Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 2 - Orientalism
Log 2 - Orientalism

The East is a Career: Orientalism entertaining Mr. Malone
Gwynneth Porter


"Life is strange indeed and wonderful! Every morning, during those uncertain moments when reason gradually triumphs over the frenzy of the dream world, I expect nothing more natural, nothing more logical and in keeping with my Parisian background, than waking up to the feeble light of a grey, cheerless sky. My ears listen for the noise of wheels pounding the road, while my eyes prepare to focus on the dismal view of a hotel room crammed with such knobbly furniture that my imagination, like an imprisoned fly, will collide against one window after another. Consider, then, for an instant, my increasing delight and astonishment as I discover myself a thousand leagues away from my homeland and let my senses slowly absorb the confused impressions of a world which is the perfect antithesis of ours..." - Gèrard de Nerval, Voyage en Orient (Journey to the Orient), 1851

"Feeling at home in places I don't belong; a building is chosen without knowing what is in it, just that it functions as empty (a home as real estate, an educational institution on holiday). A photograph is taken in the dark, and in the light of the flash I see what has been taken. Whenever I imagine the end of the world the buildings still stand, there's just no people, or very few. I had a dream-truck when I was a kid, after some nuclear holocaust-type thing I would drive around everywhere and put whatever I wanted into the truck. Stuff was a bit messed up sometimes but I never saw no-one else and I could go anywhere and just kind of inhabit spaces and have anything. It never occurred to me I might get lonely and I'm still not sure I would be." - Daniel Malone, on his slide series Untitled (break and enter), 1996

Daniel Malone's most recent New Zealand installation at the time of writing, Work for the Asian Community, in Christchurch, was perhaps quite a departure from the recurrent Orientalism that his work has not betrayed or flaunted but exhibited - Asian Babes, Korea in crime paysage, Korean flag/Pepsi - red is dead/real estate works, "a child was born in the East one day" - all employed Asian motifs or elements for his own ends. The Christchurch show overtly, however, addressed the audience that was the found object of his earlier work. But, perhaps, not on all accounts: his Orientalism is far more convoluted or garden pathy than that. He introduced this show thus: "Daniel Malone is an artist of Cherokee descent. Like many American Aboriginals (Red Indians) he has recently been exploring an Asian heritage. One point of departure for this exploration is pre-historic and dates back to the last Ice-Age when the first peoples crossed from North East Asia over the frozen Bering Strait and into North America. The work in this exhibition is for the Asian Community literally in the sense that it speaks to them. All of the English language in the work exists only as a phonetic version of the Asian..."

To background this remarkable proclamation (that he himself is both subject and object of his Orientalism), he offered this: "In one of the remarkable 'konvoluts' of his arcades project, Benjamin notes a 'remarkable association of flânerie and the detective novel at the beginning of Les Mohicans de Paris, by Alexandre Dumas, 1863'. Regis Messac, in Le <>et l'influence de la pensee scientifique, bodily transports the habits and even the inhabitants of the prairie into a Parisian setting: we have a marvellously endowed dog called Mohican, a duel of hunters, a l'Americaine in the suburbs of Paris, and a redskin named Towah who kills and scalps four of his enemies in a Hackney cab right in the heart of Paris with such dexterity that the driver never even notices. 'Nothing forbids us from supposing that the tribes we call savages are the debris of great civilisations.' (Baudelaire)."

Untitled (door sign) Untitled (Door Sign) from,
I took it all and it did nothing (I want my money back)
The Honeymoon Suite, 1997

Orientalism - lust for, or at the very least an abiding attraction to, the East, has always said more about the West than the East. Orientalism is in essence an imaginary stage (or more modernly, a set) that faces the West. Orientalists are Directors whose spun tales have a white male Romantic lead. The set is struck with all-Eastern luxury props and supporting cast. The locations alluded to are marvellous and exotic and involving - places half-known, half-imagined along with monsters, devils, heroes and pleasures. (Nerval in Les Filles au Feu says that all he knew about the Orient was a half-forgotten memory from his school education.) His story inevitably ends in tears. The East is a motif for the desires of the protagonist. When questioned about the relative political correctness of their productions, they will say, as has Malone, that "I am not for or against things, but want to look at things in some third way, a kind of de-differentiation", ie. aesthetically, poetically. For Orientalism is European literature: "Victorian English can be found in India".

Further, it is the poeticisation of a basic geographic distinction - "the work is made up of two unequal halves, the occident and the orient" - in the same way that oil and water difference is turned to frisson between the sexes, the past and the present, the real and the fictional, the alive and the dead. Daniel Malone has described his drive as for "that which I am not". Others use the term "imaginative geography and history": Asia (the grass is always greener) represents to his fellows a land of prodigies, of prophets, a land on which the enlightenment never imposed "empirical reality" and the unseen is much more immediate and real. "The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry." (England's representative in Egypt, Lord Cromer, 1907). Or Dali on Dali: "to be logical is to be cuckolded every day by truth and ugliness... What is beauty? No one knows yet, since it is too obvious."

"lazy susans? If the earth were flat it would turn in both directions and take food from mouth to mouth, its mechanism made up of two barely touching circles which move in opposite directions. Held apart by ball-bearings, they have no beginning or end to their journey (no destination) and they hold the weight of the earth." - Daniel Malone, (1997)


It is important at this stage to explain a distinction between the academic Orientalism and the non. The Orientalism favoured with attention here is the irresponsible sort - the flâneur, the unresolved, floating pleasure-tourist. The orthodox university type Orientalist is related to the Imperialist sort, "les bourgeois conquerants" who sought to shine rays of civilisation onto the savage foreign lands. The first sort are those drawn to the East's warm fragrant air, their desires clothed in silk. Their love is shallow and fickle, Romantic on the level of love that puts the fun back in dysfunctional - hopeless, mad, confused, compulsive, love that has really let go of the rock (cf. the Imperialist sort - too political, uptight, repressed, inadequately poetic, fearful and clean; too Baraka, too National Geographic).

Joe Orton (Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot, Prick up your ears...) in the diary he kept for the year leading up to his death, wrote of the yearly vacations he would take with his partner Kenneth each May-July to Morocco. Earlier that year they had also taken a trip to Libya - we pick him up as he tries to sort out his papers: "Kenneth had arrived back wreathed in smiles. The consul had wanted to see him because on his passport it says 'freelance writer'. The consul wanted to assure himself that there was no suggestion of 'writing anything about Libya'. Kenneth said of course there was not. Privately, we were both intrigued. If the Libyan authorities are so anxious the country shouldn't be written about - what on earth is it like? 'Perhaps it's hashish and bum all the way,' I said, open-mouthed. Kenneth more sceptical. 'I wouldn't write about them', I said. 'Look at how Tangier has been ruined by nosey journalists and United Nations beagles.' So we are probably leaving on Tuesday." (February 1967)

Clearly, the desire of the Orientalist comes from a cold climate. Cold, grey, inert environments culture aches inside sensitive people. These masquerade as a grim realisation that one's locale cannot fill the aching gap one is carrying around and sedating on a daily basis with sleep or other means. And you have been there long enough to know it never will. Our cells need constant signals, input, to stay alive - if these are not received, they self-destruct. Humans, as multi-cellular organisms, with no new input, sensory deprivation, suffer from cabin fever. The most basic drive of any organism is to crawl to a better environment. If one is breathing cold air, it is only natural for us to crave warmth. If we are bored, unfulfilled, it is only natural for us to seek a place that is more interesting than our present habitation. And walk towards the sun.

