Edward Said’s Orientalism and Edhem Eldem’s Consuming the Orient

Orientalism is the emulation of cultural attributes of the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia. It is paramount to understand Orientalism in order to grasp today’s political environment. The term has been investigated in both Said’s renowned Orientalism and Edhem Eldem’s Consuming the Orient and in this post, I will shortly compare the two.

As a postcolonial study, with an ‘Oriental background’ himself, Edward Said examines Orientalism’s invention and development as an academic and political discourse. According to Said, Orientalism definition could not be understood without the terms of power and discourse and it was man-made by the West, an investment that continued for years which made the term as a system of knowledge that concludes statements from East to West. He defends his argument by his “Orientalism is never far from the idea of Europe, a collective notion identifying ‘us’ Europeans against all ‘those’ non-Europeans, and indeed it can be argued that the major component in European culture is precisely what made that culture hegemonic both in and outside Europe: the idea of European identity as a superior one in comparison with all the non-European peoples and cultures.” words. The superiority of the Occident over Oriental.

Moreover, he argues that in contrast to many views, the ideas released in literature and culture studies also contribute to the birth, evolution, and strengthening of Orientalism as well as the studies directly relevant to politics thus, Orientalism is a dynamic exchange between individual authors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great empires; Britain, France and America.

Alternatively, Edhem Eldem’s study is about his exhibition called “Consuming the Orient”. With this exhibition, he wanted to illustrate “the representation of the East through images and objects produced in the West.” by his words. He also refers Said’s Orientalism and states without the issue of orientalism it is not true to talk about the Orient. However, Eldem finds Said’s understanding of Orientalism highly political, kind of a manifesto. Since he lives in Turkey, he gives significant examples from Turkey. He states the Orient as a mass consumption object cannot be separately thought from the notion of an unequal power relationship and the symbols of these commodities construct the ideologies behind of it. He shows his exhibition as a proof.

Both of the studies reflect the similar conceptions, notions, and opinions. However, as Eldem states in his study, I highly agree with him that Said’s treatment of Orientalism is considerably political. In addition, since the point of view of the theory was political, then Turkey should have been mentioned utterly because of the political and cultural situation as an Orientalist country. On the other hand, Said pointed out a very serious point of the innocence of humanistic and cultural studies. Furthermore, while Said focuses the invention, development, and strengthening of the Orientalism concept by the West, Eldem’s study looks to the Mediterranean and Middle East countries. Different at some points yet complete each other by the courtesy of Eldem.

References:

  1. Edward W. Said, Orientalism
  2. Ethem Eldem, Consuming the Orient

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