Orientalism (book)  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Orientalism is the 1978 book by Edward Said that marked the beginnings of postcolonial studies.

Overview

In his book Said suggests that all discourse, particularly discourse about other cultures, is inherently ideological. Therefore, regardless of the subject, any historical discourse must be situated within a particular framework with an overall structure that is necessarily ideological. Said situates his argument in the realm of Orientalism, particularly the academic study and political and literary discourse surrounding Arabs, Islam and the Middle East that originated primarily in England and France and later the United States. Said attempts to show that this discourse actually creates (rather than examines or describes) a palpable divide between East and West. It is this divide, through the examples he gives in the book, which situates the West as a superior culture to the East. This became politically useful, Said suggests, when countries such as France or England attempted to colonize and conquer Eastern countries such as Egypt, India, Algeria and others.

The discourse surrounding these countries is coded, Said says, by a superiority that is not necessarily reflected in the realities of the concerned countries. When people in the West attempt to study the East they typically do so within this already coded discourse. Therefore, Said says, the study of someplace called the "Orient" and of some people known as "Arabs" fails to take into account the reality of the area as being the same place as the West (i.e., part of the Earth). Other countries and other people are not seen as the same within Oriental discourse, however, and therefore a study of these "others" must inherently be one of studying an inferior culture when Oriental discourse is used to describe them.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Orientalism (book)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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