Books of the Century

By Burrows, Stuart | New Statesman (1996), January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Books of the Century


Burrows, Stuart, New Statesman (1996)


Stuart Burrows pays tribute to the polemical vigour of Edward Said

"The trouble with the Engenglish," stutters Whisky Sisodia in Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, is that their hiss-hiss-history happened overseas, so they do- do-don't know what it means." Only in the past few years have we begun to grapple with our history of empire and slave-trading, asking what it might actually mean. A short stroll down Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace - past the tributes to the colonisers of East and West Africa, India and Burma - should be enough to remind us how far we have to go.

My own process of decolonisation from the sticky quarter-truths of the history I was taught at school began when I read Edward Said's monumental Orientalism (1978). Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, revealed how colonial rule was justified and made possible through an exhaustive system of cultural representations of the colonised - representations that still haunt us. His contribution was not merely to develop a vocabulary to describe the ways in which non-Europeans are demonised in our society, but to reverse the way we think culture works - rather than reflecting the political, Said argues, culture actually produces it, so that "texts can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe". The inelegant name for this form of inquiry is "discourse analysis", and the footsteps of its founder, the French historian Michel Foucault, are all over Said's work.

What makes Orientalism such a vital and powerful book is the way Said extends Foucault's investigation of the discourses of sexuality and the law to the post-Enlightenment European imagination. Said's own intellectual map is as large as that of the empire itself. Fluent in French and Arabic, he also reads Spanish, German, Italian and Latin. Orientalism reflects this polyglot learning, ranging from analysis of Aeschylus's The Persians and Flaubert's Salammbo to Balfour's foreign policy and the speeches of Henry Kissinger. His book can be read as both corollary and antidote to Erich Auerbach's magisterial Mimesis (1946). Its influence has been almost as widespread, not only in English departments across America and Europe but in sociology, anthropology and history. Orientalism has inspired its own academic field, postcolonial studies, which has generated some of the best critical work of the past two decades. It is almost inconceivable to imagine someone receiving a humanities PhD today without having come to terms with Said's legacy.

Orientalism identifies a range of strategies by which 19th- and 20th-century scholars, writers and artists imposed their authority on the East. The Orient was represented as a theatrical stage affixed to Europe, a place where jaded aristocrats, earnest second sons and tyrannical explorers could discover timeless truths, or perhaps unimagined erotic delights.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Books of the Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.