Sunday, June 15, 2008

A legacy of understanding

Orientalism is the quintessential Palestinian text of the 1970s. But its humanistic plea still resonates today

Karma Nabulsi,
Sunday June 15 2008

".......One cannot understand the immense outpouring of Palestinian political and cultural creativity in the 1970s without reference to the vibrant liberation movement which was at its peak. Everything was larger than life: epic freedom fighters, eloquent speeches that mobilised a generation, political debates of rigour and subtlety, and poems of sublime power.

Orientalism – "magisterial Orientalism" in the words of Terry Eagleton – is a product of that tremendously creative period of the Palestinian movement. As much as it remains a founding text of contemporary literary criticism, it was a thorough inquiry into the causes of Palestinian negation in western literary and political discourse, and the forms this negation takes. Said states: "my own experiences ... are in part what made me write this book. The life of an Arab Palestinian in the west, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an oriental.".........

Whereas some misread Orientalism, viewing it as a defence of the east against the west, most appreciated its purpose is in challenging the very notion of binary opposition between the two. It is in this respect above all that Orientalism is a quintessential Palestinian text of the 1970s. Simultaneously aware of the perversions of colonialism and the pitfalls of chauvinism, it calls for constructing bridges in place of ghettoes. And the book is with us still, for the huge contribution Edward Said made with this particular book continues to have resonance with Palestinian artists, intellectuals and activists alike, in the battles they face today. "

No comments: