📙 Orientalism

Orientalism was written by the late Edward Saïd (1935–2003). Saïd was a Palestinian professor of literature at Columbia University (USA). He was a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies.

Download & Reference

Saïd, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.
Editable PDF: Orientalism (approx. 10mb)

“Humanism is the only resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.”

Edward Saïd’s seminal work, Orientalism, has “redefined our understanding of colonialism and empire,” according to one critic. Saïd surveys the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, considering orientalism as a powerful European ideological creation – a way for writers, philosophers and colonial administrators to deal with the ‘otherness’ of eastern culture, customs and beliefs. He traces this view through the writings of Homer, Nerval and Flaubert, Disraeli and Kipling, whose imaginative depictions have greatly contributed to the West’s romantic and exotic picture of the Orient. Drawing on his own experiences as an Arab Palestinian living in the West, Said examines how these ideas can be a reflection of European imperialism and racism.

Saïd traces this view through the writings of Homer, Nerval and Flaubert, Disraeli and Kipling, whose imaginative depictions have greatly contributed to the West’s romantic and exotic picture of the Orient. Drawing on his own experiences as an Arab Palestinian living in the West, Said examines how these ideas can be a reflection of European imperialism and racism.

Paraphrasing from the book’s introduction, orientalism is the amplification of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and, “the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the Oriental world,” from the perspectives of Western thinkers and scholars. According to Said, orientalism is the key source of the inaccuracy in cultural representations that form the foundations of Western thought and perception of the Eastern world, specifically in relation to the Arabs.

The theoretical framework that orientalism covers has three tenets:

(1)
— an academic tradition or field [see, maybe my posts on: Wilfred Thesiger and Sir Richard Burton, are they orientalists?];

(2)
— a worldview, representation, and canon / discourse which bases itself upon an, “ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and the West and

(3)
— as a powerful political instrument of domination; by the West, of the East.

Praise for the book

“Beautifully patterned and passionately argued.”

New Statesman

“Very exciting … his case is not merely persuasive, but conclusive.”

— John Leonard, New York Times

Them ‘n’ Us

The West may objectify us…

But, they do themselves too:

Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).
Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).
Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres; car……!, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).


p.s.

Orientalism
[1] Style, artefacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia. [2] The representation of Asia in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude. [3] “Orientalism,” as defined by Edward Said, is “the Western attitude that views Eastern societies as exotic, primitive, and inferior. Basically, an Orientalist mindset centers the Western (European/American) world and views the Eastern world as ‘the Other.'”

Humanism
— From Latin “homo” – a person, “humanitas” – human nature:
[1] A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. [2] A Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought. [3] (among some contemporary writers) A system of thought criticised as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.