Sunday, September 24, 2017

Summary: Introduction to Orientalism by Edward Said

Edward Said opens his introduction to Orientalism by arguing that "The Orient was almost a European invention" (Orientalism, p.1). He goes on to explain that "the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience" (ibid, p.1-2). Said claims that Orientalism is a man-made discourse, alluding to the Foucaultian influence on his book. The fact that Orientalism is a discourse does not mean it is a lie that would simply disappear by pointing out the truth. It is rather a construction of reality which is embedded in very factual mechanism of reality ranging from politics and military through law and economics all the way to literature and cinema. All these rely on what Said calls "an ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and  (most of the time) "the Occident" (ibid, p.2)

Said's Orientalism analyses mostly texts, but he strongly holds that there is no separation between ideas, images and representations and actual material reality. Therefore he uses his analysis of texts to show how Orientalism has formed as a highly powerful system of control due to the combination of actual institutions of power and discursive ones. Both military and literary excursions, both political and cultural endeavors, both administrative and anthropological practices and theories all served together to establish Europe's superiority over the Orient.

Said continues to blame contemporary research in being Eurocentric by not recognizing its own bias position and the political nature of its so called "pure" knowledge. Said demonstrates how a "canon" of knowledge was crystallized to serve as the basis for everything that could be written by the West about the East (and even if an Eastern person were to write about himself, he would also have the abide by these premises in order to be heard and considered).

In the final part of his introduction to Orientalism Said states his own personal dimension and biographical interest in his subject of study, acknowledging their political influence on his research.  

Next summary: Chapter 1:  The Scope of Orientalism 

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