Dravot and Carnahan’s plan to take over Kafiristan came from only what they had heard and read of it. This gave them the idea that somehow they had enough cultural power over this eastern country to take it over. It’s reminiscent of Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” in which he describes how Napoleon Bonaparte and Ferdinand de Lesseps used only their knowledge through textbooks of the traditions of the Orient to gain power over it. He called the “relationship between western writing (and its consequences) and Oriental silence the result of and the sign of the West’s great cultural strength, its will to power over the Orient,” (Said, handout pg. 2). This theory can also be applied to other cultures, events in history and even to the way individuals judge one another. So is Said saying that in writing about the history of another culture in textbooks is actually what creates it or makes it more distinct? If so, is that really the endeavor of the Orientalist? One might argue that theory.
Kipling was British however born in Bombay, India which is now Mumbai. Most of his writings indicate his troubles with trying to struggle to find his identity within the cultures of India. Kipling was also a traveler and his works provide readers with his interpretations and views of the world, including the differences that incorporate the cultures of the west and the east. Kipling once said, “Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” (Crook). Kipling himself might have been what Said considered an Orientalist. When Said describes Orientalism he states:
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism has a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. (Said, handout p.1)
Although considering Kipling a corporate institution or stating that he was trying to have authority over it may seem a little far-fetched, his works are historical and influential and he does try to teach the distinctions that differentiate the west from the east.
In the story of “The Man Who Would Be King,” there are signs of Said’s theory of Orientalism everywhere, visions of the west trying to inhabit the east by using what they have learned about it, but in reality know nothing of it. He gives the audience his interpretation of how the Oriental culture is, showing that authority and power is all that is needed to take one of its countries over and become king. The story is reminiscent of the Bush administrations take over of Iraq, with Cheney playing Dravot and Bush playing Carnahan. Said even uses Kipling in his essay to describe how an organization of power is set up from East to West. Kipling states:
Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier his general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servent of the Empress. (handout p.7)
To Kipling as well as to Said, authority plays a major part in Orientalism. It seems that they both believed that authority over the knowledge of the Orient and how one comes to be able to gain that status should be analyzed. Said states that “everyone who writes about the Orient must locate himself vis-à-vis the Orient,” (handout p.2). When reading Kipling’s work it is clear that this was something that he attempted to do.
For instance in Kipling’s poem “We and They,” he makes a clear distinction of what he believes are the differences between the East and West, allowing his audience to have a pre-conceived notion of what those differences are which to Said is like adding fuel to the fire. Said might say that this type of text is what an Orientalist author might write:
We and They
By Rudyard Kipling
Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it?—They look upon We
As only a sort of They!
We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!
We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!
We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
Said explains how this type of texts can make the differences valid. It also indicates that this will never change, that We and they will never be us. It’s the natural way for humans to try to define one self, the only way to do this is by trying to define the identity of another group of individuals. Since the east and west are already different because of their geographical location, the only way to make identification is through judgement which Kipling does well in this poem. Said explains this basis when he says:
For Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”). This vision in a sense created and then served the two worlds thus conceived. Orientals lived in their world, “we” lived in ours. The vision and material reality propped each other up, kept each other going. (handout p.6)
There are other ways besides literature in which the west has had an influence on it’s interpretations of the east.
The artist Eugene Delacroix’s painting “The Death of Sardanapalus,”
shows a gruesome depiction of the east. In her book “Introducing Cultural Studies,” Elaine Baldwin states that the painting “represents the east as a place of sex death and power,” (170). If we use judgment as a way to identify who we are then the way we analyze other cultures, traditions or even individuals would be important. The way we analyze these subjects is how we make an identification of ourselves. This could even be why Delacroix used Orientalism in his painting. “It is possible, then to argue that Delacroix used Orientalism as a peg on which to hang his personal and Romanitic obsessions and as a means of exploring and expressing his identity as an artist,” (Open Learn).
Orientalism has also been used in a satirical and modern way in which the west interprets the east. The drama-comedy film “Topsy Turvy,” by Mike Leigh, is about the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese musical The Mikado. It is a Japanese musical with Japanese music, and English lyrics and the London theatre actors play all the parts. They actually have Japanese girls come in from Japan to try to teach them how to be Japanese. This is an hysterical illustration of how the west visions the east. It also indicates how Said's "Orientalism" can embedded into any form of literary content.
Although Said only speaks of the west interpreting the east, it seems to be that this form of logic could be used in an opposite way. There have been times that even the east has made assumptions about the west and brought their culture here as a way to incorporate it into western philosophy. There's a Japanese religious group called the Soka Gakkai, which was founded in 1930. It was developed by an educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his partner Josei Toda. They used the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism to help to reform the military education system in Japan into a more humane one. It became popular in Japan and was brought to the U.S. in 1960. Before then, this religion was only in Japan, they now have 12 million members all over the world.
When the teachings were brought here the founders had to present it in a way that the west would understand so they made careful decisions of how they would integrate the religion. They re-wrote some of Nichiren’s teachings in English and they gave pamphlets of their interpretations of his teachings. Their philosophy states “This is the idea that the self-motivated inner change of a single individual positively affects the larger web of life and results in the rejuvenation of human society,” (SGI.org). This is one way of showing how the east also defines the west in order to integrate their beliefs into it.
There are many who disagree with Said’s theory. Some say Orientalism can be described when writing texts about anything. Any text has been written by an author, and is that author’s analysis of how he or she thinks on any particular subject that influences the reader. Some scholars have written essays that defend Orientalism, in his essay “In Defence of Orientalism: Critcal Notes on Edward Said,” Irfan Habib says:
Modern democratic, as against colonial, notions have thus created an increasing belief that oriental societies, like all human societies, are susceptible to the same methods of study—indeed, with the same essential assumptions—as the history of western societies. There has accordingly developed within oriental learning almost parallel, but ultimately conflicting, trends based respectively on colonial and what may be called universalist approaches. The dichotomy can be seen even in individuals. (44-45)
When thinking about Habibs statement, one might consider it to be true. Even Religious texts all are the interpretations of another person, and have also been written over and over by other people many times. When Said himself says “What seems unexceptionable good sense to these writers is that it is a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which human beings live can be understood on the basis of what books – texts – say; to apply what one learns out of a book literally to reality is to risk folly or ruin,” (handout p.3). Does that only apply to the text written about the Orient? Wouldn’t that also apply to every text, even the Bible for instance?
After taking a closer look at “Orientalism,” it seems somewhat illogical. It reads as if he’s trying to blame a complete literary society for the ways the west identifies with the east. Said believes it’s to deepen or harden the distinction of it, but really it’s to make us more tolerant of the differences of all people. Not to judge it as good or bad, but to understand it. That’s something Said might not understand or have even thought about.
Baldwin, Elaine. Introducing Cultural Studies. University of Georgia Press. 2000 p. 170
Crook, Steve. Biography for Rudyard Kipling. 1990-2009.
Delacroix, Eugene. The Death of Sardanapalus. Museè de Louvre. Paris, France.
Habib, Irfan, “In Defence of Orientalism: Critical Notes on Edward Said”. Social Scientist, Vol. 33 No. ½ (Jan.-Feb., 2005), pp. 40-46
Open Learn. Home Page. May 15, 2009
Said, Edward "Orientalism." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan. Oxford, 2004. Handout.
Soka Gakkai International. Home page. May 15, 2009
The Man Who Would be King. Dir. John Huston. Perf. Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Saeed Jaffrey. Allied Artists Pictures, 1975.
Topsy Turvy. Dir.Mike Leigh. Allan Corduner and Dexter Fletcher. Goldwyn Films. 1999