The Palestinian intellectual giant and literary theorist, Edward W. Said, was born in Jerusalem in 1935 and died on September 24, 2003. On the 11th anniversary of his death, we present to you the transcript of his 1993 lecture at York University.
Culture and Imperialism
York University, Toronto, February 10, 1993
Edward W. Said was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and attended schools there and in Cairo. He received his B.A. from Princeton and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. He is University Professor at Columbia. He is the author of Orientalism, The Question of Palestine, Covering Islam, After the Last Sky, and Culture and Imperialism.
I want to begin with an indisputable fact, namely, that during the nineteenth century unprecedented power, compared to which the power of Rome, Spain, Baghdad or Constantinople in their day were far less formidable, was concentrated in Britain and France and later in other Western countries, the United States especially. This century, the nineteenth century, climaxed what has been called the "rise of the West." Western power allowed the imperial metropolitan centers at the end of the nineteenth century to acquire and accumulate territory and subjects on a truly astonishing scale. Consider that in 1800, Western powers claimed fifty-five percent, but actually held approximately thirty-five percent, of the earth's surface. But by 1878, the percentage was sixty-seven percent of the world held by Western powers, which is a rate of increase of 83,000 square miles per year. By 1914, the annual rate by which the Western empires acquired territory had risen to an astonishing 247,000 square miles per year. And Europe held a grand total of roughly eighty five percent of the earth as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions and Commonwealth, one of them of course being Canada. No other associated set of colonies in history was as large, none so totally dominated, none so unequal in power to the Western metropolis. As a result, says William McNeill, in his book The Pursuit of Power, "the world was united into a single interacting whole as never before."
In Europe itself at the end of the nineteenth century scarcely a corner of life was untouched by the facts of empire. The economies were hungry for overseas markets, raw materials, cheap labor and profitable land. Defense and foreign policy establishments were more and more committed to the maintenance of vast tracts of distant territory and large numbers of subjugated peoples.
When the Western powers were not in close and sometimes ruthless competition with each other for more colonies--and it's good to remind ourselves, that the great Scottish historian of empire, V.G. Kiernan has said, all modern empire imitate each other--they were hard at work settling, surveying, studying and of course ruling the territories under their jurisdiction. The United States experience was from the beginning founded upon the idea of an imperium. The U.S. was founded as an empire, a dominion state of sovereignty that would expand in population and territory and increase in power. There were claims for North American territory to be made and fought over with astonishing success. There were native peoples to be dominated, variously exterminated, variously dislodged. Then, as the American republic increased in age and hemispheric power during the nineteenth century, there were distant lands to be designated "vital to American interests," to be intervened in and fought over. For example, the Philippines, the Caribbean, Central America, the Barbary Coast, parts of Europe and the Middle East, Vietnam and Korea.
Curiously, though, so influential has been the discourse insisting on American specialness, altruism and opportunity, that imperialism in the United States as a word or ideology has turned up only rarely and recently in accounts of the United States culture, politics and history. But the connection between imperial politics and culture in North America, and in particular in the United States, is astonishingly direct. American attitudes to greatness, to hierarchies of race, to the perils of other revolutions--the American Revolution being considered unique and somehow unrepeatable anywhere else in the world--these have remained constant, have dictated, have obscured the realities of empire while apologists for overseas American interests have insisted on American innocence, doing good, fighting for freedom.
Graham Greene's character Pyle, in his novel of 1951, The Quiet American, embodies this cultural formation with merciless accuracy. Yet for citizens of nineteenth century Britain and France, unlike in America, empire was a major topic of unembarrassed cultural attention. British India and French North Africa alone played a tremendous role in the imagination, the economy, the political life and social fabric of British and French society. If we mention names like Edmund Burke, Delacroix, Ruskin, Carlyle, James and John Stuart Mill, Kipling, Balzac, Nerval, Flaubert or Conrad, we would be mapping only a tiny corner of a much larger reality than even their immense collective talents cover. There were scholars, administrators, travelers, traders, parliamentarians, merchants, novelists, theorists, speculators, adventurers, visionaries, poets, and every variety of outcast and misfit in the outlying possessions of these two imperial powers, each of whom contributed to the formation of a colonial actuality existing at the heart of metropolitan life.
