For our final Cafe Discussion post, our group decided to discuss Edward Said and “Orientalism.” We began our discussion by noting the similarities between Said’s intentions and Marxist theory. Said said in his book, “My whoel point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence – in which I do not for a moment believe – but that it operates as representations usually do, for apurpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting.” (273). However, as his fundamental theory draws on Marx, Said plays on two concepts familiar to our class discussions. First is Gramsci’s notion of “hegemony” in understanding the permeating nature of Orientalist constructs and representations in Western scholarship and reporting, and, especially, their relation to the exercise of power over the “Orient.” In relation to Foucault, Said furthers the concepts of knowledge and power, introduced by Foucault, in relation to Eurocentric knowledge of the Arab world. Said furthered this by arguing the binary opposition of the Occident vs. Orient, in which the Occident is the superior.
Said states explicitly what Orientalism is by saying what it is not on page 12, but then saying, “[Orientalism] is rather a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts; it is an elaboration not only of a basic geographical distinction (the world is made up of two unequal halves, Orient and Occident) but also of a whole series of “interests” which, by such means as scholarly discovery, philological reconstruction, psychological analysis, landscape and sociological description,it not only creates but also maintains; it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control,manipulate, even to incorporate,what is a manifestly different (or alternative. and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw,but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment),power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or anatomy, or any of the modem policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste..texts, values),power moral (as with ideas about what “we” do and what “they”cannot.do or understand as “we”.do).” (12).
An integral concept in “Orientalism” is that Western knowledge of the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from preconceived, prejudicial archetypes that falsify all “Eastern” societies as fundamentally static, and similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar and primitive to “Western” societies. This discourse establishes the binary opposition hierarchy in which “the East” is antithetical to “the West.” Such Eastern knowledge, according to Said, is constructed with literary texts and historical records that often are of limited understanding of the facts of life in Said’s scope of analysis, the Middle East and Arab world.
As a group we recognized the several theoretical connections as well as the significance of Said’s work and the timing. Written in 1978, during a time of constant contact and conflict, with Iran and the Middle East. However, western perception of the culture and region at that time was rooted in binary opposition and the methodologies of the western theorists presumed the Middle East and “Orient” as a static, undeveloped, and inferior hemisphere to further the hegemonic dominance of the Eurocentric world.