Orientalism Questions and Answers
by Edward W. Said

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What is the difference between latent and manifest Orientalism in Edward Said's Orientalism?

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In chapter 3 of Orientalism, Said makes the distinction between manifest Orientalism, which comprises "the various stated views about Oriental society, languages, literatures, history, sociology, and so forth," and latent Orientalism, where Orientalist views form an unstated background to what is actually said. Latent Orientalism may often be unconscious and is, by its very nature, difficult to argue against, which is why Said says he has concerned himself almost exclusively with manifest Orientalism up to this point.

However, Said continues, it is necessary to attack latent Orientalism because it is such a solid and wide-ranging background to work in numerous disciplines, including history, economics, philosophy and politics. It is, moreover, much less subject to revision than manifest Orientalism:

Whatever change occurs in knowledge of the Orient is found almost exclusively in manifest Orientalism; the unanimity, stability, and durability of latent Orientalism are more or less constant.

It is latent Orientalism that underlies imperialist and racist ideologies, such as the notion that Europeans have a mission to civilize the peoples of Asia:

Thus the racial classifications found in Cuvier's Le Regne animal, Gobineau's Essai sur I’negalité des races humaines, and Robert Knox's The Dark Races of Man found a willing partner in latent Orientalism.

Said points out that in nineteenth-century debates on imperialism, both sides accepted the premises of latent Orientalism, which weakened the ideological case of the anti-imperialists. This is why it is important to challenge latent Orientalism, despite the obvious difficulties of doing so.

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