From Postcolonial Criticism to Critics on Postcolonial Poetics – Edward Said's Orientalism from an Iconographic Perspective
Inside and outside the academy, Edward Said's work is both preeminent and controversial. Combining literary theory, the history of ideas, political analysis and the sociology of intellectuals, his groundbreaking book Orientalism has radically transformed the field of Oriental studies, arguably laying the foundation for postcolonial studies. Criticizing the condition of the Palestinian people, Said also has constantly provided a critique of US government policy in the Middle East and has thus proposed a model of intellectual skepticism which deals with political issues. This combination of political and academic interventions is one reason "for Said’s special position in contemporary Western intellectual life" (Kennedy 3).
If we look at Said's classic monography as a painting of geographical knowledgelandscapes, an iconographical investigation into the traditions of knowledge and ideological styles becomes possible. This paper will begin by presenting Orientalism's arguments and will then summarize the main critiques aimed at Said. It continues to describe the analytic discourse in Orientalism based on the method of iconographic interpretation as described in Panofsky's collection of essays Meaning in the Visual Arts.
This interdisciplinary approach intends to demonstrate the argumentative circularity and self-reflexivity inherent in Said's criticism: by drawing exclusively on Western histories of ideas, the concept Orientalism itself can become the object of postcolonial criticism.
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