Edward Said died yesterday after a long battle with leukemia. From the Columbia University site:
- Edward W. Said, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, a member of the Columbia faculty since 1963 and University Professor since 1992, died on Thursday, September 25, at 6:45 a.m. One of the most influential scholars in the world, Said was also a devoted and beloved teacher to generations of Columbia students. The University mourns his passing.
President of Columbia Lee C Bollinger said:
“Edward Said was a man of enormous intellectual distinction. He was devoted to, and intimately engaged with, works of art, especially the novel and the poem. He was a humanist who believed that such study is essential to a good and meaningful life. And through his writings and teaching he transformed our sense of ourselves by forcing us in the Western world to confront the implicit assumptions we have about other peoples around the globe. His death is an irreplaceable loss to the realm of ideas and for those who believe in the redemptive power of the life of the mind.
University Provost Alan Brinkley said:
“Edward Said was a great scholar, a great teacher, and a beloved member of the Columbia community for 40 years. His many works on literature, theory, music, and politics have influenced generations of students and teachers around the world. Among many other things, he taught us new ways of looking at other cultures and invited us to take assumptions we are tempted to consider universal and place them in their particular social contexts. We will greatly miss this kind, gentle, and generous colleague and friend. It is hard to imagine Columbia without him.”
Edward Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935, but spent most of his life in the United States. He received degrees from Princeton and Harvard before coming to Columbia, where he spent most of his adult life. His many books include Beginnings (1975); Orientalism (1978); The Question of Palestine (1980); Covering Islam (1981); The World, the Text and the Critic (1983); After the Last Sky (1986); Blaming the Victims (1987); Culture and Imperialism (1992), and The Politics of Dispossession (1995). His Wellek and Reith Lectures were published as, respectively, Musical Elaborations and Representations of the Intellectual. Peace and Its Discontents appeared in 1996, Out of Place: A Memoir in 1999, and The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After in 2000. Reflections on Exile appeared in 2000, as well as The Edward Said Reader, and in 2001, Power, Politics, and Culture. His books are translated into 36 languages.
Professor Said received honorary doctorates from Bir Zeit, Chicago, Michigan, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jami’a Malleyeh, Toronto, Guelph, Edinburgh, Haverford, Warwick, Exeter, National University of Ireland and American University in Cairo. He twice received Columbia’s Trilling Award and the Wellek Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of King’s College, Cambridge, and an Honorary Fellow of the Middle East Studies Association. In 1999 he was President of The Modern Languages Association.
- Mr. Said, who was born in Jerusalem during the British mandate in Palestine and emigrated to the United States when he was a teenager, spent a long and productive career as a professor of comparative literature at Columbia and was the author of several widely discussed books.
He was an exemplar of American multiculturalism, at home both in Arabic and English, but, as he once put it, “a man who lived two quite separate lives,” one as an American university professor, the other as a fierce critic of American and Israeli policies and an equally fierce proponent of the Palestinian cause.
Though a defender of Islamic civilization, Mr. Said was an Episcopalian married to a Quaker. He was also an excellent pianist who for several years was the music critic for The Nation.
From 1977 to 1991, he was as an unaffiliated member of the Palestine National Conference, a parliament-in-exile. Most of the conference’s members belong to one or another of the main Palestinian organizations, most importantly the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat, but some were members of smaller organizations believed responsible for terrorist operations against Israelis and Americans, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
“The situation of the Palestinian is that of a victim,” Mr. Said told Dinitia Smith in New York magazine in 1989, making the kind of statement that put him at the center of the roiling debate about the Middle East.
“They’re the dispossessed, and what they do by way of violence and terrorism is understandable,” he said. ” But what the Israelis do, in killing Palestinians on a much larger scale, is a continuation of the horrific and unjust dispossession of the Palestinian people.”
He added: “‘I totally repudiate terrorism in all its forms. Not just Palestinian terrorism — I’m also against Israeli terrorism, the bombing of refugee camps.”
Mr. Said was a widely recognized figure in New York, a frequent participant in debates on the Middle East, and an outspoken advocate of a Palestinian homeland. For many years he was an ardent supporter of Mr. Arafat, whom he called “the leader of a genuinely national and popular movement, with a clearly legitimate goal of self-determination for his people.”
