Uncharted Orientalism: Drake of Arabia

Uncharted 3 cover art

This is the third piece in an ongoing series on Orientalism in the Uncharted series. The first installment is “Uncharted: Charts and Nazis”; the second is “Uncharted: Nathan Drake Fucks Tibet”.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception aims to be more of a character study than either of its predecessors. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was largely concerned with demonstrating the power of titular protagonist Nathan Drake’s rational mind. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was more caught up with establishing his virility and sexual conquests. But the series’ third title is a more involved psychodrama, teasing out the spiritual impulse that drives Nathan in his dangerous and rarefied profession.

The subtitle, Drake’s Deception, cleverly euphemizes the dilemma that motivates much of the plot and character development. Does it refer to the explorer Francis Drake’s fictional efforts to hide evidence of one of his voyages, or is it Nathan doing the deceiving? Whom is he really deceiving, about what, and why?

This uncertainty comes filtered through archetypal Orientalist source texts. Where the first two games in the series recapitulate major elements of Orientalist narrative through boilerplate pulp adventure, Drake’s Deception turns entirely on the central figure of 20th century British “gentleman adventurer” T. E. Lawrence, and on the revered 1962 biopic epic Lawrence of Arabia. Uncharted 3 even takes its epigraph from Lawrence’s own writings:

“All men dream – but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity…But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible. This I did.”

The reverential incorporation of Lawrence’s life at key points in the narrative clarifies the game’s motivating anxieties. Lawrence of Arabia is a romantic narrative about a series of events during which British colonial administrators desperately sought new political relations that would maintain their dominion over the Orient even as old forms of power were rendered untenable by the rise of Arab nationalism. Drake’s Deception, with its reliance on Lawrence of Arabia as a cultural touchstone and source text, recapitulates similar anxieties over the relationship between “West” and “East”, and about its protagonist’s role in upholding this binary.

The plot of Drake’s Deception, like the story of empire itself, is impelled by its protagonist’s anxiety over his own whiteness. Just as Lawrence was practically deified as a result of his work on behalf of empire, Nathan Drake seeks to cement his whiteness, his political association not just with “the West”, but with Western power over the Orient. His main opponents in this endeavor threaten to dislodge him from the category of whiteness, a terrifying (to the Orientalist) vision of a white man reduced to an Oriental. Drake’s Deception thus recapitulates a key tenet of Orientalist discourse and the theory of race, namely that the West and East are separated by a broad ontological chasm, the crossing or closing of which is either an impossibility or a catastrophe.

From Small Beginnings

Drake’s Deception is the first game in the series to give the audience substantive biographical info about either Nathan or his friend and mentor Sully. Both prior installments in the series were content to demonstrate the riches Nathan stood to gain from his adventures, but the third game goes out of its way to establish a spiritual dilemma for Nathan.

Young Nathan Drake Uncharted 3

Young Drake is never gonna live up to his rapper name holding his gun like that.

When we first encounter Nathan, we see him as a teenager on the streets of Cartagena, Colombia, taking notes on artifacts associated with Francis Drake in a nautical museum. Steering him around the streets of Cartagena for a couple of hours, we learn about his rough childhood, playing through a pickpocketing sequence. In a confrontation with Sully, before they become friends, young Nathan boasts, “I know how to take care of myself.” When Sully presses him about the whereabouts of his parents, Nathan indicates that his parents are out of the picture. In a later conversation Nathan tells Sully he was raised by nuns, presumably in a Colombian orphanage.

Notably, this is the first time a character expresses doubt that Nathan is descended from Francis Drake. Sully later saves Nathan’s life from a shadowy British organization on the trail of the same Drake artifacts Nathan had been researching. When Nathan claims that Francis Drake’s ring, “belongs in my family,” his new friend retorts that Drake didn’t have any heirs. “Well,” Nathan replies, “not with his wife back in England, anyway.”

