Edward W Said, a scholar born in Palestine and educated in Egypt, is presently Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of several books on contemporary politics (The Question of Palestine, recently published by Routledge & Kegan Paul), literary theory (his Beginnings were discussed in the Literary Review of some time ago), and literary history (Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography). One of his most powerful and influential books is an aggressive study about the study of the Orient, and in particular of the Middle East, and about the various influences of this imaginary Orient, created by savants and men of letters, upon European culture and literature from the 18th century onwards. Its title: Orientalism (now issued in this country by Routledge & Kegan Paul, £8.95, paperback £3.95). I interviewed Professor Said in his office at Columbia.
According to your thesis, Orientalists have not discovered the Orient: they have only studied their own prejudices.
Yes. Scholars did find a vision of the East inside themselves. What is strange is that this vision happened to suit the needs of Western merchants, statesmen and military leaders – starting with Napoleon.