Early in 1998, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney staged an exhibition entitled “Orientalism: From Delacroix to Klee.” It contained 124 paintings and 50 photographs, most of which were produced by European artists in the nineteenth century on subjects in North Africa and the Levant. In the notes published in the exhibition catalogue, the aesthetic authority whose name is mentioned most frequently is not, as one might expect, an art critic, but the literary critic Edward Said. What the paintings confirmed, patrons were told, was Said’s thesis about the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture” and “the aggressiveness necessitated by the colonial expansion of the European powers.” This endorsement was strong enough to create a queue of buyers at the gallery bookshop, all eager to procure the prominently displayed, recently revised Penguin edition of...

 

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