Edward Said’s controversial book is now thirty years old. A new exhibition of Orientalist paintings at Tate Britain provides a timely opportunity to revisit its argument, says Kamran Rastegar.
A young academic who teaches at a university in Marvdasht, a small provincial city in central Iran, knowing of my interest in the work of the Palestinian-American literary scholar and public intellectual Edward W. Said (1935-2003), recently contacted me by email. He is the organizer of a reading group made up of students of geography who were beginning to read Said’s Orientalism (1978) and wished to engage with scholars based outside Iran to gain other perspectives on the work. Would I, he asked, agree to an email correspondence, writing responses to their questions? I was delighted, but also surprised – a reading group of geography students in a rather remote town in central Iran discussing the works of Edward Said? To paraphrase the title of a popular recent work of non-fiction, I had no idea that Iranian students were reading Orientalism in Marvdasht.