The absence of Ottoman, Islamic Europe in Edward W. Said's Orientalism

Bryce, Derek (2013) The absence of Ottoman, Islamic Europe in Edward W. Said's Orientalism. Theory, Culture and Society, 30 (1). pp. 99-121. ISSN 0263-2764

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Abstract

Edward W. Said's Orientalism has attained canonical status as the key study of the cultural politics of 'Western' representation of the 'East', specifically the 'imaginative geographies' underwriting constructions such as the 'Middle East' and 'Islamic World'. The Ottoman Empire overlapped both European and exteriorised ‘Oriental’ space during much of the period that Said dealt with, yet while the existence of the empire is referred to in Said's study, the theoretical implications of that presence for his critique of Orientalist discourse is not. The material presence of the Ottoman state, in the Arabic speaking lands but also crucially, and for a longer period, much of south-east Europe and Anatolia, highlights longstanding 'Oriental' geopolitical and cultural agency in the face of unidirectional narratives of ‘Western’ encroachment. Attention to the specific discursive manoeuvres undertaken by the 'West' to handle that disruptive, intrinsic Ottoman presence in Europe itself, may add traction to the notion that the 'Orient' was imagined as a radically exterior point of comparison. It is argued that the history of Western representation of the Ottoman Empire constitutes a 'pre-Orientalist' discourse whose dual, perennial purpose is to make pragmatic accommodation for an Ottoman 'Oriental' material presence in Europe yet never to fully acknowledge its discursive presence as being of Europe. I argue that by supplementing Said's critique with a full consideration of the Ottoman legacy, a reformulation is possible that integrates the 'Islamic Orient' as an intrinsic component of historically informed notions of European 'space' while dissolving notions of the absolute distinction of that latter construct from the wider milieus in which it is embedded.