- Edward Said, the Novel
Dominique Eddé, a journalist who contributes to Le Monde and other venues, has also written novels and published a book of interviews with a psychoanalyst. Her book that I am reviewing here, Edward Said: His Thought As a Novel; first published as Edward Said: Le roman de sa pensée, 2017), compellingly novelizes her own life's intersections with life of the renowned literary-cultural public intellectual, Edward Said. Most interesting as a limit-case of supercharged relationships between acolyte and mentor, this book can be read as a less-than-usually-repressed account of the way one electrifying person can irrevocably change another person's career, perceptions, and life itself. Eddé has already written one novel (Kite, 2003) that presents her relationship with Said in roman à clef style. She also has patterned much of her reading and pursuit of musical interests along lines suggested by Said's own preferences.
She opens with the tantalizing vow: "There are many reasons why my attempts to write a book about him [Said] have failed in the last ten years. I do not want to betray us by offering up things that belong to us alone" (7). But she also promises to reveal "the happiness and pain, extreme in both cases, that I owe to our relationship" (14). As for juicy details about Said's personal life, Eddé's book provides a rich archive. We are treated to many examples of Said's "overwhelming power of seduction and bravura" (21), his charm (13), his emotional confusion. We learn that he wrote daily to his mother and kept carbon copies of these letters, that he complained to Eddé, "Why don't we have the right to love two women at once?" and that he actually forgot that she had cancer: "'Ah yes, by the way, you've had cancer too!' said Edward, with barely a flicker of embarrassment at having forgotten." Eddé accepts all this, saying "this dual emotional, sexual, and cultural life" is a "distillation of so many love affairs experienced in the same and subsequent periods within the more or less cosmopolitan bourgeoisie of the Middle East in ways that are hard for westerners of comparable generations and social milieus to imagine." Eddé accepts all this as unproblematic. She is not a Me, Too feminist. [End Page 513]
Concealing "things that belong to us alone" means that the reader has to piece things together. The whole graph of this relationship with its great moments, turning points, absences, and betrayals emerges in scattered revelations such as "After we got back together in 1993" (63) and this passage :
When I suggested selling my apartment in Paris, so that we could rent somewhere to live in New York, he replied, "Yes, but the apartment will be small. Where shall I put my second piano?" I recall him saying this with tenderness now. He was undoubtedly less keen to live with me, and more attached to life with his family, than he cared to confess.(98)
A statement like this helpfully balances Eddé's generally more hopeful view of the relationship, expressed in benign terms such as "trust served to heal us within and beyond passion" (14). Her novelist's "desire to create an alternative world" (79) is checked when, as here, she is forced to admit that he has an idea of the relationship that starkly differs from her own view. Amidst all the hopes and disappointments so beautifully described in this book, a more ambitious and interesting project emerges.
The project is to define just what form a bourgeois rebellion may valuably take. "We were bourgeois rebels, opponents of the established order, rather than revolutionaries" (158), she declares, and this is very true—perhaps truer than most assessments of Edward Said. "He preferred to describe himself as engaged, rather than militant," she observes. "He never stopped feeding and increasing his intellectual capital" (158). She calls herself "more anarchistic and marginal, less solid and balanced than him" (158), and it is true that she took...