Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 16, 2009

The Mythology of Imperialism

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Jonah Raskin

Jonah Raskin’s The Mythology of Imperialism: A Revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age

by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Raskin, Jonah: The Mythology of Imperialism: a Revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age, Monthly Review Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58367-186-3, 320 pages.

(Swans – November 16, 2009)   When you hear the name Joseph Conrad conjoined with the word imperialism, there is a good chance that you will think of Edward Said, the Columbia University professor and Palestinian activist who died of leukemia in 2003. To be more exact, you will be reminded of an analysis that went against conventional wisdom. Despite the nominally anti-imperialist viewpoint of The Heart of Darkness, Said argued in Culture and Imperialism (1993) that:

It is no paradox, therefore, that Conrad was both anti-imperialist and imperialist, progressive when it came to rendering fearlessly and pessimistically the self-confirming, self-deluding corruption of overseas domination, deeply reactionary when it came to conceding that Africa or South American could ever had had an independent history of culture, which the imperialists violently disturbed but by which they were ultimately defeated. Yet lest we think patronizingly of Conrad as the creature of his own time, we had better note that recent attitudes in Washington and among most Western policymakers and intellectuals show little advance over his views.

As it turns out, Jonah Raskin beat him to the punch by 20 years. In 1971, a book titled The Mythology of Imperialism: a Revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age appeared. Adapted from author Jonah Raskin’s PhD dissertation, it surely deserves Edward Said’s accolade on the back cover: “The Mythology of Imperialism I have read, used, and considered to be one of the genuinely important books on modern literature.”

full review: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/lproy57.html


  1. I liked your review. Your remark on still having a soft spot for E. M. Forester—despite everything—points to our predicament. Anti-imperialists, we still (unlike B. Traven) walk the imperial streets or squat in their monuments like Engels and read Balzac. We can’t bring ourselves to jettison D.H. Lawrence because no one has spoken so well in fiction about miners, and so on. When you wonder “if some novels could serve as indictments of a decaying social system” I think you’re wandering in the right direction. It rejoins what Charles Marowitz writes in the same Swans about the playwright as citizen and the playwright as artist.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — November 17, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  2. I also enjoyed the review of Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley linked in the Swans post.

    Comment by Michael T — November 18, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  3. I can quite easily bring myself to jettison Lawrence – the reactionary mystical bullshit helps. Have you read the ‘blood and soil’ opening of ‘The Rainbow’?

    Comment by Doug — November 26, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

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