Edward Said
Edward Said
Born 1935

Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine

Relevant Work Orientalism


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Edward Said was born in 1935 in the British-ruled Jerusalem, Palestine.

  • He was educated in both British and American colonial schools in Cairo.

  • After being expelled from school in 1951 for "disciplinary reasons," Said attended a prep school in Massachusetts (Norton 1861).

  • While there, he was able to receive his U.S. citizenship and apply to U.S. universities.

  • He attended Princeton University and received his B.A. before continuing his education at Harvard, receiving both his M.A. and Ph.D. in English and comparative literature.

  • He began his academic career at Columbia University, occupying a number of prestigious roles.

from Orientalism Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

Orientalism was published in 1978, a time when the turmoil between the Middle East and the West was intensifying. The introduction to Said in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism notes that the creation of the Jewish state of Israel was not seen as the reclamation for those living in the Middle East that the West portrayed it to be.  The Palestinians referrer to it as nakbah, for "disaster," while the West celebrates it as the healing reestablishment of the Jewish homeland.  Said himself is quoted as saying, "Israel was established; Palestine was destroyed" (1861).

Orientalism was immediately recognized as a critical classic, with an impact not only on literary studies, but also on anthropology, history, international studies, and the discipline known as Orientalism" (1864).

Key Words and Terms Edit

Orientalism: A term "to refer to the historical and idealogical process whereby false images of and myths about the Eastern or "Oriental" world have been constructed in various Western discourses" (Bedford Glossary, 358). "A way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European's Western experience" (Norton, 1866).

The Occident: "the dominant West" (1861).

The Orient: "the Middle and Far East" (1861).

Orientalized: the idea that the Orient was created (1868)

Strategic Location: a way of describing the author's position in a text with regard to the Oriental material he writes about (1881)

Strategic Formation: a way of analyzing the relationship between texts and the way which groups of texts acquire mass, density, and referential power among themselves and thereafter in the culture at large (1881).

Hegemony: "an indispensable concept for any understanding of cultural life in the industrial West" (1871). "Leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others" (Google).

Key Quotations Edit

"The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other" (1866).

"Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient--and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist--either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she does is Orientalism" (1867).

"Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient--dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it." (1867-1868)

In brief, because of Orientalism the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action. This is not to say that Orientalism unilaterally determines what can be said about the Orient, but that it is the whole network of interests inevitably brought to bear on (and therefore always involved in ) any occasion when that peculiar entity 'the Orient' is in question" (1868).

" make their own history; that what they can know is what they have made, and extend it to geography: as both geographical and cultural entities--to say nothing or historical entities--such locales, regions, geographical sectors as 'Orient' and 'Occident' are man-made" (1869).

"Orientalism, therefore, is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been considerable material investment" (1870).

"The scientist, the scholar, the missionary, the trader, or the soldier was in, or thought about, the Orient because he could be there, or could think about it, with very little resistance on the Orient's part" (1871).

"The imaginative examination of things Oriental was based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged, first according to general ideas about who or what was an Oriental, then according to a detailed logic governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments, and projections" (1871).

"If it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author's involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second" (1874).

"It [Orientalism] is rather a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts; it is an elaboration not only of a basic geographical distinction (the world is made up of two unequal halves, Orient and Occident) but also of a whole series of 'interests' which, by such means as scholarly discovery, philological reconstruction, psychological analysis, landscape and sociological description, it now only creates but also maintains; it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct/ corresponding relationship with political power in the raw' but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or orthodoxies and canons of taste, texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what 'we' do and what 'they' cannot do or understand as 'we' do)" (1875).

"The nexus of knowledge and power creating 'the Oriental' and in a sense obliterating him as a human being is therefore not for me an exclusively academic matter" (1887).

Discussion Edit

The Orient and Occident Edit

In Orientalism, Said presents the idea that the representation of the Orient is created through literary endeavors by the Occident. He states that since we live in an "electronic, postmodern world...there has been a reinforcement of stereotypes by which the Orient is viewed" (1886). Western cultures does not take into serious consideration the various cultures that make up the Orient and instead subscribe to generalized a set of ideas. Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from archetypes that perceive all “Eastern” societies as fundamentally similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar to “Western” societies. This consequent knowledge establishes “the East” as antithetical to “the West.” 

