Sunday, September 24, 2017

Great summary of Orientalism by Edward Said

When Edward Said's "Orientalism" was first published in 1978 it drew heavy attention and controversy due to its attack on not only the ground assumptions of the academic field of oriental studies, but on the whole manner in which East and West are portrayed. Said's Orientalism deals with the Western structuring of the orient as "other". Said analyses central Western texts in order to account for the way the conception of The East was crystallized. This conception, according to Said, prepared the ground for the political and cultural occupation of the non-Western regions by the West.

Said's analysis in Orientalism relies heavily on the thought of Michel Foucault and especially his thoughts on the concept of discourse and the knowledge/power equation. Another intellectual influence found in Orientalism is the concept of Hegemony derived from the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci. Using this terminology Said shows how Orientalism served as a system of representations which served to consolidate the West's authority and supremacy over the East, and not just to reflect or describe it. Like Foucault, Said ties images, ideas and texts to actual practices of government and subjection employed in order to control millions of people in the non-white world.

One of the main implications of Said's work is that even and maybe especially scholarly research about the orient (naively called Oreintalism before Said) is in fact deeply political in being an essential part of the imperialist mechanism of control and exploitation.

The main importance of Said's Orientalism is in pointing out the even though colonialism is allegedly over, the systems of thinking, talking and representing which form the basis of colonial power relations still persist. Said's book became a central text of post colonialism since it seeks to expose the fundamental principles and structures of colonialism embedded within different systems of knowledge and representation.