Edward Said’s Conception of OrientalismJune 26, 2021
Future scientists XX. Looking back at the intellectual history of the last quarter of the 20th century, the work of Columbia University Professor Edward Said will be described as “very important and influential.”
In particular, Said’s book “Orientalism”, published in 1978, will be considered extremely important. This work revolutionized the field of Middle Eastern studies and influenced many fields such as English, History, Anthropology, Political Science and Cultural Studies as well as creating entirely new fields of research such as Postcolonial theory. This book has been translated into 26 languages and is included in the curriculum of many universities and colleges. It is also one of the most debated scholarly books of the last thirty years, sparking intense debate and controversy.
The book ‘Orientalism’ tries to answer the question of how we have a preconceived notion of how people who live there believe and behave, even though we have never been to, for example, the Middle East and have never met anyone there. More generally, the book ‘Orientalism’ asks the question of how we can make sense of people who seem different to us, namely foreigners, because of their skin colour. The main claim of the book ‘Orientalism’ is that the way we obtain this information is the result of a process that is not innocent and objective, but reflects certain interests. So it is very goal oriented.
Edward Said argues that the West, that is, Europe and the USA, looks at the countries and peoples of the Middle East, in particular, through a lens that distorts the real reality of these regions and their people. Edward Said calls this lens orientalism through which we look at that part of the world. According to him, orientalism is a framework that we use to understand the unknown and foreign, and that shows the peoples of the Middle East as different and frightening. Professor Said’s contribution to our understanding of this general process, which we can call “stereotyping”, has been enormous. The purpose of this publication is to address these issues through an interview with him. Said begins our interview by discussing the context in which he realizes orientalism:
Two reasons revealed my interest in orientalism. The first of these was an incident that I encountered suddenly. The Arab-Israeli war in 1973 and before that, there were many images and discussions in the Western media about how heartless the Arabs were, that they did not know how to fight, and that they would always be defeated because they were not modern. But everyone was surprised when, at the beginning of October 1973, the Egyptian army crossed the channel and showed that it could fight like everyone else. This had an immediate warning effect on me. The second was a situation that had a much longer history in my own life. This was the mismatch I constantly saw between my own experience as an Arab and its reflection in Western art. I’m talking about great artists like Delacroix, Ang, and Gerome, or novelists like Disraeli and Flaubert who write about the Orient. I saw that these representations of the Orient had little to do with what I knew about my own past. So I decided to write the history of it [orientalism].
If, for example, someone who lived in Paris or London in the 1850s or 1860s wanted to talk or read about India, Egypt or Syria, there was little chance of dealing with these countries in a free and creative way, as we would have guessed. Because many works were written before and this was an organized writing activity. It was like an organized science and I called it ‘orientalism’. It was as if there was a sort of archive of images that kept popping up before us. For example, the emotional type of woman that exists to be used by men; the East, a kind of mysterious place full of secrets and monsters. As you know, “the marvels of the East” was an expression used at that time. As I looked, I realized that it was quite consistent in itself. This image created had almost nothing to do with the people who had actually been in those countries. Even though some writers had been there, not much had changed. In other words, you could not come across a “realistic” depiction of the Orient, neither in literature, painting, music, nor other arts. Moreover, this situation extended to the descriptions of experts who had studied the Arabs themselves. XX. Even in the XIX century. You can find images of the century. For example, you read what experts like Edward William Lang wrote, who wrote a book about modern Egyptians in the early 1830s, then you read one from the 1920s and they say more or less the same thing.
A great example I always give is the French poet Gerard de Neval. When I read the book written by this person, who, in his own words, “went on a trip to the Orient”, something about him was very familiar to me. It was like something I had read before. Then I realized, almost without realizing it, that Edward W. Lane’s book on the Egyptians