11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anti Essentialism & Controversial
This book and Edward Said in general seem capable of generating such intense controversy. Many reviewers of this book seem to forget actually to review the work and focus on attacking Edward Said as a person, many others still forget to review the book and proceed to speak for Palestinian rights and the negative western attitudes of Islam. I will attempt to present an...
Published on Oct. 26 2001 by AA
3.0 out of 5 stars What about the Ottoman Empire?
Edwards Said's book, Orientalism, is both a study on the origins, repercussions, and general history of the concept of "Orientalism" as well as an example of cultural history in action, and in many ways it is also evidence of how cultural history can go drastically wrong. The text itself investigates how Orientalism, or what Said also describes as "the distinction...
Published on Aug. 23 2001 by Tanja M. Laden
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anti Essentialism & Controversial,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)This book and Edward Said in general seem capable of generating such intense controversy. Many reviewers of this book seem to forget actually to review the work and focus on attacking Edward Said as a person, many others still forget to review the book and proceed to speak for Palestinian rights and the negative western attitudes of Islam. I will attempt to present an actual review of this book based on MY own reading of it.
In Orientalism, Said sets about dismantling the study of the "orient" in general with primary focus on the Islamic Near East. Said argues that concepts such as the Orient, Islam, the Arabs, etc. are too vast to be grouped together and presented as one coherent whole, encompassing all there is to know about the subject. Said bases his view on the shear width and breadth of the subject, the inherent bias of conflicting cultures and more recently the role of the Orientalism in colonialism. It is indeed difficult to attempt to represent a book that is so focused on anti essentialism.
Said's research of western / occidental discourse was very thorough indeed and he does illustrate through repeated examples how misinformation sufficiently repeated can become accepted academic work. Said also presents an analysis of the causes and motives and theorizes about his findings. A lengthy and a times tedious discussion of the origins of Orientalism is rather repetitive and hard to follow for a non specialist like me.
Edward Said however seem to have fallen in the same trap he attributes to Orientalism, he has not attempted to explore Arab writings of the periods he discussed nor has he attempted to present (possibly even read) work by Egyptian and Arab historians of the periods he was addressing save for work carried out in the west and within western universities. In doing so, Said fails to see how the modern and contemporary "orient" sees itself through primarily "oriental" eyes such as Ibn Khaldoun, Al Maqrizi and also through the writings of orientalists like Lane. Said also fails to address the work carried out by orientalists based on many manuscripts of Orientals.
I particularly enjoyed Said's analysis of the strong ties that Orientalism has with power and colonialism. Said analysis of the diverging development of the British and French practice based on the latter's limited success as a colonial power was very enjoyable and very well thought out. The Orientalism Today and indeed the Afterwards section are also very informative and as these were more familiar areas for Said his presentation of ideas and thoughts came across more clearly and the writing was far less tedious than the earlier parts of the book.
Orientalism is not an easy read, it will challenge many established views, indeed it has already with a fair degree of success led to changes in the way the Near East is studied. To me, most of all I see this as a book that offers in part a largely coherent explanation for the on-going misunderstanding between the West and the Near East and in Islam. And while Occidentalism does not exist as a field of study in a place like Egypt per se, Said fails to see that the west is viewed largely in terms of its wealth, promiscuous habits, hypocrisy and anti Islam and thus fails to see it as 2 way street, albeit with unequal power.
This is by no means a the definitive correction of the history of the Middle East or Near Orient, it is however a very legitimate and serious study of a field of study that no doubt has a lot to answer for!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arguably flawed but exceptionally potent and important,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Public opinion has gone in and out like the tides on Said's book since I first read it some six odd years ago. It has been said that the primal characteristic of a truly enlightened mind is its ability to entertain two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time; in that context I find it odd that people can be so proud of their total discrediting of Said's work in favor of the preeminent and (seemingly) diametrically opposed Bernard Lewis. It is obvious to me that both men have something provocative to teach us about Europe and America's relationship with the Middle East (as it has been over the centuries and is reflected in culture and scholarship), and both need to be heard in that context.
