Edward Said as a Lukácsian Critic: Modernism and Empire


The inaugural role played by early-twentieth-century Marxist thought in anti-colonial theory has been largely ignored in recent decades. Although far from its only or most important case, this defining influence is exemplified in the close relationship of Edward Said’s work to that of Georg Lukács. Said read and reviewed Lukács closely throughout his apprenticeship, highlighted his work in his Orientalism-era seminars, and established a critical affinity with Lukács in a similar critique of literary modernism. Aspects of Said’s major interventions (above all in Beginnings) are directly modeled on Lukácsian points of departure. Considering the efforts today to rehabilitate modernism as inherently worldly, political, and critical of European norms, it is significant that Said considered the social implications of modernism’s ironic dissimulations to be antipathetic to anti-colonial thought. This imperial dimension of form is theorized in Lukács himself: Said understood this and his work is informed by it.