Remarkable People: Edward Said

We live in a time of great confusions: Celebrity is commonly mistaken for talent, image has frequently displaced substance, notoriety is often equated with accomplishment, rhetoric has generally displaced wisdom, and material success seems synonymous with character. To thoughtful people, this list of errors sometimes seems almost endless, and so it is good to recollect that there have always been individuals among us who exhibit the classical virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence and whose lives, therefore, are worthy of both study and emulation. “Remarkable People” will offer brief descriptions of these exemplary human beings.

Edward Said (1935-2003) was an author, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, and cultural critic, who wrote and lectured on wide variety of subjects, most notably postcolonial studies. Born into a Palestinian Christian family, Said eventually became a powerful voice for the creation of a Palestinian state and for equal rights for Palestinians in Israel. “Orientalism” established Said’s reputation as a brilliant and courageous intellectual, and though many academics disagree with its thesis that Western scholars writing about the Middle East are compromised in their efforts by an inherently imperialist bias, the book is a necessary read for anyone seeking to understand the tangled and frequently tragic relationship between Orient and Occident. People who want a fuller appreciation for both Said and his work should also read his memoir, “Out of Place,” and a collection of his interviews, “Power, Politics, and Culture.” 

Two quotations from Edward Said:

“Since the time of Homer every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”

“I have been unable to live an uncommitted or suspended life. I have not hesitated to declare my affiliation with an extremely unpopular cause.”

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