What are two main arguments Edward Said makes in his book Orientalism?

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Edward Said's seminal work Orientalism, first published in 1978, makes two important arguments about the ways in which the East, or the non-Western world, is portrayed both in academic texts and area studies and in discourse more broadly.

First, Said argues that Western texts have constructed the Orient as...

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Edward Said's seminal work Orientalism, first published in 1978, makes two important arguments about the ways in which the East, or the non-Western world, is portrayed both in academic texts and area studies and in discourse more broadly.

First, Said argues that Western texts have constructed the Orient as an exotic “other.” This scholarship, produced largely in the Western world, serves to reinforce monolithic notions of the Orient. The result is a canon of literature that reifies and exoticizes the Orient, casting populations as “others.”

Second, Said argues for the importance of understanding discourse as a system of power. According to Said, colonialism was not only a form of military rule that dominated the non-Western world but is also a powerful discourse that reinforces colonialist relations. This happens in part through the powerful textual representations produced in Western texts. Said contends that we cannot separate the production of knowledge from the exercise of power.

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The two main arguments Said makes in Orientalism are first that the "Orient" is nothing but a Western European construct. There is no such thing in reality as the "Orient." To the Europeans, the "Orient" represents one monolithic, inferior, exotic, and mysterious culture that stretches unbroken from the Middle East to India to China. In fact, that geographic area, which is enormous, contains a multiplicity of very different cultures and religions that simply can't be lumped together as one monolith.

The second argument Said makes is that the Western Europe nations constructed the idea of the "Orient" to serve their imperialist agenda. Such a construct makes it easier to justify controlling and exploiting a vast number of disparate cultures. By lumping all of these cultures together as the "Orient," Western European nations no longer had to build a case every time they wanted to take over one of these countries. Through the invention of the "Orient," the West had a blanket rationale, stating they had to control all of these backwards, childlike, irrational, and lesser nations for their own good.

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The first main argument of Orientalism is that representations of the so-called "Orient" by Western authors, writers, artists, and scholars have essentialized and sensationalized the people and the culture of the region, which is essentially everything in Asia, especially the Middle East. The peoples of the "Orient" were portrayed as an "other," having little in common with Europeans. This was true even in scholarly works on the Orient, which were often written by people who wrote in an imperial context, even if their interest was sincere and their intentions were good. While portrayals of the region varied, they tended to depict the Muslim world in particular as a single, monolithic entity, effacing the diversity of culture, belief, and opinion that actually exists. In a 1995 edition of the book, Said argues that this phenomenon has actually intensified rather than improved.

The second main argument in the book is that "Orientalism" is a sort of power discourse. It is not really an accident that Western views of the Middle East and Asia are the way they are. They represent the power imbalances of imperialist relations on the one hand, and on the other, they are used to perpetuate these imbalances. Negative and simplistic views of Muslims, for example, make it more likely that Westerners will support military action against them. So, Orientalism (the book) has a political message about "Orientalism" (the concept). By engaging in a more sophisticated and unbiased study of the Middle East and Asia, Western approaches to the region will be more informed and fair.

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