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Orientalism | Quotes


The result is usually to polarize ... the Oriental becomes more Oriental, the Westerner more Western.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 1

Said is addressing what he sees as one of the foremost questions raised by Orientalism, mainly whether it is possible for different cultures to be genuinely divided into distinct categories. He claims that the use of categories serves to further distinctions even if the distinctions are inaccurate.


There is nothing ... reprehensible about such domestication of the exotic ... but ... [there is] limited vocabulary and imagery that impose themselves as a consequence.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 2

Said is referring to a point he makes throughout the text, mainly that the categorization of the Orient is made through an inherently human process.

The human mind prefers categorization and order. However, Said argues this does not excuse the entrenchment of these initial characterizations into enduring stereotypes.


The Orientalist attitude ... shares with magic ... the self-containing, self-reinforcing character of a closed system.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 2

Said is referring to the self-perpetuating nature of Orientalism. Once the initial knowledge base was formed, it was sustained over centuries.


Orientalism carries within it the stamp of a problematic European attitude towards Islam.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 3

This quote speaks to a larger theme of modern Orientalism Said touches on in the Preface, Afterword, and Chapter 3, Part 4. At its core is the relationship between not only Europe but all modern world powers. There exists a fundamental bias against Islamic nations stemming from these initial Orientalist frameworks.


It seems a ... human failing to prefer the ... authority of a text to ... direct encounters.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 4

In this quote, Said is referring to the preference of Orientalists throughout time to draw on traditional Orientalist texts that perpetuate stereotypes, rather than engaging directly with natives in the East.


Once we ... think of Orientalism as a ... Western projection ... we will encounter few surprises.

Edward Said, Chapter 1, Part 4

By this point in the text, Said has framed his argument and posits that Orientalism is not actually a system of knowledge about the Orient. Rather, it is a system of knowledge for suppressing and governing the Orient.


Power that dwelt in ... scientifically advanced techniques of philology and of anthropological generalization.

Edward Said, Chapter 2, Part 1

In Chapter 1, Said spends the majority of his time explaining the development of a system of knowledge. In Chapter 2, however, the majority of his efforts are spent describing how this system of knowledge led to the development of a power dynamic between East and West. Said emphasizes that this "power" is derived from "science."


Orientalists are neither interested in nor capable of discussing individuals; instead artificial entities ... predominate.

Edward Said, Chapter 2, Part 3

As part of the system of power dynamics, one of the most powerful was the transformation of the Orient into a group that was not seen as fully "natural." This allowed the West to fully embrace imperialism.


The Orient was a place of pilgrimage and ... Orientalism took its form, style, and intention from the idea of pilgrimage there.

Edward Said, Chapter 2, Part 4

Said argues that by the 19th century, Orientalism was framed by Western pilgrims who structured individual accounts of the Orient. Because of this framework, the religious components of Orientalism were maintained along with the stereotypical accounts, but individual distinctions—namely between the French and English experiences—were largely reduced.


What seems to have influenced Orientalism most was a fairly constant sense of confrontation.

Edward Said, Chapter 3, Part 1

It is telling that Said begins his section detailing "Orientalism Now" with a sentence describing the "sense of confrontation" felt between East and West. This dynamic continues to characterize the relationship between East and West today.


The distinctive differences between races, civilizations, and languages [were] ... radical and ineradicable.

Edward Said, Chapter 3, Part 2

Said argues the differences among Eastern and Western cultural groups created by Orientalism were later solidified into irrefutable categories.


It operates as representations usually do ... in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting.

Edward Said, Chapter 3, Part 3

Said claims that the specifics of modern Orientalism rely on the explicit setting in which Orientalism is being expressed. This ties to Said's argument that there are two forms of Orientalism: latent and manifest. While the basic Orientalist framework remains, it is manifested differently, based on the current political situation.


Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience.

Edward Said, Chapter 3, Part 4

Said ends the text with a statement summarizing the impact Orientalism has had since its initial conception.


To criticize Orientalism ... is in effect to be a supporter of Islamism or Muslim fundamentalism.

Edward Said, Afterword

Here, Said addresses the argument of some of his most vocal critics. Their main criticism is that Said holds an "anti-Western" sentiment. In his Afterword, however, Said claims he is merely attempting to point out issues with the current system.


Studying the historical dynamics ... is more demanding than sliding back into stereotypes.

Edward Said, Afterword

Said argues that the reason stereotypes have persisted so long is because it is easier to fall into stereotypical Orientalist depictions, and that the current political situation has induced fear that supports these initial depictions.

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