What is the viewpoint of Edward Said as expressed in Oreintalism and what links the text of Orentialism with lieterature, including novels, film, or plays?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The viewpoint Edward Said expresses in Orientalism is founded upon his three-point definition of his concept of "Orientalism":

  • an academic field within multiple disciplines.
  • a conception of reality based on the binary form of "Occidental" opposing "Oriental" [Occident, West; Orient, East].
  • Imperialistic philosophy and mechanization's of the Occident to dominate and control the Orient.

Said's particular interest as expressed in Orientalism is the Muslim Middle East, due in part to Said's own ethnic background. Thus the particulars of Orientalism--as an academic field and as a binary form--as it relates to the Muslim Middle East forms another part of Said's viewpoint.

The arguments that Said makes that express his viewpoint can be summarized in about four points expressing his polemic (i.e., refuting and attacking accepted doctrine) that denounces the concept and realization of Orientalism, which he so strongly opposes. Danielle Sered of Emory University summarizes Said's viewpoint nicely:

[Said's] rejection of Orientalism entails a rejection of biological generalizations, cultural constructions, and racial and religious prejudices. ... It is an erasure of the line between ‘the West’ and ‘the Other.’ (Sered, "Orientalism")

Four arguments Said makes expressing his viewpoint involve

(1) accumulating and analyzing present-day evidence of the cultures and psychologies of the Oriental East rather than emphasizing past historical Oriental eras;

(2) dispelling the doctrine that Orientals are sociologically unworthy of scholarly recognition and denouncing reliance on social science's uninvestigated generalities of cultures and human anthropological characteristics;

(3) rejecting international policy relations that represent the Occidental West as superior and rational while representing the Oriental East as deviant and inferior;

(4) eradication of binary facilitated domination by the powerful, rational, superior Occident over the impotent, irrelevant, deviant and inferior Orient.

This total picture provides a good summary of Said's viewpoint as expressed in Orientalism. What links the text of Orientalism to literature is the picture of enfeebled, dominated, inferior Orientals and Oriental culture as expressed in works like Lawrence of Arabia (a novel and a film) and the film Gandhi (1982) and Kipling's poem "Buddha at Kamakura":

A tourist-show, a legend told,
A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
The meaning of Kamakura?                

katiekeene | Student

Edward Said's thesis is that Western views of the Middle East and Asia were inaccurate and exploitative. He claimed Westerners depicted "Oriental" people & culture in stereotypes for their own purposes. 

"A central idea of Orientalism is that Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from preconceived archetypes that envision all "Eastern" societies as fundamentally similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar to "Western" societies."

In his book, Orientalism, Said wrote about how (he believed) the West viewed the Orient and protested against it..

Books & films stereotyped Middle Easterners in films like "Raiders of the Lost Arc" (all 'Indiana Jones' movies) "The Thief of Baghdad, "Casablanca," Lawrence of Arabia," all films of "Sinbad," voyages, etc.  

"Said effectively redefined the term "Orientalism" to mean a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the Middle East."* (link below.)

The culture, ethos, & values of the Middle East and Asia are different than Western, but Edward Said purported that the West fabricated a viewpoint to dominate them. Said disputed the West's prejudicial "attitude" toward the "Orient" He argued how Western thinking generalized Eastern people and their "exotic" culture. Nowadays it's considered political correct to refer to Easterners as Asians or Middle Eastern — not as Orientals. Orientalism holds there is "A Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." 


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