In the Eye of the Beholder: Ugliness, Beauty and Exoticism in the Orientalist Quest for Otherness
In Chapter 5 Steiner offers the understanding of the 19th-century Orientalism as a European form of the quest for cultural difference and for molding the notion of the otherness. Japanese pictures made an uproar in Europe and inspired Japonisme, as well as an aesthetic revolution of Impressionism and Art Nouveau. Steiner, in this important chapter, suggests that European Orientalism in arts and letters is methodologically fruitful and heuristically interesting to see as a multifaceted expression of globalization. In the guise of Orientalism, it appeared as the beginning of the systemic crisis of the Occidental civilization that grew into the feeling of the limits of its own self-sufficiency (on the cultural, artistic, religious and philosophical, as well as economic levels). The West needed its Other. The early stage of Orientalism was Romantic and Academic: largely it was exotic Oriental motives and subjects depicted with the help of the Western pictorial idioms. In other words, the traditional European formal language had not been basically changed. The next wave – Japonisme of the Impressionism and Art Nouveau – has been much more advanced transcultural phenomenon. It can be called a tectonic shift – when not only motives or subjects, but also formal means of expression were borrowed, mutatis mutandis, from the East. Farther on there came the Primitivism of the Avant-garde and of Surrealism with their interest to and appropriation of African and tribal art. Still later, after the Second World War, the marginalization of the Western artistic discourse was inspired and fed by the language of expression of liminal groups like the “naïve art” or the art of mentally challenged persons. Together, all this can be seen as successive stages in broadening (shattering and at the same time in-feeding) of the European cultural paradigm – which paved the ways to globalization of the Western worldview and cultural practices. Orientalism, in Steiner’s analysis can be viewed as the Ur-phenomenon of globalization, or as the process of making the West less Western.