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Bibliographic Data: Mitchell, Timothy. Colonising Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Main Argument:
…the colonial process would try and re-order Egypt to appear as a world enframed. Egypt was to be ordered up as something object-like. In other words it was to be made picture-like and legible, rendered available to political and economic calculation. Colonial power required the country to become readable, like a book, in our own sense of the term.

A framework appears to order things, but also to circumscribe and exclude. As we will see later on, like the perimeter walls that seemed to exclude 'the real world' from the world exhibition, a framework sets up the impression of something beyond the picture-world it enframes. It promises a truth that lies outside its world of material representation. To 'determine the plan' is to build-in an effect of order and an effect of truth. (33)
And thus, Orientalism in the classic sense that Said describes is an artifact of modernity, which developed this bifurcated way of seeing the world and turned it onto the rest of the world, thus creating its own imperception.

Historiographical Engagement: Bourdieu, Foucault

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Mitchell discusses disciplinary power and argues that of its two consequences, only the first was theorized by Foucault (namely the construction of individual subjectivity within the frameworks that have created it, thus naturalizing them); the second is that "at the same time as power relations become internal in this way, and by the same methods, they now appear to take the form of external structures" (xiii). The principle at work was the same in all cases:
The methods of order and arrangement created the effect of structure. Like the careful layout of an exhibition, this structure appeared as a framework within which activities could be organized, controlled, and observed; and it also appeared as a plan or program me, supplementing the activity with its meaning. The same technologies of order created both a disciplinary power and a seemingly separate realm of meaning or truth. (xv)

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter uses the representation of Egypt at yet another of those late 19thC World Exhibitions and argues several things about European colonizing power and Orientalism. First, Mitchell points out the tendency of the West in the Realist period (aka the end of the early modern, the 19thC) to view the world as divided into the real and the representation and argues that
We need to understand how the West had come to live as though the world were divided in this way into two: into a realm of mere representations and a realm of 'the real'; into exhibitions and an external reality; into an order of mere models, descriptions or copies, and an order of the original. We need to understand, in other words, how these notions of a realm of 'the real', 'the outside', 'the original', were in this sense effects of the world's seeming division into two. We need to understand, moreover, how this distinction corresponded to another division of the world, into the West and the non-West; and thus how Orientalism was not just a particular instance of the general historical problem of how one culture portrays another, but something essential to the peculiar nature of the modern world. (32)
This tendency explains the perpetual problem of Europeans visiting Egypt and feeling as though they could not get a "vantage point" on Cairo, because "the city refused to offer itself in this way as a representation of something, because it had not been built as one. It had not been arranged, that is, to effect the presence of some separate plan or meaning" (33). Accordingly, "to colonize Egypt, to construct a modern kind of power, it would be necessary to 'determine the plan'. A plan or framework would create the appearance of objectness that Melville found lacking, by seeming to separate an object-world from its observer. This sort of framework is not just a plan that colonialism would bring to Egypt, but an effect it would build in" (ibid).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the introduction of disciplinary mechanisms to Egypt in the second quarter of the 19thC, beginning in 1822 with the so-called "new order," which was the introduction of a new form of military organization via the drafting of Egyptian peasants into the army, which was organized for the first time into the organization of a barracks, which was to be the basis for a new infantry division:
In the barracks, in the training camps and schools, and in battle, this principle of order made it possible to 'fix' men in place, to keep them 'steady in the performance of their duty,' and to coordinate them as the separate parts of a single military machine. In the village and the cotton fields, the application of the same principle 'over the whole surface of society' made it suddenly conceivable to confine the population to their native districts, and (as the government was said to claim) 'to initiate people to an industry far superior to their own.' (40)
The new army made old-style armies, simply by virtue of its orderly appearance, look like a disordered rabble, and the new mechanisms for keeping the Egyptian peasantry in their villages entailed first monitoring and then careful arrangement via order and discipline into the "model village;" "as with the new army, this process of order would appear not as an arbitrary arrangement, but as order itself" (43). By way of comparison with the Kabyle houses analyzed by Bourdieu and with Ibn Khaldun's 'umran, Mitchell points out that this modern kind of order operates on three principles: one, the idea of the framework, which necessarily entails the idea of a difference between thing-ness and idea, between materiality and ideality; two, it works "by determining a fixed distinction between inside and outside" (55); and three, it "provides a place from which the individuals can observe," which is to say that Europeans experienced premodern Cairo as lacking in meaning because it did not offer up anything to their modern subjectivity as observing subjects (59).
Believing in an 'outside world,' beyond the exhibition, beyond all powers of representation, as a realm inert and disenchanted--the great signified, the referent, the empty, changeless Orient--the modern individual is under a new and more subtle enchantment. The inert objectless of this world is an effect of its ordering, of its setting up as though it were an exhibition, a setup which makes there appear to exist apart from such 'external reality' a transcendental entity called culture, a code or text or cognitive map by whose mysterious existence 'the world' is lent its 'significance.' Hence the European visitors to the Middle East, no longer savage but tamed into scholars and soldiers and tourists, take up their deliberate posture towards its towns and its life, and implore the spirits of significance to speak. (62)

