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Orientalism and Edward Said

Orientalism and Edward Said: Pre-Reading for L’Immoraliste by André Gide

In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said uses L’Immoraliste as an example of imperialism’s effects on the colonizer. Since this is supposed to be an important part of the critical analysis of this novel, I did some quick reading up at Wikipedia: Edward Said. He lived from 1935 to 2003 and he wrote a highly respected book called Orientalism.

Edward Said grew up in Cairo and Jerusalem, raised by Christian Palestinian parents. He himself was agnostic. Said either attended or taught at an impressive list of colleges, including Victoria College (the Egyptian branch), Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and John Hopkins. In other words, I think we can safely consider him a reliable source. His work seems to be focused around the idea that, as Westerners, almost all of our knowledge of the East was presented to us from an imperialist European perspective. (Which only makes sense, given the language barriers and the difficulty of travel before widespread commercial airlines, never mind all the sociopolitical factors.)

Orientalism by Edward Said
Edward Said, author of “Orientalism”

There’s a great article here discussing this “orientalism” as a Western means of controlling the Orient. Essentially, by creating the image they wanted the East to have, they created the East from the image they wanted. As the article’s author, Ben Stoltzfus, explains, orientalism is “a striking example… that language structures reality.”

The term used for this in linguistics is linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: , the idea that the way we process and categorize the world for expression with a language is the way our brain cognitively categorizes the same information. Essentially, the way you speak has an effect on the way you think. (This entire concept fascinates me because it gives us, by way of our subconcious minds, an incredible ability to control our perception of the world.)

Published inCultural StudiesLinguistic RelativityLiteraturePre-Reading