It is not often that a brilliantly, exhaustively researched book on an alternatingly controversial and trivialized subject can engender an emotional response of the magnitude with which this work does--which usually means that it is worth reading. In documenting the psychological architecture of the western mind and its perspective on the East--or the "Orient"--he deconstructs it. The idea that it exists deconstructs it by nature; before reading this book you will swear that most of what we know of the Arabian East is the absolute truth, without even being aware that it's been either romanticized into impotence or isn't much of anything complimentary, let alone influential.
I rate ORIENTALISM, for its effect on our psyche as Americans alone (regardless of race or assumed political leanings), as one of the most important books written in the last decades of the 20th century. The world looks the way it does not because of natural law, like the reasons why the Sahara has become a desert--or at least not by the natural laws we have imagined. Edward Said, regardless of the possibility of biases coming through his scholarship, regardless of the political realities he left out of his thesis, shows this in remarkable fashion to people--like myself--who never considered this fact's existence (let alone its influence on my perceptions of the Middle East in all their forms).
Be mature enough to accept that it is not the only educated opinion or set of facts about our complex world, and this book will be a great read and teach a great deal. I would suggest triangulating ORIENTALISM with Karen Armstrong's HOLY WAR and Moseddeq Ahmed's WAR ON FREEDOM, for a truly eye-opening experience of the Western psyche regarding the East.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece about the origins of "knowledge"!,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Few books in the modern world have acquired the stature of Edward Said's "Orientalism". It has become the de facto authority on the Western perspective of the Middle Eastern and Oriental worlds. Using impeccable scholarship and irrefutable evidence from two centuries' worth of European writing about the East, Edward Said lays down an indisputable case about how Western so-called "objective" and "scientific" study of the East has been corrupted and is far from describing reality. "Orientalism"'s main achievement, however, spreads far beyond the arena of "Oriental Studies" or "Near Eastern Studies" as they are now called. This book demonstrates using an in-depth case study how an entire field of study can be constructed out of self-reinforcing fiction that tends to gather its own inertia and develop its own seemingly self-consistent world. "Orientalism" therefore is a strong warning not only to Orientalists but to all unsuspecting researchers in any subject (even science) who might, deliberately or not, end up constructing their own mythical world. "Orientalism" also analyses the intricate relationships between knowledge and power, demonstrating the fallacy of taking knowledge for granted without analyzing and understanding the power structure that brought this "knowledge" into being.
This is a highly recommended book. It's only weakness is that it can somewhat difficult reading, thanks to its author's genius and total mastery of the English language. I often had to underline difficult words and look them up in a dictionary, and read over some paragraphs again and again in order to grasp the complex ideas, so once I was done with the book my GRE score improved 100 points. Seriously, though, "Orientalism" is a very perceptive and methodical study of an important topic today: the relationship between East and West.
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening,
By A Customer
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Simply put an amazing book. Said's point is not to accuse the "West", for which he is derided by one of Amazon's "spotlighted reviewers" here, but instead Said seeks to explain how the history that has been written about the "Middle East" is biased.
All history is written filtered through the perspective of a writer, so all stories from the past have a slant. Not only the distant past, but current events as they are reported are colored too by perspectives of the reporter too. This book explores how an identity of the "Middle East" were created by colonial powers; an identity which was not real for the people from the region.
This book was a ground breaking phenomena because it was the first of its kind to explore how images of the "Middle East" have been misinterpreted by the "Western scholars;" a grievance that is still echoed by people in the Middle East today.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the effort,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)This extremely important book is not easy to read. As Said tackles sensitive issues, he makes sure that every word of his is backed up by ample research, and the result is at times overwhelmingly tedious. Someone I know remarked that the same book could have been written much shorter. I do not agree.
