Personal Thoughts on Edward Said’s Orientalism

The author struggles with the identity of her own as a person in terms of culture. Born an American, yet Asian in blood and in education. It seems more fitting for her to pour her thoughts on Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Like this author, he too has his fair share of identity problems. He studied in the West, yet he was Asian, or Arabic. He used much of his personal experiences as the basis of the essay. While it was criticized for not putting much emphasis in other Asian nations (like India) and it being strangely forgiving to French Orientalist writers, it’s safe to say that it can be applied to other countries (in real life or in media). He deals with the concept of the Other, and how the West tries to make a distinction among them and the East (which could help them to take over the world (in some ways)), despite the fact the East also have their way of labeling others. Still, this issue lingers in people’s minds, regardless of where they are from.

The author found this a very personal thing in her part. Growing up seeing Western products come and go and living in a Third-World country (now a Tiger Cub Economy), she sometimes wonders where her nationalistic alliance lies with, nevertheless, she’ll be a Filipino no matter what happens, despite her American birth, and her Chinese blood. Like Said, she too is a product of Orientalism, except she’s West in birth, Asian in blood. This is a theory she finds the most intriguing in terms of personal experiences. One might say, Who am I?

That, some will never know, depending how long the problem lasts in a person’s mind. Regardless, this essay has helped her understand her condition as an Asian-American living in a Third-World, Tiger Cub nation. It makes her understand her stand in life, and her identity as a foreign-born Asian. This author will not be deter in her life, as she explores the world around her. No matter whatever people will say or think, she’ll always be Asian in mind, heart and soul.

 

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Of Travelling Theories: A Opinion on Edward Said’s ‘Travelling Theory’

Theories, like timeless classics and even influential ideas, go around circulating across time, geography, situations and people. This is the concern of Edward Said‘s Travelling Theory which dealt with how theories go on in life and how they can be abused and misused. There are four stages of how a theory travels: point of origin; distance traveled; a set of condition; and full/partial accommodated/ incorporated idea.

He cautions that a theory can misread by a reader almost all the time. Oh, how terrible if a theory can be so misunderstood by one audience as time goes on. He went on to mention Lukacs’ History & Class Consciousness & Lucien Goldmann’s Le Dieu cache as examples. As Said has mentioned, to read a text/theory in a local & detailed view on how theories travel is to betray some fundamental uncertainty concerning delimiting a field of which a text/idea/theory might have belong to. One theory was somehow misread by one person and inspired another theory. There are some examples of why Lukacs’ theory was so misread years, situations & places later.  First & foremost, Lukacs was wrote his essay at the height of a struggle in Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, Goldmann was a historian at the Sorbonne in Paris, France after World War II at the time of the publishing of his own essay in 1955. Second, Lukacs’ class consciousness defies at the face of capitalism, Goldmann’s work, on the other hand, reflected the works of Pascal  and Racine.

It should be known that a text/ theory is always static, fluid & has mobility. Somehow, along the way, the Reader can get a theory/ text a wrong reading, something the author might get mad about. However, the author of this article will give her own opinion on this and how does distance can affect a theory.

It’s true that theories & ideas can’t stay in one place, in one time period for too long. Theories should go out to the rest of the world. They are there to reflect the author’s opinions & ideas. Everyone should know what was going on the life & situation of the author’s time, and sometimes they can reflect on it & compare it to their current situation. However, they can get misread by others: some take them literally, some just don’t get the whole idea. For example, religious extremists sometimes take their Holy Scripture too literally, to the point of actually harming the lives of so many people, even their own lives, as if they just don’t care at all… Sounds tragic, isn’t it? The idea is that one has to be careful when reading a text/ theory, not take them too literally nor think of it as a nuisance, nor even calling it blasphemous, nor lower its importance & relevance of its time as well as its relevance today.

The Author has no grudges towards the Theory involved, but felt it needs to expound on how misreading can occur in one’s mind & what are the full, known effects on the reader & the text itself. Then again, it’s one theory that this author doesn’t have to worry so much on…

Thou Shall Not Harm the Royal (Thai) Family: When The King & I meets Edward Said’s Orientalism

Last May 2013, the Resorts World Manila run of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s The King & I ended with great success. What not many play-goers know this is that the play have made fatal errors in portraying King Mongkut (the King in the story) in a bad light, leading to a ban on this play in Siam/ Thailand, even until now. Why, you may ask? That’s because of the lese majeste law in Thailand that no one shouldn’t insult the Royal Thai Family, whether intentional or not and regardless of what method or source of outlet is used. But it also unintentionally committed another foul: it’s an ironic example of Orientalism.

The top row consists of the original play, the 1990's cartoon film, the 1956 live-action film & the 2012-2013 Resorts World Manila run of The King and I. The bottom row has the real King Mongkut & Anna Leonowens. What do they have in common? They're all victims of Orientalism.

The top row consists of the original play, the 1990’s cartoon film, the 1956 live-action film & the 2012-2013 Resorts World Manila run of The King and I.
The bottom row has the real King Mongkut & Anna Leonowens.
What do they have in common? They’re all victims of Orientalism.

