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The world, the text, and the critic / Edward W. Said

Main Author Saíd, Edward, 1935-2003 Country Estados Unidos. Publication Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, cop. 1983 Description VI, 327 p. ; 23 cm ISBN 0-674-96187-0 CDU 82.0
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

This extraordinarily wide-ranging work represents a new departure for contemporary literary theory. Author of Beginnings and the controversial Orientalism , Edward Said demonstrates that modern critical discourse has been impressively strengthened by the writings of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, for example, and by such influences as Marxism, structuralism, linguistics, and psychoanalysis. He argues, however, that the various methods and schools have had a crippling effect through their tendency to force works of literature to meet the requirements of a theory or system, ignoring the complex affiliations binding the texts to the world.

The critic must maintain a distance both from critical systems and from the dogmas and orthodoxies of the dominant culture, Said contends. He advocates freedom of consciousness and responsiveness to history, to the exigencies of the text, to political, social, and human values, to the heterogeneity of human experience. These characteristics are brilliantly exemplified in his own analyses of individual authors and works.

Combining the principles and practice of criticism, the book offers illuminating investigations of a number of writers--Swift, Conrad, Lukács, Renan, and many others--and of concepts such as repetition, originality, worldliness, and the roles of audiences, authors, and speakers. It asks daring questions, investigates problems of urgent significance, and gives a subtle yet powerful new meaning to the enterprise of criticism in modern society.

Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • Introduction: Secular Criticism
  • 1 The World, the Text, and the Critic
  • 2 Swift's Tory Anarchy
  • 3 Swift as Intellectual
  • 4 Conrad: The Presentation of Narrative
  • 5 On Repetition
  • 6 On Originality
  • 7 roads Taken and Not Taken in Contemporary Criticism
  • 8 Reflections on AMerican ""Left"" Literary Criticism
  • 9 Criticism Between Culture and System
  • 10 Traveling Theory
  • 11 Raymond Schwab and the Romance of Ideas
  • 12 Islam, Philolgy, and French Culture: Renan and Massignon
  • Conclusion: Religious Critic

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Kirkus Book Review

Said (Orientalism, Covering Islam) presents his more strictly academic/literary side here--in a dozen more-or-less-related essays, most of which derive from lectures and academic-journal pieces. The primary point: Said argues, though rarely very concretely, for an ""affiliative"" sort of criticism--for seeing literary texts as ""dynamic fields."" (""A certain range of reference, a system of tentacles. . . partly potential, partly actual: to the author, to the reader, to a historical situation, to the other texts, to the past and present."") And, on even more slippery ground, Said also argues against the deconstructionists--envisioning a criticism which will determine the ""intention"" (social, mostly) behind any work. Thus, in two thoughtful essays on Swift, Said defends the satirist against the pigeonholing of Orwell and others (who dismiss Swift as a ""reactionary""); Said insists that Swift be viewed in the context of his era's ""sociopolitical and economic realities""--and that ""not enough claims are made for Swift as a kind of local activist. . . ."" With Conrad, too, a world outside the text--here a psychological, Freudian one--is brought into the discussion of craft and intent: ""Conrad's writing was a way of repeatedly confirming his authorship by refracting it in a variety of often contradictory and negative narrative and quasi-narrative contingencies. . . . He did this in preference to a direct representation of his neuroses."" But the considerations of both Swift and Conrad end up rather murkily, with little sense of a freshly illuminating critical approach. And when Said attempts to delineate his ideal brand of criticism, with examples from his work on Islam, a lot of it seems like slightly coy but unstartling Marxist criticism--as in references to ""the network binding writers to the State and to a worldwide 'metropolitan' imperialism that, at the moment they were writing, furnished them in the novelistic techniques of narration and description with implicit models of accumulation, discipline, and normalization."" Still, Said does, in one essay, superbly digest the divergent revisionist/revolutionary ideas of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (a valuable service); and if he fails to present a strong case for the originality or coherence of his own approach to criticism, he touches on a wide spectrum of lit-crit schools with erudition and balance--making this a quietly provocative collection for specialists in critical theory. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Author notes provided by Syndetics

Born in Jerusalem and educated at Victoria College in Cairo and at Princeton and Harvard universities, Edward Said has taught at Columbia University since 1963 and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Johns Hopkins University. He has had an unusual dual career as a professor of comparative literature, a recognized expert on the novelist and short story writer Joseph Conrad, (see Vol. 1) and as one of the most significant contemporary writers on the Middle East, especially the Palestinian question and the plight of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Although he is not a trained historian, his Orientalism (1978) is one of the most stimulating critical evaluations of traditional Western writing on Middle Eastern history, societies, and literature. In the controversial Covering Islam (1981), he examined how the Western media have biased Western perspectives on the Middle East. A Palestinian by birth, Said has sought to show how Palestinian history differs from the rest of Arabic history because of the encounter with Jewish settlers and to present to Western readers a more broadly representative Palestinian position than they usually obtain from Western sources. Said is presently Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, editor of Arab Studies Quarterly, and chair of the board of trustees of the Institute of Arab Studies. He is a member of the Palestinian National Council as well as the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. (Bowker Author Biography)

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