History and Literature

History and Literature

There are two Edward Saids. One is a literary scholar and critic, cultivated, knowledgeable, and, notwithstanding his interest in the literature of the third world, a traditionalist in taste. The other is a spokesman for the Palestinian cause and adherent of the PLO, polemical and sometimes, as happens in political disputes, strident. Now there is no necessary contradiction between the two, and it ought to be possible for one person to answer two callings. But in the bruising course of actuality, it’s often hard to avoid confusions and blurrings of role. I say this not with hostile intent, but in recognition of the costs involved.

The two Saids alternate, sometimes fuse, throughout Culture and Imperialism. This new book is partly an indictment of imperialism—at times maddeningly repetitive and lacking in analytical rigor, but still, I think, largely right in its argument. In part, it is also a study of how imperialism left its mark on the cultures, especially the literatures, of the West—and here the writing is often keen and fresh.