Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Afterword | Summary

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Summary

Fifteen years after the initial publication of Orientalism, Said included an Afterword to address some of the critiques leveled against the work within the context of political events since that time. He states the largest critique leveled against his work has been its "alleged anti-Westernism." He refutes this by claiming that his criticism of Orientalism does not imply he is "a supporter of Islamism or Muslim fundamentalism." Rather, he argues his point was to show the Orient was made into the "other" by the West, as cultures are apt to do. In and of itself, this is not negative. However, when policy-makers are using the same stereotypical definitions of the Orient as their predecessors did centuries ago, this is ineffective as it "hides historical change" and "hides the interests of the Orientalist."

Thus, it is necessary to understand the historical context of how these identities were formed in order to understand how they are being used today. There are two main reasons Said's work is considered anti-Western. First, it is easier to cling to stereotypes, and second, the political events that occurred since the initial publication of Orientalism have turned public and scholarly opinion against Arab nations. Said maintains that Orientalism was written to support multiculturalism and suggests that his views regarding the relationship between Orientalists and Orientals could be applied to the discourse between other groups such as Native Americans or African Americans. He concludes that, in general, cultural groups should not be defined on the basis of geography and language alone. Different cultural groups are not easily defined or categorized, and as such, they should not be reduced to stereotypical caricatures in order to facilitate public policy.

Analysis

In the Afterword, Said addresses the main points of criticism that immediately followed the book's publication. He spends a great deal of time addressing what he calls "the book's alleged anti-Westernism." He asserts that by leveling criticism at Orientalism, he is not inherently supporting "Islamism or Muslim fundamentalism." Yet, this is how his work has been perceived. Said attempts to clarify that it was not his intention to create an anti-Western tone. Rather, it was his intention to show how the West constructed the "identity" of the Orient.

The explicit purpose of his book, rather than to present an anti-Western viewpoint, was to "liberate intellectuals" from the falseness of the Orientalist framework. Perhaps more importantly, Said intended for his work to be utilized in other regions of the world and for other cultural groups. In this respect, he contributed greatly to postcolonial anthropology, which sought to give voice to the disenfranchised. Said ends his work with a discussion of the other works he wrote in the years after Orientalism. In this way, he attempts to provide physical evidence of his efforts to address the criticisms leveled against Orientalism. His conclusion makes clear that there remains much to be done in the field of Orientalism.

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