Vintage (1979)

Orientalism, 25th Anniversary Edition

by Edward W. Said

curated by


A critique of Western attitudes about the Orient, this history examines the ways in which the West has discovered, invented, and sought to control the East from the 1700s to the present.

This 25th Anniversary Edition contains a new preface by the author written in New York in May, 2003 a handful of months before his death. In it, he brings his learning to bear on the contemporary "illegal and unsanctioned invasion and occupation of Iraq by Britain and the United States". This, he noted, brought in its train "a prospect of physical ravagement, political unrest, and more invasions that are truly awful to contemplate." The relevance of this short preface to everything has come since, and which is still playing out now in the Middle East has declined in the intervening years no more than has the original 1978 text). "Orientalism and modern anti-Semitism have common roots", he remarks.

A contemporary student not used to books of this quality might easily find they have more passages underlined and highlighted than not, not only in this Preface, but the following excerpt states clearly what Said was trying to achieve in the book and why it ought to be read:

My idea in Orientalism is to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical thought-stopping fury that so imprison us in labels and antagonistic debate whose goal is a belligerent collective identity rather than understanding and intellectual exchange. I have called what I try to do "humanism", a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics. By humanism I mean first of all attempting to dissolve Blake's mind-forg'd manacles so as to be able to use one's mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure. Moreover, humanism is sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods: strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist.