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More than three decades after its first publication, Edward Said's groundbreaking critique of the West's historical, cultural, and political perceptions of the East has become a modern classic.

In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of "orientalism" to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined "the orient" simply as "other than" the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.

424 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1978

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About the author

Edward W. Said

171 books3,201 followers
(Arabic Profile إدوارد سعيد)
Edward Wadie Said was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian American born in Mandatory Palestine, he was a citizen of the United States by way of his father, a U.S. Army veteran.

Educated in the Western canon, at British and American schools, Said applied his education and bi-cultural perspective to illuminating the gaps of cultural and political understanding between the Western world and the Eastern world, especially about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East; his principal influences were Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Michel Foucault, and Theodor Adorno.

As a cultural critic, Said is known for the book Orientalism (1978), a critique of the cultural representations that are the bases of Orientalism—how the Western world perceives the Orient. Said’s model of textual analysis transformed the academic discourse of researchers in literary theory, literary criticism, and Middle-Eastern studies—how academics examine, describe, and define the cultures being studied. As a foundational text, Orientalism was controversial among the scholars of Oriental Studies, philosophy, and literature.

As a public intellectual, Said was a controversial member of the Palestinian National Council, because he publicly criticized Israel and the Arab countries, especially the political and cultural policies of Muslim régimes who acted against the national interests of their peoples. Said advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state to ensure equal political and human rights for the Palestinians in Israel, including the right of return to the homeland. He defined his oppositional relation with the status quo as the remit of the public intellectual who has “to sift, to judge, to criticize, to choose, so that choice and agency return to the individual” man and woman.

In 1999, with his friend Daniel Barenboim, Said co-founded the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, based in Seville, which comprises young Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians. Besides being an academic, Said also was an accomplished pianist, and, with Barenboim, co-authored the book Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002), a compilation of their conversations about music. Edward Said died of leukemia on 25 September 2003.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,450 reviews
Profile Image for Erica.
102 reviews66 followers
May 15, 2007
The following is a true story:

Me, in a San Franscisco bar reading Orientalism.

The blonde girl next to me reading over my shoulder: "So what's Orientalism?"

I explain as best I can in a couple sentences.

Her: "There are so many isms in Asia - like Buddhism and Taoism. You know what book you should read? The Tao of Poo. It's sooo good. It's, like, the perfect way to teach Americans about Eastern Religion."

Horrified, I look back to my book and take a sip of beer.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
May 22, 2016
There's a curious double-standard between what we expect from White guy authors compared to authors of any other background. When an author is a Native American, for example, we tend to expect their books to deliver to us the 'Native American experience'. If the author is a woman, we tend to expect that her book will show us the 'female perspective'--to the degree that female authors who write stories about men are forced to take on a masculine or nondescript name, like J.K. Rowling.

So we get Western-educated authors like Achebe, Hosseini, and Momaday who write thoroughly traditional novels in the Western style and then place a thin veneer of their own ethnic background onto those stories, and are praised for it in academia, because their work meets expectation: delivering to The West a simplified and 'pre-colonized' version of foreignness.

As a White male author, on the other hand, the expectation is that you won't stick to your own cultural identity, but will instead attempt to explore the breadth and depth of human experience through characters of many backgrounds--and why not? White guys have been doing it for centuries, and we love them for it.

In fact, the problem here is not that White guys are encouraged to take on other roles, its that non-White, non-male folks are discouraged from doing so. As Said points out: it is not only Black people who are capable of writing about Black people, or only Arabs about Arabs, or only Whites about Whites; we all need to explore similarities and differences in our fellow humans.

So here I am: White guy, trying to explore humanity, writing a bit of fiction about Colonialism, about the English rule in Egypt and India, featuring characters of different backgrounds--but it's daunting. I don't want to do it thoughtlessly, and though I take a great deal of inspiration from Haggard, Kipling, Conrad, and Burton, I don't want to incidentally adopt their shortcomings along with the interesting bits.

So I thought I might combat their prejudices by taking in the most notable and talked-about book on interactions and stereotypes between The West and The East. However, Orientalism was not what I expected; but then again, it wasn't what Said expected, either. He didn't intend to write 'The Book' on East/West interaction, his work is much narrower in scope.

The whole of the book is Said looking closely at a dozen authors, mostly French and English, some academics, some fiction writers, and giving examples of a number of quotes for each where they talk about 'The East' in ways that demonstrate a certain bias. That's pretty much it, all four-hundred pages. Why spend that long on such a specific topic? Because this book was meant for a small academic publication, and that's what specialized academics do.

Now, if you've read any of the other reviews of this book on GR, you'd get the impression that Said is an enraged polemicist who spends the whole book denigrating 'The West' and praising 'The East'. It’s inexplicable to me that any person with the most basic reading comprehension could come away from Said with this view. Indeed, once I realized the scope of this work (and that it wasn't likely to help with my specific writing concern), I almost abandoned it, but I wanted to get to the 'angry Said' part where he defames Western civilization, just to see how bad it got.

It never came. Said's tone throughout the book is exceedingly dry and cautious--too much so, for my taste, I've been known to enjoy a good diatribe--so any prejudicial anger a reader might find in this book is only what they brought in with them. The notion that Said is anti-Western or Pro-Islam is such a bizarrely inexplicable misreading that the only reason a reader could come away from the book with that belief is if they brought in a huge set of prejudices and then ignored everything Said actually wrote.

First, they must assume that ‘East’ and ‘West’ are terms that have well-defined geographical and social meanings, and then ignore the fact that Said repeatedly states that, to him, 'East' and 'West' are just convenient ideas, not real, solid entities--that it is ridiculous to talk about India, China, and the Middle East as if they were one culture, or even to lump in the various Arab states with one another, when they each have very different histories and values. There is no more unity between all Islamic nations than there is between all Christian nations.

Trying to place a line between Greece and Turkey and claiming these are separate cultures is artificial. Lest we forget: Troy was in Turkey, when the Roman Empire died in Italy it continued in Istanbul (as Edith Hamilton points out: Roman rule was always more Persian than Greek), Southern Europe was long ruled by Moors, and as Ockley’s 1798 History of the Saracens contentiously point out, nearly everything Europe knows of Greek philosophy and mathematics came from Islam.

Then, the ignorant reader would have to assume that when Said points out a specific trend in some authors of the ‘West’, that this constitutes an attack on ‘The West’ as an entity (which Said denies exists). This despite the fact that Said explicitly holds many of these Western authors in high regard and specifically states that there’s nothing wrong with cultures having interdependent relationships:
“The Arab world today is an intellectual, political, and cultural satellite of the United States. This is not in and of itself something to be lamented; the specific form of the satellite relationship, however, is.”

The reader would then have to assume that this perceived attack on a fictional ‘Western Culture’ was the same thing as an uplifting of ‘the East’, even though Said often speaks about how many Eastern states are damaged and without a modern intellectual tradition to train its members to do the work of improving them, and that all the great centers of study and economic control for Islam are located in England or America.

But then, the fact that there are prejudiced readers is hardly surprising: the world is full of people trying to divide everything up between 'us' and 'them'. I get comments from people who don't realize that Islam is an Abrahamic religion--sharing the same holy books, prophets, and god as Christianity and Judaism--people who aren't aware that a 'fatwa' just means any public statement by a scholar. You read about American military consultants in the Middle East who don't know the difference between Shia and Sunni. Very few these days would connect this quote:
"The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr"

with Mohammed.

How easily we forget that Athens is closer to Marrakesh, Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad than it is to Paris, Berlin, or London.

I remember seeing a supposedly humorous map where the Middle East was replaced by an impact crater, with the words 'Problem Solved' beneath it, completely ignoring the fact that the reason there is constant conflict there is because powerful First World countries have gone in, supplied both sides with cheap guns, made Opium the only profitable crop for farmers to grow, and set up regimes whose sole purpose is to funnel money and natural resources out of those countries and into multinational banks--any region is going to be politically unstable under those conditions.

Indeed, Said openly admits that there is much wrong in the Arab world, that it is full of turmoil and violence and lack of education, and that it is all too easy to paint it as a ‘fallen culture’ when compared to the heights of sophistication and science it once enjoyed, which sparked off the Renaissance in Europe. Of course, the way Arabs are commonly typified as backward is the same way people typify ant outgroup: the cliches of American rednecks and hippy-dippy liberals are the same as the cliche Arab: ignorant, sectarian, ever-feuding, following charismatic leaders into reactionary movements. We can point to Religious Fundamentalists, Tea Party Yokels, Ron Paul Libertarians, Militant Feminists, and Black Muslim Brotherhood members and find the same clannish human system at play.

