Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Category: Theory

Edward Said’s Orientalism: Building a Self-Reflexive History

Said’s Orientalism exposes the Eurocentric universalism built on a self-reflexive history in terms of the East. Said sets out to delineate the West’s supercilious stance and condescending conceptions of the East. Orientalism (1978) forms a trilogy with other works such as The Question of Palestine (1979) and Covering Islam (1981), the first of the two that established his career. Said examines the interplay of dichotomies that has been built under the tutelage of the West. Critics like Joshua Muravchik assert how the phenomenon hailed a new era for leftism in which ‘people of color’ substituted the proletariat as the redeemers of humankind.

Said’s work Beginnings is seen to be the beginning of this academic enterprise: “To begin to write, therefore, is to work a set of instruments, to invent a field of play for them to enable performance” (24). Edward Said begins the Introduction of Orientalism paraphrasing the narrative of a French journalist Thierry Desjardins as he expresses his view of the present day Orient foregrounding the stereotypical representation of the Orient. The passage refers to the French romantic travel writings  of Chateaubriand and Nerval and their construction of the Orient.This image of the Orient is much glorified in terms of the ones that created it, that  it comes across as immaterial that the place itself was sociologically affected.…

Gopal Guru’s Egalitarianism and the Social Sciences: Theorizing Experiences or Experiencing Theory?

The Cracked Mirror presents broken images of attempts to marry theory and lived experiences that hitherto have been often perceived as divorced dichotomies. Gopal Guru expresses in his essay “How Egalitarian are the Social Sciences in India” how social sciences are divided into empirically inferiorized and the critically privileged domain of knowledge. From the last sixty years, academic experience within the Indian social science circuit has been placed within the hands of a privileged few giving rise to a cultural hierarchy: the elite theoretical pundits who are presumed to be endowed with a reflective capacity and people with empirical experiences who are deemed as the subaltern.  It comes across that though the theorizing of Dalit experience is supposed to invert the dialectical pair Brahmin/Shudra, it rather enforces it thereby strengthening power structures. It functions parallel to Said’s notion of the Orient who is constructed as the putative object, by the West and for the West. The practice of the TTB underlines Foucault’s assumption of how power is constituted in and through discourses; and how knowledge is born out of the critical relationship between the ontology of the subject and the object.

Sarukkai sums up Guru’s view of theory thus: theory is based on experience and universal reason, and “theory is to be felt, is to embody suffering and pain, is to relate the epistemological with the emotional, that is to bring reason and emotion together” (quoted in Satyanarayana 400).…

Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature: Tracing the Historicity of Literature

Raymond Williams has been praised by critics like Edward Said for his disregard for traditional academic boundaries, and the distinction between literature and Marxism. The connection between Marxism and literature has been debated from times immemorial.  Marxists claim that literature reflects the social system of the times as determined by the economic base. Yet Marxist critics themselves like Engels in a series of letters written in the 1890s recognized the relative autonomous nature of literature. Otherwise it would not explain how literary classics that were generated by earlier capitalist systems still held relevance for current generations.

Earlier on, it was deemed uncomplicated to categorize Marxism or literature as a static concept with known characteristics. In “Marxism and Literature,” Raymond Williams states how Marxism has experienced a recent revival– a related openness and flexibility of theoretical development, especially with reference to cultural theory. The concept of Literature, meanwhile, for related reasons, had become problematic in many ways. He states how the aim of the book is to trace this development. Williams traces his earlier conceptions of Marxism as he had been brought up in a working class family and how Marxism to him at that juncture had political and economic connotations. The cultural and literary arguments were merely an extension of the same.…

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