Orientalism at the Mirror

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The Ambiguities of the European

With this research Andrea Mura inquires into the tension between citizenship and orientalism from a psychoanalytical perspective. The project explores how forms of representation, self-representation and mutual mirroring between Europe and the Middle East (here epitomising the imaginary figure of the oriental other) have contributed to a discursive articulation of the concept of citizenship, and assesses the psychoanalytical significance of this encounter.

Among the questions which will be addressed:

Is psychoanalysis able to detect potential twists in the way the tension between citizenship and orientalism has been addressed and organised in specific historical and social contexts? What are the political implications of such twists in the construction of the oriental other/outside? What are the counter-effects that are produced in the constitution of European subjectivities and/or in the architectural archetypes of the European city?

The title of this project assumes the Lacanian metaphor of the mirror as the point of departure in order to reveal some of the salient traits of this tension. It is well known that from a psychoanalytical perspective the mirror unveils the constitutive paradox and fundamental ‘ambivalence’ of identity, whereby alterity stands as the condition of possibility and impossibility, self-recognition and misrecognition of the subject. In this regard, the mirror not only evidences the position of the oriental other qua phantasmatic entity haunting the ontological constitution of the European citizen, but also highlights the irreducible ambiguity of the European Self, which finds in that other its very condition of possibility and re-cognition.

With this metaphor in mind, the project examines the unstable points of reference of the orientalist projection: the other and the self. Besides disclosing the ambiguity of the Other, ‘uncovering’ creative and multiform ideas of Islamic citizenship and space that destabilize orientalist monolithic representations of Islamism, focus is put on a sort of ‘return to the Self’ that the orientalist gaze enacts. This entails exposing the ambiguities of the European self, ‘undoing’ the universal and unitary status ascribed to western narratives of citizenship. Here, the project considers the internal tensions lying behind the image of the European (self, citizen, ‘other’, etc.) in different historical contexts, highlighting the symbolic instability of Europe’s self-representation. In doing so, specific ‘devices’ will be examined that have been used in Europe to organise political subjectivities among populations and regulate their internal discipline – i.e., Asiatic despotism and the contemporary model of debt.


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Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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