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Deprovincializing the Middle Ages

Deprovincializing the Middle Ages

By Sharon Kinoshita

The Worlding Project: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization, edited by Rob Wilson and Christopher Leigh Connery (Santa Cruz, 2007)

Introduction: In 1978, Edward Said defined Orientalism as, among other things, a style of thought based on “an ontological and epistemological distinction” between East and West, “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” Though focusing primarily on the strategic use of knowledge as power in the age of European expansionism, he repeatedly gestures towards what he implies is Orientalism’s very long history, stretching from Aeschylus to Silvestre de Sacy. For Said, the proto-Orientalism of the Middle Ages is concretized in the representation of Mohammed as a disseminator of false revelation, “the epitome of lechery, debauchery, sodomy [and] treacheries.” And when in Canto 28 of the Inferno Dante places Mohammed in the eighth circle of Hell, Said suggests, it exemplifies the structural continuities of an unchanging western discourse of demonization and domination, “an instance of the schematic, almost cosmological inevitability with which Islam and its designated representatives are creatures of Western geographical, historical, and above all, moral apprehension.”

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