Orientalism Questions and Answers
by Edward W. Said

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In what way does Edward Said's Orientalism throw into question the value of everything ("The Guest," "The Secret Room," "The Garden of Forking Paths," "The Handsomest Drowned Man in The World")?

Edward Said's Orientalism does not throw into question the value of everything so much as it makes readers consider the effects of the treatment of the "Orient" in Western literature. Works like "The Guest," for example, portray Arab people in ways that both reflect and perpetuate European attitudes about the "Orient." These attitudes and beliefs function as a discourse of dominance, portraying the non-Western world as an "other."

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Orientalism does not throw into question the value of Western literature so much as it shows how the West has defined itself against the so-called "Orient" through literature. Said argues that

European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self.

More than that, this was part of a larger process by which Europe came to dominate the "Orient." By "Orient," Said means the Middle and Near East. He writes that fiction writers, historians, social scientists, and others have constructed the "Orient" as an "other," different from the West. The region is portrayed as exotic, mysterious, primitive, even barbaric, and ultimately inferior. In short, any works of Western literature that deal with the "Orient" can be seen as part of this process.

Of the works listed in the question, "The Guest" by Camus is the most obviously relevant. The Arab prisoner in the story is described in exotic terms, and is even portrayed as stupid and slow to grasp his situation. Camus repeatedly describes his "wild eyes" and "thick lips."

In the "Garden of Forking Paths," the main character's efforts to prove himself, as a Chinese man, to white men by serving as a German spy also reflects an understanding of east Asia that fits into Said's analysis. The point is that Orientalism is a way of understanding Western literature that takes the "Orient" as a topic. It is an all-encompassing discourse, a lens for viewing works like "The Guest" and others.