Episode 0 : Started with Said, Now we’re here.
Pilot Episode : Starting with Saïd now we’re here
Welcome to the pilot episode of “Started with Said, now we’re here”, this chronicle is to be your weekly rendez-vous on Revue Hawa. Published in 1978, Said’s Orientalism received a great deal of attention, “some of it very hostile, uncomprehending, but most of it positive and enthusiastic”(1995). If Orientalism generated criticism after its publication in the late 1970s, it continuously spurs discussions in the global era and we aim to cast light on its relevance.
A simple story
As a matter of fact, while in Said’s critique orientalism meant “several things, all of them, interdependent”, this notion sometimes comes to be misconceived as an unchanging, ontological matter of eternal domination of the Occident over the Orient. Often, an explanation of orientalist tradition sounds as a story of good between evil:
“Since the Enlightenment the West conquered the East. Since then, the former dominates the later through a skewing lens, the orientalist lens.”
I can already hear you asking: So what ? Guess what, the story often stops there and ironically neglects the very point of Orientalism and that of its author, whose argument is, in his own words “explicitly anti-essentialist, radically skeptical about all categorical designations”. Hence, if this simple story echoes harsh and empirical realities, it does not do justice to the complexity of historical interactions and to Said’s Orientalism as such. To not seek a deeper understanding of the orientalist formation makes it impossible to comprehend its changes in the global context.
Said’s Orientalism: a tool we shall employ
As maintained by Rath, Orientalism is now to be considered a “subject imbued with the agency to change perception” (2004). In that perspective, orientalism can provide us with a renewed understanding of phenomenons relating to our global context such as exile, diaspora and hybridity, to cite only a few. Said’s Orientalism has a lot to teach us, not only of “the ways in which the power, scholarship, and imagination of a two-hundred-year-old tradition in Europe and America viewed the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam” (Said, 2003), but of ourselves as human and social beings.
Next on Revue Hawa
The upcoming episode will consist of a historical grounding of Said’s Orientalism, and will introduce the Foucauldian method at work in his critique. Against this background, a next episode will dissect the ways in which orientalism produces the Oriental other in the exercise of power. This chronicle will then engage with occidentalism, apprehend what is termed self-orientalism or orientalism for Easterners, and eventually dive into the changes of orientalism under globalization. Enjoy x.