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The World as Exhibition

  • Timothy Mitchell (a1)

The Egyptian delegation to the Eighth International Congress of Orientalists, held in Stockholm during the summer of 1889, traveled to Sweden via Paris and paused there to visit the World Exhibition. The four Egyptians spent several days in the French capital, climbing twice the height (they were told) of the Great Pyramid in Alexandre Eiffel's new tower, and exploring the city and exhibition laid out beneath. Only one thing disturbed them. The Egyptian exhibit had been built by the French to represent a street of medieval Cairo, made of houses with overhanging upper stories and a mosque like that of Qaitbay. “It was intended,” one of the Egyptians wrote, “to resemble the old aspect of Cairo.” So carefully was this done, he noted, that “even the naivt nn the bildings was made dirty.”

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Parts of this essay are drawn from chapter of a book entitled Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). I am indebted to Stefania Pandolfo and Lila Abu-Lughod for their comments.

1 Fikri, Muhammad Amin, Irshad al-alibba' ila mahasin Urubba. (Cairo: al-Muqtataf, 1892),128.

2 Fikri, , Irshad al-alibba', 128–29, 136.

3 Crust, R. N., “The International Congresses of Orientalists,” Hellas 6 (1897): 359.

4 Ibid., 351.

5 Ibid., 359.

6 al-Tahtawi, Rifa a, al-A'mal al-Kamila. 4 Vols. (Beirut: al-Mu'assasa al-Arabiyya li-1Dirasat wa-l-Nashr, 1973) II, 76.

7 Mubarak, Ali, Alam al-din (Alexandria, 1882), 816. The “curiosity” of the European is something of a theme for Orientalist writers. Bernard Lewis, for example, contrasts it with the “general lack of curiosity” of non-Europeans. Such curiosity is assumed to be simply the natural, unfettered relation of a person to the world, emerging in Europe once the “loosening of theological bonds” had brought about “the freeing of human minds.” The Muslim Discovery of Europe (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1982), 299. See Mitchell, , Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 45, for a critique of this sort of argument and its own “theological” assumptions.

8 Tahtawi, , al-A'mal al-Kamila, II, 177, 119–20; Alain Silvers, “The First Egyptian Student Mission to France Under Muhammad Ali” in Modern Egypt: Studies in Politics and Society, Kedourie, Elie and Hair, Sylvia G., eds. (London: Frank Cass, 1980), 13.

9 Douin, Georges, Histoire du règne du Khédive Ismaïl, 2 vols. (Rome: Royal Egyptian Geographical Society, 1934), II, 45.

10 Tahtawi, , al-A'mal al-Kamila, II, 121.

12 Cited in Said, Edward W., Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 165.

13 “Les origins et le plan de l'exposition,” L'Exposition de Paris de 1889, 3 (15 December 1889), 18.

14 On Egyptian writing about Europe in the nineteenth century, see Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim, Arab Rediscovery of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963);Louca, Anouar, Voyageurs et écrivains égyptiens en France au XIXe siècle (Paris: Didier, 1970), and Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, 713, 180 n. 14.

15 Adorno, Theodor, Minima Moralla: Reflections From a Damaged Life (London: Verso, 1978), 116; on the theater, see, for example, al-Muwaylihi, Muhammad, Hadith Isa ibn Hisham, aw fatra min al-zaman, 2nd ed. (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Azhariyya, 1911), 434, and Tahtawi, , alA'mal al-Kamila, 11:11920; on the public garden and the zoo, Muhammad al-Sanusi al-Tunisi, al-Istitla'at al-barisiya fi marad sanat 1889 (Tunis: n.p., 1891), 37.

16 The “organization of the view” is described in Mubarak, Alam al-din, 817, the model farm outside Pans, Ibid., 1008–42; the visual effect of the street, Ibid., 448, 964, and Ilyas, Idwar, Mashahid Uruba wa-Amirka (Cairo: al-Mugtataf, 1900), 268; the new funicular at Lucerne and the European passion for panoramas in Fikri, Irshad, 98.

17 Heidegger, Martin, “The Age of the World Picture,” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1977).

18 International Congress of Orientalists, Transactions of the Ninth Congress, 1892, 2 vols. (London: International Congress of Orientalists, 1893), I, 35.

19 Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture,” 127.

20 Lamarre, Clovis and Fliniaux, Charles, L'Egypte, la Tunisie, le Maroc et l'exposinon de 1878 (Paris: Ch. Delagrave, 1878), 123;al-Sanusi, , al-Istitla'at, 242.

