Said and opposition

From reading the first section of Resistance and Opposition, it would seem that, try as they might, the Western intellectual elite were entirely incapable of any sort of large-scale questioning or resistance to the imperial system of which they were a part. For novelists like Forster and Malraux, who treated directly the subject of imperialism, the form of the novel impeded them in some way. Forster accepts “the novel’s nineteenth-century legacy of seeing the natives as subordinate and dependent” and Malraux is greatly influenced by other writers such “Leo Frobenius, the Conrad of Heart of Darkness, T.E. LAwrence, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and I am convinced, Gide’s character Menalque” (208). Said makes this observation about the two: “Perhaps the novel form itself dulls their perceptions, with its structure of attitude and reference held over from the previous century” (208). Because the novelists are influenced by authors of the past centuries, the ideas of those authors influence the more liberal-minded authors in negative ways. My question is, is this really the truth? Is there really no real resistance to colonialism within the European cannon?

In an earlier section of Culture and Imperialism, Said takes on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, concluding about it that Austen’s protagonists rely on the supply of colonized countries for their satisfaction and happiness. In “Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism”, Susan Fraiman offers a different interpretation of Mansfield Park. She takes issue with Said’s critique of Lady Bertram’s request that her husband go to India so that “I may have a shawl. I think I will have two shawls.” Said claims that this is a misrepresentation of India that goes unchallenged. Fraiman argues that Lady Bertram is not approved of by the narrator—in fact, she is extremely lazy. Her words do not go unchallenged by the narrator, who establishes a distance between the two. Fraiman reads the request for a shawl as “an inverted sexual metaphor in which the recumbent, feminized East rises to its feet, and the veil that once symbolized its mysterious allure reappears as a shawl, a figure for the consumerism of a pampered and feminized West” (29). The shawl, traditionally a symbol of the East, is transformed into a critique of the West, which itself becomes feminized. Said does not leave open any possibility for resistance to imperialism (at least in the years preceeding World War II) in his critiques of works from the western canon. However, this does not mean that it is possible to interpret these works in such a way as to manifest resistance. In some way, his interpretations are a bit one-sided.

Comments are closed.