Topics: Oriental studies, Orient, Orientalism Pages: 26 (10032 words) Published: May 17, 2013
Edward Said, Orientalism

Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979)

Said starts by asserting the fact that the Orient played an instrumental role in the construction of the European culture as the powerful Other: “the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.” (1-2) He then states that the research subject of his book is Orientalism, by which he understands a combined representation of the Orient in the Western culture, science, politics, etc.  and, transcending the borders of all these field of knowledge, it becomes “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and (most of the time) "the Occident,"” (2) and finally it transforms into a powerful political instrument of domination: “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” (3) As Said is a Marxist, there is no wonder that it is this third incarnation of Orientalism, domination, that he cares most of all for. In the Foucaultian tradition, Said suggests to look at Orientalism as a discourse: without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enonnously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage-and even produce-the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period. (3) He then states that the Western image of the Orient—i.e. Orientalism—had little to do with the “real” Orient. What is more important, Orientalism is not simply the work of European imagination—it is all about power, domination, hegemony and authority. As such, Orientalism was not “simply” a collection of misrepresentations about the Orient in Europe, it “created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment,” (6) material investment here meaning academic scholarship, art, literature, political writing, common sense, etc. In this way, Orientalism in the European culture became an instrument for maintaining “content” (in Gramscian terms), i.e. voluntary reproduction by the subjects of the social reality desired by the power. In this way, Orientalism is a phenomenon of the same rank as the idea of Europe. Said then ask how relevant it is on his side to consider as one phenomenon what was supposed to be, actually, two: individual writing (particularly in case of literary fiction) and hegemonic strategies. He then goes into a lengthy explanation of why he considers this to be relevant. First, he asserts that there is no “pure” knowledge, but rather all knowledge is shaped by ideological positions: No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life, from the fact of his involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of a society. (10) The same, he argues, is the case with literature. The link between ideology and writing is not simplistic at all, but still it is unavoidable. He describes this link in the following way: Orientalism is not a mere political subject matter or field that is reflected passively by culture, scholarship, or institutions; nor is it a large and diffuse collection of texts about the Orient; nor is it representative and expressive of some nefarious "Western" imperialist plot to hold down the "Oriental" world. It is rather a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts,   it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship political power in the raw, but...
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