To be concise, Orientalism can be defined as the synthetic study and analysis of Oriental philology, linguistics, ethnography, etc. . It also encompasses the interpretation of Eastern culture through the discovery, recovery, classification, and translation of the canon of Oriental texts. (Windschuttle, 1999, p.32) While this is the idealized definition of Orientalism, Said redefined the term to mean a distorted and prejudiced account fo Eastern culture and tradition as projected by imperialistic Western scholars.
Said’s scholarship and his personal life are always intertwined because of his background. He was born into a Palestinian Christian family that moved to the USA. This filled his formative years with contrasting tapestries of culture and religion, as well as offering him different perspectives on the Palestine-Israel conflict. In the documentary film ‘On Orientalism’ Said lays out his analysis of existing western scholarship on the Orient and how it contrasted with his own first-hand experiences in the region. According to him, the stereotyped vision of Arabs as presented in western media and academia is a distortion and over-simplification of reality. Said asserts that dating from the Napoleonic conquest of Egypt in the 18th century, this sort of stereotyping is evident. (Kabbani, 1994, p.53)
In the first two sections of the documentary that behind such stereotyping is the mistaken belief that geographies and peoples surveyed by imperialists are somehow barbaric and unsophisticated when compared to western norms. What is also evident is the process of homogenization, whereby the vast mosaic of Oriental culture, language, social norms, and religious beliefs are bracketed and abstracted into a unified whole. According to Said, Orientalism is the range of strategies adopted by Western scholars and artists of the last two centuries to impose their authority on the East. In their representations, the Orient is a theatrical stage annexed to Europe. It is a place of superlative erotic delights, oppressive rulers, a subservient yet privileged aristocracy and enduring spiritual truths.