Books by Edward W. Said

Released: Aug. 10, 2004

"Always controversial, but worthwhile for those who follow current events—and those who wish for peace in Palestine."
A gathering of recent, polemical pieces on the Middle East by the late literary scholar, pinning most of the blame for the troubles on Israel, but assigning some to the PLO. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"A fascinating exploration of post-colonialism as seen through the eyes of its progenitor."
A compilation of 35 years' worth of critical essays from one of the boldest and most articulate cultural theorists alive today. Read full book review >
Released: April 10, 2000

" A powerful, groundlevel perspective on one of the greatest tragedies of our time."
A collection of 50 impassioned, damning essays on the consequences of the Middle East peace process. Read full book review >
OUT OF PLACE by Edward W. Said
Released: Sept. 24, 1999

Said's compassionate and lyrical memoir explores his feelings of displacement in both his cultural setting and his family, revealing the roots of his intellectual, political, and personal unfolding. A distinguished cultural critic (The Politics of Dispossession, 1994, etc.), Said has gained a reputation as a bold intellectual and a noted spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. Faced with a diagnosis of leukemia in 1991, Said decided to recapture the world of his early childhood in Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon, followed by what turned out to be a permanent move to the US. The result is a "record of an essentially lost or forgotten world." This is a bittersweet memoir of a boyhood in a sleepy summer town in Lebanon, of the cosmopolitan, colonial world of Cairo in the "40s and "50s, and of the dramatic changes in Palestine before Israel gained statehood. It's also the story of Said's early sense of alienation, the distinct (and eventually cherished) feeling of being an outsider. A Christian Palestinian in Cairo with a proper British name and a father with American citizenship, the young Said felt out of place early on. Said is an insightful and close observer of the details of daily life that create an entire mood in a people or family. The subject of his own family—a pampered and eerily sheltered group—is equally central to Said's critical yet tender account of his growth from the confused and insecure "Edward" (a creation of his parents) into an emotionally and intellectually mature man. Said devotes enormous lyrical and emotional energy to presenting his parents' role in his life, describing in heart-wrenching detail the domineering father and the influential, manipulative mother who watched his every move. Both culturally and emotionally, maturity for Said could only come from a separation from his early life. A beautiful and moving account that stands on its own as a classic in the art of memoir and as a key to understanding the genesis of Said's intellectual work. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 25, 1994

In six essays delivered as lectures for the BBC, Said (The Politics of Dispossession, p. 537, etc.) makes the case that intellectuals should maintain a vigilant skepticism toward all received wisdoms. Said conceives of the ideal intellectual as "exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak the truth to power." Some may find an exquisite irony in the spectacle of Said, a member of the Palestinian National Council, cautioning thinkers against allowing their ideas and reputations to be co-opted by patriotism, nationalism, and various forms of group-think. But Said sees the irony as well, and he struggles honestly in these essays to describe a role for the intellectual in which the moral authority of the prophetic outsider is not purchased by forfeiting all political and social engagement. Read full book review >
Released: June 30, 1994

A lucid compilation of 39 essays by Said (Comparative Literature/Columbia), the most eloquent spokesperson for the Palestinian cause in the Western world since the Arab defeat in the 1967 war against Israel. Said (Culture and Imperialism, 1993, etc.) adds an introduction and final chapter to these essays, which have appeared over the past 25 years in publications ranging from the Village Voice and the London Review of Books to the Journal of Palestine Studies. The essays are critical not only of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, but also of the Arab world's indifference to the Palestinians' plight. American intervention — and sometimes the lack of same — is also criticized. Contending that the Palestinians are a people with their own history, culture, and right to self-determination, Said portrays them as victims of an Israeli occupation, "a cruel thing, a further injustice done to a people deprived of all rights." He depicts Israel as a nation of Holocaust survivors "with a tragic history of genocide and persecution" who are largely insensitive to the rights of the people they displaced. When Said compares the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he lapses from impassioned criticism into outright propaganda. He is equally harsh on the Arab world's repressive and destructive tyrants and decries Arab states for not supporting the intifada, which he sees as a genuine manifestation of Palestinian self-determination. Islamic fundamentalism is glibly dismissed by the secular (and Christian) Said, who envisions a democratic Palestinian state. That "neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have a military option against each other and that both people must learn to live in peace" is Said's major thesis. Disappointed by Arafat and Rabin's recent Oslo agreement, which he claims ignores the vast Palestinian diaspora, Said sees no resolution in sight. A highly charged and eminently readable critique of a sandstorm in the world's eye. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 28, 1993

