What is orientalism?
Said made a clear analogy between orientalism and colonialism. They are both set with the same binary opposition.
White / nonwhite
Occidental / non occidental
In a very detailed and structured study of the orient (behavior, habit, tradition ...) we document a large amount of fact and data. All compile in a general study they produce the illusion of a well understood and objectively constructed knowledge.
These are, in fact, mere observations and purely subjective entities (seen only with the western eyes) which do not explain nor reflect the true nature of the object. We then generalize from theses singles observations, set up categories and labels. We are now able to answer questions very simply creating this illusion of knowledge.
We witness the realization of clichés, Single sided beliefs that fuels themselves upon their own ignorance. SAID then explains how this technique empowers his creator. The rigorous discourse, the elaboration of thought and ideas, subjectively authenticated itself. The content is no longer address and leaves the victim of the discourse reduced to plain and pure denial. The content has become a set of prejudicial belief (cliches).
To remind you of the famous aphorism "the pen is mightier than the sword” He writes "Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the orient because the orient was weaker than the west." Though injustice has already been served and the political establishment is capitalizing on those cliches, it is interesting to notice that SAID himself already looks at the orient with orientalism (western eye).
Was the orient really weaker than the west?
Could it be simply that the orient was just farther? May be not interested? Had no curiosity towards the western world?
Could it be that the orient was too busy and was not much concern about this western curiosity?
Very clearly, Orientalism, a very subjective and erroneous ideology demonstrate its genuine power and how, like a rumor running wild, it is hard to remain objective. I personally understand cliches like subversive negative myths which fashion the understanding and the knowledge of cultures, society and people. They create permanent damages, ingrain false ideas or concepts, instill ignorance and are very difficult to revert or demystify.
When SAID examines the effects of western cliches, he describe the orient as Orientalized. It is now a subjective notion. The orient became a western concept, orientalism a tool to control and manipulate. This relationship (western/orient) though works both ways… the west becomes as much of a fiction as orient is. We can also look at the west with oriental perspective. In this relation of differences a new western set of representation emerges. Both cultures now understand each other through a web of cliches. We witness an ideology of mutual ignorance leading to far greater differences.
What can we do? Is it too late?
In another text, writing back or challenging the canon, SAID offers a literary solution. It is the writer responsibility to objectively criticize his discourse and to protect the reader from misleading literature. And as for what has been done, writing back is surely a way to restore truth, denounce myths, abolish cliches and reach out to a more objective literature.
It will seems though quite impossible to erase what has been done, to remain objective when even your own thoughts are guided by subjective values deeply rooted in our mind. The effect are much irreversible and the best we can do is not to steer away from subjectivity and remain focus and aware of the power of text.
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