THE WORLD, THE TEXT, AND THE CRITIC by Edward W. Said

THE WORLD, THE TEXT, AND THE CRITIC

KIRKUS REVIEW

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.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0674961870
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1982




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