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and Beyond

I will long remember the day I read


. . . .

For me, a child of a

successful anti-colonial struggle,


was a book which talked of

things I felt I had known all along but had

never found the language to formulate with

clarity. Like many great books it seemed to

say to me for the first time what one had

always wanted to say.

Partha Chatterjee (1992: 194)

In order to appreciate


and its impact on the

production of knowledge in the West, we must first situate the

book within its proper context. Said’s project largely stems from

the problem of representation and the inferior image that the West

has projected onto its other. This distorted image is the product of a

diverse body of textual knowledge affiliated with French and

British colonialism. Historically, such knowledge was utilized for

defining not only how the West saw other cultures but how it

viewed itself as well. In other words, the self-perception of the West

was mutually constitutive in that it depended on the existence of an

other to compare or contrast itself with. Therefore, what Said set

out to write was a critique against a discourse that had largely

remained unchallenged since its beginnings. Although Said, as much

as his critics, was aware of


’s “theoretical

inconsistencies” (1994a: 339), the fact that his writing is sprinkled

with a detailed reading of history and sociopolitical analysis

indicates that his priority was not so much in constructing a

“theory” of Orientalism than in developing a way to counteract and

refute a “real” body of knowledge with firm historical roots and

consequences. Or, as Said concluded in his 1994 afterword,


is a partisan work, not a theoretical machine” (339).