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« DesOrient »?

DesOrient is a website created by students at the INALCO (Oriental Language Institute in Paris), a site where questions are asked about the « the Orient », a realm as real as it is fantasized and inherited. This line of questioning fits right in with the spirit of our times. Starting this website means standing up against dangerous, and recently common, stereotypes, against rampant xenophobia and Islamophobia. What we really want is to present rarely evoked facets of the Orient, to show that the Orient is not some homogeneous block, that it cannot be essentialized. There are many Orients, and highlighting this sometimes astonishing diversity means being ready to abandon conventional wisdom.

 Outside academic discourse, the Western relationship to the Arab world is subject to ignorance, spontaneous attitudes of domination, misunderstanding and misconception. Alone, the Social Sciences are unable to thoroughly renew this relationship, as they prefer, legitimately, analysis and erudition. And yet, few quintessentially Arab issues reach us, and when they do, they are usually discussed from a scholarly point of view, not in terms of their current, and actual, value. This distorts any attempt at immediacy. An expert arrives, unravels the semantic layers of notions he was called upon to define, then blames the rest of society for not thinking within the framework of this erudite understanding, lost over time or in contemporary gloss. This attitude is sterile. A notion is only veritably at work in society through its most current value, and to believe that unraveling semantic layers answers essential questions, or offers a meaningful “interpretive lens”, is to cloud the matter at hand. Knowing the current value of notions and ideas genuinely at work in Arab societies is indeed the new frontier in Arab studies.

In this regard, there are three attitudes that seem prejudicial in our relationship with the Arab and Muslim Orient, in that they obstruct intellectual identification with Arabs.

1) the exclusively scholarly attitude we have just described.

2) an attitude that “essentializes” Arabs, that is, one that explains Arabs, by reducing to them to a list of essential traits, again suggesting that they are part of a radically different and incomprehensible world.

3) the attitude, common in cultural reviews and journals, that consists in using “comparative articles” wherein an analogy, often gross, is made between an aspect of Arabic culture and Occidental culture, as if Arabs were so essentially different that it was necessary to find some sort of « cultural junction » in order to understand them.

DesOrient : an approach

The editorial policy of DesOrient tends to favour a cultural and transversal approach, using a variety of styles and forms, mediums and disciplines, human and intellectual experiences.

What we can do, as Arabic language students, is give access to raw information and quintessentially Arab issues, appreciate Orientalist heritage and give an account of work done in the Social Sciences on the past, present and contemporary Orient.

Approaching quintessentially Arab issues means attempting to show that intellectual identification is possible. Hence the need to avoid certain “comparative articles”, which contribute to the posture that considers Arabs to be ontologically different, and thereby incomprehensible without an intermediary. Giving access to raw information means listening to Arabs and renewing the language used to interact with the Orient, herewith doing away with a posture of spontaneous domination. We must never apply the Social sciences to themes that Arabs refuse to tackle, under the pretext of doing it for them. What justifies this approach is that there is a lot to know, and many spontaneous attitudes to break and transform. Hence the need to take on Orientalist heritage, that hazy cloud formulated by academics, artists and administrators, offering a great number of Oriental representations, many of which are still alive today. It is primordial for us, as students of Arabic, to see into and distill this cloud of representations, approaches and experiences.

But this project is not so much about “disorientalizing” the Orient, as it is about “disorientalizing” how we see the Orient. Our principal goal is to update systematic representations, but not by sorting through them and keeping what is acceptable inside Orientalism. But rather by superimposing on Orientalist representations a new bank of experiences, rich enough to forge a new relationship with the Orient.

The editorial staff

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Write for us : 

DesOrient actively solicits contributions from students of all disciplines, whether they write in Arabic, English or French.  If there is a topic you are interested in writing on, you can contact us with your proposals at the following address : desorient11[at]gmail.com 

Lire l’édito en Français. 

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