At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow your trumpets, angels

John Donne

It has been centuries now, since human had acknowledged earth as previously flat disc but now as an endless sphere; where our cultural and social illusions are expounded by east and west frontiers but the tales from north and south has defined our navigational quest. In such a paradoxical sphere, the world has been convincingly defined these days just as east and west.

In a pivotal moment in history, it is now more necessary than before to objectively substantiate the east-west cultural divide to prevent it otherwise being called an irrational argument. The american endeavor in the 15th century constituted by Europeans, Africans and the local Indians; the mixed culture in Caribbean, the diverse political congruence in Alexandria, Egypt; all are different facets of the world diversity. But the elusive question is; can the east-west divide be objectively substantiated?

The World beyond West and East

It is unapologetically deluding to address the global diversity or more precisely the cultural dominion as merely east or west, superior or inferior, black or white. These dichotomous entities are always evolutionary and subjective to time and space. Trade and travel had been a quotidian phenomenon since centuries in defining our cultural dominion. Looking back to the history, the evolution of such dominions has to be meticulously sandwiched between ancient civilisations (Indus, Egypt, Mesopotamian, Jiah, Incan, Aztec, Roman and Greek) and the 21st century global village that existed in different délais. There had been an oriental influence in culture, society and trade when silk route became an unavoidable path to progress.  Renaissance and industrialisation had shifted that dominance to European aristocracy. Soon, a new aged digitalisation and technology had shifted the ascendency to America. Eventually, the need of manpower and workforce has initiated the hegemony shift to the Orientals; living as the West (the Eastern Diaspora). Cultural dominion is thus the Vasco de Gama of evolution, sailing round the world geographically, racially and culturally; from the eastern most part of Japan to the land of America, that nomadic globetrotter who is arrogantly alone yet needs the entire world to help him stand high. As a matter of factmore history has to be scrutinized and relearned to define such interlaced complex human dominance.

 

Geographic Dispersion of Civilisations

Look at those human civilisations; generously impartial in geographic distribution. It is quite unforgiving when the not so young world is defined as east and west by ambiguous, subjective and irrational lines.

Migration and Interaction

A retrospective analysis into the Indian subcontinent substantially proves the argument of east-west migration, not just in trade but in habitat and survival. The reign of Euthydemus (3rd century) a Greek king in the northern part of the India and his successors being labelled as Indo-Greeks, enunciates the aspects of migration. The period of crusades is apparently yet another era which showcases the fluidity and ambiguity of such demarcations between East and West. The present existential similarities between many languages (east and west) are one of the diverse evidences for such solid interactions of societies beyond the geographical span and cultural oddity.

Sanskrit Greek Latin English
Pitar Pater Pater Father
Matar Mater Mater Mother
Duva Duo Duo Two

Because of their constant interactions and exchange, the languages can always be interlinked in nature and structure like the branches of a tree . Our assumptions about these diverse languages are even more camouflaged by the clandestine cultural roots than these obvious linguistic diversities.

 

World Language Tree from The Guardian

The reminiscence of Eastern, specifically the Arabian culture in Europe (say Spain and Portugal) is an affirmation to the aforementioned ambiguous, subjective and irrational lines. The video Arabic Influence on Spanish & Portuguese by Langfocus in YouTube promulgates the interlinkage of different languages which are geographically dispersed but are socially and culturally merged.

Oriental Comparison

Levi Strauss’ study on Totemism was a ground breaking revelation to the researchers and scholars. When his predecessors pondered on the idea of “what is totemism?”; a question that is more or less analysed comparatively those days.  Levi Strauss but plunged into the hows and whys of the totemic phenomena and the culture, restraining himself from any kind of judgement or comparison to the normalized civic senses.

Levi Strauss being an exception to this, the concept of Orientalism has become a mere projection of western thoughts about the eastern culture to the western world rather than a western attempt to understand the eastern culture. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to demarcate eastern and western culture and society since both has contributed to each other’s prosperity.  A sense of comparative study with default western norms is prevalent now in all the oriental studies. Clifford Gleetz’s “Thick Description: Toward An Interpretive Theory of Culture” explains the concept of culture and its existence. Culture is defined as “historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, culture is a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form. The effort in understanding such cultures should be of more importance than defining and comparing these cultural anomalies to undefined and ambiguous norms.

Conclusively, East and West are intertwined by origin and they complement each other. East-West migration has never been unidirectional rather multi-directional, evidently marked by our history. Therefore, more thought and scrutiny should be given to the cultural differences of East and West because they are too complicatedly intertwined to exist distinctively.

Let us therefore sustain in this endless paradoxical sphere as long as the blood bleeds red; as Rudyard Kipling says in Ballad of East and West,

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Orientalism by Edward W Said

Orientalism by Edward W Said is a reflection of the author to the contemporary oriental studies. The concept Orientalism these days has become more occidental in nature. The author takes us through a journey of the evolution of orientalism and its studies. An orientalist should never simplify the ideology to the readers. Rather, the audience too should equally be perplexed and confused of the simplicities and the complexities of the subject. At the end, you might be contrarily opiniated to the author, a feeling of total ignorance can possibly be guaranteed which is indeed a good way to start digging Orientalism anyhow, and that sure did for me.  

I would highly recommend you to read Orientalism by Edward W Said if the above musings sought your attention.

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