As I shall be using the term--and I'm not really too interested in terminological adjustments--"imperialism" means the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center that rules a distant territory. "Colonialism," which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory. As the historian Michael Doyle puts it, "Empire is a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, economic, social or cultural dependence. Imperialism is simply the process or policy of establishing or maintaining an empire."
In our time direct colonialism of a kind of for example the British in India or the French in Algeria and Morocco has largely ended. Yet imperialism lingers where it often has been in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as its specific political, ideological, economic and social practices. The point I want to make is that neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. It's not just a matter of going out there and getting a territory and sitting on it. Both of these practices are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive cultural formations, that include ideas that certain people and certain territories require and beseech domination. For example, if you look at some of the writings about India in England from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century, you realize that India existed in order to be ruled by England. As Kipling represented in his novel Kim, principally, but also in some of the short stories, and he has Indian characters say this, without the English, India would disappear. It would just not the same place.
So that these people and territories require domination as well as forms of knowledge that are affiliated with domination. The vocabulary of classic nineteenth century imperial culture in places like England and France is plentiful with words and concepts like "inferior" or "subject races." Notions of "subordinate people," of "dependency," of "expansion" and "authority." Out of the imperial experiences, notions about culture were clarified, reinforced, criticized or rejected. As for the curious but perhaps allowable idea propagated about a hundred years ago by the English historian J.R. Seeley that some of Europe's overseas empires were originally acquired by accident, it doesn't by any stretch of the imagination account for their inconsistency, persistence and systemized acquisition and administration, let alone their augmented rule and sheer presence. As David Landes has said in his book The Unbound Prometheus, which is about the industrial expansion of Europe in the early nineteenth century, "the decision of certain European powers to establish plantations, that is, to treat their colonies as continuous enterprises, was, whatever one may think of the morality, a momentous innovation."
The primacy in the nineteenth century, and through most of the twentieth, of the British and French empires by no means obscures the quite remarkable modern expansion of Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan and, in a different way, Russia and the United States. Russia, however, acquired its imperial territories almost exclusively by adjacence, that is to say, taking territories that are east or south of the actual borders of Russia. Unlike Britain or France, which jumped thousands of miles beyond their own borders to other continents, Russia moved to swallow whatever lands or people stood next to its borders, which in the process kept moving further and further east and south. But in the British and French cases, the sheer distance of attractive territory summoned the projection of far-flung interests. That is my focus here, partly because I'm interested in examining the cultural forms and structures of feeling which it produces, and partly because overseas domination is the world I grew up in and we still live in.
The Soviet Union's and America's superpower status, which was enjoyed for a little less than half a century, derives from very different histories and from different imperial trajectories than those of Britain and France in the nineteenth century. There are several varieties of domination and responses to it, but the Western one, along with the resistance it provoked, is in part the subject of my lecture. In the expansion of the great Western empires, profit, and the hope of further profit, was obviously tremendously important. As the attractions of spices, sugar, slaves, rubber, cotton, opium, tin, gold, silver, over centuries amply testify. But so also was inertia, the fact that if you got there you would have to stay. The investment in already going enterprises. Tradition. And market or institutional forces that kept the enterprise going.
