cover image Reflections on Exile: And Other Essays

Reflections on Exile: And Other Essays

Edward W. Said. Harvard University Press, $36.95 (617pp) ISBN 978-0-674-00302-6

Thanks to the British schools that the eminent Columbia University literary and cultural critic Said attended as a boy in Cairo, he learned more about 18th-century British property law than he did about the Islamic equivalent in his own part of the world. As an adult, he re-educated himself with a fierce intensity, although, as these 46 essays make clear, he now retains a certain affection for canonical figures and institutions, even as he celebrates an astounding range of learning. Said (Culture and Imperialism; Orientalism; Out of Place: A Memoir) views all of culture through the lens of ""historical experience,"" emphasizing how feminism, ethnic and minority experience, and nationalism have broken tradition's grip on literature. Rather than put aside the canonical writers he was raised on, however, he ""re-situates"" them instead within their own histories. Given his keenly penetrating and original cast of mind, it is not surprising that Said's personal pantheon of heroes includes those who blur the line between criticism and creation, among them Foucault, Nietzsche, Gramsci, Barthes, Adorno and John Berger, not to mention pianist Glenn Gould, composer and conductor Pierre Boulez and filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo. But his greatest hero is Joseph Conrad, for Conrad found trouble everywhere; if there is savagery in Africa and Asia and Latin America, there is just as much in the great capitals of Europe. This wide-ranging and brilliant collection is a fitting tribute to one of our leading scholars, who has changed the way we look at Western culture. (Feb.)