Literature Study GuidesOrientalismChapter 3 Part 4 Summary

Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Chapter 3, Part 4 : Orientalism Now (The Latest Phase) | Summary



Said focuses in this final section on the period after World War II and up to the modern day. At this point, he notes that America had displaced England and France as the major Orientalist nation. America was mainly concerned with the Orient as it related to public policy, although by this time, the term had been displaced by other categories such as "Japan, Indochina, China, India, Pakistan."

America asserted itself over the Orient in four different areas. The first is in the area of popular representation, and the replacement of a literary background with one based on the social sciences. Following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the world's increasing hunger for oil, the popular image of the Arab was negative and stemmed from the fear that "the Muslims (or Arabs) will take over the world." Equally, the Orientalist discourse was based not on the traditional literary texts. American scholars focused instead on "facts" that argued the same baseline. This stems from the fact that after World War II, the Orient became a matter of administrative policy for America. Thus, philological studies were replaced by "objective" texts and "expertise."

The second area where America asserted itself was through the transformation of Orientalist studies from purely scholarly in form to overtly political. Third, Americans perpetuated the "myth of the arrested development of the Semites," and thus justified the need for the West to control their operations. Finally, America embraced the fact that Orientalism is fundamentally valid because of the premise it is based upon. Those who could argue against it are unable to voice an opinion because the very mechanism they wish to speak out against has taken their voice. In his final paragraph, Said states, "Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience." From the beginning of Orientalism's conception, the Orient has been dehumanized, explaining why these perceptions continue even today.


At this point, Said's argument takes a different turn. Rather than discuss the same countries of France and England, he turns to the modern condition of the Orient and America's role on the world stage. Said focuses on the particulars of American Orientalism as it relates to public perception and politics. However, the key words he has used throughout the text to describe Orientalism, such as fear and imperial, continue to be used to describe American Orientalism. The difference is that American Orientalism has moved even further away from its literary basis. Rather than draw on the original Orientalist texts, the American Orientalist at this point "applies" his social "science to the Orient." The emphasis is on facts. However, Said argues through the example of Morroe Berger that the original Orientalist framework remains in place. Rather than a "catholic issue," Said claims it is "an administrative one, a matter for policy."

Said also raises an important question regarding the appropriateness of "ethnic origins and religion" versus "socio-economic" descriptions of the Orient. He poses this as a "fundamental question" of modern Orientalism but fails to provide an answer. However, he does argue that it is likely "to insist on both." This is at the core of what Said is arguing for throughout the text. Rather than use single-dimension descriptions to describe cultural groups, it is necessary to take each group and place it in its own religious, ethnic, social, and economic context before offering an "explanation" or sense of understanding on the level of policy-making.

While the majority of Said's work up to this point has been based on criticism of his peers and predecessors, he notes "there is scholarship that is not as corrupt." While he fails to note it within this text, Said's arguments have been built upon the work of previous scholars. In later works, he calls these individuals out specifically, but what makes Orientalism so notable is the breadth and depth he goes into in order to evaluate the impact of Orientalism.

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