But there's more than that to imperialism. There was a commitment to imperialism over and above profit, a commitment in constant circulation and recirculation which on the one hand allowed decent men and women from England or France, from London or Paris, to accept the notion that distant territories and their native peoples should be subjugated and, on the other hand, replenished metropolitan energies so that these decent people could think of the empire as a protracted, almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior or less advanced peoples. We mustn't forget, and this is a very important aspect of my topic, that there was very little domestic resistance inside Britain and France. There was a kind of tremendous unanimity on the question of having an empire. There was very little domestic resistance to imperial expansion during the nineteenth century, although these empires were very frequently established and maintained under adverse and even disadvantageous conditions. Not only were immense hardships in the African wilds or wastes, the "dark continent," as it was called in the latter part of the nineteenth century, endured by the white colonizers, but there was always the tremendously risky physical disparity between a small number of Europeans at a very great distance from home and a much larger number of natives on their home territory. In India, for instance, by the 1930s, a mere 4,000 British civil servants, assisted by 60,000 soldiers and 90,000 civilians, had billeted themselves upon a country of 300,000,000 people. The will, self-confidence, even arrogance necessary to maintain such a state of affairs could only be guessed at. But as one can see in the texts of novels like Forster's Passage to India or Kipling's Kim, these attitudes are at least as significant as the number of people in the army or civil service or the millions of pounds that England derived from India.
For the enterprise of empire depends upon the idea of having an empire, as Joseph Conrad so powerfully seems to have realized in Heart of Darkness. He says that the difference between us in the modern period, the modern imperialists, and the Romans is that the Romans were there just for the loot. They were just stealing. But we go there with an idea. He was thinking, obviously, of the idea, for instance in Africa, of the French and the Belgians that when you go to these continents you're not just robbing the people of their ivory and slaves and so on. You are improving them in some way. I'm really quite serious. The idea, for example, of the French empire was that France had a "mission civilisatrice," that it was there to civilize the natives. It was a very powerful idea. Obviously, not so many of the natives believed it, but the French believed that that was what they were doing.
The idea of having an empire is very important, and that is the central feature that I am interested in. All kinds of preparations are made for this idea within a culture and then, in turn and in time, imperialism acquires a kind of coherence, a set of experiences and a presence of ruler and ruled alike within the culture.
To a very great degree, the era of high nineteenth century imperialism is over. France and Britain gave up their most splendid possessions after World War II, and lesser powers also divested themselves of their far-flung dominions. That era clearly had an identity--for example, Eric Hobsbawm, in the third book of the trilogy of the Age of Revolution, the Age of Capital, and the Age of Empire, talks about the latter part of the nineteenth century. Yet, although the age of empire clearly had an identity all of its own, and historians talk about it roughly from 1878 through World War II, the meaning of the imperial past is not totally contained within it, but has entered the reality of hundreds of millions of people. Its existence as shared memory in a highly conflicted texture of culture, ideology, memory and policy still exercises tremendous force. Franz Fanon says, "We should flatly refuse the situation to which the Western countries wish to condemn us." This was in 1961. "Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their dues when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the foreign colonists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than criminals." A proper understanding of imperialism must take stock also in the present of the nostalgia for empire, that is, you still find it in the writings of French and English historians, for example, who regret the day and the idea that we had to give India up, or that we had to withdraw from Algeria. That still exists. And what also exists is the anger and resentment it provokes, the memory of empire, in those who were ruled and who see in empire nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the native people.
So we must try to look carefully and integrally at the culture that nurtured the sentiment, the rationale, and above all the imagination of empire. And we need also to understand the hegemony of imperial ideology, which by the end of the nineteenth century had become completely embedded in the affairs of cultures whose less regrettable features we still celebrate.
Thus I come to the present. Imperialism did not really end, did not suddenly become past once decolonization had set in motion the dismantling of the classical empires. A legacy of connections still binds countries like Algeria and India to France and Britain, respectively. A vast new population of Muslims, Africans and West Indians from former colonial territories now resides, for instance, in metropolitan Europe. Even Italy, Germany and Scandinavia today must deal with these dislocations, which are to a large degree the result of imperialism and colonialization as well as expanding European populations. Also, the end of the Cold War and of the Soviet Union has definitely changed the world map. The triumph of the United States as the last superpower suggests that a new set of force lines will structure the world. They were already beginning to be apparent in the 1960s and 1970s.
