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Orientalism

’s Discourse

281

I. Introduction

‘Theory’ is a product of displacement,

comparison, a certain distance. To theorize,

one leaves home. But like any act of travel,

theory begins and ends somewhere.

James Clifford (1989: para. 2)

The notion of traveling theory, as originally outlined by

Edward W. Said in

The World, the Text, and the Critic

(1983),

raises a number of questions about the ontological function and

status of theory. For instance, what happens to theory once it

travels to another place or context? How does this temporal and

spatial shift alter its form and content? And what determines the

material conditions in which theory and theorists travel in the first

place?

One case worth considering is Said’s own appropriation of

Michel Foucault’s concept of “discourse” in

Orientalism

(1978)

and the various methodological problems it poses, including

whether or not it is possible to critique the West and its intellectual

tradition by incorporating another aspect of the same. In other

words, can Western thought be used to critique itself? Indeed, this

question has troubled many of Said’s critics, not to mention

admirers, who feel that his critique of Western civilization and its

misrepresentation of the Orient relies too heavily on the work of

Foucault and other Continental theorists.

1

In this paper, I would like to address these concerns by

looking at the work of two critics, James Clifford and Robert J. C.

Young, who take issue with Said’s methodology in

Orientalism

and

raise serious questions that transcend mere political or ideological

differences.

2

I will attempt to critique their critique by way of a

1

Witness Tariq Ali in a piece published shortly after Said’s death in which he

remarks that “Foucault was, alas, an important influence” (2003: 61).

2

The range of ad hominem attacks against

Orientalism

include claims that Said was