Although Said is not the first to challenge Western views, his work in this book is certainly ground breaking. Such an effort must be elaborate and concise in order to present a finished thesis, one that would be the basis for future developments
I believe Said succeeded in creating a new subject matter - Orientalism as the study of those who study the Orient. He has been misunderstood and rebuked - I heard one professor claiming that Said stood against thourough research of the Orient, for example, but his immense influence cannot be denied.
For those who do not want to stay behind, who wish to learn Said's "new language" which has become widespread - I recommend the sometimes ardous task of reading this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and courageous outlook,
By A Customer
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Edward W. Said is arguably the most important intellectual alive. The Themes he dwells upon are fundamental to understanding today's world. In this book, Said brings a refreshing insight into European literature and its prejudices.
A Must read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Book provokes important debate,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)In Orientalism, Edward Said had sought to apply the Foucaultian concept of discourse to argue that the study of "the Orient" developed in ways which served the ends of Western imperialism, and that the discipline is an integral part of the mechanism of Western domination over the Middle East. While his conclusions are controversial, the book stimulates an interesting debate and shows the state of much of the field of Middle Eastern studies circa 1980.
Said's main limitation in writing the book is that he doesn't speak German, the language in which many of the most influential works of Orientalism (Ignac Goldziher's Muslim Studies and Joseph Schacht's Introduction to Mohammaden Jurisprudence, for example) were written. In addition, he doesn't compare the study of the Orient to the study of other regions in the same period. Hence, when he complains near the end that much "modern Orientalism" reduces people to statistics, he doesn't mention that the same could be true of the study of American history at that time.
The work holds up well for highlighting specific problems in the field, such as the portrayal of the East as deficient in some manner. One cannot agree, however, that it continues in scholarly circles to the present, when most "orientalists" in fact tend to be ardently pro-Arab politically. This was true to a certain degree even earlier in the century when Louis Massignon and T.E. Lawrence both became active in pro-Arab causes.
Said highlights important trends in the field of Middle Eastern studies and places them in a provocative framework. Readers can judge for themselves whether that framework holds up under scrutiny.
4.0 out of 5 stars Orientalism Revisited,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Compounded by debauched images like the one on the cover page of Orientalism, the collective Western sub-conscious in regards to Arab-Islamic culture has been undeniably clouded by a style of thought that harbors superiority. One need look no further than our most esteemed news sources. For this, according to Said, we have Orientalism to blame.
It is the contemporary backlash of Orientalist stereotypes turned prejudices that so disturb author Edward Said. In his view, the resulting legacy of fear and estrangement that characterize the socio-political status quo between the West and Arab nations (and Islam as an ethos) cannot be understated. The irony is that despite the fact that information is more accessible than ever, Oriental biases are being perpetuated more than ever, with shameless stereotypes of Islam being used as fodder on film and even mainstream news-media. This is exemplified by our modern coverage of foreign policy in the Middle East throughout the past century. Diplomatic hypocrisies are whitewashed by the media machine with latent, age-old stereotypes that surface when strategic interests are at risk. Following years of partnership (amidst ethnic-cleansing), the US media ?at the behest of the government ?suddenly saturated the public with the caricature of Iraq's Saddam Hussein as the crazed Arab. Though true, this was marketed at convenience (nevermind Halabja), with the inevitable cultural watershed going unquestioned in the long-term, reducing normal Arabs to "rag-heads?of the little value in the mainstream mind. Similarly in Iran, the US government's coup of the first-ever democratically elected government set the table for Khomeini's stringent Islamic regime years later. Anti-American images and rhetoric dominated our media while opposing motivations were never examined. Overnight, Iranians went from being civilized partners to a sworn enemy. As our media/ government would have us believe, it was only a matter of time before the "other?side lapsed into it's degenerate nature. Though rarely put so bluntly, this is what it is.