What are the salient features of the re-presentation of the old imperial inequities, "the persistence," in Arno Mayer's telling phrase, "of the old regime"? One certainly is the immense economic rift between the North and the South, between the poor and the rich states whose basically quite simple topography was drawn in the starkest terms by the so-called "Willy Brandt Report," which is entitled "North-South: A Program for Survival." It was published in 1980. Its conclusions are couched in the language of crisis and emergency. It says that the poorest nations of the southern hemisphere must have their priority needs addressed. Hunger must be abolished, commodity earnings strengthened. Manufacturing in the northern hemisphere should permit the genuine growth of southern manufacturing centers. Transnational corporations should be restricted in their practices. The global monetary system should be reformed. Development and finance should be changed to eliminate what has been called the "debt trap." The crux of the matter is, as the report's phrase has it, "power sharing," that is, giving the southern countries a more equitable share in power and decision making within monetary and financial institutions.
It's difficult to disagree with the Willy Brandt Report's diagnosis, which is made more credible by its balanced tone and its silent picture of untrammeled rapacity, greed and immorality of the North, or even with the recommendations of the report. But how will the changes come about? The post-war classification of all nations into three worlds, the First World, the Second World, and the Third World, originally coined by a French journalist in the 1950s, has largely been abandoned. Willy Brandt and his colleagues implicitly concede that the United Nations, an admirable organization in principle, has not been adequate. It doesn't seem today as if it is adequate, even now, to the innumerable regional and global conflicts that occur with increasing frequency: in Yugoslavia the United Nations is powerless, largely because of the will of the so-called permanent members of the Security Council, principal among them the United States.
With the exception of the work of small groups, for example, the World Order Models Project, global thinking tends to reproduce superpower, Cold War, regional, ideological or ethnic contests of old. Yugoslavia is a perfect case in point. Even more dangerous in the nuclear and post-nuclear era, as the horrors of Yugoslavia attest. The powerful are likely to get more powerful and rich, the weak less powerful and poorer. And Africa, of course, is living testimony to this fact. The gap between the two, the North and South, overrides the former distinctions between socialist and capitalist regimes that in Europe, at least, have become less significant. Noam Chomsky concludes that during the 1980s "the North-South conflict will not subside." I think that's true also of the 1990s. "New forms of domination will have to be devised to ensure that privileged segments of Western industrial society maintain substantial control over global resources, human and material, and benefit disproportionately from this control. Thus it comes as no surprise that the reconstitution of ideology in the United States"--and I would say especially after the Cold War--"find echoes throughout the industrial world. But it's an absolute requirement for the Western system of ideology that a vast gulf be established between the civilized West, with its traditional commitment to human dignity, liberty and self-determination, and the barbaric brutality of those who, for some reason, perhaps defective genes, fail to appreciate the depth of this historical commitment, so well revealed by America's Asian wars, for instance." Chomsky's move from the North-South dilemma to American and Western dominance is, I think, basically correct. Although the decrease in American economic power, the urban economic and cultural crisis in the United States, for example, I think a lot of the discussion recently in America about the "canon," what is Western literature, is connected to the reconstitution of ideology. The decrease in American power and these various crises in the United States, as well as the ascendancy of Pacific Rim states, like Taiwan and Japan, and the confusions of a multipolar world have muted the stridency now of the Reagan and Bush period. For one, it underlines the continuity of the ideological need to consolidate and justify domination in cultural terms that has been the case in the West since the nineteenth century and even earlier. Secondly, it accurately picks up the theme, based on repeated projections and theorizations of American power, sounded in often very insecure and therefore overstated ways that we live today in a period of American ascendancy.
