Reclaiming Geography

I found Said’s discussion of the “geographical element” of decolonization to be particularly interesting.  First of all, geographical occupation by an outsider is the most obvious aspect of colonialism.  The psychological effects of this occupation therefore seem worthy of attention.  Said says the “geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored…the land is recoverable at first only through the imagination” (225).  Yet in many cases, the actual geography has been changed by the colonizer in order to “transform territories into images of what they had left behind” (225).  The original, natural landscape is also transformed in order to optimize industry.  Said refers to this transformation as “second nature” because the landscape is evolving according to the rules of production.  Thus he claims that the colonized people must discover a “third” nature that is based on the real “deprivations of the present” (226).

First I want to unpack the idea of “second nature.”  Capitalist societies in general produce “a particular kind of nature and space, an unequally developed landscape that integrates poverty with wealth, industrial urbanization with agricultural diminishment” (225).  This is an interesting idea.  In a place where the state controls all property, space will develop differently.  In a capitalist economy, there will be slums as well as wealthy neighborhoods.  But how would communist be defined geographically?  In capitalism, there is an emphasis on private property, so the geography mirrors the classes: a few wealthy individuals own a lot of “nice” space, whereas many proletariats own practically no space, and the space they do have is not considered valuable.  In a communist society, there are no classes so space would theoretically also be more equalized.  Yet the analogy doesn’t quite work, because in capitalism people own land so it makes sense to make people analogous to their property.  In communism, the state owns the land so it is feasible that the connection between people and geography is not as strong.

Imperialism is presented as the extreme form of a capitalist geography.  The colonized people must invent a way to reclaim “their” land.  Yet isn’t this putting things in capitalistic, land-ownership terms?  In some ways imperialism is not only an example of capitalism, but also an example of communism-gone-wrong, where the state owns all the land and is seen as an alienated, external force from the people.

Early in this chapter, Said mentions in passing “a standard imperialist misrepresentation…that exclusively Western ideas of freedom led the fight against colonial rule…and claims the fight against imperialism as one of imperialism’s major triumphs” (199).  This idea seems incredibly telling of the ways in which decolonization analysis often functions.  In this case, the misrepresentation fails to take into account “the reserves in Indian and Arab culture that always resisted imperialism” (199).  This is relevant to Said’s case about geography.  Colonized people must reclaim their land by doing so in their imaginations and creating a “third nature.”  In other words, decolonization must be more than just claiming  ownership in the same way the colonizers did; the reclamation must be within the culture of the colonized.

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