No character more clearly illustrates the precarious nature of Nathan’s social mobility than Katherine Marlowe, the game’s primary antagonist. In multiple confrontations with Nathan throughout his life, Marlowe talks down to him with vicious disdain. When she and her goons corner Nathan in one incident during his childhood, she calls him “a filthy, cast-off little beggar… not fit to touch [Francis Drake’s] objects.”

Marlowe, an Englishwoman, fits in alongside the other two (more positive) British touchstones of Nathan’s claim to social cachet, Francis Drake and T. E. Lawrence. Both Marlowe’s contempt for Nathan and his aspiration to a vaguely defined “greatness” are contained within the framework of English class antagonisms.

Lawrence’s own biography makes this connection much clearer. Born a bastard to an Anglo-Irish nobleman and a governess (herself the daughter-out-of-wedlock to a servant and a shipwright), Lawrence’s marriage prospects and his potential for respectability in English society were null and void, leading him to seek “a dream way of escape from bourgeois England,” as his brother Arnold described Lawrence’s reasons for undertaking archaeological research on Crusader-era structures.

Nathan’s class prospects are equally dicey. He’s clearly poor, orphaned, and possibly illegitimate himself. It’s also worth noting that, although Nathan speaks with a neutral American accent throughout his life, he purports to have been raised entirely in Colombia, raising the possibility that he is of mixed native (or otherwise Hispanic) origin, and merely passes as a white American. We will return to this aspect of his identity, or the careful elision thereof, later.

T. E. Lawrence portrait photo

Legendary bastard, T. E. Lawrence

Footsteps in the Sand

Nathan’s journey throughout the narrative is structured to echo that of T. E. Lawrence, or at least its hagiographic retelling. When Nathan finds Lawrence’s personal notebook, he quickly ascertains that Lawrence and Francis Drake were both searching, several hundred years apart, for the same mythical city, Iram of the Pillars, “lost” somewhere in the Rub ’al Khali desert. What follows is an international trek that treads a path worn by the Lawrence of myth more than the Lawrence of history.

Long before he came to the Kingdom of Hejaz, Lawrence had undertaken a solo walking tour of Crusader fortifications in Ottoman Syria, traveling almost 1,000 miles on foot, later presenting a thesis on his archaeological work in France and Syria at Jesus College, Oxford. On an expedition in Syria for the British Museum, he was recruited to British intelligence, leading to his now legendary posting in Arabia.

Drake’s Deception recreates this journey with dogged faithfulness. Nathan rediscovers two Crusader sites marked for special consideration in Lawrence’s notebook, one in France and one in Syria. Predictably, Nathan visits both in turn, deliberately and consciously retracing T. E. Lawrence’s steps in the hopes of finding the way to the “immeasurable wealth” supposedly buried with Iram.

And Nathan deliberately echoes Lawrence in other ways. In Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence dares to imagine an attack on the crucial port of Aqaba, only possible via a dangerous trek across a brutally searing portion of desert known as “The Anvil of God”. Lawrence has such ingenious vision that he is the only man, British or Arab, who could envision a successful journey across the Anvil. He even resolves, on his way to meet the Arabs, to navigate the desert alone when his guide is shot, and succeeds in spite of the fact that he had evidently required the help of a guide until that moment. When Nathan cajoles his friends to embark on a trek across hundreds of miles of scorching desert in order to hunt down “the Atlantis of the Sands”, he is emulating the vision, courage, and enduring force of will that we are meant to attribute to adventuring eccentrics like Lawrence.

Incidentally, some moments in Lawrence of Arabia are evocative of the two prior installments of the Uncharted franchise. In the first scene in which Lawrence appears, he is drafting a map of Syria for British intelligence in Cairo, recalling the rationalizing mission of Drake’s Fortune. When the cantankerous General Murray assents to Mr. Dryden’s request to send Lawrence to Arabia as a liaison to the Bedouin, he barks, “It may even make a man of him,” recalling the masculinizing adventure of Among Thieves. And when Lawrence receives his mission from Murray and Dryden, the former establishes his eccentricity and vision thusly:

Dryden: “Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.”

