Skip to main content

Said’s Impact: Lessons for Literary Critics

  • Chapter

Abstract

Very few literary critics can expect their work to have the sort of impact achieved by Edward Said. He positioned Orientalism, his best-known book, against ‘an implicit consensus [...] building up for the past decade in which the study of literature is considered to be profoundly, even constitutively nonpolitical,’ and lamented the fact that literary critics tended to apply their techniques only to strictly literary objects.1 If that consensus was real, Orientalism, published in 1978, helped shatter it. Said’s angry critique of Western attitudes toward the East has been widely and enduringly influential, and not only because his topic had evident political gravity. The book also set an example methodologically. Others could take inspiration from Said’s willingness to break through disciplinary boundaries, and could adapt Said’s concept of ‘Orientalism’ to launch a critique of, say, ‘Africanism,’ drawing in diverse situations and materials. A significant amount of the activity inspired by Orientalism has accordingly taken place outside the literary-critical realm, and a fair proportion of it outside universities. And that dimension of the book’s legacy is tied to its own fundamental impetus to link academic and literary materials with, and in some important sense give priority to, a wider world of politics and conflict.

Keywords

  • Literary Critic
  • Academic Work
  • Fair Proportion
  • Literary Text
  • Public Intellectual

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

[T]here is a mind of society, and it is this mind that we address, tutor, doctor, inform, evaluate, criticize, reform. Our role is highly mediated and subtle, insidious even, but as a class of people our impact on the on-going life of society in its day-to- day and even long-term affairs is very diffuse, hence minimal.

(Edward Said on literary critics/ teachers of literature, 1976)

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137341112_12
  • Chapter length: 26 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   69.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-1-137-34111-2
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   89.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996), xvi.

    Google Scholar 

  2. See, for example, Saree Makdisi, ‘Edward Said and the Style of the Public Intellectual,’ in Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual, eds. Ned Curthoys and Debjani Ganguly (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2007), 21–35.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Said, Representations, 70–1, discussing Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  4. For an exploration of the relationship between notions of profession, professorship and literature, see Jacques Derrida, L’Université sans condition (Paris: Galilée, 2001), a book that began life as lectures on the future of the university and the ‘humanities.'

    Google Scholar 

  5. Said, Orientalism ([1978] New York: Vintage Books, 2003), 2–3.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Said, Out of Place (London: Granta Books, [1999] 2000), 102.

    Google Scholar 

  7. ‘The Virtuoso as Intellectual,’ Chapter 6 of On Late Style: Music and Literature against the Grain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), 132. That essay bemoans the fact that most intellectuals lack knowledge of music; comparably, Rokus de Groot concludes his interesting essay ‘Edward Said and Polyphony’ by saying ‘for music to serve as a model for humanistic emancipation, music education is essential.’ In Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, eds. Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 2010), 204–26. See too the ending of Said’s essay ‘The Book, Critical Performance, and the Future of Education,’ Pretexts: Literary and Cultural Studies 10, no. 1 (July 2001), 9–19.

    Google Scholar 

    Google Scholar 

  8. Said, Musical Elaborations (London: Chatto & Windus, 1991), 98; quoted by Lindsay Waters, ‘In Responses Begins Responsibility: Music and Emotion,’ in Edward Said and the Work of the Critic: Speaking Truth to Power, ed. Paul A. Bové (Durham and London: Duke, 2000), 97–113.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Said, The Pen and the Sword: Conversations with David Barsamian (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1994), 77–8. Said makes a similar point in Representations, 88.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest (New York: Columbia, 1989), 2. See Said, Culture and Imperialism (first published 1993; London: Vintage, 1994), 42, 101, 109.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard, ‘Introduction,’ Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 27, no. 3 (September 2006), 293–308, 294.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Poirier, The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections (London and Boston: Faber, 1987), 133–4.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Said, Humanism and Democratic Criticism (New York: Columbia, 2004), 53, 62–3. In the last quotation Said is presumably using the notion of academic ‘work’ as I have tried to use it throughout this chapter, to encompass teaching as well as criticism.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Copyright information

© 2013 Nicholas Harrison

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Harrison, N. (2013). Said’s Impact: Lessons for Literary Critics. In: Elmarsafy, Z., Bernard, A., Attwell, D. (eds) Debating Orientalism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137341112_12

Download citation