‘Orientalism’ is a field of study which is “at style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and … ‘the Occident. ‘” It invokes a flexible positioning superiority in which Europe is put into a number of positions of superiority. It is “part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war,” (Said xix) however, and in this we see the religious implications. “For much of its history… Orientalism carries within it the stamp of a problematic European attitude toward Islam.
(Said 73) Islam was a threat to a Christian Europe – the Ottoman Empire lay geographically close to Christian lands, so there was not only the threat of different religious ideas but also the treat of a mighty military and political power.
It resulted in a historical fear of Islam. Orientalism was essentially an attempt to domesticate that threat, but “the Orient needed first to be known, then invaded and possessed, then re-created by scholars, soldiers, and judges who disinterred forgotten languages, histories, races, and cultures in order to posit them… as the true classical Orient that could be used to judge and rule the modern Orient.
(91-92) The Occident responded with the creation of an imaginative geography within which Islam could be confined. Orientalism “legitimates a vocabulary, a universe of representative discourse peculiar to the discussion and understanding of the Orient” (Said 71) and it consisted of a “set of representative figures, or tropes. ” (Said 71)
This does not go to say that Orientalism formed the cornerstone of truth of the Orient, but rather that it was “Western ignorance which becomes more refined and complex, not some body of positive Western knowledge which increases in size and accuracy.
(Said 62) As a field of knowledge it is a closed body of knowledge “in which objects are what they are because they are what they are, for once, for all time, for ontological reasons that no empirical material can either dislodge or alter. ” (Said 70) The fact that Orientalism derived its authentic from its unchanging nature would cause problems with the emergence of the 19th century. Orientalism would have to change to survive with the times. There was disillusionment when it was realized that the classical Orient did not properly represent the actual Orient.
It became what was known as the ‘betrayed dream’. What was realized was that one could only really use generalities to describe the Orient in order not to conflict with the specific actualities; it was almost as if “a bin called ‘Oriental existed into which all the authoritative, anonymous, and traditional Western attitudes to the East were dumped unthinkingly. ” (Said 102) These generalities created an aura of eccentricity surrounding the Orient, by which “the Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness. (Said 103) This tableau was designated as a disciplined way from which the Orientalist could approach it; essentially, “its foreignness [could] be translated, its meanings decoded, its hostility tamed. ” (Said 103) From this arose the tactics of modern Orientalism. Orientalism was “reconstituted, redeployed, redistributed and in the secular framework. ” (Said 121) There were four components to this process, the end product being ‘naturalized supernaturalism. The first component was due to the Orient expanding past the Islamic lands.
This simply goes to say that there were more lands under scrutiny and a binary opposition between Islam and Christianity was no longer possible; there were too many cultures and religions that could come into interaction. “All such widening horizons had Europe firmly in the privileged center, as main observer. ” (Said 117) Secondly, there was the component of historical confrontation that no longer was viable; the Orient was simply not viewed in a confrontational light. Rather, it was viewed as an (inferior) object of study.
It involved a greater involvement with source material and confronting the Orient’s peculiarities with objective detachment. The third component deals with the notion of historicism. This idea promoted the belief that the Occident could penetrate the Orient on the precedent that all cultures are presumably organically and internally coherent – historicism encourages such an intellectual penetration. This was done by ‘sympathetic identification’ by which the Orientalist saw the elements of kinship between himself and the Orient, and this supposedly gave him access to the Orient.
Lastly, the core of modern Orientalism rested in the practice of classification. This process involved “reducing vast numbers of objects to a smaller number of orderable and describable types… [that] belonged to a system, a network of related generalizations. ” (Said 119) “Thus, when an Oriental was referred to, it was in terms of such generic universals as his ‘primitive’ state, his primary characteristics, his particular spiritual background. (Said 120) Also, this process was carried out in the name of objectivity and claimed its authority from such scientific procedures, rather than on religious superiority as the classical Orientalism did. This was the essence of naturalized supernaturalism, by which religious structures were recast in the secular. From this it is very evident that Orientalism is a man-made field and not a universal or pure truth.
Orientalist disciplines were changing (even as Orientalism claimed the values of an unchanging, classical Orient) into their modern form, in which “power… welt in the new, scientifically advanced techniques of philology and anthropological generalization. ” (Said 121) Silvestre de Sacy was the forerunner of modern Orientalism: “his work virtually put before the profession an entire systematic body of texts, a pedagogic practice, a scholarly tradition, and an important link between Oriental scholarship and public policy. ” (Said 124) He was responsible for his revisionist projects: all of his work was presented “as a revised extract of the best that had already been done, said, or written. (Said 125)
He was reproducing the Orient for the Occident, but only those parts that he deemed useful or important; these were carefully selected and arranged topics from the greater body of Oriental knowledge. He believed that “the vastly rich (in space, time, and cultures) Orient cannot be totally exposed, only its most reprehensive parts need be. “(Said 125) Sacy was thus in a position of authority that modern Orientalism so proudly touts – he was the one that chose what was important from the Orient and his choices gave semiotic power to the topics that would now represent the entire Orient.