For this analysis, the author will use some elements found in Edward Said‘s Orientalism, which paved the background for Post-Colonialism. The background on this essay is that Said is Arabic (Palestinian) but was educated in the United States for his higher education & taught comparative literature at Columbia University until his death in 2003. Said mentioned about Arabs much in the essay due to his personal background but rarely mentioned India (one of the most diverse in culture, but one of most baldy-portrayed & criticized of all nations) & left out East Asia (particularly China and Japan), and Southeast Asia (but it doesn’t mean that anyone can apply it to these other forgotten places even when in need, too). Another fallacy he unintentionally made was that the essay assumes that all harmful political actions are done by the West onto the East, while in reality, all Asians also do this onto each other & also to the West, and it was strangely forgiving to French Orientalist writers. Yet, one point is clear though, the reason why the West made a distinction between the Orient & the Occident is one, they want to control the East, and, ironically, two, the West lacked an identity, a cultural identity. The East has a lot of cultural identity (from the Great Wall of China, to pogodas in Myanmar to the Banaue Rice Terraces of Benguet), deeply rooted in the past, even until today; the West, on the other hand, is too future-oriented, they were too busy competing against each other & building empires, until they’re reduced into social climbers, power hungry mongrels & economic clogs. Not to say that all Westerners are like this, though, but it’s in a historical sense.

The author notes that the problem Thailand has with the play is that at the time the play, or rather, musical was opened, the lese majeste law was already implemented since 1908. According to Dr. Borwornsak Uwanno in his article for Thailand Today called Lese Majeste: A Distinctive Character of Thai Democracy admist the Global Democratic Movement, it mentions about the concept of Deva-rāja (god-king) or Dhamma-rāja (righteous king). The article says that some foreign writers wrote that Thais look at their king as a god-king which is based on the Brahmic concept of deva-raja, despite the fact that most Thais are Buddhists. In the Agganna Sutta, Buddha spoke about that a king is Khattiya or mahāsammata” (“the people’s choice” or one whom the public acclaims as their leader), and also,a “rāja” (one who brings happiness or contentment to others); he went to say that a king attains these qualities through his virtues, not one’s vices. He concludes that ‘the king is best among those who values clans. But who has knowledge and virtue (dhamma) is best among gods and men.’

Now what is lese majeste? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, lese majeste came from the Middle French phrase, which is also derived from the Latin laesa majestas, both meaning injured majesty. It means a crime (as treason) committed or done against a sovereign power, or in this case, royalty.

But the law doesn’t extend to the king alone, it goes out to the rest of the Royal Family. Several travel & tourism (including Thai websites) websites cautions tourists that the monarchy there is still in high reverence (akin to that of any Royal Family in the world), saying that if one commits any insult to the Family (direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional, etc.), they could face imprisonment for a certain number of years with a possible threat of execution. The Thais loved their King so much. Speaking of lese majeste in Thailand, Uwanno also cited other laws in other countries as well, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, to name a few. What these all have in common is that a the person of the King/ Queen (or any other member of the (state monarchical country’s name) Royal/Imperial/(or anything that deals with royalty) family is considered sacred, hence one must not question or even accused him/ her/ them of anything whatsoever that is negative. Also, it goes down to culture & politics. Look what happened in the United Kingdom’s history. Sure, they overthrew the Royal Family (which was then the House of Stuart) and replaced it with a Commonwealth at one point of their history, but even now, the Royal British Family (currently the House of Winsdor) is still alive & kicking, still well-loved by their subjects.

Back to the Musical, the problem with it is that it portrayed King Mongkut in a bad, negative light, and made real inaccurate points at its history. The following are taken from the Internet Movie Database’s Goofs & Trivia pages:
The film is riddled with numerous inaccuracies about the biographies of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn (see trivia), causing the film to be banned and shunned in Thailand/Siam as libelous and slanderous.

In Thailand (previously called Siam) the royal family is held in very high esteem. This film is banned in Thailand due to its real historical inaccuracies and the perceived disrespect to the monarchy. The real Prince Chulalongkorn grew up to be an especially good King Chulalongkorn and led the way for modernization, improved relations with the West, and instituted many important cultural and social reforms in Thailand.

See the points noted. The playwrights have made a terrible mistake that Said would’ve roll his eyes in dismay. Why did they humiliate the Royal Thai Family for the sake of promoting Anna Leonowens as some Mary Sue, and for the sake of entertaining countless people, even until today? The author admits she’s a victim of Orientalism: American by birth, Filipino-Chinese by blood, educated in Philippine schools yet have watched the movie & cartoon versions herself. Looking back, she felt bad for the Royal Thai Family now. The author recommends anyone to do careful research on any historical film before & after watching them. And to all tourists and Thais, please don’t insult the Royal Thai family or any Royal Family at all times, at all costs…

Sources:

* Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

* http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049408/goofs?item=gf1146334

* http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049408/trivia?item=tr0794683
* http://goasia.about.com/od/Customs-and-Traditions/a/Thailand-Etiquette.htm
* http://goseasia.about.com/od/thaipeopleculture/a/lesemajeste.htm

* http://www.horizonmuaythai.com/thai-culture-and-customs5

* http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lèse-majesté
* http://www.thailandtoday.org/monarchy/elibrary/article/200