Edward Said discusses his work ‘Orientalism’ in this series of video discussions.
This work has recently been denigrated by some. Most of these critics seemed to have waited until his passing to send out their works. Sadly all of them actually miss the ideas that are in fact discussed in his book! Instead, they attack what they imagine is Said’s anti-Western stance, which is in fact not at all what the book or his research is about.
His consistent and powerful criticism focused on how political power and political aspirations influences knowledge, art and research and asked us to understand that relationship so that we could better understand a work and the prejudices and/or choices that were made in the production of it. Said’s criticism used Western works because his principal focus was only the single most powerful political structure of the last 300 years – colonialism.
A structure of control and power that controlled most of the globe at its height, it was and remains an important influence on how the centers of world power speak about the rest of the world, whether it is in movies, theater, poetry, fiction, academic research and of course political discourse.
His writings help us understand how knowledge is created and the many influences that go into its production. It does not ask us to dismiss the works of the ‘Orientalists’ but to see what may restrict or limit it. He asks us to read critically, keeping in mind influences and priorities outside the academy that were a definite part in the nature of the works being produced. And to hence understand the prejudices and inherent limits of these works and scholars.
His second book on the subject, ‘Culture & Imperialism’ continued this analysis into the realm of the creative arts.