Lawrence: “No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.”

Nathan’s disregard for the potentially fatal dangers of the adventure he undertakes deliberately echoes Lawrence’s own chipper disregard for the real dangers and suffering the desert may inflict. This disregard for the pragmatic concerns of “ordinary men” marks both Lawrence and Nathan as “expert-adventurer-eccentric”, ennobling both Lawrence and Nathan in the Orientalist canon. As Said writes, “an eccentric life would develop significant originality in men, and from originality would come great and unusual exploits. Such exploits were their own justification”.

For ‘Treasure’

One incongruous element of Drake’s Deception is the way in which Nathan recklessly insists on continuing the adventure while most of his friends advise that he cut his losses as the dangers escalate. Nathan had previously spent half the runtime of Drake’s Fortune trying to find a way off the island in lieu of pursuing El Dorado, cajoled and pleaded by Elena into exploring the island. In Among Thieves, he was ready to cut his losses and leave the spoils of Shambhala to Lazarevic until Karl Schafer delivered some inspirational exposition and a plot twist.

In Drake’s Deception, that dynamic is almost entirely reversed. When Nathan and Sully, along with returning ally Chloe Frazier and new friend Charlie Cutter, discover that Francis Drake went to extraordinary lengths to hide his discoveries in Arabia even from Queen Elizabeth, Chloe expresses some healthy caution: “If you recall, the last time we went halfway around the world searching for a lost city, things got more than a little dicey.” When Marlowe’s right hand, Talbot, nearly traps Nathan and Sully in a runaway fire at the French chateau from Lawrence’s journal, Sully expresses some doubts as to the soundness of their decision to pursue the treasure of Iram.

In both cases, Nathan responds with an eagerness to overcome Marlowe in particular. When Chloe expresses her well-reasoned doubts, Nathan’s response misses the point by a wide margin: “Yeah, but this time we have the upper hand. I mean, look, Drake only had half the clues; Lawrence only had half. We have both, and Marlowe has nothing.” Nathan accuses Sully of “acting like you’re ready to lay down and die”—in spite of the fact that Sully’s caution seems warranted given that the pair have only just escaped being burned alive by their adversaries. At every turn, Nathan seems more motivated by a rebellious contempt for Marlowe than by any rational cost-benefit analysis.

The argument recurs when the foursome reunite in Syria and again find themselves head-to-head with Marlowe’s organization. When Chloe exhorts Nathan to cut his losses, Cutter insists, “you can’t just give up. If you let these bastards win after this, I will never bloody forgive you.” Nathan finds Cutter’s encouragement more compelling, despite the fact that the “this” Cutter refers to is the leg he broke jumping from a castle tower to escape being burned alive by Marlowe and Talbot. Nathan doesn’t seem to register the absurdity of the scenario, promising to not “let them win,” before unconvincingly shrugging in Chloe’s direction. “I’m not trying to prove anything.”

When Nathan and Sully meet Elena in Yemen in order to search for more clues, the scenarios they find themselves in become increasingly dangerous. In one instance, the trio find themselves chased down a crumbling tunnel by a swarm of softball-sized, man-eating spiders. They escape the swarm only to find themselves in a room with ominous warnings about the “cup of death” and the Devil, written in English. When Nathan and Sully surmise that the warnings were written by Francis Drake to warn off later adventurers, Elena is the voice of reason:

Elena: Okay, so, let me get this straight—Drake sails thousands of miles looking for this ‘Atlantis of the Sands’, and when he gets this far, what he finds is enough to make him turn around, sail home, and hide all evidence of his voyage.

Nathan: Right…

Elena: But you—you’re going to keep going, aren’t you?

Nathan: Uh, yeah.

