Yes, I do believe Said was responding to his critics, which believed he was defending the societies labeled by “Orientalism”. Said explains that he was,
Far from being a defense either of Arab or of Islam-as my book was taken by many to be-my argument was that neither existed except as “communities of interpretation,” and that, like the Orient itself, each designation represented interests, claims, projects, ambitions, and rhetorics that were not only in violent disagreement, but also in a situation of open warfare(201).
Said explains he was discussing how these widely different cultures are lumped together under one term and “frozen” into a label as “Orient”, which these cultures cannot bust out of this stereotypical label (200). Said was trying to prove how vastly different these cultures were and to label them as “Orientalism” when most of the cultures within the stereotype do not even share similar cultural values, but are in fact cultures who are at war with each other today. He wanted to argue how ridiculous it is to label such a large region of the world as the “Orient” when the term is too narrow an ideology for such a wide race of cultures.
The positive aspect of Said looking at the critiques on his book was how he looked at who was critiquing him by examining who they were. Said not only describes his positions on “Orientalism”, but he also discusses what other authors wrote in response books to his book, by becoming a critic and commenting on their books. Lewis who critiqued Said harshly created a response to “Orientalism” with his own book, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, which Said describes as a “weak book” (204). Said further dissects Lewis’s book by defining why the book is stereotypical.
Lewis’s arguments are presented as emanating exclusively from the scholar’s apolitical impartiality, whereas he has become a widely rated authority for anti-Islamic, ant-Arab, Zionist, and Cold War crusades, all of them underwritten by a zealotry covered with a veneer of urbanity that has very little in common with the “science” and learning Lewis purports to be upholding (205).
The positive aspect of Said responding to the critiques not only allowed him to defend what he was trying to establish in “Orientalism” but also to prove why it was critiqued so harshly. Men like Lewis had ulterior motives for critiquing the book, basically because of Lewis’s hate for anything “Oriental”. Lewis’s critique only supported what Said demonstrated in the first place; that men like Lewis want to continue the stereotype of “Orientalism” because it continues the political need for superior power over those who are defined as “Oriental”.
The question asks, “Can a stable definition of a certain culture ever be developed?”, thus the same question can be raised on the topic of rhetoric alone “Can rhetoric ever have a stable definition”? Culture and rhetoric will always have a shifting and growing definition, if these two concepts did ever become stable I would surmise that they were about to become a dead historical occurrence. Culture should never become a concrete definition, it is a creature that will forever grow and redefine itself just like rhetoric. One of the reasons Said has such frustration over “Orientalism” is because it is a defined, locked term. Just like Black, White, or Mexican has stereotypical implications. Culture should continually change and become an ever evolving term, but stereotypes seem forever preserved in their narrow mindedness.
Thinking “against the grain” should be done for the simple reason to push our brains to think outside of our societal accepted norms. Many great theorists and philosophers have thought outside the box and have published much of what we read as students today. If we did not push against the stream but swam downstream, new insights into culture or behavior would never be reached. It is when humanity pushes against our box of societal acceptability that truly great ideas come forth.