Said goes beyond addressing the issues of "Orientalism" and the "Orient" in a number of ways. He examines the representation of power held by Western culture and those who are lesser in power or power-less, which is how the East is viewed. Said writes:  

Every writer on the Orient (and this is true even of Homer) assumes some Oriental precedent, some previous knowledge of the Orient, to which he refers and on which he relies...Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders it mysteries plain for and to the West. He is never concerned with the Orient except as the first cause of what he says. What he says and writes, by virtue of the fact that it is said or written, is meant to indicate that the Orientalist is outside the Orient, both as an existential and as a moral fact. (1882)

Another quote later on the page sums up this idea:  

The things to look at are style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelty to some great original. The exteriority of the representation is always governed by some version of the truism that if the Orient could represent itself, it would; since it cannot, the representation does the job, for the West, and faute de mieux, for the poor Orient. (1882)

This aspect of Said's argument encompasses issues that are relevant even today. Since the Orient is the same as the Othered people present day, these quotes could not be more true. Many times those who are not in the shoes of the experiencer try to speak for their experience. Would it do more justice to the East, or Orient, or Other, if authors were to help those who do not have a voice to have a voice by writing their story or experience from their point of view with the information gathered from that experiencer in order to reveal an actual look into their lives free from the influence of Western culture? (A simple but successful example of of this is found in a children's book titled A Long Walk to Water, in which author Linda Sue Park interviewed and relayed Salva's and Nya's experiences in the Sudan.)  

Said's statement that "The Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be 'oriental' in all those ways considered commonplace by an average nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be--that is, submitted to being--made Oriental" (pg 1870) shows the power situations in imperialist theory, where one participant makes an assumption (in this example regarding commonplaces) and because of economic and military influence, the other participant capitulates to the assumption.  

Connections to Marxism Edit

Said's arguments rely heavily on a single conceit, " . . . no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author's involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances" (1874). His point is that there is no such thing as true objectivity; every person brings themselves into everything they read, write, create, study, etc. Included in this "self" is the individual's placement in the world. Where Marxist theory might be most concerned with an individual's place within a certain class structure, Said is interested in the literal geography that a person inhabits and how this colors every bit of knowledge they absorb and/or produce.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

One major criticism of Said's work is the fact that he does not discuss women or gender.  According to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Susan Fraiman published an article entitled "Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism," in Critical Inquiry 21 (1995) where she criticizes Said for not acknowledging texts written by women and also for ignoring gender all together in his work (1865). <p data-rte-fromparser="true" data-rte-empty-lines-before="1">Harvard Professor Emeritus Roger Owen expressed that while Said's work has received a mixed reception, it is important to read "Orientalism as carefully as its author would wish and then being able to understand its role as the first part of a project which required the construction of alternative methodologies as its complement." Owen said that he and some—not many—of his colleagues, "experienced a great sense of relief. After a decade or so of critique, our work had been overtaken and summed up by Edward in such a comprehensive way that, so it then appeared, we could all get on with what seemed the much more important task of finding better ways of studying the economies, societies, and political systems of the Middle East" (Owen).  <p data-rte-fromparser="true" data-rte-empty-lines-before="1">Owen also recognized that when regarding the immediate reception of Edward’s work, "it was not only many Orientalists, or near-Orientalists, who were upset but also many well-versed in what they regarded as a progressive science of society. This certainly applied to persons such as Harry Magdoff, the New York editor of the Monthly Review, who asked me to review Orientalism, a book about which he had very mixed feelings. It was also true of colleagues such as Fred Halliday, who argued that Orientalism could easily be read as creating an irreconcilable division between East and West, thereby undermining one of the basic features of our universalistic approach" (Owen).  

Related Works Edit

  • Achebe, An Image of Africa
  • Aristotle. Poetics.
  • Bhabha, Homi K. Mitchell, W.J.T. Edward Said: Continuing the Conversation. 2005.
  • Braidotti, Rosi. Animals, Anomalies, and Inorganic Others.
  • Karl Marx - Like Marx, Said's theories are partially based on the relationship between a dominating cultural and political force and the subject of this domination. The key difference is that while Marx focused on the manifestation of this phenomena in class structures, Said is interested in how the Occident (the West), exerts dominance and control over the Orient (the East).
  • Said, Edward. Orientalism Reconsidered
  • Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents. 2006.
  • Plato. Republic.
  • Wolfe, Cary. Human, All Too Human.
  • de Pizan, Christine. Christine's Reaction to Jean de Montreuil's Treatise on the Roman de la Rose.
  • McCall, Leslie. The Complexity of Intersectionality.
  • Foucault, Michael. The Archaeology of Knowledge
  • Foucault, Michael. Discipline and Punish
  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth: from on National Culture
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Can the Subaltern Speak?
  • Gilbert & Gubar. From The Madwoman in the Attic.

References Edit

Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.

Owen, Roger. "Edward Said and the Two Critiques of Orientalism." Middle East Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.