What are the views of Edward Said on imperialism, colonialism and the emergence of English as expressed in "Orientalism"?I am looking for Similarities & differences between the views of Edward...

What are the views of Edward Said on imperialism, colonialism and the emergence of English as expressed in "Orientalism"?

I am looking for Similarities & differences between the views of Edward Said and Terry Eagleton about Imperialism, Colonialism, and emergence of English as expressed in Said's "Orientalism" and Eagleton's "Rise of English."

1 Answer | Add Yours

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Edward Said had a bumpy start in the British school system where prodigy is intended to be tempered by discipline and order. Said's genius only led him to contradict his instructors on fine points like at what time of day Shakespeare should be read. This controversial introduction of a young Said, born in Israel, raised in Egypt, educated in England, to the fundamentals of the power structure of England shaped the rest of his life and his academic contributions.

Said took an old concept called Orientalism and redefined it and applied it to the literature of England to both explore and confirm his assertions that English literature of the 19th century was imperialist literature that helped to both define and bolster Imperialism built upon colonization. One of Said's fundamental assertions is that knowledge, being equal to power, always either intentionally or unintentionally serves the purposes of the "imperialist complex." The very silence on the topic of slavery in Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park is interpreted by Said as defining and supporting imperialistic slavery.

Said further contends that whether politicians, colonizers or authors state a derogatory description of colonized people or state a complimentary description, they are in fact confirming that these colonized people are irrational, backward, ignorant people who are fit only to be conquered and ruled. This creates a critical dilemma in Said's theory because he implies that knowledge, held only by the powerful and the conqueror, can only represent what the imperialist sees and so no non-Western culture can ever be rightly understood by a Western culture, an assertion that can be turned back against him.

Said's assertions and the critical problems they contain are summed up in his idea that imperialism is a discourse and not an event in history. Further, this discourse is on-gonig regardless of the occurrence of the historic end of colonialism and imperialism. This discourse continues, in Said's theory, the Us/Them distinction that creates the dichotomy of the "Other," which stifles and withholds the realization of justice and equality for the Other.

To hear Edward Said deliver a speech about his views, you can listen here to MP3 or here to YouTube.

We’ve answered 318,955 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question