Hanif Kureishi's "The Buddha of Suburbia". Critical on postcolonial Orientalism?

Term Paper 2010 9 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Said's Orientalism

3. Orientalism in Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the following essay I am going to discuss Kureishi's approach on Said's criticism on Orientalism in his novel The Buddha of Suburbia. I will start by establishing Said's argument in detail and engage with some of the paradoxes revealed within it. This will be followed by what Kureishi opines which is not completely in favour of nor against Said and thus problematises some of Said's premises.

Orientalism is a system of images, attitudes and ways of seeing the Orient. It is the academic study of political and literary discourse about Arabs, Islam and the Middle East, especially by France, Britain and the USA. Many stereotypes within Orient writing in the West make its presentation contradictory in that it is both attractive and repulsive at the same time.

2. Said's Orientalism

Crisis [in orientalism] is the conclusion of the first section of Edward Said's book Orientalism. It contains an analysis of how Western cultures used to deal with the Orient. It was published in 1978.

Said claims Orientalism is a tool for the West to control the Middle East or Orient which has been invented by scholars called Orientalists. He criticises the “human tendency to fall back on a text“ (Said 2008: 368), i.e. our habit of relying on a text than considering any other opinion when it comes to something we do not know or feel threatened by. Texts tend to inform our view of the world, i.e. the parts of the world we do not have first hand knowledge of. This power of texts lies in their implicit claims of authority, expertise and expert knowledge. This also applies to writing about the Orient. “The West's great cultural strength, its will to power over the Orient,“ (Said 369) kept the Orient silent and demonstrated its powerlessness to do anything about its flawed image constructed by the West. It served “European expansion in search of markets, resources and colonies“ (Said 370) and “overrode the Orient.“ (Said 370) Orientalism can be considered as a system of thought about the Orient, presuming it to be unchanging and uniform, thus to have no history as the West has and no chance to be altered in any way in the future. This has huge political effects in shaping peoples attitudes towards the Orient and how to deal with it. A notion of superiority evolves, placing the Orient in the position of a slave in contrast to the West as its master. The opinion of the Orient as being the peculiar other opens the scene for racism, created by hostility towards it. The crisis Said is referring to is about the discovery and “disappointment that the modern Orient is not at all like the texts.“ (Said 373) Orient loses its mysticism trough disenchantment. Moreover, Said criticises the Western tendency to place all Oriental people in one bin when actually there are many different races. This generalisation makes the Orient and its people a general object displaying an “unresolved eccentricity.” (Said 375) Even modern Orientalism deals with the Orientalised Orientalism, showing how European empires still have power over the East and the knowledge provided on it. The Orient was not able to fight back Orientalism when it became politically independent from the Western empires but by the time Said wrote his book, “Orientalism […] faced a challenging and politically armed Orient.” (Said 376) Orientalism then had the choice to either ignore this fact or to match the old and new knowledge. Considering Islam, Said claims that Orientalists have not taken colonial impact, historical development and worldly circumstances seriously enough. As Gibbs put it, “'to apply the psychology and mechanics of Western political institutions to Asian or Arab situations is pure Walt Disney.'” (Said 378) When issues on nuclear weapons, scarce resources and demands for equality, justice and economic parity emerged, politicians drew on caricatures of the Orient created by Orientalists. Oriental people are presented as regressive and unchanging. The press and the popular mind accepts those presumptions and spreads them over the Western world. Thus, the West can be considered as “the actor, the Orient [as] a passive reactor. The West is the spectator, the judge, the jury, of every facet of Oriental behaviour.” (Said 379) But since Oriental behaviour changed during the 20th century, Orientalists are stuck. Oriental leaders turned to their fellow citizens rather than the West and some Oriental cultures agitated the Occident, i.e. the Western cultures.



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Said Orientalism postcolonial orientalism



Title: Hanif Kureishi's "The Buddha of Suburbia". Critical on postcolonial Orientalism?