In the book titled Orientalism published in 1978, Edward W. Said wrote the following passage (page 204):

For any European during the nineteenth century — and I think one can say this almost without qualification — Orientalism was such a system of truths, truths in Nietzsche’s sense of the word. It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.

In this passage Said plays with the idea of "truths in Nietzsche’s sense of the word" which I have read to mean "truth is impossible — there can only be perspective and interpretation, driven by a person’s interests". Given the following sentence reads "It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient" are we to take that as face value since absolute statements of truths are not known?


1 Answer 1


The phrase "truths in Nietzsche’s sense of the word" seems to be an allusion to the following passage from Nietzsche's "Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne / On Truth and Falsity in their Ultramoral Sense" (Maximilian A. Mügge's translation (1911); emphasis added):

What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which became poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonical and binding; truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions; worn-out metaphors which have become powerless to affect the senses; coins which have their obverse effaced and now are no longer of account as coins but merely as metal.

The ideas that many nineteenth-century Europeans had about the Orient weren't necessarily based on facts but ideas such as exoticism, misconceptions about Islam, the harem fantasy, certain ideas about opium. Many people in the West learnt about the "Orient" (a convenient generalisation) through art, travel literature, etc and their ideas were therefore inaccurate, partly because what fascinates artists and travellers is not necessarily representative of the culture they describe. In a sense, they created illusions that appealed to their audiences and that these audiences didn't question. Even if you reject Nietzsche's claim that truth does not exist, many Western ideas about the Orient were indeed illusions.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.