This is a truly masterful and enigmatic work that is immensely readable despite its well-earned reputation. Consequently this is a book that will and should be of interest to everyone, from the specialist to the casual reader who has never encountered theory before.
So why then Culture and Imperialism?
Western societies seem to have entered a phase of collective amnesia whereby colonialism, if it is remembered at all, is envisioned as ending somewhere along the length of the Suez Canal.
Said's thoughtful analysis challenges the modern myth of the end of Empire and of the slow decline of an age of economic and cultural imperialism which came to an end sometime after 1948 with the final dropping of the Union Jack in the final colonially occupied territory.
In many ways economic and cultural imperialism is as pervasive and violent today as it ever was, if not a little more so. Indeed, Said's brilliance in this book is to fundamentally disrupt and deconstruct the modern Western amnesia. Far from being back then and over there Said helps us to trace the links, connections, and complicities between writers as diverse as Jane Austen, J. S. Mill and W. B. Yeats.
For anyone with an interest in postcolonialism Culture and Imperialism is an essential grounding. Not only does the text follow on from Said's brilliant and ground-breaking Ur text of postcolonial studies Orientalism, but it suggests the possibility and methodology of subjecting imperialism to a systemic analysis.
Said has always been controversial, and rightly so. Unlike the quite frankly shoddy and poorly argued vitriol of some of his detractors (and reviewers) Said's work is always superbly well argued and controlled. Whether you support Said's point of view or not you cannot but fail to be impressed by his depth of insight and by the humanism of his intelligence.