Edward W. Said

Edward Said (1935 - 2003) was a Palestinian-American literary theoretician, University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and a public intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of post-colonialism. He was born a Palestinian Arab in the Jerusalem city of Mandatory Palestine (1920-48), and was American through his U.S.-citizen father, Wadir Said. As such, Edward Said was an advocate for the political and the human rights of the Palestinian people, whom the commentator Robert Fisk described as their most powerful voice.

As an influential cultural critic, academic, and writer, Edward W. Said is best known for the book Orientalism (1978), a critical analysis of the culturally inaccurate representations that are the bases of Orientalism - the Western study of Eastern cultures; how The West perceives and represents The East. He proposed and contended that Orientalist scholarship was, and remains, inextricably tied to the imperialist societies that produced it, which makes much of the work inherently political, servile to power, and therefore intellectually suspect. Orientalism is based upon Said's intimate knowledge of colonial literature, such as the fiction of Joseph Conrad, and the post-structuralist theories of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, Giambattista Vico, Antonio Gramsci, and Theodor Adorno; and the literary theories of R. P. Blackmur and Raymond Williams, and other philosophers. Hence, Orientalism, and his other thematically related works, proved analytically influential in the fields of the humanities, especially in literary theory and in literary criticism. Moreover, Orientalism proved especially influential upon the field of Middle Eastern studies, wherein it transformed the academic discourse of the field's practitioners, of how they examine, describe, and define the cultures of the Middle East. As a critic, he vigorously discussed and debated the cultural subjects comprised by Orientalism, especially as applied to and in the fields of history and area studies; nonetheless, some mainstream academics disagreed with Said's Orientalism thesis, especially the Anglo-American Orientalist Bernard Lewis.

As a public intellectual, he discussed contemporary politics, music, culture, and literature, in lectures, newspaper and magazine articles, and books. Drawing from his family experiences, as Palestinian Christians in the Middle East, at the time of the establishment of Israel (1948), Said argued for the establishment of a Palestinian state, for equal political and human rights for the Palestinians in Israel - including the right of return - and for increased U.S. political pressure upon Israel to recognize, grant, and respect said rights; in that vein, the public intellectual Edward Saïd also criticized the political and cultural politics of the Arab and Muslim regimes who acted against the interests of their peoples. His intellectual formation derived from the Western education, British and American, imparted to him in the Middle East (Egypt) and in the U.S., where he resided from adolescence until his death in 2003. About such a cosmopolitan schooling and education, in the autobiographic Out of Place (1999), Said spoke of how he applied his cultural heritages in effort to narrowing the perceptual gap of political and cultural understanding between The West and the Middle East; and to improve Western understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and his decade-long membership in the Palestinian National Council, a feature of his pro-Palestinian political activism, made him a controversial public intellectual.

In 1999, with his friend Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said co-founded the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, based in Seville, which comprises young Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians. Moreover, besides being a Renaissance Man, Said was an accomplished pianist; and with Barenboim, co-authored the book Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002), a compilation of their conversations about music. Intellectually active until the last months of his life, Edward Wadie Said died of leukemia in late 2003. Continue Reading »

Out of Place: A Memoir
Representations of the Intellectual
Culture and Imperialism

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