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This review is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

REPRESENTATION AND REALITY Edward W. Said, Orientalism (Routledge) £8.95

In this book Professor Said offers a provocative critique of the concept of Orientalism. Orientalism is, he maintains, a Western artefact, whose primary function is to justify our exploitation of the Orient. It is a field of specialized knowledge, which substantiates, often in meticulous detail, our cultural image of the East as exotic, mysterious, sensual, irrational, primitive etc. Said draws, in an imaginative and perceptive way, on contemporary research from a wide range of disciplines, to show that what passes as "knowledge" is often no more than institutionalized prejudice. The dissemination of ideas through institutions confers on them an aura of respectability, irrespective of their truth or falsity. In this way they acquire the status of idée reçue and pass into the stock of received truths. This is a path Orientalism has followed, and it has in the process "acquired the armor of scientific statement", concealing prejudice, indeed enshrining it, behind the façade of objectivity and impartiality. "The logic of Orientalism", Said warns us, "is governed not by empirical reality but by a battery of desires, repressions, investments and projections". His book is a sobering and salutary reminder that all knowledge has practical, and therefore political, implications. Orientalism is no exception. It is not a rarefied, academic discipline but a powerful body of theory and practice with considerable material backing. It legitimates exploitation, perpetuating Western arrogance and Eastern subservience.

As Said's analysis of Orientalism shows, seemingly practical issues of policy, investment etc. are determined by abstract philosophical ...

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