Said, Edward

Assigned: Said, Edward. “Introduction” from Orientalism (1783-1805); from Culture and Imperialism, from Chapter Two. Consolidated Vision” (1805-21). Also read the editors’ introduction (1780-83).

From Orientalism (1978)


Section I

1. On 1783-85 (“On a visit to Beirut…”), how does Edward Said initially characterize the sensibilities of the British and French with regard to the “Orient”? (1783-84) What historical and cultural experience accounts for the attitude of these two countries towards that region? How does Said differentiate the British and French from Americans in this regard? Although the phenomenon of Orientalism has certainly included brutal material domination exercised by imperial powers, in what sense is it more complex than that—what intellectual, cultural, and other activities, according to Said, qualify someone as a practitioner of “Orientalism”? (1784)

2. On 1785-86 (“Related to this academic tradition…”), Said moves from the narrow academic treatment of Orientalism to “a more general meaning for Orientalism” (1785). What does the latter meaning entail? According to Said, what “third meaning of Orientalism” began to take hold during the eighteenth century? In what sense is Orientalism properly labeled and studied as the phenomenon that Michel Foucault called a discourse? What further points does Said make about the centrality of Britain and France, as imperial powers, to the discourse of Orientalism?

Section II

3. On 1786-88 (“I have begun with the assumption…”), Said points out that while the Orient isn’t simply a given thing, an “inert fact of nature” (1786 bottom), neither is it simply an abstract set of ideas, or “a creation with no corresponding reality” (1787 top). What does Said suggest about the history of the East or the Orient beyond the confines of Orientalism’s construction of it? Secondly, what second and third “qualifications” (1787-88) does he add to this observation? On the whole, while Said is careful always to keep within view the constructed quality of Orientalist discourse, how does he also recognize its consistent strength as an instrument of material and ideological domination?

4. On 1788-90 (“Gramsci has made the useful…”), how does Said enlist the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony (see Leitch 927-35; hegemony consists in a broad-based ideological consent manufactured by the motivated promotion of ideas and institutions operative within civil society), in making the point that a culture-wide conception of the Orient is a key way in which Europe defines itself? (1788) How is it possible for Orientalism to guarantee Westerners what Said terms “flexible positional superiority” (1788) over the Orient? What dilemma does Said suggest faces every student of Orientalism? (1789) In this regard, what “two fears” (1789) beset Said’s own explorations of Orientalism, and what key question does he pose to himself by way of dealing with these methodological anxieties? (1789-90)

Section III

5. On 1790-92 (“I mentioned three aspects of…”), Said lays out what he calls “three aspects of my contemporary reality” (1790). The first of these has to do with “[t]he distinction between pure and political knowledge.” How does he go on to analyze this distinction? Why might an academic researcher working on a literary author, for example, think such work is apolitical, whereas research on some area of international affairs is political? (1790) Why, according to Said, would this assumption be misguided? In what sense is there a “gradation of political importance in the various fields of knowledge” (1791) rather than an either/or distinction? For example, how might a study of Leo Tolstoy, while not directly political like a study of Russian foreign policy, have a certain “political status” (1791) for Western Europeans during the Soviet Era, while a study on, say, a British or French author might not have anything like the same political status? Finally, what rather startling thesis does Said advance about “all academic knowledge about India and Egypt” (1791-92) coming from authors situated as citizens of Western countries?

6. On 1792-93 (“Put in this way, these political…”), Said says it would be unreasonable to suppose that “imperial domination can be applied mechanically and deterministically to such complex matters as culture and ideas” (1792) and that, in fact, it was culture itself that generated much of the European and American interest in the Orient and acted alongside “brute political, economic, and military rationales to make the Orient the varied and complicated place that it obviously was in the field [… of] Orientalism” (1792). What much fuller definition of Orientalism do these observations lead Said to offer? In this definition, what relationship does he posit between Orientalism and political, intellectual, and cultural power? (1792-93)

7. On 1793-94 (“Because Orientalism is a cultural…”), Said points out that humanistic scholars are generally willing to admit the limiting forces of “conventions, predecessors, and rhetorical styles” (1793) on the creative power of literary artists. Why, then, according to Said, are those same humanists reluctant to grant the political and ideological underpinnings of literary texts? What evasions do they resort to in their desire to keep scholarship and culture beyond the reach of such forces? (1794) What “simple two-part answer” (1794) does Said give for the wisdom of not making such an attempt at evasion?

