Culture and Imperialism

In This Review

Culture and Imperialism

By Edward Said
Knopf, 1993
416 pp. $25.00

The distinguished author is a Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature, of Palestinian Arab origin, and a frequent commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This unusual man writes unusual books. Here he builds upon his widely acclaimed earlier work, Orientalism, in which he criticized Western scholars for seeing the Middle East through Eurocentric eyes. Now he argues that the imperialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was incredibly willful and arrogant in its subjugation of societies; worse, it was blind to the culture, experience and tradition of evolved civilizations. Said is far from being the only one to have argued this. But who else does so by using as evidence classical literature? The reader is taken through interpretations of Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, Albert Camus and many others; he or she is invited to reinterpret Verdi's Aida as an example of cultural imperialism; many other cultural icons fall. The implication is clear: Western culture is ill-equipped for understanding that of others, such as Islam. This is a sweeping, highly erudite work, intellectually bold but also full of substantiated assertions and criticisms. It will both infuriate and enlighten.

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