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the links between enframing and "a new kind of political discipline among the population" (63), which was essentially to extend the new order of the army and the model village to the city and the civilian. It is no coincidence that the same man laid out modern Cairo and Egypt's modern system of education. The point of modern education was to instill self-discipline in the subject, and thus to naturalize being disciplined itself; the subject, in other words, did the state's work for it, making that work invisible. This was achieved by such techniques as school uniforms and the uniform distribution of desks within the classroom, using these distribution techniques to create and naturalize 'order' as such. There was thus a "connection between the street and the school, between new kinds of spatial framework and the means of coordinating and controlling those who move within them" (93). These means were both physical (working on individual bodies) and metaphysical (creating the need for working on individual bodies by creating an appearance of order and structure as separate and conceptual). Power thus worked both inside and out.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples The colonizing power that emerged in Egypt, as Mitchell has shown, "sought not only to capture the individual body but to colonize it and maintain a continuous presence" (95). This power, moreover, "seems to construct its object as something divided into two separate concerns body and mind," and Mitchell argues that this division "was something new, that it was produced by the new methods of power, and that the essence of these methods was in fact to effect such a separation" (ibid). After 1882, this power came to rural Egypt in the form of "continuous supervision and control, of tickets and registration papers, of policing and inspection" (97), in the name of capitalism and of colonialism and of the cotton gin, world without end, Amen. The essence of this power was to disaggregate people into individuals would bold be policed, supervised and instructed as individuals, as known quantities. Once individuals had been disaggregated (and begun to be instructed about new methods of hygiene, among many other things), it was possible to see them, as a group, as something that existed separately, namely as "society," "a social order now conceived in absolute distinction to the mere individuals and practices composing it" (127). In the colonial age, moreover, "this effect of an abstract social realm is more and more to be built into things," and this realm becomes the realm of meaning, which is to say that the ordered quantities creating it constitute "a machinery of the social order and of truth" becomes the political principal inhabiting colonial urban architecture, methods of instruction, commercial practice, and beyond (ibid).

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples
The sudden breakthroughs in developing the technology of communication during the last third of the nineteenth century, which were to culminate in 1895 in Marconi's successful demonstration of the wireless telegraph, made possible both the continuing penetration of the colonial order and also what might be called its truth. They gave global political power not just its detailed practicality but its facticity. From the tourist spectacles of bombardment and the displays of weaponry to the telegraphed news report and the postcard home, global colonialism came into being not only as a local method of order, seeking to work with individual minds and bodies, but as a process that was continuously reporting, picturing and representing itself. … Within such a world of representations the general public–that curious body–could be formed and entertained, and a modern political certainty produced. (130)
Mitchell exposes this truth--"It is a truth of the age of telegraphs and machine guns, of representations and exhibitions, and is an authority imagined and produced in the image of such mechanisms" (131)--via writing, which after the later C19 in Egypt came to be considered, along with politics, as something essentially mechanical. The metaphor of the political community, derived from Ibn Khaldun, was under severe stress by the 1870s, and it reappeared after 1882 in a new sense: "the body is no longer something composed of social groups forming its various limbs and organs. It exists apart from people themselves, as a sort of machinery" (156). Writing has similarly been refigured as mechanistic, "a mere apparatus or instrument, like the body and hence like the machinery of politics, an apparatus of communication which reacts to or works upon a world external to it," and "just as the body was now thought of as a vehicle through which a mind communicates with the world, so writing was to be thought of from now on as a mere vehicle of communication which make's an author's mind or truth present in the world. Politics, in turn, would be understood as a mysterious machine that makes present the ideal realm of an authority, the state, within the material world of society" (158). The ultimate effect is that political power "operates always so as to appear as something set apart from the real world, effecting a certain, metaphysical authority" (160).

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples The effect of the export of the world of the exhibition to the colonies was to bifurcate both the old and new halves of colonial capitals: one part became an exhibition and the other a museum. The upshot is that
To represent itself as modern, the city is dependent upon maintaining the barrier that keeps the other out. This dependence makes the outside, the Oriental, paradoxically an integral part of the modern city. The order of the city does not stop at the limit of the modern town… The limit is something the city maintains within itself, by means of a continuous ordering that is the source of its own ordered identity. Yet it appears as the boundary of order itself. The city, in this analysis, can be taken to exemplify a paradox at work in the maintenance of any modern political order, any modern self-identity. (165)
This break was echoed in the larger break that was constructed "dividing the modern West, as the place of order, reason, and power, from the outside world it was in the process of colonizing and seeking to control" (ibid). The point is not that before colonialism or modernity there were "atomistic, undivided selves," but that under the absolute barrier these impose between selves and others identities are not perceived as self-divided and contingent, and arranged out of differences, but as "something self-formed, and original" (167). This identity of course depends on the aporia of "the dependence of such identity upon what it excludes," which is an intentional effect (ibid). Again, the point is not that a precolonial city "lacked not an actual framework establishing such divisions as exterior and interior, but rather the mysterious effects of such a framework"--rather than being ordered by a code, the order resided in itself and thus was perceived as disorder to those who had come from the exhibited world (174). And all of the colonial projects were undertaken "as an enframing, and hence had the effect of re-presenting a realm of the conceptual, conjuring up for the first time the prior abstractions of progress, reason, law, discipline, history, colonial authority and order" as the ultimate consequence of the adoption of the Cartesian notion of the mind and thus of a modern method of scholarship, which broke from the premodern scholarship that had previously constructed layered interpretations rather than as ordered by abstractions (consider: when was the corridor invented?) (179).

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book, deservedly a classic.

Further reading: Said, Orientalism; Mitchell, Rule of Experts; Hevia, The Imperial Security State; Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddima; Mario Savio, the machine speech

Meta notes: Remember, listeners, Descartes was wrong, wrong, wrong. Cognition is a side-effect of consciousness, not its main goal--and the liberal subject cannot hold.
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Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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