Edward Said contributed to American Studies as a critical theorist who stressed comparative and interdisciplinary methods, as a cultural critic who challenged the U.S. as a traditional and neo-imperialist power, and as a public intellectual who represented the historical diversity of the Arab world in response to Orientalist caricatures. He wrote about such important U.S. artists and intellectuals as Herman Melville, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and R.P. Blackmur. He understood and challenged American exceptionalism, especially as it structured U.S. perspectives on other peoples and societies. Educated in the traditions of modernist cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, Said is often identified as the "founder" of postcolonial studies, especially by his most committed critics. In fact, many of the political aims and methodological assumptions of postcolonial studies differ from Said's theory and practice. Respecting Edward Said for his great accomplishments as a scholar, teacher, and public intellectual, we should also question the culture of intellectual celebrity and genius with which he is identified. In some respects, his reputation is a very American phenomenon we need to criticize if we are to achieve a more collaborative understanding of the United States in its global interactions and realize our responsibilities as cultural critics.


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