More than 30 interviews with cultural and political critic Said (Reflections on Exile, 2001, etc.) articulate his thoughts on issues concerning the contemporary academy and the Middle East.
Published over the past 25 years in newspapers and academic journals, the interviews testify to Said’s many interests. Viswanathan (English and Comparative Literature/Columbia Univ.) has organized his public statements into two sections, the first dealing primarily with his thoughts on literary criticism, the second focused on his role as an intellectual grappling with the crisis between Israel and Palestine. The former provides a blueprint to Said’s cultural criticism and as such will be a valuable tool for scholars. He describes the influence Bloom, Foucault, Gramsci, and Raymond Williams have had on his own work, how and why he wrote the groundbreaking Orientalism, and the sorts of academic debates he finds tiresome, such as discussions of what comprises a canon. Despite Said’s clarity and inviting, jargon-free tone, many non-academics will find themselves in over their heads in the first section. On the other hand, anyone who follows world news regularly will find much of interest in the second half, passages of which again prove that Said is one of the most articulate defenders of the Palestinian cause in the US. Always fighting for a more open dialogue, always debunking stereotypes of Arabs as insane, bomb-wielding terrorists, Said provides a wake-up call to those who have never conceived of Israel or the US government and press as being in the wrong in their dealings with Palestinians. For example, on Thomas Friedman, former Middle East correspondent and now an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Said says: “He gives the sophisticated Orientalist interpretation of the events, which uniformly comes out to be scandalously tendentious.”
A strong sampler of a unique and acute critical perspective.