The idea of doing a conference on Orientalism wasn't really appealing. The hoopla over HR3077 last year - especially on our campus - was too much even for me [HR 509, this year]. However, we did have some methodological questions. Literary critics have had their day in the sun with the text, and more power to them since Said was one of theirs. We weren't interested in the politics of all that either. Orientalism and its author are both flawed. Just like all of us. Our sense was that the time had come to give some due consideration to the Orientalist scholarship; to blur away that sharp colonizer/native dichotomy; to attempt to ask some new questions about the archive. But above all, the central question we had was, "Given Orientalism and its critiques, how does one actually study the 'other' now?". We wanted to invite scholars whose work had charted new grounds in this regard and have their input for the presenters who were writing up and whose work we were familiar with.
Tom Trautmann, author of Aryans and British India, gave a wonderful keynote address to start us off. Tavakoli-Targhi, author of Refashioing Iran, was a delight himself and gave insanely great and free advice to me about my project. Sheldon Pollock, teacher of most of us and author of much and Farina Mir rounded up the discussants.
The whole conference was everything we had hoped for. Besides Rajeev's barn-busting paper, no one explicitly addressed the political realm. But we all talked in various ways of how to re-approach the "Orientalist" archive; how to historicize that production and consumption of knowledge and how to make our own interventions clear. I would have probably liked to have more explicitly historical papers involved but, I always want more history. It's like a bad craving.
Anyways, I have been working, along with some fine people on planning and executing this conference for the last 6 months. That no shots were fired and all conference goers left alive is one of the many markers of this successful uchicago event.
no excuse I've always been a bit of a Said Whore, but Dirks's critique of Orientalism is very good. Manages to wear the "Indianist/historian's criticisms" hat without getting arrogant and with an eye to making Said "work better" on the ground. His apparent aims ...