02 May 2004


The presumptive winner of the 2004 Jonathan Korman Award for Title Cleverness is Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma's essay ''Occidentalism.'' (For those who don't get the joke, the title plays off of Edward Said's smart and important book Orientalism, which talked about the Western myth of the East.)

The rest of the essay is as stupefyingly clever as you would hope.

The East does not begin at the river Elbe, as Konrad Adenauer believed, nor does the West start in Prague, as Milan Kundera once suggested. East and West are not necessarily geographical territories. Rather, Occidentalism, which played such a large part in the attacks of September 11, is a cluster of images and ideas of the West in the minds of its haters. Four features of Occidentalism can be seen in most versions of it; we can call them the City, the Bourgeois, Reason, and Feminism. Each contains a set of attributes, such as arrogance, feebleness, greed, depravity, and decadence, which are invoked as typically Western, or even American, characteristics.

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