Edward Said’s book, Orientalism, is a foundational text in post-colonial studies. He evaluation and critique of the discursive formation that Said sees as being “Oriental forms” highlights the inaccuracies of a wide variety of the West’s assumptions about the Near and Far East. In the book, Said questions various paradigms of Western thought that has been, for the most part, accepted by a wide array of individuals and institutions in the West. In order to really understand Said’s work, one must have an understanding of the terms that he uses in Orientalism. While these words may seem to be a commonplace in our Western vocabulary, Said uses these words in very specific ways.
For example, in the Western lexicon, the term orient conjures up images of the nations that are located in Asia. However, for Said, The Orient is used to signify a system of Western representations of the land and the people in the Near and Far East. According to Said, this system of representations is a discourse that is framed by the political forces that brought the knowledge of the Orient into Western consciousness. While “The Orient” may not actually exist for the people in the Near and the Far East, it exists for the West because it has been socially constructed in Western learning by and in relation to the West. For Said, The Orient is not an adequate representation of what actually is in the Near and Far East, it is a mirror image of what the West sees as “other.”
Just as The Orient s a socially constructed discourse, the image of the Orient is codified into a discursive formation and expressed through a system of knowledge and technology of power as Orientalism. Said sees Orientalism as being “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient.” Said sees The Oriental as being a person who is represented by the system of knowledge that is Orientalism. This representation leads to stereotypes and these stereotypes are often very similar to the stereotypes that other out groups have experienced within Western discourse. For example, within the discourse of Orientalism, men are depicted as being feminine and weak. However, they are also strangely dangerous because they pose a threat to Western women. Women, on the other hand, are eager to be dominated and, at the same time, exotic. Said uses copious examples from Western culture to illustrate how The Oriental is a single image that functions as a sweeping generalization. Essentially, it is an international stereotype that crosses numerous cultural and national boundaries.For Said, there are different kinds of Orientalisms. For example, latent Orientalism is the unconscious certainty of what the Orient is. The discourse of the West tends to categorize people and see them as some monolithic group. The makeup of this monolithic group is static and unanimous. For the West, the Orient is seen as being a separate, eccentric, sensual, and backward. It moves toward despotism and tribalism and doesn’t subscribe to the Western notions of progress. It’s actions, values, and aesthetics, are judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is and always remains “other.” When this latent Orientalism is spoken and acted upon, it then becomes Manifest Orientalism. This Manifest Orientalism includes information and knowledge about the Orient that helps to reinforce the discourse of the West in terms of its relation with the Near and Far East and also includes the Western policy decisions that are grounded in Orientalist thinking. In short, Manifest Orientalism is the expression of the words and deeds within Latent Orientalism.