Literature Study GuidesOrientalismChapter 3 Part 3 Summary

Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Chapter 3, Part 3 : Orientalism Now (Modern Anglo-French Orientalism in Fullest Flower) | Summary



Said is concerned with the differences in Orientalist reasoning between the periods prior to and immediately following World War I. Prior to the war, it was assumed that the Orient was in "need of Western enlightenment" and "domination." In contrast, after the war, the degree of unrest in the East and calls for independence resulted in the transformation of the Orientalist role.

Said focuses on two 20th-century Orientalists during this period, Gibb and Massignon, breaking down their work to reveal that the reasoning behind Orientalist ideals shifted, but the baseline assumptions and arguments remained the same. This was accomplished through the Orientalists' "estrangement" from Islam that "intensified their feelings of superiority about European culture." During this period, the lack of progressive movement beyond old Orientalist conceptions about the West despite new developments around the world was in stark contrast to other humanistic and scientific fields. This characterized Orientalism during the interwar period up to the present day.

Said explores Gibb and Massignon's work in detail. While they came from very different backgrounds and approached their Oriental scholarship differently, the underpinning assumptions characterizing Oriental scholarship from the 19th century remained unchanged in the 20th century. While the specific requirements changed over time, it cannot be argued that in all cases they were meant to serve a Western purpose through the creation of knowledge about the Orient. This knowledge is based on the premise that the Orient is the "other" and cannot speak for itself. Thus, the Orientalist must speak "the truth about Islam."


Said expands on the same argument, moving forward in history. He claims the only difference between Orientalism before and after World War I is the reasoning behind the Orientalist framework. Interestingly, during this period, Orientalism was in a "retrogressive position" when compared to the other fields of study because it continued to be tied to "its Biblical 'origins'" and to the fear of Islam. While the geographical area characterized as the Orient was under reorganization after the war, it was a relatively peaceful period compared to the conflict to come. However, in this period, the beginnings of Arabic and Israeli nationalism were on the rise. In this way, Orientalism acted as a system for "certain kinds of statements" about the Orient in order to continue the separation and differentiation between the Orientalists and their subject. This separation was based on the fear of the "destruction of the barriers that kept East and West" separate, barriers that appeared increasingly weakened with the changing political climate.

During this period, in part because of the new geographical and political delineations of space that were occurring in the Orient, Orientalism was being "broken into many parts." However, each facet of Orientalism was still based very much on the traditional views of the Orient. Said uses the work of Gibb and Massignon to provide evidence that the Orientalist representations persist because they serve a larger purpose. In this case, the larger purpose provides five "representations of the Orient": the imprint of the scholar; what the Orient is or should be; to argue against a different representative of the Orient; to create a discourse about the Orient responding to a particular period; and to respond to modern "cultural, professional, national, political, and economic requirements."

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