Sunday, September 24, 2017

Summary: Orientalsim / Chapter 1: The Scope of Orientalism

Chapter 1 of Edward Said's Oreintalism describes how the science of orientalism developed as a system of knowledge in modern times.  According to Said, the Western Orinetals structured the world as made of two opposing elements, ours and theirs. These were not just geographical divisions but more importantly epistemological ones. The West and East were to be cultural distinctions, differences in civilization or lack of it. In Western eyes orients were incapable of taking care of themselves, they were lazy, lustful, irrational and violent but also exotic and mysterious. The self-proclaimed superiority of the West over the East also led Western scholars to think that they are more apt to understands the orients than the orients themselves, thus "orientalizing" them and subjecting them to Western standards which did not favor them.

According to Edward Said researchers and men of administration took a very Eurocentric and therefore biased and selective approach to understanding the Orient and the orients. All accounts of the Orient according to Said were prone to generalizations, attributing collective significance to acts of individuals. The West also used its own terminology to define and analyze the Orient, applying terms were unknown to their subjects. This is how concepts of the Orient were developed by Western eyes and for Western eyes.

Orientalism for Said was fundamentally a system of self projection. The Orient served as a mirror for the West who wanted to see himself as superior. By describing the oriental as uncivilized the West attempt to proclaim its own civilization. Said also employs the Freudian mechanism of projection, arguing that Europe projected everything it didn't want to acknowledge about itself onto the Orient (including sexual fantasies). The point of Said's chapter 1 of Orientalism is that Western Knowledge of the East was never neutral since it was always involved with a political and cultural agenda.    

Previous summary: Introduction to Orientalism
Next summary: Chapter 2: Orientalist Structures and Restructures

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