Review of Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)
Professor Said says that his aim is to set works of art of the imperialist and post-colonial eras into their historical context. "My method is to focus as much as possible on individual works, to read them first as great products of the creative and interpretive imagination, and then to show them as part of the relationship between culture and empire." He says he has no "completely worked out theory of the connection between literature and culture on the one hand, and imperialism on the other"; he just hopes to discover connections. He says it is useful to do this because "by looking at culture and imperialism carefully...we shall see that we can profitably draw connections that enrich and sharpen our reading of major cultural texts." Indeed, it is more than useful; it must be obligatory if he is right in saying that the "major, I would say determining, political horizon of modern Western culture [is] imperialism," and that to ignore that fact, as critical theory, deconstruction and Marxism do, "is to disaffiliate modern culture from its engagements and attachments."
Having set himself this vast task, which would cover virtually all Western history for the past three centuries, Professor Said must cut it back to manageable size: he will deal with parts of the British and French empires only, and culture will be represented by a small number of novels and one opera. Thereby the proposed Herculean labors come down to looking for references to the colonies in some works of fiction.