Revising Edward Said’s Self-Image

Bruce Robbins at n+1:

THE ARC THAT SAID HIMSELF gave to his life is not entirely reliable. He tells the story of withdrawing from Foucault and “the kind of anti-historical and starkly theoretical position I seemed to be advancing in Beginnings.” But James Clifford made it clear in an early review that Orientalism was already torn by conflicting commitments for as well as against humanism, and as Brennan notes, those conflicts are even apparent three years earlier in Beginnings itself. Indeed, at the very beginning of his career, when “Said was quickly becoming known as the apostle of ‘theory,’” Brennan declares that “the thought horrified him.” It makes little sense, then, to think of Said as riding the theory wave and then jumping off. What he got from theory’s reversal of text and critic was the conviction that “criticism, not necessarily fiction, was where the deepest cultural recesses of society were laid bare”—in other words, that the work of the critic mattered in the world and to the world. This commitment remained consistent throughout his career, whatever his take on Foucault and company, and it’s one reason why his fellow critics came to embrace him, despite political and theoretical differences.

more here.