Link to Current Week's Preparations Edward W. Said's<i>Culture AND Imperialism</i>

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First created: December 23, 2000
Latest update: December 23, 2000
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Edward W. Said's
Culture AND Imperialism

Copyright, December 2000: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata. "Fair Use" encouraged. Wecome to quote.

Feeling Lost in Postcolonial Studies

December 23, 2000:

Said is not easy to read. As a matter of fact, he's a little overwhelming because he assumes a familiarity with world literature. Although I have a broad knowledge of literature in French, German, and Italian, I have very little background in non-European literature, as do most of us. I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I am when I recognize an author, and how humble I feel about how much I must now tackle to catch up with the rest of the world.

I think this must be what some of you feel when you are being overwhelmed with material, little discretionary time, and a sense that you'll never be able to make sense of it all. You will. Remember to read as broadly as you can, for there is a tremendous advantage in encountering the same names, the same authors and artists, over and over again, until you begin to feel you know them. After "Ooh, overwhelming!" comes "Aha! I know that name! Who is he (she) again?" and then comes, "Oh, yes, I remember her!" Sooner than you realize you begin to meet old friends and feel much more at home. Give yourself time to explore. You'll come to recognize the dominant discourse of your discipline soon enough, as you encounter it again and again.

On Verdi's Aida and France's Ideas on Empire

December 23, 2000:

Having described In Chapter I the British sense of superiority to the colonized "Other," and having illustrated the unreflective acceptance of dominance in such masterpieces as Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Said goes on in Chapter II to illustrate the difference in France's approach to the Orient. France, unlike Britain, did not attempt to turn her colonies into agricultural productions for the use of the colonizing home country. France, instead, conquered and studied the colonized. Of course, says Said, they studied the colonized from their own perspective, never considering the possibility of a significant perspective from the colonized.

"It was noted angrily, says the Egyptian historian Sabry, that in Napoleon III's speech at the [Suez] canal's opening, he mentioned France and its canal but never Egypt." (At p. 127.)

And Said chooses the grand spectacle of Aida to illustrate France's subjugation of the "Other." Verdi wrote Aida from sketches and studies done by scientists and artists who accompanied Napoleon in his conquest of Egypt. Verdi himself had not been to Egypt, and was not terribly interested in going there. He wanted mostly to stage the spectacle for his music. Said reads this as a categorization of the "Other" as exotic entertainment for the dominant:

"Napoleon's military expedition to Egypt was motivated by power; but Napoleon and his scholarly experts were there also to put Egypt before Europe, in a sense to stage its antiquity, its wealth of associations, cultural importance, and unique aura for a European audience. . . . First the temples and palaces were reproduced in an orientation and perspective that staged the actuality of ancient Egypt as reflected through imperial eyes; then---since all of them were empty or lifeless---they had to be made to speak [which was possible through the deciphering of the Rosetta stone] . . . : then finally, they could be dislodged and transported to Europe for use there." (At p.118.)

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