Since the appearance of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), scholars of Western literature at large, and English literature in particular, have tended to hold the Orient and its cultures in strictly skeptical terms. To be sure, Said’s approach did open new vistas to how we look at cultures that are different from “ours,” but the approach itself seems to create more confusion and misunderstanding than benefits. By collapsing multiple genres into a hegemonic “orientalist” discourse, we tend to ignore nuanced perspectives that cultivate understanding, self-criticism and self-reformation. While many critics consider such responses a legitimate exercise in colonial and post-colonial scholarship, aimed at rebutting stereotypical representations produced by the writings of Western orientalists, I prefer to voice a precautious view. The cultivation of guilt and suspicion between cultures does not serve a humanist end. Because of its employment of ideological principles to critique traditional Orientalism, Said's approach problematizes these prejudices rather than seeking to offer a resolution of some sort. This prompts us to ask such questions as: At what cost has ideologized Orientalism carried out its ventures? What tangible and positive results has this approach led to? In this talk I propose a return to the cultural and political compromises envisioned by some figures of the Romantic era, namely Goethe, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelly and Washington Irving. Instead of antagonizing the Other, they sought the appropriation and assimilation of “foreign” values and experiences. The so-called “Clash of Civilizations” cannot be expunged by simply challenging the Other to prove its historical errors of perception. A more constructive approach comes through a humanistic vision of how cultures could join hands to build a better future that encourages co-existence and respect for all.
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