Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism

54548567Scott McLemee reviews H. Aram Veeser's Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism (via Henry Farrell in Crooked Timber):

[T]wo or three generations of young radical intellectuals have now had the pleasure of discovering that they are ever so much more radical than Edward Said. It must be very pleasant for them, but none of them has yet amounted to a replacement. With H. Aram Veeser's Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism, we have a different sort of Oedipal drama on display. The stakes are less political than personal. It is an insightful book, but also a strange one, charged with an ambivalence towards its subject that is perhaps as intense as Said's toward the works he discussed in Orientalism or Culture and Imperialism.

Part biography, part critical study, part memoir, this is the work of someone who has spent decades reading and thinking about Said—but also yelling at him, at least in his head. Admiration and hostility are blended together so thoroughly that one doubts even the author can tell them apart. Insight and grievance jostle for space. The familiar apparatus of academic writing (citations, endnotes, bibliography) just barely holds the volume together. This seems appropriate: most of Said's own books were collections of essays, or so loosely organized that they might as well have been. Even in its peculiarities, Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism is an homage to its subject.

It is also the record of a relationship—one best characterized, perhaps, by that Facebook phrase “It's complicated.”