Monday, November 06, 2006

Orientalism Reclaimed from the WSJ Nov 4th

An exciting review by Eric Ormsby of Dangerous Knowledge by Robert Irwin (Overlook) summarizes the argument: Said's 25 year old book Orientalism is "a work of malignant charlatanry."

To make the case Irwin reprises a history of Orientalism from antiquity to modern times including profiles of individual scholars including an evaluation of their accomplishments. Each description is a refutation of Said's thesis, according to Ormsby. Instead of condescension and bias ("we" Westerners and "they" the Orientals) we see scholarly scrupulousness. Said's argument sacrifices scholarly achievements for the generalizing thesis. Irwin tracks every logical fallacy, error, inconsistency and falsehood in Said's book Orientalism. Said's description of Muslim armies conquering Turkey before conquering North Africa "really does suggest a breathtaking ignorance of Middle Eastern history."

Ormsby concludes that Irwin provides a nuanced critique of Islamic studies that Said failed to deliver. Just plain curiosity about others is alive and flourishing in a history of Middle Eastern scholarship.

No comments: