Book of the month: Edward W. Said’s Culture & Imperialism
Our book recommendation of the month is Edward W. Said’s Culture & Imperialism, a collection of essays that caught academia’s attention and stood out around the world amongst reviewers and critics. Published in 1993, this outstanding work goes beyond his seminal essay Orientalism, as it shows how ideology and power work by exploring the roots of imperialism in the Western culture and shedding light on the relationship between culture and Imperialism in both the past and the present.
In the introduction to Culture and Imperialism, Said mentions that in his previous work Orientalismthe analysis was limited to the Middle East, whereas in this following book, he aims at capturing a more general pattern in the relationship between the modern West and its overseas territories. And therefore, examining it from both sides or perspectives, the colonized and the colonizer. In four chapters, Said deals with parts of the British and French empires and tackles representation and production of culture in a number of novels as well as in one opera. He addresses the question of “how decolonization is reflected in the culture of newly independent nations” in the work of intellectuals from the colonial regions who wrote in an “imperial language” (xxiii) and reflected on Western culture. His examination spans from Jane Austin’s Antigua to Caribbean, Bengali and Malaysian views of imperialist practices. Within these diverse perspectives, Said proceeds to lay out a theory about decolonization as a political process and explains the difference between independence and liberation; then denunciates the “American cultural imperialism” and takes three Western cultural products—TV series Dynasty, Dallas and I Love Lucy as an example. As thought provoking as it sounds, Said states that imperialism did not end because its roots still bind countries like Algeria and India to France and Britain respectively. Moreover, by the beginning of WWI, Europe and America occupied most of the earth’s surface in some kind of colonial subjugation, but afterwards—with the triumph of the United States as the last superpower, the North American country will continue to shape the world. Interestingly enough, the development of imperialist ideas and colonial cultures comes from the dynamic between rulers and the ruled. Yet, the natives set out on a journey of resistance where they fight back ideologically and against outside intrusion to reclaim their lands.
This important critical work has certainly given me food for thought, and paved the way for a new trajectory. It’s a provocative and stimulating journey towards the cultural and political vortex facing the world today. I highly recommend it.
Said, Edward W. 1993. Culture & Imperialism. New York: First Vintage Books Ed.