Received Orientalisms and New Departures
Over the last three decades the term “orientalism” has become a commonplace and often pejorative term within cultural studies. In Edward Said's seminal Orientalism (1978) the term was first defined critically as a mode of thought and writing by which Western discourses exercise a form of ideological power over the peoples and cultures of the East, reducing them to Europe's consummate other: exotic, degenerate, passive, fanatical, mysterious, civilized, and uncivilized by degree. The term has, though, come to be used so liberally that it seems to imply the existence of a real, unified historical school of thought, an ideological movement of like-minded people or at least a recognized set of writings, attitudes, and beliefs that carried that name within the Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was not the case. Naturally, the terms “Orient” and “orientalism” permeate this volume. Here, though, they are treated within a context of critical awareness, as a contemporary tool for critically tracing patterns and tendencies within historical European discourses. The scope of what can be termed “orientalism,” of where and in what forms we might seek it, of the range of differing functions it fulfills in differing contexts, and of where, quite simply, the so-called Orient was thought to be in a geographical sense, must be considered as open to a process of redefinition.