Elena: For what? For “‘treasure”? Listen, you’ve won, okay? You’ve outsmarted her. You know where to find the city, and Marlowe doesn’t. Why can’t that be enough?

Nathan is left without a compelling response, belying the idea that he is motivated by either the prospect of plunder or that of besting Marlowe. His drive, rather, comes from an underlying spiritual anxiety, an impulse that causes him to fail to comprehend the import of Drake’s warning that Iram is “the dream of a dreamer, a mirage of the desert.”

A Mirage of the Desert

Part of the answer to Elena’s question, which Nathan is unable or unwilling to vocalize, lies in his encounter with the Orientalist vision of Arabia. The player’s first encounter with Drake’s Deception’s treatment of this setting happens before even the first minute of gameplay. The game’s box art depicts the titular hero standing on a sand dune, overlooking a vast, empty wasteland after improbably walking away from a catastrophic plane crash. The menu screen’s background merely shows the muzzle and magazine clip of an AK-47 protruding from the scorching, shifting desert sand. Players who watched promotional trailers for Drake’s Deception would have seen footage showing Nathan trudging across the (literally) burning sand before yanking a gun from a dead enemy’s buried hands.

Desert AK47

The defining image of Arabia, as Naughty Dog imagines it

The overwhelming impression of Arabia for most audience members will be merely, as Cutter describes it earlier in the story, an impassable wasteland devoid of a people and a history, and this impression is no accident. In developer commentary, Naughty Dog leads talk at length about their depictions of Iram, Yemeni architecture, and about the technical work they undertook to graphically render the desert sand. Much like their omission of Nepalese and Tibetan people from their last game, they don’t speak at all about interviewing or hiring Yemeni, Saudi, or Bedouin guides, translators, consultants, or actors.

In short, they are more concerned with a textual impression of Arabia than they are with its contemporary lived reality. Architecture and sand figure heavily in their discussion, as does reference to Lawrence of Arabia, but actual people, history, and current events do not. We may substitute “Naughty Dog” and “Arabia” for “Napoleon” and “Egypt” in Said’s words: “For Napoleon Egypt was a project that acquired reality in his mind… through experiences that belong to the realm of ideas and myths culled from texts, not empirical reality”.

The preponderance of white westerners in a story set in Saudi Arabia is also a canonical impulse, as Arabia doesn’t exist on its own terms so much as it exists for a purpose of the westerner’s imagination. Of Napoleon’s expeditions, Said writes:

[Egypt’s] role was to be the stage on which actions of a world historical importance would take place…Egypt’s own destiny was to be annexed, to Europe preferably. The Orient, in short, existed as a set of values attached, not to its modern realities, but to a series of valorized contacts it had had with a distant European past.

This phenomenon is the exact reason that Lawrence of Arabia, a movie made almost entirely by Brits, inspired by the autobiography of a British intelligence officer that was popularized by an American journalist, is a more compelling inspiration for the Arabia of Drake’s Deception than any author, politician, journalist, artist, or traveler native to the region. And so the Orient that Nathan encounters is defined by “a series of valorized contacts” with prior white men; his information about the Orient comes from T. E. Lawrence, Francis Drake, and John Dee deliberately, and one indigenous Bedouin only incidentally. And so we see that, “the Orientalized Orient, the Orient of Orientalist scholars, was a gauntlet to be run, just as the Bible, the Crusades, Islam, Napoleon, and Alexander[, and Drake, and Lawrence] were redoubtable predecessors to be reckoned with”.

The Dream of a Dreamer

This space—the Orient—that evidently exists for the white subject to overcome is only incidentally occupied by Orientals. When Nathan meets Salim, a Bedouin sheikh, Orientalist tropes are slow to become apparent, but ultimately inexorable. Salim speaks fluent English, and is evidently worldly enough to identify Nathan as an American and Marlowe’s forces as Englishmen. He is depicted as a competent tactician and spymaster, unexpectedly rescuing Nathan from the British and already well aware of their movements through the Rub ‘ al Khali by the time Nathan arrives in the desert.