Because Orientalism is rooted in canonical history, literature, and art, its treatment is necessarily as exhaustive as the subject is vast. To more effectively address this breadth, Said makes three major claims in Orientalism upon which he builds his case against: that though purporting to be objective, Orientalism served political ends; that Orientalism helped define Europe's self-image; and finally, that Orientalism has produced a distorted and thus false description of Arabs and Islamic culture. In reading the text, one cannot help but appreciate the acute machinations of the author's mind at work, wielding insight that is both incisive and original. Often times, however, the language employed can be painfully esoteric, to the point that one is naturally inclined to grow weary, if not skeptical, of the substance behind the style. It is fair to say that if one read this book casually (though hard to imagine) without a critical mindset, the sheer pretension of the text might compel the reader to accept Said's theories wholesale. And yet while Said's conclusions and scope are revolutionary in themselves, and much of his argument plainly convincing, the case for Orientalism is not without flaws.
Although Said divides his argument three ways, the task of encompassing such a broad concept in a small volume is daunting. Many pieces of knowledge elemental to the development of his arguments are presupposed along the way i.e. historical figures, events, dates implying political context etc., etc. Though the book is supposed to be confined to the colonial era, Said strays as far as Greek history to explain antecedents of Orientalist philosophy, all the while dropping names like Flaubert and Dante as though they were next-door-neighbors. If one is not an exceptionally diversified historian, this makes for a rather fragmented understanding of the case. The need to investigate references on the side is almost certain, at the expense of Said's momentum.
Looking at the heart of his case, Said's assumptions of causality are largely insufficient. Early on he contends that "colonial rule was justified by Orientalism? a statement that is postured as fact though he fails to adequately support it with coherent evidence. A stronger case could be made for trade and military causes as being the main catalyst of the West's (primarily France & England) imperial agenda in the Middle East. Michel Foucault's theorem that knowledge always generates power is treated at length to bolster this claim. Nonetheless, ultimately one can only conclude that Orientalism gave the West a better grasp of Oriental culture accompanied by an unspoken sentiment of eminence, as colonial motivations and objectives are left unexplained. This pre-empts the question as to whether culture and politics are moderately interrelated, or one and the same. Said makes mention of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in a hollow attempt at illustration, arguing that "reading (the book) was a part of the European effort to hold on to, think about, plan for Africa? In effect he makes a presumption that can in no way be upheld or refuted by historical evidence and is thus weightless. Liberal assertions of this quality appear intermittently as the book progresses, at once logical and confounding to a student of history used to endorsing hard evidence rather than a good reputation.
Indeed Said may have very well bit of more than he could chew. But to his credit, he made a bold case for himself in an area that most scholars would dare not approach. Methodological shortcomings aside ?specifically his assumptions of causality in history - Said's arguments in Orientalism spawned an intense intellectual debate spanning many fields of scholarship that has yet to lose any steam. He makes it clear that as humans we are apt to project, but must first attempt to search ourselves according to our varying identities. More importantly, Said articulates the plight of many disenfranchised people in a manner that demands attention and respect. So while the flesh of his case against Orientalism may be spoilt in some respects, the bones are in tact.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ground-breaking scholarship,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Edward Said's ground-breaking work can be critized on many levels. Some say his writing does not allow adequate agency for Arab and Asian people. In some cases, his examples of historic authors who are allegedly discrediting the "Orient," actually seem to be worshipping. Of course, Edward Said would say that both demonizing and deifying are problematic because both are distortions and Said wanted to decrease distortion. Nonetheless, some so-called Orientalist authors that he sites seem to be unfairly critised.
The weaknesses in Said's work do not detract from it's overall value. It is a new way to examine racism -- not from a purely emotional or coldly statistical perspective, but from human and academic perspectives. While the difference between emotional and human is slight, it is critical. This book is a close examination of how racism in many forms, Arab, Asian or "Other," permeates the institutions of the world. Dangerously, these "authoritative" views of Other people become acceptable ways of talking about each other. In this way, racism becomes embedded in the educational systems, in the universities, in the libraries of the world. Elimating it becomes all the more difficult, because it creates the illusion that it is natural, authentic, scientific and rational.
Like Freud, Said's theories can be fragmented and individually discredited. But also like Freud, Said has given the world a whole new framework from which to think about preconceived notions that were not previously questioned within the academic realm.