"The only thing I knew how to say in Spanish before I went to Mexico for three and half months was "! vamos babe asciendo me fuego ! / come on baby light my fire!" Which was of course completely useless, so perfectly colloquial, that I vowed to learn it in every language in the world." - Daniel Malone (1997)

It is, however, just as human to decide that now they want cold air again (back to a winter wonderland): "My attraction to the East? It is not what I am. The East is privileged in my work at the moment as a place, or maybe a non-place. But it's like waving a flystrip at things and seeing what sticks to it. It could just as easily be something else in a couple of years. It's all about articulating my own desires." - Daniel Malone (1997)

Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix had an abiding boredom for politics, with everything really. So he travelled as an emissary to the Sultan of Morocco in the middle of winter, 1831-2. "I am quite overwhelmed by what I have seen. I am like a man dreaming, who sees things he is afraid will escape him." "It's like the days of Homer!" Of the women, he said, "They are the pearls of Eden". "in the midst of silk and gold, lovely human gazelles, now tame". He reports being "exalted to the point of fear, which was calmed with difficulty with sherbet and fruits". "This is woman as I understand her, not thrown into the life of the world, but withdrawn at its heart as its most secret, delicious and moving fulfilment."

But only three weeks later, ennui had set in, the novelty worn off: "I am rather worried about my eyes. It is the devil's sunshine." Looking forward to breathing the cool air of Paris again, he returned, but soon after declared, "Paris bores me profoundly". But it is consistently the hot air of the East that suits those who dream of floating, of transportation to a higher aesthetic realm. When hot air is breathed, there is no contrast between the temperature of the lungs, and it feels like not breathing at all, like the successful artist breathing in the after-life. Others liken it to feeling like a fish - breathing, but air. ("What star sign are you Daniel?" "Pisces. Two fish going in different directions.")

"But could I say the opposite (flanerie is not one-way). I don't worship the East or love or like a religion - consider the stupidity of karma. My god is not an accountant and orientalism is useless to me unless I make it up. Mine might just as easily be about coldness. Gas (nitrous) on a cocaine hangover as opposed to the warmth of a rising sun heater." - Daniel Malone (1997)


I was surprised to read that the end of Orientalism had been declared some time ago with the opening of the Suez Canal, a gouge that opened up the East to the West. However, it is clear that there are still plenty of freestyle Orientalists out there borrowing from the symbolic power of the East, both near and far. (Take Warren G gently wrapping his mouth around the loaded chopsticks of a Suzie Wong who's ready to go in his high rotation video update of the Isley Brothers' classic Cooling me out, Smoking me out intoTake a look over your shoulder (reality).) Watch Warren go cold to hot.). ("The end of orientalism is an absurd notion borne itself on the ultimate act of colonisation, the proclamation of the end. The earth is not round - finite, where one arrives back at the same point. It is flat, infinite - it is not just this planet." - Daniel Malone (1997)

The Canal was the work of British Imperialists bent on penetrating, possessing, mastering the East (love that Imperial Leather language). In 1875, politician Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, had adroitly managed to gain for England the Suez Canal by using Rothschild money to pay for Egypt's debts in exchange for Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal enterprise. Having secured this vital route between East and West, he was anxious to expand England's influence in its Asiatic Turkish dominions. He was dedicated, declaring "the East is a career".

Apparently, what is necessary to the Orientalist is that the object of their affections remains static, fixed eternally, permanent, unchanging, so it will always be there for them - as undead as a fictional character. But with the efforts of 19th century geographical societies, people travelled the world. By the end of WW1, Europe had colonised 85% of the planet. The advent of modern travel and communications opened up the East to the West, making it not such a mysterious and magical quasi-fictional absolutely different place any longer; no longer refuge for dreams. The openness of everything gives the world an air of low-grade, thumbed pornography.

To many, it is a dream betrayed - their perfect other is not what they wanted, it speaks back, and will not play that feminine, supine, sensual, willing, silken role (my Eastern bride). The reason that the Orient was a less popular cloak for certain desires in those days was, as renowned writer on Orientalism, Edward Said has pointed out, that "In time, 'Oriental sex' was as standard a commodity as any other available in the mass culture, with as a result, it could be had without going to the Orient".

It comes as no coincidence then that the Van Halen song "Panama" is all about a guy driving really fast down a road ("I can barely see the road from the heat coming off"), so impressed with either the car or his chick or both ("don't you know she's got me on my knees? you loose her in the turn / model citizen, zero discipline") that he gets a hard-on ("I got the feel for weapons with the moving parts clean / reach down between my legs, ease the seat back") and lets go of the rock ("we're running a little bit hot tonight / she's running, I'm buying, right behind the wheel we'll be driving now /got the feeling, power steering, bibsy-bopping (?), ain't no stopping now"), all the time crying out, over and over, "Panama".

