Textos e Contextos
do Orientalismo Português

Orientalism as Ethos? Mesa-redonda (resumo em inglês)

The first discussion forum of the TECOP project, which hosted the project’s research team members and consultants, took place in the format of a two-day exploratory workshop on October 9-10, 2017. The workshop was divided into three parts: (1) discussion of the research conducted up to that point and of the findings and preliminary conclusions, which unfolded around the presentation of the macrostructure of the project database/website; (2) discussion of a list of selected readings (texts produced by some of the Portuguese participants in the International Congresses of Orientalists); and (3) a roundtable on the hypothesis of the existence of an orientalist ethos. Parts 1 and 2 of the workshop were closed to the public.


Workshop participants: TECOP research members (Alexandra Nepomuceno, Ana Paula Avelar, Catarina Nunes de Almeida, Catarina Severino, Duarte D. Braga, Everton V. Machado, Marta Pacheco Pinto) and consultants (Filipa Lowndes Vicente, Jean-Pierre Dubost, K. David Jackson, Rosa Maria Perez).







The TECOP Open Talk took place on October 10, 2017. It consisted of a roundtable that was chaired by Ana Paula Avelar (CHAM – Centre for the Humanities of FCSH-UNL-Uaç), and it included contributions from Jean-Pierre Dubost (Université Blaise Pascal), Kenneth David Jackson (University of Yale), Rosa Maria Perez (ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon), and Filipa Lowndes Vicente (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon). In line with the issues discussed throughout the closed workshop, each speaker was invited to make a short presentation on the overarching question of “Orientalism as Ethos? based on their personal research work and on each of their theoretical perspective and epistemological underpinnings. 


Jean-Pierre Dubost capitalized on his work within the Les Orients désorientés project (https://lesordesor.hypotheses.org/) to address the topic from a philosophical standpoint, in particular that of European philosophical history. He examined the interplay of positivism (as ideology), orientalism (as an epistemological paradigm and discursive formation shaped by positivism), nation-building, and national history. Dubost argued that positivism posited West and East as part of a utopian project that developed in three stages: (1) orientalism as objectivism; (2) orientalism as a collective museum (displaying and anatomizing otherness); and (3) orientalism as an ideal based on moral positivism and a rational search for the future of mankind. Sociocracy would accordingly be the final (metaphysical) age of humanity. With reference to the first stage, Dubost cited Foucault’s “philological positivity” (The Order of Things) to refer to the nineteenth-century development of science, which brought about a transformation in human relations to science and contributed to the emergence of orientalism as a discursive formation about the Orient. The 1st International Congress of Orientalists (1873) was far from being free of Eurocentrism, although it showed the pressing need of an ethos for orientalism, given the ambivalence of a humanism exclusively based on a unilateral perspective. At a time when colonialism and the inherent Eurocentric conception of cultural diversity were essentialist, the orientalist schism of 1891 expressed the rise of an antagonism in Europe and was a ‘positivist’ consequence of various divergent scientific, political and social visions rooted in the belief in a new ethos of universality. As made evident in his inaugural address to the 1892 International Congress of Orientalists, which  nevertheless revealed a rather condescending attitude, Max Müller viewed orientalism not as an essentialism but simply as the best way of entering a new world divided into East and West. There was the general conviction that ‘oriental’ cultures would no longer be fetishized and would instead be framed within a positivist world. Dubost contended that Edward Said addresses in his work this need for a new humanism in an enormous collective world. Accordingly, he stressed that it is impossible to have knowledge of all ‘oriental’ cultures, and that terms such as ‘orientals’ and ‘Asians’ ought to be deconstructed (one would need to disorient to get back to the Orient). Focusing on Portuguese Sanskritist Vasconcelos Abreu’s address Exposição Feita Perante os Membros... Convocados para Constituirem uma Associação Promotora dos Estudos Orientaes e Glotticos em Portugal (1874), Dubost concluded that were a ‘Portuguese orientalist ethos’ to exist, it would be more similar to an attitude centred on knowledge-building.

K. David Jackson began his presentation by highlighting the enduring presence of representations of Goa in the Portuguese world, extending from the Indian Ocean to Macau. With a view to arguing for the nineteenth-century Portuguese concern over developing annals and archives of orientalism as part of an hypothetical orientalist ethos, Jackson divided his talk into four parts/case studies: scientific expeditions; journals documenting the history of the East; the importation of Eastern literature into Portuguese; and the contribution of overseas scholars to the creation of those archives. Scientific expeditions as a mode of knowledge that proliferated during the second half of the nineteenth century were built on one’s desire to be useful to the nation and eventually played an important role in mediating nineteenth-century contact between Portugal and the so-called Orient. On this topic, Jackson recalled António Lopes Mendes’ travels in India and Brazil, the latter being preceded, for example, by the account Diário de uma Viagem Filosófica (1783-1792) written by Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira (1756-1815) during a mission to Amazonia. The founding of the Lisbon Geographical Society in 1875 was symptomatic of the institutionalization of scientific expeditions as knowledge, which was significantly disseminated via periodicals. Daxiyangguo was the title of the journal intended to constitute the archive and annals of the history of the East, representing the Portuguese quest for knowledge about Eastern lands and societies and seeking to complete gaps in this history. Revista Lusitana was founded within this framework by Leite de Vasconcelos in 1887; the Oriente Portuguez series was created in 1905 with the same archival purpose in mind. Other influences mediated the contact between Portugal and the Orient, namely the importation of ‘oriental’ literatures via European orientalists. Jackson put forward two examples of such an importation: Machado de Assis with his “Lira chineza” (1870) and António Feijó with Cancioneiro chinez (1890). Both orientalist songbooks illustrate an impressionist reception of Chinese themes, which is indicative of the late nineteenth-century aestheticism that nourished the western production of orientalist themes. Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation of Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat was mentioned as a case of orientalist expressionism. Late nineteenth-century works by overseas scholars also served as an impetus for the Portuguese to produce more. For example, Luís de Menezes Bragança founded in Goa the newspaper O Heraldo in 1900; David Lopes, specifically in his book A Expansão da Língua Portuguesa no Oriente (1936), provides a comparative study of Portuguese and several Oriental languages as languages of contact; Sebastião Dalgado, born in Portuguese India, produced knowledge about India and Goa but writing from Lisbon. All these examples were framed as a response to a wider call of the times to gather national archives.

