’Orientalism,’ Then and Now | by Adam Shatz | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
Un retour sur l’histoire de l’orientalisme et sa « mutation » à l’époque actuelle.
Edward Said’s Orientalism is one of the most influential works of intellectual history of the postwar era. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding is that it is “about” the Middle East; on the contrary, it is a study of Western representations of the Arab-Islamic world—of what Said called “mind-forg’d manacles,” after William Blake. The book’s conservative critics misread it as a nativist denunciation of Western scholarship, ignoring its praise for Louis Massignon, Jacques Berque, and Clifford Geertz, while some Islamists praised the book on the basis of the same misunderstanding, overlooking Said’s commitment to secular politics.
Since the book’s first publication in 1978, “Orientalism” has become one of those words that shuts down conversation on liberal campuses, where no one wants to be accused of being “Orientalist” any more than they want to be called racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. That “Orientalist” is now a commonly applied epithet is a tribute to the power of Said’s account, but also to its vulgarization. With Orientalism, Said wanted to open a discussion about the way the Arab-Islamic world had been imagined by the West—not to prevent a clear-eyed reckoning with the region’s problems, of which he was all too painfully aware.