EDWARD SAID (1935-2003)
EXCERT from Malise Ruthven's obituary in The Guardian, 26 November 2003.
EDWARD SAID was one of the leading literary critics of the last quarter of the 20th century. As professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, New York, he was widely regarded as the outstanding representative of the post-structuralist left in America. Above all, he was the most articulate and visible advocate of the Palestinian cause in the United States, where it earned him many enemies.
The broadness of Said's approach to literature and his other great love, classical music, eludes easy categorisation. His most influential book, Orientalism (1978), is credited with helping to change the direction of several disciplines by exposing an unholy alliance between the enlightenment and colonialism. As a humanist with a thoroughly secular outlook, his critique on the great tradition of the western enlightenment seemed to many to be self-contradictory, deploying a humanistic discourse to attack the high cultural traditions of humanism, giving comfort to fundamentalists who regarded any criticism of their tradition or texts as off-limits, while calling into question the integrity of critical research into culturally sensitive areas such as Islam.[...]
Said's influence, however, was far from being confined to the worlds of academic and scholarly discourse. An intellectual superstar in America, he distinguished himself as an opera critic, pianist, television celebrity, politician, media expert, popular essayist and public lecturer.[...] A Christian humanist with a healthy respect for Islam, he was a member of the academic elite; yet he inveighed against academic professionalism, venturing into territories well outside his area of speciality, insisting always that the true intellectual's role must be that of the amateur, because it is only the amateur who is moved neither by the rewards nor the requirements of a career, and who is therefore capable of a disinterested engagement with ideas and values.