A man of great intellect and courage, Edward Said (1935-2003) taught English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. This Palestinian writer and activist was widely respected for his ground-breaking research in the field of comparative literature and on his incisive political commentary. As well, he wrote classical music criticism for The Nation and political commentary for such publications as the Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, and al-Hayat, the Arab-language daily, which is printed in every Arab capital in the world.
He was born in Jerusalem, and with his family he emigrated (1948) to Cairo, about the time Israel declared its independence and the Arab-Israeli war began. The family moved (1950) to the New York, so that he could attended college. Later, Said studied at Princeton and Harvard, where he graduated Ph.D. in 1964. Most of his academic career was spent in New York as a professor at Columbia, but he was also a visiting professor at many leading universities.
Like Noam Chomsky, he became an intellectual of the first rank. Both activists more or less see the public role of the intellectual in terms of being the outsider, the amateur, and the disturber of the status quo. Both critique the media as impediments to an understanding of what governments actually do behind closed doors, thereby promoting a sense of resistance. He lectured at more than 150 universities and colleges in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Because of his advocacy for Palestinian self-determination and his membership in the Palestine National Council, he was only latterly allowed to visit Palestine.
Said published many important books, including Orientalism (1978), a critique of the Eurocentrism that had come to typify Oriental studies; The World, the Text and the Critic (1983); Blaming the Victims (1988); Culture and Imperialism (1993), and Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (1995). His most recent book, Out of Place: A Memoir (1999), was published by Alfred A. Knopf.
This ground-breaking critique of a set of beliefs known as "Orientalism" forms an important background for such fields as Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Postcolonial Studies, which have been gaining prominence since the 1970s. Said highlights the inaccuracies of a wide range of assumptions underlying Orientalist thinking; he uncovers the operations of power in the Eurocentric constructions of the "Orient" across many sites of knowledge production, thereby helping us appreciate the global dimensions of "race" and "otherness" (Gray and McGuigan, 1997, p. 2).
To some extent, the Orient was a European invention; since antiquity, the Orient has been a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, and remarkable experiences. By the mid-seventies, it was disappearing. Perhaps it seemed irrelevant that Orientals themselves might have an interest in the process. The main...