Nathan meets Salim

Nathan meets Salim, aka the real hero here

But when Salim presses Nathan about Marlowe and her intentions, he is boxed back into racialized boundaries. When Salim hears that the English are seeking the “treasure” of Iram, he recounts a story of tormented Djinn in “the depths of the city,” imprisoned in a vessel of brass by King Solomon for their rebellion. Salim worries that the English seek to release the Djinn. The game quickly discredits this story as superstition, as Nathan discovers a more rational explanation for “the curse” of Iram (which we will get to in a moment). What matters here is that, despite Salim’s evident worldliness, education, and experience, he recounts superstitious explanations for historical phenomena in his own backyard. Despite ample opportunity to search for Iram in a territory he is obviously intimately familiar with, he relies on myth as a literal explication of history.

This illustrates the frustrating dilemma that, per Said, “no matter how much a single Oriental can escape the fences placed around him, he is first an Oriental, second a human being, and last again an Oriental”. Salim’s self-evident worldliness is subordinated to the Orientalist requirements that he be an Oriental: small-minded, superstitious, myopic to history and to politics. Salim is trapped in the same identitarian cage (perhaps a mind of “dusty recesses”) as Sharif Ali from Lawrence of Arabia, who, though obviously politically knowledgeable about the Arabs’ circumstances, announces halfway through the movie that he is learning politics from a book meant for children.

Salim serves to establish the ultimate resonance of Nathan’s journey with that of Lawrence. Nathan, driven into the desert by a mission to rescue a kidnapped Sully, now rides off with Salim in a rebellious quest to thwart a British effort to plunder riches and power from the depths of the Orient. Nathan, a colonial plunderer, is transmuted into an anti-colonial rebel of the Orient. This is more or less the exact transmutation that Lawrence, a British intelligence officer, undergoes in Lawrence of Arabia, donning the iconic Arab robes as a sign of affinity with the Arabs and their nationalist aspirations.

Said points out that, “The British agent-Orientalist… during and after World War I took over both the role of expert-adventurer-eccentric… and the role of colonial authority, whose position [lie] in a central place next to the indigenous ruler”. This is exactly the position Lawrence gains in his biopic, holding the ear of Prince Faisal. It is also exactly the position Nathan occupies next to Salim. The rest of the scenes showing both Salim and Nathan have them riding on horseback side-by-side like old comrades-in-arms, despite a working relationship less than 48 hours old. And of course, the native ruler is little more than a prop for the expert-adventurer-eccentric’s quest, both personal and political. Nathan and Sully, in the end, plunge into Iram in pursuit of the Brits without Salim.

As Nathan comes in closer proximity to the power at the heart of the Orient, his relationship to reality becomes increasingly unstable. After he drinks from an Iramian fountain, he sees a vision of an eclipse, witnesses Sully get shot, and starts seeing teleporting demons “of smokeless fire” which he slaughters in droves in order to reach Marlowe in some caverns beneath Iram. All of this, it turns out later, was hallucinatory, a healthy and alive Sully points out after catching up with Nathan. The water ultimately deprives Nathan of his prized rational mind; like a debased Oriental, he becomes, in Said’s words, “incapable of telling the truth or even seeing it… addicted to mythology”.

Nathan hallucinating

Nathan trips balls and goes native at the same time

This experience enables Drake to formulate a rational explanation for the “curse” of Iram. He discerns that Salim’s story of King Solomon imprisoning the Djinn in “a vessel of brass” holds a kernel of truth, in that the hallucinogenic agent tainting the water emanates from exactly such a vessel. No reason is given why the indigenous Bedouin did not reach or share this insight; Salim’s people had lived in the vicinity of the city for millennia, if the story of Solomon can be taken to date Iram’s fall. We only know that Salim is trapped in the confines of a superstitious and myopic Oriental mind. He cannot know history in rational or pragmatic terms, only in mythic ones, lest he violate type. He is exactly, in his daily life, what Nathan is when drugged and hallucinating. He is “addicted to mythology.” So, “the Orientalist is necessary because he fishes some useful gems out of the distant Oriental deep[.] [T]he Orient cannot be known without his mediation”, not even by an Oriental.

