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Apr 8, 2011

Orientalism

“...the generic term that I have been employing to describe the Western
approach to the Orient; Orientalism is the discipline by which the
Orient was (and is)  approached systematically, as a topic of
learning, discovery and practice”.

By this, Said is saying because we treated the East like a school subject, we have learned to treat the East as an inferior. Which has developed into something called Orientalism. The poets, authors and statesmen of the nineteenth-century have made Orientalism every thing that it is. They started out with the intent of learning about a civilization of people that was extremely different from ours. 

Their intentions were academic and nothing more really. Unfortunately, their almost unconscious prejudices and fears of the unknown, led to the slow cultural and then political domination of the place referred to as the Orient. Many critics agree with Said on the matter of knowledge leading to slow domination, but I think he needs to be much clearer on the fact that it was arrived at with good intentions. Our predecessors wanted to understand, unfortunately there were much too eager, and presumptuous. Said does not mention that attribute, but he does make the connection to Darwinism and natural selection. By the look of history, we are afraid of what is different, Said argues that we battle our fear, with the ability to describe anything in text. Our culture has grown exponentially more violent and powerful; the East has remained focused on religion and living life accordingly. As the world expanded, so did the practices of colonialism, and imperialism.

Orientalism
"Two great themes dominate his remarks here and in what will follow: Knowledge and power, the Baconian theme. As Blafour justifies the necessity for British occupation of Egypt, supremacy in his mind is associated with "our" knowledge of Egypt and not principally with military or economic power."

He describes the desire for knowledge about the orient as being spawned from the desire to colonialise effectively not to decipher the complex nature of a society which is inherently different, thus bound to do things a little differently. By comprehending the Orient, the West justified a position of ownership. The Orient became the subject, the seen, the observed, the studied; Orientalist philosophers were the apprentices, the overseers, the observers. The Orient was quiescent; the West was dynamic. This is a rather unfortunate position both for the West and the 'Orient'. The students used their position of perceived understanding to further compel 'Oriental' people into subservience while simultaneously justifying their actions. They protected their conscience by convincing themselves that the 'Orient' was incapable of running itself, thus their territory must be administered for them.

The general tone of his book "Orientalism" depicts western Orientalists as persistently reinventing the near and Middle East in self-serving, eurocentric terms; as seen through Western eyes, "the Orient" emerges as a passive, backward world, monolithic in nature and exotic in its alienism, a realm ideally created to sustain the West's daydream of supremacy. Said brutally charges Western scholars for perpetuating the notion that the Orient should not be taken seriously but rather be seen as a subject of study.

Attitudes from the reader:
However, Edward Said's appraisal and investigation into the practices referred to as "Orientalism" forms a crucial setting for postcolonial academia. He has aptly explained and summarised the thought processes and intentions behind colonialism; by highlighting several conceptions housed by the Occidentals he has efficiently characterised the reasoning employed to 'effectively' colonialise, as well as the reason why elements of colonialism still perpetuates themselves till this present day. His efforts lay emphasis on the inaccuracies of a kaleidoscope of presuppositions, while it simultaneously questions various patterns of conviction which are approved of on personal, academic, and political spheres.

Said tackles various derivatives of "Orientalism". Offspring if you will, as a result of which perspectives and thought processes are influenced all over the Western world and to a lesser degree, the mind of the "Oriental" as well. He discussed a Dormant Orientalism which amounts to the underlying, certainty of understanding, about the very nature of Orient. Viewed as eccentric, unenlightened, stimulating, and inert, it has a predisposition towards despotism while retreating from development. Always compared with the West who hands down a certificate of inferiority and assumes the position of kindergarten teacher on it's behalf. The second derivative of "Orientalism" is the result of the application of Dormant Orientalism: Apparent Orientalism. Meaning when the principles of dormant orientalism are acted upon and it's results are manifest. These derivatives of "Orientalism" have served as the host of perpetuation, which carry "Orientalism" (In it's negative form) into the present.

This is achieved by handing down of similar thought processed from generation to generation; by both institutionalised and uninstitutionalised modes of education. Definitely books written by authors such as Balfour and Cromwel are still in obtainable today and may be mandatory reading for those who will graduate into opinion makers. Similarly, since the "Oriental" has been forcibly put into a relationship of subservience due to their inability to study the Occidental as well; they will be unable to "own the West" as a result of a better understanding of them. Since the ways of the "Oriental" have already been deemed as "uncivilised" and this propaganda has been spread across to the economic and technological dominants, it would be a matter of deprogramming the rest of the world and indeed the “Oriental".

Said's arguments which are summarised above are particularly interesting. He unearths a particular format for colonialisation and indeed the reasoning which justifies it to the colonial powers, in this case the West. Superiority. In the sense that the West believe that they set the standard, there is no "different standards for different people"; all positions which are not on the same path as theirs are primitive and must be brought on track with the Eurocentric societal development. This proved to be a very interesting point, which I agree with thoroughly.

Edward Said attacks Orientalism from a moral high ground, uneathing the underlying principes behind it. It all boils down to prejudice it seems; prejudice and greed. Greed being the underlying cause due to the fact that Oriental study was brought about by colonialism which served to benefit the Colonial Masters. It served as a justification for Colonialsim, and it's after effects are still being felt by the “Orient" and "Oriental peoples all over the world.. It is an erasure of the line between 'the West' and 'the Other.' Said's makes it clear the his desire is to highlight the negative influences in Orientalism, and pave the way for a new evaluation of the "Orient", made objectively, without preconceived notion, or bias. As post colonial theory demands a “constant redefinition of both “politics” and “culture” in a rapidly globalizing world,” Said also questions how cultural power and privilege determines modern identity (Nealon and Giroux, 149). Said’s dialogue of “Oritentalism” demands a new look at history and the colonial processes imprinted upon so many peoples. It opens and engages discourses of racism and socio-economic inequality, and intrinsically asks how post-colonial theory translates into our lives today.

The pursuit of a more complete understanding of how “our” world” and the “other” are connected requires a challenge to the referential power of European historical texts and its “exteriority to what it describes” (Said, 20). Deep “analysis of postcolonial relations is necessary” within all bodies of academic thought, Said contends; even the study of English literature is rooted in colonial purposes of assimilation and control (Said, 145). How we conceptualize ourselves extends beyond scholarly print to other modes of experience and the everyday assumptions of our culture about the “other.”

2 comments:

  1. Hi there! Thank u soo much for your rich blog, it is very helpful :)
    I have a question if you could answer it soon, I am searching for an orientalist short story to make an orientalist reading for, but I am a bit perplexed. Do you have some suggestions? Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. first what do you mean by an orientalist short story? do you mean a story that is written about orient, or a story that is written by an Orient writer. Ok if you meant a story written about Orient you can read ''heart of darkness'' while if you mean a story that is written by an Orinet writer i advise you to have a look at the works of ''tayeb Saleh''

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