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Orientalism by Edward Said
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Orientalism (1978)

by Edward Said

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Said's critique of Orientalism as an academic discipline is too larded with pomo craziness, with too little analysis (one could say, none) of the actual consequences of regarding all of Asia, the Middle East, and Egypt as one homogenous conglomerate of racist stereotypes. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Reading Orientalism was sorta inevitable, as it cast such a long shadow over the social sciences in the 35 years since its writing. The subject sounds kinda baroque and obscure: how the West defined the Orient as a separate and opposite mirror to itself, the "Occident". But to his credit, Said pursues his thesis well, teasing apart the historical lineage of oriental studies, especially in Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, the crossroads between the Orient and the West. For sure, Said's book was a large part of why you never really hear about "Oriental Studies" today at the university level.

But Said's specific case also doubles to demonstrate one of his larger points, a big ambitious idea that becomes inarguable by the end. The trite quip about how the observer affects the observer is true—that culture, studies, and texts are used as tools of power, and often as an extension of efforts to subjegate the studied.

Now a weaker version of this hypothesis is pretty common-sense; we all know about explicitly political works, didactic fables, and the like. In a mildly more subtle fashion, we can also point to marxist/feminist/etc. readings of texts that expose the hidden assumptions, or we can recognize that culture was often funded towards explicitly political goals, such as the CIA funding the arts to demonstrate American superiority during the Cold War.

But even the academy was—and still is—infected by this same problem. Sciences were born under the assumption that we had to study and define cultures because the natives couldn't handle it themselves. Or even worse, we defined those cultures in our own minds *without* consulting the native peoples, as their input would surely complicate any self-satisfied narrative. Archeology was one tool, for sure, but it extended to where most of the "canonical" works that chronicle Asian, African, or South American cultures are actually written by outsiders.

In essence, Said is arguing for the importance of post-colonial fiction, a field that only started to cohere after he wrote *Orientalism*. More widely, it's a call to read more works in translation, to learn about cultures through the way they know themselves.

Now what I've typed so far makes the book sound great, right? But while Said's book starts out strong—explicating his thesis and making a case for its importance—after the first 100 pages it rapidly gets lost in the weeds. The problem is partially a function of his thesis, arguing that Westerners fell pray to useful simplifications that ignored the actual reality of the people in the "Orient". So to avoid biting that critique himself, Said needs to provide those very details to support his thesis. He can't afford to be too sweeping, since that's what he's warning against!

But the writing style, and the detail of the source exegesis, makes me think that the bigger obstacle is that Said's book was aimed at an academic audience. It's possible to be scholarly yet narrative, and there are any number of works that accomplish both. (My personal favorite: Caro's work on LBJ, which both tells an epic story and is supported by a mountain of original research.) But to put it frankly, Said's work falls flat after the first section, cataloguing endless previous works and name-dropping the hell out of scholars and gentlemen-adventurers who helped form the field of oriental studies.

In the end, I could only stand about 100 pages of the close-readings, eventually skipping large chunks in the hope that something—anything—would be worthwhile in the rest of the book. And to my dismay, there really wasn't. I should have been cautious due to Said's early-and-often asshole move of quoting French sources without providing any sort of translation, but quickly learned my lesson in trudging through the rest.

In the end, Said's book constitutes a lovely forest, yet gets lost in telling us all about every single one of the trees. There's material out there for a great and fascinating book, chronicling how the assumptions continued to be expressed in "reputable" works of the present; it just isn't this one.
( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
這是一本批判偏見如何透過科學的偽裝而成為「真理」的書。​Said 在書中對於英法美三國自拿破崙以來的東方學進行批判,指出其中的假科學,真偏見,並且指出這樣的偏見是怎​麼樣持續的自我繁衍。這本書的定位應該是給西方,尤其是西方的東方學精英閱讀的,在書中,他依據自己的論述​而隨之引錄各作家片段,其實頗像他自己所批判的「邊泌式全景塔」。對於這些作者不熟悉的讀者,其實很難去評​Said 在每一段並未做出明確的結論,而是描寫他所謂的東方主義如何呈現在這些作家、學者的文章之中。而主要的論​點,早已在緒論中就已經提出,使得整本書看似緒論的註腳。從一個習慣史學論文格式的人來看,​Siad的論述稍嫌混雜。 最後,整本書的翻譯其實大有問題。有不少標點更動(尤其是句號換成逗號,使得文意判讀上​出現問題)、以及譯者自己增補的情感論點(例如將提出意見改成提出異議,或者將原本作者加強的字眼漏掉,甚​自己增添加強字眼)。許多誤譯存在(當遇上加強字眼時更明顯),舉例而言,頁​345中「穆斯林一向把伊斯蘭視為阿拉伯的​ 聖地 」,原文為 genius loci,意為守護神或一地之風氣,此處明顯有誤。​ ( )
  windhongtw | Apr 3, 2015 |
Powerful for its method, rigor, & content. I must process it more, but it's something all Westerners need to process. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
As been said by other reviewers, a seminal but flawed work. A must-read for every student of cultural studies, colonial/post-colonial studies and even history. The flaws include overgeneralisation and lack of nuance - the author does seem to be more interested in rhetoric and scoring a (valid) ideological points. For thorough review (both criticism and praise) I'd recommend "Reading orientalism : Said and the unsaid" ( )
  Beholderess | Dec 17, 2013 |
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They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented. -Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonapart
The East is a career. -Benjamin Disraeli, Tancred
Dedication
For Janet and Ibrahim
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On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975-1976 a French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that, "it had once semed to belong to . . . the Orient of Chateaubriand and Nerval."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039474067X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The author presents a critique of the Western World's historical, cultural, and political perceptions of the East and Arab people. In this study, the author traces the origins of the West's concept of "orientalism" to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East.… (more)

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