Nathan, or the archetypal Orientalist, is able to fish out these gems through an act of simulation. He is able to suffer the mythological thinking of an Oriental while also returning from it. Returning like a Campbellian hero from mortal danger, he returns bearing the “rational” explanation that neither Salim, nor other Bedouin, nor his fellow colonial plunderers can reach. A similar phenomenon occurs with Lawrence; in analyzing Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Said observes that “what matters to Lawrence is that as a white expert, the legatee of years of academic and popular wisdom about the Orient, he is able to subordinate his style of being to theirs, thereafter to assume the role of Oriental prophet giving shape to a movement in ‘the new Asia’”.

Nathan’s mission seems much more personal than Lawrence’s, but there is not so much daylight between the two as may appear. Both the fictional and historical Lawrence saw himself as delivering the Arabs their nation, facilitating their struggle for national sovereignty against colonial powers. He saw himself as an anti-colonial revolutionary, embodying and affiliating himself with the Arabs in order to deliver their dreams to them, which only he could truly conceive of to begin with.

Nathan faithfully reenacts Lawrence’s metamorphosis from colonial interloper to anti-colonial visionary. He takes on singular responsibility and credit for stopping Marlowe’s colonial plunder of Iram. The Bedouin are rendered irrelevant to this microcosmic anti-colonial struggle, as Nathan not only simulates them, but also replaces them as the anti-colonial resister of the moment. Nathan single-handedly realizes the nascent Bedouin revolt against the British. We might comfortably replace Lawrence’s name with Nathan’s when Said observes:

The Arab Revolt acquires meaning only as Lawrence designs meaning for it…the Orientalist has become now the representative Oriental, unlike earlier participant observers such as Lane for whom the Orient is something to be kept carefully at bay.

A Line Around the Sand

We can see from the journeys of Nathan and Lawrence that encountering the Orient has special psychic and spiritual effects for white adventurers. It serves as a “gauntlet to be run”, a trial by fire in which such men can prove themselves. The Orient is a politically blank slate, and inhabitants like Salim only have their own history and destiny insofar as those attributes are annexed to the journey of colonial interlopers like Nathan and Lawrence and Francis Drake. These men’s names all nestle comfortably in place of Chateaubriand’s when Said writes, “What matters about the Orient is what it lets happen to Chateaubriand, what it allows his spirit to do, what it permits him to reveal about himself, his ideas, his expectations”.

Map of Sykes-Picot boundaries

Marking the boundaries of the playing field

What the Orient “lets happen” to Nathan is that it allows him to cement his affinity for, and affiliation with, “redoubtable predecessors” like Drake and Lawrence. The fact that both of these predecessors were colonial agents is a crucial linkage in Nathan’s biopolitical journey. Said passes on Hannah Arendt’s observation that, “if the collective academic endeavor called Orientalism was a bureaucratic institution based on a certain conservative vision of the Orient, then the servants of such a vision in the Orient were imperial agents like T. E. Lawrence”. This is the exalted caste that Nathan aspires and strives to become a member of, as evidenced by his incessant and increasingly reckless efforts to retread and surpass the milestones of these predecessors.

This also explains Nathan’s impulse to best Marlowe, to prove himself in spite of her loathing and condescension. Marlowe is revealed earlier in the game to be the head of a centuries-old secret society of British imperial agents with roots in the Elizabethan era. She is not only an upper-crust imperial agent whose affinity with empire—and with whiteness—is already cemented, she fancies herself also the gatekeeper of others’ identification with whiteness. Nathan’s revelation about the water of Iram leads him to realize Marlowe’s goal, which is to take the vessel of brass and use the hallucinogenic inside it as an instrument of imperial power and fear.