Studies during the past decade of major American personalities of the mid-twentieth century illustrate what I mean. Take the case of Walter Lippman, the most famous pundit and journalist of the middle years of the twentieth century. He represents the mindset of American ascendancy and was the journalist with the most prestige and power of this century. The extraordinary thing about Lippman's career is not that he was correct or especially perspicacious in regard to his reporting or his predictions about world events. He wasn't. Rather, from an insider's position, that is, a man who stood near power and always tried to talk as if he was an insider, he articulated American global dominance without demurral, except for Vietnam, when he disagreed with LBJ. He saw his role as a pundit to be that of helping his compatriots to make "an adjustment to reality," the reality of unrivaled American power in the world, which he made more acceptable by stressing its moralism, realism and altruism with a remarkable skill for not straying too far from the thrust of public policy.
What I'm trying to suggest is that the role of American power in the world really depends not just on the raw military power of the United States, which has given the crises in health, the economy, the universities, etc., that flood the country. There is still a very powerful ideological, cultural consensus in the country that suggests in the career of people like Lippman that America's role is to be the leader of the world. A similar view is found in the influential writing of George Kennan. He is the author of the containment policy that guided U.S. policy for much of the Cold War period. Kennan believed his country to be the guardian of Western civilization. For Kennan, such a destiny in the non-European world implied no effort to be expended on making the U.S. popular. He called it "rotarian idealism." But what it depended on was what he called "straight power concepts." Since no formerly colonized people or state had the wherewithal to challenge the U.S., this is all after the end of the classical empires, nobody had the power to challenge the U.S. militarily or economically, he cautioned restraint. Yet, in a memo written in 1948 for the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, he approved of the recolonizing of Africa. In something he wrote in 1971, he also approved of apartheid in South Africa. He didn't approve of its abuses, he said, but he thought the idea was a good. Although he did disapprove of the American intervention in Vietnam, generally he approved of what he called a "purely American kind of informal imperial system." There was no doubt in his mind that Europe and America were uniquely positioned to lead the world, a view that caused him to regard his own country as a sort of adolescent growing into the role once played by the British empire.
Other forces shaped postwar U.S. policy besides Lippman and Kennan. Both of them were lonely men who were alienated from the mass society they lived in, who hated jingoism and the cruder forms of aggressive American behavior. They knew that isolationism, interventionism, anticolonialism, free trade imperialism were related to the domestic characteristics of American political life, which was described by the historian Richard Hofstadter as "anti-intellectual and paranoid." These produced the inconsistencies, advances and retreats of U.S. foreign policy before the end of World War II and certainly after it. Yet the idea of American exceptionalism and leadership is never absent. After the British and the French disappeared, and certainly in the period after World War II, when the empires disappeared, America took over. No matter what the U.S. does, these authorities often do not want it to be an imperial power like the others it followed, preferring instead the notion of "world responsibility"--in my opinion the same thing--as a rationale for what it does. Earlier rationales, the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny and so on, lead to world responsibility, which exactly corresponds to the growth in the U.S. global interests after World War II and to the conception of its enormous power as formulated by the foreign policy and intellectual elite.
