What is Edward Said's book Orientalism about?

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Though the previous educator's analysis is correct, Said's analysis of "Orientalism " predates the Imperialist era of the nineteenth century. In fact, he writes that "Orientalism is considered to have commenced its formal existence with the decision of the Church Council of Vienne in 1312" (72). This decision resulted...

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Though the previous educator's analysis is correct, Said's analysis of "Orientalism" predates the Imperialist era of the nineteenth century. In fact, he writes that "Orientalism is considered to have commenced its formal existence with the decision of the Church Council of Vienne in 1312" (72). This decision resulted in the formation of language "chairs" for Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac in Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Avignon, and Salamanca. Scholars were devoted to the translation and interpretation of canonical texts, but they were not immune to the biases of their time.

In the introduction, Said defines Orientalism 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 settling it, ruling over it" (26). Thus, Orientalism becomes "a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient" (26).

Said discusses the rigidity of the Orientalist's view of the Middle East by noting that it is often imbued with "unshakable abstract maxims about the 'civilization' he had studied" (75). Their research was more committed to validating their positions than to understanding the intricacies and complexities of the respective regions they studied. As a result, "Orientalism produced not only a fair amount of exact positive knowledge about the Orient but also a kind of second-order knowledge . . . the mythology of the mysterious East, [and] notions of Asian inscrutability" (75). These notions persist even today and are evident in films, television shows, and news reports that stereotype Middle Eastern people as fanatical, violent, regressive, and apathetic.

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Orientalism is about the culturally biased way in which the West, influenced by the philosophy of imperialism, regarded the East, including the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Asia. The term "Orientalism" referred to both a way of seeing and an academic discipline that falsely colored the way in which Westerners regarded the East.

In this view, the East was exotic, irrational, and inferior to the West, which was rational and superior. In studying the East, western academics were so tainted by imperial views that they were unable to separate their conception of the East from their imperialist ideology. The Westerner tended to see the people of the East as "the other," as irrational, feminine, and weak in a binary relationship with the West, which was seen as strong, rational, and masculine. This view was colored by geopolitical realities, as the West had tried to conquer the East since ancient times. The imperial presence of the West in the East also affected the fields of art, literature, sociology, and other academic fields that related to the Western study of the East.

In his book, Said writes that Orientalist studies shed little light on the East. As he writes, "I myself believe that Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is as a veridic discourse about the Orient." In other words, Orientalism was merely a way of representing the East through the lens of political power rather than a true way to understand the East.

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