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Theorizing Orientalism

ENGL 748.401

Since its initial publication, Edward Said's /Orientalism/ (1978) has transformed the field of literary studies as well as any number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences through its treatment of European imperialism and the politics of cultural production.  Beginning with a study of this text, the course will take stock of the critical scholarship on Said, including feminist and Marxist revisions of his conceptualization of East/West relations and key debates that have ensued, with interlocutors such as Lisa Lowe, Rey Chow, Shu-mei Shih, Aijaz Ahmad, Arif Dirlik, and Bernard Lewis.  We will consider the influence of Said on several works of postcolonial and subaltern studies, especially given that Orientalism has, not unproblematically, become a catchword for the postcolonial at a moment when the term 'postcolonial' is itself overly capacious.  A central aim of the course will be to study some of Said's key theoretical influences (i.e. Hegel, Marx, Foucault) and generally overlooked scholars of Orientalism (Schwab, Tibawi) pre-dating or contemporaneous with Said.  To interrogate the relationship between literature, aesthetics, and politics, we will read the theory in dialogue with a few literary works drawn from the early modern period to illustrate the shift from 17th and 18th century exoticisms to the institutionalized Orientalism of colonial governance, primarily in the British context.  We will also explore the development of concepts such as Oriental despotism and the Asiatic Mode of Production and their relevance to the fields of East Asian Studies and Asian American Studies.

fulfills requirements