Written in 1984, it is an interesting little study in present day Orientalism - that is the post-Canal, non-Eastern variety: to Van Halen's maxim at the time "what is understood need not be discussed", I would add hotel rooms, drugs, trance, dreams, space, underwater, speed, screens. In fact any sort of behind-glass voyeurism or illusory luxe, calme, and volupte.

"Drugs are very useful. I feel sorry for people who don't use them. Of course some people (a minority of those that say so) actually get that use value from other things but they needn't be mutually exclusive. Ultimately, like anything (history, cars, special powers, oil paint, computers, identity politics), it's how you use it that counts. The European character in a.s.k.n'd (a street kid named Desire) smokes marijuana at the beginning of the film to make his eyes go squinty, and his mind with his vision, more Asian." - Daniel Malone on his recent film (1997)

Just as Joe Orton lamented the "lack of pornographic character" in one of his young Moroccan lovers, so must every true-blue latter-day Orientalist let go of the rock from time to time: "Asian babes? Last night I went to see an acrobatic troupe from Beijing. Most of the acts involved incredible balance, enormously focused strength, and unbelievable contortion, but mainly I thought about how important it was that all of these things were done in the right order, how all of these things were contingent on sequence - all the same qualities out of order wouldn't have worked at all. Each trick broke down before my eyes into a series of still images, and I had what I imagined to be the taste of boneless chicken in my mouth. Most of these people dissolved their bones and pumped them through their veins to recalcify at points of contact, where something was needed to be pushed off/away from. One young boy had melon coloured tights with the upside-down face of a panda bear on the seat of his pants and displayed incredible virtuosity in revealing the smiling bear by balancing on his hands. The/my attraction of the other is (un)grounded in a departure from the self I don't understand." - Daniel Malone (1997)


So far, the pattern of Orientalist behaviour has been mapped out thus: aching gap, appetite, real and actual fictional travel. To this I would add (Orientalism is essentially accumulative says Said, that is related to appetites, and eating and eating and eating to fill the aching gap) suicide. If the prayer of the empty-hearted is not answered by a higher power a la 1996 Bush/Whittingham/Plummer - "at night I have a million dreams and then I wake / I pray my soul to take..." - it must be answered first by travel, and then eventually perhaps by their own hand.

Many of the poetic Orientalists have taken their own lives, or at least chosen death on the instalment plan - T. E. Lawrence, Sebastian Flyte, Gèrard de Nerval, Joe Orton. This phenomenon was explained by novelist Michelet by way of the East as a dark shadow, as death: "The Orient advances, invincible, fatal to the gods of light by the charm of its dreams, by the magic of its chiaroscuro".

And the press has been impressed of late with New Zealand's world suicide rankings. This could be put down to the rather odd dislocation possible from living in the South Pacific, a once exotic land of milk and honey - living in its ruins so to speak - but also from many of us having been spawned by British Imperialists - low-grade Orientalists. So at the end of the day, it is hard to know if we are the subject or the object of Orientalism. And that information is privileged by the past. You can visit The Island of the Day Before (us) by crossing the dateline from another hemisphere, but we can't go back further ourselves.

A further militating factor seems to be the cold (vis. Invercargill's horrific statistics). In a recent Otago Daily Times article (Dunedin - the riviera of the Antarctic), a psychologist warned our rates will double as New Zealand "has undoubtedly created an underclass and produced a generation of people who were spiritually anorexic and morally ill... who deliberately harm themselves and use drugs and alcohol more often". In death as well as life they are pale blue.

