The book came from a series of lectures given at universities in the United States, Canada, and England, this book reopens the dialogue between literature and the life of its time. It draws dramatic connections between the imperial endeavor and the culture that both reflected and reinforced it, describing a general pattern of relationships between the modern metropolitan West and its overseas territories. Although much recent literary criticism has concentrated on narrative fiction, very little attention has been paid to its position in the history and world of empire. The reader will discover that narrative is central to the book’s argument is that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world and stories also become the way colonized people assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The book focuses on individual works of literature that shows light on the British, French, and American imperial experience. In chapters three and four in the book, chapter three resistance and opposition with a focus on William Butler Yeats; and four, freedom from domination in the future with a focus on American rising domination in the world, these two chapters are central to the book.
Michael Foucault’s formal discussions provide the basis for Said’s study of Orientalism as an expression of ideals that the western/Orient finds in common. With the increased involvement with Eastern countries the term “Orient” has acquired a double meaning. Not only did it take on a mystic dimension as the East became the object of literary fantasy, but also it appeared to be a concrete reality through which the West accumulated knowledge about the region. It is the problematic nature of that knowledge and its relation to western cultural and political ideology that have led to the current debate of Orientalism. Said examines Orientalism as an expression of ideas which represents the exotic, erotic, strange Orient as a comprehensible, intelligible phenomenon within a network of categories. He also argues that the Orientalist discourse is a persistent framework of analysis, expressed through theology, literature, philosophy and sociology, and that it not only expressed an imperial relationship but actually constituted a field of political power. It also centralizes around the contrast between the West and the East in which the exotic Orient is represented as a typical cultural product of Western dominance.
As opposed to the idealization of Orientalism as a scholarly or scientific thinking about the Orient in the nineteenth century, he criticizes Orientalism as a western phenomenon which can function in western literature as a mode of thought for defining, classifying, and expressing the presumed cultural inferiority of the Islamic Orient. In other words, it is a part of the vast control mechanism of colonialism, designed to justify and ever present European dominance.
Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism, (1993), Random House: New York