Weekly Response: Edward Said’s Orientalism and Monica Hanna’s ““Reassembling the Fragments:” Battling Historiographies, Caribbean Discourse, and Nerd Genres in Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”
In Edward Said’s introduction to Orientalism, the basic groundwork for the concept of a constructed ‘East’ and its relation to the West is put forth. Said argues that Orientalism is fundamentally a Western discourse concerning the society or culture that conceptualizes it far more than the actual nations of the ‘Orient.’ Said’s theory questions how Orientalism was formed, promoted, reinforced, and transmitted through time periods and among cultures. Orientalsim is studied here in its representation in British, French, and American cultures due to their respective roles as imperialist powers. Simply stated, Said examines the structure of socio-cultural hegemony within and around the concept of Orientalism and the introduction places Said’s theory in a position to examine an admittedly limited part of the phenomenon.
-strategic formation-strategic location
Positivism is used by Said here to refer to the fact-based, “localized focus” he would rather avoid in examining Orientalism. In the Auguste Comte form of theological positivism, the term appears to mean the progression of mankind and its beliefs from primitive to modern, a progression that comes from using empirical evidence to judge the natural world. Some definitions of positivism state the use of facts as their primary defining element. Positivism’s use and context are important and sometimes demand a closer look.
Hegemony refers to the West’s sway over the civilized world, or the appearance of such control. Hegemony is central to Said’s argument as it defines the way in which an idea like Orientalism can contribute to this systematic control, whether it is based in fact or not. Said refers to “the limitations placed on thought and action imposed by Orientalism” to underscore this control that moves globally and locally, from individual to group (Said 3).
Strategic location and formation refer to the actual textual movement of Orientalism, a crucial part of Said’s theory. Said intends to study the ways in which the author and the community that author works in and produces for, contribute to the hegemony of ‘Orientalist’ thought. The affiliation with other texts is important and in relation to the seeming continuance of Orientalism to fulfill an agenda, Said uses the qualifier ‘strategic’ to speak to this control and the fact that the West benefits from it.
“Additionally, the imaginative examination of things Oriental was based more or less exclusively upon sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged, first according to general ideas about who or what was an Oriental, then according to a detailed logic governed not simply by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments, and projections.”
Said refers to the ‘imaginative’ in support of his earlier categorization of academic, imaginative, and corporate Orientalism. Said is stating that even the works of actual, credible scholarship come from this Western place of cultural dominance. This constructed centrality skews all opinions or supposed factual representations of the Orient, no matter how seemingly accurate or accepted by the academic community they may be.
Question 1: Said only addresses the issue of race in the introduction by way of ‘Englishmen’ or through J.S. Mill’s quote on page 14. Is race the primary motivating factor in the continuance of this idea, or is it language and cultural schisms possibly too vast to bridge?
Question 2: How do authors interact with “large political concerns” as Said states? What are the dynamics of this change?
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, n.d. Print.
In ““Reassembling the Fragments:” Battling Historiographies Caribbean Discourse, and Nerd Genres in Junot Díaz The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Monica Hanna examines the problematic rebuilding of Dominican history due to its fragmented status and the ways in which Díaz uses language to assist in this end. Hanna follows the way Díaz uses historical anecdotes and the narrative to describe the Trujillo regime and the phenomena of being Dominican American. The unbelievable nature of Trujillo’s Dominican Republic becomes entwined with actual fiction which, in turn, may provide a more accurate account than the official historical record.
Internalization here refers to the violence of the Dominican regime, as well as other factors that contribute to the Dominican American experience that become a part of those involved. Human beings internalize their environments to a certain extent. This can have negative effects, for instance, in situations of trauma, collective or otherwise.
Macondo is a fictional setting in Gabriel García Máruqez’s novels, and McOndo is an intentional break by Latin American authors from magical realism seen in such novels as Márquez’s. The McOndo movement saw magical realism as possibly obscuring the truth about certain situations that needed to be reported on without any filtering or mediating aspects. In other words, they understood the problems of important issues presented through magical realist texts.
Historiography is the historical study of a refined area of focus. It can also be used to define the study of historical study methodology as well. Both aspects work with Hanna’s article in that Díaz’s novel addresses how Dominican history is told while focusing on Trujillo, the Dominican emigration to the U.S., and the effects of dictatorial rule across generations and borders.
“..the creation of a national identity often involves the strategic “forgetting” of moments of violence that accompany national formation. Yunior’s historiography subverts this configuration of the nation by refusing to forget the violence, insisting instead on narrating it as a way to exorcise its detrimental power over…the nation…Yunior’s historiographic method emphasizes the power to of imagination and popular conceptions of the nation, yet he also brings attention to the very real violence that accompanies the creation of the nation.”
All nations have violent moments in their histories that do not shed a positive light, even through the lens of historical perspective. Writers like Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Twain use this same strategy of narration to focus on history that could easily be lost to the accepted version of history; although, Díaz uses the actual history of the Trujillo abuses in a way that compliments the narrative focus on the personal relationships and identities of the novel.
Question 1: The idea of controlled historical record is something many people may not be familiar with, fully understand, or believe in once they are informed of its possibility. Is all history controlled in one form or another? Is this what makes the role of the scholar and writer such an important, possibly even dangerous, one?
Question 2: Does the McOndo concern, that magical realism could divert attention from something that needs to be addressed for exactly what it was, in this case the Trujillo regime, hold any merit? Should something as socially damaging for the global community be reported with anything less than plain factual realism? Is it needed to dull the edge of these facts to make them palatable? Does the reader retain a sense of disbelief due to the fantastical elements of the narrative?