“Cultural Power” as Seen by the West and the East in the Light of Edward Said "orientalism"
Edward Said’s seminal work, the theory of “Orientalism”, is hailed as post-colonial propaganda, where “cultural power” turns out to be a crucial aspect of connecting the ideology of the West with the East. Both the West and the East, in their observation of the fact of “cultural power,” have their own ways of defining and applying it, though sometimes in a selfish and autocratic manner like the West, and sometimes in a servile and spontaneous manner like that of the East. In our process of dissecting as well as supporting the said topic, we will try to define “cultural power” and its meaning from both Western and Eastern perspectives.
The definition of “cultural power” can take the idea of a nation’s drive to establish its cultural identity through various means and modes such as cultural imposition. In establishing its culture, a nation may assert its spontaneous flourishing without dominating other nations, or it may follow the path of humiliating or caricaturing other nations in order to portray its superiority over them. And the latter happens in the case of Westerners who are always concerned about their power over Easterners for their own identity. Said’s cultural study of the West and the East in his Orientalism shows the varied application and observation of ‘cultural power’. In this regard, Said argues that “cultural power is not something we can discuss very easily – and one of the aims of the present work is to illustrate, analyze and reflect on Orientalism as an exercise in cultural power”.
For the West, Orientalism is their “cultural power” that manifests itself through dominant differences from the Middle East. Said observes: “European culture gained strength and identity by opposing the East as something of a surrogate and even subterranean self…”. The West exercises its “cultural power” through its cruelty to define and shape the East, which can never speak for itself as the West thinks: “they cannot represent themselves; one must speak on their behalf’.
The culture of the West shows its power by imposing itself on the unknown or the East. They are anxious to inject their culture into the brains of the Orientals, and even the Orientals are forced to think their way. It is the very force of their culture, however negative, that they define others on the basis of their culture, as Said describes it through his theory of Orientalism: “Orientalism is better understood as a set of limitations and limitations of thought than it simply as a positive doctrine.”. it is Orientalism that thus secures the authoritative practice of “cultural power” of the West over the East.
Westerners have a strong intervention of their culture when they try to define as well as identify the orient as separate from the orient. Their culture of superiority complex and egoistic determination of things allows them to frame the Orient with a misrepresentation having an external idea, as Said admits, “Orientalism is based on externality.” The cultural tendency to generalize a selfish idea for the whole east from a single inconvenient incident is strong enough proof of their fierce power arising from their culture. From a distant but safe perspective, the West observes Oriental cultures, albeit inappropriately, and concludes that they are vile and fanatical cultures, for their imagined view of Orientals is: “The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childish, different’; therefore the European is rational, virtuous, mature and ‘normal’.
The strength of Western culture is its belief that they are the healthiest in this world culturally, and this may be their false ideology to avoid the fear of losing authority or power. Their culture endows them with the “white man’s burden,” which they relieve by educating, punishing, correcting, and finally civilizing the Orient: “The Orient was seen as framed by the classroom, the criminal court, the prison, the illustrated handbook.” This all-pervasive as well as powerful invasion of the ‘cultural force’ of the West upon the East is finely illustrated in Said’s comment: ‘Yet what gave the world of the Oriental its intelligibility and identity was not the result of its own efforts, but rather the whole complex series of conscious manipulations by which the Orient was identified by the West.”
It is the deliberately superficial study of the East that has given the West permission to draw conclusions about the East of its own volition. This culture of their superficial and crude study of others through travelogues and other such sources allows them to perceive the Oriental as a “ferocious lion” where the emphasis is ultimately on the ferocity rather than the lion and thus “there are no more lions but their ferocity -“. And even Arthur James Balfour, emissary of the Europeans, arbitrarily, if absurdly, claimed the authority of the West over the East, saying: “We know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other country.”
This unfair battle of “cultural power” will continue until the East dares to reveal its “cultural power”. This is Said’s expression:
Such an Orient was quiet, at Europe’s disposal for the realization of projects that included but were never directly responsible for the natives, and unable to resist the projects, images, or mere descriptions invented for it… a connection between Western writing ( and its consequences) and Oriental silence, the result of and a sign of the great cultural power of the West, its will to power over the East… books about ferocious lions will do until the lions can answer.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Orient sought to manifest its “cultural power” steadily and gradually through the blessing of modern Orientalism or the “Oriental Renaissance,” which ignited a new consciousness of the East among thinkers, politicians, and creatives throughout the world. The newly discovered as well as the modern translation and interpretation of Oriental texts in Oriental languages such as Sanskrit, Zend and Arabic made it possible for the East to popularize and display its cultural power.
An open-minded, fresh and new look at the old arbitrary custom enabled it to flourish truly and gradually. Non-Europeans have their right to define as well as elevate their identity as Orientals, regardless of the adverse interference of Europeans. Their “cultural force” was gradually redefined by the Orientals themselves categorically and given its true form as the embodiment of the entire East.
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