Culture and Imperialism

by Edward W. Said

Start Free Trial

1.What did Said say about the roles of invasion and media in CULTURE AND IMPERIALISM? 2. How do i talk against Said as critic? I mean how do i prove that Said is not always right in Culture and imperialism?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Palestinian writer Edward W. Said defines Imperialism as the extension of a nation's power through the establishment of financial hegemony in a territory, as well as through the acquisition of the territory itself. Cultural colonialism is the tendency of exerting power over a weaker group, issue, or area and imposing one's own traditions and costumes over theirs. 

More than a decade after his death, the issue with Said is that he tends to view these political tendencies as negatives when, in fact, they are neither clear-cut, nor entirely devoid of positive qualities. In Said's mind, all imperialism and ALL colonialism is "bad"; acquired by force, and enforced mainly by the Western world. 

Surely there is enough evidence to support Said's argument: the media's infinite power to persuade an audience has indeed filtered our views of what is "attractive vs. unattractive", "trending", "hot", "sensual", "acceptable", and such. Do they tend to favor the Westernized views of these factors? Yes. But is this trend changing? Certainly.

Why? Because the big money makers are no longer in the US nor Europe. The big money that will eventually move the world toward another paradigm shift is now in the EAST. The US and its national debt, along with the terrible state of finances of most of the Western countries that ONCE held the power is rendering them quite weak. 

In the words of Said's student,Hamid Dabashi, who published in Al Jazeera, the main argument against Said is that he spoke to his generation, and perhaps never saw coming what we are seeing today:

Much has happened since Said's passing - ...what would he have said if he were with us today - ...the Arab revolutions started. What would he have said of the carnage in Syria, of the coup in Egypt, of the NATO bombing of Libya, of the revolution in Tunis - and above all of the continued barefaced armed robbery of Palestine?

It is known, tho those who study Said's philosophical tenets in-depth, that the man's mental constructs were ahead of HIS time, but not entirely transcendentally ahead of the reality that we know. To speak of Said deserves its proper forum and it would take hours to define him as a scholar, and as a man for he is as complex as his theories are. Yet, for a small, defined forum, it is safe to say that, Said was quite contemporary when he was alive, citing the Western World as the transformer of the universe:

It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.

All of this will change, eventually. Said just did not forsee, while he was alive, that it could happen. Moreover, he focused his views on the Middle east, not considering that even here in the US we have several examples of colonialism that are neither derrogatory, negative, nor humilliating. 

Kentucky, Massachussets, Virginia and Pennsylvannia define themselves as "commonwealths" of the United States, while Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Marianas islands are defined as U.S. Territories. While every country has a history of battling and conquering, the influx of a culture over another does not have to be forceful nor all-over invasive. Culture can be assimilated, mixed, combined, and elected.

If Said's perspective was entirely based on what occurs between Israel and Palestine, then that would be the basis of argument; it is NOT that Said is "limited" as far as his philosophy goes. Far from it; he is quite throrough, extremely well-educated, and his argument is very valid; BUT, his viewpoints could not extend to another time, place, and reality outside of that which he focuses on. What would Said say about commonwealths and territories which abide peacefully by the politics of whoever is in charge at the time, and still preserve their cultural and personal values intact?

Again, Said deserves a forum all to himself, with plenty of facts to draw from. He is a prophet of his time, and as such he should be read and spoken of. His views on Orientalism are valid, for he lived in a time and place where the West irresponsibly drew its own conclusions about the East and did its arrogant best in defining them and labeling them, which was a sad tendency at the time, and was done with nearly anything that did not represent a "Western" ideal.

Yet, he passed away much earlier than he should have; he would have been surprised of what the future held ahead. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team