What Is Orientalism?
Said made a clear analogy between orientalism and colonialism. They are both set
with the same binary opposition.
white/ non white
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
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
We then generalize from theses singles observations, set up categories and
labels. We are now able to answer questions very simply creating this illusion
We witness the realization of cliches; 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
To remind you of the famous aphorism: “the pen is mightier than the sword”
“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 to busy and was not much concern about this
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
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
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
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
It is the writer responsibility to objectively criticize his discourse and to
protect the reader from misleading literature.
And as for what as 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 as 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.