Analyzing The Cultural Critique Of Edward W Said Cultural Studies Essay


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Edward W. Said was the quintessential intellectual of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The broadness of Said's approach to literature and his other great love, classical music, eludes easy categorization. Said's influence, however, was far from being confined to the worlds of academic and scholarly discourse. He distinguished himself as an opera critic, pianist, television celebrity, politician, media expert, popular essayist and public lecturer. Though he was a member of the academic elite 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. 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.

Edward Said was a public intellectual unlike any other contemporary critic. His oppositional stance firmly rooted in a notion of the role of the intellectual meant that he had crossed borders and boundaries continuously. Said's intellectual project celebrates the culture of resistance while rejecting doctrinaire rhetoric, and reaffirms the principles of human liberation while criticizing the "politics of blame." He has taught us that "no race has a monopoly on beauty, or intelligence, or strength, and there will be a place for all at the rendezvous of victory".

One of the most challenging problems to be confronted by interpreters of Edward Said's large, seemingly disparate body of writing concerns the issue of methodology. How does one approach a critic whose interests range from intellectual history to current affairs, from philosophical to journalistic discourse? Though Said thrives on creative, often strategically selective eclecticism, is it possible-or even desirable-to demarcate the different, sometimes incompatible tributaries of modern thought that have contributed to the formation of his ideas? Exactly how does one come to terms with all the topics-large and small-that Said has addressed in his various texts? Abdirahman A Hussein points out:

Said often conjoins in the same sentence or paragraph…epistemological with ethical concerns, materialist constructions with speculative leaps, or existentialist self-definitions with broad socio-political matters, given this lack of respect for traditional boundaries between genres, modes of enquiry, and areas of intellectual combat, what grid or criterion does one use and to what specific interpretive end?(2)

The idea of the boundary or in-between zone is of vital importance to Said's career not only in its geographical and political designations but also in its subtler cultural, historical, epistemological and perhaps even ontological connotations. The notion of the in-between zone in Said's multi-vectored methodology is not an indication of ambiguity, neutrality or passivity but must be conceived as an active field of engagement deployed as an instrument of ideology critique.

"Margins" thus become really important and empowering in the critical trajectory of Said. The objective of the present project is to investigate the "coalescing of margins" in select works of Edward Said, which illustrate his passion towards anti-specialization as well. The study would like to theoretize "culture" from varied positions and see how they form the substratum on which Said builds up his opus. As part of the methodology, texts like Orientalism, The World, the Text and the Critic, Culture and Imperialism, Covering Islam, Musical Elaborations, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, Reflections on Exile, Music at the Limits, Representations of the Intellectual, and Out of Place, writings on Palestine, his relevant essays, articles, lectures and interviews will be examined. The study would also pay special attention to Said's illuminating cultural critiques on Western classical music, and his affinity to thinkers like Adorno in particular.

The project would thus try to engage with the interdisciplinary breadth of Said's oeuvre and propose it as an antidote to banal "micro specializations" that become stumbling blocks in the path of solidarist positions, which are constantly being threatened by poststructuralist, solipsistic, nihilistic and pessimistic stances. Rediscovering the societal roots of experience embedded in writing may possibly help in dismantling impervious walls of exclusion and open up spaces for all those who have been long shut out of the boulevards of dignity.

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