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130 the minnesota review wholeness and formal integrity, as the sign ofan age ofradical chic. This becomes a fashion against which Naipaul is a point of reference, a stable observer who has refused to enter the dialogue: "Reading to a point is in the wind. Rhetoric prevails. In what looks to be a long season of hardening abstractions, of fixed hallucinations right and left, a season in which a figure like Said himself (celebrity scholar engagé: imagine this character in a Naipaul novel) strikes the new note, Naipaul dwells obdurately . . . on a landscape that is presumed to comfort the forces of reaction" (New York Review ofBooks, 12 June 1980). Opposed to the esthetic of the Third World ideologue whose naivet/leads inevitably to empty rhetoric, of which the political manifestation is violence, we have the Anglo-Saxon skepticism of Naipaul, "a writer for whom the theoretical has no essential application, for whom a theory of an ideology is superficial to the phenomenon it attempts to describe, something no more than a scaffolding, something to be 'erected' or 'demolished' . . . ." The lines are drawn with unusual clarity. In this corner, edward Said; in that corner, actuality. And yet it seems an observation of some importance that the Naipaul vision of the Third World is not without its thoughts. It is only that its thoughts grow best in the dark space between phrases. Naipaul's specificity (like Joan Didion's) draws our attention to the elUpses, the negative shapes where ground overshadows figure and we sense the humming of an unseen motor. He is fascinated with the unsaid both in his own syntax (which like Didion's in the passages quoted above is partial to strings of appositives in tightening close-ups, rarely a summational shot that orients us or allows us to breathe) and in political Ufe (as when, in The Return of Eva Perón, his attention is drawn to the headline which announces Juan Perdn's death with the single word "Murio," "He is dead"). It is not hard to see why Said occurs to Joan Didion as a foil for Naipaul. In comparison with Naipaul, Said is ponderous, a creator of ungainly sentences which pursue an idea as if in abhorrence of the unsaid. Think for example of the awkwardness but accuracy of the repeated "how" in the subtitle of Covering Islam, or of the pun in the main title, itself not inelegant, which Said insists on explaining in the introduction (p. x), or his endless qualifications. But it is an awkwardness which is itself, increasingly in Said, calculated and efective, almost a disguised rhetorical strategy. We can see why he needs it. As I was preparing this review, the retrospectives which followed Sadat's assassination were in the news. Again we seemed to be constructing scenarios which reduce the scene to confrontations between timeless opposites: Sadat the aberrant signifier whose absence reveals the true nature of "the Moslems." While he was alive, we used him to make the rest of the Arab world seem superflous. His tragic death (tragic in the Aristotelian sense, because his arrogance and ineptitude within his own country so nearly matched his genius as a participant on the global scene) is much more complex, and sadder, than the spectacle of a good man brought down by villainous, unmotivated forces. The assassination becomes, Uke the Iranian revolution (but Uke it only in this respect), an occasion in which we are offered the possibility to re-examine our perceptions, almost a test of our tolerance for complexity. We will be offered others. The value of Covering Islam is to show us that the simple observation of the world, unblinded by ideology, is not a real possibility unless we can make ourselves aware of the forces (poUtical, economic, rhetorical) which allow us to observe the world in the first place. This time around we would do well not to deny ourselves the luxury of a few ideas. MICHAEL BEARD READING BY CANDLELIGHT Michael Kazin, "European Nuclear Disarmament. An Interview with E. P. Thompson," Socialist Review, Vol. II, No. 4 (July-August, 1981). E. P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 130-132
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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