In a very clear account of what damage this has done, Richard Barnet notes that a U.S. military intervention in the Third World has occurred every year between 1945 and 1967. Since that time, the U.S. has been impressively active on the world stage, most notably during the Gulf War of 1991, when 650,000 troops were dispatched 6,000 miles away to turn back an Iraqi invasion of a U.S. oil-producing ally. Such interventions, says Barnet in his book The Roots of War, have "all the elements of a powerful imperial creed ...: a sense of mission, historical necessity and evangelical fervor. The imperial creed rests on a theory of law making, according to the strident globalists like LBJ and the muted globalists like Nixon. The goal of U.S. foreign policy is to bring about a world increasingly subject to the rule of law. But it is the United States which organizes the peace and defines the law. The United States imposes the international interests by setting the ground rules for economic development and military development across the planet. Thus the U.S.-set rules for Soviet behavior in Cuba, Brazilian behavior in Brazil, Vietnamese behavior in Vietnam. Today, America's self-appointed writ runs throughout the world including the Soviet Union and China, over whose territory the United States during the Cold War asserted the right to fly military aircraft. The U.S., uniquely blessed with surpassing riches and an exceptional history, stands above the international system, not within it. Supreme among nations, she stands ready to be the bearer of the Law." Although these words were published in 1972, they even more accurately describe the U.S. during the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War, which continues to try to dictate its views about law and peace all over the world. The amazing thing about this is not that it is attempted, but that it is done with so much consensus and near unanimity in a public sphere constructed as a kind of cultural space expressly to represent and explain this policy. In periods of great internal crisis, for example, a year or so after the Gulf War, this sort of moralistic triumphalism is suspended and put aside. Yet while it lasts, the media play an extraordinary role in "manufacturing consent," as Chomsky puts it, in making the average American feel that it is up to us to right the wrongs of the world, and the devil with contradictions and inconsistencies. The Gulf intervention was preceded by a string of interventions in Panama, Grenada, Libya, all of them widely discussed, most of them approved, or at least undeterred, as belonging to "us" by right. As Kiernan puts it, "America loved to think that whatever it wanted was just what the human race wanted."
To complete this rather bleak picture, let me add a few summary observations about conditions in the Third World. Obviously we can't discuss the non-Western world as distinct from developments in the West. The ravages of colonial wars in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the protracted conflicts between nationalism and imperialist control, the disputatious new fundamentalists and nativist movements nourished by despair and anger, the extension of the world system over the developing world--these circumstances are directly connected to actualities in the West. On the one hand, as Eqbal Ahmad says in the best account of these circumstances that we have, the peasant and pre-capitalist classes that predominated during the era of classical colonialism have dispersed in the new states into new, often abruptly urbanized and restless classes tied to the absorptive economic and political powers of the metropolitan West. In Pakistan and Egypt, for example, the contentious fundamentalists are led not by peasant or working class intellectuals, but by Western educated engineers, doctors and lawyers. Ruling minorities emerge with the new deformations in the new structures of power. These pathologies and disenchantment with authority they have caused run the gamut from the neo-fascist to the dynastic and oligarchic, with only a few states retaining a functioning parliamentary and democratic system.
For all its apparent power, this new overall pattern of domination, which is, in my opinion, a replication, reproduction of the old imperial order, which developed during the era of mass societies commanded at the top by a powerfully centralizing culture and a complex incorporative economy, is basically unstable. Now I come to the part about the counter discourse to imperialism. As the remarkable French urban sociologist, Paul Virilio, has said, this polity [the world in which we now live] is based on speed, instant communication, distant reach, constant emergency, insecurity induced by mounting crises, some of which lead to war. In such circumstances, the rapid occupation of real as well as public space, colonization, becomes the central militaristic prerogative of a modern state, as the United States showed when it dispatched a huge army to the Arabian Gulf and commandeered the media to help carry out the operation. In other words, it's so unstable that if you feel threatened, if your interests feel threatened, then you dispatch a huge army with this tremendous logistical capacity and you occupy and fight a war. As against that capacity of a modern imperial state like the U.S., Virilio suggests that the modernist project of liberating language and speech has a parallel today in the liberation of critical spaces: hospitals, universities, theaters, factories, churches, empty buildings. In both, the fundamental transgressive act is to inhabit the normally uninhabited. As examples Virilio cites the cases of people who are a counter to the imperial invader, whose current status is the consequence either of decolonization, migrant workers, refugees, gastarbeiter in Germany, they are the counter to imperialism, because you have people coming from the southern world into the Western metropolis and causing an instability at the center. The people whose current status is the consequence either of decolonization, like the migrant workers, or of major demographic and political shifts: blacks, immigrants, urban squatters, students, popular insurrectionists. These constitute a real alternative to the authority of the state. If the 1960s are now remembered as a decade of European and American mass demonstrations, the 1980s must surely be the decade of mass uprisings outside the Western metropolis. Think of the places where there were mass uprisings: in Iran, the Philippines, Argentina, Korea, Pakistan, Algeria, China, South Africa, virtually all of Eastern Europe, the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. These are some of the most impressive crowd-activated sites, each of them crammed with largely unarmed civilian populations, well past the point of enduring the imposed deprivations, tyranny and inflexibility of governments that had ruled them for too long.
