Hindu Gods and Goddesses

Monday, September 30, 2013

39 Pages Extant of 90 or so Pages of my Incomplete Master's Thesis . . . MAPSS University of Chicago 1995-1996









JUNE 1996

In the past few decades, a number of critical works have appeared dealing with the nefarious “Orientalism” and other such Western discourses on “others.” While serving to bring up a great many important issues about ethnocentrism, colonialism, postcolonialism,
and relations of power in general, many of these critiques also seem to implicate the West
as a whole as subsumed within a homogenous, essentializing discourse when engaged in writing about these “others.” From Edward Said’s famous (or infamous) work Orientalism1 to the recent proliferation of a self-reflective discourse in anthropology and in the history of the “non-West,” “the West” has begun to appear as the only topos where it is legitimate to speak of a unitary discourse or, to use Foucault’s term, episteme. Indeed, the metadiscursive practices which have become en vogue of late seem so concerned with the tropes of representation used to discuss the world of the “outside” that they have been largely blind to the effects of their own simultaneous essentialization of the “inside.” It seems this oversight has done a small but significant disservice to those encompassed in “the West” (whatever exactly that term designates); for to critique a singular, homogenous discourse of “the West” is indeed as much a misrepresentation as it is to critique as homogenous the societies of “the East.”
I do not intend to imply that these metadiscourses are not necessary (at least provisionally), that there is no real disparity in the way this “West” has related to the “outside”--especially in material terms. Yet it might serve “us” to note that when “we” talk about a Foucaultian type discourse which encompasses all attempts at the representation of the “other,” the “outside,” of “them” that we are in fact reifying these distinctions. Even if this discourse is limited, as a neo-Marxian reading would dictate, to the bourgeois, the male, the academic, the official, the dominant media, etc., and excludes the most obvious “others” within “the West” itself, a significant “self” is nevertheless constituted, and one which contrasts in its singular force, dynamics, and indivisibility, to “the rest.”
Again, I must assert that a critique of “the West” as an agent of unparalleled exploitation carried out on “others” is not without merit. It is also not unfounded to argue that this exploitation was and is vitalized by the use of language in a certain way--“power in discourse”2--and that this inadvertant usage of language has a significant genealogy. Indeed, it is vital to attack the abuses which have been carried out in the name of “the West.” Yet we must acknowledge that this “West” (capitalized, signifying a proper noun; an entity) is itself a construct; indeed, the “reality” of which has allowed for the very designation of the “other”--”barbarian,” “infidel,” “savage,” “primitive,” etc. And despite the efforts of many conscientious scholars, this “West,” whose penetrating gaze has looked down from the towering heights of its monolithic edifice to survey the rest of the globe’s inhabitants yet stands.
To invert a category of “the other” found in a western mythological discourse on the other3, this “West” might be compared to a cyclops, with but one eye to survey its surroundings. Its (or it might be said, “his”) monocular gaze scans the horizon with no sense of depth, only able to make out the surface of all he sees. Yet one other likeness between this cyclops and “the West” which must not be overlooked (or, perhaps more accurately, left “unspoken”) is that the latter is a myth just as the former; the latter inscribed with such potency in the imagination that its reality is rarely brought into serious question. The sense of a unity which is produced in any such discourse on “the West” in which “West” is capitalized (in all senses of the word4) and left out of quotation marks--whether it be a “critical” reading or a self-indulgent--leaves this monster alive, albeit perhaps not completely unfettered.
In discussing the all-important distinction between “self” and “other,” Tzvetan Todorov points out in his book The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other that “We can discover the other in ourselves, realize we are not a homogeneous substance, radically alien to whatever is not us: as Rimbaud said, Je est un autre.” 5 Indeed, to categorically situate a homogenous discourse of the West against a plethora of unessentializable “others” still maintains the distinction of an “us” and a “them” with no in-between.
Lila Abu-Lughod makes an argument in her recent writings which works to pluralize the “lives” of her subjects, yet which maintains the above distinction. By writing against even the taken-for-granted, liberal humanist category of “culture” which has been used to describe anthropology’s “others”6 (and it must be added, to describe the “self” as well), yet maintaining the use of what she terms a “tactical” humanism (with its shades of a very “Western” attachment to the self-actualizing individual), Abu Lughod goes only halfway toward reducing the texual/discursive violence done. Her writing accepts “the myth . . . of the self-constituting subject, that a consciousness of being which has an origin outside itself is no being at all.”7 Rather, this must be erased from the text which endeavors to represent the other without violence.
From such a rejection, we can proceed to the idea that though histories and identities are necessarily constructed and produced from many fragments, fragments which do not contain the signs of any essential belonging inscribed in them, this does not cause the history of the subaltern to dissolve once more into invisibility. This is firstly because we [ought]apply exactly the same decentering strategies to the monolithic subject-agents of elite historiography; 8