8. On 1794-95 (“Therefore I study Orientalism as…”), Said states that he prefers to treat Orientalism as “a dynamic exchange between individual authors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great empires—British, French, American—in whose intellectual and imaginative territory the writing was produced” (1794). What are some of the “political questions” (1795) that arise in the course of studying Orientalism? Ultimately, what balance does Said apparently seek between “Orientalism as a kind of willed human work” and the larger, transsubjective political and ideological forces at work in the production of such a discourse? (1795)

9. On 1795-97 (“2. The methodological question…”), how does Said describe the difficulties, both generic and particular, in arriving at an appropriate starting point for studies of Orientalism? (1795) Why did he reject the idea of writing an “encyclopedic narrative history of Orientalism…” (1796 top)? How did he attack “the problem of cutting down a very fat archive to manageable dimensions…” (1796)? Why, that is, did he settle upon “the British, French, and American experience of the Orient taken as a unit…” and in particular, “the Anglo-French-American experience of the Arabs and Islam…” (1796)? What observations does Said make concerning what he considers the necessarily limited scope of his research—what about the contributions to Orientalism of countries such as Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Portugal as well as biblical scholarship in the field? (1796-97)

10. On 1798-99 (“Nevertheless there is a possibly…”), Said writes somewhat humorously, “I freely reproach myself” (1798); he means that he reproaches himself for failing to attend to certain prominent nineteenth-century German scholars of Orientalism. Why, according to him, is it in fact so important to acknowledge the predominance of German scholarship in this field? At the same time, according to Said, what limitations does German scholarship show with regard to the nature or quality of its acquaintance with the actual countries of the Orient? Even so, what quality does nineteenth-century German Orientalist scholarship share with that of Anglo-French and, subsequently, American scholarship? (1798 bottom)?

11. On 1799 (“There is nothing mysterious or…”), Said suggests that the kind of authority wielded by Anglo-French, American and German Orientalist scholarship deserves careful analysis. He explains that his main methodological devices for undertaking such an analysis are firstly, “strategic location” and “strategic formation” (1799). How does he define and further describe the operation of these two devices?

12. On 1799-1801 (“It is clear, I hope, that…”), Said declares that “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority…” (1799). How, exactly, is Orientalism based on exteriority? In what sense is representation the most vital “product” (1799 bottom) of Orientalist discourse? How is Aeschylus’s play The Persians illustrative of the type of representation that prevails in Orientalist works of art? That is, according to Said, what is Aeschylus rendering for us on the stage if it is not the conduct properly of “Persians” (1800)? How does Said, in the passages that follow this example, elaborate on the rule that in matters of Orientalism, “representation” must never be equated with “truth” (1800)? What interests and imperatives, then, should we relate it to with respect to the cultures that developed Orientalist discourse? (1800-01)

13. On 1801-02 (“Orientalism responded more to…”), we are again reminded that Said views European representations of the Orient as mainly or even entirely self-referential. How does that view help him determine the most effective way of approaching the analysis of such representations? In what sense does he suggest that his approach differs from that of scholars who write in the tradition of the history of ideas? Why, according to Said, would a straightforward “history of ideas” approach not do Orientalist discourse justice? (1801) What one fundamental difference of assumption does he also outline with respect to the work of Michel Foucault (Leitch 1388-1450), to whom his own research is otherwise much indebted? (1802)

14. On 1802-03 (“The last, perhaps self-flattering…”), Said offers some final observations on his goals in engaging in such an intensive study of Orientalist discourse. What audiences does say he has in mind, and what does he hope they will gain from reading his work? In particular, in what way does he hope that general readers, students, and activists or even officials in the developing or so-called “Third World” will benefit from his research?

