus de la pratique théorique] to clearly see that the object of knowledge is not—as empiricism sees it—raw material or a direct experience. On the contrary, it is always a worked material, that is, precisely, a previous knowledge established within the discourse of the dominant thought. (Amel, Hal al-qalb, 85–86)
See Althusser, Pour Marx, 185–97.—Trans.