"united nations blue? It must be some insane attempt at neutralism - irish are green, indians are red, nigger is black, chinks are yellow, the great white hunter is white, no-one is blue except the dead and the cold. The sky above us all is blue, a kind of sky-blue to crane our necks at. But the world's just far too messy (even if we all look up, we're going to bump into each other) and banality is the tabula rasa of desire. (Flaubert's dictum: 'observation proceeds above all via the imagination.')" - Daniel Malone (1997)

Asian Driver Asian Driver
Installation from Fiat Lux
Fiat Lux, 1996

Strangely enough, Joe Orton reported in his diaries from a sunny day in London thirty years earlier, "Unfortunately we were just too late to miss a man who'd decided to commit suicide by jumping from New Zealand House". Orton also had premonitions of his own demise, putting it down to taking too many pleasures all at once: "I gave Kenneth the tablets. He took two and they gave him the most odd feeling on top of the hashish. We sat talking about how happy we both felt and how it couldn't surely last. We'd have to pay for it. To be young, good-looking, healthy, famous, comparatively rich and happy is surely going against nature. And when to the above list one adds that daily I have the company of beautiful fifteen-year-old boys who find (for a small fee) fucking me a delightful sensation, no man can want for more." He was, a couple of months later, bludgeoned to death by Kenneth who then took an overdose.

All of this is not intended to imply or predict anything about Daniel Malone, but suicide recurs as a text theme in his work ("suicide is painless: the first record I ever bought"), and personally, I'd be worried if my spell-check suggested the word "denial" in place of my name. Gèrard de Nerval, Orientalist novelist extraordinaire, presents the very picture of a Romantic on this silk conveyor belt.


1834 - On the death of his Grandfather, Gèrard, aged 26, inherits 30,000 francs and travels to the south of France and Italy - Florence, Rome, Naples. Almost every year following, except those spent in institutions and/or writing, he travels, two, four, six, eight countries at a time, and as many cities within each.

1842 - Jenny Colon, his maybe lover, after marrying someone else, dies in high summer. Gèrard wanders around Paris for six months, then travels to the East - Marseilles, Malta, the Archipelago - puts into port at Syros in the Cyclades; Egypt - Cairo, Alexandria; Lebanon - Acre, Beirut; Syria; Cyprus, Rhodes, Smyrna, Constantinople, Malta.

His earlier travels did not fill his aching gap. Considering his fiery enthusiasm and his spiritual aspiration, it was inevitable that he would set off for the "terre des coexistences religieuses... la patrie des convergences sacrèes" / the land of religious coexistence... the nations of sacred convergences".

On 1 January, 1843, when Gèrard, leaving for the East, boarded the Mentor at Marseilles, the literary and artistic atmosphere of Paris was impregnated by Orientalism. This was the epoch of Chateaubriand's Itinéaire, Lamatine's Voyage en Orient, Hugo's Les Orientales, Gautier's La Péri, and of Delacroix (who also left for the East on New Year's Day). On the surface then, Gérard was giving in to the mode; he disclosed his underlying motives, however in his correspondence. Writing to his father on Christmas Day, 1842, Gèrard confessed that he had spent a deplorable summer. Dissatisfied with the little work he was doing, he feared he could inspire nothing but commiseration because of his "terrible maladie / affliction". The voyage would efface all past suffering from his memory, he trusted, and help him prepare a "physionomie nouvelle / a new face-appearance-character" for the eyes of his friends. "They would be much happier to see me tear myself from my Paris végétation for travels of a useful and instructive nature." We can picture him on the deck, absorbed in Arabic Grammar. His eyes are deeply set, his gaze is keen, he looks out at the world with a steady knowledge of the world within. He lays down his book as his eyes follow the carriage of a young golden-skinned fellow traveller, bundled up against the cold in furs, both soon to escape the West's cold for the East's perfumed air.

Two of his friends have died, Sophie Dawes, and more recently, Jenny Colon. Whatever her character (she is reputed to have murdered her lover), Dawes, Baronne Adrien de Feuchères, by her mysterious, beautiful, noble, and savage presence, exerted a great influence over the young Gèrard. Her death some fifteen months after his first mental crisis in 1841 (these periods, from which he would suffer until his death, were extremely painful and were described by him as culminating in the "épanchment du songe dans la vie réellé; / the pouring out of dreams into real life"), wounded him deeply. Sophie Dawes, singer Jenny Colon and Marie Pleyel (a Viennese pianist, whose features were like "la pâle reflet de la lune"), all played fundamental roles in his life: his imagination was kindled no less than his affections stirred. He glimpsed in each of them an aspect, a quality of the eternal Female who is at once mother, sister and Bride, the one who redeems the hero and is at the same time more or less responsible for his death.

