Daniel Martin Varisco


On his book Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid

Cover Interview of April 03, 2009


The major reason I want to reread Orientalism is the importance of placing what Said labeled Orientalism in a more soundly recovered historical context.  My analysis will be especially relevant for those concerned with past and present representation of Muslims and Middle Easterners in literature, the academe, and the media.  The general reader interested in how Western authors and scholars have represented the Orient and Islam will find this a useful summary of the main points discussed over the past three decades in the course of an animated and crucial debate.  Said’s text is not about to disappear from bookstores and university reading lists.  But its polemical force cannot compensate for three decades of criticism, even from those who agree with Said’s overall aim of highlighting past bias.  In my book, I seek to redirect the unending debate over Orientalism to the merits and demerits of its arguments and away from personal attacks upon or uncritical veneration of its author.  It is important to re-orient the debate over Orientalism in order to facilitate cross-cultural understanding beyond the binary of East vs. West.

But why write textual criticism as satire?  The Roman poet Horace reminds us that although the satirist laughs, he tells the truth.  Voltaire and Swift are still read today, not simply because they are amusing, but because they speak the kind of truth that outlasts the passion of polemics.  I am not pulling for prime space on a future library shelf alongside the important corpus of Edward Said, but I do offer the reader of Orientalism a companion guide with pun in cheek.

© 2009 Daniel Martin Varisco