- Culture and Imperialism, and: Edward Said: A Critical Reader
Culture and Imperialism is Said’s most ambitious work since Orientalism (1978). While he was writing it, Michael Sprinker collected essays on Said, some of which examine the lectures and articles that went into Culture and Imperialism and so function as a kind of commentary to it. Other writers, however, discuss Said’s involvement in the Arab world. There are four essays that consider Said’s career and criticism, in addition to Sprinker’s brief and informative introduction. Tim Brennan nicely analyzes the role of philologists and of geography in Said’s Arab trilogy: Orientalism (1978), The Question of Palestine (1979), and Covering Islam (1981). Bruce Robbins contributes a smart essay on the East as career in Said’s life, and Abdul R. JanMohamed classifies a central theme in Culture and Imperialism: Said’s idealization of the exile. A vague, abstract style mars Benita Parry’s essay and, to a lesser extent, that of JanMohamed. Four other writers look at the Arab side of Said’s work. Ferial J. Ghazoul places Said’s approach within traditions of Zahirite Koranic interpretation, which emphasized event and context. Nubar Housepian shows how Said became involved politically with the Palestinian independence movement and indicates the limits of that involvement. Ella Shohat demonstrates the relevance of Said’s work to oriental Jews in Israel, and Barbara Harlow develops a parallel between Said, the Palestinian critic in an American university, and Ghassan Kanafani, the writer-activist who joined George Habash in Lebanon and died in a car-bomb explosion set by the Israeli Mossad. Finally, the scholars of India Richard G. Fox and Partha Chatterjee suggest crucial modifications of Said’s opposition between the West and the colonized, arguing that nationalist opposition developed out of Western orientalist constructs. The book closes with an interview Said gave to Michael Sprinker and Jennifer Wicke in 1989, which also supplements Culture and Imperialism.
In his own book Said carefully distinguishes imperialism from colonialism while at the same time linking the two terms. He defines imperialism as “thinking about, settling on, controlling land that you do not possess, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others” (CI, 7). He thus can argue that imperialism has survived the disappearance of the colonial empires and devotes the last section of Culture to its workings in the United States since World War II.
Said gives his material a rough chronological arrangement, covering the last two hundred years, but in fact he emphasizes space over time (CI, 81). 2 He wishes Culture to have a global reach equal to that of the European empires of the nineteenth century, but he also has to stress space instead of time. Said wants to contrast the views of Western and Third World writers, but the historians and novelists of the Third World whom he stresses wrote mostly in the late or postcolonial period and so were not contemporary with Conrad and the writers of the high imperial years. As Said says in his interview, one cannot read Gide’s Immoralist against a contemporary Algerian novel because Algeria had no novels then (ES, 254).
Out of these spatial juxtapositions Said develops what he calls contrapuntal readings, using Third World authors to critique Western views. At the same time this counterpoint involves an alteration between the general and the specific (CI, 194); Said creates the general context from secondary sources, mostly historical, while for the specific he stresses an author, normally but not always a novelist, 3 and often a single work: Heart of Darkness, Mansfield Park, [End Page 259] Aida, Kim. In this sense the counterpoint does not consist in the traditional parallel between an author and his or her critics. In treating Passage to India, for example, Said ignores most of the critics’ readings, Nicholas Furbank’s biography of Forster, and even The Hill of Devi, and constructs a different view drawn from...