Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
There are no two words in contemporary discourse more current, or more elastic and therefore potentially more misunderstood, than “difference” and “otherness.” Both terms are constantly present in discussions of intercultural communication and therefore of the practice of orientalism, which is our theme. This chapter will interrogate this discourse in light of contemporary debates about communication between cultures and the linguistic thought of the German Enlightenment, especially the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt, and the reprise of some key Humboldtian themes in the most recent work of Jürgen Habermas on intercultural dialogue.
Von Humboldt and a New Paradigm for Orientalism
In her seminal book Der andere Orientalismus (2005), Andrea Polaschegg shows that our constant concern to deconstruct false ideas of the other can make sameness and difference the controlling and even exclusive categories of intercultural study, so preventing us from understanding what might be really other no less than what is really part of ourselves. In other words, a concern to overcome one kind of use of orientalism—the Eurocentric construction of an artificial oriental other—can sometimes license a different kind of instrumentalism in oriental studies. Our concern to deconstruct a false other might prevent us from communicating with real others: those actual other people with whom we must speak if any true intercultural dialogue is to begin.
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