Thus it seems even Abu Lughod’s assertions, perhaps among the most radical of the self-reflective oevres in anthropology today, fails to apply the same critical perspective when discussing the discursivity of the “West”; and indeed, this works to the detriment of the project’s coherence. Rather, we must recognize the “other” in the “self”; that the “West” is not so easy to distinguish, at least in some marginal realms of discourse, from the “other,” and that the other is not always placed into the confining categories of discourse in the course of textualization.
As repeatedly stated above, there is a substantial difference in the play of power in the discourses of “West” on “the other” versus “West” on the “self” (the very constructedness of these entities notwithstanding). Europe and America have indeed been the exploiters; they have largely controlled the various modes of production, whether one’s vantage is from a materialist or discourse analytic perspective (or both). It is perhaps less immediately important from the perspective of a simple political justice, conceived in the most colloquial terms, to treat the figure of “the West” with as much self-reflexivity as the representation of those encompassed by the “non-West.” And yet, if these various critiques of the essentializing techniques of discourse are to maintain validity, they must apply across the board--across the borders between the constructs of “us” and “them”--and deconstruct the discourses on “us” as well as those on “them.” Or at least they must find discontinuities, ruptures, resistance, competitions, and contra-dictions within the “discourse of the West,” and specifically that realm discourse on “the other.” Indeed, perhaps only when this is done can Abu-Lughod’s project of writing against culture be accomplished. Only then can the field of power-discourse be in some way leveled. The contention of this paper is, then, that “the Occident” must be deconstructed in all its fascets as well as “the Orient” and other “others” created in the imagination of the dominant discourse of “the West.” Indeed, if there is still a coherently constructed “self”-consciousness remaining--even as an object of critique--there will inevitably remain an “other” as the “outside” and the definite opposite of this “self.”
James Clifford, another important critic in the field of anthropology, indeed does argume against “occidentalism,” as the inverse of orientalism (in Said’s usage), but does not carry this criticism down to the level of identity at its most fundamental level (i.e., the “ontological” or linguistic category of the “self”), and often makes inadvertent reference to the “Western and non-Western,” even if only referring to the realm of professional academia.9 His critique of Said’s Orientalism does sum up, with some insight, the problems with the latter.
Indeed Said’s methodological catholicity repeatedly blurs his analysis. If he is advancing anthropological arguments, Orientalism appears as the cultural quest for order. When he adopts the stance of a literary critic, it emerges as the process of writing, textualizing, and interpreting. As an intellectual historian Said portrays Orientalism as a specific series of influences and schools of thought. For the psychohistorian Orientalist discourse becomes a representative series of personal-historical experiences. For the Marxist critic of ideology and culture it is the expression of definite political and economic power interests. Orientalism is also at times conflated with Western positivism, with general definitions of the primitive, with evolutionism, with racism. One could continue the list. Said’s discourse analysis does not itself escape the all-inclusive “Occidentalism” he specifically rejects as an alternative to Orientalism (328).10

This very apt and insightful example notwithstanding, Clifford himself is open to the criticism that he does not take this critique of a critique of the critique of “the other” far enough. Perfectly willing to disavow the use of dichotomizing concepts such as “the West-rest (“Third World”),”11 he does not carry out the necessary next step, which would be the deconstruction of identity itself (both of “the West” and, as a prior necessity, of even the individual as a bounded object). Clifford also admits his inability to do without the concept of “culture,” which he nonetheless admits is an essentializing technique.12
To quote P. Stephen Sangren on Clifford and the postmodern critique in anthropology in general: “by making textual authority stand for cultural authority in general, the literary critic, as fabricator and deconstructor of that authority, places him-/herself in a position of transcendent power--if not that of a king, at least that of a high priest.”13 Though I disagree with most of the rest of Sangren’s argument against postmodern criticism, it seems this at least might be in some way accurate. This chorus of critics seeking to right the wrongs of their predecessors necessarily usurp their power, if not to represent the “other” in a totalizing way, then to represent the “West” in such a manner--or to stand as representatives of “the West” themselves, i.e., as its self-conscience. In order to complete the project of constructing a discourse in which the other is no longer dominated or subjugated or placed under “the West,” the existence of this very “West” as a construct must be made known and shown inadequate or incomplete from its very foundation.
The bounded self has been a recurrent element of discourses in the west (plural; lower case) from the earliest of texts, as has the call for a self-critical discourse (“recurrent” emphasized because they are not the only; are not always nor in all ways present). Bryan S. Turner notes that the confessional manuals of the “Middle Ages” “provided the disciplines whereby a new concept of the interior self could flourish.”14 Turner cites Caroline Walker Bynum’s contention that in the twelfth-century “religious writing showed a specific interest in the inner landscape of the psyche and a concern for the development of models of moral consciousness and ethical behavior.”15 Yet we may take this cursory genealogy further.
From the earliest Christian writings, the book of I Corinthians exhorts, “But let a man examine himself” (11:28); and Galatians, “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (6:4). Neither is the Torah/Old Testament without statements which indicate a “self”-consciousness and self-critical discourse. Proverbs 20:27, for instance, tells that “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the inner depths of the heart.” Thus, as Jacques Derrida notes,
We all know this program of Europe’s self-reflection or self-presentation. We are old, I say it again. Old Europe seems to have exhausted all the possibilities of discourse and counter-discourse about its identification. Dialectic in all its essential forms, including those that comprehend and entail anti-dialectic, has always been in the service of this autobiography of Europe, even when it took on the appearance of a confession. For avowal, guilt, and self-accusation no more escape this old program than does the celebration of self.16

