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Culture and Imperialism Paperback – May 31, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

Edward Said makes one of the strongest cases ever for the aphorism, "the pen is mightier than the sword." This is a brilliant work of literary criticism that essentially becomes political science. Culture and Imperialism demonstrates that Western imperialism's most effective tools for dominating other cultures have been literary in nature as much as political and economic. He traces the themes of 19th- and 20th-century Western fiction and contemporary mass media as weapons of conquest and also brilliantly analyzes the rise of oppositional indigenous voices in the literatures of the "colonies." Said would argue that it's no mere coincidence that it was a Victorian Englishman, Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, who coined the phrase "the pen is mightier . . ." Very highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand how cultures are dominated by words, as well as how cultures can be liberated by resuscitating old voices or creating new voices for new times.

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Orientalism examines the interrelationship of Occidental literature and imperialism from the 17th century to the Gulf war.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 31, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679750541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679750543
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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76 of 83 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
So, what is this book about? Well, contrary to what some of the "reviews" below assume, it's not about contemporary Middle East politics, or media coverage thereof, or anything even remotely like that. It's about literature-- European literature to be specific.
Essentially, Said proposes to look at what he calls "Imperialism" in European literature. (Although the title is "Culture and Imperialism" and while he does discuss one opera, he's not really concerned with culture or art, more broadly. He's really talking about literature here-- and especially novels. In truth, "Literature and Imperialism" would be a more accurate title.
So, what is imperialism, as Said uses it here? It is, he explains, an ideology-- a set of assumptions-- that justifies, supports, and legitimates the conquest, control, and domination of lands that are inhabited by other people, who speak different languages and have other traditions. Imperialism, as an ideology, is thus distinct from "Colonialism", which is the actual, real, activity of conquering, controling, and domination other lands and people. Imperialism is, Said might say, the intellectual/cultural/ideological base that makes an otherwise morally dubious project of colonialism (conquering and ruling over others) seem acceptable, even justifiable.
Essentially, Said traces the role that imperialism (as defineed above) plays in a host of European literary works, focussing on the past two centuries. After his theoretical/methodological introduction, each chapter is devoted to the discussion of a single literary work (or in some cases, multiple works by the same author), illuminating its imperialist qualities.
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52 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Micheline Gros-Jean on October 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This work is one of Edward Said's best , in fact, Culture and Imperialism is better than Orientalism. The overarching theme is the interconnection between culture and society be it in the past or the present. His aim is not to disparage the West but to show how one's identity is more or less determined by one's relationship with the Other ( the third world). His obeservations on this relationship, the other and the west is quite enlightening. Contrary to what have been written, this is not an apologia for Islamicism ( Islamic Fundamentalists), he is indeed critical of fundamentalists of any stripe. Said is a secularist so it would be nonsensical for him to support a fundamentalist government. While he is critical of the West(rightfully so), he does acknowledge the undemocratic nature of Middle Eastern governments. His love for liberty and justice convinces the reader that he is sincere in his condemnation of Islamicism. This book is needed to be read carefully but once you're done reading you'll be glad to have done so.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on May 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
The name of Edward Said will forever be associated mostly with his famous masterpiece, "Orientalism" (Orientalism) in which he studied many historical and literary texts of the 18th and 19th century to criticize the imperialist background of the field of 'Oriental studies', as it was known at the time. Despite its fame however, "Orientalism" is a difficult read for most people, lacking a clear structure and containing long excursions on generally obscure travel books from the 1820s and so on.

For the readers intrigued by the idea of "Orientalism" but who seek a more structured, accessible and explicitly political version of the same, "Culture and Imperialism" is the ideal book. It is perhaps for these reasons better than "Orientalism" at achieving its purpose, since Said's writing style is also generally better and more polemically strong in this book, and the literary studies are less obscure and more clearly linked to the topic. Though much of it still consists of 'lit crit', there is in this book a direct analysis of the imperialist contents and their historical background of such famous works as "Mansfield Park", Joseph Conrad, the "Aida" of Verdi and the oeuvre of Camus. Said brings all his erudition and subtlety of judgement to bear on these and similar products of culture, and the result is an engrossing, stimulating and effective polemic, while generally lacking in an actual outright polemical tone.

Also of interest is that a significant part of the book is concerned with the counter-imperialist products of culture, from the poetry of Yeats to the evocative works of Fanon and Achebe.
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32 of 44 people found the following review helpful By W. Schmidt on September 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book covering the power of literature to form and maintain ideological control over cultures, history, and people. In fact, the wide range of opinions about this book expressed here among the amazon customer reviews points to just how real this kind of control can be. Your position in the world will affect your reading of this book. But really that's Said's point. And it is true of whatever you see and read. Being entirely objective probably is asking too much of anyone, but opening yourself to the opinions and experiences of others is not asking too much. There's more than just a little that is valid and true in this book even if it is not immediately true for you. How Western literature, words, and ideas have affected other non-western lives is real. Here's the proof. Everyone needs to be aware of these relationships and this book does make a sound argument for that awareness.
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