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Orientalism In "Song Of Roland". Includes Edward Said's Rhetoric.

1572 words - 6 pages

Orientalism is a theory of knowledge rooting from the earliest contacts of European travelers with the people outside of Europe. To the many that have studied the foreign lands and their people, Orientalism has become a science. It is a discourse of knowledge of what the Orient is represented to be in the European mindset. Orientalism and its troubles are best explained by a contemporary Arabic Christian author Edward W. Said.Sometimes it's difficult to understand and it is often easy to misinterpret what exactly Orientalism stands for. It is not a mere study of what the Orient is about. Early orientalists dealt with the knowledge of the Orient that they thought to be exactly opposite of what the Occident meant to them. There was a sense of the "other", something that is very different from "us", the Europeans. Because everything that is not Europe is this "other", Orientalism is a study that is very broad in its scope and geography. The lands, that Orientalism covers, stretch from the North African Coast of the Mediterranean all the way into the deep and vast Asia, including everything in between. Said details this broadness:"...the range of published material of interest to Orientalist scholars is awesome. Arabic, innumerable Indian dialects, Hebrew, Pehlevi, Assyrian, Babylonian, Mongolian, Chinese, Burmese, Mesopotamian, Javanese: the list of philological works considered Orientalist is almost uncountable. Moreover, Orientalist studies apparently cover everything from the editing and translation of texts to numismatic, anthropological, archaeological, sociological, economic, historical, literary, and cultural studies in every known Asiatic and North African civilization, ancient and modern." (Orien. 52)The biggest historical problem with Orientalism is the misrepresentation of the true Orient. Early scholars were very ignorant towards the absolute truth and drew many of their conclusions about the Orient and its people based on isolated (and sometimes irrelevant) incidents that they perceived to be a characteristic of the people. However true or untrue these interpretations of Eastern civilizations were, they placed great constraints upon the legibility of the Orient. Said states, "Orientalism is better grasped as a set of constraints upon and limitations of thought than it is simply as a positive doctrine." (Orien. 42) A knowledge that an outsider of the Orient has is very limited and one that is all but objective. Because orientalists have perceived the Orient to be a complete opposite of the Occident, they made "logical" interpretations of their observations of Eastern customs based on these notions. They observed that Orientals were barbaric (not learned and civilized like the Europeans), that they were not capable of being sovereign (which rationalized imperialism and the Occident's right to conquer and govern), and that their whole culture was backwards (this was reinforced in the orientalist mind because many Semitic languages were...

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