The West” can confess its sins against the rest of the world with the sincerest of conviction, and yet the long-standing border--the definite difference--still remains. The ontologically derived notion that “the West” has a history (as opposed to histories, perhaps) necessarily leaves the foundation intact which has led to the racisms, colonialisms, and various other exploitations of the world not-us. Conceding that the history of the West has produced some good along with the bad, it remains that until “we” can recognize how much this discourse is a construct, and not the only one which might be used with coherence, “the West” will still stand against “the rest,” and the latter as a definite, essential entity. And as Derrida contends, “every reduction of the other to a real moment of my [or “our”] life, its reduction to the state of empirical alter-ego, is an empirical possibility, or rather eventuality, which is called violence.”17
What can be offered as an alternative, then, to the history of “the West”--a project which will always end at “violence”--which would break apart this presumed whole, which might finally loose the discourse of domination from its very ground? Certainly Foucault might be of some use in this, except for his (later) critiques, especially on power, which tend toward the totalistic--at least in our area of concern, i.e., in discourse. Though his “archaeologies” might look for ruptures, discontinuities, etc., and might be of some promise to these ends,18 Foucault’s later “genealogies” have been all too easily appropriated by those who would construct a homogeneous meta-discourse on “the West” (e.g., Said). The work of Jacques Derrida and Mikhail Bakhtin, however, seems to offer the more possible possibility (Derrida would see it possibility of the impossible) of a basis by which this sort might be begun. In Bakhtin’s dialogic and carnivalesque--the realm of laughter and a “self”-contending discourse of parody and the grotesque, and in Derrida’s juxtaposition and blurring of “self” and “other” in the realms of the most fundamental levels of language and being, there seems to be at least the possibility of other histories of the history of “the other.”

This can be said, inversely or reciprocally, of all identity or all identification: there is no self-relation, no relation to oneself, no identification with oneself, without culture, but a culture of oneself as a culture of the other, a culture of the double genitive and of the difference to oneself. The grammar of the double genitive also signals that a culture never has a single origin. Monogenealogy would always be a mystification in the history of culture.
Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading

Thanks to the duality of tone, the laughing people, who were not in the least concerned with the stabilization of the existing order and of the prevailing picture of the world (the official truth), could grasp the world of becoming as a whole. They could thus conceive the gay relativity of the limited class theories and the constant unfinished character of the world--the constant combination of falsehood and truth, of darkness and light, of anger and gentleness, of life and death. The dual tone of the people’s speech is never torn away from this whole nor from the becoming; this is why the negative and positional elements do not seek a separate, private, and static expression. The dual tone never wants to halt the spinning wheel, to find and outline the top and the bottom, the front and the back; on the contrary, it marks their continuous change and fusion. In popular speech the accent is always placed on the positive element (but we repeat, without tearing it away from the negative).
Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World

A “gay relativity”--not relativism. Gazes into the past that would not find one discourse dominant, nor all discourses (separately) equivocal--i.e., on a metaphysical level. For indeed the function of a still-constituted-being extant in the modernist rhetoric of relativism is still well within the “self”-reflective discourse which Derrida finds in the official language of “Old” Europe.19 As Dominick LaCapra points out in a discussion of Bakhtin,
extreme documentary objectivism and relativistic subjectivism do not constitute genuine alternatives. They are mutually supportive parts of the same larger complex. The objectivist places the past in the “logocentric” position of what Jacques Derrida calls the “transcendental signified.” It is simply there in its sheer reality, and the task of the historian is to use sources as documents to reconstruct past reality as objectively as he or she can . . . The relativist simply turns objectivist “logocentrism” upside-down. The historian places himself or herself in the position of “transcendental signifier” that “produces” or “makes” the meaning of the past (LaCapra 1985: 137-8).20

