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The Greek Slave Of American Orientalism

6281 words - 26 pages

Quoting the art historian Bernard Berenson, Walter Lippmann once wrote, "'what with the almost numberless shapes assumed by an object...What with our insensitiveness and inattention, things scarcely would have for us features and outlines so determined and clear that we could recall them at will, but for the stereotyped shapes art has lent them.' The truth is even broader than that, for the stereotyped shapes lent to the world come not merely from art, ... but from our moral codes and our social philosophies and our political agitations as well." [1] There is perhaps no greater a work of art that exemplifies Lippmann's meaning than Hiram Powers' statue The Greek Slave (1844). Received in ...view middle of the document...

However, contrary to this dominant viewpoint, which served as the ideological basis of justification for much of the 19 th century's Colonialist actions, many Western women who traveled to Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries at the time were shocked by the richness of the culture and the amount of freedom their women were afforded. These fierce dichotomies between perception and reality, West and East, slavery and freedom, still present in the 21 st century, are symptomatic of the indelible force that seeks to control women's sexuality in all societies around the world.

Before a proper analysis of these forces can begin, however, it is necessary to articulate the scope of the Orientalist approach. Edward Said, the critic who developed the theory of Orientalism, defined it as such:

[Orientalism] is rather a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts; it is an elaboration not only of a basic geographical distinction (the world is made up of two unequal halves, Orient and Occident) but also of a whole series of 'interests' which, by such means as scholarly discovery, philological reconstruction, psychological analysis, landscape and sociological description, it not only creates but also maintains; it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or anatomy, or any of the modern policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste, texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what 'we' do and what 'they' cannot do or understand as 'we' do). Indeed, my real argument is that Orientalism is --and does not simply represent --a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with 'our' world. [3]

Suffused throughout contemporary American society, Orientalist attitudes informed the thinking of the Western world, infiltrating public discourse, literature, art, and political culture. Much of Said's doctrine demonstrates the extent to which Western ideas of 'the Orient', inherently ill-informed and lacking factual basis (but nonetheless propagated on myriad levels) were accepted as veritable truths; citing literary trends alone, his theory exposed the bias with which most of the modern Near East history and civilization have been treated and comprehended by the Western public. Moreover, Said's words have great resonance when applied to the...

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