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Middle Eastern Culture: Orientalism Essay

1667 words - 7 pages

The term orientalism is descriptive of the portrayal of different characteristics of Middle Eastern cultures by writers from the West. While some of these writings show the Eastern cultures in a positive light, the majority of them are biased and emphasise on existing or imaginary negative aspects as perceived by strangers to the Eastern culture. There are Western based designers, writers and even artists who have, over the centuries, sought to depict different facets of the Eastern cultures. One famous scholar, Edward Said, actually addressed different facets of orientalism in his book on the subject (Said 1978). His discourse uses both artistic as well as academic trains of thought to ...view middle of the document...

One of these is that orientalism is basically an all-inclusive concept that is used to describe the place of the Eastern cultures in Western imagination. It can also be said to be a Western-based method that is used to restructure, dominate, and wield authority over the nations that are considered as being part of the Orient. According to Ghazoul (2004) orientalism can also be said to be descriptive of the dissemination of matters concerning geopolitical awareness into scholarly, aesthetic, sociological, economic, and historical texts. Edward Said introduced different meanings into the words ‘occident’ and ‘orient’. From his discourse, it would seem that the term ‘Orient’ basically evolved into being a negative construal of Eastern cultures by the Western culture.
Insights into the Critics and Historical Scholars’ definition of Orientalism
Edward Said was deeply interested in the scholarly study of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures and history. He emphasised that his understanding of the concept of orientalism was not merely representative of modern intellectual as well as social and political cultures in Middle Eastern nations (Orrells 2012). Orientalism, to a large extent, deals in studies into the Eastern cultures between the 19th and 20th centuries. As an area of study, it remains controversial because it has to ties to the archaic beliefs that characterised colonialist or imperialist regimes. According to academic scholars like Mellor (2004) the whole concept of the ‘Orient’ is tied with how the West defines itself. In defining aspects of the concept of orientalism, Said tried to point out that one of the major factors that defined this issue was the reality of the divergence of power between colonisers and the colonised tribes more in the past.
According to Irwin (2006) there are many Western ideological preconceptions that are hidden within the concepts of orientalism. According to Irwin (2006) it is even a possibility that the West’s definition of itself was created through determining the shortcomings of other cultures all over the world. Edward Said emphasised that if Europe, more than eight centuries ago, got its definition and identity by recognising that it was not ‘Byzantium’, modern European nations and the United States today define their existence by not identifying as being of ‘Eastern’ extraction.
Limitations to the Critics and Historical Scholars’ definition of Orientalism
According to Irwin (2006) it is a fact that the subject of orientalism is based on the West’s concept of itself. Academic scholars like Jerome Christensen and Eric Meyer have studied the ways in which the concept of Orientalism is based on European preoccupations and is mostly defined as the ‘other’ (Huggan 2005). This defensive habit is the result of not having any control over a constantly expanding and changing world that is filled with new questions as well as uncertainty the true basis of the Western identity. For scholarly critics, the type...

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