Looking to the East
Orientalism, simply put, is the perception the West has of the East. The concept was mapped out by Edward Said in his book Orientalism, where he explores the concept, its origin, and how it functions. Said states that Orientalism is "the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient - dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, [and] ruling over it" (3). However, Said points out that even if Orientalism from the beginning was not "a creation with no corresponding reality" the concept he studies in the book is that of "the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient ... despite or beyond any correspondence" with the "real" Orient (5). What Said is saying is that the characteristics drawn up about the Orient within Orientalism ar not necessarily compatible with reality. The Western eagerness to characterize the Oriental came from the desire to put a face to the unknown, becoming "a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between" East and West, them and us, "the familiar and the strange" (43). Orientalism became a dictionary displaying the characteristics of the Oriental subject, characteristics that were fixed and unchangeable (42, 70).
The attributes given to the Oriental helped strengthen the image of Western superiority and justified colonialism. The West was seen as superior to the East, meaning that it had the right to dominate the "subject race", since it did not know what was good for it (Said 35).
"Irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, [and] different,,4 (40) were words used to describe Orientals. Europeans then became "rational, virtuous, mature, [and] normal" (40), and the line between the two parts of the world was set; Europe (or the West) as the strong one and Asia (or the East) as the weak one (57). The Orientals were given the role of the "Other," ruled by their emotions...
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