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Edward Said, Article Review Example

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Article Review

Of all the writers we read in class, perhaps none focuses on the contentious relationship between the ontology and epistemology of East Asia better than Edward Said.  On page 5, Said outlines the problem as “Therefore, as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and origin and thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it a reality and presence in the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other.”  Before moving on, it is useful to unpack what Said means by this assertion.  It seems that Said is saying that East Asia has an existence or ontological basis (some may argue independent) separate from the West’s conceptualization. However, the epistemology of East Asia, also known as the “Orient” in the West, is inextricably tied together-even though that epistemology may be fundamentally different from East Asia’s actual ontology. Indeed, Said’s famous notion of Asia as the “other” reflects how the West makes sense of Asia, even though that notion may contain numerous errors: the two are bound in an interdependent epistemological relationship, for better or worse.

Although Said provides a definitive critique on the West’s perceptions of East Asia, Wigen points out that Said’s critique lacks a major element: geography.  Indeed, although Said marks the conceptual relationship between the West and East, he fails to comment on the perhaps more important geographical relationship.  Wigen finds that Europe’s geographical understanding of the world (including East Asia) is still based on previous conceptions such as “Orient”, “East” and “Near East.”  The later term, a metageographical term based on Western “egotism” seems to mirror Said’s intellectual conceptualization of the different cultures.  I find Wigen’s critique of Said good in that he essentially fills in missing intellectual pieces for what was otherwise a strong intellectual argument.

Although debates regarding the ontology and epistemology of East Asia may seem difficult, they are important in that they are tied into larger debates regarding the history of the region.  Earlier, the class explored the notions of historicity and narrative through reading Foucault and Wang Bin.  Foucault developed the notion of genealogy and historicity, concepts that are essentially built on philosophical building blocks such as ontology and epistemology.  The same can be said of Wang Bin: the system of history he promotes is a function of an underpinning philosophy on these issues.

All of this leads me to think about what actually is East Asia?  Is it merely a construction of geography and history pushed onto the region by Western scholars?  Or, even though some of the notions are undoubtedly constructions- is there also truth in those conceptions?  I think the latter is correct when trying to understand what the “true” (ontological) East Asia is.  That is, there may be numerous understandings of East Asia through the lens of history, geography, and subjectivity.  In trying to understand whether one is more “true” than another, one must take a look back and examine their own epistemological and ontological assumptions.  For me, since I think that every concept, more or less, is a construction, it can house both truth and falsity together.

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