Edward Said: Culture and Empire
Few contemporary intellectuals have generated enough interest in their work to achieve simultaneous fame and infamy, yet this distinction undoubtedly applies to Edward Said. In the aftermath of his monumental Orientalism (1978) and his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people, Said became a lightning rod within both academic and policy debates about multiculturalism, Euro-American exceptionalism, and the nature of American foreign policy. How, and why, do the questions that Said raised decades ago about culture, power, aesthetics, identity, and liberation continue to reverberate today?
In this class, we will consider Said’s major works and situate them within the multiple contexts he engaged: the struggle for decolonization and Palestinian self-determination in particular; the Academy’s post-structuralist turn, which he found both intellectually fruitful but politically limited; and questions about the usefulness of Marxist thought in accounting for the interlocking phenomena of colonialism and orientalism. We will also examine the figures, from Frantz Fanon to Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci, who helped to shape Said’s particular vision of the relationship between knowledge production and colonial power, and explore the method of contrapuntal reading he used to re-inscribe cultural works into their imperial context. Finally, we will examine Said’s interest in exilic figures like Theodor Adorno and Sigmund Freud and the central role that being “out of place” (the title of Said’s autobiography) played in his own political and social vision. In addition to Orientalism, students will read selections from The Question of Palestine, Culture and Imperialism, and Freud and the Non-European, alongside select essays, interviews, and responses from his critics.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 19 — November 09, 2021