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Orientalism Paperback – Oct 12 1979

3.9 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (Oct. 12 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039474067X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394740676
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 399 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #53,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

"The theme is the way in which intellectual traditions are created and trans-mitted... Orientalism is the example Mr. Said uses, and by it he means something precise. The scholar who studies the Orient (and specifically the Muslim Orient), the imaginitive writer who takes it as his subject, and the institutions which have been concerned with teaching it, settling it, ruling it, all have a certain representation or idea of the Orient defined as being other than the Occident, mysterious, unchanging and ultimately inferior." --Albert Hourani, New York Review of Books

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The noted critic and a Palestinian now teaching at Columbia University, examines the way in which the West observes the Arabs.

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Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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