Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism 3030273504, 9783030273507

This book examines the earliest writings of Edward Said and the foundations of what came to be known as postcolonial cri

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Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism
 3030273504,  9783030273507

Table of contents :
Acknowledgments......Page 5
A Note on the Title of This Book......Page 7
Contents......Page 8
1 Edward Said, ‘Father’ of Postcolonial Studies......Page 10
2 The Authority of Literary Criticism: Literature and Agency......Page 17
3 Questions of Method: Blindness and Insight......Page 29
References......Page 34
1 Introduction: Harvard, 1958......Page 38
2 The Origins of the New Criticism: Close(d) Reading?......Page 45
3 Toward a New Critical Orthodoxy......Page 56
4 The Breaking of Form: ‘Intention’ and ‘Intension’......Page 67
The Intentional Fallacy......Page 81
The Affective Fallacy......Page 94
References......Page 110
1 Introduction: Johns Hopkins, 1966......Page 118
2 Literature and the Experience of Interiority......Page 125
3 A Worldly Criticism of Consciousness......Page 139
4 Joseph Conrad and the Labyrinth of Incarnations......Page 154
5 Agency and Criticism: A Serious Comedy......Page 162
References......Page 185
1 Introduction: Columbia, 1967......Page 191
2 Humanism as a Technique of Trouble......Page 198
3 A Philology of the World......Page 208
4 Nomadic Authority......Page 221
5 Authority and Molestation......Page 238
References......Page 248
1 Introduction: Stanford, 1975......Page 256
2 The Will to Truth and Power: Orientalism as a Discourse......Page 265
3 The Will to Change: Strategic Location......Page 275
4 Humanism and the Cycle of Criticism......Page 290
5 Speaking Truth to Power: Hegemony and the Oppositional Intellectual......Page 310
References......Page 324
1 Literature: Human Experience......Page 331
2 Agency: Human Will......Page 335
3 Edward Said, ‘Apostle’ of Humanism......Page 339
References......Page 345
Index......Page 347

Citation preview

Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism Nicolas Vandeviver

Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism “Edward W. Said’s work has lost some of its authority in especially the American academic community as postcolonial studies have given way to new fields of investigation. Nicolas Vandeviver’s solidly researched and carefully developed analysis of Said’s intellectual evolution shows that Said stood far outside the academic sub-­ specialty of postcolonialism and belonged to the rich if often contradictory tradition of humanism. Said’s work appears in Vandeviver’s study as a remaking of a long and great tradition against forces that contaminated it within politics of domination. Said also appears in this book as the anti-dynastic thinker he always was, as the conscience of a profession that has lessening interest in hearing his call.” —Paul A. Bové, Distinguished Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Nicolas Vandeviver

Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism

Nicolas Vandeviver Ghent University Gent, Belgium

ISBN 978-3-030-27350-7    ISBN 978-3-030-27351-4 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


This book could not have been written without the stimulating enthusiasm of a number of people. Each name recalls a conversation, a tutelage, an act of generosity, a contribution to kindness that is a pleasure to remember. The arguments and analyses in this book began in a doctoral dissertation I wrote as a Ph.D.  Fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders at Ghent University. Objections and responses prompted further thinking and reworking, which I did during my time as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar and Postdoctoral Fellow of the Belgian American Educational Foundation at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University. Without the generous support of these benefactors and institutions, this book would never have been written. The list of friends and colleagues who read or listened to parts or the whole of this manuscript is so long as to embarrass me. Let me express my gratitude here to Lars Bernaerts, Jürgen Pieters, Ben De Bruyn, Roland Greene, Harold Veeser, Siebe Bluijs, Sophie van den Bergh, Katrien De Clercq, Hans Demeyer, Stijn Praet, Jessy Carton, and Dimitri Van Limbergen, who all saw merit in this book and encouraged me to pursue it. Chantal Vanhuysse, Filiep Vandeviver, and Christophe Vandeviver deserve special praise for the unconditional love they have shown me, which is perhaps the greatest gift imaginable.




The greatest of my debts has accrued to Inès Bekhakh. I would like to thank her for dancing in the dark with me in these past years, and in the many years to come. To her never-failing care, support, friendship, and love, the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘debt’ do not even begin to do justice. What is good in these pages came from her. Ghent, May 2019

A Note on the Title of This Book

Originating in the Latin word auctor—which is tied to the past participle auctus of the verb augere, ‘to increase’, and therefore means ‘someone who increases’, ‘an augmenter’, and hence ‘a founder’—authority refers to a trait of personality that is related to the ability to enforce, control, sanction, command, judge, persuade, inspire, influence, convince, and change, as well as to being in power and being able to speak the truth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), authority refers not only to ‘a power to enforce obedience’, ‘to influence action and opinion’, or ‘to inspire belief in the truth of something’; but also to ‘a power derived from or conferred by another’ and to ‘someone whose knowledge and expertise are recognized’ or ‘whose opinion is accepted as true’; and finally to ‘a power or right to make decisions’ that is connected to the idea of ‘moral, legal, or political supremacy’. Related terms are expertise, prestige, credibility, and responsibility.



1 Introduction  1 1 Edward Said, ‘Father’ of Postcolonial Studies  1 2 The Authority of Literary Criticism: Literature and Agency  8 3 Questions of Method: Blindness and Insight 20 References 25 2 Cold Reading 29 1 Introduction: Harvard, 1958  29 2 The Origins of the New Criticism: Close(d) Reading? 36 3 Toward a New Critical Orthodoxy 47 4 The Breaking of Form: ‘Intention’ and ‘Intension’ 58 5 An Ode to the Fallacies 72 References101 3 Beyond Formalism109 1 Introduction: Johns Hopkins, 1966109 2 Literature and the Experience of Interiority116 3 A Worldly Criticism of Consciousness130 4 Joseph Conrad and the Labyrinth of Incarnations145 5 Agency and Criticism: A Serious Comedy153 References176




4 Beginning Anew183 1 Introduction: Columbia, 1967183 2 Humanism as a Technique of Trouble190 3 A Philology of the World200 4 Nomadic Authority213 5 Authority and Molestation230 References240 5 Disorienting Vision249 1 Introduction: Stanford, 1975249 2 The Will to Truth and Power: Orientalism as a Discourse258 3 The Will to Change: Strategic Location268 4 Humanism and the Cycle of Criticism283 5 Speaking Truth to Power: Hegemony and the Oppositional Intellectual303 References317 6 Conclusion325 1 Literature: Human Experience325 2 Agency: Human Will329 3 Edward Said, ‘Apostle’ of Humanism333 References339 Index341



1   Edward Said, ‘Father’ of Postcolonial Studies Few scholars can claim to have founded a discipline in the way in which Marx is said to have fathered Marxism, Durkheim sociology, and Freud psychoanalysis. Fewer still can claim to have written a book that inaugurated an entire academic worldwide industry with specialist journals, conferences, and professorships. Edward Said is one of them—and he hated it. Published in 1978, Orientalism is arguably one of the most influential works across the entirety of the humanities and social sciences. Its impact is enormous. Despite his denials, Said is widely credited with having produced a book that almost single-handedly defined, initiated, and shaped the scholarly field that was initially referred to as ‘colonial discourse analysis’, then ‘postcolonial theory’, and nowadays more simply as ‘postcolonial studies’ (Young 2012, 23–24, 2016, 385). The conventional wisdom in literary departments today is quite succinctly put by Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan: “no Orientalism, no postcoloniality” (2012, 86). Orientalism initiated postcolonial studies. Edward Said is the field’s father. That is the consensus.1  This view is intrinsically Anglo-American and routinely ignores the foundational influence of African and Caribbean Francophone intellectuals. Spearheaded by Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, the 1930s négritude movement that linked the affirmation of African cultural and political identity to the struggle for independence, in many ways anticipated the theoretical preoccupations of postcolonial studies to come. Likewise, the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, and Albert Memmi, which 1

© The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4_1




This authoritative image of Said as founder of postcolonial studies is an obstacle to any study of his career as a literary critic. To begin such a study, I need to get rid of this image that has pressed too hard on postcolonial studies and studies of Said’s writings, and would equally be too much of a constraint on this book. And so as a first ground-clearing gesture it is imperative to get rid of the authority of Said as ‘father’ of a scholarly field. By way of introduction, I therefore mean to dispose of or at least nuance this dominant image by highlighting the disjunctions between Said’s strand of criticism and postcolonial studies as it found institutional expression. To be clear from the outset, I do not mean to argue that his writings are irrelevant to postcolonial studies or that the field has fundamentally misunderstood some ‘essential’ Said, in which I do not for one moment believe. My beginning intention is quite simply to clear a space from which I am able to study the authority of Said as a literary critic. To do so, let us look at some of the possible reasons for Said’s antipathy toward postcolonial studies or at least toward the way in which it turned into an institutionalized school of thought. In a book chapter aptly called “Edward Said: Opponent of Postcolonial Theory” (2012), Robert Young rightly remarks that Said always reacted quite indifferently and sometimes even downright hostilely to anyone claiming that he initiated the discipline by setting up the paradigm for the general postcolonial methodology of the 1980s and 1990s in Orientalism. That methodology can be summarized as follows: a comparative reading of literature with other discursive statements that focuses on literature’s representation and mediation at a particular historical imperial moment, as well as an analysis of its connection to imperial practices, attitudes, and beliefs, and its embeddedness in, contribution and possible resistance to a Eurocentric discursive framework that influences the formation of subjectivity (Young 2012, 25). The paradigmatic postcolonial reading is a symptomatic reading whose goal is to disclose a literary text’s obscured and repressed relations with imperial power and to reveal the latent socio-political meaning behind its manifestly aesthetic one. Though Young’s description of postcolonial studies may strike anyone working in the field as reductive and simplistic emphasized the humanistic dimensions of Marxism, can be seen as antecedent to the discipline. For the Francophone beginnings of postcolonial studies, see Robert Young’s Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2016, 253–283) or the essays that make up Charles Forsdick and David Murphy’s Francophone Postcolonial Studies: A Critical Introduction (2003).



even—as, indeed, it is—it does serve to highlight that to the early generation of postcolonial scholars questions of aesthetics and form were generally deemed less important than inquiries into the socio-political uses of literature (Young 2012, 25). Young goes on to analyze Said’s critical position toward postcolonial studies pronounced in various interviews, talks, lectures, and interventions at conferences worldwide since the publication of Orientalism in 1978 up until his passing in September 2003. According to Young, it is crucial to link that stance to Said’s general impatience with what he considered to be the kind of abstract and opaque theorizing of postcolonial studies’ other foundational figures, Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, whose works drew heavily on French postmodern thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, and Jean-François Lyotard (2012, 39). Though Said made significant theoretical contributions himself, in what is clearly an act of discursive positioning, he publicly distanced himself from his postcolonial colleagues by fashioning a self-image of a literary critic who produces worldly readings of literature to be distinguished from theorists who posit unworldly laws, mystified models, textual doctrines, and theoretical orthodoxies. For the literary critic Said, questions of aesthetics and form are at the heart of postcolonial studies. One cannot talk about let alone understand imperialist stereotypes and their embeddedness in historical and social circumstances while ignoring such formal characteristics as tone, sentiment, rhythm, style, figures of speech, setting, narrative structure, and devices (Eagleton 2005, 262). The abstract, mystified language, and lack of attention to literary form of postcolonial theory, Said seemed to argue, makes it a religious and unworldly form of criticism. By elaborating such notions as ‘secular criticism’ and ‘worldliness’ to designate his own critical practice, Said on the other hand attempted to show that literary criticism is secular, man-made, and always inescapably in and of this world (1983c). In short, Said opposed postcolonial studies as worldly, secular critic. Another possible reason for Said’s antipathy to postcolonial studies has a lot to do with his critical relation to the French thinker Michel Foucault, who is known for his antihumanistic philosophy of human nature that questions the idea that humans are free agents and considers them to be determined by a whole machinery of impersonal historical forces instead (see Davies 2008, 67). Highly skeptical about the very possibility of radical freedom, Foucault was dubious that literature or its criticism can explain our oppression let alone provide the keys to our liberation.



Ironically, Said’s very own application of Foucault’s notion of ‘discourse’ and ‘power/knowledge’ in Orientalism contributed to the fact that the influence of the French thinker became the greatest theoretical influence on the discipline of the 1980s and 1990s (Nichols 2010). Though I do not mean to argue that postcolonial studies is antihuman nor to reduce the complexity of Foucault’s writings to a pigeonholed parody, the application of Foucault’s model of reading, as I attempt to make clear throughout this book, often leads to conclusions that highlight the determination of individuals by impersonal historical forces. While prominent critics such as James Clifford (1988, 263) and Aijaz Ahmad (1992, 159–219) have accused Said of precisely such determinism in Orientalism, he himself always explicitly tried to steer clear of such antihumanistic claims. And so, though Said to a considerable extent drew on Foucault’s antihumanistic toolbox to criticize the underlying humanistic tradition of Orientalism and its ideological commitment to empire, he paradoxically defined himself as a humanistic literary critic willfully affiliating himself with philology and the New Criticism against the antihumanism commonly associated with Foucault (Young 2012, 29–33). As a humanist, Said defended the power of individuals to topple determining systems of thought like imperialism and Orientalism and change society for the better. His involvement in the Palestinian cause reflects a profound belief in the political role of the intellectual whose work is guided by the ethical imperative to criticize, unmask, and oppose determining systems of thought and ‘speak truth to power’ (1994, xiv)—a tag which Said used to designate his own intellectual vocation and has since become inextricably tied to his practice. In short, Said opposed postcolonial studies as oppositional humanistic intellectual. A third possible reason can be found in Young’s discussion with Timothy Brennan, one of Said’s most eminent and outspoken commentators. Through the years Brennan has also come up with an explanation for Said’s antipathetic relation to postcolonial studies. According to him, Orientalism did indeed inaugurate the discipline, “although an Orientalism that Said did not write” (2006, 103). Brennan’s argument revolves around the important theoretical influence of Foucault, which he considers to be the result of what he calls a fundamental misreading of Orientalism as a Foucaultian work of criticism, as “a good deal of postcolonial studies drew on Orientalism without being true to it” (2000, 577; my emphasis). Said cannot have fathered postcolonial studies, Brennan argues, because his work has nothing to do with the overall Foucaultian tone of the discipline—a statement which he corroborates with a reading of Orientalism



that goes against the evidence of the text in a way that obscures the influence of Foucault and highlights that of the historical materialist Antonio Gramsci. Though Brennan is right to insist that Orientalism is far more complex than the simplified, one-sided image of the work in postcolonial studies today, Young is equally right to dismiss this argument by replying that such is the fate of all works of criticism and that no field is ever ‘true’ to its founding text. Surely, Young notes, “Said did not dislike postcolonial studies simply because it did not turn the method of Orientalism into a repetitive orthodoxy” (2012, 25). And yet, my argument in this introduction is precisely what Young all too easily dismisses, namely, that Said disliked postcolonial studies because it did turn the method of Orientalism into a repetitive orthodoxy. As Foucault shows in “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” (1994), the foundation of a new discipline happens not intentionally by a decision of an individual author at the beginning of his or her writing, but accidentally after the writing is produced and the impersonal rules of discursive formation come to exert their determining force on it. ‘Karl Marx’, ‘Émile Durkheim’, ‘Sigmund Freud’, or ‘Edward Said’ have become authoritative names in the history of thought not because their writings are intrinsically better but because they have been attributed such authority by the impersonal discursive feedback process in which respectively Marxist, sociological, psychoanalytical, and postcolonial texts refer to their writings. New texts locate themselves in the discursive field of the discipline by referring to these foundational writings and, in the process, gain part of their authority from these references. The accumulation of references over time sets in motion a never-ending discursive spiral in which these foundational writings are accrued with more authority and, in their turn, confer even more authority to the texts that refer to them. This feedback system ultimately turns authors like ‘Marx’, ‘Durkheim’, ‘Freud’, and ‘Said’ into author-functions or what Foucault calls “fondateurs de discursivité” (1994, 804), who are to be distinguished from other authors, because they have gained such enormous authoritative power in the order of discourse of a certain discipline that “ils ne sont pas seulement les auteurs de leurs oeuvres, de leurs livres. Ils ont produit quelque chose de plus: la possibilité et la règle de formation d’autres textes … ils ont établi une possibilité indéfinie de discours” (1994, 804–805). And so these writers come to authorize and determine an entire dynasty of thought, an entire academic discipline within which other writings can



take their place by conforming or, as Brennan calls it, being ‘in the true’ to the foundational writing. As Brennan’s ex negativo attempt to be more ‘truthful’ to Said suggests, this discursive practice is exactly what has happened and is still happening in postcolonial studies today. The reproduction of a critique of Orientalism even today functions as the act or ceremony of initiation by which newcomers to the field assert their claim to take up the position of the speaking subject within the discourse of postcoloniality. It goes without saying that … the statutory requirement of this initiation rite is that the newcomer denounces one or preferably several aspects of the founding father’s text, criticizes the very concept of the postcolonial and then asserts that he or she stands completely outside it in a position of critique … Only by doing this do you demonstrate that you are discursively ‘in the true’, as Foucault put it, with the postcolonial. (Young 2016, 384)

Good intentions aside, by persistently referring to Said’s text and labeling him ‘the father of postcolonial studies’ (see Abu El-Haj 2005, 547), postcolonial scholars have gradually come to resemble biblical exegetes who constantly reinterpret the Holy Scripture that is Orientalism. Though for the worldly, secular critic Said this kind of religious criticism would in itself be sufficient grounds to object to and dismiss these compliments, as he has done on multiple occasions (see Said 1983a; Veeser 2010, 100–101), there is more problematic to it than meets the eye. The discipline’s quintessential initiation rite accrues Said’s ‘fatherly’ writing with so much authoritative weight that it comes to function as one of the determining constraints of discursivity on other writings.2 By designating Said as one of its founders, endlessly referring to his writing, reinterpreting but not really developing its insights further, postcolonial studies established itself as an institutionalized school of Saidian postcolonialism or Saidianism, if you will. As he saw postcolonial studies find institutional expression in schools, departments, journals, conferences, and 2  In 1995, Young pointed out that Said, Bhabha, and Spivak had become so central to postcolonial studies that they constituted what he famously called “the Holy Trinity of colonial-discourse analysis” (1995, 163). He noted a remarkable increase in the field to produce new archival material rather than to develop further the insights set up by Said, Bhabha, and Spivak. To me, this historical absence of critical engagement with Said’s Orientalism attests to what I label postcolonialism’s religious criticism.



books, Said seemed to believe that the discipline lost its interventionist potential. Instead of being critical to his writing, postcolonial studies kept ranks with it—a tendency of institutionalized schools of thought which Said witnessed in Marxism and various other forms of criticism, he abhorred, and fiercely reacted against: It needs to be said that criticism modified in advance by labels like ‘Marxism’ or ‘liberalism’ [or ‘postcolonialism’] is, in my view, an oxymoron. The history of thought, to say nothing of political movements, is extravagantly illustrative of how the dictum ‘solidarity’ before criticism means the end of criticism. (1983c, 23)

The outcome of ‘solidarity before criticism’ is that criticism—like many other discourses—becomes increasingly more elaborated, self-referential, accumulative, and hermetical. Through this self-referential discursive process criticism loses its critical edge and connection with the world and effectively domesticates itself (see Said 1983d). Said’s dislike for postcolonial studies is therefore born out of his feeling that his own theories and methods were gradually being turned into a ‘postcolonial’ orthodoxy or doctrine, in the same way in which he felt that Marx’s writings were being turned into Marxist dogma by some of his colleagues instead of being decoded, demystified, and rigorously clarified (1983c, 29). To practice criticism is to be critical rather than to be a good member of a school. Above everything else, criticism must incite critical thinking and not as some kind of authoritarianism inhibit it. In short, Said disliked postcolonial studies as opponent of doctrinal thinking. These possible explanations for Said’s hostile reactions to the research influenced by his most famous publication reflect the image of him that I will elaborate in this book by closely reading his first three major publications, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966), Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975), and Orientalism (1978), and other minor but therefore no less important essays, book chapters, reviews, and articles mostly limited to the period 1966–1978. What links all of these texts together is that their author ‘Edward Said’—whether real, implied, or as a discursive function—appears to the kind of writer which I have described above; not some Postcolonial Deity but a creature of his time; a worldly, secular critic who produced concrete and demystifying readings of literature that pay attention to the formal characteristics of literature and its affiliations with the workings of power; a humanistic critic who grappled



with a number of fluctuating notions of literature and agency and defended the value and power of the individual particular; a literary critic with an intellectual vocation to oppose all forms of doctrinal thinking who pioneered to make questions of literature count politically. To be clear, this book, too, is situated within the same field of tension between Said as an existential individual and the broader discursive field within which his writings are located. Moreover, though I firmly stand behind the image of Said that I have been introducing here and will elaborate throughout this book, I do not mean to argue that my reading is more ‘in the true’ to Said than what other critics have made of him. Given my own critique of Said’s reception in postcolonial studies, this would, indeed, be nothing short of bad faith. We cannot, after all, ignore the fact that in spite of all his protests, Said has come to fit into the methodology of postcolonial studies not because he intended so at the beginning but because that is simply the discursive reality of the discipline today. As much as we would want to, lamenting this does not alter the workings of a collective discursive formation that is an academic discourse. What I have simply meant to argue by way of introduction is that for Said himself his works have less to do with postcolonial studies as it developed in the way it did. This is how I, based on my own readings of his earliest writings, think we should understand his critical position.

2   The Authority of Literary Criticism: Literature and Agency This book is a study of the authority of literary criticism. It examines how, in his earliest writings, Said accrued literary criticism with the authority to intervene in politics and turned it into an interventionist activity programmatically committed to cultural change. At its inception were four observations that characterize the extant scholarship of Said’s career. The first is that, according to most critics, Said’s writings—Orientalism (1978) in particular—are characterized by a tension between concepts that derive from two supposedly opposing and mutually exclusive philosophies: humanism and antihumanism (Ahmad 1992, 162–170; Bové 1986, 26–33; Cain 1984, 209–215; Clifford 1988, 255–276; Howe 2007, 58–59; Moore-Gilbert 1997, 42–43; Young 1990, 119–140). Influenced by Foucault’s epistemic history, Said makes use of his antihumanistic notion of ‘discourse’. The philosophy of antihumanism, widely accredited



to the French thinker, posits that the individual human consciousness is determined by a set of impersonal historical forces of which it remains painfully unaware. Because individuals are deemed unable to alter the rules of these determining forces, they are considered to be neither the prime motors of historical change nor the principal producers of culture or knowledge (Foucault 1970, ix). Foucault therefore considers individual consciousness and human experience not as final objects of study but as surface phenomena, illustrations of deeper impersonal laws. By linking literary statements with other discursive statements, his antihumanistic approach to discourse analysis aims to go beyond the study of individual experience and unveil an entire system of knowledge and networks of power in which literature is anything but the privileged expression of the human mind, but, as Said phrases it, “rather the activation of an immensely complex tissue of forces, for which a text is a place among other places (including the body) where the strategies of control in society are conducted” (1983b, 215). In spite of this, Said’s critical practice is also marked by a strong humanistic current with a focus on individual human experience as the central locus of cultural knowledge. Contrary to its antihumanistic pendant, the philosophy of humanism considers individuals to be the prime agents of historical change and the producers of culture and knowledge. Formed by the culture in which it is embedded, the individual human consciousness nevertheless remains a legitimate final object of study because, as Said writes, it “is not naturally and easily a mere child of the culture, but a historical and social actor in it” (1983c, 15). Not only is literature said to be the privileged expression of the human mind or the embodiment of a unique consciousness, it also provides us with a unique entry point into the cultural fabric and human experience (Poirier 1987, 133–134). Secondly, Said’s effort to combine two supposedly oppositional methodologies has led to roughly two critical responses. On the one hand, critics dismiss his writings as either theoretically inconsistent (Ahmad 1992, 159–220; Clifford 1988, 255–271) or problematically untheoretical even (Robbins et al. 1994, 8, 14) because, these critics argue, Said’s strand of humanism is simply irreconcilable with Foucault’s antihumanism (Young, compare with Davies 2008, 34). Given his own antipathy for theory, Said often countered this critique by wearing it as a badge of honor, quipping “who wants to be consistent?” (cited by Ashcroft and Said 2004, 90). On the other hand, critics tend to subordinate Said’s antihumanistic tendencies to what they consider to be his humanistic overtone



(Bhabha 2005; Bilgrami 2005; Brennan 2000; Hussein 2002; Makdisi 2005; Mitchell 2005; Pannian 2016; Radhakrishnan 2007, 2010). Some go as far as to consider Said’s combination of humanistic and antihumanistic concepts in one analytical totality as an attempt at discursive positioning vis-à-vis Foucault (Bové 1986, 214; Marrouchi 2004, 91–92). Thirdly, the majority of Said’s commentators concentrate on the socio-­ political dimensions of his practice—his critique of Orientalism, imperialism, and colonialism, as well as his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, U.S. foreign affairs in the region, and the political and cultural policies of Israel and Arab countries—and consequently seem increasingly to confine Said’s intellectual relevance to the question of Middle Eastern politics (see Abu El-Haj 2005, 540). Though it should not surprise us that Said’s critical interventions about one of the world’s most precarious geopolitical conflicts, which has given rise to a highly volatile political situation that threatens the peace, security, and justice for the peoples involved, have drawn much attention, it is however strange that in so doing critics subordinate the literary critical dimension of Said’s works to these socio-­political claims. To be clear, I do not in the least mean to argue that matters of literary criticism are more important than matters concerning the life and death of a significant portion of the earth’s population, yet I do wish to point out that Said never claimed any authority to write about such topics. Indeed, he considered himself to be a trained literary critic who happened to write about the current political moment as an amateur—or, as Brennan sharply observes, as someone whose “authority was always ultimately literary” (2004, 23; my emphasis). Even though the literary critical dimension of Said’s career has in the past decade received slightly more attention (Radhakrishnan 2007; Veeser 2010; Wood 2010), studies which methodically examine the specific status of literature in his thinking are still lacking. Without subordinating the socio-political aspects to the literary critical aspects of his career, this is precisely what I set out to do in this book as I argue that Said’s political significance cannot be separated from, is even grounded in his literary criticism. The final observation is that critics tend to match the weight that is attributed to his socio-political claims by spending an equally staggering amount of attention to what many consider to be Said’s anni mirabiles as a public intellectual—a period roughly demarcated by the publication of Orientalism (1978) as terminus post quem and Culture and Imperialism (1993) as terminus ante quem, two works that deal with socio-political



concerns3 more visibly than his earlier, more ‘traditional’ works of literary criticism such as Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) and Beginnings (1975) that are therefore routinely ignored. This is not only remarkable but problematic even, because, as Brennan again rightly makes clear, in Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism Said expressed his socio-political imagination through an analysis of literature and the tropes of literary criticism (2004, 23–24). Literature lies at the heart of Said’s critical practice and his intellectual significance lies as much in the domain of literary criticism as in the domain of politics. By overlooking this fundamental aspect of his critical practice and this particular period of his career, Said’s critics have failed to see how he was able to contribute to all these topics as a literary critic. Either they have failed to see how he made literary criticism authoritative or Said himself has remained unsuccessful in his attempt. This book then is a study about the authority of literary criticism. Every book needs a point of departure. As Said makes overtly clear in Beginnings (1975), for studies in the humanities there is no such thing as a given or ‘natural’ beginning. It is therefore imperative that the critic selects a beginning in order to provide his or her work both with an intention that enables what follows and with a certain method that makes possible the work’s insights. And so I began writing this book not only against the backdrop of four observations but also with a set of two interrelated questions, ‘what is literature’ and ‘what is agency’, that serve as the point of departure of my analyses and enable this book’s four chapters. More importantly, by selecting a particular beginning I have provided my work with an intention, which is deliberately not to continue the line of thinking set out by Said’s commentators, but, to use one of Said’s own metaphors, to properly begin anew.

3  Throughout this book, the terms ‘politics’ or ‘socio-politics’ refer to a number of interrelated meanings: (1) activities and beliefs associated with the practice of government, the organization and administration of a community, state or part of a state, and the relationships between states, as well as the management and regulation of public and private life; (2) activities and beliefs concerning the acquisition and exercise of power or authority in the broadest sense of the word; (3) the moral principles, codes of conducts and the ethical implications and consequences of actions and ideas; (4) the underlying ideas, beliefs, outlooks, attitudes, and ideology forming the basis of any activity, theory, or practice. These meanings are inextricably connected, so that, when it comes to discussing literature, the politics of reading have consequences for the politics of state, and vice versa.



My intention is not to foreground the oppositional logic between humanism and antihumanism that dominates the current debate about Said but rather to reconstruct their shifting meanings as well as Said’s frequent attempts to redefine these terms and their functions in his works. I am interested in Said’s conceptualization of literature as a critical locus and point of departure to investigate his concept of agency. To be clear, my intention is not to submit the concept of literature to that of agency, but precisely to show the reciprocity between both concepts, to illustrate how Said’s view of literature informs his view of agency and how the latter in turn informs the way in which he conceptualizes the workings of literature, and so on. An important part of my method to understand his ideas about literature and agency is to analyze the intertexts that make up and the relationship they take up in the theoretical framework of Said’s critical practice. Unlike Said’s previous critics, I do not consider the tension between his humanistic and antihumanistic tendencies as problematic per se but rather as ‘a problematic’ in the sense given to it by Louis Althusser, a determinate unitary structure of a text or group of texts that allows the writing to raise certain questions in a particular form, while ruling out others (1977, 63). Because a problematic is the unifying principle of writing, it is impossible to extract one element from it without altering its meaning (Althusser 1977, 59). By treating the tension between humanism and antihumanism as a problematic of Said’s writing, I am not arguing that this is the ‘essence’ of his works. Althusser’s concept carefully avoids such totalizing claims and serves as a methodological handle by which the critic can seize a person’s writing in order to conceive the meaning of the constitutive elements of this writing in relation to each other internally, analyze and interpret the form in which problems are posed, and relate this to the problems posed to the author by the historical period in which he or she lives (1977, 63–64). This historical aspect of a problematic is crucial. For what can be identified as a problematic in one’s writing in a certain period needn’t be in another period and has much to do with larger institutional discourses and cultural conversations, which are, of course, susceptible to change. The tension between humanism and antihumanism is an indication that the status of literature and the author, and their relation to culture are not univocal but difficult to pin down in Said’s earliest writings. The tension, as I read it, is fundamental for a view on literature and agency whose implications transcend the realm of literary theory into far wider inquiries about



human existence. Moreover, treating this tension as a problematic rather than as a problem allows me to identify and analyze a number of methodological forces in Said’s critical practice that stem from the most important institutional discourses and cultural debates in the period and together make up the overall tension of his writings. In order of treatment, these intertexts include but are not limited to the Anglo-American New Criticism, Genevan criticism of consciousness, existential phenomenology, philology, poststructuralism, and historical materialism, all of which at one point or another had an important status in the particular institutional and cultural moment that is the scope of this book. Though I have just listed a number of institutionalized schools of thought and refer to them by these labels in the course of this book, given Said’s remarks on the so-called degeneration of criticism, it is important to acknowledge that he sees his critical practice not so much as a combination of differing schools of thought but rather as an eclectic blend of creative energies of individual thinkers—without, however, following him in all too quickly dismissing the impact of anonymous forces and impersonally circulating ideas on that practice. This book explores both the impact of such anonymous forces on Said’s critical practice and his active engagement with the ideas of such thinkers as Richard Palmer Blackmur, Harry Levin, Georges Poulet, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Lukács, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Erich Auerbach, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, and Joseph Conrad, the novelist who seemed to provide Said with vivid examples of these ideas. With a few exceptions, all of these thinkers might be categorized as ‘white’, ‘European’, ‘heterosexual’, and ‘male’. This is telling of Said’s own theoretical framework and the institutional and cultural moment in which it is embedded and certainly does not entail a critical position on my behalf about the alleged exceptionality, importance, or talents of these thinkers by virtue of their gender, culture, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The act of beginning necessarily involves an act of delimitation. And so I have limited my scope to the period 1966–1978  in Said’s career—a period ending with the publication of what is arguably his most influential work Orientalism (1978). All periodizations are ultimately artificial constructs, projections of the critic to order that which fundamentally resists such order. So in proposing to focus on this particular period, I do not mean to argue that this is some kind of easily discernable ‘early period’, to be distinguished from a ‘middle period’ of the so-called anni mirabiles 1978–1993 of Said as a public intellectual, and a period of his ‘late style’



1993–2003 that also includes his posthumous works. In order to trace Said’s intellectual development, I have also sparingly taken into account texts written after that arbitrary demarcation line—while carefully avoiding the teleological fallacy—and some preceding institutional discourses and cultural debates that nonetheless occupy Said during these years. Through the lens of Said’s writings, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism then presents a history of (American) literary studies in the 30 years or so between the end of World War II and the last quarter of the twentieth century. My rationale to study Said’s earliest writings is threefold. First, because these writings have been mostly ignored by his critics, who have tended to focus almost exclusively on Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993), two works that are singled out as supposedly textbook examples of postcolonial criticism. The danger of singling out these works as pivotal moments in Said’s career is not only that we risk reading them in isolation but also distorting Said’s method in the process by categorizing it as ‘postcolonial’ tout court. The lack of attention to Said’s writings leading up to Orientalism seems to be based on a mistaken belief that they are unconcerned with socio-politics. Said’s first book, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966), in particular, is wrongly perceived to be an old-fashioned work of literary criticism that is methodologically uninteresting or even “bluntly straightforward” (Veeser 2010, 27–28), the twilight product of what is still considered to be an equally uninteresting, apolitical period of literary studies in the United States that predates the supposedly more radical and hence more interesting period of structuralist and poststructuralist literary theory of the 1970s and 1980s. Recently Joseph North has published a corrective to that narrative by demonstrating the political potential of those earlier modes of literary criticism and their programmatic commitment to cultural change (2017). By illustrating the politically progressive and interventionist character of early- and mid-twentieth-century literary criticism this book joins such attempts to reassess the dominant understanding of twentieth-century U.S. literary studies. Indeed, in discussing Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) I attempt to correct the common opinion that despite Conrad’s obvious connections with imperialism and anti-­ imperialism, Said’s treatment of the Anglo-Polish author is interested only in matters of intellectual life and not in those of ideology and politics of postcolonial studies to come (McCarthy 2010, 16). Said’s second book, Beginnings (1975), is considered to be distinctly more politicized and has



received somewhat more attention than his first. However, it is mostly considered in relation to Said’s later works, of which it is said to contain all of the concerns in embryo (Brennan 1992, 75). My focus on Said’s writings in the period 1966–1978 is part of my overall intention to begin anew. By reading them as an inseparable ensemble and relating them to the long arc of the discipline I illustrate the broad spectrum of concerns that occupy Said as a literary critic. These concerns include but are not limited to those of the discipline of postcolonial studies most commonly associated with Said’s writings, are of great socio-­ political interest, and are connected to the avant-gardist critical debates about literature, agency, and literary criticism of their time. Indeed, I also show that even to a reader of the twenty-first century, Said’s writings have not lost their interventionist potential to transgress the narrow confines of literary criticism. Secondly, my shift in focus to this particular period allows me to identify a number of methodological forces in Said’s critical practice that are part of the larger institutional discourses and cultural debates in the United States during the period 1966–1978 but have seldom been acknowledged, let alone discussed as an ensemble by his commentators before. Critics have amply discussed Said’s engagement with poststructuralism and historical materialism from Orientalism (1978) onward but have failed to identify and assess his equally formative engagement with such forces as the New Criticism, existential phenomenology, and philology in the period leading up to that book. This book then nuances and corrects the dominant understanding of Said as a ‘poststructuralist at birth’, an American adept of Foucault, if you will, who became disillusioned with the French thinker’s stress on determination and turned to the historical materialism of Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and Frantz Fanon instead. That dominant image depicts Said as someone whose model of reading is highly untheoretical and inconsistent and remained practically unchanged throughout the years. The image of Said in this book is conversely that of someone who engages deeply with an eclectic number of creative energies in order to find answers to the questions that occupy him, an image which can emerge only when Said’s writings are studied closely both in themselves and in relation to each other—as a continuous development rather than as discontinuous moments in a career. Thirdly, my motivation to focus on this particular period is related to my choice to treat the tension between humanism and antihumanism as a



problematic of Said’s writings that is related to the tensions in his institutional and cultural moment. Mark Greif has described that moment as an age of crisis in which the core values of human existence were radically questioned. In the mid-twentieth century in the United States—1933–1978 according to Greif’s delineation—the preliminary questions of this book occupied an entire generation of philosophers, artists, scholars, intellectuals, critics, poets, and novelists, too. That mid-century period saw the rise of theories of human rights, humanitarianism and activism, as well as debates about antihumanism and a constant tug of war between universalism and difference, all of which questioned the very foundations of human nature and contributed to the formation of what Greif labels “the discourse of the crisis of man” (2015, 318). Greif’s intellectual history offers a broader perspective to understand the main methodological tensions in Said’s earliest writings. Two pivotal moments of crisis mark that history: 1945 and 1968. In 1945 the discovery of the Nazi camps and the use of the atomic bomb made painfully visible the inhuman consequences of the worldwide totalitarian crisis that had led to the outbreak of World War II, a grim realization to which the postwar world responded with more humanity. In a humanistic discourse that quickly formed in thought and literature on both sides of the Atlantic, postwar ‘Man’ was explicitly seen to be universal so as to combat the identity politics that had caused the horrors of the war in the first place (Greif 2015, 103–104). This universalist doctrine of human nature did not account for many nuances and stressed that, regardless of their religion or the color of their skin, all humans were equal, had the same unalienable rights, and should therefore be treated alike (Greif 2015, 147). It did not take long before the ‘normal’ subject of this postwar discourse was unmasked as white and male. Women, Simone de Beauvoir argued, were secondary and African Americans, Ralph Ellison made clear, were simply invisible (Greif 2015, 20–21). Hence the postwar period saw the rise of existentialism, which was already a vogue in France when it took the New York intellectual scene by storm in 1946–1947 (2015, 65–73; see also Cotkin 2003). Existentialism reframed the dominant humanistic notion of ‘human nature’ into the ‘human condition’, a view of humanity that was still universal but sought no inner essence, had no ‘normalized’ subjects, and was nonmetaphysical in the sense that it simply “spoke of circumstances that just happened to be reproduced for every single human being, as each person was born mortal in a world of others, a world that furnished certain limits or



­oundaries within which the individual was free” (Greif 2015, 68). b Drawing on this view, the New York intellectual scene combined universalism with particularism, echoing the nuanced identity politics formulated in the works of Ellison and Saul Bellow that accounted for religious and racial differences (Greif 2015, 149). And so the identity politics of the prewar period was soon reframed into a postwar politics of universality, which in its turn quickly turned into the more nuanced politics of responsibility (Greif 2015, 78). Marking that transition, in March 1946 Albert Camus, the literary star of French existentialism, gave a speech at Columbia University aptly titled “La crise de l’homme” (2006) in which he argued that we were all responsible for the Holocaust. The second moment of crisis took place in 1968 when a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, characterized by massive popular protests across Europe, Asia, and South America, and intensified demonstrations against the role of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War that grew into a broad social movement across the United States, coincided with the rise of structuralism and poststructuralism in the humanities. Heralded by the linguistic turn of anthropologists like Claude Lévi-Strauss, the arrival of French ‘theory’, as the combination of structuralism and poststructuralism is commonly known as, reconfigured the American postwar humanistic discourse of the crisis of man in distinctly antihumanistic terms (Greif 2015, 281). Carrying the critique of the subject to an extreme, theory sought to radically combat the postwar subjectivist humanism and undo ‘Man’ entirely by dissolving the concept in language, allowing a new concept to emerge that reflected the turbulent socio-political situation. Difference was championed as structuring principle of thought and expression and implicitly even esteemed to be the very core of what it means to be human (Greif 2015, 303). In November 1971 a defining debate in this phase of the crisis of man took place, this time on the other side of the Atlantic, when linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky went head to head with Foucault to discuss ‘human nature’ on Dutch television (Chomsky and Foucault 2006; Greif 2015, 312–315). Chomsky presented himself as a fighter for social justice, Foucault as a critic of power, and though they understood each other well on their respective positions, they could not find common philosophical and political grounds (Greif 2015, 314). The Chomsky-Foucault debate is testament to a cultural tension between two simultaneous cultural movements: critical humanism and radical antihumanism. “On one side”, Greif goes on, “human rights and humanitarianism defended the



human individual. On the other, the critique of the subject and the discovery of difference exposed the all-too-human coercions that kept the individual from true liberation” (2015, 316). The period 1966–1978  in Said’s career roughly coincides with the transitional phase between humanism and antihumanism. The discourse of the crisis of man is an important discursive context within which Said’s writings should be understood because it illustrates the manner in which his critical practice is shaped by and responds to the mid-century debates on literature, agency, and criticism. To better understand Said’s intellectual development we will at the same time need to understand the shifting institutional discourses, cultural debates, and events from the 1930s to the late 1970s in Europe, North America, and—in Said’s case—the Middle East. Each of this book’s four chapters takes a formative episode of Said’s career as a point of departure to examine his shifting conceptualizations of literature and agency. The first point of departure is Harvard University, 1958, and Said’s description of the American New Criticism as a waning formalism. In this chapter, I discuss the gradual institutionalization of the New Criticism from the 1930s to the 1950s, when Said began working on Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966). In so doing, I debunk the obstinate idea that the New Critical method of ‘close reading’ was disinterested in questions of politics, biography, and psychology by showing how the New Criticism emerged as a worldly and humanistic formalism committed to cultural change, which treated the literary work as an organic whole that speaks to communities, not to everyone in the same way. As the movement found institutional expression, it evolved into what I consider to be an increasingly dogmatic and dehumanized textual practice which read literature in isolation and effectively posited a universalist theory of reading devoid of its earlier political potential. Said’s critical project is to rescue and reinforce the humanism that was at the heart of the emergent New Criticism and to preserve at all times the humanity of literary experience and its embeddedness in the world. This chapter shows the humanistic and uncompromisingly anti-universalist tenets of his thought, as more deeply rooted in his milieu than one might expect and as natural to the vocation of the critic as he first recognized it. The second point of departure is the 1966 Johns Hopkins conference on ‘The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man’, a pivotal event in the history of American literary studies that supposedly marks the inauguration of the so-called golden age of structuralist and poststructuralist



theory in the 1970s and 1980s. Rather than detailing (yet again) the interventions of (post)structuralist critics at the conference, I show it to be more productive to focus on the paper of the phenomenological critic Poulet in order better to understand Said’s critical practice and the institutional context from which it emerged. Said is part of a larger generation of U.S. literary critics that drew on phenomenology and its existential variant to reinvigorate what they felt to be an exhausted New Criticism. His approach to Conrad that is the focus of this chapter locates agency with the concrete individual and firmly re-embeds literature in the world. This chapter is also offered as an implicit argument for what Greif identifies as the transition from the politics of universality to the politics of responsibility, which is the defining politics of Said’s model of reading. It aims to reveal how Said’s anti-universalist ethics of reading is based on a belief both in the interventionist force of criticism as a necessarily unfinished and constantly to be renewed cognitive act to examine the worldly pressures on thought and action, and in the responsibility—an imperative, even—of the critic to do so. The location of the third point of departure is Columbia University; the year 1967; and the events the Third Arab-Israeli War of June. The Arab defeat and Israel’s occupation of large swaths of Palestinian land in the aftermath of the conflict incited Said to revise his ethics of reading into an increasingly politicized model of criticism that is more forcefully committed to worldliness and change. In Beginnings (1975) Said effects this by fusing Foucault’s intellectual project with the combined energies of the New Criticism, existential phenomenology, and philology. By elaborating on these seemingly outdated humanistic approaches to literature and recuperating the French thinker’s antihumanistic insights on the formation of discourse into a model of literature and agency that defends both the primacy of the individual human subject in writing and of human activity in the production of culture, Said turns literary criticism into an interventionist activity in the postcolonial present. His view on literature and agency opens up a theoretical space that makes possible the formation of an insurrectionary critical self-consciousness in Orientalism that is able to intervene in the domain of politics and challenge the status quo, or, in his words, to ‘begin anew’. The final point of departure is Stanford University, 1975, where Said was writing up Orientalism (1978) when the Lebanese Civil War broke out. Having illustrated how Said turns the political crisis in Lebanon into a metaphor for the problematic of Orientalism, I examine a series of



t­ heoretical gestures through which he inhabits the position of the oppositional humanistic intellectual with a mandate to speak truth to power. The mid-­century debate between humanism and antihumanism is restaged in what I show to be Said’s application and willful combination of Foucault’s epistemic history and Gramsci’s political theory. The presence and influence of these and other methodological forces on and in the method of Orientalism illustrates how the book brings to a high point the making of roles and the harmonizing of methodological conflicts that I have traced throughout Said’s career. Said holds individual writers responsible for what they say, even if their speech is discursively policed or if they can’t always control the effects of their writing nor the political uses to which it is put. In its commitment to challenge the very framework it describes, Orientalism embodies a form of literary criticism as interventionist activity. This book then aims to reveal that Said’s work is deeply grounded in literary criticism. By tracing the intellectual development of a critic who grappled with a number of fluctuating notions of literature and agency it poses as a narrative of what I call ‘the authority of literary criticism’—a term which describes the ways in which Said pioneered to turn literary criticism into a form of political intervention. What follows is that story.

3   Questions of Method: Blindness and Insight Every reading is characterized by blindness and insight, two seemingly polar qualities that work together in revealing a text. As Paul de Man argues in his seminal reading of Derrida’s reading of Rousseau, every reading has inevitable blind spots to notice certain aspects of a text but, rather than inhibiting, this very blindness enables the discovery of that reading’s most valuable insights (1971, 105). One text’s blindness to certain aspects of another text is not necessarily identical to the latter text’s own blindness to aspects of yet another text, which has of course its own blind spots. The blindness of de Man’s text to Derrida’s, for instance, or the blindness of my text to Said’s are not identical to Derrida’s blind spots to certain aspects of Rousseau’s text or to Said’s blindness to aspects of Conrad’s text. The metaphor of blindness and insight illustrates how not in spite of, but because of all its faults, one reading is able to effectively discern, judge, or provide insight into the faults of another—which is why the word ‘criticism’, according to the Oxford  English  Dictionary, also refers to ‘the action of fault-finding’ (OED 2017). This interplay between blindness



and insight, between a critic’s choice of method and the consequences thereof, is what makes literary criticism not only possible but valuable. And while the insights of my reading will become clear in the course of these pages, its blindness must be confronted early on. In the Quaderni del carcere (2007),4 the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci describes the critical project that informs this book. To study the intellectual development of a thinker like Said who seldom explicitly expounds his or her principles, some preliminary philological work is in order. First, the reconstruction of that person’s biography, both his or her practical and intellectual activity. Then the establishment of a catalogue of his or her works, including minor writings most easily overlooked, organized chronologically and according to work-intrinsic criteria (Gramsci 1971, 383–384). After this, I went on to present those parts of the biographical evidence that I considered relevant to the intellectual development, of which the coherence should not be sought in each individual writing or series of writings but, as Gramsci clarifies, “in the whole development of the multiform intellectual work” (1971, 382). In so doing, it is important to reconstruct the process of intellectual development of the thinker in question in order to identify those elements which were to become stable and ‘permanent’—in other words those which were taken up as the thinker’s own thought, distinct from and superior to the ‘material’ which he had studied earlier and which served as a stimulus to him. (Gramsci 1971, 382–383)

Though unlike Gramsci I do not believe such ‘stable’ entities of thought exist, in the course of this book I, too, have identified a number of 4  The text I refer to is Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith’s English translation Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971), which is also the version Said uses in his writings. As the title suggests, this edition contains selected translations from the Italian originals. Recently Joseph Buttigieg has started the colossal project of editing, co-translating, and producing a complete critical edition of Gramsci’s notebooks in English with all attendant notes and materials (Gramsci 2011). Though these three volumes are excellent and indispensable, lack of funding means that they only contain the first eight notebooks of the 29 produced by Gramsci. When citing from translated works in this book, I first refer to the original title and preferably even to the original edition of the work. In an accompanying footnote I then refer to the English translation from which I cite. In all following mentions, I use the title of the work’s English translation.



i­mportant themes of Said’s method in order to further our overall understanding of his intellectual development—all the while stressing, I hope, that his intellectual development was not carefully planned nor orchestrated according to some blueprint, but rather an improvisation on worldly circumstances inside and outside the academy.5 When Said enrolled at Harvard University in 1958 to begin working on a doctoral dissertation that would be revised and published as Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) 8 years later, he did not have in mind the publication of Orientalism (1978) 20 years later to come. In spite of some important pivotal texts in Said’s intellectual development, that whole development should be understood as an interplay between worldly actions and reactions, as the product of a balancing act between being influenced and active critical engagement. My approach to Said’s intellectual development attempts to achieve a critical balance between proximity and distance, between comprehension and interpretation, evaluation and judgment. My method is to reconstruct the intricate web of theoretical intertexts and the broader discursive field in which Said’s writings should be situated in order to understand his notions of literature and agency, as well as those relevant ideas circulating in the broader institutional and cultural context. To do so, I combine close readings to clarify and understand Said’s writings with more distant discursive readings that situate his writings within a discursive field and establish connections and implications that he may never have made or stated explicitly. After all, my goal is ultimately to describe, understand, and criticize not just a collection of works but an intellectual development in which, as Gramsci writes, “the rhythm of the thought as it develops, should be more important than … single causal affirmations and isolated aphorisms” (1971, 383–384; my emphasis). I am therefore not interested in reproducing the dominant image of Said as the authoritative critic with a fully developed system of thought—a consistent, orchestrated or carefully planned totality—but rather in identifying the rhythm of his thought as it develops with a basic sense of direction but without a premeditated plan. My goal is precisely to correct that image of Said as an authority by showing how his ideas about literature and agency are unstable entities of 5  On this point I find myself in agreement with Harold Veeser who thinks Brennan is at fault for producing an intelligent-design version of Said, as if “Said possessed a blueprint that he systematically went about filling over several decades, without wavering or backfilling” (2010, 24).



thought that depend on the precise constellations of his theoretical framework in each of his writings. My narrative is organized chronologically so as to obtain a position of critical distance to Said’s later recollections, reminiscences, and sometimes even downright willful revisions of his earlier works. In prefaces or afterwords to reprints, interviews, lectures, and essays Said often recuperated his earlier writings into later projects. As the years progressed he seemed to become increasingly self-conscious about his discursive positioning, leading to numerous essays and articles with titles like “Traveling Theory Reconsidered” (2000b), “Orientalism Reconsidered” (2000a), “Orientalism Revisited” (2004b), “Orientalism and After” (1996), “Orientalism, an Afterword” (1995), “Orientalism Once More” (2004a). These texts should be analyzed as objects rather than as perspectives of study. In other words, they should be examined and situated in their own discursive context and not in that of the period which they attempt to reinterpret. This is also why my method of reading attributes so much interpretative weight to Said’s vocabulary of criticism, his rhetoric, use of metaphors, and choice of words. My method is based on Steven Mailloux’s ‘rhetorical hermeneutics’, a critical-theoretical practice to incorporate rhetoric at the level of interpretive theory and its analysis of literary and cultural practice (1989, 18). Rhetorical hermeneutics stresses that all forms of textual interpretation are inseparably connected to rhetorical power, the power of interpretation to inspire belief and convince readers, audiences, and opponents of its value and ‘truth’ (1989, 179). Literary criticism is worldly. It takes place at a particular moment, in a specific place, for a certain audience and against, alongside, or in line with other writing that is not always explicitly referred to. Rhetorical hermeneutics then studies the rhetorical exchanges among interpreters embedded in discursive and other social practices at specific historical moments (Mailloux 1989, 133). The method has a threefold focus that corresponds to enlarging interpretative circles: first, it aims to embed the interpretative act in “its most relevant critical debates (and there may be several)” (1989, 133); then the act and its participation in ongoing exchanges must be framed within “the rhetorical traditions within relevant institutional discourses” (1989, 133); and lastly, the act, its arguments, and framing institutional discourses must be embedded within “the cultural conversations, relevant social practices, and constraining material circumstances of its historical moment” (1989, 133). In short, rhetorical ­hermeneutics is a way of “using rhetoric to practice theory by doing history” (Mailloux 1989, ix).



And so my method combines close rhetorical readings with rhetorical hermeneutics. It pays granular attention to both the interiority and exteriority of Said’s intellectual development—to both the rhetoric, metaphors, images, concepts, arguments and what his vocabulary of criticism means for our understanding of his practice, and to its constituents, audiences, and opponents, affiliations and disaffiliations with other texts, and the way in which it attempts to open or close certain discursive spaces both in and outside the traditional confines of the academy. All of this serves to make clear that despite it being guided by Said’s intellectual development, my method is not constrained by it and examines the ways in which Said’s own concepts and insights ‘travel’ within his own works. Moreover, despite its affinities with what some would call traditional philology and source studies, it surpasses such humanistic theories of reading by also examining—which is not to say taking at face value—Said’s own discursive positioning as a critic, his reflective and irreflective positioning in a discursive field, and the way in which his intellectual development echoes ideas that circulate in that discursive field well before (and after) the strict period studied here. And yet, my attempts to identify the blind spots of my reading do not prevent it from falling prey to the double-edged blade of all interpretative acts. As Gramsci notes: It is a matter of common observation among all scholars, from personal experience, that any new theory studied with ‘heroic fury’ (that is, studied not out of mere external curiosity but for reasons of deep interest) for a certain period, especially if one is young, attracts the student of its own accord and takes possession of his whole personality, only to be limited by the study of the next theory, until such a time as a critical equilibrium is created and one learns to study deeply but without succumbing to the fascination of the system and the author under study. These observations are all the more valid the more the thinker in question is endowed with a violent impetus, has a polemical character and is lacking in esprit de système, or when one is dealing with a personality in whom theoretical and practical activity are indissolubly intertwined and with an intellect in a process of continual creation and perpetual movement, with a strong and mercilessly vigorous sense of self-criticism. (1971, 383)

By deliberately allowing my method to be guided by Said’s, I am convinced that I am able to show his intellectual development in progress. However, as Gramsci warns, the risk of this is that one’s own method can



at times be swallowed up by the method of the thinker studied, especially if that person is someone like Said who lacks an esprit de système, whose theoretical and practical activity are inextricably entwined, and whose intellectual development is marked by the kind of intellectual vigor and movement that Gramsci describes. Though I am the first to admit that I am greatly indebted to Said’s own method of reading, I have nonetheless attempted to achieve that necessary critical equilibrium.

References Abu El-Haj, Nadia. 2005. Edward Said and the Political Present. American Ethnologist 32 (4): 538–555. Ahmad, Aijaz. 1992. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso. Althusser, Louis. 1977. Sur le jeune Marx (questions de théorie). In Pour Marx, ed. Louis Althusser, 45–83. Paris: François Maspéro. Ashcroft, Bill, and Edward W.  Said. 2004. Conversation with Edward Said. In Interviews with Edward W.  Said, ed. Amritjit Singh and Bruce G.  Johnson, 84–103. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Bhabha, Homi. 2005. Adagio. Critical Inquiry 31 (2): 371–380. Bilgrami, Akeel. 2005. Interpreting a Distinction. Critical Inquiry 31 (2): 389–398. Bové, Paul A. 1986. Intellectuals in Power: The Genealogy of Critical Humanism. New York: Columbia University Press. Brennan, Timothy. 1992. Places of Mind, Occupied Lands: Edward Said and Philology. In Edward Said: A Critical Reader, ed. Michael Sprinker, 74–95. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ———. 2000. The Illusion of a Future: Orientalism as Traveling Theory. Critical Inquiry 26 (3): 558–583. ———. 2004. Edward Said and Comparative Literature. Journal of Palestine Studies 33 (3): 23–37. ———. 2006. Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right. New York: Columbia University Press. Cain, William E. 1984. The Crisis in Criticism: Theory, Literature, and Reform in English Studies. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Camus, Albert. 2006. La crise de l’homme (28 mars 1946). In Oeuvres complètes, ed. Albert Camus and Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi, 737–749. Paris: Gallimard. Chomsky, Noam, and Michel Foucault. 2006. Human Nature: Justice vs. Power (1971). In The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature, ed. Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, 1–67. New York: The New Press. Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cotkin, George. 2003. Existential America. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press.



Davies, Tony. 2008. Humanism. 2nd ed. London & New York: Routledge. Eagleton, Terry. 2005. Edward Said, Cultural Politics, and Critical Theory (An Interview). Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics (25): 254–269. Forsdick, Charles, and David Murphy, eds. 2003. Francophone Postcolonial Studies: A Critical Introduction. London & New York: Routledge. Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon Books. ———. 1994. Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur? In Dits et écrits 1954–1988, ed. Michel Foucault, Daniel Defert, and François Ewald, 789–821. Paris: Gallimard. Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers. ———. 2007. Quaderni del carcere. 4 vols. Torino: Einaudi. ———. 2011. Prison Notebooks. Trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. Greif, Mark. 2015. The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Howe, Stephen. 2007. Edward Said and Marxism: Anxieties of Influence. Cultural Critique 67: 50–87. Hussein, Abdirahman A. 2002. Edward Said: Criticism and Society. London: Verso. Mailloux, Steven. 1989. Rhetorical Power. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Makdisi, Saree. 2005. Said, Palestine, and the Humanism of Liberation. Critical Inquiry 31 (2): 443–461. de Man, Paul. 1971. The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida’s Reading of Rousseau. In Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, ed. Paul de Man, 102–141. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Marrouchi, Mustapha Ben T. 2004. Edward Said at the Limits. Albany: State University of New York Press. McCarthy, Conor. 2010. The Cambridge Introduction to Edward Said. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mitchell, W.J.T. 2005. Secular Divination: Edward Said’s Humanism. Critical Inquiry 31 (2): 462–471. Moore-Gilbert, Bart. 1997. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso. Nichols, Robert. 2010. Postcolonial Studies and the Discourse of Foucault: Survey of a Field of Problematization. Foucault Studies (9): 111–144. North, Joseph. 2017. Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. OED. 2017. Criticism, n. In Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com. Accessed 22 May 2019. Pannian, Prasad. 2016. Edward Said and the Question of Subjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.



Poirier, Richard. 1987. The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections. New York: Random House. Radhakrishnan, Rajagopalan. 2007. Edward Said’s Literary Humanism. Cultural Critique 67: 13–42. ———. 2010. The Possibilities of Humanism. In Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, ed. Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom, 431–447. Berkeley: University of California Press. ———. 2012. A Said Dictionary. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Robbins, Bruce, Mary Louise Pratt, Jonathan Arac, Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan, and Edward W.  Said. 1994. Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism: A Symposium. Social Text (40): 1–24. Said, Edward W. 1966. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 1975. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New  York: Columbia University Press. ———. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books. ———. 1983a. Conclusion: Religious Criticism. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 290–292. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1983b. Criticism Between Culture and System. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 178–225. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1983c. Introduction: Secular Criticism. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 1–30. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1983d. Traveling Theory. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 226–247. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus. ———. 1994. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1995. Orientalism, an Afterword. Raritan: A Quarterly Review 14 (3): 32–59. ———. 1996. Orientalism and After. In A Critical Sense: Interviews with Intellectuals, ed. Peter Osborne, 65–86. London: Routledge. ———. 2000a. Orientalism Reconsidered. In Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, ed. Edward W. Said, 198–215. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2000b. Traveling Theory Reconsidered. In Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, ed. Edward W. Said, 436–452. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2004a. Orientalism Once More. Development and Change 35 (5): 869–879. ———. 2004b. Orientalism Revisited: An Interview with Edward W.  Said. In Interviews with Edward W.  Said, ed. Amritjit Singh and Bruce G.  Johnson, 45–58. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Veeser, Harold. 2010. Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism. London & New York: Routledge.



Wood, Michael. 2010. Beginnings Again. In Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, ed. Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom, 60–71. Berkeley: University of California Press. Young, Robert J.C. 1990. White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. London & New York: Routledge. ———. 1995. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race. London & New York: Routledge. ———. 2012. Edward Said: Opponent of Postcolonial Theory. In Edward Said’s Translocations: Essays in Secular Criticism, ed. Tobias Döring and Mark Stein, 23–42. London & New York: Routledge. ———. 2016. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Anniversary ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.


Cold Reading

1   Introduction: Harvard, 1958 In the fall of 1958 Said began the first of 5 years as a graduate student at Harvard University. Having earned his bachelor’s degree at Princeton University a year earlier in June 1957, he agreed to work under the guidance of Harvard professors Monroe Engel and Harry Levin on a doctoral dissertation on the letters and short fiction of the Anglo-Polish writer Joseph Conrad which would be published as Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966). The whole period at Harvard, Said recalls in his memoir, was a continuation of his undergraduate experience at Princeton. Though he admired the competence and philological rigor of his teachers, he nevertheless felt that their courses were dull and unreflective, and induced in him a lethargic mood (Said 1999, 276–278). “Conventional history and a wan formalism ruled the literary faculty”, he goes on to describe the atmosphere at Harvard, so in fulfilling my degree requirements there was no possibility of doing much beyond marching from period to period until the twentieth century. I recall hours, days, weeks, of voracious reading with no significant extension of that reading in what professors lectured on or what they expected from a largely passive student clientele. There was scarcely a ripple on the surface of student placidity, perhaps because, with no sense of intellectual example to animate our exertions, all of us were out of place, or uncomfortable in the institution. (Said 1999, 289–290)

© The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4_2




That “wan formalism”, which didn’t just rule the literary faculty at Harvard but was taught by the majority of professors in the literary departments across the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, has come to be known as the American New Criticism. Deriving its name from a book of that designation by John Crowe Ransom (1941), the New Criticism flourished in the United States from the early 1940s and is taken to include the work of a variety of American literary critics such as Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Austin Warren, William K.  Wimsatt Jr., Monroe Beardsley, Richard Palmer Blackmur, Kenneth Burke, Yvor Winters, and Cleanth Brooks. Though these critics didn’t find much common theoretical ground, what united them were their similar ideas about the task of literary criticism (Berman 1988, 26; Jancovich 1993, 3). The New Critics drew inspiration from a series of experiments conducted in the late 1920s by Ivor Armstrong Richards at the University of Cambridge. Richards gave his undergraduate students poems to analyze without providing them with information about their titles, who wrote them, and where and when they were written in order to force them to concentrate on the actual text rather than relying on preconceived opinions or beliefs about these poems. In his seminal book Practical Criticism (1930) Richards argued that such a close and methodical analysis of the “bare words … on the paper” (1930, 4) was psychologically rewarding because it gave his students the benefits to better clarify the various emotions that were conveyed in the poem and their corresponding emotions as readers of the poem. From Richards’s experiments, the American New Critics got the idea that literary criticism had to be practical and study the literary work as a self-sufficient verbal artifact or icon that could be criticized or evaluated in its own terms. This led them to believe that the goal of criticism was to reaffirm the specificity of literature—that which makes a given work literary, or what the Russian Formalists in the 1920s would call the ‘literariness’ of literature (Jakobson 1973, 62)1—and to elucidate individual literary works by showing how elements of poetic form, such as metaphors, ambiguity, irony, the interplay of connotation and denotation, and poetic imagery, all contributed to the work’s unified structure (Culler 1988, 10). However, contrary to what terms such as ‘verbal icon’ or 1  For a comparative study that contextualizes the New Criticism and the Russian Formalism with respect to their philosophical backgrounds, main concepts, and the practical application of their general principles, see Ewa Thompson’s Russian Formalism and Anglo-American New Criticism: A Comparative Study (1971).



