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Culture and Imperialism Paperback – May 31, 1994
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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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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. As some have remarked already, what it does not do is establish Said's somewhat exaggerated implication that imperialism is the one Grand Theme of 19th Century literature in Europe, let alone the 20th; but imperialism certainly is a major one, and Said has done great work in excavating that particular aspect. In a time when the 'new conservatism' has made it en vogue to unreflectively declare the West 'superior' again to the Orient (despite the West having historically been vastly more murderous and destructive) and in an atmosphere where the ideas of the White Man's Burden are undergoing a revival, the criticisms of an intellectual like Said are sorely missed.