Monday, September 26, 2005

Tribute to Edward Said

A couple of young people at 3 Quarks Daily were privileged to have known and studied with the late Edward Said, one of the most influential scholars of the Twentieth Century. The particulars of his writing and views may be less important than the scholarly discipline he was able to engrave in those who knew him. This legacy is no better seen than in this morning's remembrance by Asad Raza. It's not necessary to know anything about either teacher or student to appreciate the deep affection and respect that shows here.

In 2003, as a graduate student in English at NYU, I rode the subway up to Columbia each week for a seminar with Said, which turned out to be the last one he taught. Wan and bearded, Said would walk in late with a bottle of San Pellegrino in hand and proceed to hold forth, off the cuff, about an oceanic array of subjects relating to the European novel (Don Quixote, Gulliver's Travels, Sentimental Education, Great Expectations, Lord Jim, etc.), alternately edifying and terrifying his audience. He had an exasperation about him that demanded one to know more, speak more clearly, learn more deeply, in order to please him. Some found the constant harangues too traumatic for their delicate sensibilities; I loved to have found a teacher who simply did not accept less than excellence.

Quick, easy read. Not to miss it.

Additional material, September 29

Abbas Raza's comment below references a host of links to writings about and by Edward Said. Last year's tribute at 3Qd is a virtual library shelf. For anyone interested in Said, it is a treasure trove of material. (Not, incidentally, quick and easy reading.)

So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.

These words of Edward Said state, without rage or prejudice, a simple observation. He puts his finger on the vulgar simplicity with which leaders manipulate their followers, both East and West. To the degree that those leaders know what they are doing they are guilty of one of history's worst deceptions.

1 comment:

Abbas Raza said...

Thanks for posting this, John. Said was truly sui generis, and I miss his presence constantly. Check this out also: