Culture and Imperialism is one of my favorite books. Edward Said shows how, in a broad sense, the media we consume and how we read it actively creates culture. The existence of cultural identities (race, class, gender) as we know them have also been largely defined by popular media’s representations of colonialism and, currently, imperialism.
He begins with emergence of novels during colonialism. Specifically, he looks at those which have been marketed as white and British, like Jane Austen, and reads them for their worldliness. Seemingly small moments or caricatures, like having a certain character visit Antigua, reflects the looming presence of colonialism on the rest of the story. People could only be that rich or white or European with the presence of colonies and slaves and non-Europeans. Edward Said says, “the experience of the stronger party overlaps with and strangely, depends on the weaker.”
So Said encourages us to seek out these small parts played in so-called classic literature. Then continue to seek them out elsewhere and know that nothing and no one is ever one thing. Cultural practices around the world intersect and have interacted via globalization. And anyway empires still dominate around with world with the same fervor (the U.S. has since joined in and also dominates the world stage). For the same reasons, we also need to seek out and read resistance in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist texts. He looks at pieces by people like Chinua Achebe or Keats helped redefine their cultures as a part of the cycle for newly liberated people dive deeper into the constraints of identity politics, from nationality to nationalism to nativism.
He lands at the role of the intellectual among all this. If they’re responsible for analyzing cultural trends in various fields of study, then instead of affirming boundaries between us, even in the existence of departments that claim to analyze one culture or another, instead to identify connections. The challenge is to “show how all representations are constructed, for what purpose, by whom, and with what components,” and to do so in plain sight. That is a part of liberation–as you liberate yourself, which is an ongoing intellectual process, liberate others. Above all, it means “not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not consonantly reiterating how ‘our’ culture or country is number one.”
At the most basic level he’s like, all these country lines and ownership of land are fake. If you zoom out and look at the world, these divisions do not actually exist.