Edward Said’s Orientalism: Literature and the Non-European
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
What is “Orientalism”? And why has the book that defined it as a Western body of knowledge remained so popular as a key text of critical theory?
Published in 1978, Edward Said’s Orientalism immediately attracted both praise and censure. For Said, the notion that the world is divided—politically, culturally, and morally—into the oppositional categories of East and West was an intellectual creation, which supported and facilitated particular forms of power. Drawing on the ideas of discourse and hegemony as developed by Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci, respectively, Said highlighted the ways in which knowledge of “the Orient” has been historically bound up with imperial domination; from the Arabic linguists who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt to the scholars who peddle commentary on the “Arab mind.” What, exactly, binds “Orientalism” together as theory and practice? And to what extent does Said’s critical intervention remain needed today?
In this class, we will read Orientalism in its entirety, alongside excerpts from Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. We will explore selections from Said’s later corpus of scholarly works, his interviews and lectures. We will ask: How was this work—now widely regarded as a pioneering one due to its impact on numerous fields—received at the time of its publication? How does “Orientalism” function as a cultural discourse, and how are we to understand its relationship to the material world? To what extent do we accept Said’s revolutionary assessment regarding the political investments of literature, art, and scholarly work? And is there a way to study another culture outside of paradigms of domination and appropriation? Finally, we will discuss Said’s work vis-à-vis contemporary manifestations of Islamophobia and Eurocentrism, tracing the ways in which the ontological division between “us” and “them” continues to shape our world.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 17 — August 07, 2019