Culture and Imperialism

Culture and Imperialism

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by Edward W. Said

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The extraordinary reach of Western imperialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is one of the most astonishing facts in all of geopolitical history. Neither Rome, nor Byzantium, nor Spain at the height of its glory came close to the imperial scope of France, the United States, and particularly Great Britain in these years. But while the rule of these…  See more details below


The extraordinary reach of Western imperialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is one of the most astonishing facts in all of geopolitical history. Neither Rome, nor Byzantium, nor Spain at the height of its glory came close to the imperial scope of France, the United States, and particularly Great Britain in these years. But while the rule of these vast dominions left scarcely a corner of life untouched in either the colonies or the imperialist capitals, its profound influence upon the cultural products of the West has been largely ignored. In this dazzling work of historical inquiry, Edward Said shows how the justification for empire-building was inescapably embedded in the Western cultural imagination during the Age of Empire, and how even today the imperial legacy colors relations between the West and the formerly colonized world at every level of political, ideological, and social practice. Probing some of the great masterpieces of the Western tradition - including Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Austen's Mansfield Park, Verdi's Aida, and Camus's L'Estranger - Said brilliantly illuminates how culture and politics cooperated, knowingly and unknowingly, to produce a system of domination that involved more than cannon and soldiers - a sovereignty that extended over forms, images, and the very imaginations of both the dominators and the dominated. The result was a "consolidated vision" that affirmed not merely the Europeans' right to rule but their obligation, and made alternative arrangements unthinkable. Pervasive as this vision was, however, it did not go unchallenged. Said also traces the development of an "oppositional strain" in the works of native writers who participated in the perilous process of cultural decolonization. Working mainly in the languages of their colonial masters, these writers - including William Butler Yeats, Salman Rushdie, Aime Cesaire, and Chinua Achebe - identified and exposed mechanisms of control and repression. In s

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 37 essays, Columbia professor and long-time Palestinian National Council advisor Said offers 37 essays on the political destiny of Palestine; Western stereotypes of Islam; U.S. Middle East policy; and Palestinian-Israeli relations. (June)
Margaret Flanagan
A scholarly analysis of the complex, interdependent relationship between the purveyors of culture and the forces of imperialism from the author of "Orientalism" and "Covering Islam". Arguing that many artistic formats foster and sustain the cycle of nationalistic aggression, Said provides an in-depth examination of a handful of notable Western masterpieces that offered both subtle and overt support for the type of rabid expansionism that characterized the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The works of writers as diverse as Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Albert Camus sanctioned and promoted the notion of empire building. Conversely, a new literature of independence and self-determination emerged, rejecting standard European and American ethnocentric conceits. A significant and insightful historical and sociological treatise, recommended for larger research collections.
From the Publisher
"In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said's immense erudition and interpretive audacity are brought to bear on a variety of literatures, reanimating the terms of his title and discovering, in the process, how some of the most revered cultural productions call upon the same energies that go into the building of empires. His new book will likely become a classic of contemporary criticism." --Richard Poirier

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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1st Edition

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Culture and Imperialism 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Patito_de_Hule More than 1 year ago
Culture and Imperialism describes how the language used in literature can powerfully impact our stereotypes of other cultures. Using examples in classical literature (ranging from Jane Austen, to Joseph Conrad, to Albert Camus), Said shows us how imperialism was reinforced by the written word. Then, (using examples including V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie) he illuminates how today's societies - who are so focused on multi-culturalism - read the right books for the wrong reasons. I found this book intriguing. I listened to it on audiobook - Ganim's reading was smooth and engaging - but I'm now tempted to pick up a hard-copy of the book and use it as a reference in my perusal of literature. This book would be interesting to anyone interested in the culture of imperialism or in literary criticism of literature in the imperialist era.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Edward Said has outdone himself in this elegant and exceptionally brilliant work. There is no question that Said ranks among the great figures of the humanist tradition. His towering scholarship is truly intimidating, so profoundly vast in scope and acute in perception is his treatment of that most inviolable of subjects - Western imperialism.-- Moving beyond his celebrated and groundbreaking classic, Orientalism, Said advances another, equally groundbreaking thesis in Culture and Imperialism. The basic point is surprisingly, even shockingly, simple: literature must be read and interpreted in its fullest context. To properly appreciate a novel, particularly a canonical classic whose origins are now foreign to us, it is imperative to examine the social, cultural, and political environment that gave shape to that novel. A "contrapuntal" reading (a term Said skillfully employs from the lingo of musical composition) permits a richer and much more faithful interpretation than what has hitherto been orthodox practice. We have become accustomed to reading the classics without paying much attention, if any at all, to certain critical contextual factors that might have greatly impacted its writing. And this blinded reading has only been to our aesthetic detriment. However, a contextual reading, of the sort Said so convincingly proposes, unearths hitherto occluded insights, perspectives, and interpretations, thereby greatly enriching our appreciation of the novel in the end.-- This interpretive approach ties into his other major theme, which is the symbiosis of culture and imperialism. It may surprise us to think that imperialism is not the mere physical appropriation and economic exploitation of foreign territories. We should know from common sense that imperialism is much more than that. And yet, it often escapes us. What is it that imbues a nation with the arrogance, the collective sense of vanity, the conviction of moral and cultural superiority, to assume that it has the *right* to invade a foreign territory and dominate over another people? The English novelist and travel writer Joseph Conrad answered that question in his Heart of Darkness, in lines Said appropriately chose for the opening of his book:-- "The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea - something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to¿"-- Thus, long before Said, Conrad himself, a canonical novelist, did us the favor of admitting the drive behind imperialism - it's an idea. What precisely does such an idea entail? How is it propagated? How does it inform culture? These questions are explored in great and disturbing detail by Said, whose command of history, both orthodox and oppositional, unveils for us the ugliness, the viciousness behind the idea of imperialism. Lest we be skeptical of Said's intentions, consider the following remark made in 1910 by Jules Harmand, French advocate of colonialism:-- "It is necessary, then, to accept as a principle and point of departure the fact that there is a hierarchy of races and civilizations, and that we belong to the superior race and civilization, still recognizing that, while superiority confers rights, it imposes strict obligations in return. The basic legitimation of conquest over native peoples is the conviction of our superiority, not merely our mechanical, economic, and military superiority, but our moral superiority. Our dignity rests on that quality, and it underlies our right to direct the rest of humanity. Material power is nothing but a means to that end."-- Or, consider this benign remark by the English philosopher Thomas Carlyle, in a pamphlet tastefully entitled, "The Nigger Questio