Is there a controversy in Edward Said's works?

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Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Generally speaking, Orientalism confronts a controversial topic in and of itself. In order to appreciate a book such as this one, which explores a problem that involves racism, patriarchy, and neo-colonialism, one must acknowledge that such problems even exist in the world. Just this act of acknowledgement can be controversial for some who deny that such situations even exist.

Another controversial element of Said's arguments in his work Orientalism is his tone and the rather flammable language he uses in places. Said feels very strongly about his arguments and evidence, and his passionate writing could be misconstrued by critics of his work as excessive and angry. Writing that employs an accusatory tone often leads to controversy, as it stirs intense emotion in readers.

As well, at certain points in Orientalism, Said identifies European fear of the East as a reason for Orientalist attitudes toward the East. This accusation is controversial, as it presents a negative view of the dominant power, and this dominant power may indeed feel a need to defend itself, which only highlights the conflict between the East and the West that Said is trying to discuss.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the largest criticism against Said and his work comes from the idea that he views Western European thought and action as coming from a point of view that is discriminatory.  Critic Robert Irwin argues as much, when he criticizes what he claims to be Said's thesis that throughout Europe’s history, “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric."  In the end, this becomes the crux of argumentation against Said.  Others argue that it is time "to look past orientalism" and move into a realm that transcends the issue of racial and ethnic identity, something that critics argue Said does not do.  The majority of arguments against Said seem to be the same ones made against the conflict view of historical narratives, when individuals who believe in a consensus methodology of history suggest that the alternative seeks to fragment history and break from a central and unified narrative.  It is in this light that arguments are made against Said and his work.