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New Orientalisms for old. Articulations of the East in Raymond Schwab, Edward Said and two nineteenth-century French orientalists

Geoffrey Nash

My main aim in this essay is to provide a reading of Orientalism that assesses its treatment of two French orientalists who are integral to Said’s argument. I begin by presenting a comparative analysis of Said’s Orientalism and Raymond Schwab’s Oriental Renaissance with the aim of discussing how Said uses Schwab as a point of departure from which to raise his own theses about Orientalism. Schwab’s incorporation of a specific image of Arthur Gobineau’s ideas on Germano-Aryanism as a distortion of the Oriental Renaissance is read in conjunction with Said’s placement of him, alongside Ernest Renan, as a racist upholder of “scientific” Orientalism. For Said, Renan is guilty of appropriating the new philology in order to assert European superiority over the East in the process vaunting Indo-European Aryanism against oriental Semitism. Gobineau is invoked almost exclusively in the context of his multi-volume Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (Essai sur l’inegalite des races humaine) and its contribution to racism, which, for Said, qualifies him as a founder figure in the establishment of “latent”, or unchanging, bedrock Orientalism. However, while this work does indeed present a schema in which the rise and fall of civilisation is stimulated by the Aryan genius, Gobineau’s eastern writings do very much otherwise than confirm modern European superiority over the Orient. It is my contention that, in linking Gobineau with what he also termed “scholarly” Orientalism, Said crucially mistook the orientation of Gobineau’s relations with the East.1

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