With their powerful blend of political and aesthetic concerns, Edward W. Said’s writings have transformed the field of literary studies. This long-awaited collection of literary and cultural essays, the first since Harvard University Press published The World, the Text, and the Critic in 1983, reconfirms what no one can doubt—that Said is the most impressive, consequential, and elegant critic of our time—and offers further evidence of how much the fully engaged critical mind can contribute to the reservoir of value, thought, and action essential to our lives and our culture.
As in the title essay, the widely admired “Reflections on Exile,” the fact of his own exile and the fate of the Palestinians have given both form and the force of intimacy to the questions Said has pursued. Taken together, these essays—from the famous to those that will surprise even Said’s most assiduous followers—afford rare insight into the formation of a critic and the development of an intellectual vocation. Said’s topics are many and diverse, from the movie heroics of Tarzan to the machismo of Ernest Hemingway to the shades of difference that divide Alexandria and Cairo. He offers major reconsiderations of writers and artists such as George Orwell, Giambattista Vico, Georg Lukacs, R. P. Blackmur, E. M. Cioran, Naguib Mahfouz, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Walter Lippman, Samuel Huntington, Antonio Gramsci, and Raymond Williams. Invigorating, edifying, acutely attentive to the vying pressures of personal and historical experience, his book is a source of immeasurable intellectual delight.
A compilation of 35 years’ worth of critical essays from one of the boldest and most articulate cultural theorists alive today.
For those who know Said (The End of the Peace Process, p.365, etc.) foremost as an outspoken and controversial advocate of Palestine, the breadth of intellectual curiosity and erudition manifest in these collected works will come as a pleasant surprise. Not until halfway through the anthology is there any mention of Palestine, and even in those essays that deal with his homeland, the author uses his unparalleled knowledge of the subject to illustrate larger points about anthropology, human rights, or nationalism. Writing on the works and lives of such cultural, literary, and political icons as Conrad, Nietzche, Vico, Foucault, Hemingway, Blackmur, Mahfouz, Melville, Schumann, Chopin, Orwell, Lipmman, and Merleau-Ponty, Said demonstrates that he is indeed a modern teacher and critic of the highest order. For readers who are more familiar with his works, he has included several essays that directly respond to the specific arguments of his critics (including “Orientalism Reconsidered,” “Traveling Theory Reconsidered,” and “Representing the Colonized,” among others). Said also offers an elegant demonstration of the depth and complexity of post-colonial studies, and he points out in his introduction that much of the material that defines this field (which he did much to create) “stands in contrast to politics.” And yet, even the least political of his essays further his goal: to deprive us of our complacency by reminding us again and again that all knowledge is mediated by power, and no one is immune to its balance.
A fascinating exploration of post-colonialism as seen through the eyes of its progenitor.