The two general areas of agreement nearly everywhere are that personal freedom should be safeguarded and that the earth's environment should be defended against further decline. Democracy and ecology, each providing a local context and plenty of concrete combat zones, are set against a cosmic backdrop. Whether in the struggle of nationalities or in the problems of deforestation, global warmings, the AIDS epidemic, the interactions between individual identity embodied in minor activities like smoking or the usage of aerosol cans and the general framework are tremendously direct, and the time-honored conventions of art, history and philosophy don't seem well suited to them. Much of what was so exciting for four decades about Western modernism and its aftermath seems almost quaintly abstract, desperately Eurocentric today. More reliable now are the reports from the front lines, where struggles are being fought between domestic tyrants and idealist oppositions, hybrid combinations of realism and fantasy, cartographic and archaeological descriptions, exploration in mixed forms, the essay, the video or film, the photograph, the memoir, the story or aphorism of unhoused, exilic experiences.
The major task, then, is to match the new economic and social dislocations and configurations of our time with the startling realities of human interdependence on a world scale. If the Japanese, East European, Islamic and Western instances express anything in common, it is--and this is what I'm most interested in--that a new critical consciousness, a kind of counterdiscourse to empire, is needed. This can be achieved only by revised attitudes to education. Merely to urge students to insist on their own identity, their tradition, their history, their uniqueness, may initially get them to name their basic requirements for democracy and for the right to an assured, decently humane existence. But we need to go on and to situate the identities of our students and ourselves in a geography of other identities, people, cultures, and then to study how, despite their differences, they always overlap with each other through unhierarchical influence, crossing, incorporation, recollection, deliberate forgetfulness, and of course conflict. We are nowhere near the end of history, but we are still far from free of monopolizing and imperial attitudes towards it.
These haven't been much good in the past, notwithstanding the rallying cries of the politics of separatist identity, multiculturalism, minority discourse. And the quicker we teach ourselves to find alternatives, the better and safer. The fact is, we are mixed in with each other in ways that most national systems of education have not dreamed of. To match knowledge in the arts and sciences with these integrated realities is, I believe, the intellectual and cultural challenge of our time. The steady critique of nationalism from the standpoint of real liberation should not be forgotten. For we must not condemn ourselves so repeat the imperial experience, although all around us it is being repeated. How in the redefined and yet very close relationship between culture and empire, a relationship that enables disquieting forms of domination, can we sustain the liberating energies released by the great decolonizing resistance movements and the mass uprisings of the 1980s. Can these energies elude the homogenizing processes of modern life? Can they hold in abeyance the interventions of the new imperial centrality?
"All things counter, original, spare, strange." That is a line from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty. The question is, Where are all these things? And where, too, we might ask, is there a place for that astonishingly harmonious vision of time intersecting with the timeless that occurs at the end of the last of the four quartets of Eliot, "Little Gidding," that Eliot saw as words in "Easy commerce of the old and new, the common word exact and without vulgarity, the form of word precise but not pedantic, the complete consort dancing together." To recall now, Paul Virilio, his notion of how you can live in a world that is counter, original, spare, strange, in which there are many different identities, not yours alone, and where you don't want to impose one domination on everyone, Virilio's idea is what he calls counter-habitation, to live as migrants do in habitually uninhabited but nonetheless public spaces. We can perceive this on the political map of the contemporary world, for clearly it is one of the unhappiest characteristics of our age, to have produced more refugees, migrants, displaced persons and exiles than ever before in history, most of them as a corollary to, and ironically enough as afterthoughts of, great colonial and imperial conflicts. As the struggle for independence produced new states and new boundaries, it also produced homeless wanderers, nomads, vagrants, unassimilated to the emerging structures of institutional power, rejected by the established order for their intransigence and obdurate rebelliousness.
