No Occidentalism in Iran?

Since I read Said’s Orientalism many years ago, I’ve been wondering why we don’t have a parallel branch of “knowledge” labeled Occidentalism. Well, it actually seems pretty obvious why: Orientalism is a colonial discourse produced as part of Western expansion and exercise of power. Seen in this way, the absence of an Asian “Occidentalism” (as a field of study not a political discourse). Tavakoli-Targhi’s take:

The knowledge about Europe, instead of constituting an isolaed branch like Orientalism, was integrated into a general repository. The dialogic interaction of European and Persianate knowledge set in motion the dynamic process of modern cultural (trans)formations. Whereas European modernity actively suppressed the heterotopic context of its emergence, Persianate modernity celebrated its transformative conversance with Europeans. This active remembrance of the creative process of cultural hybridization and diversification is often misunderstood by the historians of modern Iran as an undifferentiated process of Westernization. Thus the rich textual sources of Persianate modernity, instead of being viewed as hybrid texts containing a double consciousness, are often dubbed as bad copies of originally European views and ideas. (Refashioning Iran, p 44.)

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2 comments on “No Occidentalism in Iran?
  1. NourbeSe says:

    For a while in the eighties I referred to myself as a Caucasianist as a push back against those who styled themselves Africanists. These were by and large white Europeans — usually males — who had studied African cultures and peoples. If deep knowledge of a subject was what allowed you to elevate yourself to an “ist”, bolstered by letters after your name, of course, I believed I too was deeply and equally knowledgeable about the Caucasian project, which had wreaked havoc on African cultures. I had had to get to know how it operated to survive and most of what I had “studied” in conventional settings, as opposed to what I read and learnt on my own, was about their culture, which is always presented as neutral.

  2. gita says:

    Thank you for sharing, dear NourbeSe. I like “Caucasianist” as a trope to refer to the knowledge we master in negotiating day-to-day with the default whiteness in the maintenance of our distinct spaces and ways of being, our otherness. I’ve been thinking that this knowledge is a prime location for building alliances because our solidarity would be based in our embodied experience.