Orientalism Beyond the Orient
16 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2009 Last revised: 12 Oct 2009
Date Written: September 23, 2009
Edward Said’s Orientalism, is one of the seminal sociological studies of the 20th century. Written in 1978, Said’s book makes an extremely convincing argument about how Western societies (the “Occident”) have viewed the Orient over the centuries. The purpose of this paper is to further understand the cause and scope of this phenomenon.
Said’s basic underlying thesis is this: the West’s view of the orient is and has been clouded by a set of misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes that occur in western art, literature, discourse, culture and academic study. In essence, “orientalism, [is] a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience.” Said goes on to say that this clouded view has had a derogatory effect on the relationship between the two cultures, and continues to negatively impact the relationship to this day. Said’s focus is on the Arab middle East, however his broader implication is that this was a common theme within the Occident-Orient relationship.
It would be quite difficult to argue against Said’s thesis. His use of primary sources in Art, literature and scholarship make the argument somewhat impervious to attack. However, that is not the goal here. This paper looks, instead, at the scope of the argument. In particular, it will explore how the phenomenon that Said describes as orientalism, actually goes far beyond the relationship between the west and the east. Instead, it is common to all societal interaction. This paper will first discuss what I will call “supra-orientalism.” This is essentially Said’s thesis expanded, exploring the lens through which the western world views other societies outside the orient (in particular, Africa and the Americas). Next, we will explore what is commonly referred to as “occidentalism.” This section will essentially stand Said’s thesis on its head and explore the view of the west through the eyes of other cultures. Finally, this paper will discuss various conclusions that come out of this study. In particular, the fact that this phenomenon is not limited to Occident-Orient relations, but instead is present in all sociological interactions and relationships. Furthermore, it is not only damaging when done in a dominant-subservient relationship (as in Orientalism) but effects all relationships, from all levels, and has a drastic negative effect to all sides.
Keywords: Orientalism, Occidentalism, Said, Prejudice, Art, Literature, globalization, sociology
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