Edward Said - Orientalism (1978)

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1 Edward Said - Orientalism (1978) (Pagination from Vintage Books 25th Anniversary Edition) ES Biography Father was a Palestinian Christian Named him Edward after the Prince of Wales - ES: foolish name Torn Identity: Edward (British Imperialism) - Said (Palestinian) Went to Ivy League, became a professor of comparative literature His specialty was Conrad - not hard to see why: exile, search for cultural unity, meaning Felt secretly torn, ashamed of being Arab: his cultural heroes - Edmund Wilson, Isaiah Berlin, Reinhold Niebuhr - were all fanatical Zionists & said terrible things about the Arabs. At this time he was non political. Felt he was a professional going about his business, until 6 Day War in Everything he read about the Arabs felt to him wrong, so he read everything. The war was the spark that politicized him. Confirmed his secret sense that the study of literature is a historical and political task, not just as aesthetic one Personal Reasons for Writing Orientalism ES wrote of the influence of Gramsci s notion of self-consciousness at the root at political consciousness: In the Prison Notebooks Gramsci says: The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is knowing thyself as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. The only available English translation inexplicable leaves Gramsci s comment at that, whereas in fact Gramsci s Italian text concludes by adding, therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory. (25) ES writes of feeling the victim of racist stereotyping once moving to US. My own experiences of these matters are in part what made me write this book. The

2 life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny. (27) Orientalism Published: 1978 Iranian Revolution - 79 Israeli invasion of Lebanon - 82 So contentious times for anti-arab sentiment in the US. Brief The book is a criticism of the scholarly discipline called Orientaliism - the study of the Orient Modern Orientalism: Begins with Napolean s conquest of Egypt Focuses on English & French writers, and then American Because they are the ones holding onto the power dynamic What is Orientalism? He offers varying definitions throughout the text. Orientalism is a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western Empire. Orientalism is: Essentialist: unchanging, fixed ideas Binary: us / them Instrumentalist The Orient is: Passive Feminine Silent, supine sensual unordered anti-rational mysterious dark with always a strong tendency towards despotism The West is the opposite of all of these things

3 SOME IDEAS Power / Knowledge - Foucault Ideas, cultures and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied True Knowledge vs Political Knowledge: What I am interested in doing now is suggesting how the general liberal consensus that true knowledge is fundamentally non-political (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not true knowledge) obscures the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge is produced. No one is helped in understanding the study when the adjective political is used as a label to discredit any work for daring to violate the protocol of pretended supra political objectivity. (10) Here s what I understood of Foucault previously: Power creates Knowledge in service of power So power uses knowledge to advance itself But what ES shows is that knowledge creates the conditions for power to establish itself. To know something is to assume supremacy over it Once again, knowledge of subject races or Orientals is what makes their management easy and profitable; knowledge gives power, more power requires more knowledge, and so on in an increasingly profitable dialectic of information and control. (36) Interesting example: English in India always left before they aged. Indians had never seen a white man not at the height of his physical and intellectual powers. Discourse - Foucault This is the real subject of the book. The power of discourses- or intellectual traditions. The weight of the discourse of most responsible for the work Such that even imaginative artists like Flaubert, or souls sensitive to the suffering of the exploited like Marx, were unable in their individual genius to transcend the discourse of 19th century Orientalism that had shaped their thinking about the Orient. One way a discourse works: Orientalist prejudice is not a justification of colonialism, but prepared the way for it. Philology example: pseudo scientific explanation of inferiority already taken for granted, b/c of Orientalist discourse

4 Mid 19th, era of Enlightenment. Supernatural explanation for what s different are shelved. In comes the idea of aberrations anomalies new way of thinking about monsters Semitic languages are taken to be aberrations of indo-european languages. They are dead, they cannot reproduce themselves, etc. Which is to say: SCIENTIFICALLY they are INFERIOR! Important Point: First systematic attempts by Europeans to gain knowledge of the orient were carried out by men who deeply viewed it as an aberration of Western culture. The Orient on a Stage Orientalism puts the Orient on a stage; the edge of the stage is framed by prominent Orientalists It s a performance of the orient, a drama of the orient, meant for the west Which reminded me of James Baldwin False Binary For that is the main intellectual issue raised by Orientalism. Can one divide human reality, as indeed human reality seems to be genuinely divided, into clearly different cultures, histories, traditions, societies, even races, and survive the consequences humanly? By surviving the consequences humanly, I mean to ask whether there is any way of avoiding the hostility expressed by this division, say, of men into us (Westerners) and they (Orientals). (45) RESPONSE TO ORIENTALISM Polarized, then as now What do you think of ES - never an innocent question Praise: Palestinian intellectual unheard of at the time Response in the Arab world was exuberant. Post-colonial literary theory launched off its back Liberation movements: voice to the wretched of the earth Criticism: Anti-western Pro Islamic fundamentalism Essentialist Hating dead white males People don t like having their intellectual and artistic heroes called racist People don t like having their whole field attacked Zionists hated him, of course

5 READING SAID TODAY First impression: recognition of myself. My education makes me a child of ES, despite not having read him, or even taken post colonial lit in college. It s a strange experience: Like reading the bible for the first time and seeing the wellspring of my values. I thought I was going to feel it was overvalued: my generation of students being incapable as they are of creating arguments because we only know how to problematize. But the uses and misuses of ES over the years are not the same as the ideas in this book. Said s Afterward, 1996: Orientalism now seems to me a collective book that I think supersedes me as its author more than I could have expected when I wrote it.

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