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Culture and Imperialism Paperback – May 31, 1994

3.9 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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: #57,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
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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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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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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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Contrapuntal and contrapuntally are words that Edward Said uses to describe both the relationship between culture and imperialism, and the way that relationship may be apprehended. In essence: there are two thematic principals in culture, one dominant, and one subordinate (less visible), but crucially these two themes operate in an interdependent and highly dynamic manner. Specifically, Said is interested in examining the "interacting experience that links imperializers with the imperialized." (pg.194). In Culture and Imperialism, his crowning achievement published in 1993, Said examines this interacting experience through the prism of literature, his area of especial expertise.

Said begins his huge and difficult task by discussing, in general terms, the way that in the West (the dominant imperializers since the sixteenth century) cultural representations of the non-European world are crude, reductionist and often racist. Said believes this tendency is not accidental but systematic and part of an imperial impulse that needs to dominate. Voices of the non-European world in Western culture are not expected to be heard, and are deliberately, if not always consciously, suppressed. In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, for example, the world of the Caribbean plantation is only peripherally referred to, though its existence and economic exploitation are essential to the well-being of the novel's main characters. When referred to, the plantation is subordinate and dominated--no non-European voices are heard. This illustrates one of Said's key arguments: "the experience of the stronger party overlaps and, strangely, depends on the weaker.
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