Said's Orientalism is an excellent work that I strongly recommend to anyone trying to understand the world, especially the Middle East. Breaking out of the International media paradigms is difficult without some assistance. Said provides the necessary assistance.
3.0 out of 5 stars What about the Ottoman Empire?,
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)Edwards Said's book, Orientalism, is both a study on the origins, repercussions, and general history of the concept of "Orientalism" as well as an example of cultural history in action, and in many ways it is also evidence of how cultural history can go drastically wrong. The text itself investigates how Orientalism, or what Said also describes as "the distinction between Western superiority and Oriental inferiority," (42) expanded and proliferated in the years of Western expansion; namely, the 19th Century. Although it had existed before, Said argues that "Orientalism" was made concrete by scientists, explorers, and scholars and is mostly the result of these people quantifying and qualifying and making "rational" a concept they could not understand. Edward Said says that the original notion of the dividing line between East and West "is more than anything else imaginative." (55) Once Orientalism was conceptualized from this imagined line, Said argues, it offered a set of rules, descriptions and modes of behavior that generalized a wildly diverse population and made it easily attainable and exploitable by the West. Orientalism was also invented as a way for Europeans to reconcile their fear of the Near East and Islam, which is the topic most covered by Said and was a great influence on Orientalism because of its sheer magnitude and power. While Orientalism was originally conceived out of imagined misconceptions and a largely created body of evidence as realized in Barthelemy d'Herbelot's Bibliotheque Orientale (originally published in 1697), it was perpetuated in later "projects" best exemplified in Napoleon's accounts of travel through Egypt in Description de l'Egypte. From this point on, Orientalism had a "scope" and was available for future Orientalists to further generalize the Orient for scientific, literary, and imperialist purposes. Edward Said also argues that Orientalism benefited "professional scholars" and academic institutions because now an entire business based on the idea of Western superiority was created to help serve the above-mentioned scientists, anthropologists, and political thinkers. The modern Orientalist, Said argues, was "in his view, a hero rescuing the Orient from the obscurity, alienation, and strangeness which he himself had properly distinguished." (121) Orientalism not only flourished, but new assumptions made on the old ones only served to perpetuate further the untrue notions on which Orientalism was founded. After Said describes the endeavors of various Orientalists including Chateaubriand, Larmartine, and finally, Richard Burton, the reader is given exhaustive evidence of how Orientalism grew into what it is today; more Orientalism. Orientalism now, Said says, is only the same idea of generalizing and, in a sense, primitivizing the "other" through modern-day "area-studies." Because these area studies are from a long and established tradition of Orientalism, they are only an extension of, not reaction to, all the misconceptions encapsulated in Orientalism. Although Edward Said's Orientalism is an illuminating history of an idea (Orientalism) and how it was created, propagated, and continues to exist, his volume is nonetheless redundant and hostile in tone that made me immediately dislike it and put me on the defensive. In no instance did I find Said to be self--critical; his arguments were set forth like dogma. His extensive endeavors to list the faults generated by "Orientalism" are in some cases based on false assumptions. That is, there have been nations of Islamic people (i.e., the Ottoman Empire) who for over 500 years systematically enslaved and ruled over parts of Eastern Europe. These kinds of reverse atrocities are virtually ignored, probably because Said is only really documenting the past two centuries. In addition, I found very little in the area of proposals or alternatives to the way of conceptualizing the "Orient" other than what Said criticizes in his 300-plus-page book. I understand that Said's mission was "to describe a particular system of ideas, not by any means to displace the system with a new one" (325) but in my opinion a history of a subject should allow the reader to conceive of and interpret ideas for a new system and because Said fervently rejected to do so, so did I. In my opinion, Orientalism is also an example of where cultural history can become so subjective that unless the reader accepts the book without question, it serves little purpose other than as an outlet for anger on the part of the author and as testament to how tenuous a historian's job is when he or she lets a particular view so obviously overpowering the content of the text.
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Orientalism by Edward W. Said (Paperback - Oct. 12 1979)
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