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Against Literary Imperialism: Storming the Barricades of the Canon

My copy of The Mythology of Imperialism, the 1973 paperback that sold for $2.75, has lots of notes in the margins. They’re excited notes, not always comprehensible now, from the first course I ever taught, a small unofficial seminar on literature and imperialism. I’ve lost the syllabus, but I remember that we read Raskin’s books: Kipling, Conrad, Forster, and Orwell. I’m not sure I would have had the idea, or the courage, to follow that syllabus in my second or third year of graduate school teaching if The Mythology of Imperialism hadn’t made its miraculous, incandescent appearance. I certainly wouldn’t have known which writers to teach, or for that matter how to start talking about them. This was before Edward W. Said’s Orientalism appeared in 1978, before the academic field of postcolonial studies had been invented. There must have been more advanced people out there — it sometimes seemed to me that everybody at Harvard was more advanced than I was — but if they had figured out why and how imperialism mattered to us, they weren’t raising their hands and making speeches about it in any of the classes I took. | more…

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