The Philosophical Legacy of Said: Relativism and Positive Resistance

Emre Kazim in Maydan:

Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) is second to none in terms of its scope and impact upon Area Studies. Indeed, 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of this monumental text and it is debatable as to whether it is possible to say something new and meaningful on it, given the abundance of commentary it received over the decades. Such commentary has focused on the theoretical structure of Said’s thesis (its roots in Foucauldian archaeology), the reappraisal of seminal European texts (from Kipling to Conrad), and, perhaps most importantly, how Orientalism still dominates the discourse on the Other (by academic scholarship, popular media, and politicians).

Briefly, the thesis that the Orient is defined in opposition to the Occident; essentially as a means of self-defining the Occident and legitimizing the domination of the latter upon the former. This understanding of the Orient manifests in numerous cultural, academic, military and popular phenomena. Accordingly the Orient is always presented as mystical, feminine, despotic and liable to domination, in diametric opposition to the Occident, which is rational, masculine, enlightened and destined to dominate. This thesis is drawn from the exegesis of various texts, and can be followed in multiple contexts, from novels and encyclopedias to other forms of scholarly and literary production.  As a result, Said makes the point that when the non-European is taken as a subject, it is always read in terms of a negation vis-à-vis the European.

Many texts written in the past two centuries that touch upon this relationship, have been accused of essentialism and reductionism; they have been charged with being “Orientalist.”

More here.