15. On 1803-05 (“3. The personal dimension…”), Said addresses the third aspect he promised to cover near the beginning of our selection (on 1789, he mentions “three main aspects of my own contemporary reality” as being significant to his overall project): namely, “the personal dimension” (1803). What “inventory” does he provide by way of accounting for his own situation as a Protestant, Western-educated Palestinian Arab writing about Orientalism? How does he fold in the sense of what it meant to have lived in the United States during the 1950s with respect to American attitudes towards “the Orient” at the time? (1804) In addition, how does he address the troubling effects of intensified communication in the Western “electronic, postmodern world” (1804) with regard to the representation of the Orient? Why is it nearly impossible, in Said’s late-1970s view as a mature scholar, to attain “anything like a clear view of what one talks about in talking about the Near East…” (1804)? At the end our selection, what does he suggest is the general goal of his book Orientalism?

16. General question: In our selection from “Introduction” to Orientalism, Edward Said sets forth a strong account of his methods and aims in undertaking a significant study of the Orientalist discourse developed over many decades mainly in Britain, France, and the United States. Certainly, one of his aims is to increase public understanding of how the West came to have such a fraught relationship with the Near East, and why its representations of the cultures and places thereof are so profoundly self-absorbed and often destructive. It has been more than four decades since Orientalism was published, in 1978. What is your own assessment of relations between the United States (as the successor, in some respects, to British and French dominance in the region addressed) and the Near Eastern or Middle Eastern countries? What is the current status, in particular, of our relations with Iran and Iraq? Have things improved since Said’s time, or have they worsened? Explain.

From Culture and Imperialism (1993)

From Chapter Two. Consolidated Vision

II. Jane Austen and Empire

1. On 1805-07 (“We are on solid ground with…”), Edward Said insists he is “not saying that the major factor in early European culture was that it caused late-nineteenth-century imperialism…” (1806). Although he disowns any simplistic causal connection between culture and politics, in what sense does he suggest British literature and culture might still bear some responsibility in connection with the ideas and sensibilities that facilitated the development of imperial doctrine? How is John Stuart Mill’s attitude towards India, according to Said, illustrative of a certain intellectual inconsistency and lack of resistance to ideas favoring the imperial domination of other peoples? (1806) By way of better elucidating any responsibility British culture may bear for imperialist thinking, what tendencies or patterns does Said suggest critics should look for with respect to British representations of the world beyond its borders (1806-07)?

2. On 1807-09 (“But positive ideas of this sort…”), Said writes that “it is genuinely troubling to see how little Britain’s great humanistic ideas, institutions, and monuments […] stand in the way of the accelerating imperial process” (1807). In what manner, according to Said, did such otherwise admirable humanistic ideas most likely serve to divide the British from the “Others” they came to dominate? How does he enlist Marxist critic Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City for its astute observations about Britain’s relationship with its colonies and its treatment of “landscape and social relations” (1808; the quoted phrase is by Raymond Williams) as the nineteenth century wore on? Nonetheless, what disagreement does Said voice regarding Williams’ timeline for literary and other representations of British imperialism? (1808) How did the development of English and French nationalism, for example, factor into those countries’ attitudes towards colonial territories well before the mid-nineteenth century? (1808-09)

3. On 1809-10 (“These considerations suddenly provide…”), Said turns to the direct interpretation of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park for its connection to “the rationale for imperialist expansion” (1809 bottom). What insight does Said borrow from Raymond Williams with respect to Austen’s simultaneously astute but blinkered way of representing English social classes in her novels? (1809) In describing the initial status and prospects of Fanny Prince, heroine of Mansfield Park, how does Said also begin to show the centrality of that novel’s “space, geography and location” (1809 bottom) to its plot structure and indeed to the eventual fate of the characters? Why is what we might call the “map” evoked by Mansfield Park so suggestive with regard to British imperial logic? (1810)

4. On 1811-12 (“What sustains this life materially…”), how, according to Said, does Jane Austen’s family patriarch Sir Thomas Bertram, upon return from his plantations in Antigua, act in such a way as to show that in Mansfield Park, Austen “synchronizes domestic with international authority…” (1812)? How, in Said’s view, are the careers of Fanny Price and Sir Thomas Bertram related to the logic of imperial control, thereby showing the wealth and welfare of Great Britain to be intricately tied up with its possessions abroad?