I was constantly struck by the fact that the separation Said depicts between the ideas of East and West were not specific to that cultural conflict, but were the same generic type of power separation laid out by Marx: a dominating power structure versus the population whom they control and profit from. They operate off of the same self-serving justifications for their rule: that the population is childlike and irrational, easily manipulated, and in need of governance. Very little of Said’s analysis was specific to the conflict between the East and West--which may have been deliberate on his part--but I think it would have made his neutral stance clearer if he had expressed outright that he was making a generalized argument about all power dynamics. Extending the narrow focus of his argument and showing that this is how power works everywhere, at all times, would have made his work stronger, overall.

As I read, it seemed that what Said was saying was clearly true, but not in a revelatory way. I found myself comparing it to Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman , my high-water mark for social criticism, where her statements are inescapably true, but in a way you never realized until you saw it written out. I kept waiting for Said to take it to the next level, to elevate these basic, naked observations to some profound and insightful conclusion.

Of course European, Christian powers would mythologize and simplify Islam, of course they would make a phantom enemy of it, while at the same time trading, allying, and sharing sources of inspiration with it--that is no more than differing cultures have always done, as Said points out. What great insight into this system is meant to shock me? Am I simply too much the postmodern, atheistic American to see what he says as anything but basic and inescapable?

I came to this book looking to find something insidious, some system by which these cultures interact uniquely, but what I got was ‘most people are ignorant, dominating forces produce propaganda, Europe vs. Islam edition’. Of course we are all Quixote and Pangloss: making ourselves heroes of a fantastical narrative and creating enemies to blame because we are too weak to do anything other than maintain that flattering fiction. But, even if we are all human, and all power structures operate in the same ways, there should still be some specifics which set this incidence apart.

I was waiting for Said to do some serious unpacking. It’s not enough to show a passage of Renan’s and demonstrate that his Semites are ‘sterile’--I want to know how that construction is achieved, why it is important, how it operates culturally and psychologically, how it offers an important and vital insight into the grander cultural interaction. And yet, just as he seems to be reaching a kind of specificity, he breaks off:
“Why the Orient seems still to suggest not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat) . . . is something on which one could speculate: it is not the province of my analysis here, alas, despite its frequently noted appearance.”

So then, if not that, what is the province of his analysis? It isn’t until his conclusion that he lays out his purpose and helps us to understand why he never extends to these sorts of specific conclusions, which made me wish that he had made his conclusion his introduction, so I wouldn’t have spent four-hundred pages wondering why he keeps stopping just when it was starting to get interesting.

This is an academic work with a very narrow scope. It is meant to give a view of a very specific trend in Orientalist criticism amongst a group of authors, and not to force on the reader any specific conclusion about what this trend means, or how it operates on a minute level, except to point out that it does in fact exist, and that it represents familiar power dynamics. That is the purpose and the effect of this book, and it invites the reader to use it to extend these examples into specific arguments and observations of their own, to use the general roadmap provided as a guide for their own work. The fact that it has become the central text on the subject is an accident of time and place, for that was not the author’s purpose, nor is this a transformative, revelatory work that sets out a specific theory of analysis for looking at Orientalist works--as I wish it had been.

In the end, Said’s Orientalism is not a primer, but an experiment which is incomplete without further scholarship on the part of the reader. Since Said is not specific, we cannot know just how accurate his analysis is unless we can compare it to our own readings of the same works, so it can only be a companion to our studies and not a work which, on its own, develops a unique view which we can use, as scholars, going forward.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,302 reviews22.1k followers
April 17, 2013
This is a fascinatingly interesting book. It is also a book that is virtually required reading if you are going to say anything at all about post-colonialism. Whether you agree or disagree with the central theme of the book is almost beside the point. This work is seminal and landmark – so it can be avoided only at your own cost.

I’ll get to the central idea of the book in a second, but first some advice for people thinking of reading it. I think, if I only wanted to get an idea of what the book was about, but didn’t have time to read 305 pages or so, that I would read the preface to the 2003 edition and then read the afterword (actually, you could probably read those the other way around if you wanted, that would probably make even more sense). The point being that he is so clear and so ‘summary’ in these two parts of the book that as an overview and a way to get at the meat of his argument you would struggle to get a better grounding than those parts of his book. The rest of the book is a bit more for the kind of person who likes ‘completeness’. Look, it is all beautifully written and utterly fascinating too – but like I said, life is short and this is the sort of book that covers more ground that you might feel you really need covered.

So, what’s it all about? Well, Orientalism probably doesn’t mean what you might first think. You might assume that it has something to do with China – which isn’t quite where he is coming from. Said is tracing the history of an idea and in that idea the exotic East was the Middle East long before it was the Far East. That is what makes this book essential reading. If there is one thing that is increasingly being used to define our understanding of the world today – in the way that the Cold War defined our world for large parts of the 20th Century – it is the relationship between the West and Islam. We are constantly told that Islam is monolithic, that Islamofascists are wanting to impose Sharia Law on a hapless and ‘too democratic for our own good’ West. That we are pluralistic, they are clones. The main lesson of this book is to beware as soon as anyone starts using the word WE. It can be the most dangerous word in the language. But the similarities between the pluralist US and the monolithic THEM so reminded me of the East / West cold war that it was terrifying.

The Orient has long been a place where Westerners have projected their lusts, their dreams and their nightmares. Much of what is said about the East in this book by ‘Orientalists’ confirms masturbatory desires on behalf of the Orientalists themselves more than it says about life in the Middle East.

In fact, Orientalism says infinitely more about the West than it does about whatever we choose define as the Orient. The problem is one of essentialism. East is East and West is West and neither the twain shall meet – but not only is this geographically stupid, for it to be true in any sense it relies on a definition of the two ‘diametrically opposed’ opposites that must be taken as being real and total explanations before you start.

It requires us to have a single notion of what a Muslim is – as if this religion covering so many millions of people and having lasted for centuries and centuries could really, somehow remain self-identical across all of that time and all of that space. Such an idea ought to be utterly ludicrous after a moment’s reflection (not that such ideas ever really get even a moment’s reflection) – but our desire for a simple and clear and easily defined enemy is such that we lump together Seventh Century Arabs with Twenty-First Century Indonesians as if they were all identical.

And it gets worse. Not only are they all the same, but they are also too stupid to even understand the first thing about themselves. It is only because of we remarkably generous Westerners being able to explain their history to them, their language, society and character, that they have any ideas about themselves at all. This is the role of the Orientalist, a role he (and from what I can gather from this book it does seem to virtually always be a he) has played rather consistently over the centuries.

What is particularly interesting here is that Said says Orientalists don’t really treat the Orient as if it was a place, in space or time, but rather as a text – written once and then indelible. The Orient really reached its glory days a long time ago – you have to remember that much of our mathematics and virtually all of our Classical Philosophy came from Islamic scholars. So, to explain this we need to see Islam and the Orient as a culture in decay, a culture that is degenerating. But still a text nonetheless. And a text that can only be read by a properly schooled Western scholar. And what is the appropriate schooling for such a scholar? Well, not necessarily Oriental texts, as you might think – but rather texts about the Orient by previous Oriental scholars. This is like an entire school of Shakespeare scholarship that never actually refers to any of the poems or plays, but rather discusses previous works of scholarship on Shakespeare. And like such scholarship the assumption is that the plays never change – just as it is assumed the Orient and those who live there never changes either. You can understand the Muslim mind by reading the Koran – in a way that you can’t understand the Western mind by reading the Bible.

Of course, our television makes this unity of the Orient something that is self-evident. Other than Israel, the rest of the region is self-identical. This was made particularly clear during the so called Arab Spring when an image of an Arab in headgear shaking his fist could have been someone revolting in Libya, or Tunisia, or Egypt, or Syria – and fortunately from our perspective in the West all of these countries were identical and had identical problems and were resolving those identical problems in exactly the same way. Through unreason and violence – that is, a particularly Oriental and non-Western way.

If this book is anything, it is a plea for us to recognise the humanity of the other – of the Arab other in this case. One of the things I’ve become increasingly concerned about is what I call aggregated facts. For example, when I hear that the USA spends more on healthcare than any other nation or how much an average Australian spends on education, I become worried. People who talk in averages are not to be trusted – there, a generalisation you can rely on in a review telling you not to rely on generalisations. What people who talk in averages are about to say next is generally a lie. ‘How can there be a problem when America already spends more on healthcare than any other nation on earth?’ ‘How can Australia need the Gonski Report, we already spend a fortune on education?’ But averages mask how much is going to some people and how little is going to others. Averages are lies told in numbers. Aggregating humans as if all you need to say about them is that they are Arabs or Americans or Australians and then thinking that is somehow all you needed to say, that a single label can explain entire human cultures, is the stuff of racist fantasy. That so many otherwise rational and intelligent people have fallen into this trap (yes, I’m looking at you Hitchens – but not only you) and have done so repeatedly is to all of our shame.

