Disoriented Orients

‘Relations’ as understood by Edouard Glissant, are cultures in contact, whether as a result of beneficial or harmful encounters, exchanges and interpenetrations. One of the consequence of being in ‘relation’ in Glissant’s sense is the fragmentation of the notion of orientalism and the need to go beyond Edward Said’s critique of orientalism as one of the articulations of colonial expansion (E. Said, Orientalism, 1978). The need to observe the complexity resulting from this, beyond the destructive force unleashed by this fragmentation, is one of the most pressing matters of our age. The reflection about what kind of configurations we have to deal with in this process and understanding what is at stake in it are now compulsory points of departure in the analysis of cultural differences, opacities and boundaries. It demands the patient consideration of the multiple manifestations of what Glissant calls the ‘poetics of relation’.
The aim of this project is to explore “multiple Orients” – the multiple relations between West and East that are all-too-often ignored in current approaches to Eastern/Oriental cultures. For example, it focuses on other forms of Orients as apprehended and constructed outside Europe. These are diagonal oriental imaginaries, developed outside the historical relationship of European colonial domination. They are alterities perceived from the perspective of continents beyond Western European cultures. They are individual or collective life stories that go beyond all forms of dualism or essentialism. They are also the maintenance, reinforcing or formation of strong cultural poles in countries or cross-border cultural regions, generally perceived in the West as oriental ones, but which conceive of themselves as laboratories for the reinvention of the relation between East/West and the redesign of alternative, non-Western modernities.
All these different perspectives lead us to apprehend not one single Orient, as the fantasy and mirror image of the West spreading its techno-scientific Empire around the world, but as a plural concept of Orients, conceived of as a plurality precisely because of their des-orientation and because they are so many relations that have to be rethought and analysed. This research project also intends to investigate in detail different modes of relation forgotten in France, in Europe and further afield. For example those between Europe and China, Argentina and Japan, Japan and the Arab world, Australia and Indian cultures, Ancient Greece and Indian Cultures, to name but a selection. The aim is to do this in such a way as to foster new perspectives on relation and to take into account postcolonial approaches, while avoiding their dead ends or their reductive generalizations.
This form of critique has recently led to a whole series of innovative research that attempts to explore and enlarge these oblique perspectives. Some of this research obviously owes its inspiration to Orientalism, Edward Said’s pioneering book. But much of this research highlights the limits of Said’s endeavour which considers only a one-sided invention of the Orient by French and English colonialisms that focuses almost exclusively focuses on Arab and Muslim cultures and countries. In Orientalism, Said does not consider the possibility of a larger notion of the Orient and also ignored the existence of cultural perspectives on multiple Orients in countries outside Europe (primarily in Latin American countries). But Said also reconsidered and corrected his own views, so that the new kind of humanism he shaped at the end of his life is in harmony with this research project.
At the present time Western cultures are almost completely unaware how oriental cultures consider and examine them – as they once did to oriental cultures in the past – and they also lack insight about what kind of outlook oriental cultures have on the non-oriental comprehension of a world designed by global western patterns. These oriental views are currently at most reduced to some stereotypes, so many inverted images coming from far. The project’s new diagonal perspectives offer numerous points of departure for the possibility of a new kind of dialogue between Western and Oriental cultures – between multiple Orients and Western heterogeneity. Reflecting on the transcultural reality of conceptions open to this new form of humanism that we now have to invent, does not send us back to a concept of World Literature conceived of as the global horizon of a world alert to the expanding forward-projection of Western Culture. Rather, we are forced to direct our attention to the current state of a world which is rhizomatic and hybrid. A world which, without orients, would be no more than the global network of a single megalopolis without ‘oriental’ hybridity, the empty and inhuman face of Glissant’s violent ‘all-conquering nomadism [nomadisme en fleche]’, which is concerned only with assimilation.
The project is a collaboration of researchers from several centres which are part of the University of Clermont-Ferrand’s Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH): CELIS, UMR IHRIM, EHIC, PHIER. These centres span several disciplines (Comparative Literature, Latin American Studies, Philosophy and ‘géocritique’, the latter represented by prof. Bertrand Westphal, Univ. of Limoges). The project also provides a common focus to an ever expanding group of scholars working across France, such as Dr. Muriel Détrie of the University of Paris 3, Dr. Sarga Moussa, Senior Researcher at UMR IHRIM, Dr. Emilie Picherot at University of Lille 3, professor Didier Coste and Dr. Eve de Dampierre at the University of Bordeaux 3 and those working beyond France, in Switzerland (Mondher Kilani, professor of anthropology, University of Lausanne, in Germany (Ottmar Ette, professor of Romance Studies at the University of Postdam and Markus Messling, director of the Marc Bloch Institute, Berlin), the UK (Dr. Ian Magedera, of the University of Liverpool), Portugal (Eva Maria von Kemnitz, researcher emerita at the Catholic University of Lisbon and Everton Machado, researcher at the Univ. of Lisbon), USA (Ignacio Lopez-Calvo, professor at UC, Merced), Argentina (Lila Bujaldón de Estéves, professor at the University of Cuyo, Mendoza), Egypt (Randa Sabry, professor at the University of Cairo), Morocco (Fatiha Benlabbah, director of the IEHL at the University of Rabat) and Thailand (Rittipairoj Kanokwan Gerini, professor at Silpakorn University in Bangkok).
Their task is to establish a field of innovative and critical intellectual enquiry focusing on the objectives of the project bringing together researchers around a cluster of interlinked research questions. These questions engage literary scholars, anthropologists and philosophers in dialogue with each other and also with new research fields such as trans-area studies, non-hegemonic anthropology and ‘géocritique’ among others.


The aim of this blog is to stress the research activities and productions developed inside the network of Les Orients désorientés/Disoriented Orients  since 2010 (presentation and summaries of publications already issued or in project). It intends to bring together worldwide spread scholars, to encourage new researchers to take part to the project, to set off their contributions and publications as far as they converge on the concerns of the project. It has to activate interactions inside the research network, to stress affinities existing between similar approaches, to present comments about books and articles, to further discussions concerning the targets of the project by sharing its working hypothesis and giving place to the debates they may produce. It wants to further interactions between the several blogs administrated by partners of the project. Audio and pdf archives of encounters, seminars and conferences will be posted. The blog may accept contributions from inside and outside.

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