Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of Former Yugoslavia

Milica Bakic-Hayden.

The reputation, name, and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing, what it counts for--originally almost always wrong and arbitrary,--all this grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be a part of the thing and turns into its very body. What at first was appearance becomes in the end, almost invariably, the essence and is effective as such.

Friedreich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, II.58

This paper introduces the notion of "nesting orientalisms," to investigate some of the complexity of the east/west dichotomy which has underlain scholarship on "Orientalism" since the publication of Said's classic polemic, 1 a discourse in which "East," like "West" is much more of a project than a place. 2 While geographical boundaries of the "Orient" shifted throughout history, the concept of "Orient" as "other" has remained more or less unchanged. Moreover, cultures and ideologies tacitly presuppose the valorized dichotomy between east and west, and have incorporated various "essences" into the patterns of representation used to describe them. Implied by this essentialism is that humans and their social or cultural institutions are "governed by determinate natures that inhere in them in the same way that they are supposed to inhere in the entities of the natural world." 3 Thus, Eastern Europe has been commonly associated with "backwardness," the Balkans with "violence," India with "idealism" or "mysticism," while the west has identified itself consistently with the "civilized world." But, "backwardness," as Larry Wolff shows, has not just been a benign metaphor confined to the first travel diaries of the westerners into the area that the Enlightenment mapped as eastern Europe; it has also been a constitutive metaphor in the social-scientific language of influential philosophers and writers of the time, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. 4

Looking both ways: The ethnographer in the text

Michael Herzfeld.

Of manners and attitudes

Every ethnographer is in some sense marginal to the society being studied. That marginality is not a static condition, however, but entails a constant (if inconsistent) shifting to and fro across social boundaries that are themselves highly volatile. The condition of marginality allows informants, who are just as interested in the curious human intruder as the latter is in them, to include or exclude the ethnographer more or less at will. The ethnographer’s own dexterity thus consists of anticipating such shifts, but this is not always easy or even possible; if the ethnographer proves slow to learn the significance of certain reactions, disaster that a wiser or more experienced observer could perhaps have predicted may strike in a seemingly unpredictable way. The ethnographer’s marginality is not simply a passive structural anomaly or a safe perch on the cultural fence; most of the time, the ethnographer is either an insider or an outsider. But — and this is the real crux of the matter — no ethnographer can ever claim to have been one or the other in an absolute sense. The very fact of negotiating one’s status in the community precludes any such possibility. Anthropologists have to learn to adapt to events in which they themselves are significant actors. This creates a sense of imperfect closure every bit as disconcerting for us as taxonomic anomalies in a symbolic system.