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  • Topic: Western world, Orientalism, Orient
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  • Published : July 30, 2013
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Lavish silks, ornate free-flowing clothing, and silent streams running through lush landscapes full of tigers; these are obviously signs of the Orient. Any sign and symbol that is not Western can only be a representation of the East. The imitation of Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures by American and European writers is known as “Orientalism.” An example of an “Oriental” man is smaller, slightly more feminine, yet is somehow still mysterious and threatening to a white male; while an “Oriental” female exudes exoticism and lust from behind her veil. These assumptions about the East led Edward Said to skillfully examine and define Eastern cultures from the view of Western studies. The Western romanticized view of the East attracted many followers. In fact, the Western representations manage to teach more about the West itself than the East it purports to be concerned with. The idea of the Orient has led the West to envision an exotic and mysterious fantasy world that has only become more warped and distorted as the generations have passed.

“The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant.” (Said 1866). Said begins with a true statement of the East, that it is located next to Europe and is home to some of the most successful colonies every created. The success of the East made it a natural contestant to the West. Said focuses on the assumption that the Orient is an “idea with no corresponding reality” (1869). As the East and West both have geographical settings and histories, both must surely be realities. If this is so, then why is the East constantly represented as one single generalization, ignoring the multiple cultures that make up that entire part of the globe? The answer lies in the “Orientalists” themselves, studying the East but never truly understanding it due to the want of exoticism. The prejudiced and removed interpretations made by outsiders swept across intellectual minds to the point of the creation of a widely accepted incorrect depiction of the East. Said continues to express that the relationship between Occident and the Orient is one of power. The Orient was made into falsified depiction through its ability to be “made Oriental” (1870) by the 19th century Europeans. Said speaks of Flaubert’s Salammbo and his encounter with an Egyptian courtesan whom Flaubert unjustly represents. “He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him to…speak for her and tell his readers in what was she was ‘typically Oriental.’” (1870). Flaubert’s encounter with the Egyptian parallels the strength between the East and the West: one, very well off in the world; the other, bound by tradition to remain reserved due to its opposite and not-as-favored upbringing.

Said then goes on to elaborate that it should not be assumed that the “structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies” (1870) which would blow away when the truth about them is revealed. Orientalist discourse is closest to today’s socio-economic and political institutions. The laws and functions have for the most part remained unchanged, and this is due to the near flawlessly designed system used in the Orient. Therefore, the structure of Orientalism cannot be a menagerie of lies. If this is so, then Orientalism is not the mysterious and exotic European idea, but instead is a system of theories and practices that has been significant over the generations. Said writes that the multitude of investments in the Orient has had Orientalism itself become a filter for sifting through the Orient consciousness and the Western one. This strength that Said focuses on, he attributes to cultural hegemony, which describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of the society so that the world view...
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