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The Concept of Orientalism - Essay Example

One of the seminal theorists on orientalism is Edward Said. Said’s text ‘Orientalism’ is regarded as a highly influential critique on the notion of orientalism, both in post-colonial investigations as well as in broader investigations of the Middle East and Asia. Because of Said’s centrality to the discussion, his perspective is considered in-depth. From an overarching perspective Said’s argument is that the notion of orientalism is constituted by erroneous Western assumptions regarding the Middle East. More specifically, Said contends that these assumptions regarding Middle Eastern culture are not merely erroneous but also have been implemented by Western powers as a means of justifying colonial and imperial interests in the region. Furthermore, Said has criticized individuals within the Middle Eastern culture who he argues have co-opted these Western perceptions of the ‘orient’. Said’s criticism of orientalism is not limited to a singular cultural epoch but spans a wide range of theorists and histories. Indeed, his discourse has been noted to be as, “historically, politically, and philosophically diverse as Aeschylus, Dante, and Marx” . Specifically, Said considers Aeschylus’ perspective on the barbarian, Dante’s perspective on the Arab, and Marx’ perspective on India; still, scholars have criticized such expansive historicism as rooted in falsified notions of a unified essence. While these concerns represent the backbone of Said’s argument there are further structural components that must be considered. It appears that within Said’s examinations is a strong emphasis on the post-modern dialectic, as established by Michel Foucault. Foucault has envisioned political and social structures primarily as embodiments of power. For instance, Foucault’s vision of Western law enforcement is that it is contingent on the notion of the panopticon, with individuals within society abiding by laws because of the random potential of them being enforced. For Said, Foucault’s understanding of this social order is recognized in the dialectic that has emerged surrounding orientalism. Said (2002, p. 204) writes, “My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the Orient’s difference with its weakness....As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, and knowledge.” Within this context of understanding Said is indicating that rather than the notion of orientalism have emerged from legitimate scholarship or ethnographic research, instead it is the product of Western political or economic forces that have found it convenient to ...Show more
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Summary

This essay considers authors of differing perspectives and uses various societies and historical periods in evaluating these arguments on orientalism. Orientalism is a term that has long been implemented by scholars as a means of describing the people and cultural attitudes surrounding the Middle East and East Asian society…
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