5. On 1812-14 (“Before both can be fully secured…”), Said writes that it would be strictly accurate to read “the concluding sections of Mansfield Park as the coronation of an arguably unnatural (or at very least, illogical) principle at the heart of a desired English order” (1812). What is this principle, and how does he begin to draw it out from protagonist Fanny Price’s observations and movements in the relevant section of the novel? What new insight does Fanny gain regarding “what it means to be at home” (1813) by comparison of her former home with her new, much more luxurious one? According to Said, what is Jane Austen’s point in treating us to Fanny’s detailed observations on this theme? (1813-14 top)

6. On 1814-15 (“The second more complex matter…”), Said expands on his earlier comments about Sir Thomas Bertram’s dealings in Antigua, some 4,000 miles from Great Britain. According to Said, what is Jane Austen “assuming” (1814) readers will understand about the significance of Sir Thomas Bertram’s excursion to and activities in colonial Antigua? How does Jane Austen’s novel help Said analyze the class status and interests of Sir Thomas in a way that shows the domestic importance of Britain’s colonial expansion during the nineteenth century? What does Said suggest about the impetus to Anglo-French competition in the Caribbean—what kind of principles and imperatives apparently drove both nations as they pursued their overseas empires, in contrast to the attitude underlying other countries’ earlier imperial conquests? (1814-15)

7. On 1815-16 (“In Mansfield Park—both in its…”), Said discusses the importance in Mansfield Park of “the avowedly complete subordination of colony to metropolis” (1815). How does the quotation by John Stuart Mill help Said capture the essence of Jane Austen’s way of relating Antigua to Britain and Mansfield Park itself? (1815) In his view, what significance should be attached to Sir Thomas Bertram’s final insights into “what has been missing in his education of his children…” (1816)? By the end of the novel, what conjunction of forces allows this defect to be rectified and create a truly civil society at Mansfield Park, one that allows the characters to be “at home”? (1816)

8. On 1816-17 (“And that is what reading her…”), how does Said reinforce his claim that Jane Austen herself seems to have considered the colonial aspect of Mansfield Park significant to the novel’s domestic happy ending, even though the Antigua situation is mentioned only infrequently in the novel? What is the importance of Austen’s frequent references to “comfort” and “comforts” with regard to the characters who inhabit Mansfield Park? When and on what larger principle are those comforts of life accorded? In what sense, according to Said, is the novel’s “morality” (1817) or moral scheme “not separable from its social basis”?

9. On 1817-19 (Take once again the casual references…”), as he continues to press his claim that the colonial/imperial context of Mansfield Park deserves close attention, Said mentions a number of novels published long after Jane Austen passed from the scene, among them Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella Heart of Darkness and his 1904 novel Nostromo. (1818) How does reflection on these later texts, in Said’s view, lend a stronger impact to Sir Thomas Bertram’s dealings in the slave-labor-based West Indian colony of Antigua? To what extent would Austen’s audience, according to Said, have recognized Sir Thomas as a representative of the colonial planter class and connected his story with the major historical changes sweeping through that class? (1818-19) Finally, what is Said’s considered formulation of Mansfield Park’s importance for our understanding of Britain’s later, fuller development of an overseas empire? (1819)

10. On 1820-21 (“I have spent time on Mansfield Park…”), how does Said sum up the complex interpretative effort he has made with respect to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? What “paradox” (1820) has he found it necessary to attend to as a reader of this novel? To what extent does he seem to believe has he helped readers understand an undeniably brilliant work of literary fiction without ungenerously reducing it to ideological fodder, and yet without dismissing its material and ideological significance as a work of fiction about a colonial landowning family during a time when British colonies still held slaves? Ultimately, what method of interpretation does Said recommend for a text like Mansfield Park, which, as he puts it, shows its “worldliness” and “historical affiliation” (1821) in subtler ways than lesser works of art might do?

11. General question: In our selection from Chapter 2 of Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said offers a balanced, appreciative reading of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park that still manages to recognize the more troubling aspects of the text in light of its connection with British imperialism and racial doctrine. Briefly consider, from your own experience as a reader, a text you believe would respond well to the same kind of attention that Said gives Mansfield Park—a text that is considered a classic for its excellent technique and compelling content but that also has a “dark side,” so to speak, in terms of its representations of race, gender, or some other field of contention in contemporary theory. How do you balance these conflicting aspects—is your view weighted towards praise or criticism? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake