Literature Study GuidesOrientalismChapter 2 Part 4 Summary

Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Chapter 2, Part 4 : Orientalist Structures and Restructures (Pilgrims and Pilgrimages, British and French) | Summary



Part of the reason Orientalists characterized the Orient as inferior was the history of how the Orient interacted with the West in the 19th century. Knowledge about the Orient was transmitted to the West by European travelers. The response of these "pilgrims" was to guard against the "unsettling influences" of the Orient, at least according to European sensibilities. While the "pilgrimage" was slightly different between English and French travelers because of the different histories of interaction with the Orient, their experiences were both characterized by passage through "the Biblical lands."

The English passed through India where "imaginative play was limited by the realities of administration," whereas the French were freer in their choice of location but consequently relied more on imagination than shared experience in their writings. The Orient was the product of those who visited and wrote about it. Previously, Said established the Orient as "less a place than a topos, a set of references." Now, in the 19th century, information about the Orient came from personal experiences. All of these ideas were propagated as scholarship during the period through the advent of mass text production, dissemination, and research.


The choice to name the chapter after pilgrims and pilgrimages is indicative of Said's view that the relationship between East and West was one grounded in a religious framework. The original texts about the Orient, such as Dante's Inferno and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, were religious in nature. Later works about the Orient were also religious in nature, framed as a pilgrimage, and thus inherently personal and subjective in nature. Said dichotomizes the English and the French for the first time in the work to argue for slightly different interpretations of the Orient based on the specific pilgrimage routes taken by citizens of their respective countries. However, as is made clear through the textual analysis of such works as Chateaubriand's Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, the pilgrimage served as a method of justification for the pilgrim's religion. Thus, the Orient becomes a "decrepit canvas awaiting [the pilgrim's] restorative efforts."

It is beneath this religious framework that the conquest of Islam becomes transformed into a moral obligation that is then perpetuated throughout the history of Orientalism. Throughout the chapter, Said contrasts Chateaubriand's work with Lane's in order to explain how the creation of knowledge in Lane's work differs fundamentally from the creation of power in Chateaubriand's work. The goal of the Orientalist is no longer the mere accumulation of knowledge. It is rather the creation of a specific mythology that places the Orient within the context of needing a moral savior in the form of the Christian pilgrim.

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