Orientalism & Postcolonial predicament: perspectives on South Asia new cultural studies, published by University of Pennsylvania Press in the year 1993, is a collection of short articles. Most of the articles in this collection were originally presented at University of Pennsylvania’s Annual South Asia Seminar from 1988-1989. Edward Said argues in his influential Orientalism book that Western knowledge on the Orient has been “a systematized discourse by which Europe has managed- even produced- the Orient political, sociologically and militarily as well as ideologically and scientifically”.
Said argues European and American perceptions of the Orient shaped the reality that the Orientals had to endure. Said focuses on the Arab region, but his arguments can be used in other regions. Carol A. Breckenridge Peter van der Veer & the other contributors of this book examine how colonial administrators shaped knowledge about India & other colonized South Asian countries and the processes of past and current South Asian reality. The articles of Orientalism and Postcolonial Predicament are united by the idea that Orientalist discourse does not only exist in the past, but also continues today. The contributors assert that Indians are still unable to think of India outside of Orientalist perspectives. The collection of essays is dedicated to discussing Said’s thesis in relation to the modern South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and South Asian states are either excluded from this collection because of their perceived lack of modernity or because there were no colonies. Orientalism, the Postcolonial Predicament is a new book that provides important and novel insights into how power was embedded in colonial or postcolonial cultures. Dharwadker reveals the origins of the concept of Indian Literature’ in Orientalism and the Study of Indian Literatures. This notion is based on European ideas of the meaning of literature. Lelyveld paints a fascinating portrait of a “native”, Hindustani language, created by “the colonial knowledge and the project of a national language” in North India, where language changes every 8 miles. In a book entitled ‘British Orientalism, The Dialectics of Knowledge and Government: 18th Century British Attempts to Reduce Complex and Fluid Indigenous Matters to Legal Texts of These Two Traditions’ by Rocher, he traces a large part of the well-known unfriendly Hindu/Muslim split to 18th Century British attempts at reducing complex and fluid indigenous issues to legal texts of both traditions. Ludden, in “Orientalist Empiricism”: Transformations in Colonial Knowledge, tries to show that things like caste and Hinduism which were viewed as neutral facts by the colonial authorities, but actually were a result of colonial record-keeping and organizing, are not. The suppression of alternative and competing views on what constitutes fundamental facts. These articles help us understand how the western perspective has impacted South Asia. These articles also try to explain how we can move beyond it. But one gets the impression that this self-centeredness leaves us in a state of denial about the real, detectable cultural differences out there. The impact of Orientalism is similar to that of childhood memories on the adult personality. They are all part of our lives, and they can be a great help in understanding and overcoming them. But we shouldn’t let that stop us from tackling the challenges we face.
Orientalist history is built on our narrow-minded interests and concerns, just like any other history. But that does not mean we can’t investigate and make truth claims about history. We are aware of the dangers in judging others’ lives based on our own experience. This book reveals not only how colonialism shaped Orient, but also how our political and sociological categories from colonial times continue to trap us in a “postcolonial dilemma”.