Sunday, September 24, 2017

Summary: Orientalism / Chapter 2: Orientalist Structures and Restructures

In chapter 2 of Orientalism Eward Said describes a shift in Western attitude towards the Orient in modern times. According to Said Orientalism as a field of knowledge romanticized the non-Western world for Western viewers. The shape and content of the Orient was devised by Western eyes for western eyes. The Orient was to become the exotic, a land of sunshine and romantic fantasies.

Said explains that the Orient as the West's "other" in the 19th century  took on a new modern shape which saw it as an "unspoiled" and innocent form of human existence compared with the highly civilized, therefore complicated and even "unnatural" Western world. This does not mean that Westerners saw the Orient as superior to them, on the contrary, the purity of the Orientals made them inferior to the sophisticated West. The Orient's innocence was cause for the West to justify controlling them, even for their own sake.

Another justification provided by Orientalism for the rule of the West over the East was a form of social Darwinism which pointed to the fact that the West developed faster than other parts of the world as proof of the Westerners as biologically superior. The higher development rate of the West led to Westerners "discovering" others and not the other way around. This was seen as additional proof of the West's evolutionary advantage.

Chapter 2 of Orientalism also includes an analysis by Said on the works of dominant Orientalists in the 19th century (like Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan). Said shows the bias and prejudice inherited in their works and offers a genealogy of their development. Finally, in the final part of chapter 2 of Orientsalism Said describes how the image of the Orient was a cause for pilgrimage making excursions to visit and receive inspiration for it while protecting themselves from "its unsetting influences" (Orientalism, p.166)     

Previous summary: Chapter 1:  The Scope of Orientalism 
Next summary: Chapter 3 : Orientalism Now 

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