Orientalism refers to the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists, and can also refer to a sympathetic stance towards the region by a writer or other person. An "Orientalist" may be a person engaged in these activities, but is also the traditional term for any scholar of Oriental studies.
Author of Orientalism, Edward Wadie Said.
These meanings were given a new twist by Edward Said in his controversial 1978 book Orientalism, where he uses the term to describe a tradition, both academic and artistic, of hostile and deprecatory views of the East by the West, shaped by the attitudes of the era of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, it often implies essentializing and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples. Said was critical of this scholarly tradition and also of a few modern scholars, including Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis. In contrast, the term has also been used by some modern scholars to refer to writers of the Imperialist era who had pro-Eastern attitudes, as opposed to those who saw nothing of value in non-Western cultures.
In Orientalism, Edward Saïd says that all discourse, especially cultural discourse, is inherently ideological, therefore, regardless of the subject, historical discourse occurs in a given ideological structure. Orientalism, especially the academic study of, and discourse, political and literary, about the Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East that primarily originated in England, France, and then the United States actually creates (rather than examines or describes) a divide between the East and the West. The book's examples situate the West as culturally superior to the East. This "Western superiority" became politically useful when France and Britain conquered and colonised "Eastern" countries such as Egypt, India, Algeria and others.
The discourse surrounding these countries is coded, Said says, by a superiority that is not necessarily reflected in the realities of the concerned countries. When people in the West attempt to study the East they typically do so within this already coded discourse. Therefore, Said says, the study of someplace called the "Orient" and of some people known as "Arabs" fails to take into account the reality of the area as being the same place as the West (i.e., part of the Earth). Other countries and other people are not seen as the same within Oriental discourse, however, and therefore a study of these "others" must inherently be one of studying an inferior culture when Oriental discourse is used to describe them.
This site is dedicated to the dismantling of Orienatlism especially Historical Orienatlism. It aims to achieve this by linking the "lynch pin" of "Western civilisation" - the Olympic Games - with its Eastern origins.
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