‘­ artifact’ might suggest, the New Critics did not consider that structure to be static but, rather, dramatic. They even argued that it was this structure that made up the essence of a literary work, which in its turn could only be grasped as a whole that is not only greater but different from the sum of its individual parts. The literary work should be seen as a totality or, to use a term from experimental psychology frequently encountered in New Critical texts, “a Gestalt” (Wellek 1978, 620). The New Criticism effectively promoted the idea that literature was valuable in itself and had to be taken seriously; likewise, the criticism which sought to illuminate and interpret literature was also valuable (McDonald 2007, 14). As a movement, the New Criticism had an influence that extended well beyond the lecture halls. In the 1940s it gradually succeeded in effecting an educational transformation, that by the early to mid-1950s led the New Criticism to establish itself as the dominant pedagogic tradition in academic literary studies after World War II and well into the 1970s (Fekete 1977, 88; Green 1965, 20). Those immediate postwar years were marked by a sudden massification in American institutes of higher education. The 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, informally known as the ‘G.I. Bill’, made it financially possible for many veterans, who had been discharged from active service after the war, to attend universities or colleges. The bill was an immense success: student numbers swelled and, to keep up with this nationwide hike in numbers, university faculty expanded exponentially.2 As Richards’s approach illustrates, the teaching methods of the New Criticism generally do not require much background training or specialized knowledge about literature other than the ability to focus intensely on the text. As a result, they suited this massification trend more than those of contextual approaches to literature and better catered to the needs of these new veteran students who lacked the kind of formal education that their nonveteran fellow students were able to enjoy (Leitch 2010, 130). The pedagogical model of the New Criticism remolded the teaching of English literature in institutions of higher education and secondary schools alike (McDonald 2007, 14), 2  In the first postwar decade (1946–1957), 2,232,000 veterans benefited from the G.I. Bill to attend colleges or universities (Olson 1973, 596). The total number of students in higher education in the United States rose from 1,677,000 to 3,138,000—a trend that cannot just be explained by the effects of the G.I. Bill alone, but also by the large amount of students who enrolled in higher education to avoid military service in the Korean War (1950–1953). As a result, in that same decade, the amount of professorships surged and the number of faculty nationwide more than doubled, from 136,000 to 344,000 (Leitch 2010, 130).



dominating postwar literature programs in the United States in such a way that, according to Jonathan Culler, it is right to label the postwar period in American literary studies as “the hegemony of the New Criticism” (1988, 11). But although the New Criticism was the hegemonic form of U.S. literary criticism and would remain the standard method of courses on literature up until the 1970s and well into the 1980s, when Said pursued his studies in the 1950s and early 1960s, many up-and-coming literary scholars felt that the movement was at its critical twilight. According to Said, reminiscing on the period in his memoir, the New Criticism had once been an invigorating and engaged method of reading which forcefully insisted that literature mattered and consequently prompted critics to think deeply about the specificity of literature, its human meaning, social and cultural functions, as well as the worldliness of literary criticism. But by the year 1958 it had faded into a pale version of itself that, in practice, obscured the social and cultural dimensions of texts beneath a narrow focus on form. Said felt that the New Criticism had lost its interest in politics and societal change. Literary programs dominated by its pedagogy produced “a largely passive student clientele” (Said 1999, 289) that was taught the kind of political quietism and societal conformity characteristic of the first postwar decade in the United States (Leitch 2010, 130).3 The New Criticism was therefore not only the hegemonic form of literary criticism in the United States but its pedagogy even consolidated the societal status quo, so that, as the locations of the 1968 protests against the Vietnam War vividly exemplify, the struggle for society would also have to take place on campus. Said was not the only one who felt this way about the New Criticism. In 1952, a year before Said began his undergraduate education at Princeton, Ransom, who had been the standard-bearer of the New Criticism up until then, felt that the movement had become bogged down and that its members had gradually come to resemble “cold-blooded 3  Said probably exaggerates when he says that all of his fellow students felt the passivity propagated by the literary program to be problematic. Many veteran students wanted to continue with their war-interrupted lives and were rather indifferent to social and political issues, let alone academic or societal change (Leitch 2010, 130). Aware of the unique opportunity provided by the G.I. Bill, they were of good will and tolerated many ordeals, such as crowded classrooms, inadequate student accommodations, and overworked and understaffed faculty (Olson 1973, 596). Said’s experience is therefore probably more representative of that of nonveteran students.



c­ ritics of poetry working away at what sometimes appear to be the merest exercises with words” (1952, 159). Ransom was sad to see the New Criticism wane, a development which was further attested in one of the first critical monographs on the movement written by Murray Krieger in 1956. Though the New Criticism had offered many fresh and energetic theoretical insights into the study of literature and was to be given credit for redirecting attention to the specificity of literature and for reintroducing criticism to U.S. literary departments, by the time Krieger had finished his book the movement had reached a dead end. Though it had always been characterized by internal critical debates between its self-identified members, the New Criticism was now plagued by too many inherent contradictions and critical dogmas. “Time was running out on its vitality”, Krieger put it in the foreword to a later edition of the book, “and its little life was soon to be rounded with a sleep” (1963, vii). The original strength of the New Criticism in the late 1930s and early 1940s was not so much that its practitioners all asserted the unique value of literature but that they did so in an open-ended, unsystematic, and non-­ purist form of literary criticism that lacked a defined theoretical program (Krieger 1956, 5–6). This meant that while its practitioners significantly differed from each other, they could nevertheless be grouped under the same banner insofar as they all sought to preserve the sensitivity of literature in an inhibited state (Culler 1988, 10; Krieger 1956, 6). But from the mid-1940s New Critics had begun to codify their tenets and solidify their theoretical assumptions. While it is not uncommon for schools of criticism to do so when they start to gain more institutional power, the problem with the New Criticism was that it did so ex negativo, in terms and criteria defined by its scholarly opposition, which was in control of the literature departments and professed a contextualized approach to literature that did not pay attention to questions of aesthetics and form (Graff 1987, 145). Though this evolution led to the successful institutionalization of the New Criticism in American universities, secondary schools, and colleges, the eventual drawback was that the movement had changed from an open-­ ended and critical method of reading into a closed-off theoretical orthodoxy that sought to formulate ‘grammars’ (Burke) and purify itself of the ‘heresies’ (Brooks) and ‘fallacies’ (Wimsatt and Beardsley) of literary criticism. The result was that by the 1950s the New Criticism had gradually turned into a systematic theory and methodology which aimed to be applicable to any and all works of literature but at the cost of losing its critical edge (Graff 1987, 161). “By about 1957”, Frank Lentricchia sums



up the period in which Said began working and writing on his book on Conrad, “the moribund condition of the New Criticism and the literary needs it left unfulfilled placed us in a critical void” (1980, 4). By the time it had become the hegemonic form of literary criticism, the New Criticism was no longer new or critical. Said’s experience is representative of that of a larger generation of American literary critics who graduated at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s and who were in search of vital alternatives to the ‘wan’ New Criticism of the time (Leitch 2010, 130). Not long after, they would find such alternative modes of reading in European theories of phenomenology and existentialism, which they would then transpose to their particular context, developing in turn a specific American model of existential phenomenology that would gradually contest the hegemony of the New Criticism. While some critics resolutely dismissed the New Critical model of reading, Said was part of a different group of critics of consciousness that sought to synthesize the New Criticism with existential phenomenology and develop an approach to literary criticism that was aimed both at the comprehension of experience and the evaluation of form (Lawall 1968, 273; Leitch 2010, 138). In order to understand Said’s experience of the New Criticism and his subsequent engagement with the movement in his revised doctoral dissertation Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, I will discuss the movement’s institutional rise and evolution into what many consider to be a ‘critical orthodoxy’. In so doing, I will not address other important schools or movements of the period such as the neo-Aristotelian Chicago school of criticism associated with Ronald S.  Crane (1951); the group known as the New York Intellectuals centered around Lionel Trilling and its non-academic form of criticism that fuses radical politics with a focus on avant-garde writings (see Webster 1979, 209–222); the myth criticism of the Canadian critic Northrop Frye (Frye 1957; see Lentricchia 1980, 3–26); psychoanalytical or philological literary criticism; or the works of critics not easily associated with a particular school or method such as Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) and Meyer H. Abrams The Mirror and the Lamp (1953). Their absence from my account of the history of literary criticism in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s does not mean that they are insignificant. They simply did not achieve the same kind of institutional weight as the New Criticism that by 1950 “was firmly established in the centers of academic power and influence” (Webster 1979, 113). At the height of its institutional hegemony it



had accrued so much authority that when Said enrolled at Harvard the very term ‘New Criticism’, Terence Hawkes writes, “was criticism itself” (2003, 126). I have therefore singled out the New Criticism as the most authoritative approach to literary criticism in the period in which Said wrote his doctoral dissertation. In the first sections of this chapter, I will follow Said’s line of thought and discuss the evolution of the New Criticism from the 1930s to the 1950s, while at the same time examining its institutional and cultural context and closely reading a number of pivotal New Critical texts to distill the movement’s theoretical positions. A few guiding questions help me on my way. What was the New Criticism originally? What was Said’s overall critique of the development of the New Criticism and what was the model of criticism that he proposed? As I answer these questions, we will gradually begin to see how the New Criticism evolved from a worldly humanistic formalism in the postwar years to a dehumanized, autonomous textual practice in the postwar period. It also allows us to understand Said’s critical engagement with the New Criticism as a hegemonic institutional discourse and his attempts to rehumanize the literary experience, reconnect it with the world and reinvigorate its model of literary criticism in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography by drawing on the prewar phase of the New Criticism and fusing it with methods derived from French existential phenomenology—which is the focus of Chap. 3. In the last section of this chapter, I will analyze Said’s model of reading and conceptualization of literature in his revised doctoral dissertation and focus more closely on his critical relation to the New Criticism in general and to two texts that codified the postwar doctrines of the movement in particular, namely Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946) and “The Affective Fallacy” (1949). I will be discussing these texts to nuance and correct the dominant image of the New Criticism as an approach that is uninterested in all forms of biographical evidence and intentionality. To be clear from the outset, Said’s approach to Conrad rejects not wholly the formalist approach of the New Criticism but only its postwar formalist orthodoxy and the concomitant suppression of intentional and affective reasoning in literary criticism—and, equally important, the implications thereof in thinking about human agency. As a result, Said’s reading still foregrounds literary form but, in what I argue to be a turn to the prewar phase of the New Criticism, it reconceptualizes that form as involved in social history and the author’s lived experience. His method of



reading thereby prefigures the call to political history and a broad, humanistic and historical form of textuality in Beginnings (1975) and Orientalism (1978). As I discuss his treatment of Conrad, it will become clear that the works of Levin and R.P.  Blackmur are formative to his critical practice. Said’s critical engagement with Levin and, most notably, with Blackmur would facilitate his combination of the New Criticism with methods derived from existential phenomenology. In the course of this chapter, I will therefore also be comparing the New Criticism to existential phenomenology and highlighting concrete points where both approaches to literature show themselves compatible. But to begin all of this we need to go back to the origins of the New Criticism and its gradual march to institutional dominance.

2   The Origins of the New Criticism: Close(d) Reading? To combat the obstinate idea that the New Criticism was an apolitical movement from its very beginnings, it is important to locate the New Criticism both historically and geographically.4 The origins of the New Criticism lie in the Deep South of the United States and are closely related to the Southern Agrarian movement and its cultural critique of industrial capitalism and bourgeois society of the 1920s and 1930s. The Southern Agrarians were a conservative group of mostly right-wing scholars, writers, and essayists centered around Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who heavily opposed the rapid urbanization, scientification, and industrialization of the United States in general and the Southern states in particular. Its members included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren, who would all later be responsible for organizing the New Criticism as a movement (Jancovich 1993, x). The group’s manifesto I’ll Take My Stand (1930) is an apology for an Agrarian way of life. As a bulwark against the mounting pressures of 4  Most critics who have attempted to contextualize the movement have done so by deducing that context from the theoretical positions of its identified members, leading them to believe that the movement was originally uninterested in history, society, and politics. Though there are earlier attempts at contextualizing the New Criticism (most notably Fekete 1977, 61–84), Mark Jancovich’s The Cultural Politics of the New Criticism (1993) is an exceptionally rich work of scholarship that illustrates the way in which the cultural politics of the New Criticism were deeply implicated within the right-wing political movement of Agrarianism.



i­ndustrial capitalism and the commercialization of society associated with the North, its authors raised the traditional pre-capitalist values of the American South such as its agrarianism, religiosity, conservatism, and paternalism (Jancovich 1993, 12; Shapiro 1972, 75–76). Although its history of plantations and slavery meant that the South had been more deeply entangled with the rise of a capitalist world market than the authors of the Agrarian manifesto would have us believe, it was not a capitalist society. What distinctly characterized the Southern states was their tradition of paternalism, associated with the slaveholder and planter classes, that organized human relations according to a pre-capitalist conceptualization of family (Genovese 1971, 16). In a similar vein to certain Marxist ideas, Southern society was thought of as an ensemble of organic relations between members “which were opposed to the acquisitive individualism associated with the capitalist market” (Jancovich 1993, 13). In the South, paternalism went hand in hand with a populist, anti-bourgeois defense of individual property that was opposed to the individualist bourgeois idea of property associated with the wage relations of capitalism. Moreover, entrenched within that tradition of paternalism was a staunch belief in self-­ sufficiency as a way to achieve independence from wage relations. This meant that in the South the small communities of subsistence farmers were regarded to be spiritually superior to the industrialized estates of cash crop farmers (Culler 1988, 9). The Southern Agrarians tapped into this idea to encourage farmers to free themselves from the increasing pressures of capitalist relations of production (Jancovich 1993, 13). But Southern farmers had more pressing concerns on their mind. Following the devastation of cotton crops by boll weevils, the first wave of the Great Migration saw millions of African Americans leave the South for cities in the North and Midwest in the period from the 1910s to the 1930s. They fled not only from the lack of social and economic opportunities but from intense segregation and an increase in racially motivated murder, lynchings, and violence in the former slave-owning Confederate States of America (Tolnay 2003, 215). In the 1930s, the Southern economy was dealt additional blows by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. While there was a temporary decline in the number of African Americans migrating north due to a nationwide drop in labor demand caused by the recession, hundreds of thousands of African-American migrants still crossed the Mason-Dixon Line in search for better living conditions in the industrialized cities in the North, and below that line millions of workers were left unemployed, homeless, and hungry. Given



this precarious economic situation, self-sufficiency for Southerners then seemed only a dream. It can hardly come as a surprise that the Southern Agrarians were unable to win support for their economic program and that by the early 1940s the Agrarian movement was moribund (Jancovich 1993, 13). It lasted until 1945 when Ransom, the unofficial leader of the movement, delivered the coup de grâce by expressing his disbelief in the possibility of ever founding an anti-capitalist Agrarian society in the United States (1945, 686). While this signaled the failure of Southern Agrarianism on a political level, the movement was highly influential on a cultural level. Its cultural critique caught on and would eventually result in the institutionalization and integration of the New Criticism in the American academy during the 1930s and 1940s, when, in what almost seemed a concerted move, many Southern New Critics decided to move to Northern states (Jancovich 1993, 13–14). Ransom was the first to migrate north, swapping Vanderbilt University for Kenyon College, Ohio, in 1937. Soon after, René Wellek,5 who had previously been a tutor at Princeton and Smith College, Massachusetts, emigrated to the United States to take up an appointment at the University of Iowa in 1939. That same year, Allen Tate made the move from the University of North Carolina to Princeton where he became a fellow in the Creative Writing program. A year later in 1940, he arranged for R.P.  Blackmur to take over his place at Princeton, Austin Warren joined the faculty at Iowa and William K. Wimsatt Jr. was appointed at Yale University. At the heyday of the New Criticism in the end of the 1940s, Wellek (1946), Brooks (1947), and Robert Penn Warren (1950) joined Wimsatt in New Haven and together they would turn Yale into the New Criticism’s most important center of reformation (Culler 1988, 11; Graff 1987, 153). The arrival of the New Critics in Northern universities was a major game-changer for American literary studies. Although the New Criticism was strictly speaking an academic phenomenon, its cultural politics were deeply entrenched in those of Southern Agrarianism. This meant that, 5  Born in Vienna and having graduated from the Charles University in Prague, Wellek was of course never a member of the Southern Agrarian Movement. However, as a result of writing Theory of Literature (1949) with his New Critical colleague at Iowa, Austin Warren, his name has over the years been connected to the New Criticism as movement (Searle 2005, 692). This association ignores the fact that Wellek worked closely in the philological tradition of his contemporary Erich Auerbach and was foundational for the discipline of comparative literature in the United States.



unsurprisingly, the New Criticism defined itself in terms that were reminiscent of the Agrarian movement and diametrically opposed to the dominant cultural hegemony: it was anti-bourgeois and anti-scientific (Jancovich 1993, 14; Thompson 1971, 37). We might even better understand this oppositional self-definition when we take into account that, though many New Critics such as Ransom, Tate, and Penn Warren came from families that were financially well-off and had enjoyed a decent amount of social and cultural capital, most of them were outsiders to the academy with little training in the kind of philological research that was de rigueur in the U.S. literary departments at the time (Jancovich 1993, 144–145). While most of them had taken advanced degrees, they lacked academic standing: Tate had only been the recipient of a B.A., Burke had dropped out of college and Blackmur, having been expelled from high school, was an autodidact who never received a college degree at all (see Fitzgerald 1985, 5–6; Fraser 2010, xxxv; Graff 1987, 152–153). As Gerald Graff points out, these New Critics were only able to gain a foothold at Northern universities on account of the strength of their literary writing rather than their scholarly qualifications (1987, 153). The result was that when they made the move to Northern universities, colleges, and research institutions, these Southern New Critics felt alienated and out of place. What must have added to this feeling is that in the 1940s—and even still in the 1950s and 1960s—many senior faculty members looked down upon their new colleagues, considering them unqualified, amateur intruders in their departments, and gave them a hostile welcome (Fraser 2010, 188–189; McDonald 2007, 13). Many academic supervisors warned their students to keep away from these New Critical ‘charlatans’, as they saw them, and some at Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia—precisely those universities where Said would make his career—kept their new colleagues from teaching graduate courses altogether (Graff 1987, 153–155). But instead of giving in to these institutional pressures and downright bullying, the New Critics again took their stand. Unhappy with the academic climate, they sought to redefine the politics of literary study within the American academy (Culler 1988, 10; Jancovich 1993, 12). According to Mark Jancovich, the New Critics attempted “to redefine the literary institution and its claim to professional status”, which resulted in “a struggle to displace the existing modes of scholarship with an oppositional set of professional criteria” (1993, 144). In short, at the beginning of the 1940s the American university was at war, so to speak. The belligerents were the emergent self-styled ‘New’ Critics



who sought to uproot the academy and liberate literature from the authoritative grip of its professional establishment; their opponents were the dominant class of established scholars—or ‘old’ scholars, as some would call them (Graff 1987, 193)—that wanted to uphold the existing modes of scholarship. Those existing modes of scholarship were characterized by a highly professionalized and elitist approach to philology that combined a penchant for positivistic facts—such as source studies, authors’ biographies, and historical circumstances—with an awe-inspiring, almost pedantic mastery of intellectual history, classics, historical linguistics and philosophy (Culler 1988, 4–5). This meant that when the Southern New Critics arrived at Northern U.S. literary departments, they found these departments to be populated by two kinds of faculty. On the one hand, there were highly specialized professors who practiced a positivistic form of evidence-­based research in the humanities and a German-style philological approach to the investigation of modern literature. On the other hand, there were the so-called generalists who advocated the humanistic ideals of liberal arts and college education and, instead of the narrowly specialized type of research of their colleagues, promoted the study of general culture and valued appreciation of literature over research, and values over facts (Graff 1987, 55–56). Although these two strands of scholarship significantly differed from each other, they were seen as a unified front of professional teachers of literature against which the New Critics reacted. Ransom, for instance, attacked them for being what he had earlier described as “learned but not critical” (1937, 587). He believed that in their factual knowledge of literature and erudition of philosophy they resembled scholars who confused literary with non-literary discourse and had drifted away from their core business of literary criticism (Ransom 1937, 587). Indeed, prior to the institutionalization of the New Criticism, the majority of American literary scholars were mainly concerned with contextualizing literature, not so much with judging the aesthetic qualities of a literary work or distinguishing between politically partisan and disinterested interpretations (Graff 1987, 132). Although there had been a heightened sense of political awareness during and after World War I, what was lacking in the American university at the advent of the 1940s was criticism (Culler 1988, 5–6). The New Critics would attempt to fill this gap and propagate the idea of a literary department in which the critical study of literature for its own sake had its proper place (Fekete 1977, 86). In Ransom’s view, there was an



­ veremphasis on the historical in literary studies and it was due time for a o shift to the critical and for “the students of the future … to study literature, and not merely about literature” (1937, 588). To him, this meant that the students of the future must finally be permitted to pay close attention to the literary work. The New Criticism has come to be associated with the method of ‘close reading’, a detailed and at times almost analytic interpretation of literary works.6 Close reading is a focusing call to study a particular poem or piece of prose as closely as possible (Eagleton 2008, 38). As a reaction against the dominant contextualizing approaches to literature and literary history, the term ‘close’ implies that these earlier approaches read literature from too far a distance and that they did not pay enough attention to the specificity of literature as a medium. The New Critics believed that these approaches trivialized literature because they reduced literary texts to being mere reflections of external factors such as biographical facts, historical details or metaphysical speculations (Eagleton 2008, 41). In opposition to what Said in his autobiography calls “conventional history” (1999, 289) the emergent New Criticism argued that the literary work had to be isolated from its cultural, literary, and historical contexts in order to be read as an object in itself (Eagleton 2008, 37). New Critics, then, treated literary works as individual aesthetic objects of study in their own right rather than as documents from which the author’s antecedent intentions, the work’s social and historical conditions or its subsequent effects on society could be culled (Culler 1988, 10; Wellek 1978, 620). It is important to stress that to the founding generation of New Critics such as Ransom, Tate, Penn Warren, and Brooks,7 isolating a literary work was but a necessary first step to define an object of study 6  In the eyes of the New Critics, ‘literature’ slides over into ‘poetry’. I am on firm ground with Terry Eagleton who argues that “literary theories … unconsciously ‘foreground’ a particular literary genre, and derive their general pronouncements from this; it would be interesting to trace this process through the history of literary theory” (2008, 44). In the case of the New Criticism and its isolating approach to literature, the coincidence of ‘literature’ with ‘poetry’ is significant, as will become clear later, because “poetry is of all literary genres the one most apparently sealed from history” (Eagleton 2008, 44). 7  While not an original member of the Southern Agrarian movement, Brooks had close ties with its founding members. He had studied at Vanderbilt with Ransom and Tate in the 1920s and became good friends with Penn Warren during a stay at Oxford University in the 1930s where they encountered the arch-Practical Critic I.A.  Richards. Though he never argued as forcefully on behalf of the conservative Southern traditions as Ransom, Tate, and Penn Warren, he did admit reading the Southern Agrarian manifesto “over and over” and



(literature) needed to form a coherent body of knowledge (literary criticism).8 To them, reading literature in isolation did not mean that they considered literature to be an autonomous practice that was severed from society (compare with de Man 1971a, 20–21). On the contrary, they argued that it was precisely a characteristic of good literary works to be organically tied to the social and cultural life from which they originated. They believed that literature had important moral and social functions in society and regarded literary criticism to be a form of socio-cultural criticism. Their point was that these moral and social functions were apparent in literary works as they had become qualities of the text’s internal unified formal structure which had to be studied by the critic (Graff 1987, 148). To do so, the critic had to bracket both himself or herself and the text off from the world by rigorously focusing on the formalist, textual aspects of a literary work, and only on these aspects. In a similar vein to the Southern farmers who were encouraged by the paternalistic idea of self-sufficiency to become independent, they argued that the literary text had to become a self-sufficient object of study that could speak for itself (Culler 1988, 9). The New Criticism therefore proposed an anti-reductionist and evaluative approach to literature in which literature should again be studied as literature proper and not as a mirror of external, non-literary phenomena. Readings that focused on such external phenomena were certainly interesting and even “invaluable in preparing for the proper reading of a poem”, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren wrote in a programmatic essay, but they ultimately “do not constitute that reading” (1937, 438). That ultimate reading is a close reading which attentively examines

trying “to assimilate the whole position, philosophical and political” (Brooks cited by Leitch et al. 2001b, 1350). 8  The New Criticism successfully established the assumption, which still holds sway in literary departments, that ‘good’ or ‘innovative’ literary criticism should not only produce new and richer interpretations of particular literary works but also more compelling ones (Culler 2007, 226). The historical result of this assumption was that interpretations of literary works were considered to be a new kind of knowledge that, unlike previous historical or philological investigations, was not only positive but also decidedly rhetorical (Thompson 1971, 37). Literary criticism produces a kind of knowledge that is a form of writing in itself, not just something that is written up. As such, Jonathan Culler stresses that the result of interpretive criticism—just like literature according to the New Critics—is not something that can be summed up or paraphrased, but a text that tries to render explicit the poetic structure that is deeply woven in a particular literary work (2007, 226).



the text’s formal, linguistic aspects in close relation to its meaning.9 A New Critical reading would then proceed to foreground a pattern of formal and textual features that are indicative of the ambiguity and dissonance in the individual literary work but, if that literary work was successful, would ultimately dissolve in a formal unity or consonance that is characteristic of a living organism (Graff 1979, 140; Wellek 1978). Scholars of the New Critical movement agree that the concentration on the textual—we could speak of a ‘textual turn’—was its specific innovation in the American academic study of literature (Cain 1982; Jancovich 1993, 138). Indeed, New Critics paid careful attention to the content, form, and structure of a literary work and believed that the specificity of literature— or what they labeled “the poetic principle” (Wimsatt and Brooks 1957, x)—was something that could not be paraphrased or expressed in any other language than that of the text itself (Eagleton 2008, 40–41). According to Brooks, literature is so subtle and rich a medium that its message cannot be paraphrased, translated, or reduced: the poem … is the sole linguistic vehicle which conveys the thing communicated accurately. In fact, if we are to speak correctly, the poem itself is the only medium that communicates the particular ‘what’ that is communicated. (1947c, 60)

When it comes to studying literature, the medium is the message; the meaning of a literary text was coterminous with its poetic structure, which should therefore be the focus of literary criticism. Contrary to what opponents of the New Criticism would have us believe, Brooks’s writings are a sign that New Critics were in fact interested in literature’s relation to society. Drawing upon the cultural critique of the Southern Agrarian movement, Brooks believed that modern society was sick. In his view, industrial capitalism had led to an increasing scientification and rationalization of society that defined individuals as human resources in a manufacturing process of labor-products from which these individuals had increasingly become estranged (Jancovich 1993, 19). Moreover, individuals had also become alienated from each other, causing 9  In spite of what is often believed, the New Criticism did not propagate the idea that a particular literary work could have only one, definitive meaning waiting to be unearthed and explained by the critic (Jancovich 1993, 144). On the contrary, New Critics such as Tate, who was intensely interested in the linguistic processes that generated meaning (1952), believed it to be reductive and misleading to impose a single reading upon a text.



society to lose its sense of community (Jancovich 1993, 20). Unsurprisingly, modern industrial capitalist society had to emulate the society of the old American South, which was distinctly less industrialized in the 1930s and the 1940s and had still been able to retain that sense of community— though at the price of excluding a substantial part of the population on ethnic grounds (see Simpson 1976, 62). Fortunately, Brooks believed that there was a cure: in order to help society restore its lost sense of community, its members needed to read literature (Jancovich 1993, 19–20). While this might strike us as naïve, the underlying idea was that literature could be a medicine for society, because reading literature critically would allow readers to reestablish a connection between themselves and others.10 Literary works were said to provide a precise, yet intuitive, non-conceptual kind of knowledge that was diametrically opposed to the conceptual knowledge of science and was the result of the unique language in which literary discourse is formulated (Thompson 1971, 38). This non-­ conceptual knowledge meant that literature provided a deeper and, the suggestion seems to be, more truthful insight into human experiences than science could offer (see also Tate 1955a, 34). Brooks argued that all Western poetry from early modernity to the present makes use of a constant interplay between seemingly opposite, irreconcilable metaphors that are in fact harmoniously complementary (1947b, 2). Successful poems like those of William Wordsworth, for instance, are able to achieve a unity of opposites and reconcile the irreconcilable: Wordsworth’s poems show that “the common was really uncommon, the prosaic was really poetic” or that “it is that kind of calm and that 10  This idea echoes that of the so-called ‘Great Books Courses’, originally initiated at Columbia by John Erskine in 1901, then gradually established in numerous colleges across the United States and now even in honors programs or lifelong learning programs worldwide. The belief of these courses is that reading so-called literary masterpieces in 1 week and then criticizing them one evening in group, instead of attending lectures by some authoritative literary scholar about them or rigorously studying the critical literature on that particular literary masterpiece or the oeuvre of its author for weeks on end, would contribute to a general education of readers and counteract the individualizing and alienating forces of scientific positivism and vocationalism (Graff 1987, 133–135). The result of such courses seems to be that they invite readers to talk about literature without having to reckon with dense archives of scholarship and thus, in short, produce amateur critics. These ideas still hold sway in popular literary culture and have found additional, contemporary expression in social media and (televised) book clubs, which have turned the once solitary and print-based experience increasingly into a commercialized social activity enjoyed on the screen as much as on the page (see Collins 2010).



kind of excitement, and the states may well occur together” (Brooks 1947b, 4, 6). Paradoxes like these inform the structure of a work, are the essence of not only Wordsworth’s but of all good poetry (Thompson 1971, 51–52) and provide it with a truth distinctly different from science: there is a sense in which paradox is the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry. It is the scientist whose truth requires a language purged of every trace of paradox; apparently the truth which the poet utters can be approached only in terms of paradox. (Brooks 1947b, 1)

New Critics such as Brooks believed that, unlike science, literature does not rationalize or compartmentalize, but understands this situation in its wholeness—in all its orderly, disorderly, and seemingly chaotic aspects— by making use of metaphorical language. Literature is able to examine the complexity of human experience and to constantly let its reader shift his or her perspective on things. “The tendency of science is necessarily to stabilize terms, to freeze them into strict denotations”, Brooks goes on to clarify the difference, “the poet’s tendency is by contrast disruptive. The terms are continually modifying each other, and thus violating their dictionary meanings” (Brooks 1947b, 6). This disruptive tendency, a quality attributed to its aesthetics, makes literature a medium of cultural criticism par excellence that has the power to defamiliarize its readers by offering new and opposite perspectives on situations which they have grown to take for granted. Reading literature as literature—and not as, say, direct scientific communication—does not offer conceptual knowledge about experience reached by logical methods but a controlled experience in progress that is dramatic, rather than static, and therefore resists being paraphrased (Graff 1970, xi–xii, 1979, 139–143). In a process that is quite similar to the existential-phenomenological idea of literary criticism as an act of comprehension, Brooks argued that this controlled experience cannot be explained by logic but has to be experienced first-hand by the reader during the reading process (1947d, 155–156). Through a reader’s experience of a controlled experience, literature could be disruptive and alleviate the alienation of modern society. The difference between Brooks’s New Critical conceptualization of experience in literature and the existential-phenomenological conceptualization is that the New Critics understand this human experience as impersonal, collective, and universal, whereas their existential-phenomenological colleagues would consider it to be personal, idiosyncratic, and concrete



(Graff 1979, 139–140). According to the New Criticism, from reading a poem we cannot simply deduce a poet’s intentions or his or her personal experience without breaking up the unifying experience of the poem; it asserts, to refer to Brooks’s interpretation of a famous line of Yeats’s poetry, that we cannot separate the dancer from the dance without waiting until the dance has been completed (1947d, 155–156). Poetry fuses the poet to the poem, so to speak, and it is this dramatized experience in progress of the poem that is the focus of criticism and that has to be understood intuitively. According to existential phenomenology, however, from reading a poem we can intuitively grasp or comprehend but never obtain positivistic knowledge about the maker’s personal experience; it asserts that we can separate the poet from the poem and come to understand what moves this poet to write this particular poem in the first place, without breaking up that poem. What I mean to argue by briefly comparing the New Critical approach to literature to that of existential phenomenology, which I discuss at length in Chap. 3, is that the former does not run counter to the latter. In fact, both approaches share fairly similar goals and are to a considerable extent compatible (Graff 1979, 136). Both study literature as literature proper and posit that literature is experience and not conceptual knowledge—a compatibility that would facilitate the attempts of Said and his fellow avant-gardist critics to combine elements of the New Criticism with elements from existential phenomenology to develop a specific American model of phenomenology that pays distinctly more attention to form than its European counterpart. From my account of the origins and cultural politics of the New Criticism, I hope to have made clear that contrary to the obstinate view of the New Criticism as an apolitical, ahistorical, and disinterested approach to literary criticism, the founding generation of New Critics was very much interested in politics, history, and ideology.11 Even though they primarily focused on the formalist, textual aspects of literary works, they certainly did not wish away the historical context and—perhaps not always 11  Precisely one of the factors that contributed to the institutional success of the New Criticism was that, although it was a right-wing conservative ideology and some of its members unabashedly pronounced themselves to be anti-Marxist (Leitch 2010, 18), during the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s many left-wing intellectuals who were unable to openly adhere to Marxist theories of literature embraced its methods. The New Criticism offered them an opportunity to criticize capitalist society and its bourgeois ideology without the risk of being accused of Soviet sympathies (Jancovich 1993, 18).



explicitly present in their writings—attempted to perform literary criticism as a means of airing larger cultural and political concerns. In fact, it is precisely a condition of the institutionalization of the movement that the New Criticism gradually began to cut its ties with social and cultural criticism and eventually, as Graff argues, “the very term ‘New Critical’ would become synonymous with the practice of explicating texts in a vacuum. This is what it became in institutional practice, but decidedly not what it was for the founding generation” (1987, 146). Now it is time to look at how it developed in its institutional practice and begin seeing why Said thought it necessary to reinvigorate its method.

3   Toward a New Critical Orthodoxy In 1943 Brooks lamented that “the New Critics have next to no influence in the universities” (1943, 59). Whether he was right in assessing the academic situation or not (compare with Culler 1988, 11), the final years of World War II and, to a larger extent, the immediate years thereafter saw many attempts by New Critics to gain influence in the universities by professionalizing the New Criticism and turning implicit methodological assumptions into explicit theoretical principles. Two seminal essays, “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946) and “The Affective Fallacy” (1949), coauthored by William K. Wimsatt Jr. and Monroe Beardsley in the latter part of the 1940s did just that. I would like to single out these essays and elaborate on the ideas propounded by their authors to highlight a crucial difference between the original, emergent version of the New Criticism of the late 1930s and 1940s and the institutionalized, dominant version of the postwar years. In addition to allowing us to comprehend Said’s experience as a student at Princeton and Harvard, these essays allow us to see more clearly how the New Criticism evolved in the way it did: how it developed from an open-ended, critical, and socially committed formalism into an increasingly closed-off theory and self-centered formalist orthodoxy that severed all ties with society and politics. As card-carrying New Critics, Wimsatt and Beardsley were mainly concerned with determining the specificity of literature and critical ways to evaluate it. Their essays set up rules and defined good practices that would eventually lead to the institutional establishment of a formalist approach to literary criticism that strove to be as objective as possible. Neither of the two essays is therefore wholly original but each codifies a crucial tenet of the New Critical orthodoxy (Leitch et al. 2001a, 1371). The essays are



‘negatives’ in which the authors react against prevalent approaches to literary criticism in order to formulate a theory of verbal meaning according to which the meaning of a particular literary work is said to arise from the harmonious tension and union of its verbal content and poetic structure (Wimsatt 1954b, 201–203). Because the specific meaning of literature is said to lie in this principle of unity—in the harmonic interrelation between what is being said and how it is said—the message of a particular literary work can only be expressed by that work’s exact same verbal content and poetic structure. At first sight, Wimsatt and Beardsley’s theory of verbal meaning can hardly strike us as novel or strange because it resembles Brooks’s theory of the unique knowledge of literature and the associated problem of paraphrase which I have outlined earlier. The difference is that Brooks’s notion of poetic structure does not entail conceptualizing ‘form’ in the conventional sense, as an envelope containing a content (1947a, 159). To him, poetic structure means “a structure of meanings, evaluations and interpretations” and the informing principle of unity “seems to be one of balancing and harmonizing connotations, attitudes, and meanings” (Brooks 1947a, 159). Criticism should therefore transcend the boundaries of narrow formalism and textuality, and move into broader, more humanistic directions, including metaphysical and psychological elements besides linguistic and rhetorical ones. Unlike Brooks, Wimsatt and Beardsley do conceptualize ‘form’ according to the metaphor of the envelope. They believe that a text’s poetic structure contains all verbal content and that, consequently, all information which is vital to the text’s interpretation is present in the text itself. To find that information, the critic needs to discover the principle of unity by centering his or her analysis on the text itself (Leitch et al. 2001a, 1371–1372). The reading that they propose is a more narrowly formalist reading, which, I believe, is a more emancipatory reading than that of their predecessors, in which the literary text could speak for itself. But in order for it to do so, the text first had to be wrested away from the two most authoritative figures in the history of literary criticism: the author and the reader (Eagleton 2008, 41). In their first essay, “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946), Wimsatt and Beardsley target the author by arguing against the importance of authorial intention and openly advocating literary autonomy. This intentionalist approach to literary criticism starts from the notion that an author’s intention or design precedes a literary work, causes it to come into being, and retains final authority over its meaning. Wimsatt and Beardsley rather



define literature as impersonal art, arguing that a literary work “is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it” (1946, 470). Their point is not so much that the author does not matter, but that he or she cannot be made into an authority (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 471). No individual, neither the author nor the critic, can ever have final control over its meaning. In their view, a literary text is made up of language and should therefore be read as language. This definition turns the practice of literary criticism into something which resembles linguistics, as the literary critic should dismiss all external—or contextual—evidence and study the literary text as “linguistic fact” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 477). If the words on the page are not the only objects worthy of the New Critic’s attention, then at least they are the only decisive elements on which a critical interpretation of a text can be based. According to Wimsatt and Beardsley’s theory of verbal meaning, a text’s meaning should be reconstructed through the use of ‘internal’, linguistic evidence such as a text’s organization of words, rhythm, meter, coherence, emphasis, diction, and structure. The experience that incited the author to write a work is considered irrelevant to its interpretation, nor is it deemed relevant to read the literary work in comparison with or against the backdrop of other writings by the same author: what is relevant to the interpretation of a text is mentioned in the text (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 469). Everything else is external to the text and should also be left out of its interpretation. According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, the use of such evidence in literary criticism is fallacious: literature does not communicate an idea that its author had before writing; what it communicates is itself (1946, 477–478). If the author succeeded in his or her intentions, the literary work is adequate evidence; if he or she failed, his or her intentions did not become effective in the linguistic evidence of the text and we should not bother with them (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 469). In a parallel essay published 3 years later, Wimsatt and Beardsley shifted their focus from the author to the reader and targeted the notion of what they labeled “The Affective Fallacy” (1949). This time the authors took up a position against impressionistic criticism which tries to determine the psychological effects of a particular poem or piece of prose on the mind of the reader—an approach to literary criticism which would now be labeled as reader-response theory. This form of affective reasoning, Wimsatt and Beardsley insist, is inherently subjective and therefore at odds with the



New Critical method of close reading that strives to be as objective as possible. Literature should be studied on its own, universal terms, not on the basis of its contingent effects on whoever happens to be reading it. Although Wimsatt and Beardsley are not blind to the fact that readers in the act of reading are inevitably emotionally engaged with the work and may experience sensations of heightened consciousness, vivid imaginations, or intense feelings of the aesthetic or sublime qualities of the literary work in question, they ultimately believe that it is undesirable for the New Critic to take such considerations into account (1949, 45). To be clear, this does not mean that we should discard feelings and emotions altogether. On the contrary, emotions influence a reader’s evaluation of a literary work and may even result in the unique type of non-conceptual knowledge that literature can offer, but they are simply too vague and verge upon the unconscious—it is, after all, hard to be aware of an emotion in itself—and can therefore never be a concern of objective criticism (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 38). Even if the critic were able to gain enough consciousness of his or her emotions to adequately describe them, the critic’s job would still be limited to bracketing off such responses and providing readers with a close reading that is as objective as possible (1949, 48). The argument in “The Affective Fallacy” is basically a creative repetition of that of “The Intentional Fallacy”. It boils down to reading literature as closely as possible by analyzing it as a ‘linguistic fact’, with a clear verbal content and a poetic structure that can be objectively determined. To do so, the critic must bracket off his or her emotions and rigorously focus on the literary text. In everything he or she does, a New Critic must strive for objectivity: only by focusing on the text can the critic keep away from the dangers of subjectivism, intentionalism, and impressionism. That this is no easy task has become overtly clear from the responses of many post-New Critical theorists, who have stressed that accurately interpreting texts without lapsing into the intentional fallacy presents so severe a test to the critic that it almost forces him or her into the affective fallacy, since the reader of the text is, by default, the only judge (Searle 2005, 695). To steer away from this critical quagmire, Wimsatt and Beardsley formulated what they call “the linguistic rule” (1949, 33)—a rule that is meant to stabilize responses to a particular word or passage and help the critic to distinguish good or objective responses from bad or subjective ones. Good responses are stabilized responses that are caused by the descriptive or cognitive function of words and are therefore universal—regardless



of whoever happens to be reading the particular literary work. To drive home their point Wimsatt and Beardsley use the word ‘athlete’ (1949, 33–34). To them, the linguistic rule for the word ‘athlete’ states that the word is used to denote ‘a person practicing sports’: this is what the word means (in which case the meaning of a word is similar to its denotation). According to the theory of verbal meaning, denotations are regarded as objective linguistic ‘facts’ that trigger responses that are independent of emotions, are objective and stable, and are thus suitable as evidence in a New Critical close reading (1949, 33). Any reader or critic encountering these words can easily determine these facts by consulting the word’s entry in a dictionary. Bad responses, then, are unstabilized responses triggered by the suggestive or emotive function of words. While ‘athlete’ denotes ‘a person practicing sports’, the word might at the same time connote a tall and lean person: this is what the word suggests (in which case the suggestion of a word is similar to its connotation). Unlike denotations, connotations are prone to a reader’s personal discretion, imagination, and previous knowledge and lead to different interpretations. This makes clear that when encountering the word ‘athlete’, the only certainty is that according to its linguistic rule the word connotes ‘a person practicing sports’; whether that person is tall and lean or short and muscular is left unsaid and will always be up for debate. Because there is no linguistic rule to stabilize these kinds of emotive responses, it’s best to keep them out of an interpretation altogether (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 33). An additional argument to exclude these responses from what Wimsatt and Beardsley consider to be the tasks for interpretive criticism, is that they are emotional ‘imports’ which find their origin not in the internal evidence supplied by the literary work as a linguistic fact but in the mind of the reader or critic (1949, 34–35).12 The import of emotional meaning is a 12  On this point, Brooks, again, differs from Wimsatt and Beardsley. To stress the importance of indirect, connotative meanings for a correct interpretation of literature in general, and modern Western poetry in particular, Brooks coins the principle of rich indirection, which burdens the reader with the responsibility for finding meaning: “The reader must be on the alert for shifts of tone, for ironic statement, for suggestion rather than direct statement. He must be prepared to accept a method of indirection” (1947c, 61). This should make clear that, for Brooks, analyzing a poem entails more than assessing the poem’s direct, denotative meanings. Connotations too are vital, because they give the poem “meanings which no dictionary can be expected to give” (Brooks 1947c, 59). Contrary to Wimsatt and Beardsley, Brooks considers these meanings not to be imports but integral parts of the literary work as a linguistic fact that can be unearthed if one reads it with careful and close atten-



common fallacy, the authors believe, as many readers “project feelings at objects themselves altogether innocent of these feelings or of any qualities corresponding to them” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 32). The outcome of either fallacy—the affective and the intentional—is that the literary work becomes diluted by external, projected meanings (either authorial intentions or emotional imports) and tends to disappear as a clear and pure object of critical judgment (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 31). These fallacies, according to Wimsatt and Beardsley, result in the breaking up of the poetic principle of unity, which according to the theory of verbal meaning lies inside the poem (de Man 1971a, 24). To prevent this from happening and preserve the unity of the literary work, the New Critic should bracket himself or herself off from the world, suspend his or her own feelings, sensations, and experiences, and study the literary work in the cold light of intellect. Not only is literary art impersonal; literary criticism must be so too. Wimsatt and Beardsley’s postwar attempts to purge literary criticism of what they believed to be the most common fallacies were part of a larger theoretical purification of the New Criticism carried out by its practitioners to formulate the purest and most ‘objective’ formalist method possible. This postwar method would have to form, in the words of René Wellek in 1953, “a new body of doctrines, a new systematic theory, a technique and methodology teachable and transmissible and applicable to any and all works of literature” (1963, 311). It had to be independent of such worldly and human variables of literary criticism as who does the interpreting, when it is done and from where it is done—precisely those constitutive variables on which Said would later ground his conceptualization of critical interpretation in Culture and Imperialism (1993, 93). In a similar vein to what Wimsatt and Beardsley had done in their essays, most New Critics didn’t prescribe what critics should do to preserve the purity of the literary object, but, rather, formulated their principles ex negativo, in terms and criteria dictated by their scholarly opposition that was in control of the literature departments (Graff 1987, 145). The outcome was that, while there had of course already been significant differences from the outset between the textual approach of the New Critics and the contextual approach of their philologist and generalist colleagues, in the latter part of the 1940s New Critics increasingly accentuated and perhaps even added to these differences by explicitly distancing their approach from tion: “this too is part of what the poem says, though it is said indirectly, and the dull or lazy reader will not realize that it has been said at all” (1947c, 59).



these contextual ones and formulating a system of beliefs, or what Paul de Man has called a “formalist orthodoxy” (1983, 230), based on critical dogmas.13 Brooks too, not eschewing the religious idiom of the opponents of the New Criticism, widened the gap between critics and scholars when he labeled the latter group to be ‘heretical’ in their approach to literature (1947a). Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Motives (1945) equally contributed to the formation of a New Critical system by defining the internal relations of literary works in terms of a set of permutations and combinations of five interrelated terms: act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. Taken together, these attempts illustrate that the New Criticism gained influence in universities and colleges across the United States and caused the dominant mode of research in literature to shift from historical scholarship to interpretive criticism, for the first time in well over a hundred years (Culler 2011, 6). Registering that change, the Modern Language Association amended its constitution in 1951 to add ‘criticism’ to its purpose: “the object of the Association shall be to promote study, criticism, and research in modern languages and their literatures” (1951, 122; my emphasis). Eight years after Brooks lamented New Criticism’s lack of influence in the universities, no one could deny that the situation had vastly improved for the movement. The change in the MLA’s constitution indicated that by the end of the 1940s and early 1950s the New Criticism had transitioned from being an emergent movement that exerted but limited influence to becoming a widely accepted institutional practice of research and teaching in literature. But the MLA’s constitution wasn’t the only constitution that had changed: Brooks’s purging of ‘heresies’, Burke’s formulation of ‘grammars’, and especially Wimsatt and Beardsley’s attacks on the ‘fallacies’ effectively altered the theoretical groundwork of the New Criticism as a whole. What used to be an unsystematic yet open group of 13  Terence Hawkes also describes how “by the mid-1950s” the New Criticism “had become, in the English speaking world at any rate, an established orthodoxy” (2003, 126). I have borrowed the phrase ‘critical dogma’ from Murray Krieger’s “Critical Dogma and the New Critical Historians” (1958) and Gerald Graff’s Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma (1970). According to Graff, the New Criticism, like the autonomous literature it celebrated, itself became an autonomous theory rife with dogmatic contradictions that was a law unto itself (1970, 24). The religious imagery these theorists use to describe the state of the New Criticism is telling and might explain Said’s judgment of the movement as losing its critical edge. Given his resultant conceptualization of secular criticism as a countermovement to all critical orthodoxies and religious forms of thinking (see Said 1983), it gives us another possible reason for his reaction to the New Criticism.



radical amateur critics who performed literary criticism as a means of airing a cultural critique of society had gradually changed into a systematic but closed-off methodology practiced by professional critics who systematically severed the ties between literature, society, and its public. These latter critics had thus come to practice a kind of literary criticism that explicated texts in a vacuum and no longer posed any challenges to the dominant culture. The New Criticism had indeed become institutionalized, but at the cost of losing its critical edge. But all of this wasn’t going to happen without a fight. To counter the movement’s evolution toward an isolated, dogmatic, impersonal, and what I would like to call a dehumanized formalism, R.P. Blackmur proposed to break this isolation by bringing literature back into relation with other cultural objects and reestablish the dialogue between literary criticism and “theology, history, politics, and personal experience” (Fitzgerald 1985, 122; my emphasis). Blackmur took this dialogue literally and it is no accident that in exactly the same year as the publication of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Affective Fallacy” (1949) he organized the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism at Princeton, where he was a resident fellow in the Creative Writing program. The underlying goal of the seminars was not only to invigorate the New Criticism in particular but literary criticism in the United States in general by keeping up “during the course of three academic years, a running discussion of literature among a small and intent group of people who were not only interested but competent, including others besides university people, and any of the highest competence who were available” (Fitzgerald 1985, 7). The Gauss Seminars were soon dubbed “Princeton’s little conclave” (Fitzgerald 1985, 69), as the same group of people was expected to attend all seminars, become thoroughly acquainted with one another’s works, and discuss literary works from their own personal experiences as experts in one field or another (Fitzgerald 1985, 94). The seminar series were funded by the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, whose director was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the famous theoretical physicist who had been employed in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer backed the series because, having witnessed the devastating effects of his research,14 14  When Oppenheimer witnessed the first nuclear explosion over the New Mexico Desert near Los Alamos, he is famously claimed to have thought these words derived from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. Oppenheimer was of two minds about his creation and wrestled with giving mankind the possible means for its own annihilation (Hijiya 2000).



like many of his contemporaries living in what Mark Greif calls ‘the age of the crisis of man’, he seemed to look for some kind of redemptive power in literature (Fitzgerald 1985, 46; Greif 2015, 104–107). The first year Blackmur used the Institute’s funding to invite four distinguished guests— the Romance philologist Erich Auerbach, the scholar of drama and mythology Francis Fergusson, the literary critic Mark Schorer, and the poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz—who were asked to give six weekly evening seminars about a topic of their choice. The form of each individual meeting was the same: an hour’s presentation followed by an equal amount of time dedicated to discussion. Blackmur orchestrated the discussions and took great care to prevent members from monopolizing the debate with their idées fixes, dogmas, and doctrines. In his characteristically provocative yet respectful way he encouraged an open-ended critical debate in which all members could participate (Said 2000a, 252). There would be no room for the professionalized talk of the New Critics who accused other approaches of being ‘heretical’ or ‘fallacious’. On the evening of October 6, 1949, Auerbach inaugurated the first series when he presented the first of six talks on style in the works of Pascal, Baudelaire, and Flaubert. Each session was devoted to a close reading, similar to the strategy he used in Mimesis (1946) published 3 years earlier (Fitzgerald 1985, 13–14), that would start from a particular passage in order to discuss the literary style in relation to the worldview of its time. Auerbach’s session was a great success. It was not only attended by poets, writers, literary critics, and scholars from the humanities—including amongst others Ernst Robert Curtius, Auerbach’s tutor at the University of Bonn and now visiting fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton—but also by physicists such as Oskar Benjamin Klein and the director of the Institute, Oppenheimer himself (Fitzgerald 1985, 9, 15–17). Robert Fitzgerald’s book about the first 2 years of the Gauss Seminars, Enlarging the Change: the Princeton Seminars in Literary Criticism, 1949–1951, describes the discussion following Auerbach’s presentation on the inaugural evening and illustrates how all of these guests, including physicists Klein and Oppenheimer, engaged in a critical debate about the tension of opposites between justice and force in Pascal’s Pensées (1985, 14–19). This proves how Blackmur’s Gauss Seminars were successful and could have effectively inaugurated a critical countermovement to the radicalizing New Criticism that forbade such wide humanistic discussions of literature, were it not that the Institute for Advanced Study quietly withdrew funding and the seminars were never able to live up to their potential.



The success of Blackmur’s Gauss Seminars was therefore short-lived. When by June 1950 the United States was involved in the Korean War and Oppenheimer was again asked to work for the U.S. military, Blackmur had lost his strongest backer at the Institute and funding for the Gauss Seminars soon diminished (Fitzgerald 1985, 50–51). The series continued to run until 1981 and hosted, amongst others, a seminar with de Man in 1967 that was attended by Said, who in preparation of publishing Orientalism (1978) had his own seminar dedicated to him in 1977. Lack of funding meant that the idea of the conclave had to be abandoned and the Gauss Seminars turned into a yearly lecture series that could never again yield discussions as lively and as interdisciplinary as in the first year. As Fitzgerald sums up: “No sooner were the seminars off the ground, so to speak, than one of the outboard engines began to fail” (1985, 51). Though they were unsuccessful in their attempt, Blackmur’s Gauss Seminars signify an important series of events that allow us to better understand Said’s critical practice. First of all because, in an essay about Blackmur’s literary criticism, Said singles him out from amongst the New Critics to laud the fact that he was able to create a productive cultural space in these seminars “to absorb the unhoused energies of that great generation of refugee European philologists that included Auerbach and Curtius” (2000a, 259). Said believes that the net effect of the early Gauss Seminars was that European forms of humanism associated with the Weltphilologie of Auerbach and Curtius were able to take root in the United States. Auerbach’s philology is a recurrent methodological force in Said’s career and plays a pivotal role in his conceptualization of literature and agency in Beginnings (1975) and Orientalism (1978). His engagement with Auerbach allows him to conceptualize such important notions as ‘worldliness’ to designate the particular, concrete embeddedness of literature in the existential realities of the world, and ‘secular criticism’ as a worldly criticism that “must accept the taint and constraint of placement in the world—and even perhaps, make a home for itself there” (Robbins 1983, 69). Though Said only singles out the humanism of the German émigrés, it is important to note that this philological humanism gained good grounding in American soil, which had already been fertilized, so to speak, by the advent of the French existentialist movement and its version of secular humanism that had reached the United States directly after the War in the period 1946–1947. In January 1945, Jean-Paul Sartre had accepted an invitation from the Office of War Information to visit the United States as



a representative of the French resistance journal Combat for a period of 5 months—he was asked by Albert Camus, then editor of the journal, to fill in for him (Cotkin 2003, 112). Though Sartre never considered the United States to be a likely place for existentialism to take root, his first visit did pave the way for existentialism to influence the U.S. intellectual climate at large (Greif 2015, 65–73). When he returned a year later as the celebrated existentialist who had delivered the famous Parisian lecture L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946) in October 1945, to give similar talks at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and—attesting to the scale of his celebrity status in the United States—Carnegie Hall, an existentialist beachhead was established in New York City. The New York intellectual scene was taken by storm by the humanistic ideas of French existentialism,15 even more so when Camus and De Beauvoir, on visits sponsored by the French Ministry of Culture, were interviewed by journalists and gave university lectures, including Camus’s famous lecture at Columbia in March 1946 on the question of responsibility for the Holocaust (Camus 2006; see Cotkin 2003, 112–113; Greif 2015, 76). The influence of French existentialism on U.S. intellectual life and popular culture in the 1940s, 1950s, and particularly in its heyday in the 1960s was immense—though in spite of the works of Greif (2015), George Cotkin (2003), and Ann Fulton (1999) still underacknowledged. Sartre, Camus, and De Beauvoir’s short but favorable reception in the United States signified the beginning of an important postwar transfer of ideas that would change the discourse of man in the United States from a politics of universality to one of responsibility. As we shall see, this form of secular humanistic criticism would be of paramount importance to Said’s own practice in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and would inspire the rest of his career.

15  The role of Partisan Review cannot be overemphasized. As Greif points out, the journal of the New York intellectual scene played a pivotal role in disseminating existentialist ideas in the culture at large: “it brought existentialism out of literary and avant-garde circles in the United States … and into American intellectual life” (2015, 70). This effectively changed the position of France in U.S. intellectual life. Where before 1945 philosophy in the United States did not come from France, now it seemed to be the only place it could be found. Sartre’s visit seems to have inaugurated the important cultural transfer and one-way exchange of French philosophy on American intellectual life of the second half of the twentieth century. My discussion of the influence of existential phenomenology on Said’s book on Conrad in Chap. 3 illustrates how his critical practice is a late product of this postwar transfer.



A second way in which Blackmur’s Gauss Seminars inspired Said, is his belief that the discussions embodied Blackmur’s concept of literary criticism as amateurism—a concept which I will discuss later in more detail. To Said, Blackmur’s seminars stress that anyone, be they poets, writers, musicologists, theologists, philosophers, philologists, and other trained humanists, or even STEM-scientists, could and should contribute to the critical study of literature and other ideas and values in the public sphere as long as one’s criticism is driven by a sincere intellectual care for and honesty toward the object criticized, rather than academic self-fashioning, self-­ aggrandization, and disciplinary distinction (Makdisi 2007, 23). This format would be of seminal influence to Said’s own conceptualization of the task of criticism and the role of public intellectuals in a democratic society, as well as his own elaboration on the notion of amateurism in later works (1994, x). He himself called out to talk about political issues, not in spite of having any specialist qualifications but precisely because of that lack of specialization (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 2009, 34–35). Moreover, what Said found so particularly fascinating in Blackmur’s concept of amateurism is that it entails and combines a willful transgression of institutional borders, the celebration of interdisciplinarity, resistance to the pressures of specialization, professionalization, and cults of expertise with a distrust to doctrinaire opinions and the reevaluation of personal experience in criticism (see de Groot 2010, 207). This, as we will see, is the profound impact that Blackmur’s seminars and his approach to literary criticism had on Said’s critical practice.

4   The Breaking of Form: ‘Intention’ and ‘Intension’ Efforts such as Blackmur’s Gauss Seminars could not prevent that in less than two decades the New Criticism evolved to such an extent that it is hard to find much common ground between the essays, articles, and books published by New Critics in the postwar years and those of the prewar period. While earlier the New Criticism lacked an esprit de système, which facilitated the inclusion of heterogeneous elements because there was no methodologically grounded possibility of dispute (Krieger 1956, 6), the system that was the product of the movement’s march to institutionalization and that was formed in stark contrast to the opposing contextualizing approach to literature was so strongly delineated that it effectively excluded



more than it could include (Graff 1979, 140–143). In fact, the New Criticism which Said was taught in the 1950s and early 1960s was so sharply delimited that it was now at odds with its original principles and even its founder Ransom started to feel excluded from the movement he had helped to define and shape: How confidently, twenty years or so past, were some of us offering a new ‘understanding of poetry’! I will not say, How brashly; for the innovation was real, it was momentous; but it was not complete, and now it has bogged down at a most embarrassing point. In the academy the verbal analysis has pretty well secured its place and tenure, but its end-products are only half-­ finished. (Ransom 1952, 159)

Even though he was doubtlessly happy to see that the New Criticism had become institutionalized, he could no longer identify his close readings with those which his fellow New Critics were now producing. He felt that these latter readings were indeed attempts at closely reading the literary work’s poetic structure and its informing principle of unity but, out of fear of lapsing into the intentional or affective fallacies, the authors’ readings had become devoid of any form of human psychology and were therefore only half-finished. To make them complete, Ransom argued, “there would seem to be needed some acknowledgment of the actual warmth and feel, and the powerful psychic focus, with which poetry comes into our experience” (1952, 161–162). Banishing emotions—both the author’s and the critic’s—and psychology altogether from a close reading makes for a cold reading. We would do well to remind ourselves that in the eyes of the founding generation of the New Criticism literature was seen as a human experience in progress that, because it defied the laws of logic, resisted being paraphrased and had to be comprehended or experienced first-hand by the reader. Reading literature involved the meeting of two experiences or consciousnesses: the first was the unified experience or poetic consciousness of the literary work that was intentionally worked into its structure by the author; and the second, the experience or consciousness of the reader or critic which, if the literary work was successful, would come to coincide with the experience of the work during his or her engagement with it. The task of the critic was to measure the value of the work, which was determined by the amount of experience it contained, by the amount of dissonant attitudes and paradoxes that the work was able to fuse in an organic



unity (Graff 1979, 140). A critical interpretation of a literary work was a close reading and evaluation of the work’s poetic structure in order to identify, analyze, and evaluate its informing principle of unity. Such an interpretation was based on a mix of objective, linguistic, and rhetorical evidence with subjective, metaphysical, and psychological evidence that is often at first sight dissonant with and contradictory to that former kind of evidence but through the work’s use of the language of paradox fused in a consonant unity (Brooks 1947b, 13; Tate 1955b, 72). To be clear, when these prewar New Critics were looking for psychological evidence on which to base their critical interpretation of the literary work, they were not looking for that kind of evidence in the author’s biography or intention that were said to be at the basis of the literary work (Culler 2007, 225). What they did do, however, was to analyze literature as a man-made product that had an intended structure (the poetic consciousness), dealt with human situations, and triggered human emotions. As a result, literary experience had to be grasped in psychological terms. To be even more clear, when the early New Critics defined the literary work as a man-made product, they were not arguing that the experience or poetic consciousness which it contained was the idiosyncratic experience or mind of its maker, but rather a collectively shared and depersonalized human experience or common mind—the general human energy of the work (Graff 1979, 139–140). However, they did not banish personality or human subjectivity from their close readings. To say that literary art is impersonal did not imply that the impersonality of literature was similar to that of science. It meant that reading literature offered what T.S. Eliot called an “escape from personality” (1920b, 53) into a complete ­involvement in the complex fabric of paradoxes, the multiplicity of point of views and hence of personalities that the literary work was able to fuse (Graff 1979, 140). As we have seen, the New Criticism assigned powerful socio-cultural powers to literature and its criticism. It conceived the reading of literature precisely to be a personal act of resistance against the pressures of an industrial capitalist society that defined personality in increasingly impersonal hyper-scientific and -rational terms (Graff 1979, 138; Jancovich 1993, 88). The New Critics argued that the reader’s involvement in the literary work could alleviate the alienating conditions of modernity and allow him to reestablish a sense of community. A good literary critic, Ransom warned, should therefore never forget that literature is a means of communication which is the product of an author and intended to be read by a reader (see



also Krieger 1956, 70–73). These were precisely the crucial human aspects of literature on which the New Criticism had founded its idea of literary criticism as a form of socio-cultural criticism in the first place, but which were now overlooked by his fellow New Critics when they “tended to rest in the amorphous experience which they make of the poem without finding there, or seeking, anything to bind it all together or to engage with some notable human concern in the reader” (Ransom 1952, 159). Ransom’s apology for literature as the paragon of humanity was echoed in the postwar humanistic discourse of the crisis of man which reacted to the cruelties of the World War by accentuating the allegedly humanizing effects of literature (see Greif 2015, 104–105). What Ransom was saying about the depsychologized and dehumanized approach to literary criticism that increasingly characterized the close readings of the postwar period, is that without analyzing the unifying principle that binds it all together the literary work is but the amorphous sum of its parts. More than a decade earlier Brooks and Penn Warren had raised a similar point in “The Reading of Modern Poetry”, in which they argued that the literary work is “a total organism”, “a unified construct, a psychological whole … not only greater than, but different from, the sum of its parts” (1937, 439). Though they do not use the term, this is of course the textbook definition of what in experimental psychology is called a Gestalt—a shape, configuration, or structure which as an object of perception forms a unity incapable of expression in terms of its parts.16 Therefore, in order to properly determine the quality of a poem, the New Critic had to closely analyze each constitutive part of the poem—each metaphor, ambiguous phrase, ironical expression, or item of poetic imagery—and carefully evaluate “the relation of the parts of the poem to the total intention” (Brooks and Warren 1937, 441). This intention, then, is what totalizes the poem, binds all the parts together into a global whole with self-organizing tendencies, and aims to create or, when the poem is 16  It is important to stress that a Gestalt is not only greater than but different from the sum of its parts. As Carroll Pratt writes in the introduction to Wolfgang Köhler’s The Task of Gestalt Psychology, it is a common error to leave out the word ‘different’ and simply define a Gestalt as “[t]he whole is more than the sum of the parts” (1969, 9). This definition mistakenly ignores that a relationship between the parts is itself something that is not present in the individual parts themselves (1969, 10). If all the parts of a bike are laid out on the floor of a bike shop, for instance, they still do not make up the bike. Only when the parts are assembled and come to take up a specific relation to each other, do they become something different, that is, a bike.



successful, creates a psychological unity (Brooks and Warren 1937, 442). What preserves the unity of a literary work is its humanity. Here we discern a crucial difference between the pre- and postwar phases of the New Criticism that may not always be as apparent in the moments of theoretical reflection by postwar New Critics as it is in their critical practice. In theory, the postwar New Criticism still conceptualized literature as a man-made product that contains a human experience that could only be grasped as an organic whole. Therefore, in the introduction to Wimsatt’s The Verbal Icon we find that “[t]he poem conceived as a thing in between the poet and the audience is of course an abstraction. The poem is an act” (1954a, xvii). Elsewhere, in Brooks’s “Heresy of Paraphrase” which is more clearly influenced by Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy” than his other writings, literature is still said to be a human experience: “a true poem is … an experience rather than any mere statement about experience or any mere abstraction from experience” (1947a, 173). Moreover, Brooks’s close readings of the period still give us the impression that literature should be grasped in terms of the organic theory according to which the work of art is “a whole in which the parts collaborate and modify one another” (Wellek 1978, 617). In practice, however, as a result of what appears to be an overzealous interpretation of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s call to purge the New Critical methodology from all forms of subjectivism, all close readings had to be based on internal evidence to be studied in a positivistic manner. This meant that Wimsatt hastened to add in his introduction that “if we are to lay hold of the poetic act to comprehend and evaluate it, and if it is to pass current as a critical object, it must be hypostatized” (1954a, xvii; my emphasis). Even though Wimsatt clearly formulated in theory that the hypostasis of the literary work’s intentional and affective character is a methodological step toward evaluation and comprehension of the work, in practice his fellow New Critics were hypostatizing literature without comprehending it (de Man 1971a, 25; Palmer 1969, 5). For, in order to critically interpret a literary work, the postwar New Critic treated the work in question as a self-enclosed, concrete reality that was isolated from its author, public, and society. Then, he or she analyzed the human experience of the work in a vacuum, or without ever going “outside the poem” (Brooks 1947a, 164). This led to the banishment of all traces of human subjectivity from a close reading, lest the New Critic be accused of falling in the trap of the intentional or affective fallacies. In so doing, the postwar New Critics



advocated a full-fledged version of literary autonomy which is not wholly unproblematic or even coherent (Graff 1979, 142). For instance, how could one analyze, interpret and evaluate an experience if the literary work was said to be closed off from the world and the critic was prohibited to look for any (latent) political, moral, and personal impact? More importantly, how could literature still be called a man-made product containing a human experience if there was nothing human—no authorial intention (intentional fallacy) and no emotional effects on the reader (affective fallacy)—it could refer to? These contradictions did not escape de Man’s notice. According to him, Wimsatt’s formulation that the literary work should be hypostatized in order to pass as an object of critical interpretation plunged the New Criticism into a downward theoretical spiral from which it was never able to escape, eventually leading to what he considers to be the “failure of American formalism” (de Man 1971a, 27). His argument is that Wimsatt and Beardsley’s attack on the intentional fallacy rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of intentionality and, one could even say, is therefore a fallacy of its own (de Man 1971a, 24). The flaw that de Man identifies in their reasoning, is that it considers the notion of intention in terms of a physical model of transfer that defines literary communication as a transfer of a certain psychic or mental content from the mind of the author to the mind of a reader—somewhat as one would pour water from a bottle into a glass. In this model, the energy necessary to effect the transfer comes from an external source called intention (de Man 1971a, 25). This is a crucial mistake because it ignores that the concept of intentionality is neither physcial [sic] nor psychological in its nature, but structural, involving the activity of a subject regardless of its empirical concerns, except as far as they relate to the intentionality of the structure. The structural intentionality determines the relationship between the components of the resulting object in all its parts, but the relationship of the particular state of mind of the person engaged in the act of structurization of the structured object is altogether contingent. The structure of the chair is determined in all its components by the fact that it is destined to be sat on, but this structure in no way depends on the state of mind of the carpenter who is in the process of assembling its parts. The case of the work of literature is of course more complex, yet here also, the intentionality of the act, far from threatening the unity of the poetic entity, more definitely establishes this unity. (de Man 1971a, 25)



De Man feels that the New Critical theory of verbal meaning overlooks the fact that, because a literary work, like a chair, is a man-made product, it possesses a structural intentionality that determines all of the constitutive parts of the work in question and binds the form together. Intention in a literary work is not the particular psychological state of mind of the author in the process of writing the work. Rather, it is structural in that it controls, shapes and unifies the poetic experience—it makes the literary form coherent—while at the same time bestowing on it a depth of meaning that is relational and therefore surpasses the mere sum of its individual constitutive parts. After all, when writing a poem the author chose to articulate the lines in that particular way, order, and in relation to the other lines that constitute the whole poem. The author also intended the particular structure of the complex fabric of paradoxes that causes the literary work to transcend the level of logic toward a deeper struggle with meaning, the outcome of which is the unique type of non-conceptual knowledge that the experience of the literary work is said to offer. Perceiving this struggle of meaning, de Man believes, should be the concern of all forms of literary criticism, formalist or not (1971a, 27). But this can only be done if the critic analyzes the literary work as a whole whose integrity transcends purely empirical notions of coherence (de Man 1971a, 32). De Man sides with the prewar New Critics, in that he feels that the literary work should be analyzed as a Gestalt: as a totalized form (the poetic structure) from which the constitutive parts could not be isolated or separated because they were deeply interwoven by a totalizing principle (the unifying structural intention). In short, contrary to what Wimsatt and Beardsley believed, intentionality does not threaten the unity of the literary work but is precisely what establishes that unity and keeps the literary form together. If the impression should arise or has arisen that de Man advocates the unity of the poetic form, let me be clear: de Man is closer to Derridean deconstruction than he is to the prewar New Criticism. In everything he writes he emphasizes that the totalizing principle is not some essence of the text, but a desire for an organic unifying principle that should be located in the aesthetic ideology of the reader. It is precisely this desire for a unifying principle that de Man intends to deconstruct (Norris 2010, 94). The totalizing principle of a text, whether theorized to be a part of the actual text or a desire on the part of the reader, is always experienced as a phenomenon of perception. This is another example of how a New Critical approach to literature is to a considerable extent compatible with an approach derived from phenomenological models of



reading—a compatibility that allowed Said to combine elements from both approaches in his book on Conrad. However, by wanting to defend the province of the literary against the intrusion of what they believed to be externally determining psychological elements such as intention, New Critics such as Wimsatt and Beardsley thought they were preserving the formal unity of the literary work as a clear object of judgment (see 1949, 31). In reality, however, they themselves were responsible for breaking that formal unity into a piecemeal collection of unstructured parts, because they analyzed form by looking at the constitutive parts of the literary work seriatim, without taking into account the structural relations between these parts mutually and the organic whole. What added to this breaking of form, is that “The Affective Fallacy” and the linguistic rule posited in that essay, prompted postwar New Critics to refrain from interpreting the emotional effects of the literary work on its readers, making it virtually impossible to assess the highly praised socio-cultural disruptive tendency of literature that was caused by the struggle of meaning between denotative and connotative meanings (see Brooks 1947b, 6). By the end of the 1930s, Tate had defined that struggle as a poem’s “‘tension,’ the full organized body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it” (1955b, 71). According to Tate, ‘extension’ is the literal meaning or denotation of words; ‘intension’ their suggestive or connotative power. The full meaning in a poem is constantly kept under tension because more often than not extensive meanings logically contradict intensive meanings. In the end, the interplay of both meanings ­nonetheless enriches both and contributes to one unified meaning that gives the reader a deeper insight into the human predicament (Tate 1955b, 72–73).17 The critic should analyze both the work’s intension and extension as two opposing forces that exert equal pressure to create a fragile tension which is the unified meaning. If he or she were to overemphasize or disregard one of these meaning aspects, as the postwar New Critics were doing in the formulation of the affective fallacy, the balance of forces would be disturbed, shattering the unity of the literary form.

17  The metaphor of unity under tension is a popular image in prewar New Critical writings. Brooks and Penn Warren described the literary work as a psychological unity in which “not even the simplest metaphor fails to violate a logical unity” (1937, 442). Their readings show that logical unity is not a necessity to create psychological unity.



The unintended result of the postwar New Critical hypostasis of literature, which was based on a misunderstanding and subsequent suppression of the intentionality of literary form in tandem with the rejection of the emotional impact of the literary work on its audience, was that both literature and the human experience it was said to evoke had been gradually dehumanized and hollowed out. This evolution is reflected in a number of changes, the most obvious of which is that literature had changed from being a human experience to being a literary object (de Man 1971a, 25). For, while the prewar New Criticism conceptualized the literary work as a man-made product with an intentional structure that gave it a formal unity unique to a living organism, the postwar New Criticism reified and turned literature into an inanimate object of the natural world devoid of any such intentionality (de Man 1971a, 26–27). Another change is that because it no longer considered form in relation to the work’s intentional character, the postwar New Criticism became unable to perceive the specificity of literature or convincingly evaluate its quality. Indeed, the method of close reading which started out as a careful attention to literary form that nonetheless transcended the boundaries of narrow formalism into a broader and deeper humanism (Berman 1988, 27), was methodologically emasculated and reduced to being a stylistic analysis and interpretation of sheer textual surface that prevented the critic from grasping the deeper intricacies and human impact of literary works (de Man 1971a, 27). While the prewar New Critics sought to evaluate and comprehend the unique power of a literary work to restore a sense of community in modern industrial capitalist society or, as the Russian Formalists would put it, to comprehend how literature was able to defamiliarize reified language and perception by famously making “a stone stony” (Shklovsky 2004, 16), their postwar successors had reified the literary work and turned it into something resembling a stone itself. Compared to the founding generation of New Critics such as Ransom, Tate, Penn Warren, and—to a certain extent—Brooks, the postwar New Critics were less interested in comprehending literature and more in analyzing literature in an objective, positivistic or technical manner. Unlike their predecessors who sought to understand poetic mysteries, they were more like positivistic investigators of what they regarded to be autonomous poetic objects (Berman 1988, 27–32). The inevitable outcome was that the postwar New Critics still looked closely at literature but perhaps no longer understood it. In fact, it is remarkable how these New Critics came to share some characteristics



with the dozens of nineteenth-century European travelers in the Orient who were gazing at its monuments, cities, and peoples: they saw but they did not comprehend. In Orientalism (1978), Said criticized modern Orientalist scholars for dehumanizing the region and its inhabitants by reducing them to analyzable, ‘Orientalized’ objects—to be understood in positivistic terms as attitudes, trends, and statistics. These scholars would thereby fail to identify with human experience, even fail to see it as human experience (1978, 291, 328). In a similar fashion, the postwar New Criticism had severed its object of study (literature) from its human context, by reifying and dehumanizing the literary work of art and solely focusing on the bare words on the page. According to Said, when the New Criticism approached its objects of study without discussing the role of their makers, users, and the broader worldly context in which they were embedded, it fell prey to a similar error of studying man-made objects without taking into account the agency that caused these objects to be made. As a result, the New Criticism failed to account for human agency and failed to see that the literary experience is an intricately human experience that deals with a complex living reality which is bound to violate, disturb, or at least complicate the simple vision produced by a literary analysis that is based on positivistic knowledge. This conceptualization of literature lies at the heart of Orientalism and will be discussed at length in Chap. 5 of this book. That error on the part of the New Criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the epistemological nature of literary interpretation—or interpretation tout court. In its scrupulous and delicate attention to the reading of literary form, which was driven by the pursuit to analyze that form as closely as possible, the New Criticism developed a method of ­“disinterested objectivity” (Palmer 1969, 7) and “objective interpretation” (Graff 1979, 130) that came to lean on the positivistic model of understanding of the physical sciences and mistakenly took the literary work of art for a natural object of study. In so doing, it overlooked the fact that literary interpretation is subject to the hermeneutic model of interpretation, because, as I have already stressed, the literary work of art is in the first place a manmade product possessing a structural intention. What happened, according to de Man, is that “the critics pragmatically entered into the hermeneutic circle of interpretation, mistaking it for the organic circularity of natural processes” (1971a, 29). This poses a crucial problem with respect to the study of literature:



Contrary to what happens in the physical sciences, the interpretation of an intentional act or an intentional object always implies an understanding of the intent. Like scientific laws, interpretation is in fact a generalization that expands the range of applicability of a statement to a wider area. But the nature of the generalization is altogether different from what is most frequently encountered in the natural sciences. There we are concerned with the predictability, the measurement, or the mode of determination of a given phenomenon, but we do not claim in any way to understand it. To interpret an intent, however, can only mean to understand it. No new set of relationships is added to an existing reality, but relationships that were already there are being disclosed, not only in themselves (like the events of nature) but as they exist for us. We can only understand that which is in a sense already given to us and already known, albeit in a fragmentary, inauthentic way that cannot be called unconscious. (de Man 1971a, 29–30)

What de Man makes clear is that interpretation in the physical sciences significantly differs from interpretation in the humanities, because the former type of interpretation does not aim to understand but to explain its object of study, whereas if the latter is to successfully penetrate its object it has to understand its intentionality. When a geologist, for instance, interprets a particular stone, he or she does not seek to comprehend the stone—he does not seek to understand the stoniness of the stone—but to analyze its shape and texture and determine the elements of which the stone is composed—to establish whether the rock is igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic, for instance. Then, the geologist will usually expand the range of inquiry and use that particular analysis as the primary record to explain the geologic evolution of the area in which the stone was found and thus be able to explain the formation of the stone in the first place. Unlike the geologist, the literary critic is dealing with man-made products. This is not to say that he or she cannot analyze the structural elements out of which the literary work is made—rhyme, rhythm, meter, metaphors, figures of speech—but that in order to interpret the work fully and more deeply, he or she will inevitably have to move beyond narrow formalism, and understand the structural intention of the work to elucidate the relationship between these elements as they appear to him or her. Far from being something which is added to the literary text, this elucidation is an attempt to reach the text, whose full meaning potential was there at the start of the critical process (de Man 1971a, 30). For critics such as de Man, it is crucial to realize that literary criticism is the temporal and cyclic act of understanding literature; it is the process of



making explicit knowledge that is implicit and disclosing for the critic what was already in the literary work in the first place (1971a, 31). Unlike the physical sciences, literary criticism is guided by the principle of the hermeneutic circle: its beginning and ending is the literary work of art, its form is the making explicit in writing of the interpretative act that brings these two together (see de Man 1993, 71). Contrary to what the postwar New Critics would have us believe, literary criticism is always performed by a human consciousness (the mind of the critic) that is directed at a human product (the literary work). Moreover, this consciousness has intentionality in that it is oriented at achieving full understanding of the literary work in question. It is guided by finding the totalizing principle of the literary text (the principle of unity), which, according to de Man, becomes clear in the mind of the interpreter during the interpretative act when the work discloses itself to his or her critical questioning (1971a, 31–32).18 As such, textual unity never exists as a concrete aspect of the text that would be able to coincide with particular, empirically demonstrable, textual ‘facts’ as Wimsatt and Beardsley were arguing. It is only established in the consciousness of the critic once the hermeneutic circle is complete, when the mind of the critic is joined with the object it analyzes and recognizes a certain amount of human energy or life in it. In short, textual unity is a phenomenon of perception. This dialogue with the text is the key to understanding a literary work as it opens, so to speak, the experience of the literary text (Palmer 1969, 6–7). Yet this was precisely what the postwar New Criticism had abolished. Instead of a humanistic dialogue, it installed what Richard E. Palmer has called a scientific “dissection” (1969, 6) of the text—thereby, as we have seen, unwittingly cutting away at the unity of the literary form—because it believed that it could grasp the literary work of art with an air of disinterested objectivity characteristic of the physical sciences. It thereby overlooked that “the literary work is not a manipulable object completely at our disposal; it is a human voice out of the past, a voice which must somehow be brought to life” (Palmer 1969, 7). By turning the literary work into an object, the postwar New Criticism reduced literature to a specialist and dehumanized kind of ‘form’ that no longer opposed the dominant industrial capitalist society but was now 18  Again, de Man does not argue that the totalizing principle is a part of the text but rather that it is a perception of and even a projection by the reader or critic. His seminal essay on the rhetoric of blindness makes explicit that any such totalizing principle precisely forms a reading’s blindness which enables critical insight (de Man 1971b, 104–105, 109–110, 139).



itself a product of its ideology (Graff 1979, 148; Kampf 1970, 638). The New Criticism, in a way, even contributed to that ideology by alienating and reifying human beings. After all, “[t]he difference between seeing literature as an ‘experience’ rather than as an ‘object’ corresponds to the difference between treating human beings as persons rather than as things” (Graff 1979, 131). While the postwar New Critics still assigned ambitious socio-cultural functions to literature, they had defined it in such a way that made it impossible for it to carry out these functions (Graff 1979, 147). Instead of literature being organically tied to society and being able to alleviate the alienation of modernity, the postwar New Critics had themselves alienated it from society and its public. And while Wimsatt and Beardsley thought they were proposing a reading which was true to the founding principles of the movement—in that the literary text should finally be able to speak for itself—they had completely trivialized and silenced literature. The New Criticism, it was said, had tamed the radical force of great literature (Culler 1988, 14). The outcome of all of this was that literature no longer mattered, nor did the criticism that sought to interpret it (Graff 1979, 129). At various conferences nationwide, the New Critics increasingly deplored the fact that their students found literature irrelevant but their positivistic and dehumanized conception of literary interpretation actually promoted that very irrelevance in the first place (Palmer 1969, 6–7). The New Criticism that Said encountered in grad school effectively pushed readers away from immediacy and experience, toward a broken literary form and narrow formalism. To his mind, this waning formalism confined literature to language, as it made the crucial methodological mistakes to focus on purely linguistic and textual matters and to conceptualize the literary work as a self-sufficient entity whose language is ultimately not about experience anymore but about itself (Said 2000b, xv). In fact, from the way in which I have been describing the evolution of the New Criticism, it would be hard to disagree with Said that in its self-centered methodological rejection of intention and pathos in the form of various fallacies, the New Criticism metaphysically isolated the text from human experience and the world (2000b, xviii). The relentless attacks on the intentional and affective fallacies not only internally exhausted the movement but pushed the dehumanized line of thinking set out by Wimsatt and Beardsley so far that, in practice, the New Criticism almost wished away the human subject completely, overemphasized the technical aspect of language, and in the end



even seemed to argue that “it is language that writes the poem, not the poet” (Graff 1979, 139)—an outcome none of its practitioners believed in theoretically (see Wellek 1978, 617). What I attempt to show is that the consequences of the New Critical model of reading transcend the realm of literary analysis into the realm of human agency. The postwar metaphysical isolation of the literary text from the worldly human experiences of its author and reader resulted in a suppression of not just the intentionality of the author and reader but of human agency. By treating poems as dramatic speeches from an abstract lyrical ‘I’ that is dissociated from the concrete historical author to be read by an abstract critical ‘I’ that is equally dissociated from the concrete historical critic, the New Criticism came to celebrate an inflated concept of absolute, unconstrained, universal, and unsituated agency (Culler 2015, 84, 115). By conceptualizing agency in such abstract terms, the New Criticism came to propound a meaningless notion of agency that effectively stated that, if agency is unsituated, it is by definition nowhere. What the movement did was to confine literature to language and thereby sever ‘literature’ from ‘agency’ and the world at large. By overemphasizing the technical aspects of language, the New Criticism’s anti-historical formalist method had dehumanized literature and, critics like de Man believe, the movement was consequently no longer able to make major, original contributions to the study of literature (1971a, 20). While literary critical innovation in the prewar years came from the South, now up-and-coming literary critics such as Said were beginning to look east, across the lecture halls of Cambridge where I.A. Richards had once sparked an interest in form, toward continental Europe and its existentialist-­phenomenological methods of reading. The introduction of these methods in the United States would contribute to a broadening of the New Critical approach and a rehumanizing of the study of literature. By engaging with these methods, Said and his fellow critics would contribute to the reestablishment of the humanistic dialogue with the literary work and the breaking down of the metaphysical isolation of literature from human experience. They would allow Said in particular to embed literature more firmly in the world and posit a situated model of human agency and reading that stresses that there is no access to literary works that is outside the world, outside history, or outside one’s own horizon of understanding. But for him to do so, he first had to make a theoretical clearing by challenging, breaking, and revising the New Critical orthodoxy.



5   An Ode to the Fallacies The Intentional Fallacy Written at a time when the postwar New Criticism had firmly entrenched its beliefs that authorial intentions and readers’ responses should be banished from the domain of literary criticism, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) reads as a humanist dissent from this dehumanized formalist approach to literature.19 If not in tone, then certainly in scope, the book reacts to the postwar New Criticism and the reified close readings of its time by reconnecting literature with its human context in the moment of production and reception. Indeed, Said rehumanizes the literary work by stressing, first, that it is not just an object but also an expression of human experience, and, second, that comprehension in literary criticism is impossible without reinstating the critic and the author as conversation partners (1966, 7). As a result, despite its profound interest in form, rhetoric, and style—a clear sign of the hegemony of the New Criticism—Said’s treatment of all of Conrad’s shorter fiction and the whole preserved body of letters20 is, from the point of view of New Critics working in the vein of Wimsatt and Beardsley, so hopelessly psychologized that, to paraphrase Harold Veeser, the book reads as an ode to the New Critical ‘fallacies’ (2010, 28–29). Throughout the book, Said ‘commits’ the intentional fallacy over and over by founding his interpretation and judgment of Conrad’s writings on the author’s intentions. To be clear, these intentions do not serve as the 19  Little has been written on Said’s revised doctoral dissertation on Conrad. Beyond the initial, and rather negative, review articles that appeared shortly after the book’s publication (Donoghue 1967; Hewitt 1968; Hynes 1969; Knapp Hay 1967; Lodge 1968; McDowell 1968; Rose 1968; Tanner 1966; Vidan 1970), most monographs on Said’s career either seem to ignore it (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 2009; Marrouchi 2004; Pannian 2016) or routinely mention and pass over it quickly (Kennedy 2000, 7–8). In this way, these studies contribute to the popular image of Said as poststructuralist at birth and Beginnings (1975) as the foundational work that already expresses in nuce all of his later critical preoccupations (see Brennan 1992, 75). Lately there has been a revived but—compared to the thousands of pages written on his more well-known works such as Orientalism (1978)—still limited interest in his book on Conrad (Hussein 2002, 19–52; McCarthy 2010, 14–20; Veeser 2010, 25–33). 20  Not all of Conrad’s letters were preserved (Hewitt 1968, 234). Many of his letters to his uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski between 1869 and 1894 were destroyed during World War I and are therefore not included in the corpus of texts which Said analyzes (see Najder 2007, viii).



ultimate touchstone to judge the success of Conrad’s writings—which, as we recall, is the strongest offense of the intentional fallacy (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 468–469)—but function similarly to the concept of structural intention in that they establish unity because Said believes these intentions to govern Conrad’s works (Said 1966, 28) and to determine “the subject of his fiction” (Said 1966, 168). Said seems to argue that, contrary to the New Criticism which forbade inquiries into the author’s intentions, authorial intentions are precisely an integral part of that which makes a work literary. To understand Said’s main argument about authorial intention, it is important to note that though Conrad has now firmly occupied a place within the pantheon of English literature, English was only his third language. Born in 1857  in a Polish-speaking family and cultural environment, in a Russian-occupied part of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Conrad spoke Polish as a native language and had been taught to speak French by his uncle (Najder 2007, ix). He only learned to speak English in his twenties when he was employed with the British merchant marine (Najder 2007, 64–65). Because he came to English relatively late, Conrad never mastered it as well as his first two languages. The many Polonisms and Gallicisms that dot his sentences indicate that his English always remained influenced by his Polish and French to such an extent that one of his biographers described his writings “as located in the borderland of auto-translation” (Najder 2007, ix). Conrad’s writing style in English makes him stand out from his contemporary Victorian writers. His Anglophone critics of the mid-twentieth century have often criticized him for writing in a hard-going and turgid kind of English that is characterized by winding, ambiguous narratives structures, a stuttering and often even plainly awkward syntax, and descriptions that are at times distractingly adjectival and overrhetorical. In his seminal work The Great Tradition, F.R. Leavis, the British literary critic and founder of the highly influential literary periodical Scrutiny, had argued that Conrad deliberately used that style to draw attention to himself as a self-confident and careless writer (1950, 173–226). In Said’s view, however, Conrad’s style is that of “a self-conscious foreigner writing of obscure experiences in an alien language” (1966, 4), in which he deliberately tried to hide himself beneath “a distracting surface of overrhetorical, melodramatic prose” (1966, 3). Said agrees with Richard Curle, a frequent correspondent of and assistant to Conrad in his later years who also produced one of the earliest criticism of the writer. Curle remarked that



Conrad could only express his experiences in English; and that he therefore firmly belongs to English literature (1914, 228). Likewise, Said argues that Conrad’s style and choice of narrative method are not the result of an author struggling with English, but precisely of someone who mastered the language and deliberately chose to develop a style to reflect his lived experience (Said 1966, 100). The overall argument of Said’s book is that Conrad spent an entire career creating and promoting an image of himself as an experienced sea dog and self-confident storyteller who appeared to be in full control of his life and craft, while in reality he was playing to his audience and camouflaging the fact that he was deeply insecure and troubled by how both had turned out. This leads Said to summarize the book’s opening paragraph: Conrad’s prose is not the unearned prolixity of a careless writer but rather the concrete and particular result of his immense struggle with himself. If at times he is too adjectival, it is because he failed to find a better way of making his experience clear. That failure is … the true theme of his fiction. He had failed, in the putting down of words, to rescue meaning from his undisciplined experience. Nor had he rescued himself from the difficulties of his life: this is why his letters, where all of these problems are explicitly treated, are necessary for a full understanding of his fiction. (1966, 4)

Said’s revised doctoral dissertation on Conrad was innovative in that it was the first to study the author’s letters as a whole, meaningful body of writing. This innovation came from breaking a couple of established rules. For, in what would be considered another breach of the New Critical rule that each literary work should be studied as a self-sufficient verbal icon that needs to be evaluated in its own terms, Said does not only interpret Conrad’s fiction in relation to his intentions, but reads each literary work in relation to his other literary works—occasionally even to those of others (1966, 170–171)—and relates them to non-literary works, including the letters. In the book’s rather polemical preface, Said attacks Conrad’s biographers and critics for studying his literary career and fiction without making proper use of the letters. This is a huge critical mistake, he believes, because those “letters … provide us with an almost embarrassingly rich testimonial to the intensity and variety of his intellectual life” (Said 1966, vii). By limiting their discussions of these letters to make incidental points about Conrad’s thinking, writing, or biography, or ignoring them altogether, Said believes these scholars to have ultimately failed to grasp the



deeper intricacies of Conrad’s fiction. After all, his conviction is that “[t]he abundant difficulties with which the letters teem are … the difficulties of Conrad’s spiritual life, so that critics are almost forced to associate the problems of his life with the problems of his fiction; the task here, different but related, is to see how the letters relate first to the man and then to his work” (1966, 5). The ultimate goal of his book is “to provide an outline for an integral reading of Conrad’s total oeuvre” (1966, vii), which is why Said favors a holistic approach that is based on the premise that Conrad’s fiction can only be fully understood by simultaneously studying his correspondence, because both groups of texts, literary and non-literary, “form an organic whole” (1966, vii). By reading Conrad’s literary and non-literary texts as an ensemble, Said’s conceptualization of literature extends the New Critical organic theory of the literary work of art as a Gestalt, in which all parts of the work are interrelated and interconnected in a totalized form, to such an extent that this totalized form can now be thought of as “Conrad’s total oeuvre” (1966, viii). Instead of each part of the poem reflecting and helping to support the poem’s central paradox in a New Critical account of literature, in Said’s account each part or passage from an individual letter, novella, or short story is related to the rest of Conrad’s works and offers a viewpoint from which the critic can analyze the totalized form that is the author’s oeuvre. To be clear, while ‘oeuvre’, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, refers to “the total body of works produced by a given writer” (Baldick 2015; my emphasis), the term has a distinct literary connotation, which means that in the majority of cases it is used to refer to the total body of literary works produced by a given writer. In Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Said uses the term in its broad sense to designate all works produced by Conrad, not just his literary ones. From Said’s description of Conrad’s oeuvre, then, it becomes clear how remarkably similar it is to a Gestalt because it is has a certain degree of coherence—“dominant themes, patterns, and images” or a “dominant mode” (Said 1966, viii, 13)—that is already present but not always at first sight visible in each individual piece of writing and, once it has been found through the critical act, illuminates each piece of writing. Said’s holistic approach to Conrad is inevitably comparative in nature: passages from literary works are first examined individually and chronologically and then compared to other passages to establish their coherence. This is borne out of necessity, Said argues, because a close reading of an individual passage



or literary work, however valuable in itself, does not necessarily result in a full insight about that passage or literary work. In Said’s account, critical insight into a certain text predominantly results from establishing coherence between texts, which means determining the unifying author’s intentions and identifying with the human experience that it expresses. Though nowhere fully theorized in Said’s account, we should take ‘coherence’ to be a translation of the concept of a unifying structural intention. This means that establishing this kind of coherence is Said’s way of considering form (the surface, or individual pieces of writing) in relation to its structural intention (the depth, or the rest of the oeuvre). It is therefore a way to rehumanize literary form and react against the waning formalism of the postwar New Criticism. After all, what de Man has called the “partial failure of American formalism” is that the institutionalized theory of reading was a dehumanized version of a broader formalism that could no longer reveal the human content of art precisely because it lacked such an “awareness of the intentional structure of literary form” (1971a, 27). In addition, Said’s notion of coherence differs from the institutionalized New Critical conceptualization of literature, according to which the literary work should be analyzed exclusively through the use of ‘internal’ linguistic evidence, and, following too strict an interpretation of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s theory of verbal meaning, coherence should therefore only be sought within the text. In “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946), Wimsatt and Beardsley had drawn up a formal and evaluative distinction between internal or valid and external or invalid evidence which could be used to determine meaning. Internal evidence is public information that is available in and provided by the literary work as a linguistic fact: its semantics, grammar, syntax, dictionary meanings, or, in short, “all that makes a language and culture” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 477). External evidence, by contrast, is private or idiosyncratic evidence that can be found in the author’s journals or correspondence, for instance. It might reveal information as to why and how the author wrote a particular work, which particular person he or she had in mind when writing a verse, or where and when a particular stanza was written (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 477–478). According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, this latter kind of evidence is trivial and uninteresting for literary critics, and the use of it should be limited to literary biographers. The authors also describe a third, intermediate kind of evidence that can be found in journals and letters “about the character of the author or about private or semi-private meanings attached to words or topics by



an author or by a coterie of which he is a member” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 478). Unlike external evidence, this type of evidence is not wholly uninteresting to literary criticism and, though Wimsatt and Beardsley have a clear preference for leaving out this kind of evidence and solely treating the literary work as a linguistic fact, the use of “biographical evidence need not involve intentionalism, because while it may be evidence of what the author intended, it may also be evidence of the meaning of his words and the dramatic character of his utterance” (1946, 478). The crucial word here is ‘may’. For, in the authors’ opinion there is a very thin line between this kind of biographical evidence and external evidence—and hence there is a risk of committing the intentional fallacy. What Wimsatt and Beardsley call “the difficulty for criticism” (1946, 478) is that both types of information shade into each other, which is why it is best to leave out this kind of information altogether. Said, however, chooses to walk this line, as he is mainly concerned with this intermediate kind of evidence. Bear in mind that, unconcerned with being accused of intentionalism, he transgresses that line frequently to point out exact dates and locations on which certain pieces of writing were produced—the type of information that Wimsatt and Beardsley would consider to be of the purely biographical and intentional kind. However, in Said’s book, this kind of evidence only serves anecdotal purposes; his main argument is built on the intermediate kind of evidence on Conrad’s character, beliefs, and moral concerns. Indeed, Said repeatedly makes clear that Conrad’s “fiction is a vital reflection of his developing character” (1966, 13; my emphasis) and that his correspondence, too, reveals information about “Conrad’s consciousness of himself in the struggle toward the equilibrium of character” (1966, 13). What he attempts to show by drawing on this evidence is that Conrad’s fiction and correspondence demonstrate how the author gradually became the self-conscious and critical writer who developed a unique character which distinguished him from his contemporaries (1966, 27–28). In his treatment of Conrad’s fiction and letters, Said reads both types of texts as the reflection of patterns that illustrate the development of a process of self-assertion which Conrad sought so hard to control in a constantly renewed “deliberate and sustained act of will” (1966, 22)—in other words, an intentional process. Even though these patterns are present in the text, Said initially looks for coherence outside of the text, in the unified form that is the oeuvre. We should therefore think of textual coherence as correspondence with other texts. Said’s method follows his supervisor Levin’s ideas about literary



autonomy, with which he became acquainted in his first graduate year at Harvard. Levin argued that even though the New Critics theoretically maintained the idea that literature did not exist in a vacuum, in practice they were putting too much stress on “coherence, at the expense of correspondence” (1958, 158) and were therefore isolating literature from those external values that can precisely be found in this intermediate kind of intentional evidence. The holistic approach to Conrad that Said was to develop under Levin’s supervision is based on the method of establishing coherence-through-correspondence, the critical importance of which I would like to illustrate by considering Said’s analysis of a passage from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. At the beginning of the narrative when the pleasure ship Nellie lies anchored at sunset in the Thames Estuary, the launching place of England’s great ships of exploration and colonization, protagonist and narrator Charles Marlow muses on the origins of imperialist conquest. In so doing, he quickly pierces through the myth of imperialism as a noble mission civilisatrice, unmasking it as being nothing more than glorified robbery, aggravated murder, and land theft: The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking away of it from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can sacrifice to. (Conrad, Heart of Darkness, cited by Said 1966, 137)

Said’s argument is that, given the overall ironic tone of Marlow’s account of the journey up the Congo River to Kurtz’s Inner Station, a critic studying Heart of Darkness as an autonomous literary object is unable to tell whether this passage should be read ironically or sincerely. The key question is a question of character: whether Conrad as a writer endorsed his narrator’s ideas and effectively used Marlow as a mouthpiece to ridicule Europe’s self-proclaimed civilizing mission in Africa, or whether the narrator’s opinion should be read as an ironic statement that is part of the novella’s schizophrenic moral universe, and Conrad himself was more sympathetic to imperialism and colonialism than the passage suggests. Said argues that the answer to this question lies outside the literary work, and illustrates this by relating the passage to a letter that Conrad wrote to the Scottish politician Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham on February 8,



1899, a couple of days after the publication of the first of the three serial installments that make up Heart of Darkness (1966, 201–203). The letter opens with an expression of gratitude to Cunninghame Graham. Conrad is extremely pleased to know that his friend has picked up and shares the central idea of the novella: I am simply in the seventh heaven to find you like the “H. of D.” so far. You bless me indeed…. There are two more instalments in which the idea is so wrapped up in secondary notions that you—even you!—may miss it. And also you must remember that I don’t start with an abstract notion. I start with definite images and as their rendering is true some little effect is produced. So far the note struck chimes in with your conviction,—mais après? There is an après. But I think that if you look a little into the episodes you will find in them the right intention. (Conrad, “Letter to Cunninghame Graham”, cited by Said 1966, 201)

According to Said, the letter is proof that “Conrad himself was evidently involved in” the unmasking of imperialism’s civilizing mission, as “he devotes a good deal of agonized reasoning to it” (1966, 137). In it he expresses a moral view that criticizes imperialism as “the negation of intellectual differentiation” (Said 1966, 137–138). Imperialism has monopolized the entire system of representation and organized the world according to ‘truthful’, dichotomic intellectual categories of colonizers and colonized that inhibit empathic identification with the latter: “So sufficient is this all-enveloping shadow that one can rest entirely within it, away from any of the common rational forms of human hope or regret. Lodged within the obliterating shadow of truth, a man feels indifferent to everything outside” (Said 1966, 138). Said goes on to point out why it is important to relate the letters to the fiction: The letter is mostly in French and, as Conrad himself lamely adds at the end of it, often seems incoherent. But when we put the passage from Heart of Darkness next to it, a certain degree of coherence does emerge. Since the language and the theme in both are strangely similar, the letter and the tale were most probably written in emphatic support of one of Conrad’s more compelling beliefs. (1966, 137)

Studied in itself the letter is too abstruse and incoherent to make much sense; the same can be said about the passage from the novella because in



the entire narrative “little more is said directly about the matter” (Said 1966, 137). But once we relate the letter to the passage, a coherence starts to emerge that illuminates both as sincere expressions of Conrad’s moral view, illustrating that Conrad endorsed the opinion of his garrulous fictional narrator Marlow and wrote the novella as the (arguably still flawed) critique of imperialism and colonialism it became known for. The question about the authorial intention in this passage of Heart of Darkness might at first sight seem trivial, only interesting to readers concerned with the author’s biography at best. However, in 1975, Chinua Achebe famously attacked the image of Conrad as an anti-imperialist writer who wrote Heart of Darkness as a haunting psychological critique of Belgian colonialism in the Congo Free State. Almost three decades earlier, that authoritative image of Conrad, in combination with the novella’s form, style, and method of narrative presentation had led F.R. Leavis in The Great Tradition to include the Anglo-Polish author in a canon of what he called “great English novelists” (Leavis 1950, 1)—a group also including Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Charles Dickens, all of whom Leavis believed to be working in a great tradition set out by Shakespeare himself. The publication date of Leavis’s book is significant and helps explain its goal. As Mark Greif has recently pointed out, after the worldwide totalitarian crisis leading up to World War II—with the nearly simultaneous rise of Fascism in Italy, Falangism in Spain, Nazism in Germany, Stalinism in the U.S.S.R., and Showa nationalism in Japan, and its disastrous outcome with the millions of deaths in places such as Nanking, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Auschwitz, and Treblinka—intellectuals worldwide were questioning the very notions of democracy and the nature of Man (2015, 5–8). Not long after the war, this “discourse of the crisis of man” (2015, 318), as Greif calls it, was centered around literature and an idea took root that literature “had the obligation to humanize a fallen mankind” (2015, 104). Following Theodor Adorno’s famous remarks that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (1981, 34)—by which he meant that there was no possible, humane way of responding to the horrors of totalitarianism that had reified all sectors of society including the body—poetry was in deep crisis (see Marx 2005). Once lauded at the expense of the novel as the highest form of human imagination by the likes of Paul Valéry and the historical avant-gardes in Europe and T.S.  Eliot and the New Critics in the United States in the



decades leading up to World War II (see Greif 2015, 104–105), poetry had done nothing to stop the barbarity at Belsen and Buchenwald, and was now considered to be worn out, exhausted even. Poetry had lost its cultural authority and literary critics, spearheaded by Leavis in the United Kingdom and Lionel Trilling in the United States, now put their hopes in the novel to regenerate mankind, because the novel “has been of all literary forms, the most devoted to the celebration and investigation of the human will” (Trilling 1948, 1280). Unlike poetry, the novel still had an untainted aura, and was consequently hailed as the chosen medium to ward off what many considered the rise of antihumanism and the accompanying “losses of civilization, personality, humanness” (Trilling 1948, 1280). Leavis and Trilling were the new apologists for the novel and often spoke “on behalf of the liberating effects that may be achieved when literature understands itself to be literature and does not identify itself with what it surveys” (Trilling 1948, 1284). The discourse of these literary critics and the culture at large directly linked the novel as literary genre to human freedom (Greif 2015, 108–109) and Trilling even went as far to say that [f]or our time the most effective agent of the moral imagination has been the novel of the last two hundred years. It was never, either aesthetically or morally, a perfect form and its faults and failures can be quickly enumerated…. It taught us, as no other genre ever did, the extent of human variety and the value of this variety…. Yet there never was a time when its particular activity was so much needed, was of so much practical, political, and social use—so much so that if its impulse does not respond to the need, we shall have reason to be sad not only over a waning form of art but also over our waning freedom. (1955, 222)

As a result, by the mid-twentieth century in the United States, the novel had obtained such an enormous cultural authority that it “became an agent of a certain kind of humanism associated with the restoration of man” (Greif 2015, 104). Within this context, Leavis’s The Great Tradition should be read as an apology for the value of literature and the novel’s historical significance as a bulwark against the immoral, antihuman systems produced by totalitarian regimes. Indeed, the single uniting criterion of all the novelists included in Leavis’s book is that “they are all distinguished by a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity” (1950, 9).



Leavis had found precisely that life-affirming criterion in Heart of Darkness, claiming it to be “Conrad’s art at its best” (1950, 177). In a reference to T.S. Eliot, Leavis lauded the novella’s “overpowering evocation of atmosphere by means of ‘objective correlatives’” (1950, 174), which it effected by its particular style of “adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery” (1950, 177). The praise that Leavis bestowed on Heart of Darkness caused the book to become the most commonly read novella in English literature programs and therefore the prime target of Achebe’s criticism (1977, 783). Achebe clearly does not share Leavis’s enthusiasm. According to him, the anti-imperialist image of the author is false and, from closely analyzing the novella’s celebrated form and style in portraying Africa and its population, he believes it is even fair to call Conrad “a bloody racist” (Achebe 1977, 788). Though Conrad carefully distances himself from the moral universe of the novella by filtering the narrative through two narrators (the intradiegetic Marlow and a nameless extradiegetic one), his novella depicts Africa as a metaphysical wasteland devoid of any recognition of the humanity of its population and ultimately reduces the entire continent to serve as the background for the disintegration of a single European mind, Mr. Kurtz’s (Achebe 1977, 788). Far from being a shining example of the kind of humanism that should effect the regeneration of mankind, Achebe argues that the novella dehumanizes Africans and reproduces the grossly inaccurate and offensive dominant Western image of Africa as a continent that induces madness, or better still, is madness itself (see Loomba 2005, 117). The problem with Heart of Darkness is that it reproduces an imperialist image that is rooted in a long history of Western representations of Africa that are inherently Eurocentric, totalitarian, and antihuman (Achebe 1977, 792). In sum, the novella is written from an imperialist point of view that does not offer any viable alternative for the readers to judge the narrative and actions of its characters (Achebe 1977, 787). Heart of Darkness is offensive, racist, and demeaning to Africans. It has no place in the canon (Achebe 1977, 788–789). Achebe’s paper has been foundational for the field of postcolonial studies and, like Orientalism, has made scholars aware of how Western fictional narratives reproduce harmful, dehumanizing, and racist stereotypes about non-Western cultures and their peoples. Valuable in itself, Achebe’s argument is also relevant to our understanding of Said’s approach to literature. For, while Achebe reaches these conclusions by analyzing quite some passages from the novella, he does not discuss the passage about imperialism



nor the letter that is related to it. This is important, because even though the coherence Said finds between the passage and the letter does nothing to alter the objectionable, dehumanizing ways in which Africa and Africans are portrayed in Heart of Darkness, it does at least supplement, complete, and nuance our understanding of the novella. My point here is neither to defend Said’s reading of Conrad nor to reproach Achebe’s for being careless; but simply that Said’s analysis demonstrates that Heart of Darkness is informed by Conrad’s lived experience of imperialism21 and that, contrary to what Achebe argues, the novella was not meant “to set people against people” (1977, 789). It illustrates that Conrad did not mean to endorse a divisive, imperialist worldview but precisely intended to challenge imperialism and its system of representation, writing the novella “on the side of man’s deliverance and not his enslavement” (Achebe 1977, 789). Whether he succeeded in his intentions is a different question. There is a great deal more to say about Said’s analysis of this particular passage and letter. I will return to it in  Chap. 3, when I analyze the conceptualization of agency in Said’s book on Conrad. Suffice it now to say that Said’s ‘commitment’ of the intentional fallacy is a necessary methodological step for him to be able to fully grasp Conrad’s literary works and the human experience they are said to express. After all, studying both the letter to Cunninghame Graham and the passage from Heart of Darkness autonomously inhibits a full understanding of each of these texts. However, when they are juxtaposed, compared, and read as an ensemble, a certain coherence emerges which allows us to comprehend them individually and as parts of a totalized form or oeuvre. The coherence that Said finds, then, causes him to assess the novellas as fictionalizations or dramatizations of Conrad’s lived experience (1966, 125). Interestingly, he believes the author’s lived experience to be more clearly apparent in his correspondence, which, compared to Conrad’s fiction, is “informal and personal rather than formal or systematic” (Said 1966, 5). Only by reading Conrad’s correspondence and fiction as an organic whole are we able to discern significant structural homologies between the way 21  In 1890, Conrad spent a couple of months in command of a steamer of a Belgian trading company on the Congo River bearing the majestic name Le Roi des Belges (Najder 2007, 159), where he witnessed the brutal oppression of the Congolese in the name of commerce and civilization. Biographers seem to agree that these experiences, and his subsequent moral shock and indignation, directly inspired the narrative of Heart of Darkness (Najder 2007, 163). For a recent compelling biography of Conrad, see Maya Jasanoff’s The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World (2017).



in which he experienced his life and the literary form of his stories. Conrad constantly reformulated the various insights and discoveries of his letters in his fiction so that both type of texts contain similar dominant themes, patterns, and images, or what Said calls “structures of experience” (1966, 12). Before I move on to discuss Said’s stance on the affective fallacy, a few important critical observations should be made. As I have just noted, Said’s method attributes a lot of critical weight to Conrad’s letters, because they are regarded as the clearest and most authentic expressions of his lived experience, and therefore allegedly the most direct access points to identify the ‘structures of experience’ that inform his oeuvre. However, there is no reason to believe that the letters offer a more authentic account of Conrad’s intentions and lived experience than his short fiction or autobiographical writings, just as there is no reason to believe that, as the title of Said’s book suggests, Conrad manipulated the image of himself to present his readers with a fictional autobiography in his novellas and autobiographical works, but told the truth about himself in his correspondence (see Said 1966, 120). Where does this preference of non-fictional over fictional or, as Said labels the autobiographical works, “pseudo-fictional” (1966, 74) access points come from? And why is Said suspicious only of the claims of these latter works, taking the former for granted? He offers no satisfying rationale for these choices. One critic has even called this preference “a basic fallacy” (Hewitt 1968, 234) of Said’s reasoning. Another noted that this might be because he “trusts the teller, not the tale” (Donoghue 1967, 202). Indeed, when Said compares the novellas to the letters, he effectively appears to be using a double standard so as to provide “new insights into and solutions for the difficulties of the fiction” (1966, viii). This illustrates that, as a professionally trained literary critic, Said is attentive to what he believes to be the ambiguity of literary works: he stresses that literature does not make much sense without illuminating critical insights, that it raises questions which beg for solutions, and that it is, in short, not straightforward but difficult. In order to study and decipher the difficulties or enigmas of the fiction—such as the question of sincerity of Marlow’s musings on imperialism in Heart of Darkness—Said reverts to Conrad’s letters. “The great value of the letters”, he motivates his method, “is that they make such a study possible by disclosing the background of speculation and insight that strengthens the fiction” (Said 1966, 8; his emphasis).



Said’s choice of words is significant. To begin with, it makes clear that he takes the letters at face value, reading them as truthful, direct statements that reveal or disclose information about the author’s background and intentions that is necessary to illuminate the fiction.22 The suggestion, then, is that Conrad’s fiction is indirect, ambiguous, revealing, or closed and needs to be cracked open by the critic. In spite of Said’s attempt to distance himself from the New Criticism, we cannot help but noticing that his view of literature is surprisingly close to the New Critical idea about the language of paradox in which the discourse of non-fiction is direct and offers easily attainable conceptual knowledge about experience—it discloses the background, to paraphrase Said—whereas the discourse of fiction is marked by all kinds of ambiguity (Empson 1930), paradoxes (Brooks 1947b), and indirection (Brooks 1947c) that express the complexities and wholeness of that experience. Said’s vocabulary reveals how his criticism is the product of a balancing act between formalism and antiformalism. The distinction that is made between fictional and non-fictional texts on account of their language unearths a penchant for formalism that I believe to be the result of the specific American context of Said’s critical practice. But the fact that every individual imagination—regardless of its fictional nature—expresses the same structures of experience that inform the author’s oeuvre, is symptomatic of an anti-formalist tendency that stems from the phenomenological models of reading that Said’s critical practice draws on. All of this is a sign that in spite of the book’s ode to the intentional fallacy, it does not wholeheartedly reject all ideas associated with the New Criticism. The Affective Fallacy When it comes to the institutionalized ban on affective or subjective reasoning in literary criticism, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography is as clear a challenge to the affective fallacy as they come. To challenge and break the postwar New Critical approach to literature, which, as we have seen, erroneously and perhaps even unwittingly applied a positivistic 22  The structure of the book reflects this. Following a brief outline of the book’s methodology in the introduction (1966, 3–28), the first part discusses Conrad’s correspondence of 1896–1924  in chronological order (1966, 29–83). The second part addresses his shorter fiction, and builds up to an analysis of Conrad’s 1917 retrospective novella The Shadow Line (1966, 87–197). In so doing, the book’s structure rhetorically reinforces the argument that the letters serve as the necessary background to the fiction.



method of understanding to the study of literature, Said turns to the older and more eccentric models of criticism of R.P. Blackmur and Levin, as well as some earlier ideas of the emergent New Criticism, when its methodology had not been codified by any of the fallacy-essays yet. To understand Said’s stance on the affective fallacy, we would do well to remind ourselves that Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Affective Fallacy” is a plea for analyzing literature as objectively as possible, which means founding an analysis of literature on evidence that is supplied by the literary work as a linguistic fact and decidedly not on its effects on the reader or critic. The authors define the affective fallacy as “a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does)” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 31). Or, as they seem to hint at with their choice of motto to the essay,23 a literary critic who commits the affective fallacy is like an oenologist who studies the properties of wine by getting drunk. While getting drunk can be a pleasant state of mind, it also clouds one’s judgments, and is ultimately an obstacle to any rational and objective criticism of wine. In the face of this, Said’s book is a plea for restoring subjectivism in literary criticism—and while not a plea for getting drunk, it is a plea for at least drinking the wine. For, even though drinking the wine is not part of explaining its properties, it is decidedly part of experiencing them and has to be taken into account if we wish to comprehend the whole experience of wine. In the practice of literary criticism, the metaphor suggests that if we wish to comprehend the whole literary experience we cannot limit ourselves to explaining the objective, linguistic properties of the literary work as an object, but also have to take into account the subjective, emotive aspects of the literary work as a man-made product. After all, if we have learned two important lessons from the prewar New Criticism it is, one, that literature is a means of aesthetic communication where human experience takes the form of literature and, two, that we experience the literary (or, for that matter, any human) experience as much through emotional, non-conceptual insight as through logical, conceptual knowledge. As I have made clear, Said performs a number of critical acts that would be considered ‘fallacious’. To begin with, he studies Conrad’s authorial intentions in his correspondence, analyzes biographical information, and compares literary to non-literary texts, in order to more adequately define the theme and subject of his writings, judge their success, and ultimately 23  “We might as well study the properties of wine by getting drunk” (Eduard Hanslick, The Beautiful in Music, quoted as motto by Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 31).



attempt to comprehend and identify with the lived experience that the total oeuvre communicates. In addition, he also attempts to determine the effects of these writings on Conrad’s imagined audience by taking into account his own affective and cognitive responses to them. If we follow the book’s main argument about the way in which Conrad manipulated his self-image, then these responses need not be a ‘commitment’ of the affective fallacy per se. They are neither arbitrary or idiosyncratic nor signs of unbridled relativism—and thus, are not clear examples of the affective fallacy (see Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 31–32)—but precisely anticipated by the author and effected by the intentional form and structure of the work in question. This stance on subjectivism echoes T.S.  Eliot’s notion of the ‘objective correlative’, a foundational idea of the emergent New Criticism that states that a particular structure or form elaborated into the literary work by its author evokes not just any but a precise, particular emotion or sensory experience in the reader’s mind (1920a, 92–93). After all, Said’s main argument is that Conrad designed his literary works in such a way as to present his readers with a rosy image of himself as an experienced author who was now as confident and secure a storyteller as he had been a steamer captain, an effect which the author carefully evoked by a “deliberate manipulation of motives and poses” (1966, 120). Said’s assessment of Conrad’s authorial image is built on the very notion that Wimsatt and Beardsley attacked. For, what reveals the ambivalences of Conrad’s oeuvre and strengthens our comprehension of and identification with Conrad’s lived experience is precisely the discrepancy between the effects (the feeling of Conrad as a secure and confident seaman and writer) and the experience communicated in the total oeuvre (the so-called reality of Conrad as an insecure and tormented soul); it is precisely the discrepancy between what the literary work is and what it does. ‘Committing’ the affective fallacy is therefore an important part of Said’s critical method, which is based on the premise that in order to arrive at “[t]he accurate grasp of someone else’s deepest concerns” (1966, 5), the critic cannot rely solely on logical reasoning but must blend that kind of reasoning with emotional reasoning. This becomes clear in the preface to the work which advocates a ‘warm reading’ of Conrad’s total oeuvre that rejects the disinterested ‘cold readings’ produced by the postwar New Criticism. Such a holistic reading allows us to read the tales not only as objects of literature but, with the letters, as objects that were of spiritual use and significance to Conrad the man. Such a reading not only gives new insights into and solutions for the difficulties of



the fiction, but also accounts for much of the fiction’s success and power. Finally, I hope that such a reading enriches and deepens our admiration for Conrad as an eminently self-aware, responsible, and serious artist. (Said 1966, viii–ix)

What Said is arguing is that the critic cannot simply coolly investigate texts “as objects of literature” and dismiss the author’s psychology, but must also read them with empathetic identification “as objects that were of spiritual use and significance to Conrad the man” in order to judge the success of particular works. This opposes his approach to literary criticism to the approach argued for in “The Affective Fallacy”, which forbids such forms of author-psychology and dismisses emotional and cognitive reasoning—the former completely, the latter partially (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1949, 41, 44). What makes it even more at odds with Wimsatt and Beardsley’s, is that Said’s criticism explicitly studies the effects of Conrad’s writings, arguing that certain texts have a “qualified emotional force” (1966, 126). He draws upon Schopenhauerian philosophy as well as Jungian and, most notably, Sartrean psychology to make his overarching theoretical claim that literary criticism should rely on psychology to understand the complex and highly personal lived experiences that authorial oeuvres communicate. The use of affective reasoning is tautologically informed by Said’s empathetic approach to Conrad. In a letter written on May 16, 1917, to Edward Garnett, the English writer, critic, and literary editor who ­introduced him to Ford Madox Ford,24 Conrad expresses a feeling of mental discomfort with the ongoing World War, even though he did not witness the fighting himself, and of disillusion with the moral justifications given to fight for one’s country. When death was visiting so many on the battlefields of Europe, he writes, “questions of right and wrong have … no connection whatever with the fundamental realities of life … Feelings are, to submit to them we can avoid neither death nor suffering 24  By introducing Conrad to Madox Ford, Garnett helped facilitate the production of their three collaborative novels. Tellingly, Said does not discuss or analyze these novels because it would complicate his model of criticism of consciousness too much. Instead of the meeting of two minds—that of the critic and that of the author—in the reading of a single-authored novel, the reading of a collaborative novel would result in the meeting of at least three consciousnesses, or four even, if we do not rule out the possibility of a collaborative, common consciousness. In such a case, it would perhaps be too difficult to tell for the critic whose consciousness he or she is encountering and exploring.



which are our common lot, but we can bear them in peace” (Conrad, “Letter to Edward Garnett”, cited by Said 1966, 75). According to Said, the letter candidly illustrates one of the ‘structures of experience’ informing Conrad’s oeuvre. It demonstrates the way in which he came to terms with the psychological distress of the war, by realizing that even though feelings might lead to contradictory and overwhelming sensations that seem impossible to face, they cannot, must not be evaded but confronted head on (Said 1966, 75). According to Said, confronting his feelings head on would turn out to be beneficial to Conrad as a person and writer. It would in the first place lead to an even greater personal “mastering of conscience” (Said 1966, 75) that “would lead him finally to a comprehension of the entire experience of the war” (Said 1966, 74) and result in various successful literary publications, such as his 1920 novel The Rescue, A Romance of the Shallows which reformulates that insight. In the end, it would also cause Conrad to reject nationalistic and jingoistic thought and develop a “passionate Europeanism” (Said 1966, 83). But the metaphor also conveys a message that would benefit literary critics working in the depsychologized vein of Wimsatt and Beardsley, because it stresses that affective reasoning is as much a part of our daily experience to make sense of the world as logical reasoning. Feelings should not be evaded in literary criticism and given a scary name like the ‘affective fallacy’, but embraced and confronted. Experience comes to us as a whole and determining the responses that literature evokes is a difficult but necessary step to arrive at a full comprehension of the entire experience of the literary work. Said’s position on the affective fallacy echoes the ideas of R.P. Blackmur, one of his two senior thesis readers at Princeton who was one of the central driving forces for the New Criticism of the 1930s, and whom I believe to be the single most influential American literary critic on Said’s critical practice, although his impact on Said remains vastly underacknowledged. Earlier, we encountered Blackmur’s notion of ‘amateurism’ that lay at the basis of the Gauss Seminars, which he organized as an attempt to turn the tide on the increasing professionalization of literary studies and the concomitant formation of a postwar New Critical orthodoxy. In a 1935 essay which bears the quintessentially prewar New Critical title “A Critic’s Job of Work” (1954a), Blackmur expresses the movement’s founding adagio that literary criticism should in the first place be practical instead of theoretical. “Criticism …”, he writes, “is the formal discourse of an amateur”



(Blackmur 1954a, 372). As you might recall, Blackmur was expelled from high school and never obtained an academic degree. Though this might make him the least academically trained of the prewar New Critics, this does not mean that he was not educated. Working as a bookseller in a Cambridge bookstore in the mid-1930s, he sat in on lectures at Harvard without ever enrolling in a program (Fraser 2010, 36). But in spite of his rigorous self-teaching, having no academic degrees made him feel uneasy and insecure about his education and, according to his biographer Russell Fraser, when it came to this aspect of his life Blackmur always remained “absurdly on the defensive” (2010, 30). It can therefore come as no surprise that Blackmur’s essay of 1935, like Ransom’s essays from that period, targets the professional establishment of scholars who enjoyed much academic standing and intellectual authority. Instead of their professionalized and, in a way, elitist approach to literary criticism, Blackmur values amateurism and the ability—and even obligation—to talk about literature without necessarily having full scholarly authority. This is founded on the idea that good literary criticism is “undoctrinated thinking” (Blackmur 1954a, 375) and bad criticism “is governed by an idée fixe, a really exaggerated heresy, when a notion of genuine but small scope is taken literally as of universal application” (Blackmur 1954a, 379–380). “For most minds”, he explains, once doctrine is sighted and is held to be the completion of insight, the doctrinal mode of thinking seems the only one possible. When doctrine ­totters it seems it can fall only into the gulf of bewilderment; few minds risk the fall; most seize the remnants and swear the edifice remains, when doctrine becomes intolerable dogma. (Blackmur 1954a, 373)

To him, professional scholarship in the 1930s was such an intolerable dogma, as it quite literally excluded amateurs like him from performing literary criticism. By contrast, in the New Criticism as it was taking shape in the writings of Ransom, Tate, and Penn Warren, Blackmur found an approach that better suited his background as an autodidact: it was critical and scholarly enough, neither abstract nor professionalized, but practical and amateuristic—in the base sense of the word, as someone “who loves or is fond of; one who has a taste for anything” (OED 2017). Said was an avid reader of Blackmur’s work and frequently attended his lectures on poetics and modern fiction at Princeton (1999, 276–277). Blackmur’s classroom performance must have left such an impression on



Said that he developed a profound admiration25 for him. In a 1967 review article, “Sense and Sensibility” (2000c), Said lauds his unique classroom mode that, to him, demonstrates that in order to grasp a literary work fully the critic should become thoroughly intimate with it. Said then takes great pains to liberate Blackmur’s legacy from the stifling label ‘New Criticism’ understood as detached, linguistic examination, or explication of literary works (2000c, 17). According to Said, Blackmur’s unclassifiable criticism brings out the primacy of form, but a form that is worldly and involved in social history (Palumbo-Liu 2007, 222). He therefore feels it should be located beyond formalism, a place in the U.S. literary critical landscape of the mid-1960s also occupied by Georges Poulet, the famous Belgian phenomenologist whom Said had heard a year earlier at the 1966 famous Johns Hopkins conference on structuralism describe the act of reading in equally intimate terms as an experience of interiority. Said explicitly links Blackmur’s criticism to that of Poulet, highlighting how their approaches to literature are compatible: For theirs is an enterprise whose aim is nothing less than the reconstruction of experience apprehended from the point of its origin to its incarnation in form, or literature. So delicate an undertaking … supposes an ultimate talent for closeness to the animating experience that goes into literature… [B]oth styles reflect the care taken in preserving a sense of literature as highly nuanced and as intimate as possible…. For all their differences then, Poulet and Blackmur are virtuous in their devotion to a writer’s experience, and virtuosos in their gift for handling and representing experience. (2000c, 17)

Both thinkers resist what Said calls ‘the imperialism of criticism’, an evolution of criticism in which methods become orthodoxies that ultimately 25  Though Said’s stance vis-à-vis the work of Blackmur is quite frankly one of admiration, this does not mean that he thinks Blackmur to be above criticism. Said feels Blackmur’s postwar criticism to express a sense of American responsibility for the postwar world and the dismantling of the old imperial and colonial structures, which he praises in what he calls Blackmur’s “most extraordinary essays” (2000a, 261) in 1986. But sometimes these politics of responsibility lead the self-avowed amateur critic to ironically take on a position of authority symptomatic of an “astonishing ignorance and condescension about the non-Western world in his worst ones” (2000a, 261). Blackmur seems to have fallen prey to postwar American imperialism, therefore had little sympathy with the postcolonial problems of the newly independent states in Asia and Africa, and was completely blind to the excrescences of European and American colonial rule (Said 2000a, 261).



disfigure literary works and maim the human experiences they contain. “Criticism is notorious for its imperialism carried out in the name of understanding”, Said goes on to clarify, “method swallowing work, argument dividing to conquer and variety colonized into periods and ‘ages’” (2000c, 16). The criticism of Blackmur and Poulet is by contrast “a way of living up to and living with literature” (Said 2000c, 16). Theirs is a humanistic kind of literary criticism that pays careful attention to the individuality and variety of literary experiences, each in their own distinct way, showing how “life [is] translated into literature” (Said 2000c, 22)— Blackmur with considerably more attention to individual works of art than Poulet who primarily and almost exclusively deals with a writer’s total oeuvre. What Said admires so deeply about Blackmur’s criticism is its skillful combination of intellectual and emotional reasoning, a blend of reason and imagination that makes this kind of criticism fundamentally at odds with Wimsatt and Beardsley’s proposed purging of the ‘fallacies’ and the application of a universal New Critical method of reading (see 2000c, 22). In an essay published in 1986 called “The Horizon of R.P. Blackmur” (2000a), Said admiringly writes that Blackmur is “the least influential, the least doctrinal, the least serviceable (in the base sense of the word) of the New Critics” (2000a, 251). What draws Said to the criticism of Blackmur is the latter’s impatience with and principal rejection of any form of criticism founded on intellectual authority (2000a, 256). Indeed, as Paul A. Bové has rightly argued, Blackmur was constantly preoccupied with the relation between orthodox and heretic modes of thinking and, as the underlying idea of the Gauss Seminars exemplifies, built his own method on the subversion of orthodoxy in literary criticism (1984, 366). In the essay on the task of criticism to which I referred earlier, Blackmur describes how such critical orthodoxies are formed; how the ideas of certain thinkers—whom Foucault would call “fondateurs de discursivité” (1994, 804)—are attributed a certain dynastic weight and then used as dogma to validate and govern a self-enclosed field of specialized knowledge such as literary criticism (1954a, 373–375). In the face of this, Blackmur tried to cultivate nothing but his own kind of criticism, preferring the essay over the professionalized article—a penchant that was to inspire Said’s own love for the essay as prime medium to express critical thought (Sprinker 1992). During the 1930s he even avoided the professionalized circles of U.S. literary criticism, seeking other, non-professionalized outlets to express his views on literature (Said 2000a, 256–257).



