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Orientalism (1978)

por Edward W. Said

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More than three decades after its first publication, Edward Said's groundbreaking critique of the West's historical, cultural, and political perceptions of the East has become a modern classic. In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of "orientalism" to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined "the orient" simply as "other than" the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.… (mais)
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In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of “orientalism” to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined “the orient” simply as “other than” the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.

Edward W. Said was born in 1935 in Jerusalem, raised in Jerusalem and Cairo, and educated in the United States, where he attended Princeton (B.A. 1957) and Harvard (M.A. 1960; Ph.D. 1964). In 1963, he began teaching at Columbia University, where he was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature. He died in 2003 in New York City.

(Abstract source: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/159783/orientalism-by-edward-w-said/9780...)
  Centre_A | Nov 27, 2020 |
Said ofrece una descripción de la formación y desarrollo de los temas claves sobre el islam y los musulmanes ( )
  hernanvillamil | Sep 10, 2020 |
Let me start off by saying that this is a vitally important book. This is not to say that I consistently enjoyed reading it, but that I understand the importance of the book to the world. I should have rated it higher if the review was related to the importance of the book to society. But instead, I rated it based on my experience of it. The book is insightful and hardhitting. It is rigorous and brilliant. It is not, however, accessible.

This book is for academics, and it is about the academy. It is assumed you know the names Flaubert, Renan, Dante, Schwab, Nerval, Goethe, etc, and can appreciate their works. The lessons are of course valid and extrapolatable to outside of the academy, however, the book relies fairly heavily on referencing these authors. This is of course natural. In addition to being a seminal work of postcolonialism, it is also a comparative literature book. The rating that I gave is due to my immense enjoyment of the former aspects and my ignorance of and indifference to the latter.

It is also assumed that you speak English (naturally) but also French and German. There are untranslated passages- sometimes mere sentences, sometimes several paragraphs- in the aforementioned languages. Had I read the book, rather than listened to it, I would have skipped over these sections. But since it was an audiobook, I just waited them out.

Orientalism is about how colonialism creates archetypes for entire swaths of unrelated peoples, and the political consequences of thinking this way. This has been done for hundreds of years, but it has much more dire political consequences in the age of unmanned Predator drones and resource wars. "This system now culminates in the very institutions of the state. To write about the Arab Oriental world, therefore is to write [...] with the unquestioned certainty of absolute truth backed by absolute force." Orientalism is an example of colonialist mindset. It "calls in question not only the possibility of nonpolitical scholarship, but also the advisability of too close a relationship between the scholar and the state."

The Arab Mind, Oriental despotism, Arabic sensuality, sloth, fatalism, cruelty, degradation and splendor, all of these are Orientalist myths that persist to this day, and shape how we have constructed this other, as a result of colonialism. Colonialism created a need to hate this enormous swath of humanity in order that they could be colonized without guilty conscience. In so doing, "Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience."

This colonialist mindset had incredibly serious consequences in shaping not only the attitude of the "West" towards the "East," but how the people who make up the "West" concieve themselves, and how they construct their own identities. "Debates today about Frenchness and Englishness in France and Britain respectively, or about Islam in countries like Egypt and Pakistan are part of the same interpretive process, which involves the identities of different others, whether they be outsiders and refugees or apostates and infidels. It should be obvious in all cases that these processes are not mental excersizes but urgent social contests, involving such concrete political issues as immigration laws, the legislation of personal condict, the constitution of orthodoxy, the legitimization of violence and/or insurrection, the character and content of education, and the direction of foreign policy, which very often has to do with the designation of official enemies. In short the construction of identity is bound up with the disposition of power and powerlessness in each society, and is therefore anything but mere academic wool-gathering."

Though it was not the purpose of the book, it also provided me some clarity on other, related subjects, such as Liberalism, and modern anti-Semitism.

Liberalism that accomodates Orientalism (soft Orientalism) is torn to shreds by Said, and in the process he exposes one of the most insipid weaknesses of Liberalism: the illusion of the independence of different thought structures of politics, economy, kinship and culture. A liberal scholar points to Islam's supposed totality (that it encompasses a culture, a religion, an economy, a politics, etc subordinated to one school of thought: Islam), and reveals the weakness in his own. These things are not only interdependent, but to consider them to be apart is foolishness. Consider capitalism, our current mode: can we honestly say that any deviation from the needs of capital are significant enough to render politics a separate sphere? How about culture? All of these things are contained within the totality of capitalism, because that is what capital demands. Liberalism insists on these things being separate because it is weak and wants to misdirect struggle away from the root of the problem. (And so, incidentally, how silly does it make the Liberals of the "ParEcon" gospel sound, when they want ParEcon, but also ParPolity, ParKin (??), etc?)

(Disclaimer, the author of this review is Jewish) Anti-Semitism seems largely to have disappeared as a major ideological motivation in the postmodern world. Or has it? Edward Said brings up some compelling evidence that the whitening of the people Israel (Jews inside and outside of the nationstate which shares its name) has merely shifted much of the Anti-Semitism to the Arabs, who are, after all, also Semitic. "By a concatonation of events and circumstances, the Semitic myth bifurcated in the Zionist movement. One Semite went the way of Orientalism. The other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental." Jews by assimilating and accepting the wages of whiteness sidestepped their own identification as Semites, but the Semitic stereotype is kept alive in the depictions of Arabs. "[After 1973, c]artoons depicting an Arab sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up consistantly. These Arabs, however, were clearly Semitic. Their sharply-hooked noses, the evil mustachioed leer on their faces, were obvious reminders, to a largely non-Semitic population, that Semites were at the bottom of all our troubles, which in this case was principally a gasoline shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same."

This took a slight of hand from Jews as well, who strongly identified with the oppressors of the Arabs since the founding of Israel. Said describes a Jewish Orientalist named Bernard Lewis who describes an anti-imperialist riot against Israel in Cairo as "anti-Jewish." "Yet, in neither instance does he tell us how it was anti-Jewish. In fact, as his material evidence for anti-Jewishness, he produces the somewhat surprising intelligence that several churches, Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox were attacked and damaged." Finally, one can glean from the text that this escape from oppression is no escape at all. As Proust reminds us, when a Jew appears in aristocratic society, he is still a Jew: "The Romanians, the Egyptians, the Turks, may hate the Jews. But in a French drawing room, the differences between those people are not so apparent. And an Israelite making his entry as if he were from the heart of the desert, his body crouching like a hyenas, his neck stretched obliquely forward, spreading himself in proud "Salaam"s completely satisfies a certain taste for the Oriental."

The Afterword that Said includes is a true gift. There are a dozen amazing quotations I could pull from it, describing accurately our current situation, and the impact that his work has had in it, and the confusing situation we live under in these times. It was a fitting end to a challenging book.

2020 update: Tragically, an economic recession and the failure of liberalism to address either its causes or effects has birthed an epidemic of antisemitism. This isn't an indictment of the book or of my earlier review so much as it is evidence that antisemitism continued during the global war on terror formally with Islamophobia, which kept the disease dormant in its effects towards Jews until this recent outbreak. ( )
  magonistarevolt | Apr 29, 2020 |
I en litterär klassiker visar Edward Said på ett påtagligt ocj trovärdigt sätt hur den västerländska imperialismen inte bara bestått av kolonisering, utan av en systematisk kulturell, språklig, ideologisk och social tankevärld, med anor från medeltiden och med katastrofala följder idag. Orientalismen är orsaken till den rasism, de förutfattade meningar och dr attityder vi har gentemot muslimer och andra personer från Mellanöstern. Said skriver med ett språk som är oerhört läsligt. Han exemplifierar med en stor mängd utdrag från såväl akademiska som skönlitterära texter. Som stöd för tolkningen utnyttjar han Foucaults textanalyser. Resultatet är en undersökning som känns såväl överraskande som självklar, aktuell som uråldrig, ostoppbar som akut. ( )
  MrScallops | Jan 13, 2020 |
Al sinds zijn publicatie in 1978 is dit een iconisch werk, een boek waar voortdurend naar verwezen wordt, maar wel in heel uiteenlopende zin: door de ene wordt het verguisd, door de andere opgehemeld. Het minste wat je dus kan zeggen, is dat dit werk een heel eigen, originele kijk geeft op de manier waarop het Westen naar het Oosten gekeken heeft en nog altijd kijkt.

Ik haal hier al meteen twee beladen termen naar boven: ‘Westen’ en ‘Oosten’, want daar begint het al mee, met dat onderscheid. Het is de grote verdienste van Said dat hij aantoont dat net dat onderscheid maken, - filosofisch geformuleerd als een reductionistisch essentialisme – een heel belangrijke rol heeft gespeeld in de Westerse geschiedenis: “Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them") . This vision in a sense created and then served the two worlds thus conceived.” Voor Said is die wisselwerking tussen beeld en actie van doorslaggevend belang. Concreet: de voorstelling van de Oriënt (een heel ruim en voortdurend fluctuerend begrip) als mysterieus maar ook passief, achterlijk en tegelijk bedreigend werd de inspiratiebron en de rechtvaardiging van een kolonialisme en een imperialisme dat op zijn beurt de oriëntalistische kijk versterkte. Dit boek is dus in de eerste plaats een intellectuele geschiedenis.

Veel van wat Said in 1978 naar voren schoof, is intussen min of meer gemeengoed geworden, al wordt het vooral geregeld ook fel onder vuur genomen vanuit conservatieve hoek, maar dan eerder vanwege zijn politieke implicaties. In die zin is “Oriëntalisme” een pionierswerk dat terecht lof heeft gekregen. Maar het heeft ook wel wat gebreken, want Said ging in zijn betoog soms nogal slordig en polemisch te werk en hij is op zijn beurt in zekere mate selectief en reductionistisch. Zie meer hierover in mijn review in mijn account op Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1100102737 ( )
1 vote bookomaniac | Apr 24, 2019 |
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They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented. -Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonapart
The East is a career. -Benjamin Disraeli, Tancred
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On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975-1976 a French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that, "it had once semed to belong to . . . the Orient of Chateaubriand and Nerval."
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More than three decades after its first publication, Edward Said's groundbreaking critique of the West's historical, cultural, and political perceptions of the East has become a modern classic. In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of "orientalism" to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined "the orient" simply as "other than" the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.

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