But Mr. Said became a bitter critic of Mr. Arafat after the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the P.L.O., believing that the agreement gave the Palestinians too little territory and too little control over it.
In the years after Oslo, he argued that separate Palestinian and Jewish states would always be unworkable and, while he recognized that emotions on both sides were against it, he advocated a single binational state as the best ultimate solution.
“I see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, and sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen,” he wrote in a 1999 essay in The New York Times. “There can be no reconciliation unless both peoples, two communities of suffering, resolve that their existence is a secular fact, and that it has to be dealt with as such.”
Among the criticisms leveled against Mr. Said by Jews and others was his failure to condemn specific acts of terrorism by Palestinian groups, including some that served alongside him on the Palestine National Council.
One such person, for example, was Abu Abbas, a member of the P.L.O. executive committee who is believed responsible for the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of a wheelchair-bound American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer.
In his interview with New York, Mr. Said called Abu Abbas “a degenerate,” but he then argued that important Israeli leaders, like former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, had been terrorists responsible for the killing of women and children.
….Edward Said was born in Jerusalem on Nov. 1, 1935, and spent his childhood in a well-to-do neighborhood of thick-walled stone houses that is now one of the main Jewish districts of the city. His father, a prosperous businessman who had lived in the United States, took the family to Cairo in 1947 after the United Nations divided Jerusalem into Jewish and Arab halves.
The 12-year-old Edward went to the American School in Cairo, then to Victoria College, an elite institution where among his classmates were the future King Hussein of Jordan and the actor Omar Sharif.
In 1951 his parents sent him to the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. He went on to Princeton University and then to graduate school at Harvard, where he got his Ph.D. in English literature in 1964. The year before that, Mr. Said became an assistant instructor in the English Department of Columbia, moving up to full professor in 1970.
In 1977 he was appointed to an endowed chair, becoming the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature and later the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, a position he held until he was named a university professor, the highest academic position at Columbia.
….”Orientalism” established Mr. Said as a figure of enormous influence in American and European universities, a hero to many, especially younger faculty and graduate students on the left for whom “Orientalism” was a kind of intellectual credo, the founding document of the field that came to be called post-colonial studies.
Central to Mr. Said’s argument was the notion that there was in essence no objective, neutral scholarship on Asia and especially on the Arab world. The very Western study of the East, in his view, was bound up in the systematic prejudices about the non-Western world that turned it into a set of clichés. Since the Enlightenment, Mr. Said wrote, “Every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”
This view did not go unchallenged, even among specialists on the Middle East who acknowledged that there was much in the book that was true but who rejected many of its assertions as overdrawn, hyperbolic, and over-simplistic.
“It is a pity that it is so pretentiously written, so drenched in jargon, for there is much in this book that is superb as well as intellectually exciting,” wrote the British historian J. H. Plumb in The New York Times Book Review. But Mr. Plumb and others contended that Mr. Said made no effort to actually examine the real, historical relations between West and East, or to sort out what was true “in the Western representation” of the East from what was false and caricatural.
They argued that Mr. Said’s assumption was that the Orientalists simply invented the East to satisfy the requirements of cultural superiority and Western imperialism and he ignored the vast body of scholarship that grappled with the East on its own terms.
“The tragedy of Mr. Said’s `Orientalism’, ‘` wrote Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar of the Middle East who is criticized in Mr. Said’s book, “is that it takes a genuine problem of real importance and reduces it to the level of political polemic and personal abuse.”
….Mr. Said’s last book was “The Politics of Dispossession,” which extended his criticism of Western attitudes toward the Palestinians but also portrayed the Palestinian leadership as profligate and corrupt.
Reviewing that book in The New York Times, David Shipler wrote: “Reading Mr. Said is like being yelled at for hours on end, and it takes a good and willing ear to appreciate his calmer passages of insight, to hear the essential melodies that run beneath the discordant onslaughts.”
Mr. Said’s first marriage, to Maire Jaanus, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Mariam Cortas, a son, Wadie, and a daughter, Najla.
Now is not the time to be critical, but I agree with approximately 0% of what Mr. Said had to say, but peace to him nonetheless.
Adil Farooq has an exceptional critique of his work here.