Said's latest book largely reiterates his familiar argument for cultural recognition of the "Other" (more cogently marshalled in his Orientalism, 1978), particularly the colonized "Other" that has been molded in popular perception by the crucial (to Said) element of Western imperialism. Perusing Verdi's Aida, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Kipling's Kim, even Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Said insists that the fact that one culture has dominated another is the subtext for any 19th-century exploration of the exotic—or even, in Austen's case, for "the ordination" of the colonizer's rights and local freedoms. Said, though a gifted professor, is a gluey stylist ("Moreover, the various struggles for dominance among states, nationalisms, ethnic groups, regions, and cultural entities have conducted and simplified a manipulation of opinion and discourse, a production and consumption of ideological media representations, a simplification and reduction of vast complexities into easy currency, the easier to deploy and exploit them in the interest of state politics")—and he is certainly subject to his own charges of simplification. Didn't colonized cultures have, in turn, their own colonies, imperialisms, dominations? Has there ever been a human society in which the "Other," the "impure," the "raw," the "strange" hasn't been used as a lever for advantage? Is culture, for that matter, supposed to be complex and fair—or is it, rather, self-essential and reflective? Said spends no time weighing these questions, which he sends out onto the field but never puts in play. It's following the sections of highly tenuous lit-crit here that Said's lack of focus and ill-thought-out positions become most apparent. Drifting screeds and apologies—against the Gulf War, for Oliver Stone's JFK and the equally astigmatic Salman Rushdie—plus ever more academic recommendations of scholarly books Said agrees with give his own a tiresome, soapboxy sensibility, undercutting its formality and most of its seriousness. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1982

Said (Orientalism, Covering Islam) presents his more strictly academic/literary side here—in a dozen more-or-less-related essays, most of which derive from lectures and academic-journal pieces. The primary point: Said argues, though rarely very concretely, for an "affiliative" sort of criticism—for seeing literary texts as "dynamic fields." ("A certain range of reference, a system of tentacles. . . partly potential, partly actual: to the author, to the reader, to a historical situation, to the other texts, to the past and present.") And, on even more slippery ground, Said also argues against the deconstructionists—envisioning a criticism which will determine the "intention" (social, mostly) behind any work. Thus, in two thoughtful essays on Swift, Said defends the satirist against the pigeonholing of Orwell and others (who dismiss Swift as a "reactionary"); Said insists that Swift be viewed in the context of his era's "sociopolitical and economic realities"—and that "not enough claims are made for Swift as a kind of local activist. . . ." With Conrad, too, a world outside the text—here a psychological, Freudian one—is brought into the discussion of craft and intent: "Conrad's writing was a way of repeatedly confirming his authorship by refracting it in a variety of often contradictory and negative narrative and quasi-narrative contingencies. . . . He did this in preference to a direct representation of his neuroses." But the considerations of both Swift and Conrad end up rather murkily, with little sense of a freshly illuminating critical approach. And when Said attempts to delineate his ideal brand of criticism, with examples from his work on Islam, a lot of it seems like slightly coy but unstartling Marxist criticism—as in references to "the network binding writers to the State and to a worldwide 'metropolitan' imperialism that, at the moment they were writing, furnished them in the novelistic techniques of narration and description with implicit models of accumulation, discipline, and normalization." Still, Said does, in one essay, superbly digest the divergent revisionist/revolutionary ideas of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (a valuable service); and if he fails to present a strong case for the originality or coherence of his own approach to criticism, he touches on a wide spectrum of lit-crit schools with erudition and balance—making this a quietly provocative collection for specialists in critical theory. Read full book review >
Released: May 29, 1981

