Edward Said's "Orientalism" Revisited

By Windschuttle, Keith | New Criterion, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Edward Said's "Orientalism" Revisited


Windschuttle, Keith, New Criterion


Early in 1998, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney staged an exhibition entitled "Orientalism: From Delacroix to Klee." It contained 124 paintings and 50 photographs, most of which were produced by European artists in the nineteenth century on subjects in North Africa and the Levant. In the notes published in the exhibition catalogue, the aesthetic authority whose name is mentioned most frequently is not, as one might expect, an art critic, but the literary critic Edward Said. What the paintings confirmed, patrons were told, was Said's thesis about the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture" and "the aggressiveness necessitated by the colonial expansion of the European powers." This endorsement was strong enough to create a queue of buyers at the gallery bookshop, all eager to procure the prominently displayed, recently revised Penguin edition of Said's celebrated work, Orientalism.(1)

Some of these purchasers may well have been puzzled by the cover of Said's book, which features a reproduction of a painting by one of the artists prominently featured in the exhibition, the Viennese-born, Paris-based Ludwig Deutsch, who did most of his work between 1885 and 1905. Titled A Guard with a Zither Player in an Interior, the cover picture is one of a series by Deutsch of scenes inside North African palaces and harems. To the untutored eye, these paintings seem fabulous. The architecture is sumptuous, the clothing and ornaments are rich and lavish. The whole effect appears to be a highly romanticized celebration of Islamic culture. Moreover, the Nubians standing guard at Deutsch's dwellings, like the black servant attending Delacroix's Women of Algiers in their Apartment, seem to be making a political point, suggesting that it is their Arab masters who are the imperialists in Africa. And yet the exhibition catalogue assures the spectator that this uninformed impression must be naive, because art critics who follow Said have determined that these paintings are primarily a reflection of European arrogance and Western prejudices: "the idea of Oriental decay, the subjection of women, an unaccountable legal system--pictorial rhetoric that served a subtle imperialist agenda"

Edward Said looms large over the current cultural landscape. The influence of this American-Palestinian professor of literature is so great that a remarkable number of commentaries about European art, literature, cinema, music, and history now ritually genuflect to his ideas and to the wider "postcolonial" critique they helped engender. Newspaper reviews of performances of Verdi's Aida now frequently feel bound to cite Said's opinion that the opera is "an imperial notion of the non-European world." Surveys of the American cinema now identify an Orientalist genre that extends from The Sheik through Casablanca to Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the prodigious new reference work Companion to Historiography, edited by Michael Bentley, an entire chapter is devoted to Said, giving him as much space as the whole corpus of ancient Greek historians. Above all, he holds sway over the literary criticism of the nineteenth-century novel. His most recent magnum opus, Culture and Imperialism (1993), is a critique not only of those authors like Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad who wrote about Europe's colonies and dependencies, but also of such quintessentially domestic writers as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. In the new Penguin Classics edition of Austen's Mansfield Park, the editor's introduction approvingly quotes Said's explanation of the Bertram estate "as part of the structure of an expanding imperialist venture" and even the cover blurb feels obliged to call attention to the introduction where "the family's investment in slavery and sugar is considered in a new postcolonial light." For analyses of this kind, The New York Times in September 1998 declared him "one of the most important literary critics alive. …

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

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 ...
Default project is now your active project.
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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Edward Said's "Orientalism" Revisited
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.