Orientalism

Instructor: Elisabeth Fraser

In 1978 Edward Said published his ground-breaking book, Orientalism, in which he argued that there has been institutionalization of the “Orient” within the West. Orientalist discourse, he claimed, acted on the East to render it visible, to submit it to the mastery of the West. Since then, this view has been revised and criticized, especially by post-colonial theorists who say that the notion of Orientalism disempowers the colonized cultures of the Middle East. Our class will look at this historical and theoretical debate through the filter of art, literature, and film dealing with the Islamic cultures of the Middle East and the Mediterranean (from Turkey to Egypt and North Africa). We will emphasize western representations of the “Orient,” but we will also look at some indigenous artists, writers, and postcolonial theorists of Islamic cultures. The core of the class is historical, with a focus on the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, but we will also look at parallels between this colonial history and contemporary culture and politics.

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