Where is the East by Amrita Ghosh

What do we do when we talk about, or think of, the West? Consciously or unconsciously, we envisage the West in terms of its binary opposite: the east. But what is the east; and where exactly is the east located?

The term ‘east’ has always been in vogue in the eurocentric visions, usually conjuring ideas of mysticism and certain cultural and ideological differences between the east and the West. Lately it has also been loosely synonymous with a new age interest and invention of ‘eastern yoga’ and discovering the spiritual self through what is constructed as the east. But locating the spatial denomination of the term raises some curious problems. Which part of the world shall we unanimously agree is the east? East of what? The word ‘east’ undoubtedly invokes a certain spatial imaginary, a topographical production which is both a real and imagined concept, but it also ushers in crucial questions about its frame of reference – is it the Far east, Middle east or the Near east that is being conjured in the term; or is it a strange amalgamation of all three that curiously becomes the ‘east?’ thus, what has become of this term is a problematic monolith in the western eye.

Furthermore, the question of spatiality also needs to be merged with ‘what’ the idea or construction of east means historically and in contemporary culture. Certainly, the discursive multiplicity of the term has changed or been reshaped over a vast span of time and space. Benjamin Disraeli’s famous uttering, ‘the east is a career’, that Edward Said famously used as an epigraph in his seminal work, Orientalism, perhaps still becomes the best possible answer to analyse the practices of the term. More specifically, there is a growing trend that frames the east as a way of consumable exotic, selling bollywoodian sensibility in the global market. In what we understand as the post 9/11 world, the word invokes a vision of radical alterity of the Middle east, as the threatening other against Western modernity, which itself is extremely problematic as it diffuses various historicities and specificities over a vast space.

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