Orientalism: An Overview

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  • Topic: Orientalism, Orient, Western world
  • Pages : 7 (2623 words )
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  • Published : March 5, 2013
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The definition of orientalism takes up no more than two sentences in the dictionary. Coincidentally, Orientalism came to be such a complex and deep concept which Said devotes his entire book in discussing about it. His book – Orientalism unfolds the history of the Orientalism, reveals the “dark” side of an orientalist’s mind and describes the different dimensions of Orientalism. He also attempts to expose the truth of the Orient, which he warned that: “One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structures of lies or of myths, which were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away” (Said). In order to understand the truth Said`s referring to, one ought to first understand the origin and characteristics of Orientalism that led to the establishment of the truth. First of all, one of the interpretations of Orientalism according to Said is: a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and “the Occident”. This quotation suggests that Orientalism makes an instant distinct between the East and the West and that the West`s perception of the East is based on the archive of knowledge. Historically speaking, the study of the Orient flourished in the 18th and 19th century as Europe became advanced in the scientific discoveries, and took interest in knowing about the unfamiliar East. Europeans adapted Darwin`s method of categorization of species and used it in the same manner analyzing about the East based on prior knowledge in earlier voyage discoveries. To illustrate, Said notes: ``Europeans, as systematizes of knowledge, could claim to place ``Oriental`` societies within the ``family`` of human cultures in the same way they could place a certain kind of clam in the family molluscs.`` Orientalism therefore, has separated the world into distinct cultures and sorted certain traits accordingly into distinct classes since the earlier times. Together, the ideal Orient set by the West and concept of the East has a long history in European records. Traits of approaching the Oriental since the 18th century are still prolonged today. In summary, Orientalism is then what Said defines as “an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West.” How this idea came into existence, is discussed in the following texts. *A very important concept stressed from Said’s book about Orientalism, is that knowledge is directly linked to power. He mentions that “ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power also being studied.” (p5). There is a force behind every literary works that identifies what is the “real Orient” such that “the Oriental is contained and represented by dominating frameworks (Said, 40). It is a form of authority that enables the West to set certain traits on the Orient that differentiates from a Westerner. For example, Pico Iyer makes an assertion about what is “authentically Japanese” in the quotation: “Dressed all alike in clothes that deviated not an inch from the textbook norm…but in their eyes was still a shyness, and in their bearing reticence, that was only and inalienably Japanese.” (Pico Iyer) Here, Iyer associates characteristics such as shyness and reticence with Japanese-ness. In addition, generalizations about the Orient such as what Iyer said about the Japanese are disseminated through Europe. This systematic knowledge is the product of the growing number of voyages and studies done on the Orient in Europe since the 18th century. [Due to this long history of exploring the East, Westerners think that they know everything about the East]. In fact, such confidence about how much the West knows about the East can be observed in the quotation by Balfour, “We know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other...
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