ABSTRACT

In the current hagiography of intellectuals, Edward Said, or rather the image projected of Said and his career, has taken an exemplary cast. Of late, Said has been widely accorded pantheon status, grouped with other larger-thanlife, contemporary intellectual figures such as Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, or Michel Foucault, and he anticipates and provides a model for the recent apotheosis of the public intellectual.1 He was there long before Cornel West.2 His reputation has in part been built from his work in literary criticism and critical theory, of course, which has been prodigious and influential. His early book Beginnings, a long meditation on inaugural moments in literary texts and in some ways a response to Frank Kermode’s influential The Sense of an Ending, infused the American scene with a learned and nuanced account of Continental theory and provided a pivotal bridge between the humanist tradition (of Auerbach and Curtius, as well as Blackmur in this country, for whom Said expresses admiration) and the new theoretical canon (of Derrida and Foucault, whom Said compares).3 If Beginnings concretized Said’s reputation as a central figure in the advent of literary theory, his next book, Orientalism, expanded his reputation beyond the confines of literary studies to the larger academic-intellectual commu­ nity, influencing a range of other academic disciplines, such as anthropo­ logy, Oriental studies, international studies, and postcolonial studies (which his work helped establish), as well as to a general (educated) public.4 After

that, The World, the Text, and the Critic, a collection of important pieces on theory, further cemented Said’s reputation and position in the new dis­ course of theory, arguing powerfully for attention to worldly concerns as opposed to the narrowly textualist focus of most contemporary theory.5 Most recently, Culture and Imperialism, capping off Said’s analysis of the resonances of imperialism in much European literature, has been hailed as a magnum opus (as its dust jacket full of grandly laudatory blurbs asserts), functioning as the icing, as it were, on Said’s literary-intellectual reputation, in effect testifying to his now monumental status.6