The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Orientalism: A term most closely associated with Edward Said, a postcolonial and cultural critic who, in his book Orientalism (1978), used the term to refer to the historical and ideological process whereby false images of and myths about the Eastern or “oriental” world have been constructed in various Western discourses, including that of imaginative literature. These images and myths have sometimes involved positive idealizations and fantasies of Eastern differences (for instance, family loyalty and hospitality to strangers). Usually, however, orientalism involves denigrating fictions (for instance, deceptive “inscrutability” and loose sex). In Orientalism, Said demonstrated how Eastern and Middle Eastern peoples have for centuries been stereotyped systematically by the West and how this stereotyping facilitated the colonization of vast areas of the globe by Europeans. Said was influenced by the work of Michel Foucault, a twentieth-century French theorist often associated with the new historicism who examined the ways in which power is manifested and exercised through discourses.

The panel shown below, from the classic comic book Scream Cheese and Jelly (1979), which teaches children about humor and puns, also reinforces some of the more benign stereotypes associated with orientalism.


One man is sitting on a carpet that is on fire, he is also shown to be holding a ladle and two eggs in his hand. The man standing outside the carpet is exclaiming “ABDUL—YOUR RUG IS ON FIRE!” The man sitting on the carpet replies “SURE—THAT’S MY FRYING CARPET! HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR EGGS?”