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