In Orientalism (1978), Said denounced the ethnocentric distortions of (primarily) the Islamic world by Western scholarship, past to present. Here, he 1) recasts the argument to apply to present-day American attitudes and perceptions generally; then 2) reviews American media treatment of the first two months of the hostage crisis; and finally 3) suggests ways out of "the interpretive circle." The book is somewhat disjointed as a result (sizable portions appeared first as articles in The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review), and somewhat repetitive: there is also an outtake on the PBS-Saudi Arabian conflict over the showing of the film Death of a Princess. Nonetheless, the first section is valuable as a summary of the "tendency to favor certain views" of a supposedly monolithic "Islam"—to see it as intransigent, and from the oil crisis onward, as hostile and threatening. It is also valuable for Said's observation that the Islamic world reacts against that particular image, "the so-called Orientals acting the part decreed for them by what so-called Westerners expect." Islamic internal energies are real and diverse, Said stresses, and "Muslims need to emphasize the goal of living a new form of history." The second section, on the hostage-crisis coverage, is both a bill of particulars, focusing on the elite—Walter Cronkite couldn't pronounce names correctly, the New York Times' Flora Lewis' "scurrying about in sources and unfamiliarity with her subjects gave her readers the sense of a scavenger hunt"—and a case study of a skewed, ultimately inflammatory response to a little-understood situation. (It's only too bad that room was not found, in an appendix, for the letters of protest to Columbia Journalism Review, and Said's replies.) The third section very precisely works over "how knowledge [of Islam] gets produced"—implicitly addressing the problems of how to deal with any alien culture. On this last, Said is probably the most trenchant commentator around. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 21, 1979

In this polemical essay, Edward Said, a Columbia professor and member of the Palestinian National Council, presents the Palestinian case to the American public—a follow-up to his general attack on the field of Middle East studies in Orientalism (1979). Charging inadequate coverage and media recognition as well as misrepresentation, Said—at times eloquent and erudite, at times propagandistic and convoluted—stresses the lack of direct communication between the Palestinians and the West. Palestinians like himself, he believes, should remind the world that the Palestinians will not simply disappear and that their situation as a dispossessed people must be faced equally with the Jewish holocaust. As Zionism and Israeli occupation of the West Bank since 1967 have attempted to negate a Palestinian identity by ignoring or stultifying it, so, he writes, has the PLO resuscitated the "idea" of Palestine and created an infrastructure capable of unifying and educating Palestinians within and outside Israel. Expounding on the negative impact of Zionism (Western imperialism) on Arabs in Israel as opposed to its benefits for Jews, Said traces the origins of the Palestinian nationalist movement to the encounter with Zionism in the 1880s; dwells on the critical year 1948 when many left what became the state of Israel; emphasizes post-1967 events and the rise of an effective PLO which he claims represents all Palestinians; and ends with his vision of the future — notwithstanding Camp David and the Arab-Israeli treaty — a secular democratic state. (Its implications for Israeli sovereignty are not discussed.) By using and recommending only partisan documentation, however, and neglecting to provide evidence for a number of controversial interpretations (Palestinian "ejection from Israel; "unauthorized" Arab terrorism), Said limits the usefulness of his tract as a scholarly work; but the position had not heretofore been articulated at this elevated level. Read full book review >
ORIENTALISM by Edward W. Said
Released: Nov. 30, 1978

One may quibble with the title: this is a study of Islamic Orientalism solely, of Western representations of the Near East, with little or no direct reference to Persia, India, China, Japan.

Professor Said (Comparative Literature, Columbia) explains the limited focus as both methodological (coherence over exhaustiveness) and personal: he is an Arab Palestinian. But among Eastern civilizations, as he recognizes, Islam is a special case, particularly in relation to Christian Europe: a "fraudulent," competing religion (doggedly miscalled Mohammedanism), a longstanding military threat, and all the more, therefore, as affront. Singularity, however, is no handicap to what is essentially a case study of Western ethno-centrism and its consequences, while the very persistence of the generalizing and dehumanizing attitudes that Said condemns, unparalleled in regard to either Africa or the Far East, argues the urgency of the enterprise. Drawing, most prominently, upon Foucault's history of pernicious ideas, Said traces the development of Orientalism from Silvestre de Sacy's fragmentation of Oriental culture into "a canon of textual objects" and Ernest Renan's incorporation of the fragments into the new comparative philology: "the Orient's contemporary relevance [was] to be simply as material for European investigation." Ascribed traits—passivity, eroticism, etc.—became fixed; travelers, ostensibly sympathetic, added exotic tales; and the presumed inferiority of Islam served as the pretext for its political domination, its supposed backwardness the excuse for economic intervention (with even Karl Marx writing of England's "regenerating" mission in India). Not until after World War II does Islam enter the American consciousness, and then—with Arab specialists in attendance—as "the disrupter of Israel's and the West's existence." Said's recent citations are devastating, and add force to his final challenge: how to avoid all categorization of one people by another?

The book is redundant and not always reasonable, but bound to cut a wide swath and leave its mark. Read full book review >