By explicitly setting out from the questions what do we mean by Portuguese orientalism? What Portuguese orientalists? What ethos?Rosa Maria Perez underlined the importance of defining the geographical and chronological limits of this ‘Portuguese orientalism’ against E. Said’s conceptualization (1978) of the phenomenon, which Perez construes as a failure of the human experience. Perez drew attention to the problem of homogenization that arises when there are interdependent national histories and overlapping areas of experience. In Power, Politics, and Culture: Interviews with Edward W. Said (2001), Said acknowledged that his book Orientalism indeed gave rise to a homogenization problem (p. 220) and that to him, it is impossible to talk about the ‘oriental’ and the ‘occidental’ alone, for both are mutually implicated. By questioning binary divisions, Perez highlighted the contradictions that accompany Said’s theorization of orientalism and added footnotes to it. In support of the view that orientalisms differ in terms of approach, attitude and representations of the Orient, Perez introduced the case of Portuguese orientalism as epitomized by Vasconcelos Abreu as well as of other agents of other orientalisms. For example, when Kaiser Wilhelm II travelled to Constantinople in 1898, he felt profoundly ashamed before Muslims; this portrait contrasts with Said’s pessimistic note. Kipling (see Moore-Gilbert’s Kipling and Orientalism) is another example. Said depicted him as representative of British orientalism; yet, though incorporating the figure of the western globetrotter, Kipling criticized Christianity and was excited by Japan’s otherness, in particular by Buddhism, thus he can be said to transcend imperial discourse. Perez suggested that when we move out of Said’s core discussion, Said’s epistemological patterns do not bear scrutiny. Perez called for the need of analysing and discussing Portuguese orientalism beyond Said.

Filipa Lowndes Vicente drew on her previous work on peripheral orientalism, with particular attention to Italian orientalism, which was contrasted with the Portuguese case study. Vicente emphasized that national orientalisms change over time; in Italy’s case, there was no colonial project behind the emergence of its orientalism. When the colonial project started, the discourse changed. This change is visible in the two International Congresses of Orientalists organized by Italy, the first in Florence (1878) and the second in Rome (1899). With regard to Portuguese scholarship, Vicente made the case for the coexistence of several orientalisms, some more visibly linked to colonial policy than others. For example, as far as colonial photography is concerned, it can be viewed as a tool in service of the colonial state, but is it useful to think of its history only through a colonial lens? Likewise, do gender and ethnicity matter in the sense of who is speaking and writing? In the nineteenth century, they certainly did. There were hierarchies of knowledge (i.e. the pervading idea that some knowledges were superior to others) not only between Europe and Asia, but also among European scholars and particularly within orientalist scholarship. Knowledge produced by women and non-Europeans was considered amateurish and thus was less legitimized than the knowledge produced by European men. Vicente then narrowed down her discussion to Indians who were producing written work, but were not read or listened to. On the one hand, visiting India (the ‘oriental’ place) was a way of legitimizing knowledge and social status in the nineteenth century; on the other, colonial authority coexisted with the intellectual authority of ‘oriental’ orientalists. Gerson da Cunha was showcased as a voice in point. Why was Gerson da Cunha not read in Portugal, but in Italy instead, as his participation in the Florence orientalist congress indicates? The Portuguese presence in India was longer than other colonial presences, yet Portugal has been kept apart from the European canon or genealogy of Oriental studies. The use of the knowledge of ‘oriental’ otherness for religious conversion instead of philological, historical or scientific purposes was pinpointed as one of the reasons for the lack of visibility of the Portuguese presence in the Orient. The insufficient printing of historical sources by Portuguese voices as well as the language itself of written communication (of limited diffusion) were also put forward as justification for Portugal’s marginality. In the case of Gerson da Cunha, he wrote and disseminated his work in English and in British India, which partially explains why he was not read by his peers in Portugal, hence remaining a peripheral figure in Portuguese historiography of the East.

On the whole, the presenters in this roundtable highlighted the need to posit national orientalisms in relational and relative terms, in addition to the necessity of taking into account orientalist agents’ positionality and the institutional promoters of the study of the East. They all agreed on the fact that Portugal has been rendered invisible in (European) colonial and post-colonial theory, in which the discussion of orientalism is enmeshed. It remained open to debate whether instead of an ‘ethos’ one should be actually referring to an orientalist ‘ethics’

última atualização em janeiro de 2020