Cultural Readings of Imperialism: Edward Said and the Gravity of History

By Keith Ansell-Pearson; Benita Parry et al. | Go to book overview

GENDERING IMPERIAL CULTURE:
KING SOLOMON'S MINES AND FEMINIST
CRITICISMS

Laura Chrisman

The publication of Said's Culture and Imperialism is arguably both symptom and cause of a new direction in 'colonial discourse analysis' - namely, the synthesis of colonial with imperial cultural studies. For too long, it seems to me, the dynamics of white colonial discourse and culture have been confusingly equated with those of metropolitan imperial culture, producing critical readings which, insensitive to the differences between the two, read the colonial material as simply the repetition and expression of primarily metropolitan problems and subjectivities, or else assume that the true psyche of the imperial West can only be mapped, and identified, in its colonial operations. These critical conflations have been particularly marked in analyses of H. Rider Haggard, a British imperial romance writer who spent several years of his youth as a colonial administrator in South Africa.

Since they are set in Southern Africa, Haggard's early and most famous works, King Solomon's Mines (1885), She (1886) and Allan Quatermain (1887) invite interpretations derived from Haggard's colonial administrative activities in Natal and Transvaal. Yet these books simultaneously demand to be read as emanations from a primarily metropolitan, not colonial, perspective, as responses to British domestic social, political and economic crises rather than as responses to Zulu and Afrikaner political contests and the developments of mining capitalism. There has been a set of critical readings which mostly tend to privilege either the colonial or the domestic British in Haggard's texts, or else implicitly equate the two spheres. A methodological contrast is offered in the way Said's book acknowledges the overdetermined, historically variable complexities of metropolitan imperial cultures in themselves and in their relations with the cultures of colonial resistance. In so doing, Said opens both a material and a theoretical space for the

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