Unfortunately, the work of learning about other cultures cannot be done by pouring them into a single bucket and giving them a single name. People are insanely complex and the societies they make are even more so. To imagine for a second that by calling a society Arabic or Islamic suddenly makes it any easier to understand says far more about the person pointing their finger and calling names than it does about those on the receiving end.

Of course this doesn’t only go for Arabs – or even just those living in Asia – but this is a common theme for all people who we think of as being different from ourselves and so group into a single mass. This book is a mirror held up before us (whoever that US is) – we should have the courage to look squarely into that mirror and learn the lesson it is trying to teach us.

Highly recommended, essential reading.
Profile Image for BookHunter محمد.
1,433 reviews3,351 followers
October 30, 2022
هو تطوير تفصيلي ليس فقط للتمييز الجغرافي الأساسي الذي يقسم العالم لقسمين غير متكافئين شرق و غرب بل أيضا لسلسلة من المصالح التي يستعين في تحقيقها و الحفاظ عليها بشتى الوسائل مثل نتائج البحوث العلمية و إعادة البناء اللغوي القديم و التحليل النفسي و وصف الظواهر الطبيعية و المجتمعات و هو في حد ذاته إرادة معينة أو نية معينة أي إنه ليس مجرد تعبير عن الإرادة و النية لتفهم ما يبدو بوضوح أنه عالما مختلفا أو عالما بديلا و جديدا و للسيطرة عليه و التلاعب به في بعض الأحيان و ضمه إليه.

و هو و قبل كل شيء خطاب لا يرتبط مطلقا بعلاقة مباشرة بالسلطة السياسية السافرة و موازية لها
من الأخر و بدون فلسفات و تنظير طويل تمتليء به صفحات هذا الكتاب القيم فإن الاستشراق هو دراسة الشرق دراسة منحازة بوجهات نظر مسبقة و مدفوعة بأغراض استعمارية و نظرة فوقية لشعوب الشرق مهما تبين لنا غير ذلك و يدلل هنا إدوارد سعيد بوعيه كمثقف شرقغربي إن جاز التعبير على ذلك بدلالات عديدة يخلص منها بنتيجة أن على الشرق تمثيل نفسه بنفسه بدلا من ترك الساحة للمستشرقين للتأثير في الشعوب و صناع القرار.

من أصعب الكتب التي قرأتها أيضا كان هذا الكتاب
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
April 13, 2017
“Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn't trust the evidence of one's eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.”

The truly terrifying thing about such Empires is how much they genuinely believe their own discourses in this regard; yes, they also profit from the subjugated people; yes, they do exploit them for their own ends, but they do actually believe they are doing some good in the process. They think that superimposing their ways, their systems of politics and culture, is actually going to benefit others. So they force it on people; they make them adapt to their ways and engage in a mode of totalitarian control that does nothing but destroy individualistic culture and history; thus, unfolds the history of mankind.

Edward Said keeps his arguments relatively in the present, at least, from the perspective of the way the current eyes of the Occidental view the Oriental. He mainly discusses how the legacies of fairly recent Empires, namely the British powers, have contributed to this lasting effect. Though I’d argue this is nothing relatively new. Man has been doing this sort of thing for the last 2-3 thousand years; it just means now he has the media and literary power to make such racial stereotypes and prejudices widely known, however accidental or purposeful. Orientalism can be recorded more effectively. When reading books such as this I find it hard not to fall into misanthropy, as I look at the current political climate the world faces; ultimately, asking myself the question: will man ever learn?

I digress here; the point is Said captures an argument vital to comprehending the way the world, unfortunately, works. It saddens me deeply that such things aren’t taught in schools. How many people will actually read this in their lifetime? How many people have even heard of it? The truth of the matter is this is a deeply important book; it demonstrates how the West has created this fog like gaze when it looks at the East. Whilst trying not to sound too general here, what it sees is an image of falsehood. It doesn’t see the East as it is, but instead sees a version of it that has been embedded into its subconscious by countless generations of inaccurate representation followed by further inaccurate re-representations.

To demonstrate here, I’ve included this image from a cover poster of a funfair James Joyce’s short story Araby is based upon. Please note, Joyce is but one example of countless. Don’t let this put you off him. (I offer no excuses for the representation, but know that many authors in the cannon did things very similar)


And here is a direct quote from Said; it literally sums up this picture:

“Arabs, for example, are thought of as camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization. Always there lurks the assumption that although the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority, he is entitled either to own or to expend (or both) the majority of the world resources. Why? Because he, unlike the Oriental, is a true human being.”

It’s almost laughable how ridiculous such a thing is. Here we have an Arab riding a camel waving a rifle in the air like a lunatic. The problem is it that many people didn’t have access to knowledge bases. We live in an internet age where we can find anything out if we really want to. But go back a hundred years and the general person reading this story and seeing this poster would have taken it for fact. Granted, the educated and perhaps even pseudo-educated may have had qualms with it, but the average reader would have seen it and believed it. Again, this is but one example. Imagine it duplicated ten-fold, seen in every Western representation of the East and you have cultural conditioning that leaves the populace with this false notion of the Oriental world. And then it is passed on through the years leaving the lasting impression of racist stereotypes.

The sad thing is, as I write this, this sense of Orientalism is still in the world today. I’ve seen it. It’s still out there amongst the Western populace. Sure, it may not be as bad, but it is bad enough. Said wasn’t the first to suggest these ideas, they are not just his arguments, but he was the first to write an entire book describing Western to Eastern perceptions. And he really did need to write it, to help educate people on their own folly. But, again, not many outside the realms of scholarship, arguably the ones most likely to manifest these false perceptions, will actually read it. Simply put, this is a complex book. My review scarcely scratches the surface in regards to the depth of some of these arguments.

This is a book for the relatively well-read. I tried it a few years ago during the first year of my undergraduate degree and was overwhelmed by some of the prose. Even now as I read it I find the arguments complex and warranting a second read. The point is, this book portrays an erudite scholarly voice. Although these arguments are vital, the book can be daunting at times for those new to literary criticism and cultural analysis. For me, this a book to work up to rather than dive into, and for students of postcolonial theory it is a book that simply must be finished- even if it takes you a year as it has in my case!
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,011 followers
July 8, 2020
An intelligent and insightful book about how the West has stereotyped and dehumanized the East through racist and oppressive representations of the East as backwards, uncivilized and in need of Western revitalization or aid. Edward Said writes at length about the origins and development of Orientalism throughout history and how it has culminated in and contributed to anti-Arab sentiments. He raises important and thought-provoking questions about interrogating how places are represented, who has the power to create representations, and what are the consequences of those representations. His point about how universities in the United States wield so much power in their construction of knowledge about the East struck me – just as much of this book did – as unfortunately relevant to today still even though this book was published in the 1970’s. Here’s one quote in particular that I liked:

“In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are… the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region. But Orientalism has taken a further step than that: it views the Orient as something whose existence is not only displayed but has remained fixed in time and place for the West. So impressive have the descriptive and textual successes of Orientalism been that entire periods of the Orient’s cultural, political, and social history are considered mere responses to the West. The West is the actor, the Orient a passive reactor. The West is the spectator, the judge and jury, of every facet of Oriental behavior. Yet if history during the twentieth century has provoked intrinsic change in and for the Orient, the Orientalist is stunned.”

