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  • Contradictory Fulfillment
  • Donald E. Pease (bio)
The Legacy of Edward W. Said. William V. Spanos. University of Illinois Press. http://www.press.uillinois.edu. 288 pages; cloth, $73.00; paper, $26.00.

Following the untimely death of the globally renowned intellectual Edward W. Said in 2003, fierce debates took place over the significance of his lifework. These struggles concerned who could legitimately position themselves as carrying on Said's model of intellectual and political work as well as how, where, and whether they should continue it. These wars of position were not restricted to academics. Straussian neoconservatives repudiated Said as an extremist, un-American subversive intent on undermining the US's global authority. Said's academic disciples set his secular humanist project in opposition to the "anti-humanism" they have discerned in his neoconservative adversaries as well as his poststructuralist contemporaries.

William V. Spanos wrote The Legacy of Edward W. Said for two reasons: to clarify the stakes of this controversy and to position Said's relationship with poststructuralism in affiliative rather than antagonistic terms. In setting the humanist in Said in opposition to the poststructuralist, Said's acolytes marginalized the poststructuralist dimension of his project. Through a contrapuntal reading of Said's project, Spanos brought to center stage the poststructuralist legacy that Said's ephebes aspired either to silence or relegate to the margins.

Spanos dialogue with Said on the questions addressed in this book date back to 1979, when Spano as the founding editor of boundary 2, invited Said to deliver a talk in the journal-sponsored symposium "The Problem of Reading in Contemporary American Criticism," at which he delivered the groundbreaking essay "Reflections on Recent American 'Left' Criticism"—an essay that arguably marked the decline of poststructuralism's hegemony in the US. Spanos's reaction to the talk instigated his contrapuntal relationship to Said's work.

Although few of Said's disciples would acknowledge their teacher's indebtedness to poststructuralist theory, none would deny the impact of Michel Foucault's genealogical critique of knowledge/ power relations on Said's Orientalism (1979). Spanos traces the significance of poststructuralism for Said's project by disclosing Foucault's poststructuralist lineage. Spanos specifically re-claims the part poststructural theory played in Said's "worldly" criticism by re-inscribing it within the genealogical line that includes Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault.

In the book's second chapter, "Heidegger, Foucault, and the 'Empire of the Gaze': Thinking the Territorialization of Knowledge," Spanos explains that Heidegger and Foucault both "symptomatically" reject the West's disciplinary orientation "toward knowledge production." After identifying Heidegger's influence on Foucault, Spanos proceeds to demonstrate Foucault's centrality to Said's magnum opus.

Having uncovered the influence of Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975) on Said's production of Orientalism, Spanos turns, in his next section, "Heidegger's Critique of Ontological and Epistemological Imperialism," to a Saidian anti-imperialist reading of Heidegger. When he re-constellates this projective aspect of poststructuralist deconstruction in the Saidian context, Spanos exposes as reductive the tendency to position Said as an opponent of poststructuralism.

Spanos characterizes Said as unlike his heirs in that Said was careful to distinguish his critique of poststructuralist theory's "system thinking" from his historical critique of the ways it got practiced. Making this claim does not turn Spanos into an uncritical apologist for poststructuralist theory. Spanos readily acknowledges that certain iterations of poststructuralist theory deserve the criticism that Said leveled against "the labyrinth of textuality" and "the flight into system and method" in The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983). But Spanos diagnoses the problems that Said's heirs describe as inherent to poststructuralism as having resulted from its institutionalization as a form of academic disciplinarity. He draws upon Said's critical legacy to authorize this reading. In his essay on "Secular Criticism" in The World, the Text, and the Critic, Said observed that "[t]heory proposed itself as a synthesis overriding the petty fiefdoms within the world of intellectual production, and it was manifestly to be hoped as a result that all the domains of human activity could be seen, and lived, as a unity." Like Said, Spanos [End Page 8] rebukes poststructuralist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
pp. 8-9
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-08
Open Access
No
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