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The white man's burden, darkest Africa, the seduction of the primitive: such phrases were widespread in the language Western empires used to talk about their colonial enterprises. How this language itself served imperial purposes--and how it survives today in writing about the Third World--are the subject of David Spurr's book, a revealing account of the rhetorical strateg The white man's burden, darkest Africa, the seduction of the primitive: such phrases were widespread in the language Western empires used to talk about their colonial enterprises. How this language itself served imperial purposes--and how it survives today in writing about the Third World--are the subject of David Spurr's book, a revealing account of the rhetorical strategies that have defined Western thinking about the non-Western world. Despite historical differences among British, French, and American versions of colonialism, their rhetoric had much in common. The Rhetoric of Empire identifies these shared features—images, figures of speech, and characteristic lines of argument—and explores them in a wide variety of sources. A former correspondent for the United Press International, the author is equally at home with journalism or critical theory, travel writing or official documents, and his discussion is remarkably comprehensive. Ranging from T. E. Lawrence and Isak Dineson to Hemingway and Naipaul, from Time and the New Yorker to the National Geographic and Le Monde, from journalists such as Didion and Sontag to colonial administrators such as Frederick Lugard and Albert Sarraut, this analysis suggests the degree to which certain rhetorical tactics penetrate the popular as well as official colonial and postcolonial discourse. Finally, Spurr considers the question: Can the language itself—and with it, Western forms of interpretation--be freed of the exercise of colonial power? This ambitious book is an answer of sorts. By exposing the rhetoric of empire, Spurr begins to loosen its hold over discourse about—and between—different cultures.


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The white man's burden, darkest Africa, the seduction of the primitive: such phrases were widespread in the language Western empires used to talk about their colonial enterprises. How this language itself served imperial purposes--and how it survives today in writing about the Third World--are the subject of David Spurr's book, a revealing account of the rhetorical strateg The white man's burden, darkest Africa, the seduction of the primitive: such phrases were widespread in the language Western empires used to talk about their colonial enterprises. How this language itself served imperial purposes--and how it survives today in writing about the Third World--are the subject of David Spurr's book, a revealing account of the rhetorical strategies that have defined Western thinking about the non-Western world. Despite historical differences among British, French, and American versions of colonialism, their rhetoric had much in common. The Rhetoric of Empire identifies these shared features—images, figures of speech, and characteristic lines of argument—and explores them in a wide variety of sources. A former correspondent for the United Press International, the author is equally at home with journalism or critical theory, travel writing or official documents, and his discussion is remarkably comprehensive. Ranging from T. E. Lawrence and Isak Dineson to Hemingway and Naipaul, from Time and the New Yorker to the National Geographic and Le Monde, from journalists such as Didion and Sontag to colonial administrators such as Frederick Lugard and Albert Sarraut, this analysis suggests the degree to which certain rhetorical tactics penetrate the popular as well as official colonial and postcolonial discourse. Finally, Spurr considers the question: Can the language itself—and with it, Western forms of interpretation--be freed of the exercise of colonial power? This ambitious book is an answer of sorts. By exposing the rhetoric of empire, Spurr begins to loosen its hold over discourse about—and between—different cultures.

30 review for The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andy Janes

    A tough slog. Made some interesting points, but definitely not a "fun" read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    In this quotable and ultimately self-contradictory book, the author seeks to engage in a task that is simultaneously constrained and universal. He seeks to discuss a dozen overlapping approaches to colonized territory within the writings of colonial and post-colonial writers, mostly, but not exclusively Western in origin (Naipul being a notable exception), but seeks to restrict the literature under analysis to nonfictional writing in journalism, travelogues, and administrative reports, and the l In this quotable and ultimately self-contradictory book, the author seeks to engage in a task that is simultaneously constrained and universal. He seeks to discuss a dozen overlapping approaches to colonized territory within the writings of colonial and post-colonial writers, mostly, but not exclusively Western in origin (Naipul being a notable exception), but seeks to restrict the literature under analysis to nonfictional writing in journalism, travelogues, and administrative reports, and the like. The author seeks to participate in the ironic task of putting the writing of mostly dead white men, along with the occasional woman, under the leering gaze of someone who wishes to make others uncomfortable. That said, the task is so transparently hypocritical that the book ends up, at least if the reader is familiar with the political double standards of anti-colonialist literary analysis, serving as a humorous example of the sort of discourses it labels as lacking legitimacy and authenticity. In terms of its contents, the author begins by defending the scope of his works, and then spends about 200 pages discussing twelve mostly paired approaches that colonialist and post-colonialist nonfictional writings have taken towards the non-Western world, defined here as Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, including the Middle East, which comes in for frequent commentary. The twelve approaches the author discusses are: surveillance, appropriation, aestheticization, classification, debasement, negation, affirmation, idealization, insubstantialization, naturalization, eroticization, and resistance. The upshot of the author’s critical political analysis of the nonfiction texts is that any attempt by a Westerner to understand, classify, categorize, or contextualize what they see in another culture is automatically viewed as a colonial discourse and viewed as a subject of ridicule. Whether one is Kipling or Marx, Rousseau or Levi-Strauss, all are tarred with the same brush as being part of the imperialistic discourse of the West. The upside of this massive and hypocritical lumping together of the entirety of Western commenters of local conditions, journalists, travel writers [1], and the like, which serves as one of many binary oppositions that the author considers to be typical of Western discourse, is that what the author intends to label as pejorative definitions can instead be seen as approaches and strategies to consciously adopt to make the alien seem less alien, whether that means affirming our own identity in the face of threats to that identity, classifying and categorizing what is seen to map the world and the people and situations in it for our own understanding, or appropriating that which we find of most worth in the cultures we see [2], or putting everything around us under surveillance so that we may better understand it. Since the author himself seems to have a vain hope of salvation from Western binary oppositions in the worldviews of the West, a hope that itself serves as an example of decadent idealization, those who read this book wisely can be instructed in the approaches of imperial discourse, and the feeling that one is participating in a noble line of such discourse no matter which aspects of Western civilization one finds most appealing. The best way of dealing with cultural police like this author and others of his ilk is to do the police in different voices, and to consciously adopt strategies to make the world more comprehensible and less broken, contrary to the fractured mindset of this deeply double-minded author. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... [2] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Phạm N.

    Spurr offers a careful and detailed dissection of many different dimensions of colonial discourses: surveillance, appropriation, debasement, negation, affirmation, idealization, naturalization, eroticization, etc. I've learned a lot from his analysis, though i can't help but find his prose a bit monotonous. Other books I've read that have a similar "plot" are Bernard Cohn's Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge and James Hevia's English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century Spurr offers a careful and detailed dissection of many different dimensions of colonial discourses: surveillance, appropriation, debasement, negation, affirmation, idealization, naturalization, eroticization, etc. I've learned a lot from his analysis, though i can't help but find his prose a bit monotonous. Other books I've read that have a similar "plot" are Bernard Cohn's Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge and James Hevia's English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China. Cohn's book made a stronger impact on me in terms of illuminating for me different models of colonial control and reconfiguration of the colonized's ways of making sense of the world. He focuses on the ways in which the colonizer invades an Other's epistemological space. Spurr's work is significant in showing how a colonial body inscribes itself onto others in all sorts writing it produces (travel accounts, journalism, administrative policies, etc.), but somehow not too many points stick to my mind after I finished the book. It could be because a lot of the things he wrote was not new to me at the time I read them. In any case, The Rhetoric of Empire gives a close reading and a systematic dismantling of rampant colonial discourses, and unlike Cohn and Hevia who worked on British colonialism, Spurr tackles North American colonialism head-on. Gotta give him props for that!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Megan Adams

    While I appreciate attention to colonial discourses and the ways in which they work to silence and marginalize -- I do feel like he did not pay as much attention to contemporary issues in journalism. His historical reading and unraveling of the ways in journalism and travel writing promote dominant discourses and encourages colonial/imperialist thinking is helpful to those unfamiliar with practices of journalism. As a former journalism, not much of it was "news" to me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    InfinitexLibrary

    Only read half of this for revision purposes

  6. 5 out of 5

    FractalHealing

    Read it to drop by Cultural Psychology class with Dr.Singh

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Spurr repeats himself way too much and I recommend just skimming after the first couple pages of each chapter because by then you get the idea but its still a valuable read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Masaki

    Classification, debasement, and negation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Carmona

    A must read book for rhetoric...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Annie

  11. 5 out of 5

    Candice

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Shafer

  13. 5 out of 5

    Qwo-Li

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Phillips

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ana Rules

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristi Mcduffie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Vieira-Martinez

  19. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Pearson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sergio

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Shumway

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tori

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chau

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbi

  25. 5 out of 5

    Salma

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steven

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara-Maria Sorentino

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marilee

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carla

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Baker

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