I give this book four stars instead of five because I found the language super dry and hard to get through at times, despite the quality content. It took me over a year to get through this book because I would read it for a little and find myself dissuaded by the writing, like, am I just not “smart” enough to get this book or enjoy this dense writing? Maybe I’m not and that’s fine with me. But, if not for a burst of motivation over the past couple of days I’m not sure when I would’ve finished Orientalism. Even though I found the language somewhat tedious I’d still recommend this book given the pervasiveness of imperialist and racist notions of the Middle East that exist today.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,634 followers
February 6, 2017
An amazing classic book from the late Edward Saïd about the origins of the Western view of the Orient that shaped literature and music in the 17th-20th century. It is a penetrating view of various racial stereotypes of Arab peoples (dressed in sheets smoking hookahs and generally under-educated and prone to laziness and violence) that pervades all levels of society and served the interests of colonialism to appease consciences of all the violence and subjugation that occurred in China, India the Middle East and Northern Africa. Particularly in these troubled times with racial slurs against Muslims becoming common currency (amd electoral policy), it remains relevant and eye-opening. Highly recommended along with its sequel, Culture and Imperialism.
Profile Image for عبدالرحمن أبوذكري.
Author 11 books1,956 followers
December 1, 2012
شتان بين الطلسمات التي ابتلينا بها على يد كمال ابوديب في الترجمة الأولى التي صدرت قبل أكثر من عقدين، وبين هذه الترجمة السلسة الرائقة البعيدة عن التقعُّر، والإغراب، وصك المصطلحات الشاذة. إذا أردت أن تقرأ كتاب إدوارد سعيد، وتفهمه فهماً حسناً، وتفيد منه، فعليك بقراءة ترجمة أستاذنا محمد عناني، واهرب من ترجمة كمال ابوديب هروبك من المجذوم!!!!!!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
October 18, 2019
Thoughtful and comprehensive, Orientalism puts forth a biting critique of the West’s dehumanizing, essentialist representations of the East. Across three wide-ranging chapters Said tracks the history of Orientalism as an oppressive style of thought based on epistemological and ontological distinctions between the orient and the occident, in which the former is framed as despotic, hyper-sexual, and feminine and the latter as democratic, rational, and masculine. Said makes clear how modern Orientalism, emerging in the eighteenth century, differs from its medieval counterpoint; he also clearly explains how early modern orientalists’ pseudoscientific, dogmatic study of North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East in academia later was put to direct use by European imperialists in the late nineteenth century. The work’s seminal, and most of the ideas here have been absorbed by academia today; Said’s close and careful reading of texts, as well as his succinct framing of history, are impressive and make the work worth reading in full.
Profile Image for DoctorM.
836 reviews2 followers
November 18, 2010
Yes--- in many ways, Said's "Orientalism" is a classic. And he's right about some things: Western art and literature created a whole fantasy world about "the Orient" (which included the Balkans and Russia) over the last few centuries; Western scholarship about North Africa or the Middle East or India could be (and was) used by colonial powers. But as critics (especially Bernard Lewis and Robert Irwin)have pointed out, Said took a handful of serious ideas and created his own fantasy world of "Orientalism" (destroying, as Lewis lamented, a perfectly honorable scholarly term). Said and his followers very nearly argue that any Western study of "the Orient" is invalid and nefarious from the start, and that any scholarship by Westerners is a tool of oppression and political domination. Said notoriously got the careers and beliefs of the great Orientalists of the 18th and 19th centuries wrong, and, despite some fine writing, produced in the end a book that conflated artistic and literary visions with intelligence gathered for conquest or rule and which came close to saying that only scholarship with a "correct" political message about the Middle East could ever be acceptable. A necessary read, but one that has to be complemented with a reading of Lewis' critiques and the debates between the two, and perhaps---- since the critique is from the Left ---even more so by reading Robert Irwin's "Dangerous Knowledge".
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
January 10, 2019
Obviously this is a must read, which has been much drawn on and critiqued by later post/anti-colonial writers. I have just read the copious notes I made when I read it in 2007 (sort of ironic that I read a westerner's gloss rather than re-reading the original!?) and noted some points of particular interest...

John of Segovia proposed a conference with Islam designed to produce mass conversion 'even if it were to last ten years it would be less expensive and damaging than war'

To me this is a perfect example of the assumption that in an 'objective' 'rational' comparison Islam/the Orient will be found inferior to Christianity/the West. It sounds absurd, yet the same attitude is reproduced constantly, including by mainstream feminists. I think non-Muslim/Arab/'Oriental' folk should put the question to ourselves whenever considering or discussing Islam or the Middle East: 'am I being John of Segovia?'

European Orientalism produced a very rich sophisticated body of knowledge (Said stresses at the outset that his text is not about comparing this construct to reality) that produced ideas - it is the corporate institution for dealing with the Middle East/Arab/Muslim world (henceforth, problematically, 'the Orient') - politically useful to European imperialist powers (henceforth, problematically, and including the USA, 'the West'). Insofar as it studied Oriental texts, it interpreted them according to sweeping generalisations, never the human particular. The words of an ancient poet would be used as the foundation for foreign policy.

Visitors to the actual geographical Middle East were disappointed not to find the world described in classic orientalist texts, and interpreted this as the (further, because orientalist dogma starts from an assumption of faded glory) degeneration of the Orient! Confrontation with reality has not disrupted the othering construction of orientalism; everything is digested and processed by it.

For example, by 1955 the Orient described by 17th 18th century texts could not be recognised anywhere. Yet since one of the dogmas of orientalism is that the Orient cannot change, this new and strange place is out of order, full of pathological 'dis-orientals' and, I might cheekily offer, 'rogue states' which 'we have lost'. National liberation movements shattered the image of passive, fatalistic subject populations, but they were replaced with the image of 'extremists' who were not true to their real passive fatalistic natures. Anticolonial movements are interpreted as insults to Western democracy.

H.A.R Gibb argued that Islam is fundamentally flawed, yet cannot change. Any attempt to change it is a betrayal.

Orientalism ignores class interests, political circumstances and economic factors. There is only the unchanging oriental character to consider.

To conquer the Orient is to liberate it, because 'Arabs, especially Muslims know nothing about liberty & Islam is structurally favourable to fundamentalism' (this is the argument made by new-atheist critics like Dawkins and Grayling)

Latent orientalism: the distillation of ideas about the Orient & orientals eg sensuality, femininity (Said points out that orientalism is a masculinist perspective), despotism, passivity, indifference, inaccuracy, backwardness, is distinguished from manifest orientalism: stated views about oriental history, society, literature, land and identifications with other philosophies. Any change in knowledge of orientalism takes place in the latter category, never deconstructing the former.

American orientalism is even more reductive, with none of the imaginative investment of European orientalism, but with the same cultural hostility and imperial projects. Arabic is studied for policy objectives.

The liberal veneer: 'we' study 'others' to get to know them, understand their cultures, so we allow them to represent themselves (within the confining space of orientalism)

Principle dogmas of orientalism:
1. The West is rational, developed, humane, superior while the Orient is underdeveloped, aberrant, inferior
2. Abstracts are always preferable to direct evidence since Orientals cannot be trusted
3. The Orient is uniform and unchanging, incapable of self definition, and the generalised and systematic vocabulary of orientalism used to describe it is entirely objective.
4. The Orient is to be feared, pacified by research and development, preferably occupied.

The central myth is the 'arrested development of the semites'; Western power enables the reproduction of this myth.

Methodological failures of orientalism cannot be accounted for by saying the real Orient is different from orientalist portrayals or that orientalists, being Westerners, can have no inner sense of what the Orient is all about: Orientals are now educated in native lands in colonial founded underfunded universities with no good libraries and too many students. The USA is seen as the source of all learning, so students go there & learn orientalist dogma.

Said asks: How does one represent another culture? What is another culture? Is the notion of a distinct culture race/religion/civilization useful or does it always get involved in self-congratulation or hostility & aggression? Construction of identity (never natural & stable) is bound up with power and powerlessness in each society. For example, in Shalimar the Clown Rushdie presents a complex and shifting picture of religious identity in Kashmir; Islam is complicated by context and is not at all the same everywhere. Cultures are so inter-related and interdependent that unitary/simply delineated descriptions of their individuality are junk.

Scholars deny, suppress or distort the context of power that produces their systems of thought to maintain the fiction of scholarly disinterest (now we acknowledge and apologise for them, but proceed with our imperialism)

Western civilization is an ideological fiction, implying detached superiority of a handful of values & ideas meaningless outside the history of conquest immigration travel & mingling of peoples that gave western nations their present mixed identities. The USA for example is a palimpsest of different races & cultures sharing problematic histories of conquest, exterminations and major cultural & political achievements.

Said's aim is not to (paraphrased:) dissipate difference – the constitutive role of national & cultural differences in relations between people can't be denied - but to challenge the notion that difference implies hostility and the frozen, reified set of opposed essences & adversarial knowledge built out of these things. We need new way of conceiving the separations & conflicts that stimulated generations of hostility war & imperial control.

