Edward Said: Orientalism

When one hears the word “Oriental” the image that comes to mind is that of the Far East, where Chinese, Japanese, and Korean culture and history prevails. Edward Said’s book Orientalism, however, provides us with a different window of perspective to the word “Oriental”. Said focuses more on the countries of the Near East, or what we know as the Arab world. By taking a historical analytical approach, Said presents to us with the discourse of “Orientalism” whereby the predominant Western view of the East is fundamentally created by the West, for the West. This Western view that exoticizes and defines the East with negative traits, is what was, and still, to legitimise Western rule over the East. Said’s discourse of Orientalism is very thought evoking and makes the reader more aware of the scope of the problem.

The book is structured in three chapters; chapter 1 focuses on the scope of Orientalism and the different meanings it has, continuing onto Orientalist structures and how the definition has been solidified and reconstructed again and again by scholars in chapter 2. The final chapter focuses on Orientalism now and the effect it has on contemporary events. Said’s explanation will raise questions in the reader; however, each chapter goes on to answer those questions and Said does not fail answer your concerns.

Published in 1978, Orientalism provides us with the answers to the reasons why the problematic attitudes towards Islam still exists today; and the reason why cultural appropriation and white supremacy still holds firm in this globalised society. Although Said’s Orientalism is still relevant today, one can question on how much longer this discourse can stay relevant. Said’s Orientalism was a useful tool of discourse in the post-colonial world but with the diversification of the Western world where more and more cultures are integrating and creating a hybrid culture; the discourse of Orientalism will either become slowly irrelevant or it may transform once again to fit the changing tides of the world.