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Transforming the Enemy in Spanish Culture: The Conquest through the Lens of Textual a ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Transforming the Enemy in Spanish Culture:

which have informed Westerners about others for centuries. Even in the face of Edward Said’s claim that the West changed its conceptualization of Easternness and Islam in the modern period3 (and unlike textual descriptions), medieval visualizations of Islam quickly stabilized into an image of the enemy that survives to this day. The inaccuracy of Western portraits of the East or of Islam, and indeed the conflicting motivations behind any depiction of one’s own enemy, has led some scholars to dismiss them as seemingly “diseased,”4 stereotypical, and in some cases conceived in ignorance.

Scholars nevertheless need to assess the European representation of their enemies less in terms of the accuracy of the representation and more in terms of what it reveals about the Western mindset:5 the Spanish, influenced by the conceptualization of their medieval enemies, subsequently transfigured indices of description out of the past. With seemingly borrowed terms they ironically described the Indians of the New World, reifying them through Islamification and orientalization, two Eurocentric discourses widely used to describe the enemy. Explored in greater depth later in this book, Islamification is the particular discursive process through which Westerners describe Muslims. By extension, orientalization for the purposes of this study is “a vehicle by which knowledge about places and people is transferred and applied, however imperfectly, to the non-Orient (i.e., Europe and the Americas),” irrespective of how well- or ill-informed that knowledge is.6 After the sixteenth century these two discourses about the Americas were succeeded by a process of deoccidentalization through which the Spanish and their presence in both the New World and the Low Lands were stripped of Westernness. This deoccidentalization echoes a phenomenon identified by Said as a “circular vision by which the details of Oriental life serve merely to reassert the Orientalness of the subjects and the westernness of the observer.”7 How did the Spanish come to embody evil and otherness by way of the same representational techniques they used in other time frames to characterize Romans, Muslims, and Native Americans?