'Animosities & inequalities represent not an eternal order, but a historical experience whose end may be at hand.'
Profile Image for حسين العُمري.
309 reviews155 followers
July 27, 2012
يناقش أدوارد سعيد في هذا الكتاب " الاستشراق " كظاهرة ثقافية يشوبها الكثير من التحامل الغربي على الشرق ،، يظهر ذلك في سطحية النظرة الغربية للثقافة العربية و الاسلامية بل و الشرقية بصفة عامة فيلعب المستشرق دور الراصد لما يعتقد أنه همجية في مقابل الحضارة و التقدم الغربي فينجرف وراء " نحن " مقابل " هم " أو المسيحية و الحضارة مقابل البدائية و هنا تظهر كثير من الدراسات الاستشراقية كدعامة للعنصرية و التعالي الأوربي على الشعوب الأخرى الأقل درجة في رأيهم ،، ناقش إدوارد سعيد بشكل كبير الاستشراق من عدة ج��انب مستشهداً بالعديد من الكتابات الاستشراقية على مدى فترات طويلة ،، كذلك ناقش دورها في التنظير للاستعمار و بناء صورة مشوهة عن الشعوب التي تقع في جنوب و شرق أوربا و الصورة النمطية التي رسمها هؤلاء المستشرقون وأصبحت كحقيقة لا يمكن مناقشتها بل و تم البناء عليها بشكل مستمر من الأجيال الأوربية التالية ،، في نهاية هذه الطبعة - التي ترجمها الدكتور محمد عناني بشكل متميز - سجل المؤلف ردود الفعل المعادية لكتابه و آرائه من بعض المهتمين بالشأن الاستشراقي و ناقش حججهم و انتقاداتهم بشكل جميل ،، الكتاب متميز و غني بالمعلومات و الحقائق و الأفكار المتميزة للمؤلف
Profile Image for Aurelia.
95 reviews86 followers
September 19, 2021
Orientalism is a study in the history of ideas, by Palestinian-American comparative literature professor Edward Said. The work traces the development of the perception of westerners of easterners from antiquity to the early XX century. It is mainly focused on the Levant and the Muslim East. East Asia is mentioned only as a destination for which the Muslim East was an important gateway. Said builds his theses on two major concepts of XX century philosophy: Michel Foucault’s ideas about knowledge and how it is related to power, and Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony. Although the disciplines of philology and linguistics were very important in the field of Orientalism, Said gives much more importance to the literature written about the East in the XIX century, literature being his field of study, but for a reader who is not familiar with these authors it might be difficult to criticize his interpretations of these works.


From Antiquity to the middle ages, the East is represented as the essential Other. It is everything the West is not. Ancient authors enjoyed characterizing it with vague epithets, as long as they are not usually used to describe the West. The East is thus exotic, sensual, slavish, despotic…This will only be amplified by the coming of Islam as a political power, and the huge threat it represented on the door steps of Europe. It is an era of fear for westerners, combined with complete ignorance and misunderstanding. With the rise of the West in the beginning of the modern era, westerners started to develop a much wider interest in the region, with all the economic and military advantages a much more precise knowledge could give them. Travelers were the first to open what will become an odyssey of one civilization to describe and characterize another, a very unique venture in human History. Then the conquerors showed up, with England in India and Napoleon in Egypt. The marching troops were not only infantrymen, but also sophisticated scholars who went to explore what time had swallowed from these ancient civilizations, to expose what the indigenous population lost or forgot, and save it from oblivion. It was time for major linguistic and archeological discoveries, the birth of Egyptology, Assyriology, biblical criticism and the indo-European hypotheses. Then the romantic dreamers followed along to get their share in this great conquest, some of these authors did visit the East, and some of them only heard of it, but all were very enthusiastic about exploiting its inherent difference and exotic appeal in their literary projects.


The conquerors, scholars and the writers were all expressing a sort of unchallenged Volonté de Puissance over the East. Ruling it and knowing it were two inseparable things. The indigenous population was not only under the shackles of the imperialists but also had the essence of its traditions, religion, way of life and whole world view described, linked to an essential character which is the Eastern character, once known it is enough to understand what makes an easterner one and what differentiates him from a westerner. All of this inside a now established institution called Orientalism, recruiting an army of scholars and backed by Empires and agents overseas. Nothing will represent this further than the merger of the scholar and the administrator to create the ultimate governor of easterners who govern efficiently because he knows what is most essential in his governed. This is personalized in the imperial agents of the beginning of the XX century such as Lord Cromer and T.E Lawrence.  


The fading of the two major European imperial powers will be a major shift in the discipline. France and Britain are no longer the centers of the study of the East, although their strong legacy remained pivotal in all that came after. American institutions of eastern studies produce much of the orientalist literature today. Even though it blended with other disciplines such as Sociology and History, it did not mean that some of its XIX century premises changed. Usually it is the same paradigm, dividing the world to two antagonistic entities, then searching for the essence of the Easterners and its consequences in the world they live in and on others around them.


Said argues that Orientalism is an essentialist reductionist and politically motivated discipline.  It institutionalized and perpetuated clichés about the East and gave them the prestige of a real social science. It served the agendas of the conquering empires. In the study of other human groups, the dangers of human fiction are numerous. Orientalists not only described the East but also gave it a voice. They spoke for the East, retrieved its treasures and saved its legacy. Real Easterners were never heard nor had the chance to fight back. Orientalists were thus free to perpetuate the same images over and over. The very notion of the East is in itself a gross approximation which allocates a certain character to the inhabitants of a vast geographical area, neglecting all the differences and the peculiarities of each of the sub groups. It also presents group identity as rigid, static and eternal. Which is far from reality. Civilization is a collective human construct which keeps evolving and changing. The identity of a certain group is not an unchanging fact, History shows us that it is rather a fiction created overtime under certain circumstances and responding to certain needs.   

Said also questions the possibility of the very existence of a disinterested scholarship. Any scholar is evolving and serving a structure which defines his methods and sets his goals, a system which he cannot escape. The quest can never exist outside of his author’s ideology, if we define ideology as a vision he holds of the world. Most of the time he is either defending it or refuting its adversaries.

For a lot of readers, Orientalism will sound like a long rant against western imperialism and also western scholarship. Most will agree about the imperialism part but for the scholarship it is a more complicated matter. The endeavor to know the East, no matter how flawed or politically motivated, is one unique venture in Human History. It is undeniable that the ancient languages deciphered, the archeological sites uncovered were a monumental human achievement, an unparalleled contribution to human knowledge. Said’s language seems to discount this to concentrate only on the fact that it was done by imperial means. Even if it all started by a desire to define, know and master the Other, westerners went further. They are not the only group who use the concept of Otherness either. It is enough to open a random page from the Coran to find a strong distinction between the believers and the non-believers, and perhaps in some Chinese chronicles, they are describing some uncivilized neighbors they fight or conquer. The systematic study of westerners is a step further than hatred and fear, although this does not justify its means yet it must be acknowledged that it was an enormous gain to humanity in general.


Said rarely mentionnes a defining parameter in the very existence of Orientalism.  The discipline wouldn’t have existed or had the power it had if Easterners did not leave the void it came to fill. The silence of the East is real and not a mere fiction of orientalists.  Scholarships in the East lagged behind and still lagging to this day. Eastern scholars use orientalist works as their starting points, if they had access to it or knew about its existence. Easterners failed to write about themselves let alone write about others. Despite the blame on westerners for this one sided narrative they create, it is difficult to say that the other side was not excluded intentionally, but it did not show up to the discussion. Said seems aware of this, in order to have a real cultural dialogue the two sides should at least contribute with an equal degree. Knowing how hard it is in the current circumstances, any reform in the discipline still has to come from inside, from the westerner side again.

This is particularly true in the case of the Muslim East. Which is where Said spends most of the last half of the book. Bringing China to his reasoning will complicate the equation. Sure in the late XX century so many circumstances changed its relationship to the west which challenged the way the west viewed it. In the meantime nothing really changed in the Muslim East since Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, the animosity with the west has never reached a similar level since decolonization, this situation allow so much of the Orientalist tradition to be valid to this day. If orientalists spoke from inside an imperialist interventionist structure from which they cannot be isolated, then Said speaks from a structure which is marked by centuries of humiliation and frustration. A Palestinian displaced by overwhelming ideological, military and materially superior powers.

I apologize for such a long review! So many things to say. Edward Said’s Orientalism is a book to love and hate. That is why he sparked so much controversy. This is proof that after all those centuries of eastern studies were not a waste of time. Knowledge is a collective effort which is constantly questioned. It is only with contributions such as this book that advances are made.
Profile Image for Adam .
58 reviews
July 11, 2008
Orientalism is a masterpiece of comparative literature studies and deconstruction, published in 1978 it is arguably Said's most rigorous piece but undoubtedly his most influential. This is a examination of the academic discipline of Oriental Studies, which has a long history most of the European universities. Oriental Studies is a pastiche areas of study which include philology, linguistics, ethnography, and the interpretation of culture through the discovery, recovery, compilation, and translation of Oriental texts. Said makes it clear that he is not breaking new ground. Said limits Orientalism on how English, French, and American scholars have approached the Arab societies of North Africa and the Middle East. Although at times he refers to other periods - ranging as far back as the Greeks, the time period he covers is more limited than the scholarly field really extend. Said stays within the confines of the late eighteenth century to the present, whereas European scholarship on the Orient dates back to the High Middle Ages. Within his time frame, however, Said extends his examination beyond the works of recognized Orientalist academics to take in literature, journalism, travel books, and religious and philosophical studies to produce a broadly historical and anthropological perspective incorporating Foucaultian notions of "Discourse" and Gramscian notions of "Inventories".

His book makes three major claims. Firstly, that Orientalism, although purporting to be an objective, disinterested, and rather esoteric field, in fact functioned to serve political ends. Next, his second claim is that Orientalism helped define a European (mainly English and French) self-image. Lastly, Said argues that Orientalism has produced a false description of Arabs and Islamic culture.
Profile Image for Inam.
2 reviews5 followers
April 25, 2010
Still the most influential book in Cultural, Near Eastern, Arab, Islamic, and Post-Colonialist Studies.

Interesting how everyone giving it a bad/ambivalent review is someone that simply can't acknowledge history - 200-300 years of colonialism which was then only replaced by neo-imperialism in the form of wars, economic exploitation, and political interference through force. Is the world any different even today? Obviously not. You're not hating the West by acknowledging this truth, Edward Said asserts this acknowledgment is the first step towards a fairer understanding of both sides. Knowledge and patriotism aren't mutually exclusive, contrary to what others might have you believe with their bigotry.

The "tide isn't changing" against this book in academia or outside, this book is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. Nor is this book some vitriolic outcry against the West that some ignorant reviewers like to fallaciously classify it as.
Rather, it simply acknowledges a bias and uneven power dynamic in the shaping of East-West relations, conditions that are supported by historical and cultural facts, which ultimately resulted in how the West views the East today. A quite reasonable conclusion.

This is a book lauded by intellectuals and critics alike, the few "responses" to Said's assertions would be laughable if they weren't so lacking in credibility, written by pseudo-scholars that are ignored in academia like Ibn Warraq and Daniel Pipes but somehow get 5 stars on amazon.com from xenophobes and islamophobes.

Even Bernard Lewis, at one point the most influential Near Eastern Studies scholar in the West, only criticized Orientalism because he was forced to. In Orientalism, Said asserts that those of a particular culture, with appropriate education, intellect, and experience, were more capable of teaching their culture than a white man who only knows of that culture through his immersion in the academic bubble. Of course, Mr. Lewis couldn't stand by this as a westerner who made his living teaching about the Middle East.

Yet this isn't really a controversial position considering African-American Studies is taught by African-Americans as is Chicano Studies by Latinos. So why is it so shocking that in studies of the East, a minority has a more relevant view of their culture than a random who only knows of that culture through the vacuum of academia? The truth is, it isn't, if anything it's quite logical and reasonable - two characteristics we need more of in a post 9/11 world.

I urge you to not pay mind to the fallacious reasoning of those giving this book bad reviews, there's a reason it's still extremely influential and relevant even 35 years after being published. How many works can stand both the test of time and the test of critical academic scrutiny? Not many, which is why this work has continued to influence many professors and scholars. I hope someday to also join such scholars rising under its shadow like Columbia's eminent Near Eastern professor Massoud.

This was the first book to inspire me to become a professor, philosopher, and cultural critic just like Edward Said and I can proudly say I'm on that path.

To ignore this book is to simply ignore world history. I recommend this book so highly that if you read one book a year, this is the one for 2010.

Profile Image for Rob Salkowitz.
Author 7 books13 followers
January 14, 2008
Intellectual porn for self-hating westerners, shockingly became one of the most influential texts of the last 25 years. Said's pompous, self-important writing style papers over yawning gaps in scholarship and breathtaking dishonesty. Finally, some academics appear to be getting over their institutional infatuation with Said and the critical tide is starting to turn. None too soon.
Profile Image for Lucy.
595 reviews119 followers
April 7, 2007
I think the problem with reading Orientalism today is that much of what he says (that was so revolutionary at the time) is so accepted now (at least among most academics). He's a brilliant writer, although he did irritate me at times (he constantly vilified anyone trying to represent anything, claiming, rightfully, that it is only possible to have a misrepresentation of anything built on one's own experiences and culture, and I did truly want to remind him that was what he was doing with Orientalism, too). Some of his scholarship is also a bit off (mistaking certain writers for other people with the same name, that sort of thing), but still, a seminal work. (One last aside--I would have also liked to have seen more women writers acknowledged by him, although at least in the case of Lucie Duff Gordon, he would have been more hardpressed to criticize her as he could some of the major Orientalists.)
Profile Image for Mohammed omran.
1,652 reviews147 followers
April 4, 2020
انه الكتاب العربي الوحيد في قائمه مائه كتاب غيروا تاريخ العالم للنابغه ادوارد سعيد
امتاع ابداع
لن تعتبر قارىء ومثقف بدون ذلك الكتاب
من وجهه نظرى
بساطه مفاهيم سلسه انيقه
تم ترجمته الي عده لغات
Profile Image for Fatima Alammar.
Author 1 book202 followers
April 26, 2014
السنة التي تقرأ فيها الاستشراق يجب أن تكون في أهميّة السنة التي تخرجت فيها، أو حصلت على أول عملٍ لك، أو تزوجتْ. سنة فارقة؛ لأن الكتاب يشكّل بالفعل علامة فارقة في قائمة القراءات.

يتناول الكتاب تحليل "خطاب" الاستشراق، وينقسم إلى ثلاثة محاور: نطاق الاستشراق، أبنية الاستشراق وإعادة بنائها، الاستشراق الآن. ثيمة الكتاب أو الفرضية التي يقوم عليها تتلخص في أن (الاستشراق مذهب فُرِض فرضاً على الشرق) وهو (جهاز ثقافي ينحصر في العداء والنشاط وإصدار الأحكام وفرض "الحقائق" والمعرفة).

بأسلوبٍ عميق، ونثرٍ آسر، ودقة لافتة يعرض سعيد تاريخ "التحيّزات" التي تكتسي طابعاً علميا زائفا، والرسائل المضمرة في الاستشراق، وتواطؤه المريب مع السلطة. وهو يكرر في صفحاتٍ كثيرة رفضه لتصوّر وجود جوهرٍ ثابت للشرق (أو حتى الغرب). (الاستشراق يقدم الشرق في صورة أنماطٍ ثابتة مجردة)، وبذكاء يلاحظ (الاختلاف المضمر والأقوى القائم بين المستشرق والشرقي، هو أن الأول يقوم بالكتابة، والثاني هو المكتوب عنه، والسلبية هي الدور المفترض للثاني، وأما الأول فيفترض فيه القوة التي تمكنه من الملاحظة والدرس وهلم جرا).

سيجعلك المؤلف في النهاية تنفر من لغة التعميمات الفضفاضة، والحشو والتطويل، والأحكام الساذجة، والصور الموغلة في السلبية، والقوالب الفكرية المغلقة، والمواقف العدائية المُغرِضة، وضيق الأفق.

إنه كتاب في (تهافت) الاستشراق، يمتاز بقدرة رهيبة على تفحص عيوبه ومساوئه، وسعيد يخلص إلى أن (الاستشراق رغم أوجه فشله، ورطانته المؤسفة، ونزعته العنصرية التي لا تكاد تخفى، وجهازه الفكري الهزيل، يزدهر اليوم. بل أني أرى ما يدعو إلى الانزعاج في انتشار تأثيره إلى "الشرق" نفسه، إذ تحفل صفحات الكتب والمجلات المنشورة بالعربية (وبلا شك باليابانية وشتى اللهجات الهندية وغيرها من اللغات الشرقية) بتحليلاتٍ من الدرجة الثانية يكتبها العرب عن "العقل العربي" وعن "الإسلام" وغير ذلك من أقوال في عداد الأساطير).
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
March 9, 2019
I just cannot believe that this book existed out in the world and I did not read it until now. I've had it on my bookshelf for years, but I guess I figured I knew what it contained. I did not. This book was revelatory and also so familiar. It explained and contextualized all of my issues with the way the western cannon has talked and still talks about Islam and the east. It's been fetishized. I'd love an update now that the east is no longer "female" and sexual, but it's male and irrationally angry. Still, the text holds up because we are still orientalizing the Islamic world. The part that made me gasp out loud was when he talked about how Western scholars have claimed reason and rationality as the sphere of the west and unreason and softness as the sphere of the orient. You still see that so strongly in the anti-islamic rhetoric coming out of rationalist spheres of the new atheist movements. And I want to say, dude, we invented reason!
Profile Image for HajarRead.
241 reviews535 followers
December 7, 2017
Une lecture essentielle pour tout le monde, qui que vous soyez. La postface écrite par Edward Said 16 ans après la publication de son essai est très intéressante et enrichissante puisqu'il y revient sur les critiques et diverses interprétations faites de son texte aux quatre coins du monde et nous rappelle ce que son texte N'EST PAS, mais l'expérience démontre qu'il est très difficile de ne pas y voir ce que chacun espère ou redoute... La citation choisie par Edward Said au début de son essai prend tout son sens "Ils ne peuvent se représenter eux-mêmes ; ils doivent être représentés." Karl Marx.
Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 13 books357 followers
September 30, 2016
I’ve been ashamed I hadn’t read Orientalism, and now I know I had reason to be ashamed. It’s rightly a classic. Though its ideas have seeped out so that much was familiar, there was a lot of clarity in going back to source.

