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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 199-201

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Book Review

Edward Said:
The Paradox of Identity

Edward Said and the Work of the Critic:
Speaking Truth to Power

Edward Said:
A Critical Introduction

Edward Said: The Paradox of Identity, by Bill Ashcroft and Pal Ahluwalia. London: Routledge, 1999. 166 pp. ISBN 0-415-19671-X paper.
Edward Said and the Work of the Critic: Speaking Truth to Power, ed. Paul A. Bové. Durham: Duke UP, 2000. ISBN 0-8223-2522-5 paper.
Edward Said: A Critical Introduction, by Valerie Kennedy. Cambridge: Polity, 2000. ISBN 0-7456-2019-1 paper.

Two of these books—those by Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, and by Kennedy—mark a new phase of academic engagement with Edward Said. His writing has generated several critical anthologies of scholarly debate, aimed at professional researchers. (The Bové collection contributes to this genre.) Now two publishers have recognized a student market for detailed introductions to, and summaries of, Said's major writings. Of the two, Kennedy's is the more interrogative of her subject, living up both to its own subtitle ("a critical introduction") and Said's own injunction to practice critical intellectualism, to "speak truth to power." The book is designed to promote reflection and debate rather than passive consumption. Kennedy does an excellent job of discussing the shortcomings of Said's accounts of gender; she also usefully highlights some ways in which Said's writings on the Middle East occasionally reproduce Orientalist tropes. Both Ashcroft and Ahluwalia and Kennedy are pitched at students in the humanities rather than those in the social sciences, but Kennedy works harder to integrate the disciplines in her account of Said's contributions to both. Unlike the Ashcroft and Ahluwalia chapter sequence, her book places the chapter on "Imperialism in the Middle East: Palestine, Israel and the USA" before the chapter "After Orientalism: Culture and Imperialism," because, as she argues, "Culture and Imperialism continues both the work begun in Orientalism in connecting literature and politics, and the attempt to analyse some aspects of American domination and neo-imperialism in the contemporary world that characterizes Said's writings on Palestine" (12). And unlike Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, Kennedy is generally concerned with historical contexts and intellectual shifts. Her introduction productively explains the relationship of Said's pre-Orientalism writings to his later work and her final chapter situates Said's writing in relation to the field he helped generate, contemporary postcolonial studies.

As Ashcroft and Ahluwalia's subtitle suggests, it is a conviction of the "paradoxical" nature of identity that animates their project. The authors approvingly quote Said's Cape Town lecture of 1991 in which "he suggested, we should regard knowledge as something for which identity should be risked. We should think of academic freedom as an invitation to give up our obsession with our own identity in the hope of understanding, and perhaps even assuming, more than one" (17). However, they immediately divert Said's suggestion, and apparently miss its thrust, with the conclusion that "the paradox of Said's own identity can be located right at this juncture" (17). In this book too much of Said's own contribution is reduced down to this theme. For example, we get "How do any individuals construct [End Page 299] themselves as cultural identities? How do they construct themselves a homeland? This is precisely what makes Said so fascinating as a cultural critic. The ambivalence of his position, the many paradoxes he traverses and the tensions created in his own cultural identity reveal the very complexity of the process of constructing one's identity in the modern post-colonial world" (81). The other privileged concept in this book is worldliness, which is not always distinguishable from identity: "Worldliness is something that emerges from the struggles over his own paradoxical identity, a text Said never stops writing" (4).

The two books share certain theoretical concerns. Both make much of the "troubled"epistemological status of Orientalism and Said's...


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