Reconceptualizing the Postcolonial Project: Beyond the Strictures and Structures of Orientalism
This essay investigates the possibility of formulating a much needed new direction for postcolonial studies by focusing on a certain thread of argument in Edward Said's Orientalism, one that suggests that Orientalism is more an account of how the West experienced the Orient than it is a description about a place in the world, viz. the Orient. In this sense, 'the Orient' is both a place in the world and an entity that exists only in western experience. Orientalism is not only an experiential discourse but also a way of structuring this experience. The essay suggests that to dispute the truth status of this discourse and its descriptions is to stay within the framework of the colonial experience. Moreover, since Orientalism developed in continuous interaction with and as a part of the growth of social sciences, the latter cannot possibly offer an alternative to Orientalism. Both are expressions of the experience of one culture, the West. To understand the way western culture has described both itself and others is to begin understanding western culture. The challenge of Orientalism, then, is a challenge to understand western culture itself. Consequently, a critique of Orientalism becomes coterminous with the task of creating alternative theories in the domain of the humanities and social sciences.