I expected a more ‘pugnacious’ book, to use a word from the back cover. But it’s not pugnacious in style or content. Perhaps in the first shock of publication it seemed so. It’s a fair-minded book, ‘humanist’ in a word he refuses to relinquish (that wins my heart). His point is not to condemn or consign to oblivion the entirety of the West’s scholarship and art on the Orient. He just makes us aware of the structures of thought in place. When it came to figures I have an attachment to (T.E. Lawrence; his hero Charles Doughty; other travelers), I never felt Said was telling me I have to cease to read them. And I wasn’t disenchanted, because I knew these guys were riddled with Orientalism even if I didn’t have the terms (in fact, I’m stalled in Doughty from years back where he has an egregious instance; I’ll get over it and pick him up again, for his wonderful observation and the prose style Lawrence so admired). You cannot say fairer than what he says of Richard Burton, along with the useful analysis that only Said has said.

This book is a feat of thought that probably has its little inexactitudes as his detractors like to point out. It re-visioned things and has a larger scope than the still-contentious area of 'Islam' and 'the West' (still? I’m glad he’s not alive). He explains how scholarship isn't innocent of politics – not just in the case of the West on Islam, and not even to fault that case, because scholarship cannot exist in a safe bubble, away from the hustle and bustle of the politicised world around us. I think it is this which gets backs up, more than the charge that he is anti-West (he isn’t). I’ve seen scholars respond that they are indeed innocent of politics; but if I ever cherished that thought, too much reading history has ruined me. If I can tell a not-irrelevant tale: in my own research area, in Asia, in his Orient, as an innocent researcher who didn’t know much about historiography, I grew increasingly flummoxed and exasperated by the attitudinal problems in mainstream, prestigious histories. It turns out, the best thing I could have done in order to understand what I saw was wrong with Mongol history-writing, was read Said. Its applicability goes wider than Islam-and-the-West.

The only time I think he’s irascible in tone is in the 1995 Afterword, when he’s obviously been in a feud with Bernard Lewis. I’m sorry his book met hostility in certain quarters, because, as I say, it’s not damnatory of the tradition, and if Orientalists or their heirs don’t see there’s room for this sort of criticism, that’s sad. With his 2003 Preface – the year he died – he has returned to the serene tones of the main work, although, with the downturn in world events, he sounds a sadder and a wiser man.

The book was written as a classic ought to be, without the jargon of the day and a pleasure to read. It may become too detailed in its case studies for most people’s purposes; I used the skip button, but this is not my last encounter with Said’s great work.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,318 reviews978 followers
March 11, 2023
Edward Said’s definition of the “Orient” was as a Western-invented concept of a vaguely all-encompassing “East,” not referring to what is traditionally and cartographically considered the actual East but rather including most Asian cultures, Middle Eastern and Northern African cultures, and certain nomadic cultures such as Romani and Mongolian. Nowhere is this concept more perfectly realised in modern Western, specifically American and British, society than in the application of typeface Papyrus, exemplary of that invented Eastern “other,” as the font is applied to vaguely “Arab” words, “Asian” words, and generally “exotic” words in turn. It shows up everywhere.

Here’s a bunch of examples:

The (stereo)typeface has therefore become associated with Said’s definition of a mystical and geographically uncertain “East” as created and imagined by Western cultures. In this essay I will—
Profile Image for Sense of History.
409 reviews484 followers
February 27, 2022
A Pioneering Study in Intellectual History
Make no mistake: this book is not about the East at all - no matter how you fill in that geographical-political-cultural term - but about the West, Western culture in the broad sense of the word (including its political, social and economic dimension). The essence of Said’s thesis is that in Western culture an image of the East was created very early on as the fundamentally different: mysterious, strange, exotic, somewhat attractive, but above all different and therefore threatening. He delves deeply into history, and devotes most of his book to how 'Orientalism' has evolved from a rather vague mythical-social concept to a concrete literary movement (after all Said was a literary scientist) and in the course of the 19th century also into a branch of scientific practice. In addition, he discusses concrete writers such as Dante, Chateaubriand and E.M. Forster, but also scientists such as Ernest Renan, Edward William Lane and Louis Massignon.

Said certainly has an eye for nuances: with each of these authors there are different accents, and throughout history the concept of the 'Orient' is constantly evolving, if only geographical: ranging from ancient Persia and Egypt, to Arabia and Islam, to India and even South East Asia, to shrink back to the Middle East and especially Islam in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Three things keep coming back: the orientalist discourse always has Western superiority as a starting point, and in the 19th century that even led to the overt mission to drag the 'passive and backward' Orient along in the advance of (Western) civilisation. Said was clearly inspired by the work of Michel Foucault and his thesis that any discourse is an expression of a power relationship, in this case colonialism and imperialism; Said adds that Orientalism also precedes that colonialism, made it possible, supported it and also was strengthened and influenced by it. A second characteristic of 'Orientalism' that is stressed is that it mainly says something about the West itself, because it is simply constitutive of Western identity: as there is a ‘different, retarded and strange’ East, it is also immediately clear that the West must stand for civilization and enlightenment. And a third important characteristic is that the concept of ‘Orient’ among the Orientalists is unchanging, does not allow nuance; it is a frozen concept (“the typical Arab always is lazy”).

So I certainly support the extensive praise that this work has received, which has led to a much more critical view of Western culture, both in the West itself and beyond. Of course, it also has something to offer for the view of the West on other cultures: the African, the native American, Chinese, Polynesian (and why not: the Russian, those of the Balkans), and so on. Edward Said only focussed on the ‘Orient’, because he is right that no other approach was as deep, elaborate, persistent and as fundamental to Western civilization in general as 'Orientalism'.

Since its publication, in 1978, this book also has received a lot of criticism. Said is said to have written a purely anti-Western book and has feeded the hateful movements against the West in their (sometimes violent) struggle. Anyone who has read this book thoroughly will have to admit that this reproach is unjustified. Said really does his best to elaborate his thesis from a nuanced theoretical framework (the relationship between culture and society), with a subtle eye for constant shifting, the fluidness of concepts and opinions, and at the same time placing ‘Orientalism’ in a context that immediately exposes how generally human that tendency is to reduce the other to a reductionist essence ("otherness").

But the book also contains elements that in a certain sense justify criticism. Said does not always write coherently, has been rather sloppy in the construction of this book, and occasionally is fiercely polemic (especially his criticism of the Arabist Bernard Lewis is extremely harsh). Ultimately, this book is an engaged piece of writing: it is an explicit position against ‘Orientalism’, that is to say, against reducing the East to an essence that is constructed and self-nourishing. Also in his personal life, Said did not shy away from polemics, and in the United States in particular, that - as an advocate of the Palestinian cause – has done his reputation much harm.

Detail criticism is certainly also possible on the selectiveness in this work: Said only focuses on authors who support his thesis. This can be scientifically justified at the level of hypothesis formation, but not in a final assessment of reality. I notice that very influential works such as Marco Polo’s report of his (alleged?) trip to Mongolian China and Montesquieu's Persian homage in “Lettres Persanes” are completely missing. And that is strange.

But for me, the weaknesses of this work do not entirely outweigh the strengths of it. Perhaps it’s best to view this book as a pioneering work: Said has shown us how the dominant position of the West in the 19th and 20th centuries found its inspiration and justification in a much longer existing way of looking at that 'other' East, and how that ‘Orientalism’ in turn was strengthened and inspired by concrete colonial and imperialist action. More nuances and more context may be appropriate, but you cannot ignore this fact. And a relevant evolution is that after Said, a whole scientific branch of post-colonial, "subaltern" studies has started that continue to feed the debate. That debate is also very varied: sometimes nuanced, sometimes very extreme, but at least it is an intellectual debate, and only through this a multifaceted, enriching view of history and reality can only be won.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,110 reviews1,176 followers
April 25, 2019
Ever since its publication in 1978, this has been an iconic work, a book that is constantly referred to, be it in very divergent ways: it is praised in heaven by some and banned to hell by others. So, the least you can say is that this work gives a very own, original view of the way the West has looked and still looks to the East.

I immediately stress two fraught terms here: "West" and "East", because that is where it all starts, with that distinction. It is to the great credit of Said that he demonstrates that precisely that distinction - philosophically formulated as a reductionist essentialism - has played a very important role in Western history: “Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them"). This vision in a sense created and then served the two worlds thus conceived.” For Said that interaction between image and action is crucial. Specifically: the conception of the Orient (a very broad and constantly fluctuating concept) as mysterious but also passive, backward and at the same time threatening became the source of inspiration and the justification of a colonialism and imperialism that in turn reinforced the Orientalist view. This book is therefore primarily a topic intellectual history.

Much of what Said put forward in 1978 has now become more or less commonplace, although it is also regularly taken under fire from a conservative angle, but rather because of its political implications. In this sense "Orientalism" is a pioneering work that has rightly received praise. But it also has some flaws, because Said sometimes used a rather sloppy and polemic approach in this book, and in turn he is to a certain extent selective and reductionist. See more about this in my Senseofhistory-account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Ali Almatrood.
95 reviews122 followers
January 28, 2016
الكتاب مجهدٌ جدًا، وهو مرجعٌ تاريخي أكثر من كونه كتابًا للقراءة.
Profile Image for R.
172 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2023
این کتاب خیلی عمیقُ همه چی تمومه. مثالهای خیلی عالی داره از رمانهای فرانسوی مخصوصا، که چطور ضمنی و زیرپوستی مسلمون‌ها رو هدف می‌گرفتن. مثلا کتاب سالامبو از فلوبر. باید بخونین کتابو تا خوب متوجه بشین و دچار اشتباه نشین. و در مورد میسیونرهای فرانسوی (مثلا شاردن) که می‌آمدن ایران و ماموریت‌هاشون هم، توضیح مفصل می‌ده. 
این کتابِ مفید و زیبا رو توی دانشگاه پاس کردیم، چند سال پیش.
و از نظر آقای ادوارد سعید (که خودش فلسطینی تباره و دغدغه‌ی اصلی‌ش کشور خودش یعنی فلسطین بوده که این کتاب رو نوشته و البته کشورهای خاورمیانه) چکیده سیاست آمریکا و انگلیس در قبال کشورهای خاورمیانه‌ای مخصوصا ایران این شد که؛ (به زبان خیلی ساده) بریتانیای کبیر سیاستش این طور هست که شما رو تحقیر می‌کنه و در واقع توی سرتون میزنه، ادم‌حسابتون نمیکنه تا اینطوری به همه اعلام کنه که ما برتر هستیم و شماها کشورهای عقب‌مونده‌ وضعیفی هستین که هیچ وقت پیشرفت نخواهید کرد و ما از پس شما بر خواهیم‌آمد... برعکس ایالت متحده سیاستش این طوره که شما رو تا حد زیادی بالا می‌بره، شما رو خیلیییی بزرگ جلوه می‌ده و این طوری میخواد به همه اعلام‌کنه که شما برای بقیه خطرآفرین هستین و ما (امریکا) باید به عنوان منجی دست شما رو کوتاه کنیم...
1,093 reviews113 followers
March 25, 2020
A Seminal Work for Cultural Understanding

Relations between people of different cultures is a vital part of today’s world, not only for culture’s sake, but in terms of diplomacy, business, travel, military action, and even just general knowledge for daily life. Unlike in previous eras, we are extremely likely to find ourselves living and working with those “others” who used to inhabit unknown spaces “out there”. Governments have to deal intimately with foreigners in a variety of ways. So, intercultural relations can impact on our daily life in new ways that our grandparents never dreamt of. The quality and success of those relationships are going to depend on what we know as individuals about those “others” or on what we know as a society. That is why the process by which we get that knowledge and the actual contents of that knowledge are so important. ORIENTALISM is the work that over the last 40 years has most influenced the way people think and write about that process.

Edward Said concentrated on what is commonly known as “the Middle East”, but would be better known as the largely-Muslim countries east of Europe and west of India, or maybe “western Asia”. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this part of the world was often called “the Orient”. (Though people often applied that term to the rest of Asia too.) The method in which he looks at this so-called Orient can be extended to any other area. He examines the process by which Euro-Americans sought information about the Orient. They gleaned it from the writings of diplomats, soldiers, colonial administrators, travelers, and businessmen who had stayed for varying lengths of time in the Orient. They got it from the paintings of artists who wished to sell paintings of exotic scenes or from poets and novelists who wished to write of exotic locales. In almost all cases, the presenters of knowledge treated the Orient as homogenous, simple, dangerous, crude, full of exoticism or fanaticism and above all, unchanging. People there were not separate individuals like “us”; they were the undifferentiated “others” with whom we could make contrasts favorable to ourselves. Some Westerners might dream of escape to the exotic world of the Orient, where society would be the reverse of their own. Some presenters of the Orient knew a lot about what they wrote or painted, others had an extremely superficial knowledge. In all cases, Said writes, the information collected and presented was used by governments in the West to control the Orient. Information was power. The people in the so-called Orient had, and needed, no independent existence. They were only shadows brought to life by the Light of Knowledge emanating from the West. They might be guided to proper ways by Western powers, Westerners with power. Orientalism underlay colonialism.

Said examines the vast body of written work—that “Orientalism”—very extensively. He notes that it has had its own paradigms of research, its own learned societies, its own establishment, not to mention university departments labelled “Oriental Studies” in many countries. Through such bodies, the Orient has been labelled, packaged, and presented to the world for two hundred years. We can see this process alive and well today. All you have to do is watch Hollywood movies, turn on your TV for the news, or read travel/geographic magazines. All you have to do is listen to current American pronouncements about the same area, regard their lack of trust in its people, their lack of respect. Think about the labels that are put on Palestinians or Iranians. It is not a question of whether you support this particular cause or that. It is a question of how you get your information. Think about it. The world may depend on a radical change in Western thinking, equal to a stop to suicide bombings, teaching of hatred in schools, and terrorist plots. When is a man a terrorist and when is he a freedom fighter? When an international news magazine tells us so? An information establishment shapes the presentation of that old “Orient” and many other parts of the world. Said took the first mighty step in forcing the West to see its own constructions. For that, and for a detailed, well-argued book, five stars are obligatory.

P.S. I wrote this review 15 years ago. Do you think a lot has changed?
Profile Image for Omar Kassem.
526 reviews97 followers
September 19, 2023
هذا الكتاب جزء من ثورة جديدة في الدراسات الإنسانية جذورها ضاربة في الماركسية والثورة الألسنية و البنيوية،و مايكاد يكون مدرسة جديدة من"التاريخ الجديد" تنتسب بعمق إلى أعمال ميشيل فوكو بشكل خاص.

ليس كتاب سعيد دراسةً للاستشراق بوصفه تاريخًا، ،شخصيات، وأحداثًا، وليس بدراسة للشرق كما خلقه الغرب أيضًا، بل هو اكتناه صارم، مشبوبٌ أحيانًا، لكنّه دائمًا على درجة مدهشة من حدة اللمعة الفكرية لديه..
يطرح أسئلة جذرية حول مفاهيم الحقيقة والتمثيل..القوة وعلاقاتها، وعي الذات والآخر، دراسة في الآلية التي تتَصلب بها هذه التصورات والتمييزات وتتحول إلى معرفة..

يطرح ادوارد سعيد منظومة أساسية عن الشرق ككيان مشّكل مكون، وليس حقيقة من حقائق الطبيعة وأن مفهوم وجود فضاءات جغرافية ذات سكان محليين،مختلفين جذريًا و يمكن تحديدهم على أساس ديني أو ثقافي أو عرقي خاص ومتسق مع ذلك الفضاء الجغرافي هومفهوم قابل للنقاش المطول..

في نهاية الكتاب يستعيد سعيد الأسئلة التي حاول طرحها في كتابه بشكل مختلف: كيف يمثل المرء الثقافات الأخرى؟ماهي الثقافة الأخرى؟هل مفهوم وجود الثقافة مفهوم مفيد أم أنه ينتهي دائما إلى ان ينشبك إما في تهنئة الذات او في العدائية والعدوان؟وهل تهم الفروق الثقافية والعرقية والدينية أكثر مما تهم الفُصلات الاجتماعية او الفصلات السيا-تاريخية؟!

هذا الكتاب صعب، محير، ويحتاج لعدة قراءات كي تستطيع الإلمام بكافة تفاصيليه
الترجمة جيدة،وليست ممتازة ، واعتقد ذلك بسبب طبيعة الكتاب الشائكة
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