Post a two-page (around 500 words) summary of and commentary on Edward Said’s “Orientalism.” The essay may be a little challenging, so below you will find some ideas, quotes, and key concepts to help you understand Said’s main arguments.
- Representation and power: how does representation (the way we portray people in media, news, and fiction etc.) affect our ideas about people we have never seen or met before? Is what we see in mass media and read in books accurate?
- Discuss the relationship between knowledge and power. Can you think of current examples of this relationship and how it impacts our views about reality (people, social issues, history etc.)? who has the power to create knowledge? Does knowledge give us power?
- Within this context, what do you believe is the importance of works of literature? What sort of knowledge do they give us? Is it similar or different from other discourses such as historical and social ones?
- Said talks about the concept of hegemony? Research and define this term and discuss how it relates to literature.
The relationship between material reality and representation:
- Is representation of reality as we see in political, historical, social, and literary discourses accurate or is it biased? What is the relationship between representation and power? Who decides what types of representations made available to the public? What is the impact of representation on the material lives of ordinary people?
- With these questions in mind, what do you think Said’s argument about the way the West represents the Orient/Middle East is?
The nature of Knowledge:
- Can knowledge be pure; that is, non-political? Are fictional stories less political than say historical or economic studies? What is the relationship between knowledge and power?
- What do you think Said argues when he says: “Now because Britain, France and recently the United States are imperial powers, their political societies impart to their civil societies a sense of urgency, a direct political infusion as it were, where and whenever matters pertaining to their imperial interests abroad are concerned. I doubt that it is controversial. For example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the late nineteenth century took an interest in these countries that was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact—and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism” 137. What do you think Said means by this statement? Do you agree with him?
Orientalism as a discourse and an academic tradition:
- Orientalism is a system of representations (142). Find and discuss examples of these representations.
- Orientalism is also “an influential academic tradition […] as well as an area of concern defined by travelers, commercial enterprises, governments, military expeditions, readers of novels and accounts of exotic adventure, natural historians and pilgrims to whom the Orient is a specific kind of knowledge about specific places, peoples and civilizations” (142). What do you think Said’s main argument is in this quote? What brings all these fields together?
Latent and manifest Orientalism:
- Said makes the distinction between latent and manifest Orientalism on page 144. What is the main difference between the two? Can you think of examples of each?