Reading Orientalism

Said and the Unsaid

Daniel Martin Varisco
With a new preface by the author

  • Published: April 2017
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology; Asian Studies; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 530 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Publications on the Near East
  • Contents

The late Edward Said remains one of the most influential critics and public intellectuals of our time, with lasting contributions to many disciplines. Much of his reputation derives from the phenomenal multidisciplinary influence of his 1978 book Orientalism. Said's seminal polemic analyzes novels, travelogues, and academic texts to argue that a dominant discourse of West over East has warped virtually all past European and American representation of the Near East. But despite the book's wide acclaim, no systematic critical survey of the rhetoric in Said's representation of Orientalism and the resulting impact on intellectual culture has appeared until today.

Drawing on the extensive discussion of Said's work in more than 600 bibliographic entries, Daniel Martin Varisco has written an ambitious intellectual history of the debates that Said's work has sparked in several disciplines, highlighting in particular its reception among Arab and European scholars. While pointing out Said's tendency to essentialize and privilege certain texts at the expense of those that do not comfortably it his theoretical framework, Varisco analyzes the extensive commentary the book has engendered in Oriental studies, literary and cultural studies, feminist scholarship, history, political science, and anthropology. He employs "critical satire" to parody the exaggerated and pedantic aspects of post-colonial discourse, including Said's profound underappreciation of the role of irony and reform in many of the texts he cites. The end result is a companion volume to Orientalism and the vast research it inspired. Rather than contribute to dueling essentialisms, Varisco provides a path to move beyond the binary of East versus West and the polemics of blame.

Reading Orientalism is the most comprehensive survey of Said's writing and thinking to date. It will be of strong interest to scholars of Middle East studies, anthropology, history, cultural studies, post-colonial studies, and literary studies.
Daniel Martin Varisco is research professor at Qatar University and president of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. He is the editor and translator of several Arabic texts, including Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science: The Almanac of a Yemeni Sultan.

"Varisco's book is the first to undertake a comprehensive reappraisal of Orientalism in the light of all that has subsequently been written about it. Although recognizing that Said's book was in its time stimulating and pathbreaking, Varisco mounts a sustained and unrelenting assault on what he insists was Said's flawed methodology, his skewed handling of literary evidence, his lack of adequate historical knowledge, and his distorted and tendentious conclusions. This book will enrage Said's many admirers and win the applause of his many detractors. Either way, it is an important and impressively documented work, which deserves a wide audience."
-Common Knowledge

"Varisco's book stakes out a most comprehensive claim: to present systematically and in detail the methodological as well as the general empirical shortcomings of the work [Said's Orientalism], while considering the entire body of prior (English language) criticism, for Said and against. Any defense of Orientalism will have to take into account this scrupulous and precise summation of Said criticism."

"Daniel Martin Varisco's Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid [is] an extensive study that should put to rest, once and for all, the ghost of the formidable Arab-American, culturally Muslim Christian, yet resolutely secular, critic. Supported by 115 pages of exhaustive notes, a 65-page bibliography, and a selective index of essential names not exceeding 12 pages, Reading Orientalism is both a tribute to the spirit that animated Said's Orientalism and a thorough critique of the book's 'manifest flaws.' ."
-American Literary History

"Varisco's impressive piece of scholarship brings together much of the prior criticisms made of Said's notion of Orientalism and his approach along with the author's own insightful observations . . . . [A] first-rate assessment by Varisco of his subject."
-The Review of Politics

"Varisco's book makes for exhilarating reading."
-Times Literary Supplement