Vindictive Lust


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Or, indeed, from a right-wing orientalist scholar such as Bernard Lewis, who has written that the destruction of the World Trade Center was one of the most wicked acts in human history. Why such coy understatement? Why not just confess straight out that the joint crimes of Stalin, Mao and Hitler, not to speak of Hiroshima and Attila the Hun, are utterly eclipsed by it? Even so, Irwin packs a considerable punch. He is a formidably erudite orientalist, and one still determined to describe himself as such. In these PC days, when "orient" is taboo, this is a bit like calling oneself a fatso.

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There is no doubt that he pinpoints a good deal of slipshod scholarship and factual error in Said's revered text. It is also true that this would come rather more convincingly from someone who could produce an accurate factual account of Gramsci and post-structuralism, rather than the grotesque travesty of them to be found here. But there is a sense in which it does not matter all that much, since Irwin and Said are for the most part simply talking past each other.

For Said, orientalism signifies a whole cultural discourse, one that habitually represents the east as indolent, treacherous, passive, inscrutable, devious, feminised and inferior. He is speaking of an ideological formation pervasive throughout western history. Irwin, by contrast, believes in his gentle, ivory-tower way that orientalism "is mostly a story of individual scholars".

He gives the impression that he could recognise an ideological formation about as readily as he could identify Green Day's greatest hits. He thus dooms his study to partial irrelevance from the outset. It is like trying to refute the charge that Christianity has been a hugely destructive force for social evil by producing an admiring study of St Thomas Aquinas.

Astonishingly, there is scarcely a single reference to the stereotypical features of so-called orientals in all of Irwin's odd pages. The book makes not one concession to the central truth of Said's account - that demeaning images of the east and imperialist incursions into its terrain have historically gone hand in hand. Instead, For Lust of Knowing sets out to give us a potted history of western orientalism, one that occasionally remembers it is supposed to be a critique of Edward Said and then promptly forgets it again.

In our revolutionary times, with the earth shattering signs of a Third World War on the horizon, there is no place for mice The dictionary definition is clear: To rig, is to manage or conduct fraudulently. I should like to ask whether engineering a coup, promising virtually on the Holy Quran that an election would be held within ninety days and then cancelling them only a matter of days after a solemn announcement had been made to the world in the General Assembly of the United Nations, is not fraudulence of the highest degree?

A piece of satire further illustrates my point. In a conversation between two military dictators, one from Asia, the other from Africa, Field Marshall Aiz lu Odoh asks General Saksaoh: 'Tell me big brother, do you rig elections? I swear, no one knows the difference.

It is the safest and neatest form of riggery. In that way, I have their agreement. You see, elections are only a means to an end, and rigging is only a means to a means. Bhutto, however, has not been sitting idle in his death cell during the past year. He has been laboriously writing out what could be his last testament - a document of typewritten pages which is essentially a lengthy rebuttal of the White Paper on his alleged crimes.

Titled The Pakistan Papers - the document has been labelled "illegal" by the Zia regime - it has been smuggled out of Bhutto's cell for publication abroad. The Pakistan Papers is Bhutto's final, desperate attempt to give his side of the story as well as an impassioned plea for justice. In it, Bhutto claims that the release of the White Papers was deliberately timed to coincide with a crucial phase in his trial. The document is a constant comparison between his own rule and the present regime's, with the subjects ranging from the bureaucracy, intelligence agencies, political parties, the military, foreign relations, Pakistan's nuclear reprocessing plant, democracy, justice and the future of Pakistan.

Bhutto, who must possess a remarkable memory, quotes extensively throughout the document, from statements made by officials and other world leaders who have sung his praises. There are, however, unmistakable traces of megalomania a la Richard Nixon. In fact, Bhutto devotes an entire chapter in comparing himself to Richard Nixon and the events that led to Watergate.

Perennial: He is, however, in a position to lower the boom on former military dictators who have ruled Pakistan since he served as minister in their regimes.

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The point being, that one military dictator is as bad as the next. In Raphael's rendition The Disputation takes on more than a depiction of the Eucharist. Instead, it becomes a dynamic search by theologians for the truth embodied in the mystery of the Eucharist. This fresco, painted when Raphael was only 27 years old, represents his first significant commission to redecorate what were to become Pope Julius II's private apartments.

Unfortunately, it involved painting over frescos by other important Renaissance painters including Piero della Francesca and Raphael's teacher Perugino. The Stanza della Segnatura was used by Julius II as a library and private office and takes its name from its use later in the sixteenth century as the highest court of the Holy See presided over by the pontiff Segnatura Gratiae et ilustitiae. Raphael won the commission to paint the four rooms in direct competition with both Michelangelo, who was at the time working on the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo da Vinci.

This is said to have incensed Michelangelo who would later accuse Raphael of plagiarism, spreading rumors that Raphael had stolen into the Sistine Chapel to have a sneak preview of Michelangelo's work. The source of the animosity was however probably no more than that of competition between two extremely talented professionals vying for the favor of the same client. Although called The School of Athens , the title refers to philosophers from the classical world rather than any particular school of philosophy. The gestures of the philosophers depicted in the fresco have been subject to considerable academic interpretation and debate, however it is not clear how much of their philosophy Raphael would have been familiar with.

What is important is the way in which Raphael has gathered all the most famous of the classical philosophers within a marvellous Renaissance building, the architecture of which points to Bramante's designs for the new St Peter's Basilica. Many of the philosophers are recognizable through their iconography, which would have been widely understood at the time and are drawn from busts recovered from archaeological excavations.

We see Plato said to be a portrait of Leonardo painted in homage and Aristotle in the center carrying their well-known works Timeus and Ethics respectively. Also identifiable are Pythagoras in the foreground, Euclid on the right, Zoroaster holding the heavenly sphere, Ptolemy holding the earthly sphere, and Diogenes on the stairs holding a dish.

The scholar leaning over Pythagoras is said to be that of the Arab philosopher Averroes who is credited with bringing the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle to the West. Legend has it that Raphael poked an artistic dig at his great rival Michelangelo by painting his portrait as the face of the Philosopher Heraclitus, leaning against a block of marble.

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Heraclitus is often called the weeping philosopher due to the sad nature of his philosophical doctrine, which falls in line with Michelangelo's reputation as a big baby. Also included in the painting is a self-portrait of Raphael wearing a black beret on the right corner of the fresco standing next to fellow-artist and friend Il Sodoma who was one of the artists whose work Raphael was ordered to paint over. The fresco utilizes many techniques of the Renaissance artists, including the way it invites viewers to enter the space as if they are fully engulfed in the scene in an almost theatrical way.

The perspective leads us into the throng of its occupants as if we, too, were engaged in the debate or contemplation. The light from the window in the background of the piece fills the scene, enhancing its three-dimensional solidity. The high vaulted ceiling with a view of the sky gives the feeling that we are entering into the realm of super human thought and activity and increases the sense of awe of being in the company of men so instrumental in shaping our understanding of the world.

The coloring is muted to allow no one point of focus. Instead, we see the whole composition as being a world, which exists in a plane of time beyond that which we call our own demonstrating Raphael's great skill in his use of color. The narrative aspects of the four frescos are perfectly arranged to engage in dialogue with each other and conducive to the intended use of the room as a library.


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The School of Athens received both critical and popular attention immediately upon completion and was instrumental in elevating Raphael's public acclaim.

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