The Spine

Debating The Legacy Of Edward Said

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Some people can't get enough of Edward Said and some can't get enough of his critics. (Yes, there are also many who are entirely sated with him, and sated with his critics, as well.)  Me, I knew him a tiny bit, and he was a foppishly nasty man. I once saw at Boston's Ford Hall Forum the great Zionist literary intellectual Marie Syrkin kick the shit out of him precisely for his nastiness and, oh, yes, also his ignorance of Jewish history. Said was a self-consciously precious soul who abused younger sceptics of his work; for example, he turned on one (non-Jewish) professor of English literature at Tel Aviv University by referring to him as "this creature in Critical Theory. Why the editors didn't edit this out...well, they were his faithful epigones.  Said's time on this earth ran out in 2003, but the clamor for his ideas still hangs on, though barely. Nonetheless, I am sure that there will be some conference eulogizing him when 2013 rolls around. It will be attended by some aging scholarly ideologists and a lesser number of Saidian graduate students who still cling to the hope that Said's theories were the pathway to academic repute and success.  In any case, there is an essay in the current issue of the Times Literary Supplement by the scholar and editor Robert Irwin, discussing two new books on Said. I am myself not at all a scholar in the field. But I do read a lot in it, the latest and silliest being Joseph Massad's Desiring Arabs. Irwin is judicious and actually authoritative.  For myself, I still like the paintings of Delacroix and Gericault set in Arab Africa. And do not doubt it: there were whirling dervishes in Araby, and there still are.

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