It seems counterintuitive that Nathan, a colonial plunderer, would object to this endeavor, but this is where his uncertain ethnic identity becomes important. Marlowe, in one scene, suggests “Drake” is not really Nathan’s name, and Marlowe’s forces drugged both Nathan and Cutter with a hallucinogen substantially similar to that in the water of Iram. In short, Marlowe casts aspersions on Nathan’s affiliation with previous imperial agents, but in doing so she also suggests he may not be a white person at all. In the use of hallucinogens, Marlowe’s forces render white men into belligerent, superstitious Orientals, incapable of exercising reason or recognizing their (white) friends. Cutter is so divorced from his affinity with his fellow plunderers that he tries to choke Nathan to death before snapping out of it. Nathan, for his part, runs away from Sully and Elena in the middle of a Yemeni city, temporarily severing ties.

This is exactly what Marlowe’s plans for the vessel of brass entail on a vast scale. The hallucinogen’s effects deprive Nathan and others of the rational capacities and identification with other white people that distinguish them from superstitious Orientals. The British already wield this power on a small scale, and intend to wield it on a much more massive one, using the vessel of brass to catastrophically reallocate massive populations across racial boundaries. This would not merely relegate Nathan to the tragic fate of becoming a debased Oriental, but would also make the psychic and spiritual boundaries between Occident and Orient porous and unstable. Said explains that, “in reading the Orientalists one understands the apocalypse to be feared was not the destruction of Western civilization but rather the destruction of the barriers that kept East and West from each other”.

Nathan’s mission, at last, is to prevent Marlowe from undermining established racial boundaries, his reward for which is twofold. Firstly, he rescues the boundaries between East and West from dismantling, preventing Marlowe from using her position as a gatekeeper of whiteness to radically destabilize and shrink that identity.

Secondly, and more importantly, he finally establishes his whiteness on a firm foundation through a performed affinity with Drake and Lawrence. Both these predecessors took their place in the Orientalist canon by casting themselves as arbiters of the Orient’s history, a privilege reserved for the Occident in general and the Orientalist in particular. Lawrence, we have seen, is mythologized as the visionary of Arab nationalism, the white savior who gave to the Arabs a nation whose boundaries were decided by Europe and clearly separated it from Europe.

Francis Drake discovered the power that he was sent to Arabia to recover, and independently determined that no empire should be able to wield such a destabilizing weapon. He establishes his greatness not by landing on the side of the British over their enemies, but on the side of the coherence of white identity in the face of unstable Oriental forces. Nathan, in interrupting Marlowe’s retrieval of the vessel of brass, establishes his allegiances and merit along exactly the same lines.

Nathan’s happy ending doesn’t see him enriched. Instead, it sees him validated as an imperial agent a la Lawrence and Francis Drake. He establishes himself as an arbiter of the boundaries between East and West, repudiating Marlowe’s contempt for him and banishing the demons of insecurity and self-doubt. He takes the opportunity to rekindle a strained relationship with Elena, able to enjoy a semblance of domesticity now that his status as a white agent of empire has been validated. The titular deception turns out to be neither about Nathan’s ethnicity, nor the existence of mysterious powers laying dormant in the desert, but about the power of Nathan’s own self-deception, that his identity is a production of (and thus a lie about) the racial boundaries between himself and a mythically debased Orient.

Petar Duric
About Petar Duric (19 Articles)
Petar Z Duric is a cisgender straight guy of ambiguous whiteness from Northern Virginia. He grew up wanting to be a theoretical physicist, under the impression that such people study really big explosions. He ended up settling for studying Computer Science, because robots are cool, he guesses. As a hirsute child of foreigners with frightening accents, he has developed an abiding taste for meat that is actively bleeding. He is an aspiring vegan, and a lifelong aficionado of useless bullshit.
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