21 Edmond About, Le fellah: souvenirs d'Egypte (Paris: Hachette, 1869), 4748.

22 Denida, Jacques, Speech and Phenomena, and other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 104. Derrida once remarked that all of his subsequent writings “are only a commentary on the sentence about a labyrinth” (“Implications: Interview with Henri Rouse,” Positions [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981], 5). This essay, too, should be read as a short additional comment on that sentence.

23 Benjamin, Walter, “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; 1978), 146–47.

24 Mubarak, , Alam al-din, 818;Ilyas, , Mashahid Uruba wa-Amirka, 268.

25 Mubarak, , Alam al-din, pp. 829–30.

26 Tahtawi, , al-Anal al-kamila, II, 55–6; for another example see Mubarak, Alam al-din, 817.

27 See Mitchell, Colonising Egypt. I have examined in detail, in the case of Egypt, how the modern means of colonizing a country—new military methods, the reordering of agricultural production, systems of organized schooling, the rebuilding of cities, the transformation of writing, new forms of communication, and so on—all rested upon the techniques of order and truth that I am calling the world-as-exhibition. My purpose here is to look more closely at what it means for the world to be an exhibition, by considering what happened to the individual nineteenth-century European who traveled to the Middle East.

28 Flaubert, Gustave, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour, Steegmuller, Francis, trans. (London: Michael Haag, 1983), 79.

29 Mubarak, , Alam al-din, 308.

30 Flaubert, , Flaubert in Egypt, 23.

31 Eliot Warburton, author of The Crescent and the Cross: or Romance and Realities of Eastern Travel (1845), describing Alexander Kinglake's Eōthen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East (London, 1844; reprint: J. M. Dent, 1908); cited in The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), s.v. “Kinglake.”

32 Lane, Edward, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London: Charles Knight, 1835; reprint, London: J. M. Dent, 1908), pp. vii, xvii.

33 Lane-Poole, Staley, “Memoir,” in Edward Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, 8 vols. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1863–1893; reprint, Beirut: Libraire du Liban, 1980), V, xii.

34 Ahmed, Leila, Edward W. Lane: A Study of His Life and Work (London: Longman, 1978);Wortham, John D., The Genesis of British Egyptology, 1549–1906 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 65.

35 Ahmed, Cited, Edward Lane, 26.

36 Muwailihi, , lsa ibn Hisham, 405–17;Bentham, Jeremy, The Complete Works, Bowring, John, ed., 11 vols. (Edinburgh: Tait, 1838–43), IV, 6566.

37 Alloula, Cf. Malek, The Colonial Harem (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). On the panopticon, see Bentham, , Complete Works, IV; and Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 195238.

38 Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Lower and Upper Egypt (London: John Murray, 1888), 12. A “wide-awake” is a low-crowned felt hat.

39 Carré, J. M., Voyageurs et écrivains fran¸ais en Egypte, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Institut Fran¸ais d' Archéologie Orientale, 1956), 2, 191; Said, Orientalism, 160–61, 168, 239. The analysis that follows is much indebted to Said's work.

40 Lane, Cited, Arabic-English Lexicon, 5, vii.

41 Nerval, Gérard de, Oeuvres, Béguin, Albert and Richer, Jean, eds., 2 vols. Vol l: Voyage en Orient (1851), Jeanneret, Michel, ed; (Paris: Gallimard 1952), 172–74.

42 Said, , Orientalism, 160–64.

43 Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 2, 96. On “visualism” in anthropology, see Fabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 105141, and Clifford, James, “Partial Truths,” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Clifford, James and Marcus, George E., eds.; (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 1112.

44 Warburton, Oxford Companion to English Literature, s.v. “Kinglake.”

45 Nerval, Gérard de, Oeuvres, I, 878–79, 882, 883.

46 Busch, Hans, ed. and trans., Verdi's Aïda: The History of an Opera in Letters and Documents (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1978), 3336.

47 Nerval, Gérard de, Oeuvres, I, 878–9, 882, 883.

48 Kinglake, , Eōthen, 280;Gautier, Théophile, “L'Orient,” Oeuvres complétes, (Paris: Char-pentier, 18801903), XX; Pt. 2, 187; Flaubert, , Flaubert in Egypt, 81.

49 Gautier, , L'Orient, Pt. 2, 91122.

50 Nerval, Gérard de, Oeuvres, 1, 862, 867.

51 Said, , Orientalism, 176–77.

52 Graves, Robert, Goodbye to All That (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960), 265.

53 Derrida, Cf. Jacques, “The Double Session,” Dissemination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 191–92, and the references in n.22.

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