A list of three characteristics of orientalism

Written by james dryden
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A list of three characteristics of orientalism
Orientalism can be seen as a stereotypical way of looking at Eastern cultures from a Western perspective. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Orientalism is defined as the sometimes-biased perspective through which Westerners view languages, lifestyles, art, cultures, values and sciences of the East, notably the Middle East and North Africa. The term is especially used to describe the attitudes of 19th-century intellectuals who depicted their travels to these regions in art and literature, particularly works by French and British writers and artists. Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said's 1978 book "Orientalism" served as a critique for these attitudes by basically defining Orientalism as latent, manifest or contemporary.

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Western Intellectual Domination

Pre-19th-century scholars typically viewed people of the Orient --- comprising Asia, northern Africa and the Middle East --- as lacking in culture, unable to change ancient ways of living, biologically inferior to those of European descent and eager to be dominated by the "superior" race, the colonialists. According to Edward Said and other critics, Western scholarship strove to dominate the East by first apprehending it intellectually.

Latent Orientalism

According to Edward Said, latent Orientialism refers to cultural differences that are neither seen nor easily identified by Western attitudes, such as manners of speaking and thought, which were primarily responsible for creating early stereotypical views of the East among Westerners. Said writes that the West continued to view the East as "separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual and passive." Most of this view is derived from a comparison with the technological progress of the West. Writers on the Orient, from Ernest Renan to Karl Marx, Gustave Flaubert and Gérard de Nerval, asserted the need for reconstruction of the East by the West to prevent the Orient from remaining isolated from the sciences, arts and commerce that came to epitomise the Industrial Revolution.

Manifest Orientalism

Manifest Orientalism, according to Said, deals with the obvious visible features of Eastern culture such as clothing, architecture and art --- those things that can be seen by the West and therefore easily interpreted to mean "opposing Western culture." A greater understanding of Orientalist thinking, according to Said, will open the door for more realistic Western attitudes toward the East, leading to greater influence on politics and policy-making decisions.

Contemporary Orientalism

In "Orientalism," Edward Said describes current Western stereotyping of Arabs as "irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and --- perhaps most importantly --- prototypical." These attitudes are the direct result of pre-19th-century Orientalism, he argues, writing "This is the culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only degrades its subject matter but also blinds its practitioners." Overcoming these views, he believes, is often hindered by the ongoing Middle Eastern conflicts and by 9/11.

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