In 1978, Edward W. Said (1935-2003) published his now seminal work, Orientalism, a historical study on the discourse surrounding Western Orientalist thought. Said, a controversial figure in both Literary Studies and Middle Eastern politics, was influential in the development of postcolonial studies and his Orientalism laid the groundwork for this new school of thought.
The book, divided into three parts, ‘The Scope of Orientalism’, ‘Orientalist Structure and Restructures’ and ‘Orientalism Now’, cover the history of thought on the Orient, the West’s eroticization of a region and a people, and the modern implications of this long-standing fascination/antagonism towards the East. For Said, Orientalism “is tied to the tumultuous dynamics of contemporary history…partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other.” Furthermore Said’s argument was “that history is made by men and women, just as it can be also be unmade and unwritten, always with various silences and elisions, always with shapes imposed and disfigurements tolerated, so that ‘our East, ‘our’ Orient becomes ‘ours’ to possess and direct.”
For Said, the ongoing domination over the Middle East is a continuation of the division between the Occident (Said’s terms for the West, England, France, and the United States) and the Orient (the romantic term to encompass the Middle East and the Far East), and that these fictional constructs perpetuate the modern isolation and misinterpretation of the region. For those interested in the history of the Middle East and Palestine, Said’s Orientalism is a required read.