Indeed, Bakhtin’s “gay relativity” is caught up in his notions of the dialogic, the polyphonic/heteroglot, and the carnivalesque and the grotesque as fields which destroy the boundaries of the subject itself--much like Derrida’s “supplementarity” or “differance. Bakhtin’s “dialogic” is the realm of an open-ended discourse, the place of speech between opposing sides. Constituted in this dialogue the language is not owned by either speaker, as in a monologic discourse, but indeed constitutes both the voice of the speaker and of the “other” of the specific utterance. As LaCapra points out,
Bakhtin insisted instead on the dual reference of language or discursive practices. The problems of reported speech in all its variants--from direct quotation through indirect discourse to modes of quasi-direct or free speech--were for him the crux of a theory of language in both literature and life. Especially significant for him was that it did ‘not at all contain an “either/or” dilemma; its specificum [was] precisely a matter of both author and character speaking at the same time, a matter of a single linguistic construction within which the accents of two differently oriented voices are maintained.

Thus Bakhtin’s dialogic can be understood as deriving from a critique of both Hegelian/Marxist dialectics, as there is never the violence of the synthesis, and Sausseurian linguistics, emphasizing the overlapping of any binary opposites, and thus blurring the distinction between such things as “self” and “not-self” as definite categories.
Bakhtin’s heteroglossia or polyphony is the space where these voices, past and present, contend with a dominant (“official”) discourse. This takes place most succinctly in the realm of the “carnivalesque” or “grotesque,” and has no resemblance to the pathetic “points of resistance” in Foucault’s power relationships. For Foucault, resistance can never escape the dominant discourse of power, but rather constitutes opposites within it. In the polyphony of the carnivalesque, the resistance is not only to the hegemony of the official discourse, but to its whole ontological basis of the “self” or any unit of speech as an essentializable entity (i.e., set in a solid, boundaried opposition to “not-self” or any opposites). Thus “the carnival attitude generates an ambivalent interaction between all basic opposites in language and life--a ‘jolly relativity’ in which poles are taken from their pure binarism and made to touch and know one another. Again, Bakhtin:
The ancient dual tone of speech is the stylistic reflection of the ancient dual-bodied image. As the ancient image disintegrated, an interesting phenomenon in the history of literature and spectacle took place: the formation of images in pairs, which represent top and bottom, front and back, life and death . . . The dialogue of these pairs is of considerable interest, since it marks the as yet incomplete disintegration of the dual tone. In reality, it is a dialogue of the face with the buttocks, of birth with death.

And thus of “self” and all that is “not-self.” Seen in this way, the polyphony of the carnival, the dialogic of the grotesque, serves to realize Derrida’s project of “supplementarity”: finding in the “remainder,” the unaccountable left-over of any system of “analytic or polar opposites,” the “undecidable interplay of excess and lack between the same and the other. This deconstructed self in Derrida is derivative of a critique of Sausseure, as well. In “differance,” a Derridaian neo-logism working at the level of structural binaries, “one (e.g., one pair of opposites) is the same as the other but as differed or deferred. To limit the other to the circumscribed space of a binary correlative is as much a potentiality for violence as it is to view the other as completely unrelated.
The implications of these modes of blurring the self/other distinction applied to the history of “the West,” or more specifically, the histories and other modes of representation of the west on the other, are radical. Though Said and many other critics have called for “the West” to re-evaluate its discourse as has been used to enclose and essentialize “the Orient,” a carnivalesque reading of “Western” discourse would find the breaks, ruptures, and discontinuities in this supposedly all-encompassing discourse--i.e., the impossible possibility of the other-in-self in the remnants of past discourses. Only in this way could the polyphony of voices stand to counter the official construction of “others”--not so completely other, nor same, after all--and a hegemonic “self” which is the construct constituting “the West.”
This “historical” project would have radical implications for a majority of the “disciplines” in the university as it is structured today. The seemingly solid distinction between the fields of literary criticism, history and cultural anthropology, for instance, would become unrecognizable. For not only would the study of “other” cultures as such be called into question, but the “West” as a coherent, essentializable historical object as well--and all the disciplines constituted by such objectifications to study, dissect, and taxonomize. There would remain no epistemological-ontological borders between the traditionally constituted fields of inquiry of the “one” and “the other.” A perspective which would look for discourses without the usual identifying practices of the social sciences would transcend the distinctions of bounded fields in all senses, and would look for the “other” in the “self”--whether this “self” as one’s own or as the other’s. Closed systems, or as Bakhtin calls them, “-isms,” would thus be questioned at their most foundational level:
Reason (ratio) itself,” the practice of dividing, categorizing, opposing, “might be seen as an attempt to ration and limit the play of supplementarity. Analysis provides clear and distinct ideas which define boundaries and confine ambiguity or overlap to marginal, borderline cases. Insofar as analysis defines polar opposites, it constructs ideal types of heuristic fictions

