Edward Said has long been considered one of the world's most compelling public intellectuals, taking on a remarkable array of topics with his many publications. But no single book has encompassed the vast scope of his stimulating erudition quite like Power, Politics, and Culture, a collection of interviews from the last three decades.
In these twenty-eight interviews, Said addresses everything from Palestine to Pavarotti, from his nomadic upbringing under colonial rule to his politically active and often controversial adulthood, and reflects on Austen, Beckett, Conrad, Naipaul, Mahfouz, and Rushdie, as well as on fellow critics Bloom, Derrida, and Foucault. The passion Said feels for literature, music, history, and politics is powerfully conveyed in this indispensable complement to his prolific life's work.
"I'm the last Jewish intellectual.... The only true follower of Adorno. Let me put it this way: I'm a Jewish-Palestinian," says Said provocatively in a 2000 interview in the leading Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz. A pathbreaking intellectual and renowned political activist, Said never consents to being pigeonholed. These interviews trace his thoughtful perspectives and his unflinching candor about Middle Eastern politics. A Palestinian who spent much of his childhood in Egypt, Said has long fought for the Palestinian cause and has spoken out against recent Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and against Yasir Arafat, whom he calls "unreformable." His most famous book, Orientalism (1978), explored how Western intellectuals have viewed and represented the Arab world. In the spirit of that volume, in the 1980s, Said observed how U.S. media cast "[t]he Middle East as a place whose violent and incomprehensible events are routinely referred back to a distant past full of `ancient' tribal, religious, or ethnic hatreds." Said, a literature professor at Columbia University (where Viswanathan is his colleague), has also received accolades as a literary and cultural critic. Spanning 25 years, these interviews enhance both of these reputations. The first part, concerning literary criticism and cultural theory, demonstrates Said's willingness to think outside of the box of prescribed progressive convictions. For example, as a passionate believer in combining scholarship with activism, he's unafraid to criticize academic Marxists for failing to combine theories and practice. The interviews in the second part center on Said's attempt to find practical applications for his political ideas, primarily in the Middle East. He also discusses Saddam Hussein, nationalism, Salman Rushdie's underground existence, classical music and a host of other topics. Those interested in an overview of Said's ideas and oeuvre should start with this book.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 26, 2002
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Excerpt from Power, Politics, and Culture by Edward W. Said
This collection of interviews covers the years 1976 to 2000, as well as a wide variety of subjects. Except for the first one, which appeared in the Cornell University journal Diacritics and was a written exchange between the editors and myself, all of these pieces occurred, so to speak, in a face-to-face situation. Necessarily then, they reflect the immediacy of such encounters, the back-and-forth, the informal question-and-answer language, the circling around, making, and remaking of a point or argument, the challenge and counter-challenge of interviewer(s) and interviewee. They have been edited first of all by the journals, newspapers, and magazines that conducted the interviews in the first place and where they originally appeared, second by Professor Gauri Viswanathan and Shelley Wanger, third by me. As such then, they are a composite of direct discourse and later clarification. No effort at all has been made by anyone involved to make these interviews seem more "writerly." They are therefore principally the records of various occasions, in many different times and places, publications, interviewers (the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, India), and many different situations, moods, and concerns.
Interviews play a role that essays and books do not. Most often in my case, they have arisen as responses to what I have written in my books and articles and, as such, reflect the interests of whoever is conducting the interview. I must say, though, that they have become the steady feature of the life of the publishing teacher and public critic. Wherever I go to lecture or publish a book, I am very grateful that kind and intellectually generous individuals give me the opportunity to answer their questions, on the spot and without preparation. In many ways, interviews are sustained acts of discovery, not only for the person being interviewed but for even the well-prepared interviewer. Thus, it is refreshingly often the case that someone with a long list of carefully written out questions discards the list and proceeds simultaneously and directly to talk to me--from out of our discussion rather than off a page--and then more discovery often does occur, with results that are usually unpredictable. Every situation therefore reflects a specific set of circumstances, and since I have been involved in the public domain as a political activist as well as an intellectual and scholar, all sorts of challenges arise, which I have tried to meet. In any case, it is my hope that despite their informality and relatively wide-ranging nature, these interviews will also answer to the reader's interests and concerns--at another time, in another place.
March 20, 2001
by Gauri Viswanathan
Few authors today are as prolific as Edward W. Said. The author of almost two dozen books, Said has written on a broad array of topics ranging from literary criticism to Middle East politics to opera, film, and travel. His views, marked by an engaging communicative energy, have reached a wide audience through his publications, articles and books, whether the subject is Joseph Conrad, Richard Wagner, or Palestine and the peace process. He is also the subject of several full-length works and anthologies of critical essays; indeed, there are at least a half dozen publications every year on his work, and books offering critical perspectives on Edward Said have become a growth industry in themselves. So much has been written by and about him that one can be
pardoned for asking what new insights a book of interviews can be expected to provide that are not already present in Said's writings or in works about him.
The answer is simple: The interviews Said gave over the past three decades boldly announce that neither his own books and essays nor those written about him have the last word. The first thing to note is not only the number of interviews Said has given, both to print and broadcast media, but also the number of locations in which they took place, spanning Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe and the United States. They confirm his presence on the international stage as one of the most forceful public intellectuals of our time, a man who evokes interest in the general public for his passionate humanism, his cultivation and erudition, his provocative views, and his unswerving commitment to the cause of Palestinian self-determination. Dispersed in numerous publications around the world, these interviews have never before been collected in a single book. Together, they reveal a ceaselessly roving mind returning to earlier ideas in his books and articles and engaging with them anew.