September 25, 2010
Edward W. Said
As my eye fell on the calendar this morning, I thought immediately of Edward Said. It is seven years to the day since his death. I dug out from under a stack of books H. Aram Veeser's Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism (where I am sorry to say, Aram, it had been languishing due to an unusual busyness in my life lately) and started reading it, and found myself predictably saddened by the thought that he really is irreplaceable: no one has emerged since Edward's death with even a remote chance of occupying his colossal role as a public intellectual, as an academic engaged with the world, as the most eloquent voice of his people. Here is an excerpt from the book:
Said felt he had to transform every situation he entered. Any less would be passivity, and he was phobic about letting things happen to him: it smacked of victimage. It was customary at this epoch for radical students to liberate college classes. The professor of a liberated class was expected to stand aside and accept the verdict of History. I don’t think anyone tried this on Said, who had once used his umbrella to brush aside two friends of mine, who were kissing on the Hamilton Hall stairwell. On one occasion I recall, he addressed the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, who were very big on liberating classrooms and even whole buildings. Students, visiting radicals, Harlem residents, and street people had pressed into Hewitt Lounge, in the student center. Imagine a group who had the political moderation of Robespierre and the sartorial verve of the Hell’s Angels, and you’ll have a pretty fair grasp of the scene. Several of my fellow “Freshman Cabalists” affirmed that Said was indeed expected to speak, and pretty soon he arrived.
What followed was a series of tiny collisions and Gestalt readjustments. He was, for instance, punctilious in his dress: a black cashmere blazer over a bespoke, wide-striped English tailored shirt. French cuffs were a rarity in our group, and he had them. As he entered Hewitt Lounge, a ripple went through the assembled company, and the person speaking—who happened to be the society heiress and declared radical action freak, Josie Biddle Duke—interrupted herself and announced that Said had arrived.
More here. And you can read a review of the book here. And see also remembrances of Edward Said at 3QD by Akeel Bilgrami here and Asad Raza here. My own post on the first anniversary of Edward's death is here, and contains links to tributes by many others.
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