At the crossroads of “Orient” and “Orientalism”
(This story is intended to be an interpretation of Edward Said’s well-known book “Orientalism”)
An apparent separation between Orientalism and Occidentalism has been made over the course of the years. This separation-in its nature- clearly accommodates a distinction of two geographical lands into two socially different locations and cultures. Referencing the Online Etymology Dictionary, coming from Latin orientem(also oriri as to rise, root for the origin), the term Orient comprises various meanings ranging from the direction of the sun’s rise through the specific eastern countries, their regions, and cultures*. On the other hand, the dictionary of Merriam-Webster defines the reproduced term Orientalism as “something (such as a style or manner) associated with or characteristic of Asia or Asians” **.
Although the east-originated term Orient came to refer only to the orbit of Asia in Merriam-Webster in the form of Orientalism, doubtlessly does it deserve a better and deeper understanding and argument as can be confronted on Said’s (1979) three definitions which offer a broader perspective and discourse on this conceptual debate. In his book Orientalism, Said(1979) gives the reader three different scopes for understanding Orient and Orientalism.
His first definition focuses on the academic perspective of Orientalism as a subject. For this understanding, anyone studying the Orient is performing in the field of Orientalism. The second grasp refers to a phenomenal distinction created for a classified study of the Orient by naming the West as Occident and thus, differentiating it from the remaining so-called third world Orientalists. Coming to the last and the broadest context of Orientalism, Said (1979) explains East’s strategical positioning across West. He argues the coining of the term “Orientalism” as an effort to describe, settle, and rule over the East. He further elaborates on this definition, putting Orientalism as “a Western style for having authority over the East” and thus clearly illustrates the primary connotation of Orient and Orientalism from a broader perspective.
In both three ways, it is possible to observe a “marginalized” East across a specific land of West by turning the broader cosmos of Orient into a compacted -but yet easily definable and controllable- Orientalism. At this stage, it is essential to state that although Orient -too, indeed- has its roots with a clear geographical distinction shaped around the origin of the West (east for which origin, west for which origin?), it still -in a way- represents its projections of social and cultural identity over the West. However, when it transforms into the form of Orientalism, it -somehow- loses its background potential and turns into a shallow categorization for a better understanding of the vast tradition of the East. Thus, does Orient become comprehensible by getting narrowed, and then it becomes materialized with its theory and practice and open itself to a broader opportunity to be investigated.
So, the idea of marginalizing the Orient is not just a fancy concept but also a signal that reveals the effort to maintain the political, ideological, scientific, and cultural aspects of the East understandable and manageable to the West.
And it is only in this way that the West -anyhow- makes the Orient understandable by filtering and fitting it into the form of Orientalism and then confront with its aspects to defeat it to reach a better idea of itself.
*Origin and meaning of orient by Online Etymology Dictionary. (2020). Retrieved 23 December 2020, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/orient
** Definition of ORIENTALISM. (2020). Retrieved 23 December 2020, from https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/Orientalism
References & Background Research:
Bozdogan, Sibel, “Orientalism and Architectural Culture,” Social Scientist, 1986, 14(7), pp.46–58
Ning, Wang, “Orientalism versus Occidentalism?”, New Literary History, 1997, 28(1), pp.57–67
Peker, A.U., “Western Influence on the Ottoman Empire and Occidentalism in the Architecture of Istanbul,” Eighteenth-Century Life, vol. 26/3, 2002, pp.139–164.
Said, E.W., “Orientalism”. New York: Random House, 1979, pp.9–36