To my mind, most recently the images of that obdurate intransigence of not being accommodated to the old status quo are the four hundred Palestinians on that hill in Lebanon. They were kicked out to a country which is not welcoming them, and they haven't been able to return to their own country. Insofar as these people exist between the old and the new, between the old empire and the new state, their condition articulates the tensions, irresolutions and contradictions in the overlapping territories shown on the cultural map of empire. There is a great difference, however, between the optimistic mobility, intellectual liveliness and the logic of daring on the one hand, and the massive dislocations, waste, misery and horrors endured in our century's migrations and mutilated lives, most of them as a result of empire.
Yet it's no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of empire, has now shifted from the settled, established and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered and exilic energies, whose incarnation today is the migrant and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile. The political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages. From this perspective then all things are indeed counter, original, spare, strange. From this perspective also one can see, as Eliot says, "the whole consort dancing together." And while it would be the rankest Panglossian dishonesty to say that the bravura performances of the intellectual exile and the miseries of the displaced person or refugee are the same, it is possible, I think, to regard the intellectual as first distilling and articulating the predicaments that disfigure modernity: mass deportation, imprisonment, population transfer, collective dispossession and forced immigrations.
For example, the tentative authorization of feminine experience in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, or the fabulous reordering of time and character that gives rise to the divided generations in Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children, or the remarkable universalizing of the Afro-American experience as it emerges in such brilliant detail in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby and Beloved. The push or tension comes from the surrounding environment, the imperialist power that would otherwise compel you to disappear or to accept some miniature version of yourself as a doctrine to be passed out on a course syllabus.
From another perspective, the exilic, the marginal, the subjective, migratory energies of modern life, which the liberationist struggles have deployed when these energies are too toughly resilient to disappear, have also emerged in what Immanuel Wallenstein calls "anti-systemic movements." Remember that the main feature of imperialist expansion historically was accumulation, a process that accelerated during the twentieth century. Wallenstein's argument is that at bottom capital accumulation is irrational. Its additive, acquisitive gains continue unchecked, even though its costs are exorbitant and not worth the gains. Thus, Wallenstein says, "the very superstructure of state power and the national cultures that support the idea of state power was put in place to maximize the free flow of the factors of production in the world economy is the nursery of national movements that mobilize against the inequalities inherent to the world system." Those people compelled by the system to place subordinate or imprisoning roles within it emerge as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute the compulsions of the world market. Not everything can be bought off. All these hybrid counter-energies constitute a counter-discourse, at work in many fields, individuals and moments provide a community or culture made up of many anti-systemic hints and practices for collective human existence that is not based on coercion or domination. They fueled the uprisings of the 1980s. The authoritative, compelling image of the empire, which crept into and overtook so many procedures of intellectual mastery that are central in modern culture finds it opposite, therefore, in the renewable, almost sporty discontinuities of intellectual and secular impurities, mixed genres, unexpected combinations of tradition and novelty, political experiences based on communities of effort rather than classes or corporations of possession, appropriation or power.
Lastly, no one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian or Canadian or woman or Muslim or American are no more than starting points which, if followed into actual experience for only a moment, are completely left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a world scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively white or black or Western or Oriental. Just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages and cultural geographies. But there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival, in fact, is about the connections between things. In Eliot's phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the "other echoes that inhabit the garden." It is more rewarding and more difficult to think concretely and sympathetically about others than only about "us." But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly to reiterate how our culture or country is number one, or not number one, for that matter. For the intellectual there's quite enough of value to do without that. Thank you. [prolonged applause]