Edward Said is a postmodern writer known for his penetrating insights into oriental studies. He was deeply sympathetic for the liberation of Palestine. The discourse of the Orient is a critique about how the Western world perceives the Orient.
The Orient is a philosophical, sociological, cultural and political construct. In the words of Said: ‘orient was almost a European invention and had been since antiquity, a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories, landscapes and remarkable experiences’. For Said: the orient is a self contained narcissistic construct of the Western world. The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the large scale colonization of large parts of the Orient by many European countries.
From the Orient is born the Philosophical idea of Orientialism. Orientialism is a concept introduced by Edward Said. What does Said mean by Orientialism? Orientialism is an academic discourse. The Western tradition makes a sharp distinction between the Orient and the Occident. To speak of Orinentialism is to understand the archeological epistemology of Franco-British involvement in the Orient. For the West –the Orient is a historical idea that is connoted disparagingly.
The relationship between the orient and the occident is of one of hierarchies of power and domination.
Gramasci has made a distinction between civil and political society, in which the former is made up of schools, families and unions while the latter is made up of army, police and bureaucracy. Culture is found operating within the civil society where the influence of ideas of institutions works not through domination but through consent. Gramasci has given hegemony as an indispensible tool for understanding cultural life in the West. European colonialism in Asia and Africa has resulted in the operation of hegemony.
Under the general heading of Oriental knowledge, there emerged a corpus of studies, and display of cultural artifacts.
The idea of the orient burgeoned on the sovereignty of Western Consciousness. The whiteness of the white became an authoritarian discourse speaking on the oriental life and culture of men.
Said has also written extensively on the issues of the Palestine problem. Palestine is a cultural other of Western democracies. The occident supports Israel and negates the attempt by Palestine to become an autonomous country.
For Said the whole history of the Orient has been created as a fanciful relic. The understanding of the Orient by the occidental world is based on magic realism. After decolonization there has emerged writing by many authors on how the Orient was belittled. Oriental writers have deconstructed the notions of the orient by Western writers.