Thus the very basis of “the West” as it has often been imagined; of positivism; of the “scientific” practice of dividing, limiting, defining; of logic; would be found lacking in their attempt to describe the human situation. The imminence of the “dominant discourse” could thus be laughed at in a Bakhtinian sense, and perhaps finally made impotent to commit further violences within such a discourse of “jolly relativity.”
Rather than dissecting, differentiating, delimiting the other, the approach I have been advocating would look for what anthropologist Unni Wikan calls “resonance” to find its impetus to inscribe. This practice of “feeling-thought” which Wikan translates from the Balinese word “keneh” is understood by Wikan’s informants to stand for the empathetic union of things, ideas, etc., which would “rationally” seem to be contradictory. One of Wikan’s informants notes, “But Westerners have no resonance . . . because they use their thoughts only, and so ideas and understandings do not spring alive. What we must do is to look for our thoughts to “spring alive,” and look for the margins of discourse where they always do. To find “other voices” from our past with “the other” means to look beyond the “rational” distinctions social scientists have been trained to uncover. This does not mean to reduce the other to its common denominators, to what is its easiest synonym in the familiar language. Rather it is to harmonize with alterity, to let it sound chords on the very sinews of the self.
In the western relationships with Islam, the great majority of textual remnants extant from the archives of the former are either polemic or essentializing or about the different nature of “the infidel,” “the Turk,” and the European. Yet there are also significant traces where ruptures occur of so easy a generalization. Even within the oevres of particular authors who may generally show contempt for Islam, one can often find traces of admiration, and even self-identification.
Fragmentary sources such as these, though most often hidden under the mass of the “official” discourse, indicate at least the undercurrent of diffused inversions or blurrings of the succinct bounds of European self-identification and self-enclosure. To find such a history or “archaeology of subjugated knowledges and practices or “genealogy” of these marginalized realms of discourse would be to find in our own past a ground for building a more ethical response to supposed others--that is, a “culture of oneself as a culture of the other . . . and as the difference to oneself. Thus the goal of this study will be to uncover just such ruptures, inversions, and blurrings in the diversity of discourses on the “other” of Islam.

She was dressed in a caftan of gold brocade, flowered with silver, very well fitted to her shape, and showing to advantage the beauty of her bosom, only shaded by the thin guaze of her shift. Her drawers were pale pink, her waistcoat green and silver, her slippers white, finely embroidered, her lovely arms adorned with bracelets of diamonds and her broad girdle set round with diamonds; upon her head a rich Turkish handkerchief of pink and silver, her own fine black hair hanging a great length in various tresses, and on one side of her head some bodkins of jewels. I am afraid you will accuse me of extravagance in this description. I think I have read somewhere that women always speak in rapture when they speak of beauty, but I can’t imagine why they should not be allowed to do so. I rather think it virtue to be able to admire without any mixture of desire or envy.
Lady Mary Wortley Mantagu, desription of an Ottoman official’s “Lady,” Turkish Embassy Letters (emphasis mine)

