Tuesday, October 28, 2003


“There is a difference between knowledge of other people and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge – if that is what it is – that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war.
Edward Said, Orientalism, page xix.

Some thoughts occasioned by starting Said’s book:

A book, or any work of creativity, it seems to me should be able to stand alone. That is, it should reward the reader, or client, from its direct study. The logic should be strong, the exposition clear and forceful. The author seeking to publish should have put considerable thought and experience into the work created.

Still, any book must be understood within its historical, social, economic, political, and cultural context.

One may also consider that author of a work – who he is, what was he trying to achieve, what aspects of his background influenced the production of the work, and thus affect its appreciation.

What about the disciplinary paradigm that the author works from? The matrix of interlocking disciplinary paradigms that help define the discipline in which the author works.

One may also consider how the work has come to its current status. Thus it is art galaries and museums, in my opinion, that determine what we believe to be great art. Certainly there are many examples of artists lionized in one time, and relegated to the scrap-heap of history at another. Indeed, sometimes artists increase in stature (as recognized by various communities), and sometimes they decrease in stature.

Said points out (as I interpret him) that the various disciplinary paradigms of orientalism do not compete only, or even primarily, on the even playing field of descriptive, analytic and predictive power. Where the invader had superior firepower and achieved political and economic domination by conquest, the invaders view of the oriental country and its society gained a compelling advantage. Things were run as if the invader was right, and often people conformed to expectations of the well armed dominators so that the invader became right.

This question of knowledge becomes less obvious the more one thinks about it.

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