Monday, June 27, 2011

He Said, Ed Said

On Edward Said, I have found that many in the AIM (the Anti-Islam Movement "such as it is", as Diana West once wryly put it) exaggerate him by making him into some sort of Godfather of Academic PC MC; whereas, as chapters 2 and 3 of Martin Kramer's book, Ivory Towers of Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, tend to show, Said only cleverly capitalized on a trend in Western Academe already long underway.  One quote in particular from that book (p. 37), by historian Clive Dewey, is apt here:

When Edward Said’s Orientalism first appeared in 1978, historian after historian must have put it down without finishing it—without imagining, for a moment, the influence it would exert. It was, technically, so bad; in every respect, in its use of sources, in its deductions, it lacked rigour and balance.The outcome was a caricature of Western knowledge of the Orient, driven by an overtly political agenda. Yet it clearly touched a deep vein of vulgar prejudice running through American academe.

I.e., before this non-Westerner (Ed Said) came along to try to expose and skewer Western "Orientalism", the majority of Western Academics, excessively and reflexively self-critical of their own West through their axiomatic PC MC, had already paved the ground for his shoddy hypothesis to gain further traction.

As I wrote in response to Robert Spencer once, who typically assumed that Said was responsible for the dominance of anti-"Orientalism" in Academe (not to mention throughout pseudo-intellectual pop culture -- cf. Master's graduates who move up in their careers to write for Salon magazine, or sideways for the new and improved The New Yorker):

I disagree that it was "with Said" that this perspective became dominant -- if by "with Said" you mean he was not simply exploiting an already existing perspective that flourished completely without his help before he came along to exploit it (he only really got going in the late 1970s -- the main font of his influence began in 1978 with his book Orientalism, while prior to that he was only dabbling in articles about various Islamic and Palestinian issues, beginning in 1970 (see for example this).

The mere fact that a pseudo-scholar like Said can have the influence he has had in Academe (and in pseudo-intellectual salon society) points to a phenomenon larger than him -- an already existing predisposition and predilection to swallow what he cooked up.

Thus, the anti-Islam blogger Fjordman (perhaps more mildly than Spencer) recently uses the locution that "he [Said] and his disciples have been allowed to spread demonization and falsehoods against European and Western scholars for so many years relatively unchallenged."

The problem is not so much that Said has "been allowed" to do this (a curious and gross understatement of the phenomenon under analysis) -- but rather that Said was, and continues to be, positively encouraged by a massively nutritious context in an environment, Western Academe, already predisposed, long before he came along, to nourish his academic activities and give an enormous boost to his pet theory, packaged in the sexy meme of "Orientalism" glibly assumed ("resemanticized" is Kramer's term) to be a pejorative.

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