Toni’s Response to Said

“that Orientalism makes sense at all depends more on the West than on the Orient, and this sense is directly indebted to various Western techniques of representation that make the Orient visible, clear, “there” in discourse about it.  And these representations rely upon institutions, traditions, conventions, agreed-upon codes of understanding for their effects, not upon a distant and amorphous Orient.” (1883)

Earlier in the introduction of Said’s Orientialism, the author gestures at Foucault in addition to Gramsci and Williams.  It is here in the passage above that we can see a reason for this gesture to Foucault’s work in the History of Sexuality.  Said’s language tells us that Foucault’s work on sexual discourse is the catalyst for much of what we now know to be true of sexual discourse with its labels, categories, norms, etc.  In this same way, Said makes the point that without the Western discourse about the Orient/Orientalism, the Orient (as we know it) would not exist. Discourse has imposed, even created not only Orientalist works, but the notion of Orientalism as well. 

The same institutions (or apparatuses to use Athusser’s term) are responsible for the creation of the concept and ensuing discourse of the Orient.  The idea that these structures exist and continue to dominate discourse about any particular group, carries, and should carry great weight with society in general, not just the field of literary theory.  The Occident’s notion of contrast seems to carry weight as well – for some reason it feels it necessary to compare and contrast one ideology to another with the idea that one must always be superior to the other.  It seems to be this notion of superiority that precipitates the examination of ideological structures.  And, those of us who have already read Spivak understand (or are still trying to understand)  that academia must examine its own tendency to perpetual the notion that the Occident’s scholarly examinations are the ones that are privileged in academia  In other words, the other, or Oriental (as defined by Said) cannot speak because his own language, even ideology has been shaped by colonialism/imperialism.

One thought on “Toni’s Response to Said”

  1. Great connections. I hadn’t thought about the link to Foucault, but that makes a lot of sense. I think (I might have pointed this out in class, or perhaps I was just thinking it) that the same dynamic plays out in any situation in which there is an imbalance of power: the privileged group gets to define the other group in opposition to its own self-image (or its own ideal), and the illusion that the definition is descriptive–and the differences ‘natural’–serve as a defense of the power imbalance.

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