by Pankaj Mishra published in The New Yorker
Read original on The New Yorker's website
Mishra reviews the new, authorized biography of Ed...Show description
Posted 680 days ago
If this article interested you, I would highly suggest Vivek Chibber's review of "Orientalism": Orientalism and Its Afterlives published in Catalyst (a sister publication of Jacobin). He dives much deeper into Said's arguments and less into his life. This was a really good peice of writing by Mishra, though.
Posted 680 days ago
This was an absolutely fantastic review of Said's work and influence in just a couple pages. It certainly isn't the full biography, but I was really impressed how concisely Mishra summarized both the biography and his knowledge of Said more broadly. I'm not sure whether the critiques of Said's aristocratic background come from Mishra or Brennan, but they give us insight into the nature of public discourse:
While his handsome face appeared on the T-shirts and posters of left-wing street protesters worldwide, Said maintained a taste for Rolex watches, Burberry suits, and Jermyn Street shoes
This, of course, is a constant contradiction that shows up in a lot of movements: public figures are used as symbols rather than representatives of the movement. People pull out the part of their discourse that fits the movement, rather than look at the full personality of the person. This is neither a good or bad thing, just the way it is. Che Guevara, the hammer and sickle, etc. are often printed on shirts or pamphlets that only resemble a movement partially, but are used as a symbol of the significance of the movement.
Mishra goes on to analyze Said's critique in "Orientalism." He says that it "was also by no means original. Noam Chomsky had been making much the same argument since the nineteen-sixties" but that what made it "distinctive:
...was its immense panoply of Western learning—the fruits of Said’s Ivy League training—and its audacious crossing of disciplinary boundaries: history, philology, anthropology, literary studies.
Being from Western, "Ivy League training" definitely influenced Said's critics, such as Aijaz Ahmad, who wrote:
Said’s book furnished [intellectual émigrés, largely male and often members of ruling classes in their respective countries] with “narratives of oppression that would get them preferential treatment, reserved jobs, higher salaries.” For a posher kind of Oriental subject, denouncing the Orientalist West had become one way of finding a tenured job in it.
That is a very harsh critique and although has some truth to it, largely overlooks the influence of Said's work and how it changed Western discourse. Mishra goes on to show, though, that his influence soon waned as the "reactionary right...created a much stronger basis for itself than the academic left had" especially on the topic of Isreal. As we look at the news headlines today, and even with a "progressive" president Biden, we see he is silent on the escalating conflict between Isreal and Gaza. "De-escalation" is largely in support of the one with power in the conflict. I'm not a scholar on this conflict or region, so I have no idea what to make of it, I'm just commenting on Mishra's analysis of the rise of right-wing support for Isreal over Palestine taking a much firmer hold on the American public.