Edward Said Engl242

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File:Culture Imp cover.jpg
One of many book covers for his work "Culture and Imperialism".

Article Summary: Empire, Geography, and Culture

As the opening chapter of Culture and Imperialism, Overlapping Territories Intertwined Histories revisits the well discussed topic of the book's namesake. This chapter implies to it's readers the far reaching and inescapable implications that the old imperialist regimes still hold over the world. It also brings to light the reciprocity of culture and imperialism working together, defining a type of intimacy between them in the process.

Impreialism and Colonialism, Defined

  • "Imperialism means the practice, theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory."
  • "Colonialism, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory" (9).

Tradition: The Past and Present

Edward Said mentions that, "...even as we must fully comprehend the pastness of the past, there is no way in which the past can be quarantined from the present. Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and, in the totally ideal sense intended by [T.S. Eliot], each co-exists with the other."

In other words, tradition affects how we view our past and act in the present. Said questions whether from a present perspective if we can determine a line between the past and present and whether people can view past events in an objective manner. The idea that the "past" has ceased happening and now effects the present or whether we're unaware of the "past" continuing itself is a point Said brings to light regarding our perspective on events. Said's example of clashing histories during the Gulf War between Iraq and the United States, as well as his later mention of Alden Pyle from The Quiet American exemplifies this. Tradition works as a vehicle for imperialist ideas to take hold in the next generation.

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Alden Pyle is a classic case of how tradition and culture combine to make individuals unknowing agents of imperialism.

Defining art and its contributions to imperialism

Said notes that the intimacy of culture and imperialism manifests itself physically in art. He articulates that the way we observe art should "preserve its unique unique endowments and at the same time map its affiliations...". Said insists we must view art in a manner that maintains these qualities and provide a global perspective from which to interpret its meaning.


Living Up to Expectations

Tradition involves carrying on certain expectations from generations in the past. These expectations often contradict one another and are a prime source of conflict between peoples and nations in modern society.

During the Gulf War soldiers, leaders, citizens, and authors in the United States carried on with the long standing idea that they were, "...a righter of wrongs around the world, in pursuit of tyranny, in defense of freedom no matter the place or cost." This boundary breaking philosophy clashed with the Arab tradition of seeing the West as an imperial power, which failed to deliver it's promise of Arab independence; Thus the conditions were deemed as justifying Iraq's occupation of Kuwait to those involved.

The idea that we have to 'carry on' or 'live up to' past traditions guarantees that there will be continued tensions which arise from competing views of the past.

Tradition In Culture

Many aspects of tradition are ingrained within culture. The character Alden Pyle displays the same type of mindset used during the Gulf War, but almost 50 years previously. His education and upbringing in America influence the way he interacts with other people in the First Indochina War.

Ultimately, Said believes the American tradition of greatness that Pyle represents so well has done more harm in obfuscating the truths of imperialism within tradition. In some ways it resonates well with Chandan Reddy's analysis of "Modern" because war, occupation, displacement of a native people, and loss of life are significantly overshadowed by the ideas of spreading freedom and justice at any cost.

Intimacy: Culture and Imperialism

There exists a closeness between culture and imperialism, a type of adjacent connection, which Lisa Lowe defines as an instance of intimacy, even though many aspects of culture or imperialism are not palpable. Said points to the figure of Pyle for the American connection, but includes the entire citizenry of 19th century Britain and France as an even stronger allusion.

The Need to Expand

"Everything about human history is rooted in the earth, which has meant that we must think about habitation, but it has also meant that people have planned to have more territory and therefore must do something about its indigenous residents. At some very basic level, imperialism means thinking about, settling on, controlling land that you do not possess, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others" (7).
"Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons, but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings" (7).
Significance

The very fact that the Earth does not change in size means that humanity has had to deal with limited space since its beginnings. Anything that is greatly needed and in limited supply can be considered very valuable. Land provides space to develop food, extract natural resources, and provides access to people as well. In order to possess greater power, more land is needed. This lead to the height of Imperialism during the 19th century. The resulting and lingering effects of imperialism on the world is an integrated global society. "Electronic communications, the global extent of trade, if availability of resources, of travel, of information about weather patterns and ecological change have joined together even the most distant corners of the world."

Being on friendly terms with neighboring nation states and distant ones promotes a growth of trade in goods, ideas, and an expansion in feelings of safety. Becoming more intimately attached to distant places makes all of these things easier for the metropolitan center. So even though outright colonialism has ended many nations still exhibit imperialistic behavior in the way they interact with other nations and in this manner geography is intimately tied to Imperialism.

Contribution of Individuals

If culture is thought of as an ever changing collection of ideas, beliefs, and ways of living that is influenced by every person which is a part of it, but at the same time is beyond the control of a single individual to plot its progression, we begin to see interesting ways in which it affects individuals.

"For citizens of nineteenth-century Britain and France, empire was a major topic of unembarrassed cultural attention. British India and French North Africa alone played inestimable roles in the imagination, economy, political life, and social fabric of British and French society. ...There were scholars, administrators, travelers, traders, parliamentarians, merchants, novelists, theorists, speculators, adventurers, visionaries, poets, and every variety of outcast and misfit in the outlying possessions of these two imperial powers, each of whom contributed to the formation of a colonial actuality existing at the heart of metropolitan life" (9).
Significance

The citizens of these large empires each contributed some small part to the spread of imperialism throughout culture, and then that culture propagated it to others who would repeat the process. It could be done with a full sense of awareness or unknowingly as a vague idea in a work of art or literature; it could be gossip spread between merchants and politicians, or in America's case the passing on of a tradition to someone like Pyle who would then travel to another part of the world and continue the process.

This peculiar manner of intimacy in which imperialism spread through culture was absolutely necessary for the Empire to exist on such a large scale. Without individual exposure through the intimate connections of its subjects the link to the metropolitan center would have been much weaker.

Imperialism is also propagated by the subjugation of other people and the "notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination...". It is this belief that allows for constructs such as social class, race, authority and many others to be used as tools for imperialism.

Cultural links like this have lingered on after the collapse of colonialism, and are still a recognizable influence on people today.

Outcasts & Misfits: Peachey Carnehan & Daniel Dravot

Carnehan and Dravot in Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King are both examples of individual contribution to culture and imperialism.

About the Author

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Edward Said (1935-2003), is the author of "Culture and Imperialism", written in 1993.

Edward Said was born on November 1, 1935 in Jerusalem, which then belonged to the British Mandate of Palestine. His father was a US citizen of Protestant/Palestinian origin who had lived in Cairo and his mother was a Palestinian of Protestant descent. Until the age of 12, Said lived "between worlds" in Cairo and Jerusalem. He received his college education in the United States, culminating with a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1964. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and later served as the president of the Modern Language Association. Said was an advocate for Palestinian independence and critic of Western foreign policy and media until his death in New York City in 2003.

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