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contrapuntal reading


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Edward Said (1935—2003) American critic, born in Palestine

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contrapuntal reading

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Borrowed from music, where it refers to the relationship between themes (e.g. the relation between the famous ‘da-da-da-dum’ in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and its subsequent exploration), this term is used by Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism (1993) to describe the relationship (in what he calls the cultural archive) between narratives set in metropolitan centres, or at least in the countryside, of the dominant colonial nations such as England and France, and the colonies upon which the great powers depended for their wealth. His key example is Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814), which is about an estate owned by the Bertram family whose wealth derives from sugar plantations in Antigua. But as Said notes, there is almost no mention of Antigua in the novel, despite the fact that in a structural sense the story depends on it because without their holdings in the colonies the Bertrams would neither be so rich as they are, nor obliged to spend so much time away from the estate, thus opening up the narrative possibilities the novel explores. Said's strategy, then, is to read the novel in the light of this structural dependency and read the forgotten other back into the text.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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