John Cope wrote:
I appreciate the time you've given to this, Gregory, and would like to hear more of your thoughts on the film. Having said that, it's very difficult for me to agree with you here. For one thing, I certainly don't think this essay is simplistic in the least. I'm not as familiar with Huntington and Lewis's theories on culture and ideology as I'd like to be (though you've motivated me to seek them out) but if they espouse anything nearly as rich as what this piece presumes to be Oliveira's intentions then I'm apt to find them other than simplistic as well.
The main idea I took from the film on my first viewing was the idea of the-field-of-history-as-pleasure-cruise. The history professor is from Portugal but had never before immersed herself in the sites on the Mediterranean that she researches and teaches about. As a result of this, I think, we see her operating in a very ivory tower mode, answering her daughter's fresh, precocious questions with a detached sense of one distant from the immediate relevance of what she is discussing. In the end, her failure to make connections between the history relevant to the Middle East and anything going on in the present left her totally vulnerable to what befalls her and her daughter at the end. The essay has refined this reading in some ways that I'll have to think about further before articulating them. Again, I only thought it was simplistic only in the general respects I identified, which in fact replicated in some ways the attitudes and assumptions the teacher expressed in the film, showing her lack of worldliness.
I think the most crucial source that informs this part of the discussion of the film, and the essay we've been discussing, is Edward Said. His books Orientalism
and Culture and Imperialism
have of course been widely influential (the latter is less specific to the Middle East than the former but is in several ways superior). More specific to Samuel Huntington was an essay Said published in the Nation on Oct 22, 2001 under the title "The Clash of Ignorance." It also appeared in his last collection of essays, From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map
, under the title "Adrift in Similarity." I'd recommend reading that essay rather than Huntington's Clash of Civilizations
itself, which was a maddeningly simple and basic idea padded out to fill an article, and then extended further into a book. As for Lewis, he has remained the quintessential orientalist, and while many take him to be an expert on the Middle East, I think his notions reveal themselves to be stereotypes and caricatures of the Middle East more than anything else. A recent example of this is his book What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
Perhaps all theoretical positions are to some extent reductionist, in some construal of the term, but I think some are far more so than others.