Jul 062017

East and West: Bridging the Gap

Reviewed by

Sujan Mondal


(Orientalism in English Literature: Perception of Islam and Muslims By Abdur Raheem Kidwai, New Delhi, Viva Books, 2016, Hardbound, P. 282. ISBN: 978-81-309-2692-6, Rs 1395.00)

This book having 45 chapters is divided into two sections; the first section contains 19 articles on the several aspects and facets of Orientalism and the remaining chapters comprise book reviews on the diverse aspects of Literary Orientalism across the world. The book under review aptly points out a number of socio-cultural-economic-political, and religious issues that have influenced the Western writers in the production of Literary Orientalism- missionary zeal, popularity of travel Literature, misconceptions surrounded by Arabian Nights beckoning the English imagination, Eastwards British colonial expansion, the wars between the West and the Orient and hostility towards Islam. This book, assaying a plethora of canonical English writings is a genuine effort to trace the genesis of the cross-cultural cleavage prevailing in the Western world for long time and also the matrix of the relationship between multicultural “progressive” Western World and “Oil-equipped” Muslim World in 21st century. Encompassing about eight hundred years from (12th century up to the present century), the book delves deep into the cross-cultural understanding, perception/misperception of almost all canonical Western men of letters; Dante, Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton, Beckford, Dryden, Pope, Addison, Johnson, Donne, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Southey, Lady Montagu, Moore, Carlyle, Kipling, Forster, Conrad, Joyce, Eliot, and Lessing. In the chequered projection of the Orientalism in English Literature, more often than not negative, Kidwai not only sheds light on the Western representation of the East marred by chasm, misperceptions, misprojection, hostility towards Islam/Muslims, and particularly repulsive image of the Prophet (PBUH), he also applauds many English writers, namely like Lady Wartley Montagu, William Jones, Lord Byron for their genuine understanding of the Orient, its social mores, and truthful representations of the East in their writings. Besides pointing towards the falsification, distortion, misperception and misrepresentation, the book highlights the positive and truthful account of Orientalism by some Western writers Byron, Lady Wartley Montagu, William Jones and Carlyle. 

The book is an extensive and intensive researched work as it encompasses a vast spectrum of readings. Three Chapters 13,16 and 17 are devoted to the Oriental readings of Robert Southey, Lord Byron and Thomas Moore. Kidwai identifies the Oriental contents in Leigh Hunt’s ‘Abraham and the Fire–Worshipper: A Possible Source’ and in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Burning Heart in Poe’s Al Aaraaf’: Another Possible Source”. This tome does not restrict itself to the Oriental discourse within negative representation of Islam/Muslim, rather perception, reception and its representation of another prominent oriental faith Hinduism by the West has also been taken into board; particular reference to be made about the beleaguered custom of suttee and the representation of the river Ganges and its concomitant religious-cultural aspects. These manifest his scholarly approach towards understanding Literary Orientalism.

The book is not confined exclusively to British writings; it provides glimpses of the representation and image of the “Muslims women” and “Muslim Lives” in Indian as well as Pakistani Literature, and he thereby broadens the canvass of Literary Orientalism. The book not only records the outsiders’ perception/ mis-perception, projection/mis-projection, rather lends insiders/occidental views/ perception of the Islam and Muslims.

This critical book may provide scholars, teachers and students a treasure trove of Orientalism and thereby allows re-viewing “English Literature” beyond the traditional interpretation. Kidwai, looking through ethnographic research, revives a new area/ new perspective hitherto neglected in English Literature, and thereby seeks to renew serious dialogue between the West and the Islamic World in the 21st century. The book is equipped with well articulated thesis, anti-thesis and the coveted ends are the synthesis of the West and East in the globalized, multi-ethnic, multicultural society of the present century. Kidwai’s mastery over this subfield of English Literature is manifested and his vast scholarship as his position as a critic, commentator and observer of Literary Orientalism. This is a quintessential book for Cultural Studies (particularly the cross-cultural understanding of East and West), English Studies, Oriental Studies, as well as Religious Studies.

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