To admire without any mixture of desire or envy.” Perhaps the “impossible possibility,” expressing the liminal space between sameness and difference. For envy must maintain a definite “other”; desire, an object. The body, experienced sensually as if desired; taken into the eye, but not consumed. Perhaps something “feminine”--wanting of the desire to penetrate, yet gazing beneath the outer layers: “her shape, only shaded by the thin guaze of her shift.”
When “Europe” is supposed (by many recent critics) only able to figure the other one dimensionally, as a target of contempt, or as an object of possessive desire, Lady Montagu’s letter to Lady Mar leads the reader to discern an alternative. The recognition of alterity--an identity not bound by the limitions of linguistic representation, i.e., here as one encountered in “rapture,” as inexpressible, the “unlimited Desire” Levinas associates with the “absolutely other,--that is, that which remains unknown even under the direct gaze of passion--and without the base, lusting desire to captivate, to use for selfish pleasure, to “know,” reduce, own, or control.
Lady Montagu’s representation of Fatima may fall short of the ideal lower-body stratum in Bakhtin--still too refined, masked in propriety. Yet it does locate in her body and dress (or rather, in the gaze which falls upon the body and dress) a space which might serve as an opening for the texts which will follow. The appreciation which is expressed by numerous European authors for Islam is indeed often sensual, exotic, and even erotic without necessarily being imbued with a penetrative intent. The Romantic is never necessarily reduced to Neitzche’s Apollolian, or to a closed system of discourse as Foucault would have it. Rather, as Bakhtin noted, strands of the carnivalesque still resonate in some spaces within expressions of the Romantic, releasing the body from the bonds of essential description.
Rapture” opens in the text the possibility of uncoercive description. Rapture shuns closure, as it evades the compulsion to commit the being of another entirely into the text without the possibility of escape. The unutterable Saying opposing (while not lieing opposite to) the Said. Here Fatima is freed from the enclosure the previous sentences of description would command. The other remains other--but not alien--in the encounter inscribed as “rapture.”
To return to the “something feminine” from above, it is perhaps this inversion of the dominant discourse which is in many ways the architypical other. As Levinas contends, “I think the absolutely contrary contrary [ le contraire absolutement contraire], whose contrariety is in no way affected by the relationship that can be established between it and its correlative, the contrariety that permits its terms to remain absolutely other, is the feminine. In spite of critiques condemning Levinas here for sexism, it seems there is indeed something substantial in his discussion of “Eros,” perhaps disclosing a realm of other not necessarily subjectable to the simple binary relationship (rationalized, logified if you will). Levinas contends that there is an “absence of any fusion in the erotic, thus that there is no violence done the other in the act, in spite of the metaphors which attempt to place intercourse in terms of knowledge--”knowing” in the Biblical parlance, for example--and thus in the position of the subject.
Levinas concludes his discussion of Eros:
Can this relationship with the other through eros be characterized as a failure? Once again, the answer is yes, if one adopts the terminology of current descriptions, if one wants to characterize the erotic by “ grasping,” “possessing,” or “knowing.” But there is nothing of all this, or the failure of this, in eros. If one could possess, grasp, and know the other, it would not be other. Possessing, knowing, and grasping are synonyms of power.

Thus the “other” from the voice of the official (in this case the “phalologocentric” discourse) is not obtainable, not subjectable, indefinable.
Furthermore, the relationship with the other is generally sought out as a fusion. I have precisely wanted to contest the idea that the relationship with the other is fusion. The relationship with the Other is the absence of the other; not absence pure and simple, not the absence of pure nothingness, but absence in a horizon of the future, an absence that is time.

Above I wrote of the “sentences of description” which would “command . . . enclosure.” In what Levinas terms the “terminology of current description” these sentences would indeed do just that. Yet it might be rendered otherwise:
The caress is a mode of the subject’s being, where the subject who is in contact with another goes beyond this contact. Contact as sensation is part of the world of light. But what is caressed is not touched, properly speaking. It is not the softness or warmth of the hand given in contact that the caress seeks. The seeking of the caress constitutes its essence by the fact that the caress does not know what it seeks. This “not knowing,” this fundamental disorder, is the essential. It is like a game with something slipping away, a game absolutely without project or plan, not with what can become ours or us, but with something other, always other, always inaccessible, and always still to come [à venir].

To render the above “description” of Fatima otherwise, it might rather be understood as a verbal “caress.” To read again,
She was dressed in a caftan of gold brocade, flowered with silver, very well fitted to her shape, and showing to advantage the beauty of her bosom, only shaded by the thin guaze of her shift. Her drawers were pale pink, her waistcoat green and silver, her slippers white, finely embroidered, her lovely arms adorned with bracelets of diamonds and her broad girdle set round with diamonds; upon her head a rich Turkish handkerchief of pink and silver, her own fine black hair hanging a great length in various tresses, and on one side of her head some bodkins of jewels.

Not quite drawing Fatima into the realm of the rationed, the circumscribed, the subjected, this fragment speaks the movement of the eye over the body: over, then under, the “thin guaze of her shift” which only shades her figure; up the legs (“Her drawers were pale pink”) to her waistcoat; on to her feet, her “lovely arms,” her girdle, her “fine black hair.” This caress, however, is no violation, no rape. A rape, figurative as well as literal, seeks to subdue, control, and subject the other; to conquer violently, to place her under the ownership of the violator, to subject her to the categories of the “known.” The above is rather an encounter between one “Westerner” and one other-than-she, where the boundaries of self and other touch, not to feel out the terrain of the unknown in order to make it known, but to seek her unknowable self which will remain so even under the caress, under the gaze of her other.

Accompanied by two young men, his son and nephew, he arrives with his hand extended and a smile on his lips. He accepts a chair and takes his seat with lordly grace--and I send the news to my two traveling companions that I have the bogeyman of the desert in my tent.