Robert Graves, great time-travelling scholar of the ancient world, has called her the White Goddess. In Journey to the Orient, in the character Balkis, she comes close to incarnation - "adorable and fatal goddess! Alas! Why did my eyes have to behold this pearl of Arabia!" She was no doubt developed out of his experiments with a fine Javanese slave he bought in Cairo, Zetnaybia: "There is something extremely captivating and irresistible in a woman from a faraway country; her costumes and habits are already singular enough to strike you, she speaks an unknown language, and has, in short, none of the vulgar shortcomings to which we have become only too accustomed among the women of our own country. I gave way then, for some hours, to fascination for local colour; I listened to her chatter, I watched her display the motley of her clothes; I had the impression - but would it last for long? I asked myself - that I owned a magnificent bird in a cage." Thus he reveals himself as the progenitor of today's serial Asian dater (S*A*D).

If the women he knew contributed to the characters in his books, the tragic, early death of his mother (when he was two, his mother died from a fever which, according to Gerard, she caught "en traversant un pont chargé de cadavres / crossing a bridge laden with corpses". "I never saw my mother", Nerval would write, "her portraits were lost or stolen. I know only she resembled an engraving of that time after Prud'hon or Fragonard which was called La Modestie.") influenced the pattern of his relationships and intensified his emotional needs. His search was always more than a literary one, for he was guided by an acute, personal sorrow. Throughout his life he was haunted by an absence.

From the language he uses ("Where are you going? Vers l'East! / towards the East!") it is clear that as an Orientalist, you can travel towards the East as if it is a place perpetually just over the horizon - it is not a geographical East, but some magical dimension that you might, in a million years, get to via the East. Unfortunately no one lives that long. His works reflect not only Gèrard's request for the Eternal Female, but also the painful search for his own identity. Where Gèrard's identity is at stake a principle issue is, on one level - am I son of Lucifer or of Jehovah? - and on another - do I commit the sacrifice or am I the victim? A Freudian viewpoint would see Nerval thus: an identity shattered in childhood, a mother fixation, sado-masochistic ambivalence, sexual impotence (Nerval died before anything that might have connected with Nerval was published). He saw himself as Cain and Abel at once, and in his suicide, did he not confirm that he was both?

(As an aside, Nerval has been compared to Henry Miller, and nowhere more poignantly linked than when Miller wrote in The Devil in Paradise "You always find the devil in Paradise. I mean where else would you find him?". The maxim of this book is "To make anything truly significant, one has to poeticise it. The only way I get astrology, or anything else for that matter is as poetry...")

It is 1854. He plans to travel East again, departing for Germany where he makes a pilgrimage to his mother's tomb. Two months later, however, he returns to Paris. After spending a couple of months in his usual clinic, he leaves, wandering through the streets of Paris, cold, lonely, hungry, and with no fixed abode. It is now 1855, the streets of Paris are covered in snow, the temperature is down to -18 degrees. On 26 January, Gèrard is found hanging from the railings of the dingy rue de la Vieille-Lanterne. "The saviour himself says: He that is near me is near the fire. He that is far from me is far from the kingdom."

"I sort of started by coming from outer space - you have to bring a lot with you when you come that way. I've never been to Dunedin before, but of course I had a Dunedin already, one that I brought with me, all these ideas about weather and music, gold and sailing ships, lots of things. And I've been pretty much trying to get rid of them - teleport them back so as to be alien and to end up with nothing - like spending money. So there's not much in the gallery really, and all that is is really somewhere else - places you can see from the gallery mainly out the windows. So the gallery is full of these non-sites and is a non-site itself. So it might provide a good situation for one to become a non-site as well. We are all doing the work of nothing anyway - reducing ourselves to nothing, to an abstraction of what we are. Realising the possibilities of this de-differentiation is integral to space travel." - Daniel Malone on National Radio on his installation I took it all and it did nothing (I want my money back), Dunedin (June, 1997).

Gwynneth Porter



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room