Tag Archives: Orientalism

Orientalism

“The ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some particular aspects of the Orient therefore constitutes an analyzable formation – for example, that of philological studies, of anthologies of extracts from Oriental literature, of travel books, of Oriental fantasies – whose presence in time, in discourse, in institutions (schools, libraries, foreign services) give it strength and authority” (Said, 1811).

Specifically in terms of authority and the power it ensures, Said comments on how different types of texts are interrelated with the different types of institutions. Throughout his introduction, Said analyzes the idea of the West vs East, Occident vs Orient, or the Civilized vs Uncivilized, and how they are framed through different texts using the lens of European superiority. If there is one thing I learned from Edward Said, it is how to be critical of texts – especially those coming from the dominant writers. Said suggests how different types of text frame the ideas of the world in sometimes an inacurrate and distorted way. This is a huge idea that effect the way texts are used and respected today, especially those used in school institutions that can dramatically influence the readers. Said shows perfectly how different types of text can influence the world in a negative way. In his idea of Orientalism, the West has always seen the East to be its inferior, an idea that has preserved all throughout history and up until today, and is primarily maintained through texts. It is common knowledge that all humans have biases derived from their knowledge, and Said shows how these biases are framed by the West in order to maintain their superiority and justify their colonization. As literary readers, it is important to be literary critics as well because texts are what shape our thinking and ideas of the world.

Passages of Interest

“What is true about drama and the novel is no less true about those arts that we call decorative arts. The whole history of these arts in Europe is the record of the struggle between Orientalism, with its frank rejection of imitation, its love of artistic convention, its dislike to the actual representation of any object in Nature, and our own imitative spirit. Wherever the former has been paramount, as in Byzantium, Sicily, and Spain, by actual contact, or in the rest of Europe by the influence of the Crusades, we have had beautiful and imaginative work in which the visible things of life are transmuted into artistic conventions, and the things that Life has not are invented and fashioned for her delight.” (486)

“Take an example from our own day. I know that you are fond of Japanese things. Now, do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence? If you do, you have never understood Japanese art at all. The Japanese people are the deliberate, self-conscious creation of certain individual artists. If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, beside a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them.  The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them. IN fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people.” (493)

Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying,” in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David Richter (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007), 478-496.