Edward Saïd’s Favorite Buzzwords
All the stuffiest terms, defined for your Shmooping pleasure.
Occident and Orient
These terms basically mean "The West" and "The East." Now, let me explain that by "The East" I don't only mean Asia, I also mean "The Middle East" (my ideas can apply to the Asian world, but that's not my area of concern). Please pay attention. As I explain in Orientalism, the world consists of two unequal halves: The Orient and The Occident. My argument is that since the beginning of recorded history, the West (The Occident) has made up all sorts of ideas about the East and Eastern people (The Orient) in order to rationalize colonizing their territory and oppressing. And that's very uncool.
That's just a little term I use to describe the Western political dominance that has been used to oppress other countries for several centuries. The whole "divide and conquer" thing with imperialism is a real bee in my bonnet (not that I would ever be caught dead in such oppressive headgear). These imperialist pigs would take over and then create an us vs. them thing, which makes imperialism a lot like racism and all sorts of other ideas about European superiority.
I'm not bragging, but Orientalism pretty much started this whole movement. The concept of "PoCo," as I like to call it, is that there is no such thing as apolitical, impartial study of Asia and the Arab World. It just ain't gonna happen. Ever.
We Po-Coers like to point this out in everything we read and see. Just look at Tintin's The Blue Lotus or Tintin in the Congo, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or any movie with Valentino, that 1930s heartthrob of American silent film. What about villains in every other action film? Ever since the Cold War ended (rather boringly, I might add), movies couldn't use Soviet spies for their bad guys, so now they just toss in some crazy Arab terrorist. I smell racism. And I'm not afraid to say so.
Like I've said, "Since the enlightenment, every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric" (from Orientalism). We call it Postcolonial studies because it's the study of cultures after the period in which people saw colonialism as normal, natural, even useful. Ugh.
Did you know that from the 1500s to the 1900s a bunch of European powers (England, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium etc.) colonized countries all over Asia, Africa, and the Americas? They just went in there, took over, exploited the people, and robbed their resources to strengthen their own countries' economies (not to mention fatten their own coffers). Their leadership was a kind of dominance called hegemony.
As if it's not infuriating enough that they just took over like bullies on a schoolyard, these hegemonic powers manipulated every country and culture they conquered and tried to make them buy the idea that they were substandard—like they deserved to be under colonial rule and that colonial rule is good for them. Don't do us any favors, is what I say.
This is where I come in: I critique the hegemonic relationship of the Occident (the West) over the Orient (the East). My argument is that the Occident's tyranny over the Orient is not all about politics and the military—it's about culture itself, like Europeans are all that.
This is a favorite buzzword of theorists everywhere, but I'm gonna show you how I use it for Postcolonial studies. See, my shtick is the "discourse of the Orient," which can include anything from how a French writer depicts an Egyptian lady in his novel to the image of a turban-wearing, date-eating Arab on the show Homeland.
The "discourse of the Orient" is everywhere, so look out for it. By the way, I borrowed the whole idea of discourse from fellow theorist Foucault, but never mind the details. We all share (right, Michel?). His work has really helped me home in on how pretty much everything the West knows and thinks about the East is part of this discourse—and it's not going to just go away like a bad attitude or a case of the clap. It's more like a deep and absolute character flaw. Super sinister and insidious.
Okay, I swear this only sounds like a seabird. What we're really talking about here is a whole heap of postcolonial ideas. The subaltern is the opposite of the hegemon (the guy with all the power). It's the flip side to the hegemony coin. In other words, when I say subaltern, I'm referring the person or group under the heel of the hegemon.
I got this little gem from my hero Antonio Gramsci, who really helped me get a beat on my sympathy for the underdogs—or people and social groups that are denied political authority of any sort and therefore don't have a voice in society.
Why does this matter? Well, I see myself as a critic who takes the Palestinian subaltern under his wing, who's really one of them. Is it weird that I get mad when someone points the finger at me and say I wasn't a subaltern because I went to an elite English-speaking school, have lived in the US for most of my life, and lived the privileged life of a distinguished university professor? Maybe. Hmm. That really put a damper on my street cred.