Ashley’s Last Post on Edward Said’s “Orientalism”

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This is not to say that Orientalism unilaterally determines what can be said about the Orient, but that it is the whole network of interests inevitably brought to bear on ( and therefore always involved in) any occasion when that peculiar entity “the Orient” is in question. How this happens is what this book tries to demonstrate. It also tries to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self. (1868)

            First, Said introduces Orientalism as a “network of interests” that attribute to the characteristics of what is known as the Orient. Interestingly, we have a field of study dedicated to understanding the imposition of morals and customs upon the “other” Eastern subject.  The question becomes; how does Orientalism as an academic subject actually affect the other and their productivity? How can they authentically represent themselves without the assumption that they are playing up Orientalist depictions?  By adhering to Orientalist representations (according to our privileged, Western standards), they stand the chance of being scrutinized for selling out to eroticized tropes. This is difficult for the Eastern subject because they have to choose whether or not they authentically represent their culture (which has already been typified and mystified) or their experience as an assimilated subject.

            Said also reveals the processes of how Europe “set itself against the Orient” in order to reinforce their superiority. The Eastern world becomes something like a shadow to the West– they become the dark other. They become merely subjects and not people, and their culture becomes associated with Barbary and incivility. Said asserts that the Orient becomes “a sort of surrogate and even underground self”. The East becomes everything the West does not overtly represent. Unfortunately, these diabolical tropes prescribed by the West also become a means of justification for missions of civility and democracy.

 

 

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