November 1, 2014
With his lifelong fascination with exile, EDWARD W. SAID (1935–2003) was a scholar, teacher, and activist who delineated the perils and power of dislocation. The title of one of his best books, The World, the Text, and the Critic, reveals the triumvirate of his realms of intervention or, as he might have said, “filiations.” Born in Jerusalem, raised in Cairo, and educated at Princeton (where he was influenced by autodidact R.P. Blackmur) and Harvard, Said’s own beginnings were intimately exilic. He was drawn to deracinated intellectuals like Erich Auerbach and Theodor Adorno (especially his Minima Moralia). Arab novelist Elias Khoury maintained his friend was born once in 1935 and again in 1967 after the Six Day War prompted his immersion into Palestinian self-determination. Said contemplated inaugural notions in his ambitious, philosophical Beginnings (1975) and investigated how Dickens and Austen were implicated in empire in Culture and Imperialism (1993). His 1978 Orientalism, which unveiled the West’s imperialist exoticization of the East, would reorient the cultural landscape. The book produced immediate enthusiasts and detractors. (Pore over Orientalism alongside Robert Irwin’s 2006 riposte Dangerous Knowledge for a captivatingly contrapuntal reading experience.) Said did not recognize himself as a father of Postcolonialism. In the most Auerbachian of his books, Said exchanged purely aesthetic criticism for more historical and political engagement. He inveighed against the Oslo peace process and the indiscriminate use of the word “Islam.” As an impeccable dresser, an able pianist, and a lover of opera, Said also possessed vibrant sartorial and musicological sides. He admired Vico, Swift, Conrad, Kipling, and Joe Sacco, for whom he contributed an introduction to his graphic novel Palestine a few years before his death. Said remained indefatigable throughout his 12-year struggle against chronic leukemia, his last years spent working on his memoir Out of Place and On Late Style, his ruminations on artists in their twilight years. It was through this activity that he returned to his true home: on the page.
READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).