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‘The Defeat of Narrative by Vision’: Said and the Image

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Abstract

There often seems to have been something of the fin-de-siècle symbolist in Edward Said. It is there in the hint of dandyism of course, but I’m thinking of his way of morphing one register of experience into another - music into politics into media analysis into literature - in brilliant successions of quicksilver translations. But the characterization stalls once we consider that Said had almost nothing to say about the visual arts (or architecture), and indeed confessed that he felt inclined to ‘panic’ when invited to speak on the subject, as he was by the visual studies theorist W. J. T. Mitchell in 1998.1 Mitchell tried gamely to draw Said out on the topic, managing to elicit some intriguing early memories of museum visiting in Cairo and some preferences among the masters of European painting. But an effort to turn the conversation to more general thinking about the visual by raising the seeable/sayable division in Foucault led the remainder of the conversation into much more familiar Saidian territory.2

Keywords

  • Visual Culture
  • Egyptian Museum
  • Thirtieth Anniversary
  • European Painting
  • Expressive Painterliness

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Notes

  1. W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘The Panic of the Visual: A Conversation with Edward W. Said’ (1998), in Edward Said and the Work of the Critic: Speaking Truth to Power, ed. Paul A. Bové (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 31–50.

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  2. See Mitchell, ‘The Panic of the Visual,’ 42, where Deleuze’s account of the distinction between le visible et l’énonçable in Foucault is cited: cf. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1986), 55–75. For a suggestion that while Foucault moved from the seeable to the sayable, Said followed the reverse trajectory, see Joseph Massad, ‘Affiliating with Edward Said,’ in Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, eds. Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 2010), 35ff.

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  3. W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘Secular Divination: Edward Said’s Humanism,’ Critical Inquiry 31, no. 2 (2005), 462–71.

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  4. Giambattista Vico, The New Science (1730), trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1948), 7.

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  5. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978) (London: Penguin, 1985), 162.

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  6. Edward W. Said, Out of Place: A Memoir (London: Granta, 1999), 76.

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  7. H. Aram Veeser, Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism (New York: Routledge, 2010), 1. Veeser, who describes himself as a ‘sceptical admirer’ of his subject, has taken his interest in the performative side of Said so far as to have developed a touring performance work in which he re-enacts Said’s demolitions of his interlocutors in public debates.

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  8. Edward W. Said, ‘The Arab Portrayed,’ in The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective, ed. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 1–9.

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  9. See, for example, David Barsamian and Edward W. Said, Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said (London: Pluto, 2003), 20.

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  10. For a more sophisticated attempt to use the concepts of image and picture in an analysis of colonialism in the Arab world, see Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 1991).

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  11. Ralph Hyde, Panoramania! The Art and Entertainment of the ‘All-Embracing’ View (London: Barbican Art Gallery, 1988), 272, 275.

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  12. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 1993), 295.

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  13. W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘The Imperial Landscape’ (1984), reprinted in Landscape and Power, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 5–34.

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  14. Mitchell, ‘Panic of the Visual,’ 43–4. See further Derek Gregory, ‘Edward Said’s Imaginative Geographies,’ in Thinking Space, eds. Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift (London: Routledge, 2000), 302–48; and William V. Spanos, The Legacy of Edward W. Said (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 26–69.

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  15. I am thinking especially of Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

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  16. See Edward W. Said, ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 198–215.

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  17. From a 1985 interview with Jonathan Crary and Phil Mariani in Edward W. Said, Power, Politics and Culture: Interviews with Edward W. Said, ed. Gauri Viswanathan (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), 41–2.

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  18. Edward W. Said (photographs by Jean Mohr), After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (1986) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). The title of the book was borrowed from a line in Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘The Earth is Closing on Us.’

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  19. Berger’s collaboration with Mohr went back to their 1967 classic A Fortunate Man about an English country doctor. See John Roberts, The Art of Interruption: Realism, Photography and the Everyday (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 128–43.

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  20. Edward W. Said, ‘Bursts of Meaning’ reprinted in Reflections on Exile, 148–52. For the photograph which so struck Said, see John Berger and Jean Mohr, Another Way of Telling (Cambridge: Granta, 1989), 293. Another Way of Telling was one of the tiny number of books about images to warrant an honourable mention anywhere in the text or notes to Said’s Culture and Imperialism: Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993), 405. Also mentioned are T. J. Clark on Manet and Paris, and Malek Alloula on popular postcards of harem scenes (133–4, 222).

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  21. On After the Last Sky, see John Hawley, ‘Edward Said, John Berger, Jean Mohr: In Search of an Other Optic,’ in Paradoxical Citizenship: A Tribute to Edward Said, ed. Silvia Nagy-Zekmi (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2006), 203–10 and Mustapha Marrouchi, Edward Said at the Limits (New York: State University of New York Press, 2004), 107–25.

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  22. Joe Sacco, Palestine (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2001), 177.

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  23. Edward W. Said, ‘The Art of Displacement: Mona Hatoum’s Logic of Irreconcilables,’ in The Entire World as a Foreign Land, ed. Mona Hatoum (London: Tate Gallery, 2000), 17.

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  24. Fayza Hassan, ‘Museums Across Egypt,’ Egypt Today, April 2006.

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  25. Conceivably, the youthful Said’s taste was informed by the Surrealism which flourished in Cairo at this period: see Samir Gharieb, Surrealism in Egypt and Plastic Arts (Cairo: Prism, 1986). Thanks to Peter Gran for this suggestion.

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  26. Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), 122.

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  27. Edward W. Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, 1981 (London: Vintage, 1997), 66.

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  28. Linda Nochlin, ‘The Imaginary Orient’ (1983), in Nochlin, The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 33–59.

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  29. Frederick N. Bohrer, ‘The Sweet Waters of Asia,’ in Edges of Empire: Orientalism and Visual Culture, eds. Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones and Mary Roberts (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 136 n.2; Ibn Warraq (pseud.), Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007), 342. Ibn Warraq (341–2) makes much of Nochlin’s false claim that the Arabic inscription on the tiled wall in Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer is illegible, a mistake in which Said is implicated as Nochlin had consulted him on the question (Nochlin, ‘Imaginary Orient,’ 57–8 n.7). Said had himself chosen the Snake Charmer as the cover illustration for the paperback edition of Orientalism in 1979: Daniel Martin Varisco, Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007), 25–6. He later singled Nochlin’s article out for praise in ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’ (213).

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  30. Linda Nochlin, The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity (London: Thames & Hudson, 1994).

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  31. Emily Weeks, ‘About Face: Sir David Wilkie’s Portrait of Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt,’ in Orientalism Transposed, eds. Julie Codell and Dianne Sachko Macleod (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 46–62.

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  32. See Ussama Makdisi, ‘Ottoman Orientalism,’ American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (2002), 768–96.

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  33. Zeynep Inankur, Reina Lewis and Mary Roberts, eds., The Poetics and Politics of Place: Ottoman Istanbul and British Orientalism (Istanbul: Kiraç Foundation, 2011), 99.

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  34. See Joan Wallach Scott, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

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  35. James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916–18 (London: Bloomsbury, 2006), photograph between 172–3; cf. Frank Gardner, Blood and Sand (London: Bantam, 2006), photograph between 260–1 for a comparable image of Omani Bedu women with a BBC film camera.

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© 2013 Nicholas Tromans

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Tromans, N. (2013). ‘The Defeat of Narrative by Vision’: Said and the Image. In: Elmarsafy, Z., Bernard, A., Attwell, D. (eds) Debating Orientalism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137341112_10

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