In the second lecture of Identity & Difference we studied about Orientalism, postcolonial identity and subjectivity. We also studied about the social construction of the human subject throughout history and the discourses of politics and ethnicity.
In his book, Said (1978) redefined the term ‘Orientalism’ to mean a constellation of false assumptions concealed in Western attitudes towards the Middle East like irrationality, anti-Western, dishonesty etc. He explores how these assumptions are formed in aversion to what the West thinks about themselves; and hence defines this image of the Orient in the mind of Westerners as the other i.e. we define the other as what we are not. Such assumptions in turn impact our relations and ideologies. Quite simply, Said (1978) defines Orientalism as “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, mind, destiny and so on”.
Orientalism dates back to European colonisation of the Arab world. It provided a rationalisation for the entire colonisation based on a self-serving history in which ‘the East’ was created by ‘the West’ due to its inferiority and since it was in need of a rescue. Moreover, Said (1978) objects on the labelisation of ‘the Orient’ and states that generalisations can not be made which apply equally to say the Egyptians and the Chinese. By that logic could we say that England is a part of the United States of America? Since they’re both ‘the West’?
As a discourse Orientalism is associated with western imperial and colonial power. It also places the Orient as an object of western scrutiny, requiring western representation to become visible. The discourse of Orientalism can be described as basically homogenous (Burke & Prochaska 2008) mainly focusing on inner dynamics of western history and societies. Said (1978) claims that “Orientalism is the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorising views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”. American Orientalism is a great example as it is based on dominating the West and influencing the East.
As a system of knowledge on the other hand, Orientalism is based on the binary conception of the West and the East, essentializing differences between the two.
Our postcolonial identities have been constructed with a certain stereotype. We need to explore the processes of establishing binary opposites and uncover values that cause these opposites to come into being, for example civilised-uncivilised, developed-undeveloped, educated-uneducated and so on. By doing so we can help to erase the heavy set boundaries and lines.
- Bauernfeind, G. (2013) Illuminaries [online] available from <http://greatilluminators.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/gustav-bauernfeind.html > [4 March 2016]
- Burke, E. & Prochaska, D. (2008) Genealogies of Orientalism: History, Theory, Politics. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
- Said, E (1978) Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Book