Thus begins Pierre Loti’s account of Mohammed-Jahl, the Bedouin bandit-sheik whose desert domains Loti and his pilgrim’s caravan must cross in order to reach Gaza on their way to the Holy Land, as is recounted in Le Désert.
A fine and superb old bandit’s face. Gray beard and eyebrows. A cameo profile. Flashing eyes, which on the spur of the moment can be imperious and cruel or else disarmingly gentle. He is dressed in a red Brusa silk robe embroidered with yellow flames; its dangling sleeves almost touch the ground; over this a generous Bedouin tunis. On his head a veil (couffie) of heavy Mecca silk, held in place by a crown of gold cords with black wool knots. Tiny feet, bare in leather sandals; tiny child’s hands playing with the traditional stick shaped like a lotus leaf that serves as a camel whip.

This “description” bears at least superficial resemblance to the Lady Montagu’s text above: a sensually inscribed portrait of an individual who is other to the writer. Yet there are many “descriptions” offered by travelers to the lands of Europe’s fascination--to the east and to the west. Such writing understood as “description” would indeed place the other within the perimeters of the sentence, between the initial capital letter and the last mark of punctuation. But were it to be seen otherwise, with a view to alternate readings, it might be read as might the text of Fatima above: sensuality taken in with a gaze, but not emptied of possibilities in this gaze; a figure remaining free to surprise, to defy any bounds seemingly prescribed by the text.
In the following we “catch sight of Mohammed-Jahl, holding his riding crop as if it were a scepter, his eyes flashing with rage from under his beautiful veil tied with gold cords. He is roaring like a lion, old but still frightening and in charge”; where only four pages before he was “our guide on his knees [emphasis mine] before the governor. The guide has an attitude both supplicant [emphasis mine] and sly, watching and pressing for the definitive yes that would permit us to continue our trip.” Both on his knees and donning a scepter; a supplicant and a king. The place which one should assign this figure must be somewhere between the two, in the space Derrida terms differance. Neither really this, nor that; something truly other--but not altogether unfamiliar or alien, either.
I might well point out that both Loti and Lady Montagu were suspected of maintaining affections for both sexes, a coincidence to be sure. But such biographical conjecture is out of place here. What is not, however, is a discussion of the gendering of a text.[{place here a footnote to the appropriate texts: Jung on bi-sexuality}]. For it seems these two texts occur in a sort of liminal space, both offering sexually ambiguous portrayals, leaving both the identity of the imagined writers, and indeed of the subjects of the writing (though not necessarily in regard to their sexual preferences), in question. The effect, thus, is that there can be no essentialization of these subjects who are other. They remain so by the refusal of the text to define them once and for all--by their occupation of a space emploted in ambiguity.
There is no essentialization, no definite confinement of Fatima or Mohammed-Jahl. Their finitude, their definition, is not assured by their placement in “dead words”; for these texts leave them open to becoming whomever they might later become, either later in the text or later in the imagination [{Foucault on imagination in The Order of Things}]. This is perhaps an immanent function of sexually ambiguity--working something like Bakhtin’s carnivalesque, but not falling into the specificum of the space he plotted out as such--where the relation of imagined writer and inscribed being are uncertain, where the possibility of a “masculinity” and a “femininity” are present in both. Especially for Loti, who belonged to time which, according to Foucault, demanded of the scientific categories of sexuality a definitive expression of one’s being, the portrayal of a sexually ambiguous sensuality leaves the portrait with an uncertain degree of precision--i.e., in that space so troubling to the nineteenth century: that which defies a specific emplotment in the grid of scientific knowledge, that which seems between two opposite categories of the known--and thus free to complete itself elsewhere, outside the bounds of possible description.

(feminine/inversion/etc here).

[English philosopher Roger Bacon, for instance, traces the revival of philosophy to the Muslim Avicenna. One knight who had first hand experience with the Turks in the late eleventh-century argues with great conviction that “they are of a Frankish race. This notion of a racial self-identity with the Turks is echoed in the assertion that the Turks, whose name was supposed by some to have derived from Teucri, the descendants of the Trojans. This assertion, strongly refuted by Richard Knolles in the early seventeenth century, would both justify the Turkish conquest of Constantinople as an act of revenge against the Greeks for their ancient trickery, and recognize them as the kin of the Romans--i.e., contemporary Italians. Such fragments, of which there are many more, indicate that it is not so easy to do a mono-genealogy of Europe’s self-closure to their most immanent “other.”
Boccaccio, a noted exemplar of the carnivalesque during the Renaissance, recalls a story about a wise Jew who tells a parable to escape a rhetorical trap set by Saladin. The story equivocates Islam, Judaism, and Christianity as the religions are represented as three beloved sons. The numerous courtly romances portraying Saladin as a heroic figure, though most often in a European aristocratic guise, occasionally give a glimpse of him as an authentically non-European figure whom Europeans could admire. Travelers to the Ottoman lands throughout the centuries of contact brought back varying accounts, both positive and negative, which were consumed by the public with much fervor. Many of the accounts either compare the Turks favorably with their European counterparts, or identify certain attributes of the latter with the former. In the eighteenth-century, a tract was even published entitled Mahomet no impostor, or a Defense of Mahomet. Many other such sources and points of rupture exist in texts throughout the European discourses on Islam, even in the century of the most notorious “Orientalization” of the “Orient.”]



Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Writing Against Culture.” Chap in Recapturing Anthropology, ed. Richard Fox, 137-62. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1991.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. Rabelais and his World. Translated by Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984.

Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Translated by Richard Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978.

Knolles, Richard. The Turkish History from the Original of the Nation to the Growth of the Ottoman Empire: with the Lives and Conquests of their Princes and Emperors. Library of Congress; Washington, D.C.: Wing, 1975. Text-fiche.

LaCapra, Dominick. Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.
History and Criticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1985.

Jóse Limón, Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

Mason, Peter. Deconstructing America: Representation of the Other. London: Routledge, 1990.

Morson, Gary Saul. “Bakhtin and the Present Moment.” The American Scholar 60 (Spring 1991): 201-222.

Maxime Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam. Translated by Roger Veinus. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1987.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Sangren, P. Stephen. “Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: ‘Postmodernism’ and the Social Reproduction of Texts.” Current Anthropology 29, no. 3 (June 1988): 405-35.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Turner, Brian S. Orientalism, Postmodernism, & Globalism. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Wikan, Unni. “Beyond the Words: The Power of Resonance.” American Ethnologist 19, no. 3 (August 1992): 460-82.


1 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1979).
2 See Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Volume 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1978), pp. 92-96.
3 Peter Mason, Deconstructing America: Representations of the Other (New York: Routledge, 1990), 44, 57, 73-4, 99.
4 For the implications/explication of this term, see J. Derrida, The Other Heading, trans. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B Naas (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992).
5 Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 3.
6 Lila Abu-Lughod, “Writing Against Culture,” in Recapturing Anthropology, ed. Richard Fox (Sante Fe, NM: School of American Research Press).
7 Rosalind O’Hanlon, “Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and Historiographies of Resistance in Colonial South Asia” Modern Asian Studies 22, no. 1, quoted in Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 14, emphasis mine.
8 ibid.
9 James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 53-54.
10 ibid., 271.
11 ibid., 273.
12 ibid., 10.
13 P. Stephen Sangren, “Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: ‘Postmodernism’ and the Social Reproduction of Texts” Current Anthropology 29, no. 3 (June 1988), 423.
14 Bryan S. Turner, Orientalism, Postmodernism, and Globalism (London: Routledge, 1994), 193.
15 ibid.
16 Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), 26.
17 Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 128.
18 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1972).
19 Derrida 1992, 26.
20 History and Criticism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 137-8.
see below and LaCapra 1985, 152.
Dominick LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 298.
, Gary Saul Morson, “Bakhtin and the Present Moment” The American Scholar 60 (Spring 1991), 206.
. Foucault 1978, 95.
. ibid., 94-95.
LaCapra 1983, 298.
. Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 433-4.
. LaCapra 1983, 152.
. Unni Wikan, “Beyond the Words: the Power of Resonance” American Ethnologist 19, no. 3 (August 1992).
. ibid., 463.
see Jóse Limón, Dancing with the Devil (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), 125. In his discussion of his theoretical approach to writing this ethnography on Mexican-Americans in south Texas, Limón finds the “archaeological” practices of Foucault appropriate to exploring the counter-discourse of this marginalized group. He also uses a Bakhtinian reading to inform his interpretation of the realms of resistance to the encroachment of post-modern hegemonic discourse--the latter notion which he finds wanting in light of the presence of regenerative carnivalesque features in modern Mexican-American discursive practices.
Derrida (1992), 10.
Mason, 2.
. See Simon Critchley, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 30-31.
Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, transl. by Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1987), 85.
ibid., 89.
. ibid., 90.
. ibid.
. ibid., 89.
. Pierre Loti, The Desert, transl. by Jay Paul Minn (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 1993), 88.
. Alexander Pope, engaged in a bitter battle with Lady Montagu in the press, called her “lewd lesbia” and “Sappho” (Anita Desai, in her introduction to Turkish Embassy Letters). Likewise, Jay Paul Minn states of Loti: “His sexual prowess hints strongly at bisexuality, although solid proof of the male side is lacking. However, he did have deep emotional attachments to several men” (from Minn’s introduction to The Desert).
. Maxime Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam, transl. by Roger Veinus. (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1987), 16.
ibid., 22.
, Richard Knolles, The General Historie of the Turkes . . . 3rd ed. (London, 1621).
. The Decameron, The First Day, Third Story.
Rodinson, 16.