Orientalism After Edward Said

February 13, 2016

Orientalism has been at the core of my study for more than a decade.

Orientalism is a research topic and, one might say, a way of life. Reading Mathias Enard’s acclaimed novel Boussole, seemed like a trip in my biography, or a biography of the my generation as a “post-Saidian” ‘Orientalist’. Can one be a post-saidian orientalist nowadays?

LS_1984_Cairene Billboards_45 web image

Lucien Samaha, Cinema Radio and Modern (Cairo Billboards), 1984, Printed 2014, Archival Pigment Print, 76.2×111.8 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Lombard Freid Gallery, New York

Mathias Enard decribes the intellectual and geographical wanderings of Franz and Sarah, two Europeans PhD students, through European academic milieus to their research places, Istanbul, Damascus, Aleppo, Teheran, etc. Their journey is the also a dialogue with the champions of orientalism (academics, linguists, writers, artists, musicians, archaeologists, travelers, explorers, adventurers, smugglers, drug-addicts, pedophiles…) and their feelings towards the “Orient”. For this generation, fascination for the so-called Orient cannot be serene since Edward Said (“le Grand Nom, le loup au milieu du troupeau”, p.147) published Orientalism in 1978 (even before I was born).

The beginning of my studies and the discovery of Orientalism (both the discipline and Edward Said’s) coincided with the 9/11. I could also describe myself as a post-9/11 ‘Orientalist’. 

In fact, every scholar working in what-used-to-be-called the Orient – “monde arabo-musulman“, Near/Middle-East -North-Africa – has had to stand for and against Said’s book. Said himself  had to position the rest of his intellectual career in relation to Orientalism as shown by the successive afterwords (1995) and preface (2003).

After Orientalis.jpgThis dialogue with the “Big Name” has fueled the reflection of the group led by Lucette Valensi, Jean-Claude Vatin and François Pouillon who were had been working a political critique of “colonial science” since the 1960s. It led to the publication the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes (2009, 2nd ed. 2012). The success of the Dictionnaire paved the way to another reflective work on the Orientalism after OrientalismAfter a series of conferences, seminars (I cannot tell the long lasting influence of F. Pouillon’s weekly seminar at the EHESS), after a first publication in French – Après l’Orientalisme, l’Orient construit par l’Orient, Karthala, 2011 -, the edition in english was released in 2015: After Orientalism, Critical Perspectives on Western Agency and Eastern Re-Appropriation (Brill, Leiden).

This collection of articles tends to shift the focus from center (so-called West) to peripheries (so-called Orient, including Ottoman Empire, Soviet Union,  China). The study brings to light how a dialogue with orientalism has taken place in the land of Orientalism. “What emerges is a new landscape in which to situate research on non-Western cultures and societies, and a road-map leading readers beyond the restrictive dichotomy of a confrontation between West and East.” (publisher presentation)

My article “The Museum of Arab Art in Cairo (1869-2014): A Disoriented Heritage” is the last issue of the study I started in 2002 and kept on following up since then.

As an introduction to the book and forthcoming articles, I reproduce below the brilliant review published in the Times Literary Supplement, 22 January 2016, p. 26-27, by Alastair Hamilton.


I will keep in publishing (hopefully more than I did lately) on what it means to work on the so-called Orient nowadays, as it somehow echoes the work I am doing now as a Museum professional.
Please, feel free to contact me and or to comment below. I’m always glad and proud to receive feedback and meet some reader. 🙂

All the best,







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