Daniel Martin Varisco


On his book Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid

Cover Interview of April 02, 2009

In a nutshell

Reading Orientalism is literally a re-reading of the late Edward Said’s Orientalism.  Said’s powerful critique remains a milestone in the critical theory of academic bias three decades after its first publication.  As the years go by, Orientalism survives more as an essential source to cite rather than a polemical text in need of thorough and open-minded reading.  Read by academics as well as the general public in almost three dozen translations, Said’s text analyzes novels, travelogues and academic books to argue that a dominant imperialist discourse of West over East has underwritten virtually all past European and American representation of a so-called “Orient.”  The debate over these views of Edward Said, a prominent intellectual of Palestinian heritage, continues unabated even after his passing in 2003.

Reading Orientalism presents an in-depth critical analysis of Said’s unrevised text.  I examine Said’s rhetoric of persuasion as well as the credibility and accuracy of historical claims made in representing Orientalism as a unified Western discourse.  The result is a critical study of the phenomenon of Orientalism and its profound impact on the intellectual and political culture of our times.  Actually, Reading Orientalism is two books—one is a narrative couched in judicious satire of Said’s own writing style, and the other a comprehensive documentation buried in the endless set of endnotes.

The narrative argument engages the mind of the reader through a certain amount of playful, literary flirtation.  As an intentioned author, my genealogy in re-approaching Edward Said prefers satirist Mark Twain to philologist Friedrich Nietzsche and extols the wit of Baron Montesquieu’s Persian Letters over Gustave Flaubert’s flirtation with an Egyptian dancer.  Following a muse that can amuse at the same time that it disabuses the hubris of self-righteous posturing, I hark back to Oscar Wilde’s bon mot that those books which should not be read at all are “all argumentative books and all books that try to prove anything.”  These are precisely the books we do need to read and understand why we do.  Said’s Orientalism is such a book.