The Hegemony of European
Orientalism by Edward Said is a book that challenges the discourse mode for centuries who have hegemonic the East and the West in the orientalism’s definition. As for what is meant by orientalism, according to Said, it is a way to understand the Eastern world based on its unique place in the human experience of Western Europe. The East is not only close to Europe. However, it is also the most significant and most prosperous European colony.
The source of civilization, language, cultural rivalry, and one of the most profound and most frequent images of another world in the eyes of Europe. The East has also helped define the West as images and ideas considered the opposite of the West itself. As an alternative, the East is not a fantasy. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of the civilization and material culture of the Europeans. As a mode of discourse with institutions and scholarly studies, orientalism expresses and displays such aspects of a culture, supporting it like the colonial-era bureaucracy.
The Orient and the Occident
Said asserts that orientalism is a style of discourse mode made between the East as the Orient and almost always the West as the Occident. The understanding of the East that is different from the West has then triggered many Western researchers and scholars to write about the East, such as philosophers and novelists, as a starting point for compiling theories and careful novels about the East. Orientalism explores one by one the thoughts of Western scholars, writers who have written and judged the East from the point of view of an orientalist. It is also a claim from the perspective of the Eastern scholar Said, who refuses to be defined about himself and his identity by European scholars he calls orientalists.
Edward Said and the Definition of Orientalism
Said has used various derivatives of the word Orient which means East, the direction the sun rises. Orient denotes the Middle East, Asia, and the Far East, territories geopolitically part of one European Empire. He uses the word Orient to convey a representation system framed by political forces that bring the East or the East into the Western Empire, Western learning, and Western consciousness. The West uses the word about the East. He also explains that he is not trying to cover the entire scope. However, he focuses on how American and British scholars have approached Arab societies in the Middle East and North Africa.
In his definition, Said put forward various purposes of orientalism in his introduction to the book. According to Said, first, orientalism is a style of thought based on the ontological and epistemological distinctions between East and West. Second, orientalism is academic research that includes everyone who teaches, investigates, and writes about the East. Lastly, orientalism is a corporate institution for dealing with the East.
In conclusion and briefly, it is the Western-style to dominate and restructure the East. In other words, the Middle East is static and cannot define itself. Regardless, through orientalism, the West took itself and represented the East to be exploited. Orientalism aims to dominate the East and take from it every ability to speak for itself.
The Scope of Orientalism
The first chapter of the book covers all subject dimensions, both in terms of historical experience and period. It also covers the subject in terms of political and philosophical themes apart from that. Said wrote pre-18th century writings on the Muslim near East and the socio-political impact of Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt. According to him, the West views the East as a textual universe. European Orientalists were more interested in the classical period than in contemporary Eastern culture.
In addition to the interest of European orientalists, he also explains how Eastern is read by orientalists using Western Christian moral values. Therefore, Muhammad, in Dante’s famous work entitled Divine Comedy in the 28th canto inferno, is described that Muhammad is in the dark trench of hell with the disobedient people. With an orientalist perspective, a middle-class white Westerner feels sure that the East has a human prerogative to govern and manage the non-white world as minority hegemonism.
Oriental Structures and Restructures
In the second chapter, Said begins to trace the development of modern orientalism by presenting a broad chronological picture. He also tried to trace it by describing a set of tools that are usually found in the work of famous artists and scholars. He presents an overview of the French and British traditions of Near East Muslim studies during the 19th century and beyond until World War I.
For other purposes, the main focus is on the works of French and British orientalists. He shows how orientalism has influenced Western perceptions of the Arab Middle East and Middle Eastern perceptions. European writers in the East have an eccentric life besides being described as unimaginable antiquity in the East. In essence, the East is a form of letting go of a place with pure opportunity.
In the third chapter, Said explains latent orientalism. The latent East is a word with a given meaning and refers to the East, which is not real but refers to the term’s field. With such an understanding, orientalism is not an optimistic doctrine about the East that is always present in the West. However, it is also an influential academic tradition. Orientalism is also an area of interest defined by tourists, trading companies, governments, military expeditions, nature readers, and shrine visitors who regard the East as particular geography, peoples, and civilization.
The East was a system of truth for the ninth-century European orientalists. Therefore, Europeans who know the East are also racists and imperialists. The academic study of the East by orientalists has produced thousands of pages of studies on the East, which demonstrate the enormous degree and strength of interaction with the East. However, it is very disproportionate if we look at the movement of people from East to West in the same period.
The Jeopardy of Edward Said and Orientalism
Most critics and others understand how people often find Orientalism dangerous in both the East and West, especially by those who have never studied discourse mode or even read the book. However, it is so selfish to consider how Orientalism is the most challenging book ever. People like Edward Said seem experienced, if not in the social sciences, then in post-structuralism and in what soon became postcolonial studies, so that those who identify as Saidian are independent of what they say. Without much elaboration, the book is still going strong for many readers and audiences.
Said’s essentialization of western scholars turns to Said’s misuse of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in a unique case. For Gramsci, hegemony is not something the system holds over another group, unlike mere domination. However, it is instead the result of a complex interaction between forces and groups of people. Therefore, Gramsci has a unique focus on the dynamic nature of counter-hegemony in history.
The Gramscian analysis offers excellent depth in studying counter-hegemonic forces as autonomous agents regarding roles, positions, and cultures. In ignoring the construction of Western hegemony, Said makes a non-critical assumption about the core features of Western civilization and places it in the writings of scholars throughout history. Hence, it is becoming a Western notion of world domination.
The world community is increasingly learning to live in harmony. They do not see themselves or their race as better than other nations. Anyway, the vital core of Orientalism is the discourse mode to master the rhetoric of the East and the West. It is an essential book to deconstruct the views of European scholars towards the East. For centuries, he tried to break the representation unilaterally from the European point of view.
The Entity of the West
Thus, orientalism arises from the need for the West to define itself as opposed to a balancing entity. Europe found a balancing entity in the crusade as the East. The West found itself in a position of political and military power. What they see as the East, they use that power to conquer it. As the tradition of superior Western values and Eastern static views developed, the tradition crystallized. It is and is almost impossible to free any scholar in the practice. What people need is that each community group speaks for itself. Not just political knowledge, it is creating a discourse about an identity of its own.