Said’s Orientalism (1978), as well as his later work, including Culture and Imperialism (1993), critiqued homogenizing representations that construct the East, or “the Orient”, according to particular discursive prejudices and stereotypes.
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient — dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient.
As Said showed, many canonical writers of the so-called Western tradition, from Alexander Pope to Gustave Flaubert (1821—80), played a part in this process of systematic misrepresentation.
Orientalism also refers to the way in which European culture has managed and produced the idea of the Orient.
The critique of Orientalism belonged to a wider project: an attempt to “unthink Eurocentrism” by laying bare its ugly discursive history in Western culture. Partly influenced by Foucault, Said’s range of reference was not exclusively “literary”. He was also a committed public intellectual in (critical) solidarity with the Palestinian national liberation movement.
Homi K. Bhaba’s writing on the idea of the nation builds upon Benedict Anderson’s (b. 1936) theorization of the nation as an “imagined community”. The nation is always in the process of being made and re-made in discourse.
Bhaba is particularly critical of the way in which nationalist movements attempt to impose and institutionalize a “unisonant” narrative of the nation (that is, in which all citizens sing from the same hymn sheet), stifling its real multiplicity and diversity. His focus on the concept of “hybridity” is particularly important in expressing the fluid constitution of national identity.
America leads to Africa; the nations of Europe and Asia meet in Australia; the margins of the nation displace the centre; the peoples of the periphery return to rewrite the history and fiction of the metropolis.
Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak? Speculations on Widow Sacrifice” (1988) engages with the question of whether and how subordinated colonial peoples — Fanon’s “wretched of the earth” — are able to find a voice that is truly independent from histories of oppression. The condition of subalternity, for Spivak, describes the inarticulacy produced by the ruling structures and society of the colonial state, which closes down possibilities of self-representation and expression.
There is no space from which the subaltern subject can speak.
Spivak’s theorization of subalternity also intersects with a critique of anti-colonial nationalism, as the cultural practices of the artists and postcolonial intellectuals aligned with such movements have also tended to exclude the possibility of subaltern voices.