Recent Reads: Orientalism, The Satanic Verses, and The Geek Feminist

The Snake Charmer (c. 1879) by Jean-Léon Gérôme. 

Orientalism by Edward W. Said

“In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are … the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region.”

I recently read Said’s “Culture and Imperialism”, which I adored for its study on the effects of imperialism on literature, and this one is equally at par. This work should’ve been read first though, as it explores orientalism as a Western-created concept in order to assimilate Eastern culture into a simple entity, as to make it easier for people in the other side of the world to understand, forgoing all real understanding in exchange for an exotic fixation.

I’ve read a couple reviews that seem to completely miss the park when it comes to Said’s views. They see him as pro-Islam or pro-East, rather than as a person who sees East and West as terms that hold no actual definition of the places it refers to. Said does not hate the West, in fact, his writing barely carries any emotion towards either side when it comes to non-fiction works, as he rather give a good introduction to people from both sides. One of his main points instead is to show how those two terms are unnecessary, one cannot pair Saudi Arabia, China, and India as the same, even thought they are considered East, same as one should not pile Russia, the U.K. and Sweden in the same specter. One should try to read this as a complex work on orientalism and the human error often presented in naming things, rather than as an attack on our “Western values”. One should focus on his desire to explain how both sides of the globe have traditions and intellectual achievements, and at the same time the lack thereof of it, not simply a West versus East ideal. 

“Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.”

But perhaps the most truth comes from his view on “civilizing” other cultures, a thing that the West has done repeatedly in the centuries it spent trying to colonize (or managed to do so) the East. Some people now see the “Middle East” as a trouble area that would be best to the rest of the world if it were eradicated, and Islam as a vicious faith that has contributed nothing to society except a concept of stoning and female degradation, neither of these are true statements. It seems to be forgotten among many, that for centuries, places such as Baghdad, Alexandria, Beijing, Ur, Yinxu, Constantinople, Carthage, and many more were centers of learning and education for centuries, even millennia, and many of those were largely encouraged by the Islamic idea of achieving knowledge “Attain knowledge from the cradle to the grave. (Prophet Muhammad pbuh). 

In general, a magnificent piece of comprehension, that obviously deserves a through re-read, with my own copy. I also recommend reading J.G. Keely’s review, as it is much more informative than my own. 

★★★★

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

I’ve been meaning to read this novel for years, ever since I first read his other magnificent novel “Midnight’s Children“, and the wait was worth it, it is not disappointing in any sense of the word.

My one problem is that I expected this to be an novel set in ancient times, as I thought it had a bigger focus on ancient deities and Islam in general, instead I was greeted by a fantastic study on what is like to be alienated, as an immigrant, a minority. But I will still hope for him to do another work on what I originally expected, it is too good a subject to pass up. 

“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accomodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.” 

This work also had a focus on how religion can be politicized, and the fatwa on his head was more than proof on how such a thing was somehow allowed. It is odd, that the point he was showing in a fictional novel came to affect him in the real world in such a terrible way. What happened to him, and many others included in the publishing, and even translation of such a valuable work , should not be permitted by anyone of any religion or lack thereof, or even differing political opinions. It is an anchor that keeps society in the darkness, and it needs to end. 

Rushdie’s works in general are masterpieces, and this one is one of those at the top, only behind “Midnight’s Children”. Hence, it should be thoroughly read an explored. Have fun!    

★★★★

Source

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley.

I’ve waited a long time for the masterpiece essay ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative to be put into a lengthy book collecting incredible works about representation, and feminism in general, and although I expected that collection to feature many other voices, Kameron Hurley’s work alone is just as fantastic.

This collection of essays, with a focus on Hurley’s life dealing with feminism and geek culture, gives an insight into what is like being a female in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre, from the “criticism” often associated to being a female, to the lack of representation in media, not just in books, but films as well. 

Source + Source

My one criticism would come from the collection being that, collected works previously published with very little new content. If a follower of her blog or commentary, not much of new things would be found here. I am glad though, since now I can buy it, and own it, and annotate it. But for new people, interested in what she has to say, this is a fantastic introduction. 

“Your voice is powerful. Your voice has meaning. If it didn’t, people wouldn’t work so hard to silence you.
Remember that.”

★★★★

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