Friday, March 5, 2010

The Writings of Edward Said

Writing a review on a collection of literature from such a distinguished man as Edward Said is daunting to say the least. First and foremost because the man himself was an extraordinary literary critic in his own right. He was that and much more. Said exemplifies my idea of the ultimate intellectual. He possessed a gifted knowledge of many different fields, and was able to constantly astound with his perceptive mind, unique ways of viewing a particular topic, and from being on the outside as it were.

Said always viewed himself as an exile, and rightfully so. He was never really at home anywhere, mostly because his homes shifted from Egypt to Palestine, Lebanon and ultimately America. These moves were out of necessity and not choice. Said’s views of the exile were what shaped his political views, and were in the end able to contribute positively to his keen interest in the literature of different cultures from around the world, including his newly adopted home country of the United States.

The Edward Said Reader is a collection of works masterfully put together by Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin that showcases Said’s amazing cultural awareness, and how he ties his various interests into a collective whole, with each subject complimenting the other. His view on music incorporated the political as did his literary criticism. The view of the Orient, the other, the unfamiliar culture exemplified and shone a light on the xenophobia inherent in the differences between East and West. The grasp of the crisis in Palestine is told beautifully by someone perfectly fit to do so. With Said’s exile and his idea of traveling theory, he is able to tell the story from the perspective of someone who was displaced more than once in his life. That role is something to which most of his Palestinian admirers could relate.

I particularly enjoyed Said’s analysis of the intellectual that was constantly under the surface of the writings in this collection. I am nowhere near the level of the man, but I can relate to his ideas of the intellectual being a bit of an exile no matter where they are located. The idea of the exile being an outsider to society, marginalized and often discriminated against struck a chord with me. Through my own life of being a Vegas club kid to my political radicalization, I can feel the loneliness, abandonment and displacement in these later years that can come with free-thinking and not being a part of the prevailing view. Said made it quite clear that being an exile was more than just a geographical condition.

When it comes to the situation in Palestine, Said’s analysis has set the tone for every critic of Zionist policy to come along since his writings. Said, like Chomsky after him, was not only critical of the Zionists, but of what he saw as corruption in leaders such as Arafat and others. I was so glad that the idea of Traveling Theory was included in this reader as it is a brilliant way to compliment Said’s view of the Palestinian situation, and how as the years go on, the complexities of the conflict only multiply. These complexities will and are requiring constant re-examination of different ways of dealing with the crisis.

I don’t think one can consider themselves fully read on Western literature, music theory, Orientalism and the Palestinian crisis without considering the works of Said. This book is a perfect introduction to the works of the man, and a worthy tribute to such an outstanding and brave voice in cultural criticism.

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