Sunday, September 28 Remembering Edward Said: "Like many people, I'm sure, I was deeply influenced by Said's work -- Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, of course, but also some of the earlier less political works, like Beginnings. He was largely responsible -- some might say to blame -- for importing French cultural theory into the American intellectual scene, particularly Foucault, who obviously had a huge influence on Orientalism. But he always resisted the inane wordplay and self-absorption that characterized so much of American theory in the eighties and early nineties. He absolutely despised 'radical theorists' like Judith Butler, for instance. I remember him bristling anytime someone used the word 'discourse' in one of our seminars -- and I remember thinking at the time that I had first starting using the word myself after reading Orientalism during my freshman year.
I'm sure there will be a flood of eulogies with more insightful surveys of his work (and no doubt some critics, given his political stances.) But I think it's worth saying something here that I've said about Said for more than ten years now: on his best days, he was the most charismatic man I've ever met in my life -- handsome, stylish, impossibly articulate, and surprisingly willing to take a joke at his own expense. (I used to tease him about his being indirectly responsible for unleashing Butler on the world.) I remember vividly one early spring afternoon, sitting through a seminar he was teaching on public intellectuals, in a room overlooking the Columbia campus and the sun setting over Riverside Park, and thinking to myself: there's literally nowhere else I'd rather be right now. I'm sure there are thousands of his students out there sifting through similar memories today. "

If I ever felt that way about graduate school the memory has long since fled.


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