Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
study, representation, said, orientalism, power
Edward Said’s seminal, 1978 work Orientalism traced the evolution of the West’s aesthetic representation of the Other through nineteenth and twentieth century French and British economic, sociological, anthropological, historical and philosophical texts. In his study the Other was limited to Muslim Arabs living within the Middle East, but the theories developed through this approach applied to all of Europe’s peripheries. For Said the study of Orientalism was more than a collection of texts, because the representation of the Other was so negatively biased and consistent that it dehumanized the subject of study. This constituted a series of interests that created and maintained a certain will or intention to understand for the West, which lead it to control, manipulate, or even to incorporate what was different about the East. For this power relationship to hold true their needed to be a consistently negative representation of the Other in nearly two hundred years of European scholarship, and Said found this in the works of the Orientalists, those academics and literary figures who wrote about and studied the Orient. He concluded from this study that every European in what he wrote about the Orient was racist and Eurocentric. Exclamatory remarks like this last one prompted several critiques, but most of these were levied against the limited scope of his study, and the abstract nature of this power relationship. This study does not look to critique Said on either of these points, but rather to work with his temporal, geographical and ethnic limitations and evaluate the more extreme claims made in Orientalism. Specifically the works of, Sir Richard Francis Burton and Constantine François de Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney are analyzed alongside the representation of the Other put forth by Said. This analysis reveals elements of the negative representation of the Other, but also illuminates another representation of the Other that is less negative, more sympathetic, that does not dehumanize the subject of study. Said picked through the works of these two Orientalists and found the most derogatory statements they had in order to substantiate his claims, while he ignored the Orientalists’ more nuanced sentiments. Furthermore, Said’s monolithic notion of Orientalism left no room for the possibility of difference in the field of power relations.4 The more conflicted version of the Other presented in this study, in turn had a more complicated role in the East West power relationship. In that it offered the means and will to dominate, but did not necessarily advocate control. In fact many times Burton and Volney articulated sentiments and arguments against any level of political control. The study concludes with a discussion about how the more nuanced representation of the Other allowed for differences in the field of power relations.
Saslow, Nathaniel Gabriel, "A critique of Edward’s Said’s Theory of Orientalism : based on the works of Sir Richard Francis Burton and C.F. Volney" (2009). Honors Theses. 1390.