Because of his distrust of professionalized, doctrinal thinking and idées fixes, Blackmur was unsurprisingly also one of the first to anticipate the New Criticism’s gradual professionalization, institutionalization, and accompanying development into a formalist orthodoxy after World War II—a development which he sought to counter in the Gauss Seminars. In the works of such critics as Burke, Empson, Wimsatt, and Beardsley, he saw the principle of authorization in action and believed that the postwar New Criticism “was grinding into a self-centered methodology” (Fitzgerald 1985, 121). To him, the movement was changing in the same way that I have outlined in the first parts of this chapter: what used to be an open-minded and anti-dogmatic approach to literary criticism practiced by critics who may likewise have lacked the kind of formal academic training of their senior colleagues, but possessed a loving and hence amateuristic—in the base sense of the word—attention to the formal and textual aspects of literature, was gradually evolving into a professionalized, self-centered, dogmatic, or doctrinal form of thinking that focused on narrow formalism, and no longer paid attention to anything but the linguistic aspect of literary works. In what appears to be an overzealous reading of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s fallacy-essays, the postwar New Criticism overvalued the role of linguistics in literary criticism and limited the task of criticism to a mere linguistic examination of works of art. To Blackmur, however, criticism must always be concerned with more than the purely linguistic. Anticipating the kind of depsychologized reading proposed in Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Affective Fallacy”, he writes in 1935: Criticism must be concerned, first and last—whatever comes between—with the poem as it is read and as what it represents is felt. As no amount of physics and physiology can explain the feeling of things seen as green or even certify their existence, so no amount of linguistic analysis can explain the feeling or existence of a poem. (Blackmur 1954a, 390; his emphasis)

Blackmur’s remark reveals his conceptualization of literature. It expresses a view in which literature cannot simply be grasped as an object in itself that is to be subjected to mere linguistic analysis, but as something that comes into existence when it is read and felt, as a concretized aesthetic object that can be subjected to phenomenological analysis. His is a conceptualization of literature as a medium of communication that, in the distinct and unique form of the particular literary work, communicates a certain feeling or force obtained from outside art (Blackmur 1977, 197).



According to Said, the unifying theme of Blackmur’s writings is that he reads literature “as secular incarnation, a word he used frequently to represent the powers of life to reappear in art” (2000a, 250). After all, Blackmur argues that literature derives its unique force from its connection to human experience so that it becomes “a criticism of life” (1954a, 372). The appeal of Blackmur’s criticism to Said’s project, is that it allows us to revalue not only the literary work of art but literary criticism, too, as the latter now (again) truly becomes a criticism of human experience. Studying Blackmur’s writings taught Said that the vocation of the critic is not only to examine a literary work as a linguistic object, but also to determine the force or impact of these words on readers and to treat the literary work as an aesthetic object. In a phrase that also serves as the title of a well-known 1942 essay, Blackmur defines this impact as words in motion or “Language as Gesture” (1954b). ‘Gesture’ is the force of language at work that not only gives meaning to a literary work (1954b, 15) but is of “structural importance in poetry” (1954b, 6). Defined as such, the concept of ‘gesture’ is very similar to that of a structuring principle in literature, thought of as a psychological whole or Gestalt which resists being paraphrased and “cannot be articulated at all except when delivered within a form” (1954b, 13). This means that there are always as many gestures (structuring principles) as there are forms (particular literary works). In words that might easily mistakenly be attributed to Brooks (when he is talking about the language of paradox), Blackmur goes on to define the concept: Gesture, in language, is the outward and dramatic play of inward and imaged meaning. It is that play of meaningfulness among words which cannot be defined in the formulas in the dictionary, but which is defined in their use together; gesture is that meaningfulness which is moving, in every sense of that word: what moves the words and what moves us. (1954b, 6)

‘Gesture’ is what unifies a particular literary work and is felt by the reader in the act of reading. In great works of literature, gesture unites content and form and is “what happens to a form when it becomes identical with its subject” (1954b, 6). While it can be found in individual passages such as in the repetition of the words ‘die’ and ‘sleep’ (and their variants) in Hamlet’s soliloquy, all these smaller gestures combine into an overarching gesture or meaningfulness which distinguishes a great work such as Hamlet



from lesser ones (1954b, 15–17). Now unsurprisingly, in Blackmur’s opinion, a critic’s job of work is to determine the gesture of language by making conscious the preconscious experiencing of a literary work’s gesture in the act of reading (1954a, 398). His or her task is to make conscious what it is that we feel when we read a particular poem or piece of prose and study “our total recognition of the force that moves us” (Blackmur 1977, 197). Though Blackmur’s target of criticism in the 1935 essay that started this elaborate discussion of his work is I.A. Richards’s theory of practical criticism understood as the judgment of poetry based on the application of an empirical approach (1954a, 390), his argument about subjective criticism and its recognition of the impact of a literary work on its readers can easily be extended and applied to the postwar New Criticism. Said’s conceptualization of literature in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, as we have seen, is that it is something of a man-made verbal puzzle or enigma that can be solved by the literary critic. He derives this from Blackmur (see 1954b, 3), who would consider the analytically inspired linguistic method of the postwar New Criticism to be an excellent approach to examine in detail the technical aspects or literary facts of a work as a linguistic object. Said would nonetheless believe that such an analysis devoid of psychology and affective reasoning is insufficient to solve the entire puzzle of a particular literary work because it is unable to recognize the gesture in language or the work as a concretized aesthetic object (1954a, 396–397). If we are to fully explain the complexity of literature, we must complement the linguistic method by a study of the literary work “as it is read and felt” or what he calls a “direct apprehension” (Blackmur 1954a, 397) of the work. After all, the power of poetry is precisely that it “arrests and transfixes its subject in a form which has a life of its own forever separate but springing from the life which confronts it. Poetry is life at the remove of form and meaning; not life lived but life framed and identified” (1954a, 372).26

26  Blackmur’s idea of poetry marks the difference which I have outlined between a New Critical and an existential-phenomenological conceptualization of experience. Saying that poetry is “not life lived but life framed and identified”, as Blackmur does, is of course altogether different from saying that it embodies le vécu or ‘lived experience’, which as the original French term suggests is really ‘life lived’. Blackmur considers the human experience of poetry in impersonal and universal terms; existential phenomenologists do so in personal and concrete terms.



The implication of Blackmur’s conceptualization of literature, then, is that the act of reading is a confrontation or meeting of two life-forms or consciousnesses—that of the reader who confronts the literary work and that of the literary work which is framed and identified by an author. It also implies that literary criticism should be occupied with finding this life “at the remove of form and meaning” and that it should consequently part ways with the narrow formalism of the postwar New Criticism in order to move on to a point beyond formalism. From Blackmur’s writings it is not entirely clear how we are to reach this point, but the movement would seem to involve a reading that is similar to the one Said performs in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography: an empathetic identification or intimate ‘warm reading’ of literature that rejects the positivistic examination or intellectualist ‘cold reading’ of the postwar New Criticism. To move beyond formalism, the critic should remember that “[t]he light of science is parallel or in the background where feeling or meaning is concerned” (1954a, 391). Blackmur’s anti-analytic approach to literary criticism influenced Said’s doctoral supervisor Levin, who in turn encouraged and strengthened these ideas in Said’s developing criticism, the outcome of which we have already seen in some detail. Writing as a staunch humanist at the twilight of the New Criticism and the dawn of poststructuralist theories of reading in the 1960s, Levin was looking at once for alternatives to what he described as the “self-limiting criterion of the New Critics, internal coherence” that would allow “more leeway for the role of personality and for the context of society” (1972b, 92) and would allow him to stay clear of the determinism of Marxist readings of literature and what he considered to be too radically antihumanistic critiques of textuality, pronounced by the deconstructionists at Yale in the 1970s to come (2011a, 91). Though he concedes that a poem is indeed a verbal artifact, Levin rejects the purist version of the New Criticism on humanistic grounds, stressing that it is also “a network of associations and responses, communicating implicit information and incidentally touching off value judgments” (1972b, 92). Levin shares Blackmur’s belief that the literary work simply absorbs so many external factors and is so convoluted by what the New Critics would consider to be extraneous “impurities” (1972b, 92) that it cannot be studied as a pure ‘linguistic fact’, that the New Critical dichotomy between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ evidence (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 1949) or ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ criticism (Wellek and Warren 1949) is untenable,



and that we should consequently pay the New Critical attacks on ‘the fallacies’ no heed (1972b, 92–95). Levin’s criticism is an exponent of that same strand of humanism in which the works of his contemporaries Leavis and Trilling are also to be situated. As such, it expresses the humanistic credo that literature is a bulwark of humanity against the forces of dogmatism and totalitarianism. Because it is said to embody the essence of culture, literature provides us with the best access point to study culture (Pike 1988, 29–30). As a humanist, Levin approaches literature holistically and comparatively by investigating the thematic and formal properties of literature as well as its historical and social aspects, thus transcending the narrow formalism of the postwar New Criticism (Pike 1988, 30). According to Levin, the act of literary criticism entails two sides. First, it must always remain truthful to the historical or documentary material that can be objectively examined according to a prescribed methodology. Second, it also involves a high degree of imagination on the part of the critic where he or she has to engage in a concomitant imagined dialogue—which in some of Levin’s texts even becomes an almost existentialist “coexistence” (1972a, 37)— with the literary work in order to comprehend the human experience that it communicates (Garcia 2014, 495–496). While this imagined dialogue is a fundamental aspect of criticism, there is no prescribed methodology for it. Because this dialogue is dependent on the individual literary critic who responds to the literary work and the latter’s unique communicated experience and form that elicit this response, it is bound to remain imprecise and it is simply futile to come up with a number of formulas, doctrines, or prohibitions to guide it. To refer to a lecture which Levin gave on a visit to the University of Cambridge in the mid-1960s (1967), this is why literary criticism is not an exact science—and perhaps never will be. Levin’s and Blackmur’s models of criticism are built on the same premise: that the literary critic needs to speak at once about an external object (the literary work as a linguistic object) and about an internal, mental dialogue (the literary work as an aesthetic object). Literary criticism should therefore do well to let go of the postwar New Critical aspiration to reach the kind of positivistic objectivity of the physical sciences (Berman 1988, 16–17), and adopt a pragmatic notion of intersubjectivity that characterized the movement’s prewar phase, according to which the critic works with the objectively examinable material and uses that evidence to engage with the text in an imagined dialogue, meeting writers “halfway” (Levin 2011b, 32). To Levin, the advantage of this kind of comprehension based



on a certain degree of biographism is that it allows critics to remain “near the core of communicated experience, rather than disporting themselves on its peripheries” (2011b, 36). In the winter of 1958, a couple of months before Said enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard, Levin published a polemical review article of Wimsatt and Brooks’s Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957) that prompted Wimsatt to reply with an equally hostile article in which he didn’t really engage in a discussion but dismissed Levin’s critique as “a basic difference in critical principle” (1958, 559). Seemingly not content with the institutional situation at the end of the 1950s, Wimsatt and Brooks presented or, as many reviewers believe to be more correct (Levin 1958; Krieger 1958; Marsh 1958), reconstructed with force the history of literary criticism as a Hegelian dialectic in which seemingly chaotic points of view, critical problems, and century-old debates dating back to Plato, Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus, all gradually converged and led to a horizontal meeting-point in the final chapter where the authors presented their main theoretical pronouncement and unified solution to all these historical problems—which, needless to say, is also the theoretical basis of the postwar New Criticism (see 1957, 731–755). In the eyes of historicists such as Levin, Wimsatt and Brooks’s Literary Criticism: A Short History must have come across as the final push to further consolidate the institutional hegemony of the New Criticism, in an attempt to not only define the parameters of literary criticism but now also to take over the writing of literary history, thus effectively breaking the white peace, in which New Critics had tacitly agreed to leave their historicist colleagues alone (Krieger 1958, 162–163). According to Levin, Wimsatt and Brooks’s history of criticism established a tradition and antecedent for the New Criticism by presenting the history of literary criticism in such a way that “the study of literature is primarily an examination of works of art” (1958, 155) and that the New Critical “rhetorical inspection” (1958, 159) is the logical and correct outcome of that history. The authors’ position is based on what Levin believes to be “doctrinaire opinions … forbidding the critic to inquire too curiously into the writer’s aim or the reader’s response” (1958, 157). In his view, Wimsatt and Brooks consistently “play down the emotive and … play up the ‘cognitive’ aspects of esthetic communication” (Levin 1958, 157) and when it comes to choosing “in the putative divorce between knowing and feeling, they adhere to the intellectualist side” (Levin 1958, 158).



What Wimsatt and Brooks’s history of literary criticism effectively does, is to promote what I have called disinterested ‘cold readings’ of literature that tie in with the core argument of “The Affective Fallacy” that, in order to reach objectivity in literary criticism, the literary experience should be studied exclusively in the reified sphere of the work’s cognitive structure (1949, 45–46). This realization does not escape Levin either. It can hardly come as a surprise that he rejects this narrow kind of formalism of Wimsatt and Brooks’s project and, in a move that is similar to the one Blackmur suggested well over two decades earlier, calls on his fellow critics to adopt a humanistic approach to literary criticism that does not reject formalism altogether but nonetheless transcends the boundaries of the postwar New Criticism in order to rehumanize literature and reconnect it with the world: When … Brooks and Wimsatt appear as proponents of a type of criticism which was needed and which has its continuing merits, they command our grateful respect. But when in the name of historical survey, they endeavor to subordinate all other types of criticism to theirs, occasion must be taken to remind them that history transcends those revisionist versions of it which interested parties put forth from time to time; that literature is much too various and pervasive a manifestation of human experience to be wholly comprehended within the self-confining sphere of structure; and that if humanistic studies reject all the tools they have developed in common with other disciplines, they will shut themselves off from the present as well as the past. (Levin 1958, 158)

The method that Said was to develop under Levin’s guidance is a translation of that call, in a number of ways. First, in the vein of Blackmur and Levin, it still foregrounds literary form by examining the rhetoric, style, and the thematics of Conrad’s writings both holistically as individual v­ erbal artifacts and comparatively as parts of a larger collection of texts constituting an oeuvre. Said’s method also takes peripheral, documentary evidence about the author’s life, career, and social context into account and relies on that kind of evidence to examine the author’s psychology, moral views, character and intentions, which, according to Said, are all of relevance to the study of literature because they have been absorbed by the works. In so doing, Said pays the dichotomy between internal and external evidence proposed by Wimsatt and Beardsley little attention, reconsiders literary form as involved in social history and human experience, and reconceptualizes the literary work as a man-made product that is a psychological



whole or Gestalt. As such, Said effectively turns to the founding principles of the prewar generation of New Critics such as Ransom and Blackmur and resolutely chooses to ignore the postwar New Critical ban on intentional and affective reasoning. In an attempt to come as near to the core of communicated experience as possible, Said then meets the author halfway, so to speak, through the kind of imagined dialogue which Levin professes. This becomes clear in the opening pages to the work, where Said defends the primacy of comprehension in literary criticism: The literary critic is, I think, most interested in comprehension, because the critical act is first of all an act of comprehension: a particular comprehension of the written work, and not of its origins in a general theory of the unconscious. Comprehension, furthermore, is a phenomenon of consciousness, and it is in the openness of the conscious mind that critic and writer meet to engage in the act of knowing and being aware of an experience. (1966, 7)

It is interesting to pause at what Said is saying here. In the first sentence, he pleads for an empathetic kind of reading that contrary to the postwar New Criticism does not merely examine literary works of art, but tries to arrive at “a particular comprehension of the written work”. Speaking as a phenomenological critic, Said approaches the literary work as a phenomenon, as an object of perception that comes to us as a whole and therefore has to be comprehended and studied in full, as a particular consciousness that cannot be paraphrased or explained by “a general theory of the unconscious” or any prescribed methodology such as the postwar New Criticism—a methodology that, if we recall Said’s words on ‘the imperialism of criticism’, is so delineated that it would swallow up the particular work, colonize it, or force it to fit into a fixed prescribed model of (causal) explanation. The second sentence illustrates the fact that Said’s model of criticism attempts to rehumanize literature by stressing that the literary work of art is more than just a linguistic object or verbal artifact and that literary criticism should therefore break free from the self-confining sphere of structure or form in order to reconnect with and come as near to the human experience communicated in the work as it possibly can. Said emphasizes that literary criticism is “a phenomenon of consciousness”, an open meeting or dialogue between two equal consciousnesses or conversation partners, “critic and writer”. Literary criticism, then, is a dialogue in which the critic responds to the literary work of art—hence the ode to



the affective fallacy—and, as in any dialogue, imagined or not, inquires into the intentions of his or her conversation partner, the writer—hence the ode to the intentional fallacy. This dialogue is considered to be successful when common ground is reached between critic and writer “in the act of knowing and being aware of an experience”. In conclusion, the passage makes it crystal clear that despite Said’s ‘commitment’ of the affective fallacy, determining his combined affective and cognitive responses to Conrad’s writings is not the end point of his criticism. It also makes clear that in spite of his profound interest in form, the literary work as a focal point of a New Critical, stylistic and formal analysis can never be the end point of his analysis either. Similar to the prewar New Critics or, for that matter, closer to the more nuanced position of Wimsatt and Beardsley than the one circulating in the writings of their colleagues, that kind of analysis is only the beginning of an evaluation and comprehension of the literary work.27 To close the circle, a few pages earlier Said describes Conrad as a writer “hiding within rhetoric” (1966, 4), a metaphor according to which the style and form of Conrad’s works should be thought of as “a distracting surface of overrhetorical, melodramatic prose” (Said 1966, 3; his emphasis) that covers a deeper essence buried in the text. There lies Said’s prime interest. That deeper essence does not consist of Conrad’s precise authorial intentions, nor the author’s precise antecedent psychological state of mind—though Said, as we have seen, is genuinely interested in this kind of peripheral information—but the agency that precedes all of this, a concept that had been all but barred from literary criticism by the postwar New Critics: the authorial consciousness.

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———. 1945. Art and the Human Economy. The Kenyon Review 7 (4): 683–688. ———. 1952. Review: Poets and Flatworms. The Kenyon Review 14 (1): 157–162. Richards, Ivor Armstrong. 1930. Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Robbins, Bruce. 1983. Homelessness and Worldliness. Diacritics 13 (3): 69–77. Rose, Alan M. 1968. Review: Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography by Edward W. Said. Conradiana 1: 81–82. Said, Edward W. 1966. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 1975. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New  York: Columbia University Press. ———. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books. ———. 1983. Introduction: Secular Criticism. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 1–30. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus. ———. 1994. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures. London: Vintage Books. ———. 1999. Out of Place: A Memoir. London: Granta Books. ———. 2000a. The Horizon of R.P. Blackmur. In Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, ed. Edward W. Said, 246–267. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2000b. Introduction: Criticism and Exile. In Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, ed. Edward W.  Said, xi–xxxv. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2000c. Sense and Sensibility. In Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, ed. Edward W. Said, 15–23. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1946. L’Existentialisme est un humanisme. Paris: Nagel. Searle, Leroy F. 2005. New Criticism. In The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism, ed. Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman, 691–698. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Shapiro, Edward S. 1972. The Southern Agrarians, H.L. Mencken, and the Quest for Southern Identity. American Studies 13 (2): 75–92. Shklovsky, Victor. 2004. Art as Technique. In Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 15–21. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Simpson, Lewis P. 1976. The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Works. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Sprinker, Michael. 1992. Introduction. In Edward Said: A Critical Reader, ed. Michael Sprinker, 1–4. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Tanner, Tony. 1966. Conrad’s Truth. Spectator 217 (7227): 845–846. Tate, Allen. 1952. The Symbolic Imagination: A Meditation on Dante’s Three Mirrors. The Kenyon Review 14 (2): 256–277. ———. 1955a. Literature as Knowledge. In The Man of Letters in the Modern World: Selected Essays, 1928–1955, ed. Allen Tate, 34–63. New  York: Meridian Books.



———. 1955b. Tension in Poetry. In The Man of Letters in the Modern World: Selected Essays, 1928–1955, ed. Allen Tate, 64–77. New York: Meridian Books. Thompson, Ewa M. 1971. Russian Formalism and Anglo-American New Criticism: A Comparative Study. The Hague: Mouton Publishers. Tolnay, Stewart E. 2003. The African American “Great Migration” and Beyond. Annual Review of Sociology 29: 209–232. Trilling, Lionel. 1948. Art and Fortune. Partisan Review 15 (12): 1271–1292. ———. 1955. Manners, Morals, and the Novel. In The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society, ed. Lionel Trilling, 205–222. London: Secker & Warburg. Veeser, Harold. 2010. Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism. London & New York: Routledge. Vidan, Ivo. 1970. New Approaches to Conrad. Massachusetts Review XI (3): 545–563. Webster, Grant. 1979. The Republic of Letters: A History of Postwar American Literary Opinion. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Wellek, René. 1963. American Literary Scholarship. In Concepts of Criticism, ed. René Wellek and Stephen G.  Nichols, 296–315. New Haven: Yale University Press. ———. 1978. The New Criticism: Pro and Contra. Critical Inquiry 4 (4): 611–624. Wellek, René, and Austin Warren. 1949. Theory of Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. Wimsatt, William K. 1954a. Introduction. In The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, ed. William K.  Wimsatt, xi–xviii. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press. ———. 1954b. Verbal Style: Logical and Counterlogical. In The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, ed. William K. Wimsatt, 201–220. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press. ———. 1958. Comment on Harry Levin’s Review of “Literary Criticism: A Short History”. Modern Language Notes 73 (7): 557–560. Wimsatt, William K., and Monroe C. Beardsley. 1946. The Intentional Fallacy. The Sewanee Review 54 (3): 468–488. ———. 1949. The Affective Fallacy. The Sewanee Review 57 (1): 31–55. Wimsatt, William K., and Cleanth Brooks. 1957. Literary Criticism: A Short History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Beyond Formalism

1   Introduction: Johns Hopkins, 1966 From October 18 to October 21, 1966, it seemed that Paris was situated on the banks of the river Patapsco. During those 4 days in the fall of 1966, nearly all of Europe’s French-speaking intellectual vanguard gathered at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library for a four-day conference to inaugurate the university’s new Humanities Center. The participants included Roland Barthes, René Girard, Lucien Goldmann, Jacques Lacan, Serge Doubrovsky, Tzvetan Todorov, Jean Hyppolite, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Georges Poulet, and a then relatively unknown philosopher Jacques Derrida who was asked as a last-minute substitute to fill the program.1 The European guests were invited to discuss with their American colleagues their latest work on ‘structuralism’, a loose umbrella term for an array of thought that propagated a linguistic approach to the understanding of human nature, and was widely regarded as existentialism’s successor (Macksey and Donato 1972a, xvi). The 1966 Johns Hopkins conference on ‘The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man’ was a game-changer in American literary studies. The first of its kind to consider structuralism as a cross-disciplinary  The only one to be “notoriously absent” (Rabaté 2002, 38) in Baltimore was Michel Foucault, who had published Les mots et les choses (1966) earlier that year and was now fighting, so to speak, a fierce battle with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir on “the death of Man” (Eribon 1991, 273–280). 1

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phenomenon, the conference addressed multifaceted topics from anthropology, classics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, linguistics, history, comparative literature, and literary criticism. As head of the organizing committee, the director of the new Humanities Center Charles Singleton had also invited a delegation of junior American scholars. The delegation included the 30-year-old Said, who had been promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of English at Columbia University the year before, in 1965 (Macksey and Donato 2007, 324; Said 1968) and, earlier that month, had published his first book Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966), in which he precisely drew on the existential-­ phenomenological body of thought that most of the overseas visitors in Baltimore dismissed as outdated and irrelevant. In Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato’s (1972c) book that collected the presentations and recorded the discussions that followed, there are no records of Said intervening in any of the sessions. In a fit of romantic imagination we are therefore invited to imagine that, like most part of the American audience (see Macksey and Donato 1972a, xvii), he might have been too much in awe of the live performance of these European critics to engage in the discussions. As the meetings were primarily held in French, the interventions only summarily translated into English (Macksey and Donato 1972a, xvii), for Said and his American colleagues it must have been hard to tell whether they were attending an international symposium hosted on American soil or witnessing a series of pathbreaking debates on the autonomy of literature, the status of the human subject, or human agency at the Collège de France. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the famed 1966 Johns Hopkins conference made a huge impact on Said and his American colleagues, junior and senior alike. In the history of the discipline, the conference is quite often regarded as the decisive moment at which contemporary French thought made landfall in the United States and irreversible changed American literary studies (Paradis 2005, 41). The event is commonly considered to mark the watershed moment at which the ideas that would later be branded as ‘French Theory’ were successfully launched in the United States with the nearly simultaneous emergence of structuralism and, mainly due to the interventions of Derrida and de Man at the conference, its transition into poststructuralism (Birns 2014; Leitch 2010, 203; Rabaté 2002, 38–46). Well over 50 years later, it is right to say that the conference was a seminal event but we should be careful not to inflate its importance, as often happens when the conference is said to be the single defining



moment at which, all at the same time, (1) structuralism was introduced to the Anglophone world and simultaneously proclaimed dead, (2) poststructuralism began its lightning march through American literature departments, (3) Derrida gave birth to deconstruction as a critical method of reading on the final day of the conference in his paper on “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1972), and, (4) as an almost overnight result of all this, the hegemony of the New Criticism was over (Currie 2013, 3–4; Daylight 2011, 1–2; Macksey and Donato 1972b, xi–x). In fact, if we are to take some accounts of the conference at face value, then the discussions that took place during those 4 days were so important that they single-handedly caused the decline of the New Critical model of reading and inaugurated what has come to be known as ‘the golden age of theory’ of the 1970s and 1980s (Currie 2013, 3; Redfield 2016, 20–21). In that popular narrative, which is told from the perspective of the institutional rise of poststructuralism and the so-called Yale Critics2 in the mid-­ 1970s, the field of literary studies in the United States in the years leading up to the famed Johns Hopkins conference appears quite homogenous, as a monolithic bloc characterized by a universally accepted New Critical consensus. Interestingly, that narrative is shaped by its principal actors with invested interests of their own. In a retrospective essay written 5 years after the conference, critics like de Man helped create the myth that there was but little opposition to the New Criticism in the 1950s and 1960s, producing what appears to be a period of American calm (1971a, 5). In the essay on structural intention that I have discussed in Chap. 2, he writes that prior to the conference of 1966 the New Criticism was the undisputedly hegemonic methodology in American literature departments but, as I have illustrated in Chap. 2, it had evolved into a dehumanized formalist approach to literature that had effectively isolated literature from its 2  In 1975, Joseph Hillis Miller announced his membership of a new group of critics centered at Yale University which also included his colleagues Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and de Man (1975, 33). To this tetrarchy in New Haven, Hillis Miller counted Derrida, who was never a full-time scholar at Yale but heavily influenced the group from the margins. These ‘Yale Critics’—or sometimes dubbed ‘New Yale Critics’ so as to distinguish them from their New Critical predecessors Brooks, Wimsatt, Penn Warren and Wellek in the 1950s (Redfield 2016, 3–4)—significantly differed from each other and weren’t therefore seen so much as an actual group at the time (see Hartman 2004, viii), but more as a conceptual entity which became synonymous for ‘theory’ in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s (Redfield 2016, 2).



historical and human context (de Man 1971b). Elsewhere, he does acknowledge a few attempts undertaken in the 1950s by European émigré scholars working in American universities such as Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, and Georges Poulet to reopen the study of literature to history and human experience, but he feels that because these attempts were confined too much to a national field of specialization—whatever de Man may mean by that, given the distinctly transnational scope of both Auerbach’s and Spitzer’s philology—they ultimately did not pose much of a challenge to the New Critical orthodoxy (1971b, 20–21). The hegemony of the New Criticism was therefore generally left unchecked so that the formalist movement remained in splendid isolation up until 1966 (Currie 2013, 34). Now that the tidal wave of French structuralism—in de Man’s essay a synonym for Derridean deconstruction (see De Graef 2006, 41)—had reached American shores in Baltimore, it was successfully battering the hitherto unchallenged New Critical hegemony and the “long-awaited unification of European and American criticism” (de Man 1971b, 21) was finally at hand. Though de Man is right to point out the New Criticism’s mistaken rejection of the intentional structure of literary works and the consequences thereof, his view of an unchallenged New Critical orthodoxy is wrong. Mark Currie has recently challenged de Man’s assessment of the institutional situation by illustrating that his view of a calm period in American literary criticism prior to the arrival of European poststructuralism is unsupportable. In so doing, he debunks the popular myth of the New Criticism as an unchallenged methodology which was suddenly disrupted in the late 1960s by what many believed to be revolutionary ideas from Europe (Currie 2013, 34; see also Gelpi 1987, 44).3 There was no such thing as a sudden rupture between the New Criticism and the structuralist and poststructuralist theories of reading that emerged post-1966: the transition was gradual, not abrupt. De Man’s retrospection, Currie believes, is based on false memory combined with a willful revision of the past to construct an image of deconstruction as a revolutionary approach to literature—de Man frequently calls it “Gallic turbulence” (de Man 3  Mark Currie’s The Invention of Deconstruction (2013) and Marc Redfield’s Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America (2016) provide recent accounts of the impact of ‘French Theory’ in U.S. academic culture. For a French perspective on the topic, see François Cusset’s French theory: Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze et cie et les mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux Etats-Unis (2003).



1971a, 5)—and Derrida as the single most influential literary critic of the period in the United States (Currie 2013, 34–35). To create that image, de Man not only exaggerates the importance of the 1966 Johns Hopkins conference and the impact of Derrida’s paper but also “chooses not to recognize, or at least to underplay the presence of polemic and conflict in the United States either before or after the end of the New Criticism” (Currie 2013, 34). De Man’s choice to overemphasize the unity of the New Criticism in the 1960s and downplay the existence of heterodox elements in the movement may well be explained by his own institutional context in Yale, which had precisely been such a strong bastion of New Critical thought ever since Wimsatt was joined by Wellek, Brooks, and Penn Warren at the end of the 1940s. In 1970, a year before the publication of the retrospective essay that makes up his seminal Blindness and Insight (1971), de Man moved from Johns Hopkins to Yale, where he was appointed as professor in French and Comparative Literature to teach with Harold Bloom and Geoffrey Hartman in the newly founded undergraduate literature major. Hartman, who had effected de Man’s appointment at Yale (Redfield 2016, 25), writes in his autobiography that Wimsatt and his fellow New Critics controlled the English and Comparative Literature departments without much institutional opposition and that Wimsatt even had a habit of scolding faculty members who dared to stray from the orthodox New Critical theory, which he had shaped in the previous decades, for diluting the autonomy of the literary object (2007, 93–95). While this hostile coercion on behalf of the New Critics may indeed have helped support the strong New Critical consensus at Yale of which de Man speaks (Redfield 2016, 199–200, n24), Currie’s account nuances de Man’s claims and illustrates that the conference did not take place against the backdrop of a calm literary critical consensus of any kind but against the backdrop of decades of interplay between formalist and historicist approaches to literature (Currie 2013, 35–42). De Man’s distortion of the institutional situation to present the New Criticism as a monolithic bloc that had to be combatted by turbulent new ideas from Europe should therefore be read as part of his own strategy in an institutional battle over the program of the new undergraduate literature major and the literature department at Yale in which he, Bloom, and Hartman were engaged. Wellek’s retirement in 1971 and his replacement in 1972 by J. Hillis Miller, who followed de Man from Johns Hopkins, tipped the balance in favor of the deconstructionists at Yale. Bloom,



Hartman, Hillis Miller, and de Man were joined by friendship and had overlapping professional interests (Redfield 2016, 25). When Wimsatt died unexpectedly in 1974 and Brooks retired in 1975, this newly established tetrarchy in New Haven suddenly occupied considerable institutional space to arrange for Derrida to give the first of his soon to become famous annual seminars in 1975 (De Graef 2006, 40–41; Redfield 2016, 31–32), marking the deconstructionist victory over the undergraduate program and paving the way for the establishment of what has come to be known as the ‘Yale School of criticism’ and the gradual identification of Yale with deconstruction, and deconstruction with ‘theory’.4 Leaving Yale aside, a more careful examination of the influence of European thought on American literary criticism unravels a less Apollonian vision of American calm and produces what Marc Redfield, speaking in unison with Currie, calls “a diverse and multilayered picture of an intellectually fertile period” (2016, 21). Though by 1966 we may still speak of a hegemony of the New Criticism, the overall institutional situation in American literature departments was different from the one at Yale. Years of oppositional self-definition had caused the New Criticism to evolve into a critical orthodoxy that allowed its practitioners to comfortably turn inward, eschewing the vigorous debates about ‘heresies’ and ‘fallacies’ of the 1940s and 1950s and producing what Said has called a self-centered and wan approach to formalist criticism. Likewise, historicist scholars who had taken up exemplary positions in these debates, insofar as they continued to think their approach incompatible with the New Critical formalism, had signed what they might have perceived to be a white peace with their New Critical colleagues and tacitly continued to perform their conventional form of literary scholarship. But the 1950s and 1960s in the United States also saw a new generation of literary critics come to the forefront that had little interest in the earlier quarrels of historical scholarship versus formalist criticism and formally agreed that both approaches were complementary (Graff 1987, 193–194).5 Their motivation was 4  The resemblance to the institutional situation of the New Criticism in the 1950s and its authoritative weight that caused the very term ‘New Criticism’ to be synonymous to ‘criticism’ itself is striking. 5  Graff describes the institutional situation in a more vivid manner: “The senior ‘Renaissance man’ might fulminate privately about the obstreperous young ‘modernist’ in the office down the hall with his impertinent opinions about Milton and Shelley and his pretentious and incomprehensible cant about textures, structures, and objective correlatives. But his more tolerant department chairman had only to remind the old scholar that he personally need



rather practical. Driven by institutional constraints in which faculty was still appointed to teach courses organized according to the periods identified by traditional historical scholarship, postgraduates that aspired an academic career had to claim expertise in one historical period or another and were encouraged to merge elements of the New Criticism with historical interpretations, thus substantially modifying the postwar dominance of the New Criticism (Culler 1988, 13). These institutional constraints produced eclectic approaches to literature that were compromises between formalist and historicist methods without, in most cases, having both methods engage with one another and achieving some kind of meaningful, methodological synthesis. And so literary programs offered introductory courses in which students were expected to study canonical pieces of literature New Critically, as autonomous literary objects, but in a chronological order from the Middle Ages to the present. Most graduate courses, on the other hand, were heavily historicist in their approach and effectively trained experts in a certain historical period (Culler 1988, 13; Graff 1987, 193–194). Versed in both formalist and historicist approaches, literary critics of the period produced work that does not remain within the paradigm set out by the New Critics but is the product of a shifting and eclectic methodological overlay “that joins such techniques of close reading as attention to imagery with an interest in authors and literary history” (Culler 1988, 13). While certainly not all critics were able to pursue both approaches at once without losing sight of the literary work, Said was part of a generation of young American literary critics, including among others Hillis Miller and Hartman, which succeeded in developing vital new modes of literary criticism in the 1950s and 1960s by meaningfully engaging formalist criticism with historical scholarship and enriching these approaches with insights from European phenomenology and existentialism (see Hussein 2002, 27; Leitch 2010, 137). When Said gathered with his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Humanities Center in October 1966 he belonged to the reigning theoretical avant-garde in the United States that searched for alternatives to have nothing to do with the offensive young man, whose courses in any case were drawing so many students into the department that the dean might soon be ready to meet the department’s request for another medievalist. When the Renaissance man retired, his replacement was most likely somebody who had quietly assimilated the critical methods, with the offensive prejudices smoothed away” (1987, 194).



the critically exhausted New Criticism and push literary criticism in the United States beyond formalism. By the mid-1960s some of its members had found such alternatives in the existential phenomenology of Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and the phenomenological criticism of consciousness of Georges Poulet and members of the so-called Geneva group of criticism associated with him (Lentricchia 1980, 63–64). Having spent a couple of years teaching at Johns Hopkins during the 1950s, Poulet’s works in particular had already caught on in the United States and significantly transformed its literary critical landscape before American critics had even heard of Derrida’s poststructuralism (Lentricchia 1980, 65). In the year of the Johns Hopkins conference there was even an intense fascination with Poulet’s work amongst American avant-gardists and— besides the poststructuralist theories and polemics that would make their works famous in the 1970s—what links together the widely differing intellectual careers of Hartman, Hillis Miller, and even de Man with Said’s, it is that all of them, in the period leading up to that famed conference, in one way or another deeply engaged with and were intellectually formed by the work of the Belgian phenomenologist (Lentricchia 1980, 65, 159). In order to better understand the American literary critical landscape from which Said’s criticism emerged in the mid-1960s and to trace the genealogy of his conceptualizations of literature and agency, it would therefore be better for a moment to shift the dominant focus away from Derrida’s performance on the final day of the conference and direct our attention to what happened on the first day. In the afternoon of October 18, 1966, the former Johns Hopkins faculty member Poulet addressed the audience to read his paper on “Criticism and the Experience of Interiority” (1972). While the talk of the conference was all of structuralism and poststructuralism, he decided to talk about his model of criticism that was once so disruptive to the American New Criticism but for Said and his colleagues had “begun to assume the safe and comforting look of the last traditionalism” (Lentricchia 1980, 65).

2   Literature and the Experience of Interiority Much of what Poulet had to say must have already sounded familiar to Said. After all, he had studied his works, together with those of Merleau-­ Ponty and Sartre in the process of writing Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. The book is “a phenomenological exploration of Conrad’s consciousness, so that the kind of mind he had, both in its distinction and



energy, will become apparent” (Said 1966, 7–8). A quick browse through its pages reveals how much direct quotation it contains. The pages are dotted with blocks of citations or rapid successions of fragments from Conrad’s letters, autobiographical writings, and novellas, the effect of which is that Said’s language almost effortlessly flows over into Conrad’s. All of this is a consequence of the book’s phenomenological approach to literature which runs counter to the positivistic objectivism of the postwar New Criticism. To start with, phenomenological literary criticism considers the New Critical justification of the literary work of art as a unique combination of verbal subtleties, dictionary peculiarities, and rhetorical properties to be irrelevant but justifies literature as the highest and most vital mode of human expression and, consequently, its criticism as the privileged access point to study human experience (Lawall 1968, 80). A phenomenological approach to literature, then, does not involve analyzing a literary text as the autonomous linguistic object of the postwar New Criticism, which can be objectively examined according to a model of literary criticism that is close to linguistics, but as a self-contained but in no way autonomous mental universe in which a uniquely singular but universally comprehensible human experience takes shape as literature (Lawall 1968, 6–7). But to get a more precise idea of how phenomenologists conceptualize literature and what their models of reading meant for U.S. literary studies in general, and Said’s study of Conrad in particular, it might be more useful to look at the paper which Poulet delivered on the first day of that defining symposium on structuralism. When Poulet took to the stage on October 18, 1966, he was already being held in high esteem by many American literary critics who regarded him as “the contemporary European philosophical muse” (Lentricchia 1980, 65), whose approach to literature was slowly transforming the American literary critical landscape and paved the way for American critics to discover the Continental philosophies of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. Aware of his special status in the United States, Poulet appears to have specifically designed his paper for an American audience. Not only is it one of the few papers delivered in English instead of French—a result of his proficiency in English due to his previous positions at the University of Edinburgh (1928–1951) and at Johns Hopkins (1952–1957)—but it also opens with a severe critique of formalist criticism that to a generation of American academics trained in the postwar



period undoubtedly must have come across as a direct attack on the institutionalized reading practice of the New Criticism. Picture a vase, Poulet asks at the start of his talk. For him, a vase invites him to encircle it, take it up, turn it in his hands, look at it from different points of view, and inspect the decorations on its surface (Poulet 1972, 56). What intrigues him about a vase, is finding out what its interior is like “as though looking for the entrance to a secret chamber” (Poulet 1972, 57). But all vases, even the most intriguingly precious and beautifully sculpted products of skilled craftsmanship, are ultimately spatially enclosed objects with clear and distinct surfaces that deny us mental entry, no matter how much time and effort we spend looking for the entrance to a secret interior (Poulet 1972, 56–57). Vases have no true entrances, except for the mouth which only serves as a little space to put flowers in or pour wine into. They are closed and present themselves primarily as exterior objects that dispense with any interference from the mind of their onlooker (Poulet 1972, 58). The point which Poulet is getting at is that a vase doesn’t allow you to have the kind of humanistic conversation which Said has when reading Conrad’s writings. What distinguishes the phenomenon of reading from that of looking at a vase, is what Poulet calls “the experience of interiority”, the impression that at the moment you open and begin reading a book, the book as material object disappears and you are entering or, better still, recreating a mental universe that is not wholly your own. The experience of interiority is the feeling that when you are reading your mind is no longer perceiving the book as a material object in itself, “that object wholly object, that thing made of paper” (Poulet 1972, 57), nor as a collection of letters strung into words and words strung into sentences, but as something beyond matter, form, and language; as a quantity of mental images, entities, ideas, and significations that do not have a material reality but nonetheless seem to exist in your own consciousness as “interior objects” or “subjectified objects” (Poulet 1972, 58).6 While 6  Poulet remarks that the act of reading is marked by “the disappearance of the ‘object’” (1972, 57)—which is of course nonsensical and should be taken to mean figuratively, not literally (McLaughlin 2015, 43–44). In what follows, Poulet therefore backs away from asserting the actual disappearance of the book as a material object in favor of a phenomenological description of the experience of the act of reading. However, he does approach the experience of reading and the encounter of a reader with a text almost exclusively in mentalist terms by reiterating the assumption that “in order to exist as mental objects they must relinquish their existence as real objects” (Poulet 1972, 58). Thomas McLaughlin, on the other



these subjectified objects are part of your own mental world in that they are thought, articulated, and experienced by your consciousness and thus also dependent on your consciousness, you are at the same time aware that they do not originate in your own consciousness but elsewhere. According to Poulet, the experience of interiority is the moment at which a reader becomes aware that beyond the words of the literary work there is “a rational being, … a consciousness, the consciousness of another, no different from the one I automatically assume in every human being I encounter” (1972, 57). It is the feeling that the interior universe of the literary work which is constituted by language seems to take place within your own conscious mind, that your consciousness behaves as though it were the consciousness of another, and that while you are mentally pronouncing certain ideas by reading them, another subject which is alien to you has replaced the ‘I’ of your own subject and is seemingly pronouncing these ideas for you—and keeps on doing so for as long as you are involved in the act of reading (Poulet 1972, 59–60). “Reading is just that”, Poulet sums up the first part of his talk, “a way of giving way not only to a host of alien words, images, ideas, but also to the very principle which utters them and shelters them” (1972, 60). The literary criticism of Poulet and Said’s revised doctoral dissertation on Conrad are based on a tradition of ideas that goes back to the German arch-phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, who in the first four decades of the twentieth century—first at the University of Göttingen (1901–1915), later at the University of Freiburg (1916–1933)—elaborated a philosophy of science based on the fundamental principle of what he called ‘intentionality’, the realization that human consciousness is always about or directed at things, objects, situations, or events. Husserl’s concept of intentionality has little to do with the New Critical notion of intention, in which ‘intention’ is synonymous for the author’s design or purpose and, if we are to follow Wimsatt and Beardsley’s reasoning in “The Intentional Fallacy”, is often mistakenly used as an authoritative argument to settle the meaning in a poem and evaluate its aesthetic qualities (1946, 468–469, 486–487). Rather, intentionality of consciousness—from the Latin verb tendere, ‘to hand, has recently taken up a position that is closer to existential phenomenologists who revalue the role of the body. He stresses that reading is a highly physical act: “In the act of reading, there is no question—the book is not ‘nowhere’ it is right in front of my eyes. And it can only exist as a mental object if it exists as a material object, accessible to highly disciplined operations” (McLaughlin 2015, 44).



stretch’, in combination with the prefix in-, which conveys a sense of direction, ‘toward’, or location—is a universal characteristic of human behavior. It means that to be conscious of something is to stretch your mind toward or turn your attention to something. It also means that human consciousness does not passively receive an object in the empirical world but designates a dynamic encounter between object and subject in which the latter actively directs its mental energy at the former. So if you are thinking about New York City, for instance, or about the cost of living there, or about meeting someone at Times Square, for that matter, your mind is actively directed toward New York City, toward the price of renting an apartment there, or toward the meeting at Times Square (see Siewert 2016). According to Husserl’s theory of consciousness, what is present in your consciousness when you are conscious of an object is not the object itself nor a representation of the object, but the experience of the intentional act that is synonymous to your perception of that object (Holub 1995, 291). So to be even more precise, if you are thinking about New York City, the cost of living there, and the meeting at Times Square, you are actually only experiencing the intentional act that constitutes such thinking about these objects or situations. To sum up in the words of Sartre, who put it so eloquently when he first introduced Husserl’s philosophy to his French readers in 1936: the first principle of phenomenology is that “toute conscience est conscience de quelque chose” (1978, 28; his emphasis). Consciousness is always a consciousness of something. If we apply the principles of phenomenology to the study of literature, we quickly realize that literary texts cannot be regarded New Critically as things in themselves that independently exist in the exterior world outside of human consciousness, but as phenomena that are intended or actively constituted by the consciousness of the critic (Eagleton 2008, 47–48). For the Polish phenomenologist and student of Husserl, Roman Ingarden, it is beyond question that, unlike the hypostatized, autonomous linguistic objects which they are said to be according to the postwar New Critical model of reading, literary works have intentional structures—here he uses ‘intention’ as structural intention—and that they depend for their continued existence on the intentional acts of consciousness of their author and of their readers—here he refers to the phenomenological notion of intentionality (Holub 1995, 295–296). Picture a literary work. To start with, it is highly likely that the particular poem or piece of prose you are thinking of is a real object that has a determinate spatiotemporal empirical reality which constitutes the literary



work as a material object: an epic poem handwritten in iron gall ink on a scroll of papyrus, for instance, a novel printed with oily ink on paper, an e-book stored as a combination of bits on an e-reader, or a poem in squiggles on the sand washed up on the shore.7 The work you are thinking of is also an object that consists of a unique combination of real words, with an absolutely individual, intended, formal, and linguistic structure that at a precise moment in time originated in the mind of its author and was physically or electronically transferred on a medium. The author designed his or her work in this particular way and gave it this particular structural intention, which means that the literary work is dependent on the intentional acts of consciousness of its author. However, because of the principle of intentionality, we have to take into account that in the act of writing the author was involved in a dynamic encounter with the world and actively intending his or her mental energy at the words he or she was producing (and, perhaps irreflectively, at other objects as well). This means that the literary work is the product of the author’s intentionality at the moment of production. It is the objectified or embodied form not only of his or her authorial intentions, understood in the commonsensical meaning of the word, but also of his or her total consciousness at the moment of production. This makes the existence of the literary work dependent on the intentionality of the author. It is also highly likely that the particular work you are thinking of is designed to be read by a reader. According to phenomenologists, literature is not only the objectified intentionality of its author but also a means of communicating something—be it ‘the outpourings of existence’ (De Beauvoir), ‘the lived’ (Sartre), ‘Being’ (Heidegger), ‘Experience’ (Gadamer), ‘spirituality’ (Béguin), ‘obsession’ (Richard), or ‘­ consciousness’ 7  I am indebted to Steven Knapp and Walter Ben Michaels for this example. In their seminal 1982 article “Against Theory” they come up with the now famous example in which the sea seemingly recreates stanzas from a well-known poem of Wordsworth on the sand in order to argue that as long as we take something to be meaningful, it must always be the product of an intentional, conscious agent (Knapp and Michaels 1982, 727–729). According to Knapp and Michaels, we would only consider these squiggles in the sand to be meaningful if we can ascribe them to some sort of intentional agent or consciousness, such as the living sea—after we have judged the sea to possess a consciousness and thus capable of being such an agent. However, if we judge otherwise and deem the sea to be incapable of intentional agency, we would consider the marks on the sand to be accidental, nonintentional effects of the mechanical operation of the waves. Because in this second case the marks are not the product of an intentional, conscious agent, we would also consider them meaningless (Knapp and Michaels 1982, 728).



(Poulet). Phenomenologists uphold the idea that by reading a literary work the reader comes into an authentic existential contact with its author—an idea which we have already encountered in Said’s description of literary criticism as an open meeting or dialogue between critic and writer, but, as we will see, is ultimately an illusion. For now, it suffices to say that the phenomenological communis opinio is that the moment at which the literary work is read, it becomes “an intersubjective intentional object” (Ingarden 1973, 16). This entails that for its continued existence the literary work is also dependent on the intentionality of the reader at the moment of perception, whose consciousness is actively directed at the words produced by the author and through these words reactivates or reanimates, so to speak, but—and this is crucial—does not wholly duplicate the author’s originating acts of consciousness (Holub 1995, 296–297). When the reader is involved in the act of reading, he or she is thus not only experiencing the intentional act that constitutes reading the literary work—its narrative construction and formal and linguistic structure, which is supposedly the only experience that matters according to the New Criticism—but is at the same time re-experiencing the lived experience of the author at the moment of production. However, this does not imply that the meaning of a literary work is forever fixed by the author’s intentionality, just waiting to be unambiguously discovered and re-experienced by the reader. Another student of Husserl’s, Hans-Georg Gadamer, thought deeply about what happens when texts are read in a different cultural and historical moment than the one they were produced in. It led him to believe that at any given moment in time and place new meanings can be culled from a work that were perhaps never anticipated by its author nor by the audience to which the text was originally addressed (Gadamer 2004, 396). To Gadamer, this illustrates that literary understanding is situational and constrained by the cultural and historical contexts of the author and of the reader, making it impossible to study a literary text New Critically, seemingly in isolation or ‘as it is’ (Eagleton 2008, 62). Understanding is a hermeneutic process that takes place in an intersubjective dialogue during which the reader’s cultural and historical experiences, knowledge, meanings, prejudices, assumptions, and expectations, or what Gadamer calls the “horizon of the present” (2004, 304), fuses with “the historical horizon” (2004, 306) within which the text was placed by its author. The work of Gadamer illustrates that literary understanding entails a living dialogue with the literary work in which readers also bring something to the text, turning them into



co-creators of its meaning. This hermeneutic dialogue is predicated on the idea that there is no access to literary works that is outside the world, outside history, or outside one’s own horizon of understanding. Three things should be noted. First, this “fusion of horizons” (Gadamer 2004, 305) is a phenomenon of consciousness of the reader that causes the experience of interiority or the illusion that you are entering the work.8 Second, the experience of interiority itself is finite, which means that when you close the book, your mind is no longer directed at the words on the page but already involved in different intentional acts of consciousness. This illustrates that the experience of interiority described by Poulet and the subsequent encounter with a subjective power at work in the text depend on the temporality of the act of reading. In other words, you are only giving way to the consciousness of another while you are reading (Poulet 1972, 59–60). Third, the effects of the fusion of horizons linger on beyond the temporal act of reading in that the reader gathers information from the text into his or her own horizon of understanding, transforming and expanding it for a future confrontation with the historical horizon of another text. In this view, literature is a form of intuitive knowledge that causes the totality of all that can be thought about by the reader at a given cultural and historical moment to widen and the reader to reach a more complete understanding of himself or herself. At the end of his talk in Baltimore, Poulet seems to hint at this third point when he confesses that in some great works of literature the experience of interiority can be so powerful that even when you have long 8  I would like to reiterate my remark that every literary theory implicitly foregrounds its preferred literary genre that suits its methodology. Where poetry is a proxy for literature in the New Criticism, a quick browse through some seminal phenomenological texts reveals that the kind of literature that phenomenologists are concerned with could now be classified as ‘traditional’ literature from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century, written by ‘white’, ‘European’, and ‘male’ authors such as Baudelaire, Nerval, Proust, Flaubert, Henry James, Conrad, and Dickens. While some of these authors were non-canonical in their respective cultural and historical moments, their writings have now been firmly established in the canon of Western literature. Contrary to non-Western, experimental literature, or works predating modernity, these works easily allow the kind of immersive reading which phenomenology propagates and do not really complicate understanding beyond the horizon of these equally white, European, and male phenomenological literary critics. Unsurprisingly, not long after World War II Simone de Beauvoir stressed that phenomenology often takes for granted a normalized male subject (1949). Shortly thereafter, the Martiniquan psychiatrist Frantz Fanon added that in order for black people to get by in the world of phenomenology they must wear ‘white masks’ (1952).



­ nished reading the particular work, in your mind there is still a “subject fi left standing in isolation” (1972, 72). What he exactly means by this notion of what seems to be an isolated, atemporal, and ahistorical consciousness and where to find it is not wholly clear from his paper. He remains rather vague about it and in the discussion that followed the discussants unsuccessfully pressed him to clarify his thought. We might therefore do well to return to Husserl. To Husserl, the first principle of phenomenology—intentionality of consciousness—does not rule out the existence of a consciousness that is only conscious of itself. This essential, pure, transcendental form of consciousness is said to contain the universal deep structures which underpin each individual consciousness and set out the conditions of possibility for human consciousness itself.9 To practice phenomenology is to rigorously apply the intuitive method of epoché, which involves the systematic exclusion and blocking—or what phenomenologists call ‘reduction’ and ‘bracketing’—of all historical and individual presuppositions, a priori beliefs, and the existential lifeworld or environing world of the intuiting subject. In so doing, the phenomenologist can come to know the transcendental consciousness that stands in isolation from all cultural, historical, social, and existential fluctuations (Holub 1995, 291–292). It is important to note that even though the phenomenological project gradually evolved into a critique of consciousness under the impulse of Poulet and critics of the Geneva school associated with him in the 1940s and 1950s, Husserl originally conceptualized phenomenology as a descriptive science of consciousness that aims to lay bare and describe the deep structures of the transcendental consciousness underpinning the individual consciousness of the intuiting subject (Sartre 1963, 140, 1978, 16–17). Husserl’s phenomenology never aimed to be a form of empiricism that examines the precise experience of what it is what you or I feel when we are reading a particular novel. Instead, it aims to describe the universal essence of novels 9  This especially holds true for Husserl’s early publications. In his unfinished book Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (1954) and in the dozens of unpublished notes which were collected at the Husserl Archive at the University of Leuven and became known only after his death in 1937, Husserl expands on his ideas about the transcendental consciousness. Seemingly influenced by his student Martin Heidegger whose Sein und Zeit is built on the foundation that the very essence of human existence, what it means to be human, is precisely its being-in-the-world or what he called “das In-der-Welt-sein” (1967), the notions of environing world or existential lifeworld (Umwelt) come to occupy central positions in these posthumous works (Holub 1995, 292).



and the act of reading them, regardless of the individual consciousness that does the reading (Eagleton 2008, 49). However, to the French existential phenomenologists Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, Husserl’s method of epoché and his notion of a transcendental consciousness that is said to constitute the deep structures of human consciousness, are deeply problematic (Holub 1995, 292). According to them, the first principle of phenomenology—that consciousness is always a consciousness of something—complicates the absolute bracketing of all prejudices and precisely does rule out the existence of such an atemporal, pure, and isolated form of consciousness. Sartre’s philosophy is built on the realization that consciousness cannot be isolated but is always embedded within the particular, contingent situation that is the lived experience of the intuiting subject. In other words, consciousness is always a consciousness-­in-the-world (Sartre 1978, 13). Intentionality of consciousness, Sartre points out, means that your consciousness, my consciousness, or Husserl’s is always a consciousness directed at something other than itself, at an object that is transcendent or outside consciousness—even when one is conscious of being conscious (1978, 24–26). So Husserl is right in arguing that there is such a thing as a transcendental consciousness, but he is wrong in claiming that it is somehow prior to the consciousness-­in-the-world and that it constitutes the first and absolute formal structure of consciousness (Sartre 1978, 18–19). Husserl’s transcendental consciousness, or what Sartre calls the Ego, is already a spontaneously created abstract object that is the unified and individual product of the dynamic encounter between an individual consciousness-in-the-world and the chaotic lifeworld within which it is embedded. Or, more forcefully, the transcendental consciousness is a projection or a fiction even of our consciousness-in-the-world, which itself remains fundamentally existential and nonobjective (Sartre 1978, 37). Having turned Husserl’s phenomenology upside down, Sartre goes on to conclude in his famous aphoristic style that “l’Ego n’est pas propriétaire de la conscience, il en est l’objet” (1978, 77). Sartre’s critique of Husserl’s transcendental consciousness is an early formulation of one of his most famous aphorisms which he pronounced in a speech on October 29, 1945, at the Parisian Club Maintenant that was later published as L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946). There he proposes that the philosophy of existentialism is based on the premise that “l’existence précède l’essence” (Sartre 1946, 17), which is a way of saying that there is no essence prior to human existence, that there is no a priori



human nature, and that there is no such thing as an essential, transcendental consciousness underpinning each individual consciousness.10 It is also a way of saying that “toute vérité et toute action impliquent un milieu et une subjectivité humaine” (Sartre 1946, 12), that there are no truths or morals independent of human subjectivity, and that every inquiry into human life, such as philosophy and literary criticism, has to start from the point of human subjectivity. This existentialist notion of human consciousness underpins Said’s analysis in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. The authorial consciousness which Said explores in the letters and short fiction of Conrad is not some Husserlian, pure form of consciousness but a Sartrean fiction, Conrad’s Ego produced by Conrad’s consciousness-in-the-world. This realization is beyond cavil. For, if Conrad’s consciousness is actually an object of the author’s consciousness-in-the-world and not the absolute and first formal structure of the latter, then Said’s method effectively plunges man back into the world. In a crucial theoretical gesture, Said challenges the metaphysical isolation of the literary text from worldly human experience and the celebration of absolute, unconstrained, universal, and unsituated agency, which the New Criticism established by treating poems as dramatic speeches from an abstract lyrical ‘I’ that is dissociated from the concrete historical author or consciousness-in-the-world and by relating poems to other poems rather than to worldly events (see Culler 2015, 84, 119). His model reestablishes the dissociated bond between historical author and product, and posits a concrete, situated model of agency that embeds literary criticism again firmly in the world. This is one of the most important ways in which Said contributes to the much-needed transformation of the American literary critical landscape, eventually pushing literary criticism to a place beyond formalism.

10  Sartre uses this aphorism to argue that at the moment of our birth we are thrown into the world—“jeté dans le monde” (1946, 37)—and that, due to the lack of any a priori essence to our human existence, we have the total responsibility over our existence and painful freedom to fill in our subjectivity ourselves (1946, 24). This happens in an intentional process that takes place on a daily basis in our dynamic encounter with the world, through our intentional acts of improvising, responding, and adapting to the changing situations we encounter. To Sartre, it means that “l’homme existe d’abord, se rencontre, surgit dans le monde, et qu’il se définit après. L’homme, tel que le conçoit l’existentialiste, s’il n’est pas définissable, c’est qu’il n’est d’abord rien. Il ne sera qu’ensuite, et il sera tel qu’il se sera fait” (1946, 21–22).



So when he heard Poulet describe the authorial consciousness as a “subject left standing in isolation”, pointing toward a Husserlian conceptualization of the authorial consciousness as a pure form of consciousness isolated through the method of epoché, he must have disagreed. After all, how and where can we find such an isolated subject? Poulet’s concluding remarks can already put us well on our way. There he hints that “at another level” than that of the images, entities, ideas, and significations of the literary work there is “a subject which reveals itself to itself” (Poulet 1972, 72). He quickly goes on to clarify that this subject is not the author as a biographical person but the individual genius of the author or the authorial consciousness which is at once visibly present in the work and cannot be distinguished from the work in question but at the same time invisibly disengages itself from the work and stands alone, almost as a pure self in all of its Cartesian purity (Lentricchia 1980, 72; Poulet 1972, 72, 80). During the discussion he adds that the authorial consciousness is “an essence which is only accessible when you have in mind the certain totality of the works of the same author” (Poulet 1972, 77), indicating that the level at which this consciousness is to be found transcends the formal boundaries of the individual literary work and its objective structures. As Geoffrey Hartman point outs in “Beyond Formalism” (1966), an article of which the title best frames the critical concerns and aspirations of Said’s generation of U.S. literary scholars trained in the postwar period, Poulet locates the authorial consciousness at a place beyond form and consequently predicates his phenomenological method on the idea that the critic has to look “through form” in order to gain an “unusually intimate access to the writer’s mind” (1966, 553). Through form, not beyond, for, Hartman stresses that in spite of Poulet’s image of being a self-avowed anti-formalist,11 his criticism does not transcend formalism (yet) because it does not reject the principles of formalism understood as a method “of revealing the human content of art by a study of its formal properties” (1966, 542). From Hartman’s article it becomes clear that Poulet’s 11  Hartman identifies the same anti-formalist tendency in the criticism of Poulet as we have seen in Said’s treatment of Conrad, in which Said does not draw any formal distinction between Conrad’s texts and argues that every individual imagination reveals the same authorial consciousness. Likewise, the criticism of Poulet ignores “all formal distinctions, as between part and whole, or preface, novel, journalistic comment, obiter dicta” (Hartman 1966, 550–551). Moreover, part of Poulet’s antiformalism is that he makes “no distinction between Coleridge’s primary and secondary imaginations. The I AM implicit in every act of consciousness is also the I AM revealed in art” (Hartman 1966, 553).



method is to place himself in a writer’s consciousness and enter the mind of the author by looking through the objective formal structure of the work. The authorial consciousness is what really concerns Poulet, not form, as “he does not link it explicitly to the manifest form of the work of art” (Hartman 1966, 553). While Hartman, just like Said, lauds Poulet’s intimacy and devotion to the author’s mind, he ultimately finds his writings on the subject of form to be unsatisfactory. To Poulet, it “does not matter whether he enters that mind by door or window or through the chimney: he tells us what he finds inside without telling us how he got in” (Hartman 1966, 553). Poulet must have anticipated this kind of criticism from his audience in Baltimore. He therefore throws a number of potentially hostile respondents off guard by precisely showing them the way to get in. According to him, the authorial consciousness should be found beyond “the continuously changing frontiers of form” (Poulet 1972, 71) and can be accessed not in spite of these linguistic and formal barriers but precisely “thanks to the intervention of language” (Poulet 1972, 58). In what seems to be a very traditionalist idea of representation, language does not restrict access to the consciousness of the author but precisely serves as the entry point to the author’s mind and should therefore function as the starting point of a literary critical undertaking (Lentricchia 1980, 74–75). While many scholars, including Said, gathered at a conference on structuralism would get up on their hind legs by just contemplating the idea,12 Poulet describes language as a transparent medium that offers access to the pure, transcendental consciousness of the author that is stripped of all the objective forms the reader has experienced in the process of reading. This consciousness seems to be anterior to language and time and “is not entirely explained by its relationship with forms and objects within the work” (Poulet 1972, 72). It is irreducible, “no object can any longer express it; no structure can any longer define it; it is exposed in its ineffability and in its fundamental indeterminacy” (Poulet 1972, 72). Having expanded his attitude toward language, Poulet’s concluding remarks are directed at his fellow avant-gardist literary critics gathered in Baltimore. They express his 12  We could image that Derrida, for one, must have done so. A year later he published La voix et le phénomène (1967), a work that refutes precisely this transparent idea of language and the concept of a Husserlian, transcendental consciousness. The work is regarded to be a foundational work for the method of deconstruction. It includes, amongst other things, a long discussion of Husserl’s theory of signs and a critique of Poulet’s notion that language is under the final authority of an individual subject (see Said 1975, 338).



belief in a move beyond formalism that attempts to sever all ties with objectivity in literary criticism and is therefore more radical than the one we have already encountered in the works of Blackmur and Levin: “It seems then that criticism … needs to annihilate, or at least momentarily to forget, the objective elements of the work, and to elevate itself to the apprehension of a subjectivity without objectivity” (Poulet 1972, 72; my emphasis). In short, the critic must discover at the heart of the text the author as an immediately present, unmediated, irreducible, and nonobjective entity (Lawall 1968, 81; Lentricchia 1980, 73; Said 1975, 337–338). To conclude this section, I would like to briefly point out that phenomenological literary criticism shares some crucial tenets with the early phases of the New Criticism, which smoothed its reception in the United States, facilitated the harmonization of both methods in Said’s revised doctoral dissertation, and allowed him to develop a specific American model of phenomenology. Similar to the emergent New Criticism, phenomenological literary criticism does not attempt to study the author’s psychology but the unifying principle or structural intention of the literary work—the intentional consciousness that determines the work’s arrangements and solves its problems. At the same time, it subscribes to the New Critical idea that the essence of a literary work cannot be paraphrased or expressed other than by the precise form of that work (see de Man 1971c, 98). It also illustrates that while literary criticism has an objective pole in the study of the work’s structure, literary critics should not fall in the postwar New Critical trap of reifying the literary work but consider it in relation to its existential context of reception by the critic and of production by the author. This turns literary criticism into an undertaking that is both objective and highly subjective, demonstrating that “the understanding of forms must not limit itself merely to the recording of their objective aspects” (Poulet 1972, 71). In other words, literary critics should dismiss the kind of reasoning which we find in Wimsatt and Beardsley’s essays on the so-called fallacies and, through a perception of the object, strive to reach and apprehend the subjective principle that upholds and precedes it (Poulet 1972, 71). As Poulet makes clear during the discussion that followed his paper, the literary text depends on the authorial consciousness because it is the objectified form of the author’s intentionality and thus a means of preserving an author’s ideas, feelings, and consciousness at the moment of production (1972, 79). His remarks at first sight seem to be similar to the argument presented in Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy”—that the author’s intentions are clear from the



l­inguistic evidence of the text (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946, 469). The difference is that where the New Critics hypostatize the literary work into an objectivity without subjectivity, Poulet’s criticism momentarily suspends all objectivity in order to reach an absolute subjectivity, turning literary criticism into a mental act of comprehension in which the critic moves through the literary work to reach and understand the author; a move from subject through object to another subject.

3   A Worldly Criticism of Consciousness Though Said elaborates on Poulet’s conceptualization of the literary work as the embodiment of its author’s consciousness, he does not share Poulet’s views that this consciousness stands in isolation and, instead, more firmly embeds it in the world. A first crucial tenet of his phenomenological approach to Conrad is the metaphor which he uses to describe Conrad as an author hiding beneath the formal surface of his works (Said 1966, 3–4). Said consequently conceptualizes his task as a critic to make Conrad’s experience “overt and intelligible” (1966, 7) and help Conrad emerge from his works “as a significantly intellectual and spiritual reality” (1966, 8). This once more indicates that, in contrast to the formalist approach of the New Criticism that considered the formal, stylistic, and textual aspects of literary works to be the center of literary analysis, phenomenological literary criticism grasps these aspects as surface phenomena or organic parts of a deeper totalized form, a psychological whole or Gestalt of which the authorial consciousness is both the genetic origin and the unifying principle (Eagleton 2008, 51).13 Phenomenological literary criticism thus reduces literary texts to incarnations or embodiments of their author’s consciousness, which it considers to be the deeper essence of these works and therefore the focal point of literary critical analysis (Eagleton 2008, 51). It turns the literary work, as Said indicates in Beginnings, into a particular instance of consciousness thinking itself (1975, 337–338). Literary criticism, then, is decidedly no longer the 13  The authorial consciousness at the same time acts as the center or structural and organizing principle of the literary work and as the work’s genetic origin (Hartman 1966, 551). As such, phenomenological literary criticism not wholly unproblematically equates the spatial notion of ‘center’ and the temporal notion of ‘source’ and fails to account for the fact that these notions are not identical and a very productive tension may indeed develop between them (de Man 1971c, 82).



e­ lucidation and evaluation of form that it was according to the New Critics but a criticism of consciousness (see Poulet 1954, 9). Criticism of consciousness aims to describe the recurrent themes, patterns, and images of the author’s consciousness, which, as we recall, Said labels Conrad’s ‘structures of experience’ that are present in every part of the author’s oeuvre. Indeed, to study this authorial consciousness, the phenomenological critic cannot limit himself or herself to just focusing on one so-called literary masterpiece or on one genre of texts but has to analyze the entire body of texts written by the author, because all of these texts—even what at first sight appear to be insignificant writings—are seen as manifestations of the same developing authorial consciousness (Hillis Miller 1963, 475; Lawall 1968, 7). A crucial note is to be made here. If literature is defined as a manifestation of consciousness or an expression of human experience, then a great deal of texts become ‘literary’ by definition and are opened to the domain of literary criticism (Lawall 1968, 80). This translates into Said’s study of Conrad’s oeuvre in which he disregards traditional formal distinctions between fictional, pseudo-fictional, and non-fictional, as well as literary and non-literary texts in order to analyze such a large number of texts that he is able to conclude that [b]etween Conrad’s life, then, and his fiction there exists much the same relation as between the two divisions (past and present) of his life. The critic’s job is to seek out the common denominator of the two sets of relations. As Conrad’s history of his past is to his present, so his historical being as a man is to his fiction. And the only way the relation can be articulated is, as I said earlier, to identify certain dynamic movements or structures of experience (mechanisms) that emerge from the letters. (1966, 11–12)

That “common denominator” or unifying principle which enables Said to relate the (auto)biography to the literary works (and the letters), is Conrad’s authorial consciousness. This illustrates that the focal point of his analysis is not Conrad the biographical person, nor the formal (literary) work, but that which precedes and links these two together: the author’s consciousness. This consciousness is not something which is easily discovered, Said adds, but a subjectivity defined by “structures of experience … that emerge from the letters”. Apart from what I consider to be a rather naïve view about the supposedly higher degree of authenticity in non-­ fictional texts, this is in fact a textbook example of how phenomenologists



conceptualize the authorial consciousness. From Poulet’s paper in Baltimore we recall that the consciousness embodied in the text is an existential entity which, as Sarah Lawall makes clear, “is neither formal nor biographical: the ‘author’ is a literary, created ‘existent’ visible only in the evidence of the text” (1968, 7). In other words, criticism of consciousness desires just as little to be a form of biographical criticism as it wishes to study the author’s psychology or the formal aspects of literature. Instead, it aims to be a criticism of the author’s experience visible in a text and his or her active consciousness at the moment of production (Lawall 1968, 5–6). Or, in the words of Hillis Miller, who was one of the first phenomenological critics working in the United States of the 1960s, it aims to be a “consciousness of consciousness” (1963, 474).14 The second and perhaps clearest tenet of Said’s phenomenological model of criticism is the work’s opening argument that literary criticism should aim for “a particular comprehension of the written work” (1966, 7). If it wasn’t so already, it should by now have become overtly clear that because it aims to comprehend the literary text studied and the authorial consciousness it is said to embody, phenomenological literary criticism upholds the premise of an empathetic reading as opposed to an exterior judgment based on form (Lawall 1968, 8). In such a reading the phenomenological critic has to appeal more to humanistic intuition and empathetic identification with the text than to a positivistic examination and cool detachment (Lawall 1968, 80). He or she has to develop a systematically empathetic approach to the literary work that allows him or her to come as close to the text as possible and reach a certain degree of intimacy 14  Hillis Miller had joined Poulet at Johns Hopkins in 1953, where he found himself immensely inspired by the Belgian critic of consciousness. The two became close collaborators and friends. In 1959, under close supervision of Poulet, Hillis Miller published Charles Dickens: the World of his Novels (1959), a reworked version of his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard that was already quite inimical in scope to the New Criticism but now became even more so. The reworked version was also the first explicit criticism of consciousness written by an American and made Hillis Miller one of the most influential avant-gardist phenomenological critics in the United States of the 1960s, before he gradually dropped phenomenology in the 1970s in favor of the deconstructive criticism of his colleagues at Yale (Eagleton 2008, 51; Leitch 2010, 134; Lentricchia 1980, 64). Attesting to Hillis Miller’s status as the leading phenomenologist in the United States is the inclusion of a chapter on his work in Sarah Lawall’s Critics of Consciousness (1968), the first monograph to introduce Anglophone critics to the phenomenology of an otherwise exclusively European and French-speaking group of critics such as Marcel Raymond, Albert Béguin, Georges Poulet, Jean-Pierre Richard, Jean Starobinski, Jean Rousset, and Maurice Blanchot.



with the authorial consciousness. In the works of Poulet, the consciousness of the reader and, a fortiori, the consciousness of the critic have to “s’identifier avec une pensée autre que la leur” (1971c, 103). In his analyses, Poulet is so devoted to the mind of the author he wishes to explore that he pushes this empathetic approach through to such an extreme that we could label his criticism “une critique de pure identification” (1971b, 256). To reach this point of extreme intimacy, he argues that the critic should systematically recreate the experience embodied in the text so that the thoughts of the critic come to coincide with the thoughts of the author conveyed in the language of his or her texts (Hillis Miller 1963, 471–472; Poulet 1971a, 9). Or, in his own words: Comme tout le monde je crois que le but de la critique est d’arriver à une connaissance intime de la réalité critiquée. Or il me semble qu’une telle intimité n’est possible que dans la mesure où la pensée critique devient la pensée critiquée, où elle réussit à re-sentir, à repenser, à re-imaginer celle-ci de l’intérieur. Rien de moins objectif qu’un tel mouvement de l’esprit. (Poulet 1959, 10)

There is no mistaking that the reconstruction of experience is indeed a highly subjective approach to literary criticism that is diametrically opposed to the postwar New Critical ideas about objectivity and much closer to those about ‘warm reading’ professed by critics like Blackmur and Levin— remember also Said’s remarks about the similarities between Poulet’s and Blackmur’s methods when it comes to their intimacy with the text and their devotion to the author’s experience (see Said 2000, 17). There is however a crucially important difference between Blackmur and Levin’s model of literary criticism and Poulet’s criticism of consciousness, which becomes clear when I return for the last time to Poulet’s paper at Johns Hopkins. I would like to dwell for a little on his metaphor of “giving way” to the consciousness of another and how we should interpret it. As we recall, he uses that metaphor at the end of the first part of his talk to describe the feeling of interiority experienced during the phenomenon of reading. A few moments later he calls the same phenomenon a “strange displacement of myself by the work” (Poulet 1972, 62) that in the space of a few sentences turns into an “annexation of my consciousness by another” or, more forcefully, into another mind which “invades me” (Poulet 1972, 63). Compared to the metaphors of identification and coincidence above, which, to be clear, are still the dominant metaphors in



Poulet’s criticism, the metaphors of displacement, annexation, and invasion that he uses in his paper in Baltimore might strike us as rather grim and violent images to describe the act of reading. Surely such experiences hinder the reader’s empathy with the annexing consciousness and understanding of its human experience? If we think of concrete situations of displacement and annexation, one wonders how much, if any, warmth and empathy one is able to muster for an alien mind if one’s own thoughts and feelings are being invaded, displaced or annexed by that foreign mind? Do invasion and displacement not lead to hostility and active resistance on the part of the reader? Lastly, we might even raise the question that such an annexation would result in the complete depravation or loss of the reader’s own consciousness, when his or her mind is taken over by another mind that thinks for it. Judging from Poulet’s subsequent description of the act of reading and literary criticism, this is not the case (1972, 62–67). In his model the reader keeps hold of his or her consciousness and from the moment he or she becomes a prey, so to speak, to what he or she reads, the reader begins to share the use of his or her consciousness with “the conscious subject ensconced at the heart of the work” (Poulet 1972, 63). This “community of feeling” (Poulet 1972, 63) results in the reader taking the perspective of the other consciousness, identifying with it and, eventually, forming a common consciousness between himself or herself and the author. Ideally, the end result of all this is that a comprehension takes places that is to a certain extent similar to the one Said describes at the beginning of Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography in which “it is in the openness of the conscious mind that critic and writer meet to engage in the act of knowing and being aware of an experience” (1966, 7). The difference between Said’s metaphor of a meeting and Poulet’s annexation is that according to former’s description, comprehension is established in the act of meeting the author halfway; a meeting between what are in theory two equally powerful consciousnesses or conversation partners with the same amount of agency. In this respect, Said’s methodology at least in terms seems to lean more closely on the models of reading proposed by Blackmur and Levin, as well as Gadamer’s ‘fusion of horizons’, the latter of which explicitly rejects the formation of such a singular horizon (see 2004, 305). In practice, however, Said is actually much closer to the criticism of consciousness of Poulet, whose model introduces a difference in degree of agency between the authorial consciousness and that of the critic. The former takes initiative and actively annexes the critic’s consciousness by



unfolding on the foreground its thoughts and feelings—what Poulet calls the ‘subjectified objects’. The latter responds to the initiative of the authorial consciousness and more passively records what it experiences or feels when it reads. Of course, this has to be taken figuratively, because in the act of reading the reader or critic is the one to take the initiative. For Poulet, this difference in agency is the very condition of possibility for criticism of consciousness, because it causes an affective distance or temporal lag that he describes as “a schizoid distinction between what I feel and what the other feels; a confused awareness of delay, so that the work seems first to think by itself, and then to inform me what it has thought” (1972, 63). This leaves the reader surprised and makes him or her realize that “I am a consciousness astonished by an existence which is not mine, but which I experience as though it were mine” (Poulet 1972, 63). According to Poulet, this astonished consciousness is the premise of criticism. The consciousness of the critic is that of an astonished reader who suddenly becomes aware of the experience of interiority and the realization that he or she is temporarily giving way to another consciousness. Poulet stresses that because of this awareness, critics have slightly more agency than readers (1972, 66–67). He also reiterates that “critical consciousness does not necessarily imply the total disappearance of the critic’s mind in the mind to be criticized” (Poulet 1972, 63). So, to be clear, while Poulet’s model of literary criticism in theory does not preclude the idea of active agency for the critic, from the metaphors which he uses— both the metaphors of coincidence and annexation—it is clear that there is still a remarkable discrepancy in the amount of agency that his model bestows to critics and authors. The author is potent and imposing. The critic is humble and must conform to the authorial consciousness. This aspect of Poulet’s model taken over by Said is important, as the difference in agency transcends the realm of literary theory and has far wider human consequences because Poulet’s is a model that is highly authoritative and effectively robs the reader of agency in the process of creating meaning. Without any Gadamerian intersubjective dialogue in which the reader comes into an existential contact with the other to enhance himself or herself (see Hillis Miller 1963, 472), the reader is forced to completely enter into the mind of the author, whose mind is the only mind that matters and hence authoritative in settling the correct meaning of a text. This is why, as Hillis Miller has argued, “[t]he theme of intersubjectivity is rarely treated directly in Poulet’s criticism. To read one of his essays is usually to be transported into a consciousness which exists



almost as if there were no other minds in the world” (1963, 472). Contrary to the intersubjective objects of Ingarden and Gadamer, Poulet views literature as an intentional object, of which the meaning is identical with the intentionality of the author at the moment of production; with whatever mental object the author had in mind or intended at that moment (see Eagleton 2008, 58). There is only one, fixed field of meaning in a literary text, which is delineated by the intentionality of the author. As such, his model coerces readers into a position of obedience that supports the status quo and does not account for a reader from different historical, social, cultural, and geographical contexts to fail to identify with the authorial consciousness embodied in the text, in spite of all good intentions on the part of that reader to be as empathetic to the author’s experience as possible. As we shall later see, for Said, this failure of identification produces very productive readings and is the decisive moment at which postcolonial criticism—or, though Said is not attentive to this, feminist criticism— becomes possible.15 Let us return to Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, which, as I have argued, analyzes an author who is deeply embedded within a particular social and historical imperial moment but, in doing so, does not use what we would now consider to be a postcolonial methodology itself. The reason is that, in what is clearly an adoption of Poulet’s method, Said’s method is based on the principle of co-mediation and therefore does not read Conrad against the grain as postcolonial critics would later do (Achebe 1977) but takes great effort to reconstruct the author’s experience: “Just as he had to rescue his experience for the satisfaction of his consciousness, to believe that he had put down the important parts of the truth as he saw it, so also his critic has to relive that rescue, without heroism, alas, but with equal determination” (1966, 10; my emphasis). From this, we should take note that Said’s critical project is predicated on the idea that a critic has to empathetically recreate the varying steps of an author’s experience in order to fully grasp and understand his or her consciousness. Inspired by Sartre’s phenomenological theory of the emotions (1939), he 15  I am not implicitly arguing that the phenomenological method in literary criticism proposed by such critics as Gadamer is better. A flaw of this method is that it fails to account for ideology and existing power relations and does not take into account that the hermeneutic dialogue is not always conducted between equal partners, but is as often as not a monologue by the powerful to the powerless (Eagleton 2008, 64). While Poulet’s model does not account for this either, it is actually a more realistic depiction of such unequal power relations.



does add that because the reconstructed experience is secondary to the original authorial experience, a pure identification of the type that Poulet suggests is impossible—but does not draw any ‘postcolonial’ conclusions to this. I would like to add that this critical reconstruction entails some serious risks that transcend Said’s remarks about the difficulty of recreating Conrad’s experience because of the author’s “combination of evasion with a seemingly artless candor in his autobiographical pronouncements that poses intricate problems for the student of his fiction” (1966, 10–11). As Abdirahman Hussein rightly remarks, the consequence of the phenomenological method associated with Genevan criticism that Said adopts in his revised doctoral dissertation is that it requires him to show more sympathy to the author than to be critical of his views (2002, 33). While this methodological choice in itself does not preclude the possibility of what Hussein calls Said’s “radicalized critical engagement” (2002, 34) with Conrad’s thought, it might nonetheless explain why Said is indeed so devoted to identifying Conrad’s authorial intentions and understanding the author’s lived experience of imperialism—and, on the face of it, is very successful at it—but ultimately fails to identify, describe and criticize Conrad’s dehumanizing and offensive portraying of Africans in Heart of Darkness. In applying a certain theory to the study of literature, it is as if the critic is using a flashlight that allows him or her to direct its focused beam to illuminate certain aspects and parts of the literary work studied, to which other theories might not pay attention. However, because of its specific focus, the light beam cannot illuminate the entire literary work. So, a theory lights up certain aspects of a particular literary work, while inevitably leaving others obscured. As de Man has shown, critical insight always comes at the price of a certain critical blindness. Moreover, it is precisely at critics’ moments of greatest blindness with regard to their critical assumptions that they reach their greatest critical insights (de Man 1971d, 109). Said’s greatest insight is the way in which he is able to grasp Conrad’s authorial consciousness manifested in the texts; his greatest blindness are Conrad’s imperialist and racist representations. This is the price he has to pay for adopting a critical method that is designed on the premise that the critic has to co-meditate with the author instead of read against the grain. Indeed, for while Poulet occasionally, including in his paper at the Johns Hopkins conference, stresses that criticism oscillates between either a position of absolute proximity and identification with a text or one of absolute distance and non-identification (1972, 63, 66–67), the method



he generally applies doesn’t allow for too much critical distance between the mind of the critic and the mind of the author. Earlier he already resolutely rejected any objective approach to the literary work studied, for “ce qui n’est pas saisi comme sujet sera inévitablement et erronément saisi comme objet” (Poulet 1959, 11). To approach literature as an object is to dehumanize it and refute the premise of phenomenological literary theory that the literary text is the embodiment of consciousness or expression of experience (Lawall 1968, 81). According to this theory, a literary text “c’est avant tout une réalité vivante et consciente, une pensée qui se pense et qui, en se pensant, nous devient pensable, une voix qui se parle et qui, en se parlant, nous parle du dedans” (Poulet 1959, 11). The image of the literary work as a humanly created text that speaks is a dominant metaphor in phenomenological criticism (Palmer 1969, 7). It conveniently allows the phenomenological critic to draw our attention away from the words on the page and direct it to a living voice and, most importantly, beyond that voice, to the speaker that is the subject of the voice (see Lawall 1968, 81). The metaphor of the voice implies that literary criticism is a mental dialogue between at least two interlocutors and challenges the positivistic separation of subject and object installed by the postwar New Criticism, according to which a literary work should be analyzed in strict separation from a perceiving subject (the critic whose subjectivity is ruled out by the ‘affective fallacy’) or originating subject (the author’s by the ‘intentional fallacy’). The metaphor, which de Man dubs “the phenomenalization of the sign” (1996, 111), effectively reinstates the role of comprehension in literary criticism. It warns critics that if they are to determine the specificity of literature and arrive at that which makes a literary work literary (see Poulet 1954, 9), they may never grasp the literary work as an object, “car ce qui doit être atteint, c’est un sujet, c’est-­à-­dire une activité spirituelle qu’on ne peut comprendre qu’en se mettant à sa place et dans ses perspectives, bref qu’en lui faisant jouer de nouveau en nous son rôle de sujet” (Poulet 1959, 11). According to Poulet’s description of the experience of interiority, the author’s consciousness ensconced in the work has to be allowed to relive or replay its role as subject in the mind of the critic if the latter wishes to properly comprehend the former’s consciousness. He goes on to stress that any approach to literary criticism “qui ne veut ou qui ne peut atteindre à la compréhension proprement subjective dont je parle, est condamné de ce fait à ne voir et à n’exprimer que le dehors des êtres et des choses” (Poulet 1959, 11). Such an approach puts up many



objective barriers to understanding and limits itself to explaining the ‘exterior’ or ‘surface’ of the literary work in question, the outcome of which is that it ultimately fails to come to terms with the subjective consciousness in the interior of the work. Before I move on, it is imperative to know that Poulet’s “compréhension proprement subjective” or the idea that reading literature puts one into an authentic, existential contact with a subject, as Said in his treatment of Conrad also sometimes seems to hint at, is an illusion (1966, 7, 23, 25–26). To be clear, we have already seen that Said indicates that such a proper comprehension of Conrad’s consciousness is very difficult, if not impossible (1966, 10), but he nonetheless does not to go as far as to argue that it is an illusion maintained by literary criticism. This is all the more strange because in La transcendance de l’Ego, a work in which Sartre lays the foundations for his phenomenological theory of the emotions that underpins Said’s analysis of Conrad, the French philosopher argues that a consciousness can only conceive of itself as a consciousness (1978, 77). His position stems from his critique of Husserl’s transcendental consciousness in which, as we have seen, he argues that we are always conscious of an object. As a result, my consciousness cannot conceive of any other consciousness without already conceptualizing it as an object of my consciousness, hence objectifying or essentializing this consciousness and blocking my absolute comprehension of it as a subject. Je ne puis concevoir la conscience de Pierre sans en faire un objet (puisque je ne la conçois pas comme étant ma conscience). Je ne puis la concevoir parce qu’il faudrait la penser comme intériorité pure et transcendance à la fois, ce qui est impossible. Une conscience ne peut concevoir d’autre conscience qu’elle-même. (Sartre 1978, 77)

This is important, because it shows the existentialist underlying assumption in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography that phenomenology can help us identify and comprehend Conrad’s concrete authorial consciousness—his Ego—or lived experience described, objectified and essentialized in terms of ‘structures of experience’ that emerge from his writings, but it can never go further, beyond language and perception, into the sphere of brute existence to reach Conrad’s nonobjective consciousness-in-the-world. Said frequently stresses that what makes Conrad’s texts so fascinating and distinctly individual is that “he has lived what he describes” (1966, 8).



In so doing, he explicitly takes over the Sartrean notion of lived experience or “vécu” (Said 1966, 23), which in Sartre’s works becomes a synonym for ‘consciousness’ and designates a writer’s intuitive understanding of himself or herself without perhaps ever becoming fully self-conscious (Bakewell 2016, 222). Le vécu, Sartre explains, “ne désigne ni les refuges du préconscient, ni l’inconscient, ni le conscient, mais le terrain sur lequel l’individu est constamment submergé par lui-même, par ses propres richesses, et où la conscience a l’astuce de se déterminer elle-même par l’oubli” (1972, 108; my emphasis). Le vécu is never transparent or easily delineated but heavily inflated and often tricks itself by determining itself by forgetfulness. Sartre’s existentialism started as a philosophy of consciousness that over the years gradually thickened into a philosophy of experience, a characteristic he shares with Merleau-Ponty and that starkly contrasts him from Foucault’s criticism that considers experience as a surface phenomenon (Flynn 2005, 7). His conceptualization of le vécu illustrates that the experience embodied in the language of texts is never the Foucaultian product of abstract structures or impersonal forces but a concrete and personal interpretation of a historical subject’s dynamic encounter with the world and therefore a locus to study individual responsibility and agency within a particular contingent situation (Flynn 2005, 7–8). As such, the notion radically resists rational understanding and logical paraphrase but appeals to comprehension. Conrad’s vécu can only be comprehended or experienced by the critic Said,16 who seeks his refuge in applying Poulet’s method of linguistic duplication, a method according to which the language of the critic should be as much as possible in the style and the vocabulary of the author studied (Hillis Miller 1963, 471–472, 477; Poulet 1961, 178). This is why Said’s analysis of Conrad makes use of so much direct quotation, the rhetorical effect of which is that readers of Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography intuitively comprehend Conrad’s lived experience, a comprehension which is strengthened by Said’s clarifying, ordering, deepening, and prolonging of Conrad’s language so that the author’s ‘structures of experience’ emerge more clearly. In this, it becomes ever so 16  In the words of Sartre: “Ce que j’appelle le vécu, c’est précisément l’ensemble du processus dialectique de la vie psychique, un processus qui reste nécessairement opaque à lui-même car il est une constante totalisation, et une totalisation qui ne peut être conscient de ce qu’elle est. On peut être conscient, en effet, d’une totalisation extérieure, mais non d’une totalisation qui totalise également la conscience. En ce sens, le vécu est toujours susceptible de compréhension, jamais de connaissance” (1972, 111; my emphasis).



clear in what ways Said’s treatment of Conrad is indebted to Poulet’s criticism of consciousness. While Poulet’s criticism is principally aimed at the identification with the mind of an author, it also goes beyond the mimetic doubling of the authorial consciousness (Hillis Miller 1975, 479). The reason is that criticism, for Poulet, is based on two related sets of acts that distinguish it from everyday reading: clarification and ordering, and deepening and prolonging (Hillis Miller 1963, 475). By this, Poulet means that the literary critic should put his or her experience of identification with the authorial consciousness in order and clarify it to his or her readers. Driven by the critical imperative to provide evidence for an indissoluble unity in the works of the author, the critic should set passages from different works written at different periods of times side by side in order to discover “in a work before unread, the explicit expression of a connection which he had seen to be present latently” (Hillis Miller 1963, 479). The critic may then go about deepening and prolonging the language of the author, “that is, define it more precisely, and … prolong it by establishing connections and implications which the poet may never have stated explicitly” (Hillis Miller 1963, 478). This is why Said systematically relates Conrad’s letters to his fiction to establish a coherence between both categories of texts in general and individual texts in particular—think of the passage on imperialism in Heart of Darkness and the letter to Cunninghame Graham which I discussed in Chap.1. Elsewhere, Said juxtaposes novellas to illustrate that the “parallelisms between the two tales are astounding” and that when these parallelisms “are taken into account, the resulting clarifications in tone and meaning considerably strengthen the case for a psychographic and philosophic approach to Conrad” (1966, 133). In so doing, he is able to prove that what at first sight may seem to be an incoherent collection of disparate pieces of writing are all manifestations of a coherent authorial consciousness characterized by a firmness of structure: All the contents of the bubble of consciousness must be shown to be acting and reacting on one another, in reciprocal interchange. The works of an author make up a complex, three-dimensional structure, a palace of crystal filling the mind, and integrated organically in its interplay of part with part, aspect with aspect. (Hillis Miller 1963, 475)

Hillis Miller’s description above reveals that the interconnection of all parts of the authorial consciousness is dialectical, making its criticism a



temporal and sequential act of understanding. The use of dialectics by ­critics of consciousness serves two purposes, the first of which is that it is a heuristic model that conveniently defeats “the mutual exclusion of words and moments” (Hillis Miller 1963, 476), allowing the integral reading of a total oeuvre that Said advocates (1966, viii). The second is that it “is a way of presenting the complexities of the palace of crystal from all its aspects, as though a consciousness were slowly revolved, still continuing its own intrinsic movement, until finally, through time, time is transcended, and an a-temporal unity is revealed” (Hillis Miller 1963, 476). As I have illustrated in my discussion of the intentional ‘fallacy’ in Said’s book on Conrad, he does this by clarifying how the Anglo-Polish writer is involved in a continuous, intentional process of self-assertion in which his mind, through various “stages in Conrad’s developing sense of himself as a man and as a writer” (1966, vii) dialectically progresses toward a solution in the unity of “his emerging individuality” (1966, 9). Central to Said’s argument is an idea of Arthur Schopenhauer, the German pessimist philosopher and author of the seminal work Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1859) which stresses that the material world is either a meaningless and ontologically indifferent environment to human agency or a willfully created but ultimately false ‘subjective correlative’, a representation or fiction of the world in the mind of the intuiting subject that serves as a prerequisite upon which depends all intuitive understanding and experience of that world (Hussein 2002, 32).17 Schopenhauer’s pessimist humanism influenced Friedrich Nietzsche and, as Said gathers from the work of Conrad’s close friend John Galsworthy, may even have deeply impressed the Anglo-Polish author himself (1966, 102–103). Because of his affinity to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, Said believes that we should understand Conrad’s lived experience of self-assertion—which, as we recall, he calls his “struggle toward the equilibrium of character” (1966, 13)—in terms of the arch-pessimist’s principium individuationis (1966, 139). Schopenhauer’s principle of differentiation describes the developmental psychic process during which, in the fine balancing act between “either 17  For a more thorough examination of the role of Schopenhauerian philosophy in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, see Abdirahman Hussein’s Edward Said: Criticism and Society (2002, 32–48). For more on the ‘subjective correlative’, see R.  Raj Singh’s Schopenhauer: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010, 16–19). Schopenhauer’s ‘subjective correlative’ may not without good reason remind us of T.S.  Eliot’s ‘objective correlative’. For a recent study of the Schopenhauerian genealogy of Eliot’s objective correlative, see the work of Aakanksha Virkar-Yates (2015).



a surrender to chaos or a comparably frightful surrender to egoistic order” (Said 1966, 13), elements of personality and experiences of a person’s life are dialectically synthesized and integrated into an indivisible psychological whole or Gestalt that is the person’s sense of a self or individuality. Said argues that Conrad consistently reworked his experiences in his works and that this “extraordinary synthesizing process” (1966, 168) is therefore sedimented and visible in the author’s letters, autobiographical works and, most importantly, his short fiction. The culmination of Conrad’s self-­ assertion is to be found in his 1917 retrospective novella The Shadow Line, which to Said, “is a reworking of not only a single past experience, but also of the whole experience contained in the other works. Any attempt to locate his fiction within the matrix of Conrad’s inner life must see The Shadow Line as the final, searching re-examination in a long series of dramatizations” (1966, 167–168). It is important to pause with Said’s remarks that we should read The Shadow Line as the culmination of Conrad’s individuation process, because they reveal that in spite of the holistic claims of his method that all works must be seen as manifestations of the same authorial consciousness conceptualized as a firm palace of crystal, Said nonetheless singles out a particular novella, evaluates and judges that work to be a better manifestation of that authorial consciousness than other works written by the same existential writer. Such remarks are theoretically at odds with a model of criticism derived from Poulet and highlight the American air of his approach to phenomenological literary criticism that infuses a phenomenological comprehension of experience with a New Critically inspired evaluation of form. They also make clear how Said is closer to Sartre’s ideas that two or more texts written by the same existential author may nonetheless contain slightly different Ego’s dependent on the dynamic encounters between the existential author’s consciousness-in-the-world and the different worldly situations in which it found itself. They indicate how his approach to Conrad’s consciousness is evaluative and worldly; or in short, a worldly criticism of consciousness. In Said’s account the evolution of Conrad’s literary career is intricately connected to the author’s individuation process, in which change from one discernable phase to the next should be grasped within the framework of Said’s dialectical model as a succession of “dialectically created, unified gestalts of lived experience understood phenomenologically and existentially” (Hussein 2002, 49). Moreover, from the use of Schopenhauer’s philosophy to criticize Conrad’s authorial consciousness, it is once more clear



that the consciousness which Said finds embodied in the works of Conrad is decidedly not Poulet’s abstract, Husserlian, pure and isolated form of consciousness but a concrete, Sartrean Ego that is spontaneously created and intended—in the base phenomenological sense of the word—by Conrad’s consciousness-in-the-world. This interpretation adds a second and more fundamental layer to the meaning of Said’s title that well transcends the basic and more straightforward interpretation that Conrad deliberately created a rosy autobiographical image of himself as a confident author and seaman. The acknowledgment of this Sartrean intertext in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography is an argument for considering Conrad’s self-assertion or, for that matter, all formations of an individuality fictitious, regardless of how much self-conscious control someone is able to retain over this process. It illustrates that the authorial consciousness which is the focus of phenomenological literary criticism is never the authentic consciousness of the author as a historical person but an essentialized fiction created by the author’s historical consciousnesses-in-the-world. The net result of all these critical acts—linguistic duplication, clarification and ordering, deepening and prolonging—is that Conrad seemingly emerges in Said’s book to once more play the role of a conscious subject of action as an immediate presence apparently “in the process of living” (1966, 13). In this, Said resolutely rejects the dehumanizing rational discourse of the postwar New Critics but keeps hold of the humanistic and highly psychological language of paradox in literary criticism associated with the works of Empson and Brooks.18 As a work that exemplifies the method associated with Genevan criticism of consciousness, bar some important differences on what that consciousness is supposed to be and how it relates to the world in which it is embedded, it stresses that the study of literature deals with the study of personal human experiences (see Richard 1954, 13) and must therefore be rooted within the more primordial and encompassing modes of understanding that come from the critic’s being-in-the-world—indeed, a very Heideggerian or Sartrean ­conceptualization of literary criticism. Unlike this book, Said’s model of 18  Criticism of consciousness at times collapses not only the traditional distinction between literary and non-literary texts but, as a result of the duplication of the author’s language by the critic, the distinction between literature and criticism too. As Poulet poetically writes, criticism of consciousness is the purest form of criticism: “Il n’est pas de plus pure. Il n’en est pas de plus littéraire. Littérature de la littérature, conscience de la conscience. Elle correspond exactement dans le domaine de la critique à ce que Mallarmé a réalisé dans un plus haut domaine, celui de la poésie” (1954, 9).



understanding in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography does not make use of a dense theoretical framework of concepts, but uses what Veeser calls a “bluntly straightforward” apparatus criticus, “the kind of thing eighteenth-­century plain-stylists like Hugh Blair and Horne Tooke would have applauded” (2010, 27–28). Said’s model of understanding is not an objective, positivistic kind of knowing that flees away from personal existence into an unworldly theoretical realm of concepts but is a worldly, humanistic encounter with a lived experience that calls forth the critic’s own experience with his or her being-in-the-world (see Palmer 1969, 10). It subscribes to the ideas of, amongst others, Merleau-Ponty who argues that “[l]a science manipule les choses et renonce à les habiter” (2010b, 1591). Indeed, if Said remembered one lesson from the institutionalized form of New Criticism that he was taught at Princeton and Harvard, it is that critics should be aware of what he dubs the ‘imperialism of criticism’. They should take great effort not to dehumanize literature in the process of criticizing it and displace its living voice by abstract theoretical laws. I hope to have shown that Said shares with Poulet and his fellow critics of consciousness a penchant for humanism and keeps hold of the category of the subject. Like Poulet’s, his early critical practice is even founded on the imperative that the critic at all costs—even if it may cause him or her to be uncritical at times—should respect and preserve as much as possible the living voice or subjectivity of the literary work (see de Man 1971c, 100–101).19

4   Joseph Conrad and the Labyrinth of Incarnations To unravel Said’s conceptualization of agency in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography we might do well to look at his view on language which, as becomes clear in the passage that features as the opening motto to the work, he derives from the French existential phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty:

19  In September 1966, a month before he addressed the audience in Baltimore, Poulet attended a conference on contemporary French literary criticism at Cérisy-la-Salle in Normandy. In a discussion following a talk by Gérard Genette, Poulet admitted that his biggest literary critical concern was to “sauver à tout prix la subjectivité de la littérature” (Poulet cited by Genette 1967, 251).



Language surrounds each speaking subject, like an instrument with its own inertia, its own demands, constraints, and internal logic, and nevertheless remains open to the initiatives of the subject (as well as to the brute contributions of invasions, fashions, and historical events). (Merleau-Ponty’s “The Metaphysical in Man” quoted as motto by Said 1966, 2)

Though Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on language underpin Said’s entire treatment of Conrad, it is surprisingly the only time that Merleau-Ponty is explicitly mentioned throughout Said’s work. In the motto, the French philosopher posits the centrality of the human subject in thinking about language and gives voice to the same anti-scientism that we have encountered at the end of the previous section, in which he attacks positivistic models of understanding for manipulating and dehumanizing their objects of study. Here in particular, he takes aim at a determinist model of understanding in linguistics that, to him, puts too much emphasis on mechanistic explanation, causality, and sociologism at the expense of contingency and metaphysics, presenting language as a natural object and leading scholars further and further away from what Sartre calls le vécu, ‘the lived’ (Merleau-Ponty 2010c, 1336; Said 1967, 54). Merleau-Ponty was an avid reader of Husserl.20 His conceptualization of language creatively combines Husserl’s later philosophy with the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, a combination which, in Said’s assessment, makes him a trailblazer for the structuralist movement in France (1967, 65). A longtime friend of Sartre’s with whom he co-founded the influential existentialist journal Les Temps Modernes, Merleau-Ponty shares Sartre’s focus on situated thought and action, the precedence of existence over essence, and the primacy of subjectivity in all inquiries into human life. Originally published in 1947, his conceptualization of language echoes Sartre’s seminal postwar speech L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946), in that it concerns itself with concrete situations, rejects 20  At the eve of World War II, Husserl’s unfinished works and unpublished notes were smuggled outside of Germany, where they were in danger of destruction by the Nazis because Husserl was born in a Jewish family, and brought for safekeeping to the University of Leuven. In 1939, Merleau-Ponty was one of the first to travel to the Husserl Archive in Leuven to study these notes. He found himself deeply impressed by Husserl’s unedited writings on the Umwelt or ‘environing world’ (Holub 1995, 292–293), which he considered to be Husserl’s most important contributions to philosophy and on which he consequently built his seminal work Phénoménologie de la perception (1945). For a sweeping account of the transfer of Husserl’s writings from Freiburg to Leuven, see Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails (2016, 125–130).



determinism while keeping a sense of determinacy (see Sartre 1943, 561–564), and revalues the role of contingency and metaphysics in thinking about language because “nous apercevons indissolublement la subjectivité radicale de toute notre expérience et sa valeur de vérité” (Merleau-Ponty 2010c, 1343).21 Though his terminology at times has a very lofty air, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is actually very down to earth and, similar to Sartre’s consciousness-­in-the-world, describes human consciousness in very mundane terms as an “être-au-monde” (1945, 491). Likewise, language is an unmistakable part of the world. It is not some inert fact of nature but something which is constantly lived, experienced, and modified by a speaking subject who, in the motto to Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, is put right at the center of the existential lifeworld, the culture or situation within which its consciousness is embedded. There, at the heart of its lifeworld, the speaking subject finds itself surrounded by a series of concentric circles of human expression that correspond to each other and to language (Said 1967, 66). Language—particularly the creative language of literature—gives to that lifeworld or environing world22 a certain semantic thickness or density of meaning to human experience, “c-est-à-dire le pouvoir, propre au langage, de signifier, comme geste, accent, voix, modulation d’existence au-delà de ce qu’il signifie partie par partie selon les conventions en vigueur” (Merleau-Ponty 2010a, 1388). To grasp Said’s understanding of the work of Merleau-Ponty it is important to highlight and pause over the word geste, the French equivalent of the English word ‘gesture’. In “Labyrinth of Incarnations: the Essays of Maurice Merleau-Ponty” (1967), a long review article published a year after his book on Conrad, Said draws parallels between Merleau-­ Ponty’s conceptualization of language and R.P. Blackmur’s notion of ‘gesture’ (1967, 60). ‘Gesture’, we recall, is central to Blackmur’s thinking about literature and designates the meaningfulness of words that cannot simply be expressed by their denotative or referential function. ‘Gesture’ 21  Compare with Sartre’s argument that “nous entendons par existentialisme une doctrine qui rend la vie humaine possible et qui, par ailleurs, déclare que toute vérité et toute action impliquent un milieu et une subjectivité humaine” (1946, 12). 22  Merleau-Ponty borrows the term from Husserl’s unedited notes that are stored at the archives in Leuven, where this existential lifeworld is more aptly called the Umwelt (Beyer 2016; Said 1967, 63). The German prefix um- is used to denote a circular motion, ‘around’ or ‘about’, and in combination with the noun Welt comes to denote a ‘surrounding world’ or literally an ‘around-world’.



is that which is directly apprehended or felt by users of the language, the affective dimension or semantic thickness of language that makes readers feel—in the literal sense of the word—that they are reading a complex human expression. Likewise, Merleau-Ponty writes that in the act of reading “les mots ne viennent pas toujours toucher en moi des significations déjà présentes. Ils ont le pouvoir extraordinaire de m’attirer hors de mes pensées, ils pratiquent dans mon univers privé des fissures par où d’autres pensées font irruption” (2010a, 1388–1389). Creative language gives a certain thickness, sensibility or flesh even to the “univers d’idées” (Merleau-Ponty 2010d, 1774) that is expressed in the literary work. This thickness is not some literary embellishment but a necessity, Merleau-­ Ponty believes, because it makes these ideas accessible to our understanding which happens as much with our senses as with our minds. It also causes a feeling of existential contact with the sensibility of another, almost as if the reader is touching the author, which makes the act of reading an experience of intersubjectivity or, according to Merleau-Ponty, an experience of intercorporeality (2010d, 1774–1775). Reading literature therefore gives him a unique bodily pleasure that derives from the almost carnal experience of contact with the incarnated thoughts of another reanimated in the act of reading. “Society, then”, Said notes, is a collection of incarnated thought and becomes a true labyrinth of incarnations … the richness of which it is possible to suggest in written language. A ‘labyrinth’ because of a complexity that has no discernible end or beginning, and an ‘incarnation’ because implicit gestural language and outward expression are inseparable, united as man himself is in an indissoluble bond between body and soul. (1967, 67)

In Merleau-Ponty’s view, culture is a man-made environing world of meaningful entities or a labyrinth of incarnations that, according to the motto, “surrounds each speaking subject” but “nevertheless remains open to the initiatives of the subject”. The speaking subject is thus a conscious, intentional and free agent or subject of action that uses language as an instrument to bring about change in its environing world, add to its meaningfulness, and shape discourse. Though language is instrumentalized in this view, it does not mean that language is a completely malleable instrument to be shaped by the speaking subjects as he or she pleases. Language is shared with other speaking subjects, who all possess their own intentional consciousnesses, and as such remains an intersubjective ­phenomenon,



“an instrument with its own inertia, its own demands, constraints, and internal logic”. Though language is open to the intentional acts of individual speaking subjects, there is always a surplus of meaning that is beyond the individual’s control, because language is equally susceptible “to the brute contributions of invasions, fashions, and historical events”, to the brute facts of existence or obstacles that on the face of it limit the speaking subject’s agency but are actually the conditions of possibility to talk about such agency in the first place—“sans obstacle, pas de liberté” (Sartre 1943, 564).23 This makes it clear that linguistic expressions also always express something other than what its author consciously or, to be more precise, reflective-consciously intended: next to the intentional acts of the author they contain parts of the environing world within which the consciousness of the author is embedded. Moreover, it illustrates that the environing world is both a place of free, human interaction and at the same time exerts a force of determinacy on each speaking subject, motivating the subject to interact with the world and with other speaking subjects in it (see Husserl 1989, 234). Culture thus sets out the conditions of possibility for all human thought and action. In Phénoménologie de la perception (1945), a work that gave Merleau-­ Ponty prominence as the leading French existential phenomenologist of his generation, the argument that I have just outlined is discussed under the conceptual banner of perception. Merleau-Ponty’s focus on perception is a way of stressing that human existence is always situated within worldly situations and of studying the immanent meanings embedded in human, lived reality, as opposed to discussing abstract, universal, and ‘unsituated’ theory (Said 1967, 54–56). Said sums up the French existential phenomenologist’s position in a passage that reveals the crucial influence of Merleau-Ponty on his elaboration of ‘worldliness’ in publications to come (McCarthy 2013, 75): Merleau-Ponty’s central philosophical position, insofar as one can be articulated for him, is that we are in and of the world before we can think about it. Perception, to which he devoted his major philosophical labors, is a 23  This is the so-called existentialist ‘paradox of freedom’, according to which human freedom is what it is on account of its limits, not despite them. Or, in the words of Sartre, “il n’y a de liberté qu’en situation et il n’y a de situation que par la liberté. La réalité-humaine rencontre partout des résistances et des obstacles qu’elles n’a pas créés; mais ces résistances et ces obstacles n’ont de sens que dans et par le libre choix que la réalité-humaine est” (Sartre 1943, 469–470).



c­ rucial but complex process that reasserts our connection with the world and thereby provides the basis for all our thought and meaning-given activity. (1967, 57)

All of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical endeavors to a certain extent revolve around language. They show how perception is the starting point for all meaning and truth and how language is crucial to this process. His argument is that the brute facts of existence come to us as a chaotic whole and overwhelm us. To come to terms with this utterly chaotic and meaningless existence, the basic human coping mechanism is to give meaning to it by discerning or perceptually creating Gestalts, meaningful wholes against a background (Said 1967, 58). According to Said, Merleau-Ponty’s most important contribution to philosophy and literary criticism is this more realistic reworking of Sartre’s often-quoted aphorism that we are condemned to freedom (see Sartre 1943, 565). The work of Merleau-Ponty illustrates that we are condemned to meaning; in all its aspects, our life is our way of giving meaning to the brute fact of existence… Merleau-Ponty speaks of the world’s prose, by which he does not mean that we are a tabula rasa on which the world writes, but that we express the world, its sense and non-­ sense, what is visible and what we experience even if it is invisible—for expression and gesture are the basic human prerogatives. (Said 1967, 60)

This process of meaning-giving is ‘perception’, a concept which Merleau-­ Ponty uses to designate “cette communication vitale avec le monde qui nous le rend présent comme lieu familier de notre vie” (1945, 64–65). By this he means that we constantly invest our lived reality with meanings and values that essentially refer to our own bodies and our sense of ourselves; to make sense of the unfamiliar environing world, we constantly reinterpret it in relation to the familiar. The environing world in which we are embedded is not some abstract world of thought, but a visceral world that we communicate with, inhabit and understand as much with our body as with our mind: “Le monde est non pas ce que je pense, mais ce que je vis, je suis ouvert au monde, je communique indubitablement avec lui” (Merleau-Ponty 1945, xi–xii; Said 1967, 61). The result is that all meaningfulness of the environing world presents itself to the individual speaking subject in egocentric aspects, as if that subject’s mind and body were truly the center of the labyrinth of incarnations or the universe which these meaningful entities orbit in concentric circles, despite that these



entities precisely derive their meaningfulness from their shared intersubjective use (Said 1967, 63). The natural tendency of perception and the intended meanings and values that come with it is to cover their tracks, so to speak, and gain a certain amount of naturalness about them (Toadvine 2016). This leads to a point where they gradually install themselves as truths, prejudices and unquestionable beliefs about the world, the result of which is that the subjectively lived reality is increasingly perceived as an objective reality that becomes taken for granted and estranges the subject from its original lived experience. To Merleau-Ponty, it is therefore the task of the philosopher to apply the phenomenological method to “revenir au monde vécu en deça du monde objectif” (1945, 69), or, as Said sees it, “to rediscover experience at the ‘naïve’ level of its origin, beneath and before the sophisticated encroachments of science” (Said 1967, 57). To do so, we must study the principal mode of expression of human experience which is language in use or what Said in his revised doctoral dissertation calls “the idiom of Conrad’s rendering of his experience” (1966, 7). By ‘idiom’ Said refers to the words and images that Conrad uses to express and give meaning to his lived experience as well as the vocabulary and rhetoric of his mind’s engagement in partnership with existence (1966, 9). The idiom provides Said with evidence of what Conrad’s consciousness was conscious of, his perception of his environing world or, in other words, the author’s perceptual creation of Gestalts. This leads us back to the motto of Said’s revised doctoral dissertation, a passage that is also cited in the article devoted to Merleau-Ponty a year later: [Language] must surround each speaking subject, like an instrument with its own inertia, its own demands, constraints, and internal logic, and must nevertheless remain open to the initiatives of the subject (as well as to the brute contributions of invasions, fashions, and historical events), always capable of the displacement of meanings, the ambiguities, and the functional substitutions which give this logic its lurching gait. Perhaps the notion of Gestalt, or structure, would here perform the same service it did for psychology, since both cases involve ensembles which are not the pure manifestations of a directive consciousness, which are not explicitly aware of their own principles, and which nevertheless can and should be studied by proceeding from the whole to the parts. (Merleau-Ponty’s “The Metaphysical in Man” cited by Said 1967, 65)

There are a few crucial differences between this version of the citation and the version that serves as the motto to Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of



Autobiography. The addition of the verb ‘must’ in the first sentence makes this version more peremptory in tone but, more importantly, this time the citation is not broken off after the parenthesis but extended and quoted in full, including the crucial second sentence (compare with Merleau-Ponty 2010c, 1337). But let us begin with the sentence with which to a certain extent we are already familiar. The added part of the sentence after the parenthesis makes it clear that language, to Merleau-Ponty and to Said, is more ambiguous and unstable than in the previous version and could well be an addition in response to Poulet’s talk in Baltimore a couple of months earlier, in which he presented language as a stable and transparent medium that gives access to some pure consciousness. By quoting Merleau-Ponty’s sentence in full, Said stresses more clearly than in his revised doctoral dissertation that even though language is open to the initiatives of the individual speaking subject, it is very hard to see such a transparent, direct and causal relationship between a linguistic utterance and the mind of the subject from which it originated. From de Saussure’s linguistic model, Merleau-Ponty adopts the idea that language is diacritical and has its own logic and rules (Said 1967, 65). A sign does not directly refer to objects but marks a divergence of meaning between itself and other signs. The relation between Conrad’s lived experience and his idiom to express it is therefore indirect. Moreover the citation makes it clear that both the initiatives of the speaking subject and the invasions of the brute facts of existence can influence language and cause “the displacement of meanings”. As such, language throws us off of reaching the pure directive consciousness of the speaking subject but leads us somewhere else, as the second sentence that marks the clearest and most important difference between both versions of the citation indicates. From this sentence, we gather that language leads to a Gestalt or structure of experience that is not the pure manifestation of a directive consciousness but an ensemble that also includes references to the environing world or culture within which the directive consciousness of the speaker is embedded. Said then goes on to clarify that “each individual’s own idiom is an indirect language that does not refer to objects but to a complex structure … which is the total lived and organized reality of whoever uses the language” (1967, 65). All of this makes clear that the study of literature in the work of Merleau-­ Ponty and of Said is both the study of the embodied authorial consciousnesses that has taken shape in (literary) texts, and the study of the semiology of a given culture (1967, 65–67). Said’s analysis therefore shows how



Conrad’s own emotional and philosophical problems are related to the problems afflicting many Europeans at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century and the period leading up to, during and after World War I.  This dual focus is clearest when Said analyzes Conrad’s wartime writings, in which he illustrates how “Conrad’s first few letters from England after his trying journey from the Continent reveal him to be gravely troubled by the seriousness of the war” (1967, 67). He argues that “the paralyzed anxiety that seemed to enslave the minds of noncombatants in the war” can be readily observed in Conrad’s idiom and is reflected in the author’s “habitual vocabulary of extreme irreality—nightmares, ghosts” (Said 1966, 67). Conrad’s lived experience is clearly determined by his cultural context and though “[h]is experience, as both man and writer, is unique in English literature” (Said 1966, 196), he is nonetheless a creature of his time and place. His greatest achievement, Said concludes the work, “is that he ordered the chaos of his existence into a highly patterned art that accurately reflected and controlled the realities with which it dealt” (Said 1966, 196); a lived reality that is organized to such an extent that Said is able to discern significant structural homologies between Conrad’s cultural context and his own, idiosyncratic dynamic structures of experience. In words that refer to Merleau-Ponty, this structural homology illustrates how the events of the Great War should be seen as a “public incarnation of his private struggles” (Said 1966, 196; my emphasis) and that Conrad’s texts are to be located in the labyrinth of incarnations that make up his culture.

5   Agency and Criticism: A Serious Comedy How does one act within a labyrinth of incarnations? How does one change its constellation or move in it? In other words, what is the concept of agency that informs Said’s book on Conrad? To answer these questions, we would do well to look at the book’s critical engagement with Sartre’s phenomenological theory of the emotions. Sartre originally outlined his theory of the emotions in a short essay published on the eve of World War II (1939). In the course of a year he would rework, expand and systematize this outline into a phenomenological psychology of the imagination in L’Imaginaire (1940), a book which 3 years later would in its turn provide the basis for his well-known existentialist philosophy L’Être et le néant (1943). As such, Sartre’s theory of the emotions forms the basis for his



existentialist, secular humanism that defines human existence as a condition of fundamental freedom (1943, 559). The painful consequence of this condition of freedom to which we are condemned is that we are completely responsible for our own existence and the world of which we are inescapably a part (Sartre 1943, 639). A product of the discourse of the crisis of man, Sartre’s existentialism safeguards the autonomy of choice and individual responsibility by advocating a theory of human agency in which all actions are defined as the choices of individual consciousnesses and thus intentional choices (1943, 508). As a result, the principle of intentionality of consciousness is not only the grounding principle of human existence but also that of human agency, which means that being is equaled to acting and that we only stop acting when we stop being—“cesser d’agir, c’est cesser d’être” (Sartre 1943, 556). There is, in short, no escaping our individual agency nor our obligation to choose (Sartre 1943, 561). That is the ethical imperative tied to this conceptualization of agency. As we examine the applicability of Sartre’s theory of the emotions from a seemingly trivial encounter with a bunch of grapes to the analysis of imperialist conquest in Conrad’s writings, we will begin to see how Said’s is an empowering view of agency that emphasizes the possibility of human activity in the face of impassive systems of thought like imperialism and Orientalism. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography is committed to a secular humanistic project that safeguards the authority, choice, and freedom of individuals and posits the ethical imperative to not only reexamine but also criticize and resist such impassive systems of thought. Indeed, Said’s engagement with Sartre and Merleau-Ponty leads him to advocate an ethics of responsibility in which worldly constraints do not dismiss individuals of their responsibility for the process of perception or meaning-giving to a particular situation in their lifeworld.24 The rationale for Said’s ethics lies in his empathetic identification with Conrad.

24  In L’Être et le néant Sartre argues that even when the possibility of physical interaction with the world seems inexistent, individuals always have the freedom of intentionality which is a psychological form of action: “Ainsi ne dirons-nous pas qu’un captif est toujours libre de sortir de prison, ce qui serait absurde, ni non plus qu’il est toujours libre de souhaiter l’élargissement, ce qui serait un lapalissade sans portée, mais qu’il est toujours libre de chercher à s’évader (ou à se faire libérer) – c’est-à-dire que quelle que soit sa condition, il peut pro-jeter son évasion et s’apprendre à lui-même la valeur de son projet par un début d’action” (1943, 564). Sartre’s model of agency collapses the distinction between intention and action.



Just as it is in the oeuvre of Merleau-Ponty, language is an important theme in Conrad’s. In what seems to be a trademark of his method, Said backs his claims again by a reference to Conrad’s correspondence—this time to a letter which Conrad addressed to Hugh Clifford on October 9, 1899: Words, groups of words, words standing alone, are symbols of life, have the power in their sound or their aspect to present the very thing you wish to hold up before the mental vision of your readers. The things ‘as they are’ exist in words; therefore words should be handled with care lest the picture, the image of truth abiding in facts, should become distorted—or blurred. (Conrad cited by Said 1966, 96)

The letter illustrates a rather truculent and naïve belief in the direct referential function of language, which at other times in Conrad’s oeuvre is alternated with a radical skepticism and distrust of “the falsifying powers of what he once called ‘the crafty tracery of words’” (Said 1966, 96). By comparing the letter to passages from Conrad’s fiction, Said illustrates that the Anglo-Polish author fictionalized his authorial experience and critical attitude about language in Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim (1966, 87–119). The narratives of both novellas are presented by the same fictional narrator Charles Marlow and dramatize the problematic relation between the past and present. Traumatic events that have taken place in the past require illumination in the present, where varying degrees of obscurity, difficulty, and loneliness linger on. In both novellas the past and present are brought together in a long extended narrative moment where former thoughtless impulses are exposed to reflection in the present: the search upstream for Kurtz and the haunting experience of imperialism in the Congo Basin in Heart of Darkness, and the abandonment of a ship in distress on the Red Sea by its crew, including the young seaman Jim, in Lord Jim (Said 1966, 93, 99). According to Said, Conrad’s method of narrative presentation in the novellas is an autobiographically inspired therapeutic attempt to bring the past in causal relationship with the present in order “to rescue meaning for the present out of the obscure past” (1966, 99). However, the establishment of such a relationship, to see past and present as a continuous line of causally interrelated events, is unremittingly frustrated: “Marlow, who wants his friends to see the outside and not the inner kernel of events … becomes quite invisible to his audience while, at the same time, the story



he tells becomes increasingly obscure. Both story and teller seem to recede into an almost transcendent heart of darkness” (Said 1966, 95). What Said calls “the central and gripping paradox of Conrad’s method” (1966, 95) is that his attempts to comprehend a present situation by finding a causal relation with situations in the past fail. Likewise, all of Conrad’s attempts to explain impulsive and hence obscure events in the past through a clear and reflective description in the present lead one further away from explanation into the dark and chaotic events themselves. The problem, Said believes, is that language always falls short and fails to fully describe the action. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception teaches us that language has a habit of falsifying and ordering a reality that resists such order. It fictionalizes by putting a shiny varnish on something chaotic, bleak, and dark. According to Said, Conrad’s fictional works reveal a similarly radical attitude toward language as a “fraudulent machinery of social camouflage” (1966, 99). And yet despite his critique, Conrad knew very well that it is the basic human condition to look for meaning—according to Said’s interpretation of Merleau-Ponty, we are even condemned to meaning— and so, like his character Jim who tries to explain to Marlow why he abandoned the steamer Patna and its passengers, he realized that we have “no choice but to employ words” (Said 1966, 96). Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim exemplify what Said believes to be the core idea of Conrad’s fiction: that retrospection takes place after the action but often to no avail as “the action becomes even more foreign and inscrutable to the harried mind” (1966, 87). The retrospective mode of Conrad’s narrative method is a sign of the author’s immense insights into activity, perception, and truth, which gave him what Said calls an “admirably unerring command of conscious human psychology” (1966, 100). To point up Conrad’s insights, Said draws an analogy between the author’s narrative method and Sartre’s outline for a phenomenological theory of the emotions. The establishment of the analogy illustrates Said’s critical engagement with Conrad’s oeuvre (Hussein 2002, 34), an engagement that, as I indicated, is perhaps made difficult but certainly not precluded by his empathetic model of criticism of consciousness. The analogy is twofold. The first part concerns their shared views on the nature of understanding. Based on the phenomenology of Husserl, Sartre’s theory of the emotions is set on comprehending consciousness. It consequently rejects the hierarchy that is prevalent in psychoanalysis, according to which the study of the unconsciousness is deemed to yield



more important insights in conscious human behavior because the unconsciousness is said ultimately to determine consciousness, in favor of an approach to psychology in which emotions are seen as phenomena of consciousness and studied as signifiers of which the signified is to be found in the structures of consciousness itself (Sartre 1939, 36–37). To study emotions phenomenologically, then, is to grasp them not as byproducts of existence but as immediate and spontaneous ways in which consciousness apprehends or perceives the world in which it is embedded (Sartre 1939, 12). “L’émotion n’est pas un accident”, Sartre explains, “c’est un mode d’existence de la conscience, une des façons dont elle comprend (au sens heideggerien de ‘Verstehen’) son ‘Être-dans-le-monde’” (1939, 62). So rather than studying emotions as passive facts, Sartre studies them as organized forms of human existence that actively express a person’s total lived reality—similar to the phenomenological study of Gestalts (1939, 16–17). The psychology which Sartre envisions consequently entails an examination of emotions as phenomena in themselves, of which the comprehension ultimately leads to a more complete comprehension of our own being-in-the-world. This is unlike psychoanalysis, which studies emotions as passive results of an active unconsciousness. It thereby cuts off the signifier from the signified and sets up an external, causal relation between a present effect (conscious behavior/emotion) and a past cause (unconscious motif for this behavior/emotion), and thus ends up studying something wholly other than emotions (Sartre 1939, 35). Conrad’s choice of narrative method illustrates how the establishment of a determining relation between a past cause and a present effect is hypothetical at best and often frustrates a particular comprehension of the present. And while the determination of the consciousness by the unconsciousness is not at issue in Sartre’s theory of the emotions, he does make clear that we cannot comprehend and explain at the same time, because “[c]’est la contradiction profonde de toute psychanalyse que de présenter à la fois un lien de causalité et un lien de compréhension entre les phénomènes qu’elle étudie. Ces deux types de liaison sont incompatible” (1939, 37). A phenomenological psychology that is aimed at comprehension and affirms the signifying character of emotions must find the signified in the consciousness itself or end up falling in the determinist trap of psychoanalysis (Sartre 1939, 37). Likewise, an approach to literary criticism that hopes to gain critical insight into a particular literary work must distinguish between a causal and a comprehensive model, keeping in mind that, as Said explains, “an



analysis of a hypothetical cause does not logically make the effect comprehensible” (1966, 7).25 The second part of the analogy is between Conrad’s narrative method and a phase in Sartre’s theory of the emotions. According to Said, the characters in Conrad’s novellas often act first and reflect afterward (1966, 95). This becomes clear when he puts a letter next to it which Conrad wrote around the time he was working on Heart of Darkness: ‘Men,’ Conrad wrote … on March 17, 1900, ‘often act first and reflect afterwards’. The implications of this simple remark take us directly into the rich and confusing world of Conrad’s short fiction. There, action of any sort is either performed or witnessed without accompanying reflection or interpretation, as if the overriding and immediate sensation of action done to, by, or in front of one crowds out the informing work of the reason. (Said 1966, 87)

Conrad’s remark and Said’s interpretation of that remark tie in with the phase which Sartre elaborates. It starts with an objective reality, which is whatever feels should be grasped as an object by an intentional consciousness but, as we recall from Merleau-Ponty’s description of human perception, is actually too difficult to grasp as it is (Said 1966, 100). In Sartre’s example, which is written from a first-person-singular point of view, the objective reality is a bunch of high-hanging grapes that present themselves in my intentional consciousness as ripe and having to be picked (1939, 44–45). An action follows: I extend my hand in order to pick the grapes but I fail because the vine is beyond my reach. My failure to reach the grapes causes what Sartre describes as an unbearable tension in my consciousness between my initial intention or potentiality to pick and eat the grapes and the objective reality of the grapes that are unreachable and thus unable to be picked. The sensation of the unbearable tension becomes an impulse for me to irreflectively impose a new quality on the bunch of 25  We have already encountered the lines following this citation during my discussion of the affective fallacy in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and Said’s stance on the ‘imperialism of criticism’ related to it. The particular Sartrean intertext of this passage offers a more precise reading of Said’s remarks that “the critical act is first of all an act of comprehension: a particular comprehension of the written work, and not of its origins in a general theory of the unconscious” (1966, 7; my emphasis). As Said indicates in the work’s preface, the goal of his reading of Conrad that is set on comprehending consciousness is precisely to “balance the current view of him as a writer of ‘mythic’ or ‘unconscious’ fiction” (1966, ix).



grapes that would resolve or reduce the inner conflict. Like in the world of Conrad’s short fiction, the immediate sensation of the tension and the impulse to solve it override any accompanying reflection: because I am unable to physically act on the grapes, “[j]e hausse les épaules, je laisse retomber ma main, je murmure ‘il sont trop verts’ et je m’éloigne” (Sartre 1939, 45). By analogy with Conrad’s narrative method, Sartre’s theory of the emotions illustrates that when we find a situation to be intolerable or unsettling, we experience an unbearable mental tension which exerts pressures on us to change the way in which we apprehend or perceive that situation. Sartre argues that through emotions we change the world by misrepresenting it, as we irreflectively impose a new quality on an objective reality—the grapes have become green—without physically changing that reality—the grapes are as ripe as they were before (1939, 45). At the end of my encounter with the grapes, the objective reality has not changed but my perception of that reality has (Sartre 1939, 43). I have given a new meaning to a situation in my lifeworld. This underlines his main claim that emotions are a way of apprehending the world so as to resolve or reduce inner conflicts and to absolve us of our responsibilities to either find new ways to physically change the world or to face the truth (Weberman 1996, 393). Indeed, Sartre acknowledges that though we apprehend the world through emotions, this apprehension stems from a misrepresentation of reality and is therefore ultimately fictional (Weberman 1996, 396). And yet we experience our emotions not as fictions but as veridic representations of the world, because, “dans l’émotion, c’est le corps qui, dirigé par la conscience, change ses rapports au monde pour que le monde change ses qualités. Si l’émotion est un jeu c’est un jeu auquel nous croyons” (Sartre 1939, 44). Speaking in unison with Merleau-Ponty whose philosophical elaboration of perception highlights the important role of our body in our comprehension of the world (Mazis 1983, 191–195), Sartre’s remarks imply that our apprehension of the world is as much determined by our body as our mind; as much by what we feel as by what we think. They make clear that emotions are constitutive of our perception of the world, as we constantly invest ourselves, our environment, and others with meanings and values that refer to our own affective experiences (Elpidorou 2017, 242). As I walk away from the grapes with an air of unconcern I have taken refuge from an unbearable situation in my belief that the grapes were green from the very beginning, lest I would experience that same unbearable tension anew. To resolve or



reduce the inner conflict, I choose to give in to these pressures to act, irreflectively manipulate my perception, and perform what Sartre calls a little “comédie” (1939, 45) in which I choose to believe. As his use of direct speech “ils sont trop verts” to describe the way in which I persuade myself of the veracity of this ‘comedy of perception’ suggests, we find ourselves in line again with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and its stress on the importance of gestural or performative language in perceptual experience and the establishment of truths. “Truth”, Said writes about Merleau-Ponty’s work, “is based on what is real—and that is our perception of the world: perception becomes ‘not presumed true,’ but may be ‘defined as access to truth’” (1967, 58). Sartre’s theory of the emotions illustrates how language is a way of imposing certain new or persistent schemata on the world that make it seem as if by ‘magic’ the objective reality has changed without our intervention. In the exemplary, quite trivial situation of the grapes, “cette comédie n’est qu’à demi sincere” (Sartre 1939, 45). For, though I have convinced myself of the veracity of my perception, I somehow know it not to be true. However, if we pursue Sartre’s line of thought a little further and apply it to less trivial situations in Conrad’s writings, we come to realize the sincerity of emotional behavior and its impact on critical thinking as we draw some important conclusions that relate to perception, truth, and agency. From Sartre’s theory of the emotions Said wants us to take note that “[b]etween a mind’s version of appearance and the so-called reality there can be no correspondence” (1966, 35), that therefore (1) perception is a fiction of reality, (2) that this fiction is without much reflection experienced by the subject as an unquestionable truth, (3) that while truth disguises itself to be objective, natural and eternal, it is nonetheless subjective, man-made and established post-factum, and (4) that all of this is an intentional but irreflective process of an active consciousness-in-the-world. Conrad’s equivalent to the objective reality of the grapes is what Said calls his “initial scrutiny of the present” (1966, 100); the action is his authorial attempt “to grasp a situation in the present in such a way as to render it in direct, causal relation with the past” (1966, 100). As we have seen, in Conrad’s fiction such attempts unremittingly fail, which causes an unbearable tension that is similar to the one sketched in Sartre’s example. However, instead of foisting a new quality on the object, which in Conrad’s case would mean the impossible wish for “the object simply to disappear” (Said 1966, 100), the unbearable tension elicits a different irreflective



response that, as Sartre writes, “consiste à nier l’objet dangereux avec tout notre corps, en renversant la structure vectorielle de l’espace où nous vivons en créant brusquement une direction potentielle, de l’autre côté” (1939, 46). And so to solve the conflict Conrad as a writer denies the object (the present) by turning to another object (the past), to the obscure events themselves narrated by Marlow (Said 1966, 101). Conrad’s authorial response is thus to abandon his initial intentions of establishing a causal link between past and present in favor of an associative link between both. He thereby irreflectively imposes an emotional structure on the narrative of his novellas in which a quality of sadness and gloom associated with the disastrous episodes from the past engulfs the narrative moment in the present. The clearest example of this emotional structure is the narrative ring composition in Heart of Darkness, in which the beginning and end of the novella are situated in the same sad and gloomy narrative moment. “The air was dark above Gravesend”, we read at the opening of the novella, “and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth” (Conrad 2006, 3). This atmosphere of sadness and gloom persists throughout the novella, lingering on into the last sentence where “the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (Conrad 2006, 77). And so to resolve the conflict and ease the tension, Conrad imposes a new meaning to a situation in his lifeworld, the consequences of which are more far-reaching than those of the ‘comedy’ of the grapes. To point out the implications of Conrad’s choice of narrative method, Said explicitly links the kind of sad and gloomy associative relationship between past and present in Heart of Darkness to Sartre’s analysis of the emotional behavior of sadness. “La tristesse”, the French philosopher describes, “vise à supprimer l’obligation de chercher des nouvelles voies, de transformer la structure du monde en remplaçant la constitution présente du monde par une structure totalement indifférenciée” (Sartre 1939, 47). In other words, sadness is a state of passivity and acquiescence in one’s situation. So according to Said, Marlow acts as a ventriloquist for Conrad who irreflectively chooses not to act upon the objective reality of the present but overridden by the immediate sensation of the unbearable tension decides to fold back upon himself and change his perception of the object. In this way, Conrad foists an undifferentiated quality or structure on the object and chooses to pacify himself, to not take up his



r­ esponsibility for his situation, to seemingly give up on his agency and to act in what Sartre would later call mauvaise foi or ‘bad faith’ (see 1943, 85–111). More importantly, if we accept the premise that reading literature is an intersubjective and even intercorporeal experience, it takes strong willpower and non-identification on the part of the reader not to follow the rhetoric of Conrad to fold back upon oneself and to take up this position of indifferent passivity too. “Autrement dit”, Sartre goes on to write about sadness, faute de pouvoir et de vouloir accomplir les actes que nous projetions, nous faisons en sorte que l’univers n’exige plus rien de nous. Nous ne pouvons pour cela qu’agir sur nous-mêmes, que nous ‘mettre en veilleuse’—et le corrélatif noématique de cette attitude c’est ce que nous appellerons le Morne : l’univers est morne, c’est-à-dire: à structure indifférenciée. En même temps cependant, nous prenons naturellement la position repliée, nous nous ‘blottissons’. (1939, 47)

Sartre’s remarks about human will and representation connected to activity and passivity take us well beyond Said’s interpretation of Conrad’s writings and into the heart of his own critical practice. Passivity, as Harold Veeser sharply observes, is a major if not the most important theme in all of Said’s works (2010, 29–30). Veeser is right to point out that Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography marks the start of “Said’s long campaign to defend human will” (2010, 29) against paralyzing, indifferent passivity.26 The activist approach to secular criticism which Said embodies throughout his life, responds to and in significant ways attempts to counter the kind of passive authorial stance taken up by Conrad. Said does so by calling to action victims of colonialism, imperialism and Orientalism—one by one divisive worldviews that disseminate equally divisive ideas that the ‘colonized’ and ‘Orientals’ are indifferent, backward, “passive, fatalistic ‘subject races’” (1978, 105) whose regions “ought to be annexed or occupied by advanced powers” (1978, 207). He calls on them to challenge and resist the underlying beliefs of these ­ paralyzing, hegemonic worldviews, to 26  The clearest example of this concern can be found in “Traveling Theory” (1983), where in a discussion of the intellect or subject in the works of Georg Lukács, Said writes that “he shows the increasing retreat of the subject into passive, privatized contemplation, gradually more and more divorced from the overwhelmingly fragmented realities of modern industrial life, Lukacs [sic] then depicts modern bourgeois thought as being at an impasse, transfixed and paralyzed into terminal passivity” (1983, 231).



combat indifference and acquiescence in the status quo, and to actively stop the dissemination of these ideas through the production of a counterdiscourse. While it would take Said another decade to formulate these ideas in Orientalism, we can see them in embryo in his book on Conrad and in this book’s elaboration of Sartre’s theory of the emotions. The formative impact of Sartre’s theory of the emotions on Said’s budding critical practice cannot be overemphasized. It is therefore crucial that we fully grasp its implications by approaching it from the field of social psychology. This will allow us not only to see more clearly the intersubjective, socio-cultural dimensions of that theory, less emphasized in Sartre’s 1939 outline that focuses on the existential individual, but also to realize the critical potential of that theory in Said’s examination of Orientalism to come. In 1957, the American social psychologist Leon Festinger systematized the kind of thinking outlined by Sartre into a theory of what he called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Cognitive dissonance is the experience of mental discomfort that results from the existence of non-fitting or dissonant relations between our perception of the world and the appropriate cognitive elements—our desires, opinions, and beliefs about our environment, ourselves, or our behavior on which we rely to make sense of the world and which we consider to provide us with veridic knowledge of that world (Festinger 1957, 3). Like the unbearable tension which Sartre describes, the sensation of cognitive dissonance can be so overwhelming that we generally seek to reduce or eliminate it without accompanying reflection. Because we do not have complete control over the events that happen in our lifeworld—the so-called brute facts of existence—and because perception is a complex process in which many cognitive elements at any given time are relevant to any given experience, all experiences have a manner of dissonance in them and “some dissonance is the usual state of affairs” (Festinger 1957, 17). Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance identifies broadly speaking two types of responses to cognitive dissonance, both of which highlight the primacy of perception. The first and most common is to change one or more of our cognitive elements and bring them in a consonant relation with our perception of the world (1957, 19). This is the mundane process of empirical learning in which new perceptual information causes us to change our beliefs about the world, reconcile them with our perception, and act in accordance with those adjusted beliefs. The second is the one illustrated by Sartre’s comedy under the bunch of grapes or by Conrad’s



flight into the past and typically takes place when we have insufficient control about a situation or if the cognitive dissonance we experience is caused by a conflict between our perception and a certain cognitive element which, for some reason, we hold to be highly important (Festinger 1957, 24–28). We might, for instance, have been taught to apprehend the world in a certain way in our childhood, repeatedly interiorized that belief throughout our lives through various gestures, only one day to find ourselves in a situation in which our perceptual experience of an objective reality seems to contradict this belief. In situations like these, we experience both a great deal of pressure to reduce the dissonance and a great deal of psychological resistance that makes it seem difficult, even impossible for us to change this particular belief and reconcile it with our perception. So, to resolve or reduce the sensation of cognitive dissonance, we generally choose the path of least resistance and irreflectively make our perception consonant with our belief and dissonant with the objective reality—thus deceiving ourselves into believing that our pre-held belief is true (Festinger 1957, 18–23). This response is what Sartre calls the ‘magical’ alteration of reality: Lorsque les chemins tracés deviennent trop difficiles ou lorsque nous ne voyons pas de chemin, nous ne pouvons plus demeurer dans un monde si urgent et si difficile. Toutes les voies sont barrées, il faut pourtant agir. Alors nous essayons de changer le monde, c’est-à-dire de le vivre comme si les rapports des choses à leurs potentialités n’étaient pas réglés par des processus déterministes mais par la magie. (1939, 43)

The immediate sensation of an unbearable tension, caused by the dissonance that exists between our perception of reality and the particular appropriate cognitive element or pre-held belief, overrides reflection and exerts pressures on us to bring our earlier perception into correspondence with the cognitive element. As Sartre’s frustrated would-be grape-picker illustrates, this change of perception is often accompanied by a post-­ factum change in intention that is consonant with the newly adjusted perception, the result of which is that “à travers un changement de l’intention, comme dans un changement de conduit, nous appréhendons un objet nouveau ou un objet ancien d’une façon nouvelle” (1939, 44). To Sartre, this type of response clearly illustrates how affective behavior is “une transformation du monde” (1939, 43). Seemingly without our intervention, our situation has magically been altered and consonance between cognitive elements is achieved.



The perspective of cognitive dissonance which I have drawn on Sartre’s theory of the emotions allows us better to grasp that theory’s implications when it comes to conceptualizing agency. Sartre’s theory illustrates how emotional behavior is our primary way of apprehending and acting in the world (1939, 38–39). It emphasizes that when the possibilities of individual human agency appear to be slim or almost impossible, there always remains a way for individuals to act: through emotions. Indeed, emotional behavior is a means of agency in a situation where such agency appears to be denied, a way of coping with situations that seem unbearable. In Said’s Sartrean model of agency, then, individuals always keep hold of a certain degree of agency, regardless of the particular situation in which they find themselves. The success of our attempt to reduce or remove the sensation of cognitive dissonance largely depends on our willingness to believe that the cognitive equilibrium which we have established either empirically or ‘magically’ is a truthful representation of an objective reality. This is why Sartre’s would-be grape-picker performs the little comedy under the bunch of grapes to rationalize his or her change of intention and convince himself or herself that his or her original perception was wrong and dissonant with the objective reality of the grapes, whereas we have seen the comedy to be a fiction created post-factum by his or her own intentional consciousness (see Festinger 1957, 2). Another common behavior to reduce dissonance is to look for information that supports our pre-held beliefs. Upon learning new information about our lifeworld that disproves our pre-held beliefs, we might try to convince ourselves that the information is wrong by actively searching for opinions, studies, and facts that question the veracity of this information and support and strengthen our pre-held belief (Festinger 1957, 6, 21). The more opinions and studies we are able to find in support of our view or the more authoritative these pieces of information seem, the less cognitive dissonance we experience and the more prone we are to believe that our perception is in fact truthful. This highlights the social or cultural determination of perception, leading us back to the work of Merleau-Ponty and its emphasis on how the meaningful entities that orbit a speaking subject derive their meaningfulness from their shared, intersubjective use. Perception and hence ‘truth’ are to a great extent intersubjective. At any given moment in time and place, certain ‘truths’, schemata and beliefs circulate in a particular social group, society, and culture. They are taught in schools or at home— to name but the most obvious places—and transmitted, repeated and



reiterated in all kinds of cultural artifacts. These schemata are necessary coping mechanisms to deal with the constant state of dissonance that is inherently part of our everyday perceptual experience. Because of their widespread repetition and intersubjective use, they gain a certain cultural strength or stability about them that exerts pressures on individual speaking subjects to bring their actions, perceptions, and speech in a consonant relation with them. Hence, Said argues, Conrad’s profound interest in language. According to Said, the Anglo-Polish author intuitively came to apprehend that language is a tool for ‘magically’ altering reality to produce order and consonance, “an excellent example of what Sartre would call refuge from an unbearable situation” (1966, 131). In Conrad’s oeuvre the establishment of order through language seems to be opposed to truth, in the sense that the achieved cognitive equilibrium is not necessarily truthful to the objective reality but rather “fraudulent” (Said 1966, 99) and consonant with the pre-held beliefs and schemata of characters. Therefore, the key question that occupies the author in his writings is: “does the mind seek order or truth?” (Said 1966, 112). In his letters Conrad frequently reflects on his process of self-assertion or individuation, through which he as an existential person and author ethically and psychologically locates himself in a social order (Said 1966, 109). His novellas quite often depict situations in which a “dramatic role is forced upon what is past, or difficult, or ungraspable, in order to coerce it into a more amenable relation with the person who does the forcing” (Said 1966, 104), or an “object is created in spite of its own independent reality … in order to restructure an unbearable situation” (Said 1966, 108). Characters force other characters into clear roles or pigeonhole them to keep at bay “that gray world”, that constant state of dissonance, “which in Heart of Darkness is identified as the realm of neutrality just between life and death” (Said 1966, 107). What characters in that novella repeatedly desire is “an enlightened, orderly, and formal explanation for peculiar disaster” (Said 1966, 111–112); light and order at the expense of darkness and truth. But, as we have seen, no causal relationship can be established between events and rational explanation fails. Thus, Said concludes once more, Conrad’s fiction is a reflection of his consciousness, of his unique insight into what he calls the structures of experience or sometimes ‘the mechanism of existence’—a collection of returning situations in a person’s existence that appear to be mechanical in the way in which they return and unfold. Said describes how writing for Conrad functioned as a “laboratory of his mind”



(1966, 29–30) to reflect on agency and action. The suggestion, then, is that in the course of his life Conrad was able to develop and disclose for himself, primarily—if not solely—in his capacity of writer, his habitual insight into the mechanism of existence, which, as Said understands it, he felt as “an unrestful submission to the complexities of life … not as a fait accompli but as a constantly renewed act of living, as a condition humanisée and not as a condition humaine” (1966, 5–6). And in all of this, Conrad recognized the pivotal role of language. In “Conrad and Nietzsche” (1976) a paper which Said presented in 1974, he illustrates that Conrad shares with the German philologist a “radical attitude towards language” (1976, 66). By combining narrative representation with philosophical elaboration in such works as Heart of Darkness, Conrad arrived at a number of the same conclusions about language and truth that Nietzsche formulated a few decades earlier (Said 1976, 69). Nietzsche became famous for shattering the almost exclusively rational, intellectualist or Apollonian image of ancient Greek culture that was professed by eighteenth-century art critics such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann and passionately defended in Nietzsche’s lifetime by the classical philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. In his seminal work Die Geburt der Tragödie (1872), Nietzsche emphasized the irrational, affective, and Dionysian aspects of ancient Greece that embraced the chaotic and irrational nature of lived experience. In a similar vein, in most of his essays Nietzsche reflected on the affective or irrational aspects of language and constantly returned to what Said calls “the connection between the characteristics of language as a form of human knowledge, perception, and behavior, and those fundamental facts of human reality, namely will, power, and desire” (1976, 66). In “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn” (1960),27 an essay that was written a year after his work on the Dionysian birth of tragedy but that remained unpublished in his lifetime, Nietzsche asks: What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and 27  The first passage I cite is from Walter Kaufmann’s translation in The Portable Nietzsche, which only contains an abridged version of Nietzsche’s essay (1966). I cite this version of the passage because it is the version cited by Said. For an unabridged and slightly different translation, see Ronald Speirs’s version “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense” (1999). This is also the version of Nietzsche’s essay I cite in the remainder of this book.



which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. (1966, 46–47)

This particular passage is a recurring passage in Said’s earliest writings, as it is cited both in Beginnings (1975, 39) and Orientalism (1978, 203). In words that strike us as very familiar, it describes how perception is the basis for meaning-giving and truth, how certain subjective ideas or meaningful “illusions” that were once grounded in a particular perceptual experience and correspondent to a reality, are transmitted, repeated and gradually established as objective “truths” that “in no way correspond to the original entities” (Nietzsche 1999, 144). As such, Nietzsche would find himself in agreement with Merleau-Ponty’s critique of the objective world of science that encroaches on lived experience (see Said 1967, 57). Language objectifies, makes common or even betrays such experience, estranging the subject from its original, individually lived experience (Said 1967, 67–68). Nietzsche, too, emphasizes how perception covers its tracks, how certain meaningful entities gain an amount of naturalness about them through which they seem “firmly established, canonical, and binding” (1999, 146). ‘Binding’, indeed, because language is connected to power, to Schopenhauer’s ideas of will and representation. Nietzsche goes on to describe human history, then, as a battle of interpretations, in which certain interpretations gain the upper hand, forcefully dislodge others, become dominant and take their place, from which they exert pressure on individual speaking subjects to make their perception, action and speech consonant with the victorious “army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms” (1999, 146). Said is drawn to Nietzsche’s treatment of language “as a tyrannical epistemological system” (1976, 67) that controls human knowledge and ‘truth’, which is that which can be said and thought at a given time and place in history. For, as Nietzsche argues, to be truthful means using the “customary metaphors, or to put it in moral terms, the obligation to lie in accordance with firmly established convention, to lie en masse and in a style that is binding for all” (1999, 146). And so Nietzsche illustrates how in literary texts dominant ideas are transmitted and repeated in the same conventional language, albeit in slight variations, “in exactly the same way as a dream, if repeated eternally, would be felt and judged entirely as real-



ity” (1999, 140). “In short”, Said sums up Nietzsche’s philosophical position, “every utterance is a controlled, disciplined, rule-coordinated variation on some other utterance. While it is unique to human beings, language is an order of repetition, of creative repetition, not of original speech” (1976, 67). Though he is a good deal less explicit about it than Nietzsche, Conrad shares his radical attitude on language (Said 1976, 66). In Chap. 2, we have seen how at the beginning of Heart of Darkness the narrator Marlow muses on imperialism, which he believes is not the truth but merely an idea that is imposed on others; nothing more than an exalted cover-up to camouflage the debased practice of land grabbing, exploitation, and occupation of overseas regions belonging to people with a slightly different complexion than Europeans. In what follows, Conrad’s radical attitude toward language becomes clear from the way in which he lets his readers experience in the novella that imperialism is a tyrannical epistemological system that forces characters to think, speak and act in consonance with its beliefs, which these characters feel or experience as ‘truths’. In a process that is similar to the one described by Sartre and Festinger, Conrad’s characters impose an imperialist worldview on an objective reality. Their perception translates into action, which means the brutal commercial exploitation of the Congolese population, including the administering of corporal punishment, flogging, torture and decapitation of what they consider to be ‘rebellious’ Congolese ivory suppliers. “In spite of the obvious injustice done to those upon whom one’s idea can be imposed”, Said goes on to describe the underlying process of thought that rationalizes their actions, “it is important to understand that the reason an individual imposes his idea is that he believes he is serving the truth” (1966, 140). When Marlow presses an agent of the European trading company in the Congo to explain why Kurtz gruesomely adorns his home with impaled heads of his Congolese victims, for example, the agent is baffled and replies that these were the heads of rebels (Conrad 2006, 58). His reaction of disbelief makes clear that he never thought to question the company’s methods. It never occurred to him that the reason why these Congolese supplied them with less ivory than expected could be anything other than that they were rebels intend on sabotaging the company’s interests. Nor did he give it much reflection in the first place. Imperialism, so it seems, has thought for him and motivated him to act. Now that he is forced to reflect, what seemed stable becomes inscrutable to his harried mind.



To Said, scenes like these illustrate Conrad’s belief that imperialism works like a ‘knitting machine’ which knits us in and out—thought, perception, everything. In accordance with its devilish activity, men become the machine’s efficient servants, existing under its strictures, colonizing whatever is dark and different from them. The machine is responsible not only for the creation of assertive individualities, but also for the false ‘light’ with which these individualities illuminate, reform, and reorder everything. (1966, 139; my emphasis)

Said’s interpretation of Conrad’s notion of the knitting machine can be understood in the light of Ashis Nandy’s ‘imperialism of categories’, a term to describe “the ability of some conceptual categories to establish such complete hegemony over the domain they cover that alternative concepts related to the domain are literally banished from human consciousness” (1995, 54). Indeed, the cultural strength and authority that had accrued to imperialism in Conrad’s social and historical moment was that its conceptual categories had established such a hegemony over the way Europeans thought and acted on the world that they even defined the way in which they formed their individuality or subjectivity. As a result, it feels impossible for the characters in Heart of Darkness or, for that matter, most of Conrad’s contemporaries who were confronted with a perceptual experience that was dissonant with their imperialist beliefs, to precisely examine and adjust these beliefs in consonance with their perception. Instead, these individuals give in to these overwhelming pressures to reduce cognitive dissonance and irreflectively change their perception of reality in consonance with their pre-held imperialist beliefs. And so reality is illuminated and a false order is imposed on it. Apart from highlighting once again that the experience of cognitive dissonance is such an important aspect of our being-in-the-world and motivation for action, Conrad’s notion of the knitting machine makes for a fine example of Sartre’s phenomenological psychology—or the theory of cognitive dissonance associated with it. Identifying and understanding this Sartrean intertext allows us to fully grasp Said’s conceptualization of agency in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and his treatment of imperialism in that work, “for”, as Said argues, “despite the perils of imperialism, the process was a necessity for coping with the internal darkness and the external world” (1966, 140). Or to put it in Nietzschean terms, the ‘army of metaphors’ associated with imperialism, according to



which human reality must be strictly divided in terms of ‘colonizers’ and ‘colonized’, ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ peoples, ‘advanced’ and ‘backward’ nations, had won the battle of interpretation in Conrad’s cultural moment. These metaphors had deeply lodged themselves into the consciousness of many Europeans as ‘truths’ and were now the dominant, canonical, and binding way for them to think, talk, and write about non-Western peoples. Apart from conditioning thought and language, imperialism as a set of ideas prepared for colonialism. It motivated Europeans to act in accordance to its ideas, to go out and colonize in the name of empire and help shine the light of civilization and progress on the darkness of allegedly ‘barbaric’ peoples such as the Congolese. For, as Said writes, “an imperialism of ideas … easily converts into the imperialism of nations” (1966, 140). Imperialism was such an all-encompassing hegemonic system of thought that it controlled Europe’s entire system of representation, including, as Chinua Achebe has shown (1977), that of Conrad’s very own novella. And so though Conrad is openly critical of imperialism, he is nonetheless a creature of his time and his authorial consciousness is still determined by the imperialist worldview, rhetoric, and discourse that he actively sought to criticize. This leads to a situation in which he depicts the gruesome excrescences of imperialism enacted on the Congolese population but, as Achebe has shown, in the ‘obligatory’ or ‘binding’ stereotypical, offensive and dehumanizing way associated with imperialism. During the so-called Scramble for Africa, imperialism had consolidated such a total hegemony over human consciousness that it was simply impossible for Conrad to think of any concrete alternatives to it, though he may actively have intended to look for them. And though Conrad doesn’t offer an alternative to imperialism, his critique of imperialism in action connected to his radical attitude toward language do lead Said to draw some important conclusions about representation, truth, and critical thinking that would be formative for his explicit criticism of Orientalism (1978) and imperialism (1993) to come. Said’s phenomenological exploration of Conrad’s consciousness illustrates how the Anglo-Polish author continually underlines the discrepancy between the chaotic and disorderly contingency of human existence and the orderly ideas that are imposed on it. His analysis shows how Conrad treats culture as a conventional system of illusory meaningful entities to cover a radically unstable reality. The author’s radical view of language, which, as I have shown, Said locates in a tradition of European literature and thought that includes such thinkers as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche,



Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, ultimately proves the precarity of seemingly stable body of ideas like imperialism. In Said’s view, Conrad’s oeuvre emphasizes how all human activity, including the author’s very own individuation process, is a constant but precarious victory over nothingness and dissonance. It illustrates that self-assertion is the active product of a long and constantly to be renewed act of differentiation against the passivity of what Said calls “undifferentiated darkness” (1966, 147). While Conrad’s metaphor of the knitting machine warns that this process can and does have grave consequences, self-assertion is a necessity of human existence because everyone, Said believes, “must have ideas by which to live” (1966, 147). According to him, Conrad’s characters are constantly trying to find such ideas by which to live and define their individuality or subjectivity on their own terms. Every single one of them tries to escape “the clutches of the monstrous knitting machine … [wishing] he could be an Odysseus, adventurously carving his destiny according to the profound inner needs of his individuality” (Said 1966, 36). But “the extent to which human infection by the machine has spread” (Said 1966, 99) is enormous and most, if not all of them, end up failing and submitting themselves to the false order and “manufactured delusion” (Said 1966, 36) of the knitting machine that is imperialism (Said 1966, 150). These remarks on representation, truth, and thought lead us to a crucial passage in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography to understand Said’s critical practice. To Conrad ‘thought’ apparently designated the process whereby a human self-image is elevated into an idea of truth that inevitably seeks perpetuation. Beneath its rational articulation, however, the idea is only a man’s desire for protection from the impinging confusions of the world. Immediately after the intellectual organization of the world according to an idea, there comes the expedient devotion to the idea, which in turn breeds conquest according to the idea. (Said 1966, 138)

In words that echo Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and Sartre’s theory of the emotions, Said describes how we should interpret Conrad’s philosophical position on ‘thought’ as a process where a particular idea that was once grounded in perceptual experience is decontextualized and elevated into an idea of objective ‘truth’ that is then without much reflection perpetuated and creatively repeated in all kinds of actions. As such, the idea becomes an intersubjectively constructed meaningful



entity or hegemony that occupies a central position in a culture and puts pressure on individuals to irreflectively alter their perception in accordance to the idea. The idea motivates them to impose a linguistic structure of differentiation on the world, organize the world, and act accordingly. But such an objective ‘truth’ that on the face of it seems to be universal and eternal is on the back of it a contingent and precarious response to the everyday mental experience of cognitive dissonance that characterizes all human experience. The process whereby an idea is elevated into ‘truth’ is thus the result of a common human “desire for protection against the impinging confusions of the world”, a coping mechanism to reduce or eliminate dissonance. So Conrad shows how it is an all-too-human behavior to magically—in the Sartrean sense of the word—alter reality, to cover up the disorder and darkness of everyday human existence with orderly and illuminated ideas. But according to Said, Conrad doesn’t merely describe the process of perception in his oeuvre. He also provides his readers with an important outline for critical thinking: But the moment a man begins to examine the idea itself, he slowly begins to negate the distinctions he had organized for viewing the world: encircled by its own work, the intellect has no positive, objective criterion for evaluation. All the structures of its differentiated organization of the world disappear, and the cycle begins again. (Said 1966, 138)

When an objective ‘truth’ like imperialism is subjected to criticism and examined closely it appears to be nothing more than a conventionally agreed upon system of organization for which there is “no positive, objective criterion for evaluation”. ‘Truth’ is thus a man-made fiction in which we choose to believe and by which we choose to live, a state of achieved consonance between an idea and our perception created by our consciousness to protect itself from a destabilizing sensation of reality. ‘Criticism’, then, is a cognitive act which precisely seeks out this destabilizing sensation. It is the moment at which we choose to no longer let an idea be responsible for the way in which we make sense of our world but to take full responsibility for our thought, perception, and action by setting in motion a constantly to be renewed cycle of thinking in which we become self-conscious about the establishment of so-called stable ‘truths’. When an unbearable situation causes a crisis of consciousness in our mind and exerts pressures on us to reduce cognitive dissonance, we should not let



the immediate sensation of action crowd out our accompanying reflection. It is our individual responsibility to resist the sensation, pause, reflect, and only then proceed to act. Contrary to Conrad’s characters, we should reflect first and act afterward. In so doing, we should ask ourselves the same question that occupied Conrad throughout his career, whether we seek order or truth, and subject our perceptual experience to a critical examination in order to discern whether it is consonant with our initial perception of reality or with our pre-held beliefs and, hence, the status quo. We should not be afraid to follow Merleau-Ponty’s lead, to rediscover our lived experience beneath the encroachments of ‘science’ and ‘truth’ and question our so-called unquestionable beliefs (see Said 1967, 57). In this, we should be guided by the ethical imperative to make our perceptual experience coincide as much as possible with the objective reality, which often means the constant examination, adjustment, and alteration of our previous structure of differentiated organization of the world. In short, criticism is a mode of living, a necessarily unfinished cycle that constantly begins anew. Though Said does not refer to Sartre at this point in his work, what he describes here as Conrad’s ‘cycle of criticism’ as an ethical guide for action in a particular historical situation, is in line with the French existentialist’s theory of agency. In L’Être et le néant (1943) Sartre describes how a particular situation, into which we have been born or to which we have grown thoroughly accustomed—so that we do not have the need to envision alternatives to that particular situation, cannot even envision such alternatives—can nonetheless suddenly feel unbearable when we critically examine the situation, grasp its determining constraints on our freedom, and equally important, as a result of all this, come to think of alternatives to it (1943, 509–510). From that particular moment of critical estrangement onward, the situation becomes unbearable not because it is unbearable but because we decide or perceive it to be so. For, in the words of Sartre, “c’est à partir du jour où l’on peut concevoir un autre état de choses qu’une lumière neuve tombe sur nos peines et sur nos souffrances et que nous décidons qu’elles sont insupportables” (1943, 510). According to Sartre, criticism leads to estrangement, which in its turn forms the basis for action and provides us with the ethical imperative to overthrow an oppressing situation. This view on criticism leading to action underpins Said’s book on Conrad, in which he presents himself as a dialectical thinker who defends the idea that criticism should be as dynamic as the structures or m ­ echanisms



of existence that characterize our being-in-the-world. As I mentioned, Said does not refer to Sartre but echoes the work of the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács, whose Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein (1923) is briefly cited at the beginning of the book (1966, 12). While Lukács’s interest in class consciousness leads him to stress the agency of groups or classes of people, Said is “more concerned with the individual” (1966, 12) and takes up a position that is closer to Sartre’s, because it highlights Conrad’s individual human agency in the personal situations in which he is embedded. However, these differences in focus aside, both Lukács and Sartre and Said share the basic idea of historical materialism “that men perform their historical deeds themselves and that they do so consciously” (Lukács 1968, 50). Moreover, as a result of his treatment of Conrad, Said comes to share Lukács’s belief that moments of crisis in a system—whether that system is modern capitalism with Lukács or modern imperialism with Said—are the moments at which individual human agency becomes most visible, and the individual can momentarily escape some of the determinist forces of the system and change the system from within (McCarthy 2013, 85; Said 1983, 230–232). With Lukács, critical consciousness is the consciousness that is given rise to by the crisis in modern capitalism, which stems from the awareness of certain basic structures of modern capitalism such as the reification or commodification of workers, and the realization of the place that one takes up within the system or the class to which one belongs— hence his equation of critical consciousness to class consciousness (1968, 171–172). Lukács believes that class consciousness leads to self-understanding which, by introducing the element of self-­consciousness or reflection in a situation and thereby already altering that situation, prepares the way for proper, carefully planned and directed historical and social change (1968, 168–169; Sim 1994, 11). Or as Said sums up the Hungarian Marxist’s position in his seminal essay “Travelling Theory”: “Crisis, in short, is converted into criticism of the status quo” (1983, 232). Likewise, in Said’s understanding of critical thinking, moments of crisis lead to criticism. This is clearly a Lukácsian motif in Said’s book on Conrad that harmonizes well with the book’s elaboration of Sartre’s existential-­ phenomenological inheritance. As Conor McCarthy illustrates about Said’s reception of Marxist thought from Beginnings onward, “crisis has become a moment of opportunity, of dialectical analytical thought, or, as Said sees it, criticism” (2013, 85). McCarthy, in tandem with Timothy Brennan, is one of the few critics to stress the influence of Lukács on Said’s critical practice, although neither of them discusses Said’s revised doctoral



dissertation (Brennan 2013; McCarthy 2013). What I have attempted to show in this chapter’s final section is not simply that Said’s engagement with Lukács takes place from his doctoral dissertation onward, but that it  is reinforced and facilitated by what I hope to have shown to be the work’s more crucial, Sartrean foundations. This perspective allows us to see more clearly how Said considers moments of crisis as moments at which an individual experiences an unbearable tension to either change his or her situation or consent with the status quo. Moments of crisis are, indeed, opportunities of choice and of criticism: to change one’s pre-held beliefs, adjust them in consonance with the perceptual experience of reality and thus gradually, one step at a time, change the status quo of hegemonic systems of thought like imperialism. At these moments, the individual human consciousness realizes that it has the power to respond in a reflective and directed manner to the sensation of dissonance, and thus to overthrow the false ‘truths’ that govern human existence. To Said, criticism is the product of a consciousness-in-the-world and should be conceptualized not as a Sartrean ‘magical’ or textual alteration of reality, nor “as an avoidance of reality but as a revolutionary will completely committed to worldliness and change” (1983, 234).

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Beginning Anew

1   Introduction: Columbia, 1967 In 1963, a couple of months before he would receive his Ph.D. at Harvard in January 1964, Said was hired as an instructor in English at Columbia University. Reflecting on his early period at Columbia in a conversation with Tariq Ali 30-odd years later, Said confesses that he likes to think of himself in that period as a Dorian Gray, a person with two identities (Ali 2006, 4–5; see also Said 1976b, 35). There was, on the one hand, his identity as a professional teacher of English literature who, apart from his book on Conrad’s oeuvre and a lengthy book chapter on Nostromo (Said 1965), did not publish all that much. He describes those first years as a time marked by “the assumption of disengaged teaching and scholarship at Columbia”, a continuation of “the unpolitical years of my education” (Said 1999, 293) at Princeton and Harvard. But there was another character gradually building up within himself, he adds, a character that was connected with the disappearing worlds of his upbringing and youth in Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine for which there was simply no place in the “essentially a-political” (Said, cited by Ali 2006, 72) environment of Columbia at the time. Said goes on to tell Ali how in those early years in New York City “I had effectively severed my connection with Egypt, Palestine no longer existed…. And I really didn’t think about myself as anything other than somebody who was going about his work” (cited by Ali 2006, 72). He was successful at keeping both characters separated from each other, Said adds—until, in the early morning of June 5, 1967, the Third Arab-Israeli War broke out. © The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4_4




In response to the apparent mobilization of Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armed forces, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive preemptive strike that disabled nearly all Egyptian airfields and caught the majority of the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian airplanes before they got airborne. From the Israeli perspective, the operation was an undivided success: it hindered the Arab coalition’s air operation for the duration of the fighting and established Israeli air supremacy over the entire theater of war, leaving Arab ground forces extremely vulnerable. As a result of this, the scales had already tipped over in Israel’s favor from the war’s very beginning. After 2 days of heavy ground fighting in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, on June 7, the United Nations (UN) Security Council called for a ceasefire which was immediately accepted by Israel and Jordan. On June 8, Israel signed a ceasefire agreement with Egypt and 2 days later, on June 10, a ceasefire between Israel and Syria called an end to the fighting. The Six Days War—as the June War of 1967 was dubbed—resulted in a lightning victory for Israel over its neighbors. Though Israel did not start the war for territorial gains (Sand 2014, 241), in the course of its victory it had annexed territories in the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank—marking the beginning of the so-called Occupied Territories, the ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 conflict. When formal hostilities were over, the United Nations quickly appointed a Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories. The Special Committee soon received reports of the demolition of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian houses and even the destruction of entire villages by Israeli authorities in the Hebron area and the Jordan Valley, but could not provide the UN General Assembly with accurate evidence (UNGA 1971, §57). It also reported on the expulsion and deportation of Palestinians and Arabs from the territories Israel occupied, as well as the Israeli destruction of accommodation in refugee camps that had been established after the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948 (UNGA 1971, §48). According to historians, as a result of the hostilities of June 1967, up to 325,000 Palestinians and Syrians were either forcefully displaced by Israeli authorities or fled from their villages—some of them for the second time in nearly two decades (Bowker 2003, 81; Gerson 1978, 162; Morris 1999, 328–329). But the majority of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories decided to remain in their homes, and in the postcolonial world of the



1960s it had become impossible to carry out a mass scale transfer of people, as some imperial powers had done in the centuries before (Sand 2014, 243). Israel’s response was one of collective punishment, oppression, the refusal to grant a status of full citizenship to the Arab population living in the Occupied Territories, and what is now by many historians considered to be a form of institutionalized apartheid,1 combined with the quick implementation of an active settlement policy aimed at consolidating important strategic lands. As Shlomo Sand argues, it was no coincidence that within a month after the conclusion of fighting in June 1967 the first Israeli settlement was established in the Golan Heights, strategically important for the region (2014, 243). In the months and years thereafter, many settlements followed in other regions—a practice of settler colonialism that continues to this very day (Sand 2014, 243–245; Veracini 2006). In the last months of the Obama Administration, on December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 in which it once more condemned “the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions” (UNSC 2016, 1). The resolution stipulates that a cessation of all Israeli settlement activity is necessary for the stability of the region and the possibility of peaceful coexistence between both sides of the conflict. All members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, save for the United States which abstained from voting. The Six Days War was and continues to be a deeply traumatic event in the lives of many hundreds of thousands Palestinians and Syrians who in the aftermath of the war were displaced across the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, and their countrymen who found themselves living under military occupation by a foreign power. Tremors of “[t]he earthquake of 1967” (2008, 45), as the Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi calls the crushing Arab defeat and the subsequent Israeli occupation of Palestine in that year, were also felt overseas and ­profoundly affected the experiences of an entire generation of Arabs and Arab Americans living in the United States. 1  The consensus among scholars about this is overwhelming. See, for instance, Ageel (2016), Carey (2001), Chomsky and Pappe (2015), Finkelstein (2001), Geva (2016), Hass (2002), Morris (1989), Pappe (1999, 2007), Piterberg (2001), Reinhart (2002), Rogan and Shlaim (2001), Sa’di and Abu-Lughod (2007), Said (1979), Said and Hitchens (2001), Sand (2010, 2014), Shlaim (1990, 2000, 2009), and Sternhell (1998).



To Said, the events of the war mark a watershed in his personal and professional life: “I was in New York at the time and I was completely shattered. The world as I understood it and knew it had completely ended at that moment” (Said, cited by Ali 2006, 73). Those 6 days in June and their aftermath abruptly ended the period at Columbia in which he strictly separated his political character as a concerned Middle Easterner from his professional character as an American literary critic. Both characters merged: Said began to appear on television and radio shows to openly talk about politics in the Middle East and for the very first time he began to be in touch with sympathizers of the Palestinian cause (Ali 2006, 73). Said befriended Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, founder of the Arab-­ American University Graduates in 1968, as well as Noam Chomsky and Eqbal Ahmad, who vocally supported the Palestinian cause and were also actively involved in the anti-Vietnam protests in the United States that year. During a visit to Amman in the summer of 1970 to attend a meeting of the Palestinian National Council (though he would not be an official member of the council until 1977) he met Yasser Arafat, one of the founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization which was created to be a political representative for the Palestinian people living in exile and under the occupation (Said 1996, 67). By the events of Black September later that summer in Jordan and Lebanon (though he had left the country by then) Said was completely involved in what he calls “the struggle for Palestine” (1999, 293). The most obvious sign of the impact of the 1967 conflict on Said’s academic career is that in the aftermath of the war he began to write and publish about overtly political topics. During the war, Said became aware of the many misperceptions about Arabs, which he believed to lie at the basis of an unwavering support for Israel and a decidedly unsympathetic stance toward Arabs in the United States at large—down to the halls of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus (Veeser 2010, 7). According to Norman Finkelstein, after the conflict had grabbed the world’s attention in the summer of 1967, sustained discussions about the Holocaust entered U.S. public discourse for the very first time, marking the beginning of what he polemically calls the ‘Holocaust Industry’, the exploitation of the memory of the Nazi Holocaust by Jewish American elites in favor of commercial, financial, and political gains and to further the interest of an Israeli state (Finkelstein 2003, 16, 26). Impressed by Israel’s overpowering force in the war, American Jews ‘discovered’, so to speak, the state of Israel (Finkelstein 2003, 21). Zionist feelings were kindled and, for the first time



since its establishment in 1948, Israel began to figure centrally in U.S. foreign strategic planning (Finkelstein 2003, 17–18). In the aftermath of the war, Israel received U.S. military and economic support, turning the state into a proxy for U.S. power in the region and its name into a synonym for a bastion of Western civilization that was threatened by what were perceived to be threatening, barbaric hordes of Arabs (Finkelstein 2003, 20–21). As this makes clear, the representations of Arabs that circulated were essentially one-sided and demeaning, with hardly any space for nuance, discussion, or acknowledgment of the history of Israeli belligerence toward its neighbors. Arabs were portrayed as an unruly bunch of madmen whose inherently belligerent nature threatened the very existence of the state of Israel and all attempts at peaceful coexistence with Jews in the Middle East. In a dynamic of blaming the victim, they had the defeat coming and deserved to be displaced and exiled from their homeland. During the June War Said quickly “discovered the astonishing power of the press, the enormous capacity of that power to produce knowledge and the helplessness to which the subject of representation is condemned” (Ashcroft 2007, 75). He wanted to combat that helplessness, and empower these subjects of representation, a group that includes anyone from Morocco to Afghanistan, by correcting the dominant stereotypical views and extracting a nuanced, human image of the Arab from the myriad of one-sided, hostile, and dehumanizing representations (Veeser 2010, 51). And so, when formal hostilities were over, Said began methodically examining the representations of Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians in Western culture and public discourse—an examination that led to “The Arab Portrayed” (1970a), Said’s first essay about openly political topics. Commissioned by Abu-Lughod and originally published in 1968, the essay is the first of Said’s writings to testify to the very existence of Palestinians as humans, capable of suffering, with a history, culture, and right to self-representation and self-determination.2 “The Arab Portrayed” engendered various other publications in which Said describes how in Western journalism and academic writings a negative image of Arabs is constructed and repeated in such a way “as to evade 2  Shortly thereafter, in 1968–1969, Said reiterated these claims in “The Palestinian Experience” (1994), an essay that should also be read as a response to the emerging discussions about the Holocaust in U.S. public discourse. According to Said, the Palestinian experience of the Nakba is the result of the Jewish experience in the Shoah. The essay is rife with indignation that in finally addressing Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, American elites are blind to the deeply entwined experience of Palestinian suffering (see also Said 1979, 56–114).



any discussion of history and experience as I and many other Arabs have lived them” (2000a, 563). What Said attempts to make clear is that the dominant representations of Arabs in the West are essentializing, hostile, and dehumanizing and do not correspond to a lived experience, or any form of concrete human life whatsoever. In these writings, Said pursues his line of thinking about language, truth, and representation set out in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography in order to examine how language produces distortions and misrepresentations. These textually constructed realities are creatively reiterated in various cultural artifacts and, in time, come to function as meaningful fictions or ‘truths’ that are experienced as depictions of an ‘objective’ reality. In this way, “The Arab Portrayed” describes what would later become the central theme of Orientalism: If the Arab occupies space enough for attention it is a negative value. He is seen as a disrupter of Israel’s or the West’s existence, or in another view of the same thing, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel’s creation in 1948…. Palestine was imagined as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom, its inhabitants inconsequential nomads possessing no stable claim to the land and therefore no cultural permanence. (Said 1970a, 5)

In this pivotal passage, which is almost word for word copied in Orientalism (1978, 286), Said describes how these representations underplay or even downright reject the cultural presence of Palestinians on the land they inhabit, how their culture is deemed unimportant, backward, and inferior to that of the West, and how, as a result of all this, their cultural permanence is effaced, and their rights to the land denied. What Said is arguing here is that writing is capable of actual displacement—in addition to writing’s capability of figural displacement, an idea in Beginnings that I will later discuss in more detail. Representations are not harmless, but can incite violence, or, better still, are a form of violence themselves. In the one-sidedness of representation, in which the West speaks for the Palestinians and essentializes them by defining their identity in negative, stereotypical ways—“inconsequential nomads”—Palestinians are denied the fundamental human right to speak for themselves and define their identity in terms of their own choosing. What these representations are so good at is denying Palestinians what Said would later call the “Permission to Narrate” (1984). Though only formulated Orientalism (1978), this realization is of paramount importance to Said’s approach to literary criticism



which he was to develop in the aftermath of the June War of 1967. It would incite him to reconceptualize his model of reading into a more political model that bestows upon the critic more agency, more freedom, and a right to speak for his or her own. This is strengthened all the more by an increasing realization that these meaningful fictions are not mere accidents of perception—which might still be the impression that arises from reading Said’s conclusion about language and representation in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography—but the systematic, default way in which the West perceptually comes to terms with all that is foreign, different, or other. “By the early seventies”, he tells Ali in the interview from 1994, I began to realize that the distortions and misrepresentations were systematic, part of a much larger system of thought that was endemic to the West’s whole enterprise of dealing with the Arab world. It confirmed my sense that the study of literature was essentially a historical task, not just an aesthetic one. I still believe in the role of the aesthetic; but the ‘kingdom of literature’—‘for its own sake’—is simply wrong. A serious investigation must begin from the fact that culture is hopelessly involved in politics. My interest has been in the great canonical literature of the West—read, not as masterpieces that have to be venerated, but as works that have to be grasped in their historical density, so they can resonate. But I also don’t think that you can do that without liking them; without caring about the books themselves. (Said, cited by Ali 2006, 9–10)

What Said reveals here is fundamental to understand his approach to literary criticism, because it directly and indirectly demonstrates a couple of kernel ideas that define that approach: (1) that individual representations are the products of a larger system of thought, (2) that literature is as much an aesthetic as it is a historical product connected to a particular time and place, (3) that therefore literature cannot simply be studied as an autonomous practice, neither as the isolated verbal artifact of the postwar New Criticism, nor as the product of an atemporal and ahistorical transcendental consciousness in phenomenology, (4) that culture is interrelated to real power relations and worldly politics, and (5) that in order for the critic to explain the cultural embeddedness or semantic thickness of literature, the critic has to be thoroughly intimate with the work studied, and has to care about literature (Ali 2006, 4–5; Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 2009, 2; Kennedy 2000, 45; Khalidi 2008, 45–46; see also Said 1976b, 35; Said 1996, 66–67).



The passage also illustrates that what Said identified as the shared concern of Conrad and Nietzsche is also a key concern of his own critical practice: that even when it claims to be so, language—and hence literature—is never neutral but always in one way or another connected to power. Admitting his penchant for what has come to be regarded as the canonical literature of the West—Kipling, Camus, Austen, Swift, and most notably Conrad, authors who feature prominently throughout his career— Said warns that as much as these works are admirable in that they can communicate a certain human experience with universalizing claims, they remain man-made products that can exclude, reify, and dehumanize the experiences of others. Literary gems are never flawless. And while it is often regarded as a paragon of humanity, literature is also capable of denying that very humanity to others. These would become the kernel ideas of Said’s examination of the relation between the Arab world and the West in the trilogy of works that are Orientalism (1978), The Question of Palestine (1979) and Covering Islam (1981), and its sequel Culture and Imperialism (1993). By his 1994 interview, Said had fully evolved into the ‘Edward Said’ we now remember: a household name in literary theory and perhaps the last public intellectual of relevance across the entirety of the humanities and social sciences whose work was grounded in literary criticism, known for his intellectual charisma, advocacy of justice, relentless criticism, and political engagement (Ashcroft et  al. 2007; Marrouchi 2004; McCarthy 2013a, 8; Veeser 2010)—an image that he in the many moments of self-conscious narration and discursive positioning in interviews and writings did not hesitate to accrue with even more authority himself.

2   Humanism as a Technique of Trouble The Six Days War had a profound, albeit at first sight less visible impact on Said’s more ‘traditional’ literary criticism. In the winter of 1967–1968, Said began writing an essay on “Beginnings” (1968) in literature, literary criticism, philosophy, and other fields of thought, which, over the next years, would be revised to become the core chapter of a namesake book that presents a more elaborate, historical exploration of the notion and function of beginnings in Western literature and culture from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to the present. More than just a historical overview, Beginnings (1975) is a literary-­ philosophical inquiry into the conditions of possibility for individual writ-



ers to intervene in literature, criticism, and politics (Hussein 2002, 66). Most importantly, the book is a work of ethics, a reflection on inaugural gestures in creative and academic writing—if such a distinction truly exists—that builds on Said’s earlier treatment of Conrad to open up a theoretical and ethical framework that conceptualizes how individuals can and should act in situations that are beyond their control. Its main underlying question is how a writer or critic is to approach the existing sheer mass of writing and knowledge so as to carve a way for one’s own. What is approached as the problem of individuation and authorship in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, namely, the issue of an individual author taking responsibility for the socio-political uses to which his or her knowledge is put—does one submit to Conrad’s knitting machine or resist it?—is now taken up as the problem of beginnings (Milz 2005, 825). Is it possible, Said asks, to produce knowledge without repeating the same mistakes that lead to the historical submission to the worldview of the knitting machine that is Western civilization? The answer, according to Said, is positive. Beginnings therefore constitutes a call for the production of knowledge that, aware of its limitations and critical about its underlying ideologies, is deeply committed to worldliness and change. In line with the Lukácsian conclusion in Said’s book on Conrad, Beginnings asks: how to form a counter-hegemonic self-consciousness that paves the way for genuine systemic change? How to change the critical consciousness in literary criticism? In short, how to begin anew? A question of this magnitude has no immediate answer. It even begs a number of interrelated preliminary questions. “Where, or when, or what is a beginning?” (1975, 29), Said asks at the start of the book. What happens when someone begins to write? What does it mean to begin? Is there a privileged point of beginning in literary criticism? How do we even identify a beginning? Is a beginning the same as an origin? Is there a certain state of mind that accompanies a beginning, or a particular method or logic to it? What is the importance of a beginning? Can there be an absolute point of beginning in literature and thought? Is a beginning continuous or can it be radically discontinuous? Is every beginning at all possible, permissible, and thinkable? Are there certain rules that constrain beginnings? Do unintentional beginnings exist? These, and many others, are the questions that occupy Said in what he calls his “Meditation on Beginnings” (1975, 28). Said’s methodology in Beginnings should be afforded closer critical attention than it has so far received. Just like the fate of his book on



Conrad, Said’s meditation on beginnings has received little attention by scholars, who are mostly drawn to Said’s most famous works Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993). This lack of any serious attention is all the more surprising when we take into consideration that the publication of Beginnings was a major critical event. The first book to win the Lionel Trilling Memorial Award in 1976, a special issue of Diacritics with four review articles (Donato 1976; Hillis Miller 1976; Riddel 1976; White 1976) and an interview with Said (1976b), was dedicated to Beginnings in the autumn of that year. The handful of essays and books that do discuss Beginnings pass over its methodology quickly and rarely consider it from the perspective of Said’s preceding work on Conrad (Bhatnagar 1986; Brennan 1992; Clifford 1988; JanMohamed 1992; McCarthy 2010, 2013b; Veeser 2010). The exception to this is Hussein’s Edward Said: Criticism and Society (2002), which includes an authoritative two-chapters-long analysis of Beginnings that examines the book in relation to Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and reveals some crucial tenets of Said’s critical practice that escape the attention of most others. What Hussein argues is that Said’s method in Beginnings is highly idiosyncratic so as to deliberately resist pigeonholing (2002, 85). He also stresses that the book brings to a high point the critical concerns inaugurated by Said’s treatment of Conrad (Hussein 2002, 63–64). Finally and most importantly, he demonstrates that though Beginnings may not cover overtly political topics such as Zionism, Orientalism, or imperialism, which Said often treats in his later political writings, the method nevertheless does have a great “interventionary potential” (Hussein 2002, 65) in the domain of politics. While I agree with Hussein on all these points, I also believe that his analysis does not go far enough when it comes to grasping Said’s method, because it is too much focused on explaining that method “at the philosophical level” (2002, 15). From Hussein’s treatment of Beginnings, we get the impression that the book is first and foremost a book produced by a trained Continental philosopher, rather than the work of an American literary critic with a Ph.D. in comparative literature. This impression is all the more strengthened by Hussein’s explicit choice to label Beginnings “a philosophical (rather than, say, political) ‘call to arms’” (2002, 65)—a sentence which, to me, also illustrates that his analysis does not take into account enough the worldly, socio-political context of Said’s book. Beginnings, as I read it, is in the first place a work of literary criticism that responds to the political situation created in



Israel/Palestine in the aftermath of the June War of 1967 by developing a highly politicized and empowering method of reading programmatically committed to worldliness and change. The book’s methodological point of departure—its beginning, if you will—is Said’s preceding treatment of Conrad; its goal is to open up a discursive space that allows for individuals to play initiating roles in the production of knowledge in general and literary criticism in particular. Beginnings should be given considerable critical attention because it signifies the pivotal point in Said’s career at which he revises his earlier model of criticism in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography in order to turn the practice of literary criticism into a form of political intervention. Said accrues to the individual literary critic authority and a right to speak for himself or herself, in order to facilitate the Olympian task of constructing counter-hegemonic knowledge—an intellectual project that he set out in “The Arab Portrayed” and that came to its first high point in Orientalism. What I attempt to show in the following pages is that Beginnings produces the conditions of possibility for Said’s own critical practice by elaborating on the theoretical plane already opened up by Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. This is simply a way of saying that we should study Said’s methodology not only from the perspective of the books that it enabled but also from that of the book preceding it, namely, the combined humanistic energies at the heart of the American New Criticism and European existential phenomenology. Said’s meditation on beginnings fuses this blend of theories with new models from Erich Auerbach and Michel Foucault, making the book’s method the eclectic and hard-to-grasp product of a number of methodological balancing acts of theories derived from these diverse and differing schools of thought. As chaotic as this quicksilver method might therefore strike us, there is however a key to understanding it: Said’s peculiar choice for the term ‘meditation’ to describe it. Indeed, as I go on to argue in this chapter, Said’s choice of a meditative method is as deliberate a choice as his preference for the essay as genre to carry out this meditation. In so doing, I show that both are well-thought metacritical choices that are to a great extent connected to his self-conscious politicization in the aftermath of the Six Days War. All of this contributes to the interventionist potential of Beginnings, making it Said’s most politicized work of literary criticism. To be clear from the outset, Beginnings should be read as a political allegory; its method as a form of cultural politics (White 1976). The book is the literary critical response to the state of paralysis and inactivity in the



minds of Palestinians and Arabs worldwide caused by the crushing Arab defeat in June 1967 and the traumatic events in the aftermath of the war. The method of meditation is a call to action and responds to that socio-­ political situation, in that it is a self-consciously empowering approach to literary criticism which allows for more creativity, freedom, and agency on the part of the individual critic. To clarify my argument, it is important to note that the notion of meditation loosens the necessity of methodological rigor that more commonly used terms such as ‘study’, ‘analysis’, or ‘examination’ imply (see Riddel 1976, 14). Although, just like any other method of criticism, applying a meditative structure to a book has its own blind spots, the benefit or resulting insight is that it allows Said to establish a synthesis of differing inaugural passages or reflections on beginnings from literature, literary criticism, philosophy, and other fields of thought, written at different times, in different places, and by different authors; to discuss the underlying conceptualizations of beginnings in Western intellectual culture; and then proceed to conceptualize a revised model for literary criticism himself that is decidedly more political than the approach to criticism of consciousness that allowed him to explore Conrad’s authorial consciousness. Not just the kernel chapter (1968) but nearly all of the chapters that make up Beginnings had already been published as stand-­ alone essays. The book collects a decade’s worth of research: it includes, in chronological order of publication, an essay on Nostromo (1965), on the humanism of the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico (1967b), on the problems of beginning in the novel (1970b), and on the crucial concepts ‘molestation’ and ‘authority’ in narrative fiction (1971a, b), a synthesizing overview of structuralism (1971a), and two that are dedicated to explaining the work of Foucault (1972, 1974). Apart from revealing Said’s clear preference for writing essays and collecting them in his major publications, it also shows how meditation as a method is inextricably connected to the essay as genre, which is a mobile and heterogeneous style of exposition that resists the rigidity and clear distinctions characteristic of the academic research article. In the book’s style of exposition, it is not hard to see the formative influence of Blackmur whose love for the essay and disdain for the ­professionalized article to express critical thought inspired Said (Sprinker 1992). Hussein is therefore right to attribute Said’s choice for the meditative essay in Beginnings to Blackmur’s critical endeavors (Hussein 2002, 66). Hussein’s original observation is that Said’s intellectual project at the metacritical level is rooted in a dialectical and philological model of what



Said himself, borrowing a metaphor from Blackmur, frequently terms “a technique of trouble” (1975, 283, 2004, 77). The method is an open-­ ended and dramatic—in the prewar New Critical sense—technique of criticism that necessarily and deliberately seeks out the complexity and seeming inconsistencies of literary subjects in order to complicate, subvert, or resist contested knowledge (Hussein 2002, 4). Not content with offering seemingly stable answers, the method raises even more questions, as it constantly rethinks and revises its results, and suspends certainties. Beginnings is hence marked by the interrogatory style which I have tried to emulate and evoke by reproducing Said’s preliminary questions at the start of this section. In an excellent article, Andrew Rubin has traced the presence and influence of this Blackmurrian trope of a technique of trouble in and on Said’s method, connecting it to an “intellectual dexterity that constantly works through the internal tensions, irreconcilabilities, and discontinuities of the literary subjects he examines” (2003, 871). I would like to add that Said’s willful affiliation with Blackmur’s humanistic approach to formalism serves another, major critical goal that ties in with the book’s socio-political goal of empowerment. For in affiliating itself with and elaborating on a method which, as we have seen, affords considerable strength and conceptual focus to individual human agency (see Hussein 2002, 15), Beginnings at the metacritical level already calls individuals to action and creates the very conditions of possibility to do so. In the methodological presence of Blackmur, Beginnings clearly shows itself to be continuous with the theoretical line established in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. But according to Hussein, the book also marks an important discontinuity in Said’s career, because it supposedly drops both Schopenhauer’s philosophy of will and existential phenomenology altogether—two theoretical intertexts vital to the argument of Said’s book on Conrad (Hussein 2002, 66–67).3 I respectfully disagree and wish to emphasize that Said’s method of reading in Beginnings is still to a great extent connected to both intertexts. Let me begin with the continued importance of existential phenomenology, the most obvious sign of which is also to be found in Said’s choice of the meditative essay as his preferred approach to literary criticism. In my 3  Admittedly, Hussein does mention the influence of phenomenology in and on Said’s method, just not its existentialist, worldly variant. He is right to argue that the phenomenological notion of ‘intentionality’ as elaborated in the works of Husserl still makes up the philosophical spine of Said’s meditation on beginnings (Hussein 2002, 98, 128).



reading of it, Said’s preference of the essay is not just a willful affiliation with the work of Blackmur but also with that of Merleau-Ponty whose style of exposition Said emulates. “For”, as he writes in 1967 about the French existential phenomenologist in words that are equally applicable to his own intellectual career, “he disdains point-by-point logic, preferring instead to explore his theme laterally and obliquely, in a manner strikingly reminiscent of R.P. Blackmur’s” (Said 1967a). Indeed, the essay’s composition consists of a series of heterogeneous ideas that can be circled and approached obliquely in a single text without a fixed center. Combined with meditation as method, the essay as genre allows Said to organically move from one idea to another and perform the very displacement of writing that is one of the central themes in Beginnings (see Marrouchi 1991, 73; Said 1975, 22). Yet, there are, as always, two sides to the coin. And so the great critical benefit of Said’s method is at the same time its downside. The least we could say about the meditative structure of Beginnings is that it turns the book into a work that is hard to fathom, rewarding but also demanding of its readers. It is a difficult, at times unfocused and disorganized work of criticism that seemingly structurelessly, improvisationally, self-­contradictorily, and without much methodological rigor—but certainly not without method—circles around its topic waiting for the right moment to tackle it in a style of creative repetition, through hit-and-run tactics rather than in a frontal assault (see Marrouchi 2004, 43; Veeser 2010, 111–112). The result, Culler writes in a review, is that though Said “repeatedly rambles into confusion, he is always able to surprise with a striking comment, to provoke thought with an interesting quotation” (1978, 582). And so Said frequently surprises his readers by offering them more than once a confusingly innumerous list of illustrations from a wide and impressive range of writings. In the course of half a page, for instance, he discusses Nietzsche’s remarks on Homer, connects them to Oscar Wilde on the aesthetic, Freud on Moses, in order to go back to Nietzsche on Dionysus and Zarathustra, onward to Marxism on ideology and class, Lucien Goldmann on the potential consciousness, and then back to Freud’s Moses and the Hexateuch, only to end this dizzying enumeration by falsely apologizing: “I do not wish this list of illustrations … to stand for a rigorous methodological critique: that is not what I am doing. I am really circling around a very acute problem faced by any researcher whose primary evidence is textual” (1975, 58). And yet this is precisely what he



is doing: enumerating and circling around textual evidence, which after some time begins to gather density and scope, begins to acquire a sheer mass and cultural presence that it comes to present itself to Said and his readers as an increasingly acute problem that begs a critical treatment. After this circling motion, Said moves in to strike with a large synthesizing comment that puts the problem he is treating in questions imploring for answers in the following way: To what extent is a text itself not something passively attributable, as effect is to cause, to a person? To what extent is a text so discontinuous a series of subtexts or pre-texts or paratexts or surtexts as to beggar the idea of an author as simple producer? If the text as unitary document is more properly judged as a transindividual field of dispersion, and if—as Darwin, Marx and Freud respectively read natural history, economic history, and psychological history as textual fields of dispersion—this field stands as the locus princeps of research, where does it begin if not in a ‘creative’ or ‘producing’ individuality? (1975, 58)

In this crucial passage and the sentences that follow, Said defends the power of the individual by arguing that between a text and its individual author there is “a beginning connection” (1975, 59). To be clear, we should not understand Said to be speaking in a naïvely old-fashioned humanistic tone, postulating a critical position that defends the primacy of the authorial intention in the interpretation of literature understood in terms of what the New Critics attacked as the ‘intentional fallacy’. Rather, his words are those of a critical humanist schooled in a wide range of contemporary literary theory, presenting the core idea of his book that to begin understanding a text “is to begin to find intention and method in it—not, in other words, to reduce a text to a continuous stream of words emanating from a disembodied causal voice, but rather to construct the field of its play, its dispersion, its distortion” (1975, 59). As we will later see in more detail, the author is important in Said’s model but his or her importance does not lie in being some contingent and passive antecedence to the text but in his or her power to actively initiate the discursive act of writing, by providing the text with an intention and method which the critic has to reconstruct. I will soon return to the stance on authorship and writing that it expresses, as well as explain the fundamental role which the concepts of ‘intention’ and ‘method’ play in Said’s overall argument. For now, I have



singled out this passage and the preceding list to point out Said’s highly idiosyncratic style of exposition and the methodological purposes it serves. Inspired by Blackmur and Poulet, Said’s meditative approach to literary criticism is what I would like to call a guerilla style of criticism that deliberately does not follow a pre-existing prescribed model of explanation and exposition but approaches its topic in an oblique and idiosyncratic way to strike wherever possible and to produce large synthesizing remarks when the opportunity arises. Because it is unsystematic, hardly delineated, and often ends in the aporia that is characteristic of existential phenomenology, Said’s method avoids succumbing to what, as we recall, he calls the ‘imperialism of criticism’ (2000b, 16). Though critics like Hussein exclusively link this intellectual spirit to the work of Blackmur (Hussein 2002, 55), we are a step closer to fully grasping Said’s method and project if we realize that he also invokes the creative energies of the existential-­phenomenological thinkers upon which he built his argument in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. What every critic of Beginnings has overlooked is that the book’s meditative method is connected to Said’s earlier remarks on perception, language, and truth indebted to the works of Merleau-Ponty and Sartre (and Nietzsche). Said’s choice to apply a meditative structure to Beginnings precisely effects its readers to adopt, at the metacritical level, his view on critical thinking and to perform the so-called cycle of criticism which he outlined in his treatment of Conrad. Indeed, Said’s meditation on beginnings provokes us to pause, reflect, rethink, and constantly begin anew. To effect this, it explicitly raises question upon question, seeking out the heart of Conrad’s proverbial darkness and chaos instead of the false light and order. Embodying the cycle of criticism, Said’s method is aimed at the subversion and complication of dogmatic modes of thought and merges more clearly than Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography the creative energies of existential phenomenology with a humanistic New Criticism in an attempt to change the critical consciousness in literary studies. Building on the theoretical clearing opened up by Said’s earlier treatment of Conrad, Beginnings more forcefully promotes a mode of undoctrinated thinking that transcends stifling intellectual categories and breaks down universal ideas, theoretical orthodoxies, false stabilities, and what Blackmur calls “intolerable dogma” (1954, 373). This, I believe, begins to capture more fully Said’s humanism as a technique of trouble. But there is more to it. The other major continuity that Hussein overlooks between Said’s treatment of Conrad and his work on beginnings, is



the continued, albeit implicit, importance of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of will that finds fertile ground in the book’s continued existential-­ phenomenological undertone. As I have briefly indicated, the thematic of individuation and authorship connected to Said’s critical engagement with the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography is translated and adapted to become the central ethical theme of authorial responsibility in Beginnings. From my analysis of Said’s criticism of Conrad’s authorial consciousness it became clear how he considers the Anglo-Polish author in his process of individuation to be deeply inspired by Schopenhauer’s philosophical work (see Said 1966, 102–103). From analyzing this process of self-assertion in Conrad’s writings, Said argues that Conrad is an author who represents the idea of human activity and intellectual responsibility in the face of paralyzing and oppressing systems of thought such as imperialism. As we recall, the process of self-assertion designates the balancing act between either a paralyzing surrender to chaos or an equally paralyzing surrender to egoistic order (Said 1966, 13). In Beginnings Said takes up this idea as the problem of beginning in literature, literary criticism, and the production of knowledge. One way in which this becomes clear, is that Said in the opening pages to the work foregrounds the category of authorial intention in literary criticism, stressing that it should not only be applied to talk about harmony, equilibrium, and consciously intended meanings in a work of literature but also to talk about its discord, conflict, inconsistencies, and, indeed, non-meanings. ‘Intention’, Said argues, is anterior to the work and “includes everything that develops out of it, no matter how eccentric the development or inconsistent the result” (1975, 12). In phenomenological terms, intention is a reflexive act of consciousness that provides the work with a beginning which makes possible a certain inner continuity or the work’s field of play, but—and this is crucial—cannot delineate the work’s entire field of play, its dispersion and its distortion (Said 1975, 47–48). In a clear reference to de Man’s seminal reading of Derrida (1971, 106), Said uses ‘intention’ to designate the interplay between a work’s blindness and insight, between what it says and what it leaves out (1975, 13). What he is effectively saying is that the intention of a work (of literature or literary criticism) makes possible that work’s greatest insights by providing it with a certain direction in which it moves or what Said calls a ‘method’. Hence the overall argument of Beginnings, perfectly captured by its subtitle, is that every beginning,



every human undertaking in literature and in its criticism already necessarily implies an intention and method. Now, by raking up Nietzsche’s famous words on truth as a mobile army of metaphors (1975, 39)—Said cites the same passage in Beginnings as in the essay on “Conrad and Nietzsche” (1976a) which we encountered earlier—the ethical implication is that individual authors and critics are responsible for what they produce, even when they irreflectively reproduce the dominant images and ‘truths’ of their time. Even though they cannot anticipate nor oversee all the socio-political uses to which their writing is or will be put in a certain culture or at a certain time, by being the proximate initiating force of the discursive act of writing and providing the work with an intention and method, individuals are intellectually responsible and accountable for the effects of their writings. This ethics of responsibility underlies Said’s views on authorship and sets the continued ‘Conradian’ tone of Beginnings and all of Said’s other books it enabled. It stresses that there is no place for individuals to escape their intellectual burden of responsibility, hide behind deterministic claims, and act in bad faith.

3   A Philology of the World My analysis of Beginnings has so far focused on how it should be read as a continued elaboration of some of the core concerns of Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. In the process, I hope to have shown that Said’s reflections on inaugural passages in writing are essentially concerned with human agency and will (see Culler 1978; White 1976). Indeed, from the way in which Said meditates on beginnings, it is hard to refrain from considering the human activity of beginning as an activity that can be so daunting and overwhelming that it forces the mind confronted with it to fold back upon itself into a state of paralysis and passive inactivity—a lasting concern of Said’s which becomes clear in the questions occupying him throughout his work. The book’s third chapter on “The Novel as Beginning Intention” (1975, 79–188) revolves around questions of innovation and tradition. How does a novelist approach the seemingly infinite amount of existing novels so as to write something new? How does an author position himself or herself vis-à-vis a literary tradition? The fourth chapter on “Beginning with a Text” (1975, 189–276) asks precisely what its title suggests: how does one as a literary critic ‘begin with a text’? Where to begin analyzing



a complex phenomenon that is a literary text? What, if any, is the privileged point of departure for a literary critical analysis? The fifth and most densely theoretical chapter “Abecedarium Culturae: Absence, Writing, Statement, Discourse, Archeology, Structuralism” (1975, 277–343) offers an overview and in-depth discussion of contemporary French structuralist and poststructuralist thought. By discussing the writings of Derrida, Deleuze, Lévi-Strauss, Althusser, and most notably, Foucault, Said makes clear that all of their attempts to come to terms with language, writing, and thought stress the arbitrariness and instability of seemingly stable categories like ‘structure’ and the ‘human subject’. If there is anything that groups the various, diverse, and not wholly unproblematic attempts of these French-speaking philosophers together, it is that all of them, in their own distinct ways, profess a view of Man that, according to Said, deprives the individual subject of “the power wholly to appear as mover, founder, or origin of a field of knowledge” (1975, 52) by locating that power in abstract and deterministic antihumanistic categories such as ‘class’, ‘system’, ‘language’, ‘history’, and ‘discourse’. What Said attempts to make clear is that the emerging structuralist and poststructuralist theories of reading precisely rob individual authors and critics of their intellectual responsibility and the power to begin. The inclusion of an elaborate discussion of structuralism and poststructuralism serves to make clear that Said’s entire meditation on beginnings should not only be read as a highly acute and timely intervention in the socio-political sphere, but also in the field of literary criticism. As much as it is a response to the events and aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, Beginnings is also the product of the famed Johns Hopkins conference of October 1966 and the institutional situation in the American academy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the book’s kernel chapter, Said sums up the situation in literary criticism in the form of a poignant question, which at the same time offers an excellent definition of the problem that concerns him: If a field of knowledge comprises a wide-ranging array of ‘events’ governed by impersonal rules; if this field cannot be rationally understood in terms of the genetic concepts formerly exemplified by heroes, founding fathers, ­continuous temporal narratives, and divine ordinance … then what power is left to the individual freely to act, to intervene, to motivate, when he wishes to effect a rational beginning for a course or project in that field? (1975, 52)



The answer that Said develops throughout his book is the concept of ‘beginning’, which expresses the power of the individual to initiate or begin the intentional activity of creating new meaning and non-meaning, the activation of a creative human energy to assert one’s self in a moment of will. Clearly, to Said at least, the answer to the emergence of antihumanistic theories of reading that increasingly came to characterize his immediate intellectual milieu is humanism as a technique of trouble. These remarks bring us to my last but most substantial point of criticism on Hussein’s account of Beginnings, which pertains to considering Said’s work as an intervention in the specific field of literary criticism. For, even though Hussein’s account is in many ways excellent and sets a benchmark in the study of Said’s works that in scope supersedes those of Brennan, Aamir Mufti, and Bruce Robbins, one by one highly nuanced and original interventions to advance our understanding of Said’s critical practice, it overlooks the simple fact that Said produced Beginnings as a work of literary criticism and not, say, as a work of philosophy. The reason for this, I believe, is that Hussein nowhere acknowledges the formative influence of Auerbach on Said’s methodology in general and on his subsequent attempts to conceptualize a politicized model of reading literary texts in particular.4 This is all the more surprising since Auerbach features prominently in the chapter “A Meditation on Beginnings”, which Said began writing in the winter 1967–1968. The argument that I would like to elaborate in the following pages is that Said finds part of his answer to the emergence of poststructuralism and its antihumanistic critique of textuality not just in the abstract ­philosophical works which Hussein mentions throughout his analysis, but also in the concrete readings produced by Auerbach. After all, it can be no coincidence that Said uses the plural term “meditations” (Said 1975, 46) to describe Auerbach’s famous synthesizing method in Mimesis (1946), a 4  Brennan, Mufti, and Robbins have precisely examined the importance of Auerbach’s philological approach to comparative literature on Said’s critical practice from Beginnings onward. In this respect, Brennan (Brennan 1992, 2004, 2006, 2013) by far provides the most complete account. For the particular importance of Auerbach’s concept of Weltliteratur on Said, see Robbins’s Secular Vocations: Intellectualism, Professionalism, Culture (1993), as well as the essays of Mufti (1998) and Ned Curthoys (2007). A critical counterpoint to that dominant narrative can be found in Emily Apter’s The Translation Zone (2006). Apter reconsiders the influence which Auerbach is said to have had on Said’s critical practice in favor of Spitzer, Auerbach’s fellow émigré and colleague in Istanbul, whom she believes to have had a more lasting impact on Said.



monumental work of humanistic literary scholarship written in exile in Istanbul between 1942 and 1945.5 In what appears to be another of his willful affiliations, Said’s choice of words links his method in Beginnings to Auerbach’s in Mimesis. As its subtitle suggests, Mimesis presents a theory of representation that spans the history of Western literature from the Homeric poems to the modernist novels of Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. And though this theory might at first sight seem to be quite far removed from the reality of the post-1967 context of Beginnings, it is equally the product of the traumatic experience of displacement and a response to inhumane practices carried out against minority groups (Rubin 2003, 867). In the introduction that Said wrote to the 50th anniversary edition of Auerbach’s magnum opus (Said 2003) it becomes clear how he reads Mimesis as a political allegory to transcend structures of domination and coercion, which is essentially a bulwark of humanism in antihumanistic times. A quarter-century earlier, Auerbach’s philology would inspire him to reconceptualize his own model of literary criticism in Beginnings and elaborate some of the theoretical underpinnings of his more overtly political works, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, to come. And so though Beginnings does not deal with politics in the way that “The Arab Portrayed” explicitly does, it led a reviewer in the special issue of Diacritics dedicated to it to admiringly conclude that Said’s method made him one of the most politically engaged literary critics of his generation (White 1976, 8). To understand what makes Beginnings a politically engaged work of literary criticism with interventionist potential is to link it to Mimesis, a work which, apart from its originating context, paradoxically appears to be as apolitical and unworldly as they come. ‘Paradoxically’—indeed— because Mimesis is a work of literary criticism that unlike any other shows how the production of literature and its criticism are two equally down-to-­ earth practices that are located in a particular time and place and are ­written by a particular person (Auerbach 2003, 573–574). What makes the method in Mimesis so politically engaged is the concept of Ansatzpunkt, Auerbach’s very own conceptualization of beginnings on which his method is based (Mufti 1998, 105). More than the exilic circumstances in 5  Originally published in German in 1946, the first English translation of Mimesis dates from 1953. The edition of Mimesis I will refer to is the 50th anniversary edition of that translation (2003). A telling sign of Auerbach’s influence on Said’s critical practice, Said himself wrote the introduction to the anniversary edition.



which Auerbach, seeking refuge from the Nazis, produced Mimesis in Istanbul (Said 1983),6 the formative influence of his method on Said’s model of criticism comes down to that fundamental concept of Ansatzpunkt or point of departure for literary criticism which features prominently in Said’s meditation on beginnings (1975, 68–75). Said was well acquainted with Auerbach’s Ansatzpunkt, because shortly after the June War of 1967, while in the process of writing the essay that would become the core chapter of Beginnings, he co-translated Auerbach’s “Philologie der Weltliteratur” (1952) into English (1969). In the essay, Auerbach retrospectively offers us the key to understanding his historical synthesizing view of Western literature in Mimesis, which famously has no methodological foreword or introduction, and includes only a short perfunctory epilogue that intentionally fails to explain the book’s method fully (2003, 554–557).7 Looking back on Mimesis more than half a decade later, he at first rejects the possibility of establishing such a kind of synthesis merely by the encyclopedic collecting or fact-gathering of literary texts; literary production is simply too copious, too diverse, and too vast to be taken in directly (Auerbach 1969, 12). Instead, Auerbach argues, it must be taken in indirectly or obliquely, if you will, through what he himself calls an Ansatzpunkt, a specific point of departure within the form and language of the literary work studied, a beginning that can serve as a guiding handle by which the whole work can be seized (1969, 12–13; Said 1975, 77). The Ansatzpunkt thus serves as a carefully selected entry point for the critic’s 6  The specific originating context of Auerbach’s writing in Istanbul has been a focus of Emily Apter’s “Global Translatio: The ‘Invention’ of Comparative Literature, Istanbul, 1933” (2003) and Kader Konuk’s East-West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey (2010). Contrast their work to Abdul JanMohamed’s, who argues that Mimesis “could have been written in any other part of the non-Occidental world without significant difference” (1992, 98–99). 7  According to Alex Woloch, this lack of metacritical reflection has led many critics in the socalled golden age of theory of the 1980s–1990s to undervalue the theory and method of Mimesis (2014). Woloch singles out the writings of prominent critics of that period such as Stephen Greenblatt, Frederic Jameson, and Said, who have all at one time in their careers expressed their admiration for Mimesis but, in his view, have all at the same time misread that book as if it didn’t have a theoretical method. The result of their undertheorizing, he writes, is that Mimesis has become “particularly invisible … in terms of method; as a book that we might not simply admire … but analyse, situate and incorporate into the work that we do” (Woloch 2014, 113)—before going on to analyze the method of Mimesis in the remainder of his article. While I do not wish to comment on Greenblatt’s or Jameson’s reading of Auerbach, my analysis of the influence of Mimesis in and on the method of Beginnings should serve as a counterpoint to Woloch’s intervention, because it shows that Said does not undertheorize Auerbach’s book, but precisely analyzes, situates, and incorporates its method into his own work.



perceptual need to enter into the unified whole or Gestalt that is the literary work. The conceptualization of the Ansatzpunkt as oblique way into the literary fabric illustrates how, to Said at least, Auerbach’s method can be considered to be a conceptual counterpart to Blackmur’s and MerleauPonty’s oblique approach to literary criticism. Let us examine Auerbach’s definition of Ansatzpunkt and the political consequences of applying the term in literary criticism in more detail. “The point of departure”, he writes, “must be the election of a firmly circumscribed, easily comprehensible set of phenomena whose interpretation is a radiation out from them and which orders and interprets a greater region than they themselves occupy” (1969, 14). A good Ansatzphänomen, as Auerbach calls it, is a concrete and precise (rather than an abstract and generalizing) textual detail such as “semantic interpretations, rhetorical tropes, a syntactic sequence, the interpretation of one sentence, or a set of remarks made at a given time and in a given place” (1969, 14). A word like figura, for example, as Auerbach makes clear in Mimesis, at first sight appears to be a single, insignificant term in the verbal reality of the literary work, a mere recurrence among other terms in many Latin texts from late antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages (Auerbach 2003, 72–76; see also Auerbach 2014a). However, in the temporal act of criticism, it becomes clear how, unlike any other frequently recurring word in that particular period, figura has a certain semantic thickness about it that makes it “fully embedded in the historical period … and will thereby link itself to the regulating inner movement of the period being studied” (Said 1975, 68). In Auerbach’s compelling reading, figura is a unique word which pre-­ eminently expresses the conception of reality in late antiquity and the Christian Middle Ages (2003, 555). What Said attempts to make clear is that we should grasp Auerbach’s treatment of figura to be a clear example of how an “Ansatzpunkt turns into a problem that asks the reason for its persistence. Nihil est sine ratione. And persistence will give the critic the opportunity to view a literature, or a so-called period, as information amenable to study, as information in need of interrogation” (Said 1975, 69). Without us realizing, we have already seen how Said attempts to emulate Auerbach’s method in Beginnings. By enumerating and offering a myriad of examples of beginnings and inaugural passages, Said circles around his material until what he calls “an acute problem” seemingly presents itself to him begging for questions and a synthesizing treatment. What Said says about Auerbach, could mutatis mutandis equally be said about him: “he therefore does not



take time to explain his ideas methodologically but lets them emerge from the very history of the representation of reality as it begins to gather density and scope” (2003, xxii). By selecting this persistent problem—Said’s beginning, Auerbach’s figura—as a particular point of departure for their research, both critics are posing questions to the material under scrutiny and are actively involved in a dialogue with the text, its author, and the historical period to which both belong. The Ansatzpunkt thus emerges as a privileged entry point into the fabric of history, as a verbal unit that has the unique explanatory power of synthesis (Said 1975, 69). The synthesizing power of an Ansatzpunkt in the hands of a prolific critic like Auerbach becomes ever so clear in the first, and perhaps also most-read, chapter of Mimesis (2003, 3–23). The chapter begins with a close reading of Odysseus’s homecoming in Ithaca described in book 19 of the Odyssey. In the scene, Odysseus enters his palace disguised as a beggar so as not to be recognized by his wife Penelope whose faithfulness he wants to test after nearly two decades of absence. When Odysseus’s former housekeeper and wet-nurse Eurycleia kneels to wash his feet, she recognizes him by the scar on his thigh, at which she drops the washing basin in amazement and is about to cry out were it not for Odysseus restraining her with hushed threats. Distracted by the foresight of the goddess Athena, Penelope has observed nothing (Auerbach 2003, 3). Surprisingly for a modern reader of the Odyssey like Auerbach—and perhaps even more so for us today—at this tense moment of recognition and crisis the story is suspended and a lengthy description of the origin of the scar follows. After well over a hundred verses on the scar, the poem finally returns in a rather leisurely fashion to the pivotal scene in the palace, completely undoing the tension (Auerbach 2003, 4–7). From a purely aesthetic point of view this raises questions. And so, in search of answers, Auerbach’s close reading of the Homeric scene leads him to discuss the elaborate and detailed style of clarification in the epic poem and the accompanying worldview that this Homeric device of elaboration expresses. To illustrate the historical embeddedness and what he considers to be the ingenuity of the Odyssey, Auerbach then proceeds to compare the poem’s style and worldview to those of the Old Testament, in which equally epic events are described. However, unlike the Homeric poem, the Old Testament does so in a remarkably contrasted style of realism that antithetically to the Odyssey omits many details and lengthy descriptions that are irrelevant for the events of the story so as not to distract from the events themselves (Auerbach 2003, 7–11). From this comparison, Auerbach concludes that there are two different styles of realism at play in



these texts: the elevated style of Homer appropriate to the sublime events of human experience, and the low style of the Vulgate suited for the contingency of human existence (Ankersmitt 1999, 58). According to Said, the underlying rationale of Auerbach’s treatment of the Odyssey and the Old Testament is simple yet crucial: “What is essential to Auerbach’s meditations is the critic’s willingness to begin with the proper instrument of discovery, forged from the language of the period being studied” (1975, 68). And so, as a professionally trained Romance philologist, Auerbach performs close readings of textual passages in their original language—Latin, Occitan, French, Italian, Spanish, and English— that are as deeply immersed in the language of the work as possible, in order to find in it an Ansatzphänomen that has a strong enough centrifugal radiation about it so that in interpreting the phenomenon, the critic at the same time gains access to the whole work and to the world. The underlying rationale of its method makes it clear how Mimesis is a work of criticism that is concerned with form and totality, a concern that, as critics have noted, is much like the Marxist literary criticism of Lukács (Prendergast 1988, 25). For, as Auerbach makes clear in retrospect, in dealing with a concrete Ansatzpunkt, the critic deals not only with literature but with literature’s connection to world history (Weltgeschichte) (1969, 14–15). The close readings in Mimesis are symptomatic readings that treat a particular isolated literary form in relation to the totality that is the concrete social and historical reality within which that form is embedded. The effect of these readings is that the seemingly isolated knowledge of a particular passage is given the explanatory, synthesizing force of being knowledge that pertains to reality (see Lukács 1968, 8). At first sight this seems to be a rather simplistic and even naïve view of knowledge in which the role of thought in reconstructing the literary text and the past seems to be squared with reality. However, much like Lukács’s analyses of class consciousness, Auerbach’s readings reject the simplistic idea expressed in Marxist reflection theory that a literary text unambiguously reflects the totality within which it is produced and hence that the knowledge of a particular text is by definition the knowledge of a reality (see Lukács 1968, xvii–xxv). Rather, the overall methodological point of Auerbach’s humanism, which it derives from the philology of Vico,8 is that human history and 8  Vico’s philosophical endeavors are absolutely central to Auerbach’s practice as a critic and philologist. In 1924 Auerbach translated the Scienza Nuova in German (Vico 1924) and provided it with an important introduction to explain the work’s method (Auerbach 1924).



literary texts must be re-examined from the point of view of their maker (Said 2003, xii–xiii). And so, when Auerbach reads a passage from Homer’s Odyssey or from Dante’s Inferno, to name but the most exemplary and well-known close readings in Mimesis, he attempts to relive these authors’ lived experiences so as to advance his understanding of their texts and the worldviews expressed in them, all the while very well aware that the shortcoming of his humanistic kind of knowledge—and, for that matter, all human knowledge—is that “the line between actual events and the modifications of one’s own reflective mind is blurred” (Said 2003, xiii). Mimesis is a work of humanistic scholarship that is deeply aware that the readings it presents are not readings of reality in itself but, as the phrase in its subtitle suggests, of the representation of reality. It demonstrates that Homer’s, Dante’s, each culture at any given moment in time and place has its own system for seeing and then articulating reality (Said 2003, xiii). Here we have arrived at the core humanistic ideas that draw Said so much to the work of Auerbach: that literature is a complex man-made reality that expresses the dominant images, ideas, and viewpoints for seeing and articulating reality. Hence, in literature we can discern how human consciousness lives its world and comes to term with reality; not reality in itself but those perceptual fictions which a human consciousness feels and judges to be reality. Auerbach’s main argument, which is exemplified by his discussion of the Odyssey and the Vulgate, is that questions of style are aesthetic and political concerns, because they are questions of social and historical processes, of worldview and human consciousness. The underlying hypothesis of Mimesis is that art expresses the lived experience of a particular historical period (Porter 2014, xliv). By taking Odysseus’s scar as a starting point to analyze and interpret Homer’s world, Auerbach ­illustrates how in his method an Ansatzpunkt is always more than just a gateway to study the particular literary work from which it is derived. As James Porter writes in the introduction to Auerbach’s collected essays, the study of literature (under the rubric of a concrete scene or a salient detail) functions as the starting point to chart, grasp, and explain the evolution of In the years thereafter, he wrote relentlessly on the Neapolitan philosopher. Apart from the innumerous mentions and references to him throughout Dante als Dichter der irdischen Welt (1929) and Mimesis (1946), Auerbach dedicated many essays to explaining Vico’s philology (1949, 1958, 2014b, c, d, e). For examinations of the links between Auerbach and Vico, see Bahti (1981), Bremmer (1999), Breslin (1961), Meuer (2007), and Wellek (1978). For examinations of the links between Said and Vico, see especially the works of Brennan (1992, 2005, 2014).



human consciousness embedded in the world (Porter 2014, xiii–xiv). Said fully shares that view of literature. As we have seen in his treatment of Conrad, the concrete style, metaphors, and images—or what he labels Conrad’s ‘idiom’—which the Anglo-Polish author uses in his texts serve as the point of departure for him to understand Conrad’s lived experience and authorial consciousness. What I attempt to make clear is that the Ansatzpunkt serves as a concrete “gateway to forms of thought, feeling, and expression” (Porter 2014, xiii). When used as a methodological handle to grasp a literary text, it turns the seemingly apolitical discipline of philology into a highly politicized mode of reading that is deeply concerned with worldliness. And though philology quite literally means ‘a love for words’, we should, according to Porter, consider Auerbach’s strand of philology “not of the word but of the world” (Porter 2014, xlv). From what I have argued so far about Said, the same holds true for his approach to literature throughout his book. From reading Auerbach’s organic prose in the first chapter on the Odyssey and the Old Testament, the impression could arise that finding an Ansatzphänomen is a relatively easy or straightforward task of criticism. All the critic has to do, it seems, is to carefully read the text and the phenomenon will simply present itself to his or her mind. This could not be further from the truth. Finding a proper point of departure requires great critical skill, active rereading, and deep immersion in the language of the work studied. In Said’s view, Mimesis derives its force from Auerbach’s active engagement with and philological immersion in his material: “chapter 1 is not the result of an empty chore—‘compare and contrast Homer and the Old Testament’; rather, Auerbach seems to have asked himself why Homer’s text wanders verbally in a way that Genesis does not” (1975, 69). The word ‘wander’ is important here, as it ascribes a certain agency to literature. For, though Said believes the selection of an Ansatzpunkt to be clearly connected to the individual agency of the critic who needs to have a certain creativity and assertive power “before an innocuous verbal ‘point’ can turn into a privileged beginning of a critic’s journey” (1975, 72), he is aware that this point of departure may never simply be “imposed on a theme from the outside, but ought rather to be an organic inner part of the theme itself ” (Auerbach 1969, 15). In the act of criticism, the critic must keep a fine balance between critical distance and proximity, between speaking for the text and allowing the text to speak for itself. Said translates this into a critical position where the critic needs to carefully select a point of departure for his or her critical journey, but the direction of the



journey is to an important degree determined by the text itself. The critic must at the same time be intimate enough with the text, even show respect and love for the text’s organic unity and integrity in a manner similar to Blackmur and Poulet—and decidedly dissimilar to the postwar New Criticism, according to which a critic “makes the text something that is continuous with his own discourse; he does this first by discovering, then by rationalizing, a beginning” (1975, 71). In a remark that echoes his critique of what he called earlier ‘the imperialism of criticism’, Said elaborates on this idea by pointing out that the critic must be careful not to turn his or her criticism into a kind that “swallows resisting works, passes them into passages that decorates its own course, because it has found a beginning that allows such an operation” (1975, 71). In this kind of imperialist or cannibalistic criticism, the beginning resembles a magical point that links critic and work criticized. The point is the meeting of critic and work and it coaxes the work into the critic’s prose. In finding a point of departure invariably in the meeting of his criticism with the text criticized, is the critic merely refinding his vision, his biases, in another’s work? (1975, 71; my emphasis)

My emphasis in the passage above serves to remind us of the way in which according to Sartre’s phenomenological psychology a reality is magically—that is, irreflectively—altered so as to be in consonance with one’s (pre-held) beliefs. While Said does not refer to Sartre’s outline for a theory of the emotions here or elsewhere in Beginnings, the argument that he is advancing here is in line with his argument about critical thinking in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. His argument is that the critic may not impose certain persistent schemata—“his vision, his biases”—on the work criticized but must remain as ‘truthful’ as possible to the work’s ‘objective reality’—in the Sartrean, not in the New Critical sense of the word. A literary critic beginning with a text must be aware of the cycle of criticism that Said described a decade earlier in his book on Conrad. He or she must be aware that the selection of a beginning can put severe stress on the mind criticizing, which, driven by the desire to think everything through, might then coax the literary work in his or her critical discourse so that it is effectively forced to fit into a prefixed schema outlined by that beginning. The literary critic, Said goes on to clarify, must remember that when we enter the “caverns of another’s, an author’s, mind at work”



(1975, 75), we must respect the dissonance we experience there. Literary criticism must respect “Conrad’s darkness, seemingly at bay yet ever closer to springing forward and obliterating mind and light” (Said 1975, 74). It must be respectful of the direction within which the work of literature wanders or wants to move. And so, as Said links this conceptualization of criticism to what Blackmur believes its task to be: “Literature is … the old truepenny fellow in the cellarage who never stops walking up and down. Criticism keeps the sound of his footsteps alive in our reading, so that we understand both the fury in the words and the words themselves” (Blackmur 1977, 303; Said 1975, 75). In order to fully understand both the language and experience of the literary work, criticism must be careful not to reify literature but to embrace and respect its humanity, its intention and method. The influence of Auerbach in and on Said’s method in Beginnings consists of the realization that literary criticism is an activity that requires a certain formal intention on the part of the critic, the formulation of a beginning hypothesis tied to the acute problem of the Ansatzpunkt, which needs to be tested and confirmed in the method of the work of criticism (1975, 70). By fusing the creative energies of Blackmur, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Auerbach, Said is able to elaborate a politicized model of criticism that stresses that a literary critic may not rationalize his or her choice of beginning in a post-factum manner whereby the beginning is made consonant with the outcome. Rather, the critic must be guided by the material itself and the directions in which it guides him or her; must be guided as much as possible by the intention and method of the literary text. The critic must approach the object like Auerbach approaches his in Mimesis: without a fixed sense of purpose, without all too strict a method or direction of his own, without a system nor a shortcut to his conclusions, and especially without an orthodoxy of theories and concepts imposed on the text from the outside (Said 2003, xxxii). He or she must select and arrange the material in such a way that his or her critical discourse does not reify the literary phenomenon but, in the words of Auerbach, “allows the individual phenomenon to live and unfold freely” (2003, 572). Indeed, the strength of Auerbach’s approach to literature is that even though its intention is to provide a synthesis of literature, it “does not depend on pre-existing categories or at least is not a mere rearrangement of them. The point of such synthesis is precisely not to reify the whole” (Mufti 1998, 106). By building on this approach, Said’s own method allows him



to work out a model of reading that is able to be critical to the texts studied and at the same time to respect their individuality. The importance of Auerbach’s concept of the Ansatzpunkt for Said’s project to reconceptualize literary criticism can be deduced from what at first sight seems to be a passing remark about Auerbach’s preference to use the term over the German Anfang. Auerbach’s thought-out choice, Said explains, is significant: Ansatzpunkt—which means as much as ‘point of departure’—has a more transitive connotation than Anfang—which is roughly the equivalent of ‘beginning’. The former term consequently emphasizes the constitutive role of the critic who intentionally chooses the point of entry to his or her material (1975, 68). As a result of this choice, the critic retains a sense of freedom in dealing with the material and is able to transcend certain persistent structures of domination and coercion by showing how every beginning is but a construct, the product of a particular human activity preceded by a “beginning intention”, the purposeful production of meaning and non-meaning (Said 1975, 12, 56). From all this, it becomes clear that the Auerbachian model of criticism in Beginnings is a model in which the critic has decidedly more agency than the critic in Said’s previous de facto model of criticism of consciousness derived mainly from Poulet in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Not only is the model of Beginnings decidedly more politicized, but it also comes to rely more closely—both in theory and in practice this time—on the models of reading proposed by Blackmur, Levin, and Sartre that presuppose two conversation partners with more or less an equal amount of freedom. Moreover, in this model both critic and author must respect each other’s mutual right to speak for their own. The importance of this theoretical moment cannot be overstated, because for the first time in Said’s career as a literary critic, his model of criticism presupposes the critic to have a right to speak for his or her own by creating the discursive space within which individuals are able to play initiating roles in a certain field of thought. It goes almost without saying that this is not only an important theoretical moment in the field of literary criticism but in the domain of politics, too. After all, in the context of the ongoing occupation of Palestine, the institutionalization of Israeli apartheid, and the imaginative misrepresentation of Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians in the West, this basic human right to speak is still on a daily basis denied to a particular group of people. Beginnings should be read as a political allegory that responds to this context. Said’s method is an empowering form of cultural politics that does not only reflect on the conditions of possibility for indi-



viduals to intervene in the worldly affairs of politics, but is itself already a form of intervention. By drawing on the humanistic legacies of Blackmur, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Auerbach, Said’s method accrues to the act of criticism the authority necessary to begin the production of counter-­ hegemonic knowledge. This, then, is Said’s humanism as a technique of trouble.

4   Nomadic Authority What is a beginning? While, by discussing the methodology of Beginnings at length, we have seen how a literary critic is to begin, we still haven’t addressed this seemingly simple and straightforward four-word question that sparked Said’s entire book project. What contributed to the major success and critical appraisal of Beginnings is that it was one of the very first books written by an American literary critic to provide a panorama and synthesis of the emerging French-influenced structuralism and poststructuralism, all the while stressing that the use of such umbrella terms to designate a so-called group consciousness is dangerous—if not intellectually wrong—because it domesticates diverse and not wholly reconcilable attempts to come to terms with language, writing, and thought (Macksey and Donato 1972, x). And yet, Said thinks it important to designate this generation of French thinkers as a group in a work on beginnings, because “these critics have made the problem of beginnings the beginning—and in a sense the center—of their thought” (1975, 281). In its discussion of the emerging structuralist and poststructuralist theories of reading, Beginnings was also one of the first books to introduce to an American audience the insights and theories of Foucault. As a result of what many reviewers considered to be a pioneering incorporation of the French thinker’s works, not long after the book’s publication Said was considered to be “Foucault’s most prestigious and vocal supporter in the United States” (Carroll 1978, 721). In the interview with Said that featured in the special issue of Diacritics dedicated to Beginnings, the interviewer praised him to be at the forefront of the ‘critical avant-garde’ in the United States—a well-intended compliment which Said tellingly dismissed by stressing the equally formative influence of ‘arrière-gardist’ critics such as Blackmur and Levin on his interventionist model of reading (Said 1976b, 30–32). The book’s reviewers also predominantly focused on the book’s Foucaultian underpinnings. In his review, Hayden White discusses many of Said’s theoretical intertexts but then goes on to label Foucault



“the master theoretician” (White 1976, 12). While Hillis Miller notes that it is too much of a generalization to characterize Beginnings simply as Foucaultian, his suggestion nevertheless seems to be that its politicized model of criticism is almost exclusively the result of Said’s creative exposition of the French thinker’s avant-gardist critical work (Hillis Miller 1976, 1–2). While the theoretical presence of Foucault is of crucial importance to our understanding of Beginnings, as indeed will become clear in the following pages, I also hope to have made clear that the book’s politicized model of reading is equally the product of Said’s continued engagement with the creative energies of existential phenomenology, Blackmur’s New Criticism and Auerbach’s philology. This engagement illustrates how deeply Said is committed to a humanistic project that defends both the primacy of the human subject in thinking about language and writing, and of human activity in the production of culture. While Said is sympathetic toward Foucault’s intellectual project, he approaches him from these humanistic models of reading and therefore frequently clashes with the French thinker’s more antihumanistic conclusions when it comes to discussing human agency, activity, and the role of determinism in thinking about language, writing, and thought. All this feeds my argument that while the influence of Foucault on Beginnings—and by extension on Said’s critical practice—should certainly be recognized, we should at the same time be careful not to overinflate it. Said’s theory of beginnings, as I read it, is essentially a humanistic response to the first stirrings of Foucault’s antihumanism which recuperates the French thinker’s theories and insights into a humanistic project. To clarify my argument, what better point of departure is there than to finally ask ourselves: what is a beginning? The humanistic undertone of Said’s project already becomes apparent from the outset when he offers the first definition: “the beginning is the first point (in time, space, or action) of an accomplishment or process that has duration and meaning. The beginning, then, is the first step in the intentional production of meaning” (1975, 5). According to this phenomenological definition, the beginning of a work initiates the work’s intention which in its turn determines the work’s method, the direction or field of play within which the literary text digresses and disperses. But, as we have seen, Said at other times argues that the intention already emerges at the beginning and that the intention can therefore also be said to be the enabling condition for the work to begin. If these formulations appear deliberately circular, self-confirming, or complicated even, then this is



correct (Hillis Miller 1976, 4; McCarthy 2010, 59). In fact, much of this circular logic has to do with Said’s definition of intention as “an appetite at the beginning intellectually to do something in a characteristic language … that always (or nearly always) shows signs of the beginning intention in some form and is always engaged purposefully in the production of meaning” (1975, 12). And so from both definitions we gather that the beginning starts the intention and the intention becomes clear at the beginning. Confusing as this may be, Said shows some more clarity of thought when he introduces a crucial difference between a beginning, which has an active connotation and pertains to intentional human actions, and an origin, which has a more passive connotation, is mostly used to talk about divine topics, and should therefore be avoided in discussing human activity (1975, 5–6). This distinction helps us further establish that a beginning is in the first place a worldly human activity, an intentional act of consciousness carried out by an existential individual (a writer) whose consciousness-in-the-­ world is actively and purposefully directed at the production of meaning (1975, 48). From this, it is clear how the phenomenological principle of intentionality is still the philosophical spine of Said’s thinking and informs his theory of beginnings (Hussein 2002, 128). By highlighting the intentionality of a beginning and defining ‘beginning’ and ‘intention’ in such a way that both concepts are inextricably entwined, Said concludes early on that a beginning is “not only a kind of action; it is also a frame of mind, a kind of work, an attitude, a consciousness” (1975, xv; my emphasis). Indeed, the impression from reading Said’s meditation on Beginnings is that a beginning is not just an action but a consciousness which provides the text with an intention. Hence, ‘intention’ here comes to echo the notion of structural intention or structure of experience from Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, which concomitantly makes a ‘beginning’ a consciousness engaged in the act of structurization (Said 1975, 66–67). Just as the individual literary critic is important in Said’s theory of beginnings, because he or she selects a proper point of departure, so is the existential writer, in that he or she has the power to initiate and structure writing. This makes clear that individuals have an important amount of agency and can leave a determining imprint on the production of literature and culture. The literary critical identification of a beginning with an existential writer, rather than, say, with a particular set of determining conditions such as a Zeitgeist or, as Foucault would argue, a discourse, is



an intentional act of criticism “in which designating individual X as founder of continuity Y (a movement, say) implies that X has value in having intended Y” (Said 1975, 32). While Said realizes that such a position might be considered conservative and reactionary even in the field of literary studies post-1966, when structuralist and poststructuralist theories of reading were increasingly downplaying the impact of individuals on literary production in favor of determining systems such as language, he goes on to defend the political importance and literary critical consequences of his choice: “Although there are other ways of identifying beginnings, this one avoids the passivity of ‘origins’ by substituting the intentional beginning act of an individual for the more purely circumstantial existence of ‘conditions’” (1975, 32). What this act of criticism does is to empower individual writers by building a theoretical plane that allows them to play meaningful, initiating roles in the production of knowledge as producers, inventors, and beginners who set forth written statements. It also challenges ways of analyzing literature as a kind of dehumanized form produced by an impersonal voice, and see it as a humanly intended production of meaning. Almost needless to say, Said’s humanistic position is an apology for the human value of literature and the importance of authors. His conceptualization of beginnings is a way of treating individual writers as persons who matter, because it attributes a certain authorizing power to a particular person in designating him or her as an author of a particular text, as someone who plays an initiating role in the production of literature and gives a particular text an inaugural logic, certain explicit and implicit rules of pertinence and a basic sense of direction vis-à-vis an existing discursive formation (Said 1975, 83). To be explicit, Said’s position is that individual writers give existence to their writing and have a right of possession but that [e]very sort of writing establishes explicit and implicit rules of pertinence for itself: certain things are admissible, certain others not. I call these rules of pertinence authority—both in the sense of explicit law and guiding force (what we usually mean by the term) and in the sense of that implicit power to generate another word that will belong to the writing as a whole. (1975, 16)

What these words reveal is that even though Beginnings is not about overtly political topics, it should nonetheless be read as a political allegory which, as White sees it, is “centrally about the concepts that have their special relevance to modern concerns in the political domain, concepts



such as authority, tradition, deviancy, revolution, and above all, power” (1976, 8; my emphasis). Said’s theory of beginnings is a theory of power and its public uses. For, by equating authority with force and power, Said takes up the concept of power in that of beginning. His argument is that a beginning authorizes, that it makes possible or allows what follows and excludes what does not (Said 1975, 17). A beginning controls the continuity of its course or method. A meditation on beginnings should therefore be situated within the broader field of thought circumscribed by such terms as “innovation, novelty, originality, revolution, change, convention, tradition, period, authority, influence, to name but a few” (Said 1975, 6). These terms not only once again highlight the work’s highly politicized mode of reading, they also indicate that Said’s meditation on beginnings is certainly not limited to the field of literary studies in the narrow, academic sense but is equally concerned with the worldly problems of power, authority, and change. It is a theory of praxis, a meditation on the larger role of human agency and will in language, writing, and thought. Though Said’s remarks on the authority of individual writers might at the time incidentally have warmed the hearts of traditionalist, old-­ fashioned humanistic scholars who approached the emerging structuralist and poststructuralist theories in the United States with a great deal of skepticism—after all, the book did win the Lionel Trilling Memorial Award—we are wrong to read them “as traditionalist nostalgia for the good old truths of humanism” (Lentricchia 1980, 162). Empowering individual authors by attributing to them a certain authoritative weight in speaking about their texts is decidedly not the same as restoring the traditionally intentionalist idea of authorship espoused by the predecessors of the New Criticism, in which the individual author keeps hold of all the authority of a text, and in which his or her capacity as a creative genius to begin is boundless. My discussion of Said’s methodology in Beginnings has made it abundantly clear that he is critical of those old truths of humanism when in the name of social justice he also bestows a right to speak and authority on the critic or reader, hence respectfully limiting the absolute authority of the individual author. What critics who read Beginnings as a traditionalist apology for humanism overlook is that the book’s elaboration of ‘authority’ is precisely a critique of humanism, which is sparked by the following question: “To what extent is a text not something passively attributable, as effect is to cause, to a person?” (Said 1975, 58). From my discussion so far, one could conclude that if the text is not passively attributable to a person, Said then



actively attributes it to a person in what appears to be an empowering gesture. However, in Said’s view attributing all the force or power of a particular text to the prior existence of something else, an agency or set of circumstances, is of limited value (McCarthy 2010, 61; Said 1975, 23–24). If the text is to be actively attributed, than less to a person than to an activity, that of writing (White 1976, 9). To make his point, he cites Conrad’s remark in an essay that “[a] book is a deed, … the writing of it is an enterprise” (cited by Said 1975, 24). According to Said, we should not take Conrad to be claiming aesthetic autonomy for writing but rather to be speaking in unison with French structuralist and poststructuralist critics that writing itself is a worldly event, a human activity or form of action in the world. Writing, as we have already seen in the works of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, is an ethical act, a performance and “[t]o begin to write, therefore, is to work a set of instruments, to invent a field of play for them, to enable performance” (Said 1975, 24). And so in Said’s theory of beginnings, the text is above all the product of a beginning, which is the intentional act of producing meaning and non-meaning in writing. And while writing is certainly initiated by a concrete individual who in beginning to write gives to the text a beginning intention or experience—and therefore retains a certain amount of authority and responsibility—Said’s position is that writing itself also produces a meaning that derives most of its authority not from its relation to an antecedent author nor from representing some prior reality, but from its relation to other writing and its capacity to unsettle or displace such prior realities or ‘truths’ (White 1976, 10). With this, we have arrived at the problem of language in Beginnings and the book’s main Foucaultian argument that “writing is a form of displacement” (Said 1975, 22)—a violent, displacing function of writing that becomes most clear in the rhetorical device of quotation. This seemingly simple rhetorical device that is used frequently in imaginative and academic texts symbolizes how a particular text derives some of its meaning from its adjacency, complementarity, and correlation to other texts in a certain discursive field as an ever-encroaching force threatening to displace the present writing. “As a rhetorical device”, Said goes on, quotation can serve to accommodate, to incorporate, to falsify (when wrongly or even rightly paraphrased), to accumulate, to defend, or to conquer—but always, even when in the form of a passing allusion, it is a reminder that other writing serves to displace present writing, to a greater or lesser extent, from its absolute, central, proper place. (1975, 22)



What Said is arguing here is that writing itself is power; that, to a considerable extent, writing creates its own authority by affiliating itself to certain texts and committing violence to others with which it inadvertently shares a discursive field. In this respect, it is good to think of writing as a cosmos, “because within the discontinuous system of quotation, reference, duplication, parallel, and allusion which makes up writing, authority—or the specific power of a specific act of writing—can be thought as something inclusive and made up, if you like, for the occasion” (Said 1975, 23). If we were to draw some kind of antihumanistic conclusions from this and claim that if writing creates its own authority by establishing intertextual relationships with other writing, then the so-called authority of the individual author who is said to have produced the writing is but a void concept, we would be jumping the gun. For, Said goes on to write that what he has just described is a case in which the anterior authority of an individual author “is thus minimized” but, as he hastens to add, that such authority “can never be eliminated entirely” (1975, 24). The rhetorical device of quotation illustrates that writing X can open up a discursive space for writing Y to derive its authority from, add to the authority of writing X, and generate its own authority by adopting a relationship of complementary, correlation, and continuity to writing X. In a discursive feedback loop, writing X is thus given more authority by writing Y, which in its turn derives more authority from the increased authority of writing X to which writing Y itself has contributed, and so on. This dynastic characteristic of writing, which Foucault describes as the establishment of “fondateurs de discursivité” (1994d, 804–806), effectively turns the majority of writing not into originality nor into sameness but into an order of creative repetition of existing writing with only the addition of slight variations or difference to admit its own instances—a very Nietzschean conceptualization of literature (Said 1975, 12; see Said 1976a, 67). But in order to produce new meaning, in order to begin anew, writing has to produce true difference in a discursive field or inaugurate what Said calls “a deliberately other production of meaning” (1975, 13). The otherness of this meaning is precisely derived from the discontinuous relationship which the present writing takes up in a certain discursive field in relation to earlier and adjacent writing. At this point in Said’s theory of beginnings, the centrality of the human will or authority of an individual writer comes into play—a characteristic of his method that distinguishes him from the work of Foucault, whose conceptualization of individual subjects versus the system rules out precisely this possibility.



For, Said’s argument is that such deliberately other produced meaning is essentially the result of an authorial position—what he in Orientalism would label a strategic location (1978, 20)—where an author strategically and willfully places his or her writing alongside other writing instead of in a dynastic line of descent. “A beginning”, he sums up the implications of his theory, “… is a problem to be studied, as well as a position taken by any writer” (Said 1975, 13). And so for Said, every beginning comes with what he calls “a burden of responsibility” (1975, 66). The act of beginning appeals to the individual human will and implies an ethical choice for the individual author: does one continue or begin anew? While Said’s use of such terms as ‘complementarity’, ‘adjacency’, ‘correlation’, and ‘discontinuity’ are references to Foucault’s work on discourse (1975, 289–290), his portrayal of writing as a form of displacement is a description of Nietzsche’s human history as a battle of metaphors and interpretations in action. This shouldn’t surprise us because both Foucault’s and Said’s intellectual projects are rooted in a Nietzschean tradition of critical thinking (see Foucault 1994c). The difference between both is their respective emphasis on one of either two major constituents of Nietzsche’s work: human will and anonymous discourse (Bové 1986, 23).9 While Foucault exclusively focuses on the latter, from a conviction that allocating too much authority to the individual subject and assigning a leading role to intellectuals in general reproduces the dynastic power relations characteristic of a disciplinary society (Bové 1986, 23–24), Said also considers the interplay of texts as an anonymous and trans-subjective process. He nonetheless keeps emphasizing the role of human will and bases his analyses on the privileged nature of the individual critical consciousness (Bové 1986, 27–30; see also White 1976, 8).10 9  Bové’s Intellectuals in Power: A Genealogy of Critical Humanism (1986) offers an excellent comparison of the works of Nietzsche, Foucault, and Said. However, Bové only takes into consideration the differences between Foucault and Said in the latter’s Orientalism and works that followed it, leaving out the pivotal work Beginnings (1986, 27). 10  To be clear, I am hereby not arguing that Foucault does not allow intellectuals to play a role in society. On the contrary, the intellectual has an important, powerful, political function to play in specific, local struggles (Foucault 1980), just not in the generalist-intellectual sense embodied by existentialist intellectuals like Sartre who frequently spoke on public matters of general interest (Baert 2015, 156). Said’s view of the intellectual is at odds with Foucault’s. By stressing the amateurism of intellectuals—by which he means that intellectuals should also be allowed to speak on matters that transcend their specialized knowledge—and believing that every intellectual has the moral obligation to ‘speak truth to power’, he clearly ranks himself in the Sartrean camp. This will become more clear in the final sections of the next chapter.



Said’s description of writing as displacement illustrates this double focus. On the one hand, it describes literary and academic production— or, in short, the production of knowledge—as an anonymous discursive battlefield in which certain texts constantly seek to elbow each other aside, push other texts and the experiences or knowledge they convey from their absolute, central place in a discursive field into the margins of that field. As a result, writing can effectively exclude and marginalize other writing, experiences, and knowledge. It can produce culture by displacing and doing violence to prior, adjacent experiences and systems of representation (White 1976, 10). In this way, certain texts (and not others) achieve hegemony over a discursive field and then from their central position come to produce the very knowledge or reality that they appear to describe, by exerting constant pressure on individual speaking subjects to make their perception, action, and speech consonant with the victorious writing— until new writing pushes the embattled writing from its central place in a discursive field, and so on. But on the other hand, Said’s remarks on the production of literature, literary criticism, and thought in general, have important implications for the way in which we should conceptualize the behavior of individual subjects and the role of intellectuals in society. For what it suggests is that writing cannot be seen as just some innocent leisure activity performed in ivory towers, so to speak, but must be seen as a highly politicized and worldly activity or performance—in the linguistic sense of the word—that in such contexts as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is capable of actual displacement and violence. And so a literary critic asking himself or herself what point of departure to select for the analysis of a poem, an author thinking about the beginning of his or her novel, or a journalist reporting on the latest events in the West Bank, should be aware of his or her authorial position and realize that a particular beginning can set in motion a series of displacements, because [w]ords … stand at the beginning, are the beginning, of a series of substitutions. Words signify a movement away from and around the fragment of reality … The net result is to understand language as an intentional structure signifying a series of displacements. Words are the beginning sign of a method that replaces another method. (Said 1975, 65–66)

And while individual writers cannot possibly hope to understand where this complex series of substitutions will ultimately lead, they have initiated or produced the writing and can thus be held responsible for its worldly



uses. Whether their choice of beginning is taken reflectively or irreflectively and whether it is a choice to continue or to begin anew, in Said’s model of authorship, there is no escaping from the responsibility for that choice. Said’s stances on authorship and authority in Beginnings are to a great extent elaborated in response to Foucault’s seminal 1969 talk “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” (1994d) and his ideas about ‘discursivity’—that is, the conditions of possibility and the rules of formation of texts or what Foucault calls a ‘discourse’ (Said 1975, 34). In his famous talk, Foucault is said to elaborate an antihumanistic idea of authorship that tries to think of literature and culture without the conceptual category of the human subject. He therefore precisely complicates and radically questions the idea that an author as an empirical subject is the producer or originator of a text’s meaning and thus responsible for the socio-political uses to which that text is put (Foucault 1994d, 789–790). To be clear, in Foucault’s context, ‘subject’ means the subjectivity that defines human identity. It is the intentional human consciousness of phenomenology, the humanistic existential subject of Sartre, or the speaking subject that we have encountered in the context of Merleau-Ponty’s conceptualization of language. According to Foucault, this subject should not be given centrality, priority, or authority in our reflections on language, writing, and thought because as an analytical concept it simply cannot cope with the complexity of discourse and draws attention away from the real underlying concerns of criticism (Foucault 1970, xiii; Said 1975, 293). Foucault’s poststructuralist position is opposed to Said’s, because, according to Foucault, the subject cannot be the beginning of human thought or activity; it cannot determine the structure of a text or originate the act of structurization in language because it is itself already an enigmatic structure of language (Said 1975, 286). What Foucault is trying to show in his works is that the human subject is not the producer of language, but that it is precisely a product of language. As a result of this, the subject cannot begin because it is always already begun. Foucault’s philosophical endeavors can best be described as efforts to think through the ordered production of cultural phenomena, such as literary texts, without necessarily taking recourse to the category of a human subject to explain that production (Paras 2006, 28). While the human will is central in Said’s critical project, in Foucault’s it is relegated to the margins. In L’Archéologie du savoir (1969), published in the same year as Foucault held his conférence on the author, he takes up a position against



the kind of humanism professed by Said that attempts to find beginnings in language and thought by locating that beginning in the human consciousness of the originating subject (Foucault 1969, 22–23). Indeed, the rise of Foucault as a prominent philosopher should be seen in tandem with his fierce criticism of Sartre and the existentialist movement in France, which was at the height of its cultural hegemony in the 1950s and 1960s (Paras 2006, 19–21).11 In what could be seen as a way of clearing a discursive space for his own works to fill, Foucault reacted against his existential-­ phenomenological predecessors and challenged the idea that existence precedes essence by turning the order of things upside down. His position is that human subjects do not give meaning to their surroundings, but that such meaning is but the surface effect of a deeper system of thought that precedes all human existence (Paras 2006, 29). And so, his philosophical position, is that “[a]vant toute existence humaine, toute pensée humaine, il y aurait déjà un savoir, un système, que nous redécouvrons” (Foucault 1994a, 515). It is the true task of criticism to discover and alter this system of thought. This leads Foucault to open his seminal talk on the author by polemically declaring that to him it doesn’t matter who is speaking: “Qu’importe qui parle?” (1994d, 789). For him, an author’s name like ‘Joseph Conrad’, for instance, does not refer to a concrete existential individual who needs to be thought of in psychological and biographical terms and is said to be the real producer and originator of Heart of Darkness. Rather, ‘Joseph Conrad’ is simply an ontological principle of a text, a linguistic construct or discursive label to which a certain text, a collection of texts, or the in Foucault’s eyes highly problematic idea of an ‘oeuvre’ is attached so as to limit this collection of writing, to exclude other texts from it, and thus to give the collection a special unity and meaning that distinguishes it from other texts or collections of texts (Burke 1998, 107; Foucault 1994d, 797–798; Hart 2000, 65). Foucault’s critique of the subject is to let go of the idea of an individual as the author of his or her own works and to see the author as a concept which is created to explain the incongruities found in certain collection of texts, an enabling function in a certain discourse at a certain time and place. What does it matter to know that a particular text 11  For a history of the decline of existentialism in France and the rise of not just Foucault but of structuralism and poststructuralism in France in general, see Patrick Baert’s The Existentialist Movement: The Rise of Sartre as a Public Intellectual (2015, 135–157) and especially François Dosse’s two-volumed L’Histoire du structuralisme (1992a, b).



is the product of an existential individual who also wrote other texts, if such knowledge doesn’t really help us reach, rediscover, and understand the preceding determining system of thought? “The painful truth that needed to be embraced”, Eric Paras sums up Foucault’s position on the author, “was that men were the wholly interchangeable speakers of systems of thought that transcended them” (2006, 35). And so Foucault’s conceptualization of authorship sees texts as products of an impersonal voice, a tyrannical epistemological system that speaks through authors. What therefore matters to Foucault is not so much who is speaking certain words in a text, but what impersonal forces allow these words (and not others) to be spoken in this text in the first place (Foucault 1969, 170–171; see also Said 1974, 34). For Foucault, the role of individuals in the production of texts is negligible in respect to those immanent rules of formation that govern such production at a given historical period and place (Burke 1998, 65–66). He is not so much interested in ideas in themselves, but in the conditions of possibility of these ideas or what he in Les mots et les choses (1966) and L’Archéologie du savoir (1969) calls the épistèmè, a set of moving constraints that establishes and determines the outer limits to what individuals regard as knowledge and perceive as objective reality or ‘truth’ at a certain time and place (Foucault 1966, 179; see also Said 1975, 284). He is interested in the ‘archive’, the first set of unwritten rules and laws of that which can be said and in what form it can be said; that what groups different statements or texts together into a ‘discourse’, a specialized mode of utterance to be differentiated from other modes of utterances (Mills 2003, 64; Said 1974, 34–36). The establishment of an entire machinery of ­determinist concepts allows Foucault in Les mots et les choses (1966) to present a history of thought in which individuals and their works are entirely subordinate to impersonal determining forces. He argues that ideas are the product and not the motor of history and he takes up a position that does not allow for much interplay between personal actions and impersonal forces—a position which by contrast we frequently encounter in the works of many Marxists—but argues that no one, not even a critical individual like Conrad can escape epistemic determination (Burke 1998, 62–63). In fact, as Said makes clear, according to Foucault the épistèmè is such a determining tyrannical system of thought that it is unavailable for understanding by any individual living in its epoch (Foucault 1969, 249–250; Said 1975, 295; White 1994, 56). Hence, there is no such thing as a properly critical individual like Conrad.



And yet Foucault already believes it liberating to let go of such stifling anthropomorphist categories as ‘author’ and instead analyze texts as anonymous statements that need to be neutrally observed and weighed in relation to other statements—within a single discourse and between different discourses, and without taking recourse to a biographical entity to judge or explain them—in order to discover the rules of discourse, that is, the underlying rules that make a given statement possible and true at one time and not at another (1969, 38; Paras 2006, 34). The true political task of the critic is not to debate about and try to change the content of discourse without first having delved deeper and reached those underlying rules: “Le problème n’est pas de changer ‘la conscience’ des gens ou ce qu’ils ont dans la tête; mais le régime politique, économique, institutionnel de production de la vérité” (Foucault 1994b, 114). This makes it clear that Foucault’s project—whether it examines the history of madness, medicine, physics, biology, psychology, or sexuality— is always aimed at the unmasking of seemingly universal truths while being deeply committed to worldliness and change. And even though his methodology could be labeled as antihumanistic in that it posits the primacy of impersonal forces over human existence, Said is right to point out that Foucault’s project serves “a particularly humanizing purpose” (Said 1975, 313). That there is a logic inherent in the production of knowledge that is no longer dependent on the human subject, does not mean that such notions as the épistèmè, ‘archive’ and ‘discourse’ are not man-made (Said 1975, 313–314). They are, and there is a concept of Man that underlies Foucault’s method and project (Agamben 2005, 80–81; Carroll 1978, 721; Davies 2008, 141–142). Only, that concept is not the individual Cartesian cogito of phenomenology as the one and only measure of things who is the grounding center of knowledge and, given enough time and opportunity, is able to reach infinite possibilities and think all things through. As such, Foucault considers it to be intellectually unfair to hold individuals responsible for the workings of a language game they can barely understand or control. His argument is that only by letting go of such categories as the ‘human subject’, ‘author’, and ‘oeuvre’ will we be able to truly understand how societal struggle, the toppling, and establishment of coercive and dominating systems of thought takes place in discourse: when certain statements come to dominate and exclude large masses of other statements, in short, what Said calls the displacement of writing takes place (Foucault 1971, 12).



In its commitment to change, its introduction of radically new theories and methods, and its complication and fundamental questioning of what one could call the pre-held beliefs, critical orthodoxies, and dogmas of humanism, Foucault’s project profoundly appeals to Said. In Beginnings, Said shows himself to be deeply sympathetic to Foucault’s predicament by arguing that in order to rethink the subject and its relations to the world, humanism may well have to engender its own opposite and approach its problems from an antihumanistic point of view. He understands very well that Foucault’s stance is one of opposition to the hegemonic systems of thought he hopes to break down. Looking to, what Said himself would call, radically begin anew, Foucault does not want to fall into the trap of irreflectively continuing the dynastic discourses against which he as an oppositional critic is struggling and therefore renounces the methods of humanism in order to devise his own analytical toolbox (see Bové 1986, 35). In acknowledging that Foucault’s project is to challenge humanism’s hegemony over thought, Said even goes as far as to write that “Foucault is, to use one of R.P. Blackmur’s phrases, a technique of trouble” (1975, 283). From all we have seen about Said’s emulation of Blackmur’s method in Beginnings and his critical praise for the Princetonian autodidact, whom he in the Diacritics interview even calls “the greatest genius American criticism has produced” (1976b, 32), we should take this to be one of the highest compliments conceivable in Said’s mind. Most importantly, the compliment shows that though Said ultimately does not follow Foucault in his antihumanistic conclusions, he regards the French thinker as a highly critical humanist.12 This illustrates how Said attempts to recuperate Foucault’s methods into a humanistic project. For, as Said’s use of metaphors like ‘genius’—not just in the Diacritics interview but everywhere throughout his works—suggests, he continues to fall prey to a form of ahistorical idealism and does not himself renounce all of humanism’s conceptual tools (Bové 1986, 27). As a convinced humanist who does not radically question humanism and its claims of justice and resistance, Said considers the greatest dangers 12  Whether Said’s assessment is an indication that Foucault ultimately fails in his critical attempts to combat the hegemony of humanism, I leave to others. See, for instance, the work of David Carroll who in analyzing a ‘crypto-subjectivity’ in Foucault’s archeological work also mentions Said’s ‘defense’ of humanism in Foucault (1978), or Bové’s assessment that, in its opposition to humanism, the work of Foucault is severely limited in its revolutionary potential and critical capacity as it becomes “paradoxically dependent for its own authority on the hegemonic humanistic discourse” (1986, 3).



of applying Foucault’s methods all the way through to be paralysis and failure of judgment, political quietism, and passivity. His implied argument, as Bové shows, is that it is better to use the power and authority that humanistic models of reading bestow on individuals for progressive reasons, rather than to abandon them completely and not use them at all (1986, 32–34). The rationale for this choice is an ethical one—of human activity within a constraining situation—that critics must remain ever critical and realize that though their concepts are inescapably flawed, they must nonetheless do their best to work with the tools at hand. As Rashmi Bhatnagar argues, Said’s ethical position as a literary critic fighting for the human rights of his fellow Palestinians means that he remains deeply committed to humanism (1986, 16). His fight is one of social justice, of individual intellectual responsibility in opposition to brutality and dehumanization (Bhatnagar 1986, 16; Hussein 2002, 24). This is precisely why he does not want his own literary criticism to contribute to this dehumanization of individuals and why he persistently returns to an author like Conrad, who—though his representations are flawed—represents reason and humanity in the face of oppression. Said links humanism to activity and agency, antihumanism to passivity—an argument to which I will now turn. Though Said swears allegiance to the nomenclature of humanism, his intellectual engagement with Foucault in Beginnings leads him to produce a theory of discontinuity and beginnings that offers a critique of humanism. Apart from discussing, adapting, and recuperating Foucaultian ­concepts for its own use, Said’s theory is informed by Foucault’s conceptualization of ‘discursivity’ and the realization that all words, all writing, and all texts inevitably stand in an intertextual relationship to other words, writings, and texts (Said 1975, 298, 351). Foucault’s writings on ‘discourse’ are therefore crucially important intertexts to understand Said’s critical practice in Beginnings, and thereafter. What Said encounters in Foucault’s writings is an affirmation of his earlier ideas about the worldliness of literature—that the writing of texts is a worldly event that is not only set in a particular time and place, but also in a particular textual and linguistic context that determines this writing. “La vérité”, Foucault writes about the production of ‘truth’, “est de ce monde; elle y est produite grâce à de multiples contraintes” (1994b, 112). And while Said does not explicitly use Foucault’s terms in talking about literature and the production of knowledge, he does take over the French thinker’s central argument that imaginative and academic texts (a discourse) fill up an activated



space (the épistèmè) and is controlled, regulated, and ordered by a set of unwritten rules (the archive) that may escape the individual’s apprehension but can and must be examined by the critic, whose political role is to examine in the depths of discourse the ways in which ‘truth’ is ultimately delineated by anonymous systems of thought. The importance of Foucault’s philosophical endeavors for Said’s theory of beginnings is that they illustrate how all human activity is inextricably bound up in language or discourse and that “the relationship between discourse and speaker is governed by rules that antedate the speaker’s appearance and postdate his disappearance” (Said 1975, 299). This leads to Said’s realization that beginnings inadvertently take place in a discursive field that is always already begun and will continue to exist long after the present writing is introduced in it. Moreover, as there are many determining forces at work in a particular act of writing at any one moment in time and place, radical discontinuity, reversal, or change of direction—in short, beginning anew—in a discursive field is extremely difficult, if not nigh-on impossible (Said 1975, 34–35). To Said, Foucault’s work demonstrates that the problem of beginning is the problem of writing’s relationship to a sheer mass of previous writing, which stands there as an intimidating force exerting enormous power on the present writing to conform to this mass of writing. This effectively turns the whole problem of beginnings, in its most contemporary form of thought, into “a problem of discursivity” (Said 1975, 18). Foucault’s focus on the formation of discourse and reduction of individual authors to complex discursive author-functions, serves to illustrate his point that discourse produces its own texts and authors and that power or authority is therefore “a property of discourse and not of writing (that is, writing conforms to the rule of discursive formation)” (Said 1975, 23). It therefore hardly matters who speaks, for it is always more or less the same we are hearing. In Foucault’s model, writing “is considered a controlled play of forces dispersed in a textual space that is created by the writing and that does not exist before it” (Said 1975, 282). Writing therefore does not convey a prior lived experience or authorial intention but is an activity in itself that conforms to other writing. According to Foucault, biographical facts and information about an ‘author’ will therefore not significantly change the meaning of the texts attributed to him or her (1994d, 797). Whatever meaning we make from a particular text is from discursive conventions or linguistic codes that are endlessly relational or intertextual: “Words stand for words which stand for other words, and so



on … an infinite regress of truths permanently hidden behind words” (Said 1975, 280–281). The rules and limitations of discourse make writing conform to other writing and extend authority to one another (1994d, 807). And while Said to a considerable extent takes over Foucault’s ideas on the discursive constraints of writing, for him—and here we have arrived at his fundamental critique of Foucault—it clearly matters who speaks. It clearly matters that Heart of Darkness, for instance, is the product of Joseph Conrad, the Anglo-Polish author born in a Polish-speaking family in the Russian Empire, whose critical self-consciousness as an outsider— first in the French merchant navy, then in England as a seaman and writer—and lived experience of colonialism as captain of a steamer on the Congo River and in other places around the world provoked in him an active comprehension of how imperialism as a system of thought works in dominating thought, language, and perception (Said 1986, 49, 62). And though according to Said’s model, writing also produces its own authority from its discursive intertextual relations, it is initially Conrad who gave authority to it in the intentional act of consciousness that is beginning to write. For a beginning is a conscious authorial position in relation to a discourse. It is an assertion of human will initiating, structuring, and thus authorizing writing, the result of which is the introduction of a particular text in the discursive field. All of this serves to make clear that Said does not follow Foucault’s author-function all the way through, but still considers authors as ­empirically personalized concepts, that is, as active persons rather than as passive functions. But this does not mean that Said equally dismisses Foucault’s ideas on discursivity or the formation of discourse altogether. Only that his deep and sincere commitment to the principles of humanism stands in the way of him letting go of the category of the subject and its central place in thinking about language, writing, and thought. Instead, Said attempts to actively think through the possibility of discursive formation with subjectivity. Said’s answer to Foucault’s ‘discursivity’ and the realization that every writing is always to a considerable extent determined by forces outside it, is that “authority is nomadic: it is never in the same place, it is never always at the center, nor is it a sort of ontological capacity of originating every instance of sense” (Said 1975, 23). Turning nomadism into a metaphor for authority, his position is that for each text authority is located in a different place. The reason is that authority is dependent on what appears to be a balancing act in the beginning between a powerful assertion of will by



the existential writer on the one hand and a submission or surrender to the epistemic pressures and constraints of discursive formation on the other. In either case, the authority of writing can never exclusively be attributed either to the existential writer or to discourse. It is always a particular and unique mixture of invention and restraint, which depends on the magnitude of the author’s assertion of will and the pressures of discourse: the stronger the assertion, the stronger the authority of the existential writer on the writing; the weaker the assertion, the more easily the pressures of discourse force the individual writing to conform to discourse. This makes two things clear: one, that writing freed from all constraints is a noble dream, but, two, that writing is not overdetermined either. The metaphor is important, and should be read as a political allegory that theoretically opens up a way for all “inconsequential nomads” (Said 1970a, 5), not just Palestinians, to regain authority and the permission to narrate. It is a crucial theoretical gesture to begin anew.

5   Authority and Molestation This tension between invention and restraint, or the relationship of individual writing versus transindividual discourse is captured in the book’s third and most elaborate chapter “The Novel as Beginning Intention” (1975, 79–188). There, Said discusses the transition from the great classical novel to the modernist novel, by using two concepts that are useful in our understanding of novelistic forms and the Western novelistic tradition in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries: ‘authority’ and ‘molestation’ (1975, 82–83). We have already established what Said means by the former term: the power of writing that results from an intention or creative desire by an author at the beginning to forge change, modify, and continue existing meanings or produce new or renewed ones in writing. And while the allocation of authority to the individual writer is a theoretical gesture that does not in itself guarantee that these writers produce new or renewed meanings, when discussing literature Said seems to reserve the term ‘authority’ to speak exclusively about the power of individual writers with “the desire to create an alternative world, to modify or augment the real world through the act of writing” (1975, 81). Said illustrates that in the writings of Defoe, Dickens, and Balzac, this desire to invent is tied to a worldview according to which the world is gradually secularized and therefore increasingly perceived as incomplete, in need of change, and full



of gaps that novels are allowed to fill in (1975, 82). He goes on to describe how this motive is uniquely correlated to the historical worldview of Europe in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries and that therefore similar individual authority cannot easily be found in other novelistic traditions around the world. To corroborate his claim, Said briefly compares the European novel to writings produced in Arabic. This leads him to conclude that because most Modern Arabic novels were written in the twentieth century, the historical, European desire to change or augment the real world that lies at the basis of the rise of the novel as genre must be “inimical to the Islamic worldview” (Said 1975, 81). According to Said, epistemic determination and discursive constraints on Islamic literary production were so great that “no action can depart from the Koran; rather each action confirms the already completed presence of the Koran and consequently, human existence” (1975, 82). He adds that more novelistic Islamic stories like those in The Arabian Nights are ornamental, variations on the world, not completions of it; neither are they lessons, structures, extensions, or totalities designed to illustrate either the author’s prowess in representation, the education of a character, or ways in which the world can be viewed and changed. (Said 1975, 81)

And while invention as a literary motive can be discerned at an earlier historical moment in the Western novelistic tradition than in Islamic writing, in both traditions it has been met with what Said calls ‘molestation’, a term that designates the way in which the existential writer is pressured by the brute facts of existence, epistemic determination, adjacent discourses, and the archive that determines what can and cannot be said; and if it can be said, in what particular form it can be said. ‘Molestation’ is the writer’s realization or consciousness that writing is a worldly activity that takes place within the constraints of other writing, thought, and institutions and that therefore his or her authority to begin or invent is never complete nor seamless, but always in one way or another ‘molested’ (Said 1975, 84). There is a great deal more to say about Said’s analysis of the great classical novel as “a literary form of secondariness” (1975, 93) in which characters who are otherwise lost in society, such as “orphans, outcasts, parvenus, emanations, solitaries, and deranged types whose background is either rejected, mysterious, or unknown” (1975, 92–93) are given an alternative life and are able to begin anew, as well as about the ways in



which according to Said the classical and modernist novels represent human existence and experience in such a way that the novel became one of the major cultural institutions in Europe that shaped the idea of the self (see McCarthy 2010, 63–66). In the following pages, I wish to single out and discuss Said’s argument about the transition from the classical to the modernist novel in relation to his critique of Foucault’s model of determination. Said’s argument boils down to this: in the novelistic tradition of the West, authority and molestation “are at the root of the fictional process” (1975, 84) but they “ultimately have conserved the novel because novelists have construed them together as beginning conditions, not as conditions for limitlessly expansive fictional invention” (1975, 83). By the late nineteenth century, molestations which should be seen as the conditions of possibility that set the material, mental, and discursive context within which a novelist is able to begin in fiction, were increasingly experienced by novelists as absolute constraints of possibility. To understand Said’s thesis, it is important to know that throughout the book’s third chapter he describes how in the nineteenth century the novel was gradually exhausting itself so that by the move from the classical to the modernist novel in the late nineteenth century the sheer amount of novels produced had given the novel as genre such an enormous cultural authority and discursive presence in the West that one could speak about the ‘novel as ­institution’. Through the feedback loop in which writing creates its own authority—by conforming to other writing, then extending authority to that writing, and then deriving even more authority from that writing— the novel had come to produce its own discursive restraints. In a critique that echoes his stance on the formalist approach to literature of the postwar New Criticism, Said describes how this institutionalization of the novel caused modernist novelists to increasingly approach the novel no longer as a possibility but as a molesting institution, as they concerned themselves with form in itself rather than with creating an alternative or modifying the existing world through the act of writing. And so where classical novels predominantly present narratives in which characters are able to begin anew in a secondary life thanks to the authority of the novelist who takes up a quasi-paternalistic role in relation to them, modernist novels such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Henry James’s What Maisie Knew or Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier present narratives that have increasingly turned inward in a narrative method where puzzling actions are reconstructed but remain ungraspable for the retrospective



narrator, thereby frustrating, in Heart of Darkness for instance, the traumatized protagonist-narrator Marlow’s attempts at beginning anew (Said 1975, 151). And even though the retrospective mode of Conrad’s narrative method in Heart of Darkness provides readers and critics with valuable insights about the workings of modern human consciousness as well as about ‘the knitting machine’ of modern systems of thought, the problem with Conrad and his fellow modernist novelists is that “the retrospection is performed as a form of discursive retrospective supplement to the event-­ as-­action” (Said 1975, 151). This created a paradox in the novelistic tradition of the West in which the novel as genre responded to the world and its molestations by precisely retreating from that world in its own form, forsaking its former function as active modifier of reality, and forcing itself to take up a new cultural function of passive supplementary—a change in the novel that comes to a high point with James Joyce’s 1922 Ulysses and its “very difficult art whose connections with reality are seldom obvious” (Said 1975, 151). And so, the cultural paradox is that at precisely the moment when the secularization of society was gaining momentum, the Western modernist novel in form and function came to lean more closely on the religious Islamic writing of the Middle Ages. We have seen how in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography Said argues that in Heart of Darkness the protagonist-narrator Marlow responds to the world by taking up a state of passivity and gloomy ­acquiescence in his situation. By establishing an analogy with Sartre’s theory of the emotions, Said concludes about Conrad’s agency as a writer that he irreflectively chooses not to act upon the objective reality but to fold back upon himself, to pacify himself and to not take responsibility for his situation. The argument in Beginnings seems to be of a much greater magnitude, stating that not just Conrad, but the entire late-nineteenthcentury modernist novel took on such a passive state to the world. “The problem”, Said goes on, is the author-novelist himself, upon whom the pressure of the novel as institution weighs heavily. The novel’s paternal role … appears to be increasingly a formal one. Authority gives way to repetition, as mimesis gives way to parody and innovation to rewriting. Each new novel recapitulates not life but other novels. It is not much to say … that the late-nineteenth century phase of the novel which I have been discussing can be characterized as one in which narrative loses the sense of beginnings with which it had commenced. And this because the author now considers himself as much a creation as is his writing. (1975, 151–152)



In the passage which I have just cited, Said argues that the change of the novel’s cultural function in the late nineteenth century should be explained by the increasing restraints of the novel as institution on the mind of the individual author-novelist, but that the experience of such worldly molestations on the author-novelist’s consciousness cannot be seen as an excuse, because it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual author-novelist to have chosen to give in to those pressures and produce self-inward, retrospective formalist literature. From the way Said describes the intertextual play in the late nineteenth-­ century modernist novel, it is hard to refrain from considering the modernist novel as a textbook example of Nietzsche’s definition of literature as creative repetition, of writing as rewriting. By describing how the modernist novel “recapitulates not life but other novels”, Said seems to be arguing that modernist novels are the product of individual writers who exert too little will of their own and thus in the intentional act of beginning (irreflectively or reflectively) take up authorial positions in which they conform to the authority of discourse, thus diminishing the quasi-paternalistic authority of their classical predecessors to an increasingly formal one. Said’s argument therefore seems to be that the quintessential modernist author-novelist takes up an authorial position in which he or she comes to embody Foucault’s author-function, that is, an author who renounces his or her own authority as existential writer and acquiesces in or interiorizes, so to speak, the idea that discourse produces not only texts but authors and that therefore the authority of a writer is “as much a creation as is his writing”. In this way, I believe, Said’s description of the move from the classical to the modernist novel is also an implicit critique addressed at Foucault’s antihumanistic model of determination and the danger of passivity that adopting such a model of agency entails. For, while Said is enthusiastic about what he considers to be Foucault’s technique of trouble as a critique of humanism and an attempt to reveal the operations of power, he is remarkably less positive and even downright pessimistic about what he calls his “philosophy of decenterment” (1975, 378) and its arguments on epistemic determination, linguicity, and the insignificant role of the subject in the production of knowledge. By asking the audience at the opening of his conférence on the author what does it matter who speaks, Foucault in a way anticipated the response that he would give to Lucien Goldmann in the question-and-answer session. There Foucault assured the author of Le Dieu Caché (1955) that every literary work is the structured expression of a worldview that is the collec-



tive product of real subjects responding to an equally real objective situation (see Williams 1971, 12–13), that his reduction of the author to a discursive function does not mean the loss of all subjectivity and human activity without which literary production, according to Goldmann, would become void, uninteresting, and impossible even. “Définir comment s’exerce la fonction auteur n’équivaut pas à dire que l’auteur n’existe pas”, Foucault replied, at which he ironically implored Goldmann to put away his handkerchief, “… Retenons donc nos larmes” (1994d, 818). As Giorgio Agamben points out, Foucault’s point is that the analysis of authors as discursive functions does not mean the dismissal of subjectivity from his thinking but should be seen as a radical theoretical gesture to open up new and more productive ways to more clearly see the workings of the individual subject in literature and in the production of knowledge, while at the same time being able to see the determining forces that work upon an individual subject that identify and constitute him or her as author of a certain text or corpus of texts (Agamben 2005, 80–81; Foucault 1994d, 817). The living subject, Agamben argues, is at the heart of Foucault’s thinking, but it is never present in a work of literature except for in the objective, discursive processes that constitute it (2005, 81). But Foucault’s remarks did not persuade the author of Le Dieu Caché nor the author of Beginnings, who in his discussion of Foucault’s theories seems to side with Goldmann and does not follow Foucault’s optimism about what he calls “so bleak and antisentimental a view of man” (Said 1975, 287). “The drama of Foucault’s work”, Said believes, “is that he is always coming to terms with language as both the constricting horizon and the energizing atmosphere within and by which all human activity must be understood” (1975, 284; my emphasis). According to Said, the problem of Foucault is that by positing the primacy of the “historical a priori” (1975, 284) of the épistèmè and its determining force on the archive, which in turn regulates and acts as a formidable censor on discourse and writing, he is arguing that all individual writing is already pre-informed, pre-structured and pre-ordered and that individual intention is effectively domesticated by the system. Moreover, if the authority of individual writers to initiate new or renewed meanings in literature exists solely because of its approval by discursive formation in advance, then the whole idea of an author beginning a deliberately other production of meaning and of change in a discursive field is precluded. In fact, such a view even robs individual authors of their products, because if everything is already pre-­



structured by the rule of discursive formation, then all new, other produced meanings were already thought possible by the épistèmè and were already outlined in the discursive field, awaiting, seemingly as dots to be connected, to be filled in by writings. Then discourse and not the individual author is the real producer of texts and knowledge. What underlies Foucault’s analyses is a conceptualization of agency that turns the conditions of possibility of human activity, the situations that cause creative responses, into the absolute, outer limits or constraints of such activity. In this way, Foucault has, at least according to Said, incarcerated man within a linguistic system, the effect of which “is that man as we know him is dissolved” (1975, 286). Said believes that Foucault’s antihumanistic methodologies make us lose our grip completely on man, as we can no longer see its products. If one is to follow Foucault’s idea of the author-function, then “man is dissolved in the overarching waves, in the quanta, the striations of language itself, turning finally into little more than a constituted subject, a speaking pronoun, fixed indecisively in the eternal, ongoing rush of discourse” (Said 1975, 287). The implicit argument in Beginnings is that this dissolution of man in discourse is mirrored in the move from the classical to the modernist novel. Said cites none other than Conrad, who has his narrator Marlow in Heart of Darkness describe Kurtz as “just a word for me” (2006, 27) and then later has him continue to say: I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him as doing you know, but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I will never see him’ or ‘Now I will never shake him by the hand,’ but, ‘now I will never hear him.’ The man presented himself as a voice. Not of course that I did not connect him with some sort of action … That was not the point. The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his word – the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted, and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness. (2006, 47)

While Said offers no explanation of this passage and chooses to let it speak for itself, I would like to indicate that we should read Marlow’s words as a warning of the methodological consequences of applying Foucaultian discourse analysis. In my view, Foucault’s discourse analysis is a highly original methodology that shows us that there is no such thing as an isolated work of literature because every text is connected to an infinite horizon of



other words, speeches, texts, and discourses, and therefore produces a kind of intertextual meaning which the individual author cannot possibly hope to foresee or fully control. The benefit of Foucaultian discourse analysis is that it is able to analyze how the content and form of a literary text is determined by a larger, underlying system of thought that has its own rules and laws of formation; “an impenetrable darkness” for most approaches to literature, but penetrable by discourse analysis. However— and this is a position I share with Said—it only allows us to conceptualize individual subjects as ‘discoursing’ and not ‘as doing’, by which I mean that it regards individual subjects as interchangeable speakers of a system of thought, robbing them not only of their individual voice but also of their agency. Having cited Conrad, Said presents his argument about Foucault’s conceptualization of discourse in what is the key passage in understanding the position that his own critical practice takes up in relation to that of Foucault—not just in Beginnings but in Orientalism, too. While Said is deeply sympathetic to Foucault’s intellectual project because of its radical attempts to unmask seemingly universal truths, and to lay bare and criticize the dominating and coercing workings of underlying systems of thought, Foucault’s positioning of discourse over speaking subjects makes him feel uneasy, because it means that language becomes the first and final frontier of all thought, a tyrannical feedback system “in which man is the speaking subject whose actions are always converted into signs that signify him, which signs he uses in turn to signify other signs, and so on to infinity” (1975, 288). Said’s ultimate argument is that by turning the relationship between discourse and individuals upside down, language in the work of Foucault has achieved “a position of mastery over man, language has reduced him to a discursive function. The world of activity and of human experience stand silently aside while language constitutes order and legislates discovery” (1975, 288; my emphasis). I have highlighted the words “activity” and “human experience”, two crucial terms that define Said’s view on literature and his related conceptualization of agency. In fact, my entire discussion of Said’s critical practice so far has revolved around precisely these two terms. I have stressed that, for him, literature is the man-­made product of a human activity set in and responding to a particular worldly situation, and that the literary work is not just a linguistic object in which language refers to itself and other linguistic objects but the expression, conveyor and shaper of a particular human, lived experience.



Said’s main issue with Foucault’s work is that while the French thinker frequently acknowledges changes in épistèmès by selecting and contrasting highly significant but discontinuous moments in history,13 like most structuralists, he does not seem to be concerned with explaining how and why these epistemic changes happen. The fact that they have happened and that there are differences between different épistèmès, is more important than explaining the way in which these differences came into being (Said 1975, 315). While Foucault is certainly no structuralist, his work at the same time does not seriously account for change and force, for “the powerful and sometimes wasteful behavioral activity of man” (Said 1975, 335). Foucault does not show “why structure structures: structure is always revealed in the condition of having structured, but never … in the condition of structuring, or of being structured, or of failing to structure” (Said 1975, 337). Said’s conviction is that the cause for this is Foucault’s dominantly linguistic apprehension of reality that permits language to be a truly totalitarian and tyrannical system of thought because it regards the human subject as the byproduct or structure of language and no longer as its central producer. Because in Foucault’s model speaking subjects are inscribed in a discursive situation that is at any one moment in time and place always already begun and will continue to be under way even long after the disappearance of the individual speaking subject, “man now lives in a circle without a center, in a maze without a way out” (Said 1975, 315–316). These words might well remind us of Said’s conceptualization of language and culture in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography that is based on the existential-phenomenological works of Merleau-Ponty. According to that conceptualization, the individual speaking subject is also surrounded by concentric circles of language but the difference is that it finds itself not in a maze but in a labyrinth of incarnations. And though the difference between conceptualizing language and culture as a maze or a labyrinth might at first sight seem small or trivial, it is crucial and unravels Said’s position in relation to Foucault. For while a labyrinth is similar 13  Foucault’s approach is most clear in the introduction to his 1961 Folie et déraison, a study that largely revolves around two distinct moments in history with two equally distinct treatments of madness: “Dans l’histoire de la folie, deux événements signalent cette altération avec une singulière netteté: 1657, la création de l’Hôpital général, et le ‘grand renfermement’ des pauvres; 1794, libération des enchaînés de Bicêtre” (1961, 10). The former moment is marked by a blind repression of madness in an absolutist regime, the other by the progressive discoveries of positivistic science. Foucault’s goal is to note the difference, not what caused these epistemic changes.



to a maze in that, as we recall Said’s description from 1967, it is “a complexity that has no discernible end or beginning” (1967a, 67), unlike a maze, a labyrinth does have a center. That center is the human subject or “linguacentric man” (Said 1967a, 55), who similar to in Foucault’s model may have no choice but to use language, and at least in Said’s model stands in the center, at the beginning of thought and activity. And even though in this view of language, language still has its own constraints and own logic which make it possible to generate its own meaning and exert determining constraints on speaking subjects—just like in Foucault’s conceptualization of discourse—it nevertheless does not work in an overdetermining way and always remains open to the intentions of individuals who can use these constraints productively. And so Said’s meditation on beginnings responds to Foucault by emphasizing that beginnings are not just constructs—the Auerbachian intertext of Beginnings—but also the result of an individual speaking subject’s authorial position versus a determining—but by no means overdetermining—system. Said argues that individual authors must select a beginning by being creative with the given rules of a linguistic system, with the “burdens and confusions” (1975, 73) of a labyrinth—not a maze. This is Said’s way of stressing that a beginning—be it a new work of literature, literary criticism, or a work in any other discursive field—is always the product of an interplay between the deeper laws or the internal constraints of discourse working on the individual speaking subject and the individual creativity of that subject (1975, 52–56). This, then, is how Beginnings opens up a discursive space which frees individual human intention from its domestication by a system of thought, creating the possibility of intentional, conscious production of meaning (see 1975, 319–320). Though Said’s model takes into account the myriad of constraints or molestations working on individual speaking subjects, it still treats literary texts as the embodiment of authorial consciousnesses or lived experiences of their authors—a sign of the continued importance of Poulet and the criticism of consciousness. In this way, contrary to the model of Foucault, Said’s model can account for change, for individual texts and personal voices in a discursive field by introducing the possibility of a certain distance between discourse and individual articulations and thereby finding an answer to the problem caused by a decentered linguistic apprehension of the world that allows for “no tone, in Richards’s sense of the word, in any statement, no sense of an individual voice that is its own final authority, since … the whole world is contained within a gigantic set of quotation marks” (1975, 338).



And so in contrapuntally combining the creative energies of Foucault with those of Blackmur, Poulet, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Auerbach, and Nietzsche, to name but a few, Beginnings does not just present a politicized model of reading and a theory of praxis, but is itself a humanistic defense of literature in antihumanistic times, an ode to that “solitary, crystalline perdurability we feel and know in a poem, the condition of its exile from the communal sea of linguicity” (Said 1975, 338).

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Disorienting Vision

1   Introduction: Stanford, 1975 In the academic year 1975–1976 Said had the luxury to devote his time fully to research and writing. As the recipient of a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, he took some time off from teaching at Columbia and spent the period in Stanford to write most of the chapters that would make up Orientalism (1978). Since the Third Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, Said had studied for a number of years what he would famously call Orientalism, a myriad of hostile, dehumanizing misrepresentations of Arabs and Muslims in the West. Now, events spiraling out of control in Lebanon made it all the more pressing to write a full-scale methodical examination of the way in which the West culturally, politically, intellectually, and morally came to terms with the Middle East, its societies, and its peoples. In the spring of 1975 minor violence in Beirut between Maronite Christians and predominantly Muslim Palestinians erupted in an all-out conflict between militias of the Phalange, a right-wing Christian Democratic political party mainly supported by Maronite Catholics; the Lebanese National Movement, an alliance between leftist, pan-Arabist, and Syrian nationalist factions that was later supported by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of Yasser Arafat; and the ever-weakening Lebanese national government that sought to maintain order. The spark that ignited an unfortunate series of events was the so-called Bus Incident, when on April 13, 1975, over 20 Palestinians traveling by bus through the © The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4_5




Ain-el Rammaneh district in Beirut were ambushed and killed by Phalangist militiamen in reprisal for earlier skirmishes between the Phalange and sympathizers of the PLO (Weinberger 1986, 147). The conflict reached its first grim high point on December 6, 1975, a day infamously known as ‘Black Saturday’. In response to the killings of four members of the Phalange, Phalangist militias reacted with what can only be described as a massacre in the streets of Beirut, murdering 200 Muslims on the basis of their identity cards, causing Muslims and Palestinian militias to retaliate by killing hundreds of Christians (Harris 2012, 236). In this vicious spiral of violence, on January 18, 1976, Phalangist paramilitaries captured Karantina, a city slum in East Beirut mostly inhabited by Palestinians, Kurds, and Syrians that was controlled by militias of the PLO. When the Phalangists entered the neighborhood, they began violently expelling the inhabitants, killing more than 1000 in the process (Harris 2012, 236). The violence that visited Karantina caused the PLO to officially join the conflict. Two days later, on January 20, 1976, the PLO retaliated with a massacre of its own in Damour, a Maronite town 15 miles south of Beirut, killing 20 Phalangist militiamen and more than 500 villagers (Chomsky and Said 1999, 184–185; Fisk 2001, 99–100; Harris 2012, 236). The events in Lebanon in 1975–1976 set in motion a war that would drag Lebanon into a 15-year spiral of violence, internal conflict, foreign interventions, a military invasion by Israel, a United Nations peacekeeping operation, Syrian occupation, and innumerous reprisal massacres and mass killings—of which the most infamous are undoubtedly the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila of Palestinians and Shiite Muslims perpetrated by the Phalange, then allied with the Israeli Defense Force (Fisk 2001, 382–383). The Lebanese Civil War would officially last until 1990 and cause the death of at least 100,000 people and the displacement of another 1,300,000 in Lebanon and its neighboring countries (Harris 2012, 235). The Lebanese Civil War intensified Said’s politicization, who witnessed most of the events from a safe distance in newspaper reports and on television and radio news while writing Orientalism at Stanford. In 1977, a year before the book’s publication, he was elected as an independent member without political affiliation to the Palestine National Council, the legislative body of the PLO which acted as a representative of the Palestinians in Israel, Lebanon, and the diaspora—a significant political gesture that, given the PLO’s open use of violence and terrorism, Said at all costs wanted to downplay by labeling it as “nothing more than symbolism”



(Said cited by Salusinszky 1987, 128). But compared to that of the June War of 1967, the impact of the events in Lebanon of 1975–1976 on Said’s academic writings at first sight seems to be rather insignificant. And yet, there are many traces of it. The archival collection of Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library contains a short unpublished piece written by Said in September 1975 on the breakout and the early stages of the Lebanese Civil War. In “The Sorrows of Lebanon” (1975b), Said laments what he describes as the ongoing crisis of representation in Lebanon, in which none of the three parties “represents either a decisive majority of people and power or a decisive majority of ideas” (1975b). He believes the ongoing conflict to be justified because it “is about who will, and has a right to, speak for the Arab future” (1975b). But the ongoing violence drags the country into a quagmire of passivity, where it waits to be dictated by Egypt, usurping Lebanon’s right to speak for its own, pressured by its neighbor Syria, or invaded at will by Israel “only for destroying the Arab realities of Palestine” (1975b). And while Said’s lamentations have never been published, the sorrows of Lebanon are at the heart of Orientalism, which opens with a brief passage on the Lebanese Civil War that turns the country’s crisis of representation into a metaphor for the whole problem of Orientalism. Said’s beginning, if you will, to methodically examine Western representations of the Middle East, its cultures, societies, peoples, religions, and languages is a short remark made by a French journalist on a visit to Beirut during the first years of the civil war. While faced with the impinging reality of a war-torn Beirut and the ongoing suffering of its population, the journalist reminisces on Nerval’s and Chateaubriand’s voyages en Orient and lamentingly contrasts their early-nineteenth-century descriptions of Beirut with the city’s unrecognizably gutted downtown area in the present. In what follows, Said asked himself why the sorrows of Lebanon seem to be invisible for the journalist who only has an eye for his experience of a disappearing Orient, once depicted by French travel writers as “a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (1978, 1). “Perhaps it seemed irrelevant”, Said goes on to describe the problematic of Orientalism, that Orientals themselves had something at stake in the process, that even in the time of Chateaubriand and Nerval Orientals had lived there, and that now it was they who were suffering; the main thing for the European visitor



was a European representation of the Orient and its contemporary fate, both of which had a privileged communal significance for the journalist and his French readers. (1978, 1)

There is something at work here which makes the French journalist value his own communal Western experience of aesthetic loss as more important than the contemporary experiences of the people of Beirut, who are actually losing their homes and lives to the ongoing violence; something which prevents him from even seeing these experiences. Said famously defines that ‘something’ as ‘Orientalism’, “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (1978, 1). The first and most densely theoretical, Orientalism lays the foundations for the analyses in The Question of Palestine (1979) and Covering Islam (1981), by combining and bringing to a high point the line of thinking set out by Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966), “The Arab Portrayed” (1970), and Beginnings (1975a). The link with that middle work is arguably the most obvious: Orientalism is an examination and critique of the dominant and persistent Western representations of Arabs as implicated in relations of power. It illustrates the way in which in these representations the Orient is constructed or ‘Orientalized’ as a place of special European interest, of opulence sensuality, splendor, magic, despotism, irrationality, weakness, backwardness, and mass-mentality, as well as the ancient source of Europe’s civilizations, languages, and the location of its oldest and most prestigious colonies. The Orient is Europe’s cultural contestant and “one of its deepest and most recurrent images of the ‘Other’” (Said 1978, 1). As these recurring images and assumptions illustrate, the Orient is truly idealized in Western imagination, which leads Said to conclude early on that the Orient is not an inert fact of nature. It is not merely there, just as the Occident itself is not just there either … as both geographical and cultural entities—to say nothing of historical entities—such locales, regions, geographical sectors as ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident’ are man-made. Therefore as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other. (1978, 4–5)



What Said describes here is how Orientalism is a symptom of imaginative geography, of how a space is created and endowed with certain qualities with an imaginative value. The process of imaginative geography, Said makes clear (1978, 54–55), is reflected in French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard’s La poétique de l’espace (1958). According to Bachelard, the objective qualities of a house are far less important than the emotional qualities attributed to it and which we value, experience, and feel in that house as a humanized space. A house can feel ‘homelike’, ‘haunted’, or ‘magical’ on the inside, while from the outside it can be ‘leering’ or ‘imposing’ (Bachelard 1958, 48). Likewise, Orientalist history and geography as Said analyzes them in Orientalism are instances of such imaginative knowledge because in the Western consciousness the Orient was always “something more than what appears to be merely positive knowledge” (1978, 55; his emphasis).1 This also ties in with Said’s earlier work on perception. Like in his book on Conrad, in Orientalism he illustrates the manner in which the perception of “a brute reality” (1978, 5) is imbued with imaginative meaning through recurrent imageries, ideas, and vocabulary articulated in a discourse. These Orientalist images then inform, override, and sometimes even stand in the way of any objective knowledge about the Orient. It is important to note that these images primarily stand in a consonant relation to each other, not necessarily to a reality of some sort. Orientalism then works in such a pervasive way that this idealized but ‘fictional’ Orient of imaginative geography is without all too much reflection perceived, felt, and experienced as the ‘true’ Orient by nearly every author Said discusses. The ‘Conradian’ argument of Orientalism is that the Orient of Orientalism is a man-made ‘truth’ disguised as objective knowledge; not the product of a veridic discourse but truly a magical place—in Bachelard’s or, more precisely, in Sartre’s sense of the word. That is, the Orient is an imaginative place, a reduced, schematized perceptual fiction of a real location, with real peoples, customs, and lives that are all far more complex than Western discourse might suggest—not some Oriental essence but an 1  For a discussion of the formative influence of Orientalism on the field of human geography, see Michael Frank’s “Imaginative Geography as a Travelling Concept” (2009). Frank discusses the importance of Bachelard in and on the method of Orientalism in order to argue that Said’s method is much closer to Bachelard’s than it is to Foucault’s (2009, 71). While Bachelard’s poetics of space does indeed serve as a way for Said to comprehend and illustrate Orientalism, attributing more theoretical weight to Bachelard than to Foucault distorts Said’s argument all too much.



objective reality that is too difficult to grasp as it is (Said 1978, 273). This real Orient is beyond Said’s scope of study. What interests him is “the sheer knitted-together strength of Orientalist discourse” (Said 1978, 6), how the ‘false light’ of Orientalism illuminates Western consciousness and perceptual experience, how Orientalism works as a ‘knitting machine’ that, remembering Conrad’s metaphor, “knits us in and out—thought, perception, everything” (Said 1966, 139; my emphasis). And so, he goes on to state the intention of his study, “the phenomenon of Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient … despite or beyond any correspondence, or lack thereof, with a ‘real’ Orient” (Said 1978, 5). The model of criticism that Said elaborates in Beginnings to analyze, criticize, and combat hegemonic systems of thought comes to fruition in Orientalism. Indeed, Said’s most famous book is an attempt to change the critical consciousness and to begin anew. Like Beginnings, Orientalism is informed by the method of humanism as a technique of trouble, in that it refuses to offer clear-cut answers but instead repeatedly thematizes the complex web of Orientalism. Take, for instance, Said’s opening gambit to define Orientalism as a threefold, interdependent constellation that is all at the same time (1) an academic discipline with doctrines and theses about its object of study, the Orient (1978, 2); (2) a general style of thought based on the premise that there is an ontological and epistemological difference between an ‘Orient’ and an ‘Occident’ (1978, 2–3); and (3) a corporate institution for dealing with the Orient, “a discourse” or “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (1978, 3). The final part of this definition makes it particularly clear that the central terms of Beginnings, ‘authority’ and ‘discourse’, remain crucial for our understanding of Orientalism. What is rather abstractly approached as the problem of authority and molestation in the former book is now picked up as the highly acute problem of resistance to the determining system of thought and discourse that is Orientalism. What links Orientalism to Beginnings is that the former book attempts to analyze the workings of Orientalism as an interplay between authority and molestation, and to devise a theory of resistance according to which humans are able to speak back to a dehumanizing discourse built on the discursive space opened up by the latter book’s theory of beginnings, which attributes authority and intention to individual writers. Let me illustrate this by discussing the introduction to Orientalism. While Said



f­ requently comments on concerns of personal interest in interviews, unlike such thinkers as Foucault (1994a, 748) and Raymond Williams (1973, 2–3), he refrains from referring to his personal involvement in his more traditional academic writings—even though I have been arguing throughout this book that worldly events have a profound impact on and provide his critical practice with a personal rationale and motivation. It is therefore exceptional and at first sight even surprising that at the end of the introduction he avows that [m]y own experiences of these matters are in part what made me write this book. The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny. (Said 1978, 27)

In this pivotal passage Said sums up the most important cultural ramifications, ideological workings, and personal repercussions of Orientalism as a system of thought. In a reference to Antonio Gramsci’s writings on hegemony, he describes how Orientalism is supported by an almost unanimous consensus that is barely resisted in the West. Moreover, just like in “The Arab Portrayed” (1970), the image he draws of an Arab Palestinian in the West is that of a demeaned, reified, alienated, and passive subject. But the importance of this passage for our understanding of the character of Orientalism lies not just in its content but in the personal tone in which it is written; in the fact that it is one of the rare occasions in which Said effectively draws attention to his personal involvement. “The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America” is not the experience of some abstract individual, but his very own lived experience. In the passage, he describes how he himself experiences the ideological workings of Orientalism as a form of racism, stereotyping, imperialism, and dehumanization, as a punishment that forces him into a state of political invisibility and passivity. The fight against passivity, we recall, is one of the primary motivations of his writings in the period leading up to Orientalism—even perhaps of his entire career. In Beginnings, passivity is the ultimate reason why he rejects what he believes to be Foucault’s determining model of agency, in favor of a more balanced model with an



empowering emphasis on individual human activity and intellectual responsibility. All of this, I believe, explains why in a reference to Foucault he adds: “The nexus of knowledge and power creating ‘the Oriental’ and in a sense obliterating him as a human being is therefore not for me an exclusively academic matter. Yet it is an intellectual matter of some very obvious importance” (Said 1978, 27; his emphasis). Not just a ventilation of his anger, nor an introductory critique of the passivity caused by Orientalism, Said’s confession of his personal involvement is itself the first of a series of empowering theoretical gestures to combat that paralysis. In notebook 11 of the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci writes: “The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory” (1971, 324). When Said introduces his personal investment in his study of Orientalism, he cites the Italian Marxist’s remarks on the inventory of traces and adds his own translation of a part of the Italian text left out in the English version, concluding that “therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory” (Gramsci cited by Said 1978, 25; his emphasis). According to Gramsci, every individual is the product of an ensemble of various, hidden relations (1971, 352–355). In order to change his or her own particular situation, he or she has first to discover these relations, compile an inventory of them, and then proceed to analyze them. The underlying idea of Gramsci’s writings on ‘hegemony’ and Said’s theory of agency and resistance in Orientalism, as we will see at length in the final section of this chapter, is that only when the material conditions of our existence are recognized, inventoried, and analyzed, are we able to transform reality through willed and meaningful action (see Bobbio 1979, 34–35). It is important to note that the argument that Gramsci elaborates in the Prison Notebooks is not new to Said. He encountered it earlier in Lukács’s notion of class consciousness, which played a crucial role in his conceptualization of criticism in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Lukács stresses that the awareness of the basic determining structures at play in modern capitalism and the resulting realization of the class to which one belongs cause a moment of crisis which itself already brings about an objective structural change and prepares the way for a larger, willed systemic change (1968, 171–172). And though the formation of an insurrectionary critical self-consciousness in itself is not enough to overthrow the conditions of modern capitalism, in Lukács’s model of r­ evolution it is the prerequisite of such change because at that precise moment of



class consciousness the passive object of knowledge transforms into the active subject of knowledge (1968, 2–3). This then is precisely why Said avows his personal involvement and narrates that ever since his childhood in the British colonies of Palestine and Egypt he was persistently aware “of being an ‘Oriental’” (1978, 25). In disclosing his lived experience, he effectively describes how since his upbringing he has been constituted and reconstituted as an ‘object’ of Orientalism on a daily basis. His subsequent attempt “to inventory the traces upon me” (Said 1978, 25) is an attempt to form an insurrectionary critical self-consciousness so as to shake off the so-called mind-forged manacles of Orientalism (McCarthy 2013, 88–89). By becoming a subject of knowledge as the producer of Orientalism, Said inaugurates the insurrectional act of creating non-dominative and non-essentialist knowledge that, in a reference to Williams’s project in Culture and Society (1958), will actively contribute “to the ‘unlearning’ of the ‘the inherent dominative mode’” (1978, 28). Bill Ashcroft and Pal Ahluwalia have rightly pointed out that Said’s description of his coming-to-consciousness as an Arab Palestinian in the West is an empowering gesture that also takes up the unfinished project of the Martiniquan existential Marxist and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon to move “from a politics of blame to a politics of liberation” (2009, 53). By affiliating his own intellectual project with that of Gramsci, Lukács, Williams, and Fanon, Said embeds his project within a larger Marxist project to form a critical self-consciousness as a preliminary of revolution. From its very outset, Orientalism calls on the wretched of the earth to write back. Confirming his own subjectivity within discursivity, Said’s description of his personal involvement is, as he avows, an important academic and intellectual matter. Indeed, through this specific discursive act of writing—and that of producing Orientalism—Said effectively secures a subject position as interlocutor to the very discourse that silences him in the process of constituting him as an ‘Oriental’. By performing this specific beginning, Said intends to accrue authority to his writing, implant that authority in a specific form, and thus to conserve the imprint of his individual writing as force (see Said 1975a, 100). And so, what at first sight seems to be a confessional outpouring about an author’s personal lived experience, is actually a crucial discursive act of writing through which Said first reclaims and then exercises his right to speak as an ‘Oriental’—a fundamental human right that Orientalism as a discourse has denied its objects for ­centuries. The gesture, I argue throughout this chapter, is the necessary first step in the intentional process to begin anew.



2   The Will to Truth and Power: Orientalism as a Discourse Orientalism made such a monumental impact upon its publication that it continues to be the topic of adulation, emulation, criticism, and even downright hostility both inside and outside the field of literary studies. A great deal has to do with Said’s intervention which illustrates the manner in which the representation of Europe’s ‘others’ has been institutionalized since at least the eighteenth century as a feature of its cultural dominance. Orientalism describes the various disciplines, institutions, processes of investigation and styles of thought by which Europeans came to ‘know’ the ‘Orient’ over several centuries, and which reached their height during the rise and consolidation of nineteenth-century imperialism. The key to Said’s interest in this way of knowing Europe’s others is that it effectively demonstrates the link between knowledge and power, for it ‘constructs’ and dominates Orientals in the process of knowing them. (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 2009, 47)

Said’s main argument about Orientalism is an echo of Conrad’s so-called imperialism of ideas converting into the imperialism of nations (see 1966, 140), in that it shows how Orientalism is not just a post-factum rationalization of colonial rule in the Middle East but actually helped justify imperialist interventions and colonial rule in advance (1978, 39). The method of Orientalism to a considerable extent builds on Foucault’s conceptualization of discourse to illustrate the manner in which the West, in its attempt to come to terms with and master the Orient, subjects it to discourse, ‘Orientalizes’ it, and thereby reduces the complexity of its reality to more simple linguistic representations (see Foucault 1976, 25). It is designed to illustrate that allegedly innocent or pure knowledge about the ‘Orient’ and ‘Orientals’ creates the very categories it claims to describe, and then, through this discursive event, is able to gain actual control over the region and its inhabitants (see Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982, 61–62). Having defined Orientalism in the threefold way I have outlined earlier, Said explicitly states that it is above all “a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power” (1978, 12). What this makes clear is that Orientalism must be



viewed in Foucaultian terms, as a discourse which manifests power/ knowledge. Orientalism demonstrates above all how Europe’s strategies for knowing the part of the world that it called the Orient are at the same time its strategies for dominating that part. With this kind of a claim, it can hardly come as a surprise that Orientalism became the target of fierce criticism, especially by those scholars occupied with “knowing Europe’s others” in the fields of Oriental and area studies (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 2009, 70–71; Hussein 2002, 227). Arguably the most well-known debate is the acrimonious dispute between Said and Orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis in the pages of The New York Review of Books during the 1980s (Lewis 1982; Said and Grabar 1982). In response to Said’s critique of Lewis’s scholarship as aggressively ideological (1978, 315–321), Lewis called him an amateur who made too many factual mistakes, in general, knew nothing about Oriental studies, and therefore had no right of speaking (1982). In voicing this argument, Lewis embodied the kind of professionalized Orientalist thinking that Said attacked in Orientalism—and clearly did not share Said’s appraisal of Blackmur’s idea that literary criticism as amateurism is able to combat such professionalized thinking. But what must have arguably enraged Said most, is Lewis’s below-the-belt claim that he had no right of speaking because he was no specialist, hence articulating the connection between knowledge and power which Said precisely sought to expose. Three years later, in “Orientalism Reconsidered” (2000c), Said formulated another reply to Lewis in which he stated that the most important challenge to Orientalism is not to correct the mistaken facts of an academic discipline, but rather to combat a powerfully persistent discourse and the legacies of the colonial era of which it is so organically a part. The challenge to Orientalism is a more fundamental challenge of proper critical thinking and social justice, “a challenge to the muteness imposed upon the Orient as object” (Said 2000c, 202)—precisely the same kind of muteness Lewis had tried to impose on Said. More recently, Robert Irwin attacked Orientalism (2006, 277–309), dismissing Said’s entire thesis as intellectual charlatanry. Orientalism, as he reads it, is an instance of the so-called politics of blame which Said himself so frantically wanted postcolonial studies to get rid of (1986). Irwin thinks it obvious that bitterness about what had been happening to the Palestinians since the 1940s fueled the writing of this book. But rather than blame British, American and Soviet politicians, Zionist lobbyists, the Israeli army



and, for that matter, poor Palestinian leadership, in a weird kind of displacement Arabist scholars of past centuries, such as Pococke and Silvestre de Sacy, were presented as largely responsible for the disasters of Said’s own time. (2006, 282)

Though my intention here is not to defend Said against such bitter reproaches, I would nonetheless like to point out that Irwin, like Lewis, misses the whole point that Said is making. While Said does claim that Orientalist scholarship was and still is at the service of imperialism (see Schaar 1979), he does not claim that Orientalist scholars are responsible for the way in which things have unfolded in a simple causal line of argument, as if they or their predecessors directly incited European nations to go out and colonize the Middle East. Rather, what he attempts to demonstrate should be understood both in line with his earlier Nietzschean-­ inspired argument about the production of knowledge as a textual battlefield and with Foucault’s thinking on discourse and its relationship with knowledge and power. While Said was writing Orientalism in California, in France Foucault was finishing the first volume of L’Histoire de la sexualité (1976). What Foucault attempts to show by examining the history of sexuality and the different ways in which sex emerges in discourse is that the production of knowledge is never ‘innocent’ but always an integral part of a society’s struggles for power (Gordon 1980, 236; Mills 2003, 69). The production of knowledge constitutes at the same time a claim for power, because all knowledge depends on and even engenders a relationship of power to such an extent that one cannot think knowledge without thinking power— hence, Foucault’s coining of the term ‘power/knowledge’ (pouvoir/ savoir) (1976, 21; see also 1980, 52). The term is inextricably related to his earlier notion of discourse because this nexus of knowledge and power is articulated in a particular discourse embedded in a society’s power relations (Foucault 1976, 133–134). However, as Foucault emphasizes not just in L’Histoire de la sexualité (1976) but in all of his works since Les mots et les choses (1966), during the course of human history, discourses—of sexuality, psychiatry, penology, criticism, history—have increasingly clothed themselves as ‘innocent’ knowledge embellished with claims of scientific objectivity and truth, and thereby effectively disguised its ­connections with power. Over time, the connections between knowledge and power have become so well-hidden that it requires great critical skill and critical activity to reveal them (Mills 2003, 61).



Although Said does not refer to Foucault’s first volume on the history of sexuality in Orientalism, the French thinker’s insights on the nexus of knowledge and power and its articulation in discourse have found their way into his analyses of Orientalism. In “Criticism Between Culture and System” (1983a), an essay originating in a recurrent summer seminar that he ran from 1977 to 1979 at Columbia University, Said balances Foucault’s conceptualization of the function of texts against Derrida’s and explicitly favors the former’s for its ability to not only show the internal workings of texts but also their worldly affiliations with “institutions, offices, agencies, classes, academies, corporations, groups, guilds, ideologically defined parties and professions” (1983a, 212). Unlike Derrida’s criticism which “moves us into a text”, Foucault’s criticism is more committed to worldliness and moves us “in and out” (Said 1983a, 183). The whole essay is a plea for critically applying Foucault’s criticism in order to be able to see that every “text is part of a network of power whose textual form is a purposeful obscuring of power beneath textuality and knowledge” (1983a, 184). The job of the critic then is to reveal these obscured relations, disclose that which the text does not immediately disclose itself, and make visible again its connections with power. Said argues that the alleged distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘political’ knowledge is untenable because all forms of knowledge are deeply complicit with the operations of power (Said 1978, 9; Young 1990, 127). Whether we read a treatise that is explicitly Zionist or pro-Palestinian, a political study that examines the United States involvement in the Lebanese Civil War, or an archeological study of ancient Sumer, we should realize that all knowledge, not just those forms that are explicit about it, are involved with politics and institutions of power. In the introductory essay to The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983e), a collection of essays written in the period 1969–1981, Said eloquently defines his approach to literature and literary criticism in Orientalism. His position, he argues, “is that texts are worldly, to some degree they are events, and, even when they appear to deny it, they are nevertheless a part of the social world, human life, and of course the historical moments in which they are located and interpreted” (Said 1983b, 4). His analyses in Orientalism are informed by the broad, humanistic, and historical form of textuality of Beginnings that is based on the creative energies of the New Criticism, existential phenomenology, philology, Foucault’s poststructuralism, and—now to a considerably greater extent—historical materialism. Committed to disclosing the bonds between knowledge and power, culture and system, literature and politics the critic must reveal



the connection between texts and the existential actualities of human life, politics, societies, and events. The realities of power and authority—as well as the resistances offered by men, women, and social movements to institutions, authorities, and orthodoxies—are the realities that make texts possible, that deliver them to their readers, that solicit the attention of critics. (Said 1983b, 5)

The analyses of Orientalism are intended to demonstrate that because culture is related to real events and real power relations, all forms of writing must take into account the constraining and productive roles of society, cultural traditions, worldly circumstances, and institutional influences; all writers must take into account the constraints working on them and never “ignore or disclaim the author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances” (Said 1978, 11). This latter remark brings us to the heart of Said’s quarrel with Orientalist scholars such as Lewis, who, because of what Said would later call “the triumph of the ethic of professionalism” (1983b, 4), have wrongfully claimed for their knowledge a status of “suprapolitical objectivity” (1978, 10) that is remarkably similar to the professionalized approach to literature of the postwar New Criticism—and, he adds, that of the New Yale Critics of 1970s and 1980s. According to Said, all of them—Orientalists, postwar New Critics, and New Yale Critics—pay an incredible amount of attention to their object of study, but in focusing on the text they have turned their backs on those matters concerning the world and the critic. The result is that, especially in the case of Orientalism, their allegedly non-­ normative, rational discourse disguises itself as objective truth devoid of any political interest. What Said painstakingly attempts to illustrate is that because representations of the Orient have no necessary (and quite often completely lack any) correspondence with an objective reality in the Middle East, an Orientalist study has less to do with the Middle East than with the West (1978, 12). Orientalist discourse is the product of and reproduces an uneven relationship of power in which Europe retains a positional superiority over Asia. What is striking about this discourse is its internal ­consistency, which indicates that it essentially remained unchanged from 1840 to the present, and the fact that it transcends the narrow confines of the academy into the general culture of the West (Said 1978, 5–6). This seems to be Said’s way of demonstrating that Orientalism in the West is truly a master discourse in the meaning that Foucault ascribes to it



in L’Ordre du discours (1971, 22)—such a powerful discourse that it makes all kinds of individual utterances appear to be speaking for and in truth (Said 1983a, 216–217). Having enumerated the qualifications of Orientalism as a discourse, Said posits three covering laws of its discursive formation—or ‘discursivity’ (1978, 12). The first is what he calls a ‘distribution’ of a geopolitical awareness into all genres of writing, including but not limited to literary, academic, economic, historical, philological, and political texts. The second is an ‘elaboration’ of the man-made, imagined geographical distinction between ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’. A whole series of connected interests, such as archeological excavation, architectural description, philological reconstruction, grammars, dictionaries, botanical description, psychological analysis, anthropological description, and sociological study are grafted on this false distinction and help reproduce and maintain it. Third, all individual statements that make up Orientalism as a discourse not only express but are themselves an ‘intention’ to know, a will to truth and power, to dominate the essentialized Orient that they conceive of as a fundamentally ‘other’ world (Said 1978, 12). It is important to understand how Orientalism has worked as a discourse in politics, the academy, and literature. As Said attempts to make clear by describing how it feels as his “uniquely punishing destiny”, Orientalist discourse articulates a nexus of knowledge and power that is meant to dominate its objects, the ‘Orient’ and ‘Orientals’. Orientalism, he writes, derives a huge part of its formidable power from the creation and consolidation of a consensus. By authorizing certain statements as truthful and excluding false ones, this consensus works as a censor to preserve the homogeneity of Orientalist discourse and improve its internal consistency (see Mills 2003, 72). The result is that certain things, certain types of statement, certain types of work seemed for the Orientalist correct. He has built his work and research upon them, and they in turn have pressed hard upon new writers and scholars. Orientalism can thus be regarded as a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient. (Said 1978, 202)

According to this passage, Orientalism forces individual writing and knowledge to conform to its authority as a discourse. The resulting consensus is so strong that Orientalism became and remains an integral part of Western culture. Said’s argument here is that because this Orientalist



consensus was congruent with Europe’s geopolitical interests, Orientalist images and views could easily permeate political discourse, where they would displace opposing images and views, obtain a position of centrality in the discursive field, accrue even more authority from this position, and press hard upon speaking subjects not just in the domain of politics but in the culture at large. In this way, an indisputable nexus between knowledge and power came into being that allowed politicians to easily rely on existing Orientalist scholarship to grant their own speeches and writing more authority. Take, for instance, the British politician and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Arthur James Balfour, who in an intervention in the House of Commons in 1910 defended the British occupation of Egypt, a political position that seemed about as natural for the Commons as drinking tea. Balfour built his argument of British supremacy over Egypt on the presupposition that “[w]e know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other country. We know it further back; we know it more intimately; we know more about it” (Balfour cited by Said 1978, 32). What might surprise a modern reader is that Balfour bases his argument of supremacy not on military but on scholarly might, on philological knowledge of the Orient, and thereby highlights the clearest form in which knowledge and power are interrelated. Balfour’s remark did not cause protest, nor even comment of any kind in the House of Commons. Balfour could easily rely on the authority of Orientalism as an academic discipline to imbue his own intervention in the House of Commons with an air of naturalness or extremely powerful authority—thereby increasing the authority of Orientalist scholarship even more (Said 1978, 32). In fact, as Said argues in The Question of Palestine, Balfour’s famous 1917 declaration for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine expresses the commonsensical Orientalist presumption that it is self-evident that a Western colonial power can dispose of a territory and rearrange its people as it sees it fit—regardless of the outcome (1979, 16). The Balfour Declaration lies at the basis for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and illustrates how governments, ministries, and foreign affairs departments could easily tap into the discourse of Orientalism, incorporate its statements in their own discourse, and truly put Orientalism in the service of empire. It also shows how Orientalism changed “from a scholarly discourse to an imperial institution” (Said 1978, 95). The official start of Orientalism as an academic discipline can be traced back to the decision at the Council of Vienne in 1312 to establish chairs



of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic at the Universities of Oxford, Paris, Avignon, Bologna, and Salamanca (Said 1978, 49–50; see also Irwin 2006, 47–48). This inaugural moment is not actually a beginning, Said argues, but rather a continuation of a long tradition of Western representations of the Orient. The essential aspects of the Orientalist scholarship of Barthélémy d’Herbelot, Richard Pococke, Silvestre de Sacy, William Jones, and Bernard Lewis, to name but a few should be understood as a set of structures inherited from the past within which their new texts and ideas are accommodated (Said 1978, 122). The inclusion of Lewis in this list suggests that, to Said, even modern-day Orientalist theory and its manifestations in U.S. foreign policy exist in a long continued line of descent from earlier writings which can be traced back in time beyond the Council of 1312, to Dante, the Chanson de Roland and the Poema del Cid, the Christian Middle Ages, and eventually even to the writings of Homer, Herodotus, Euripides, and Aeschylus (1978, 50–73). Though Aeschylus and Lewis are split by nearly 2500 years of history, there are important, structural homologies between the manner in which they represent Asia. In Aeschylus’s The Persians, a play set in Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, and performed just 7 years after the decisive Greek victory over Xerxes’s armies at Plataea in 479 BC, a chorus of Persian elders mourns their losses. According to Said, it is remarkable that the chorus depicts Asia as weak and irrational, and thereby “speaks through and by virtue of the European imagination, which is depicted as victorious over Asia, that hostile ‘other’ world beyond the seas” (1978, 56). What he attempts to make clear throughout is that this essentialized, reductive way in which Asia is depicted is the same way in which contemporary Orientalism approaches its study object. For Lewis, too, often reduces the complexity of his study object to what Said believes to be an “essentialized description” (1978, 315) of Asia as weak, passive, and incapable of revolution, let alone self-government. Under the pretext of professionalized, objective, and morally neutral scholarship Lewis’s “academic work … is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material” (1978, 316). The point of these transhistorical comparisons is not just to reveal the bonds between knowledge and power or literature and politics, but also to illustrate that Orientalism is a form of creative repetition, of texts using a recurring vocabulary, conceptual repertoires and techniques to create “a common discourse”, “a set of received ideas”, or “a doxology, common to everyone who entered the ranks” (Said 1978, 121). Said attacks academic



Orientalism for losing its critical edge and turning into a form of doctrinal thinking—or what Blackmur would call the degeneration of doctrine into intolerable dogma takes place (see 1954, 373). Because of the enormous cultural presence, historical longevity, and sheer mass—between 1800 and 1950 around 60,000 books were written about the Near Orient alone (Said 1978, 204)—Orientalism as a scholarly discourse is an intimidating force which exerts pressure on new scholars to produce writing that conforms to the rules of discursive formation. The result is that new insights and scientific advances are less true to an objective reality than to a textual reality, that of the discourse. In academic Orientalism, individual authority and intention are domesticated by the authority of discourse to such an extent that originality, beginning anew, is made extremely difficult, if not impossible. The consequences are both academic and human: critical thinking in a discipline degenerates over time, and millions of people of Arab descent continue to undergo their uniquely punishing destiny for nearly three millennia. The argument Said advances in Orientalism is a reiteration of his argument about ‘truth’ in Conrad’s writings and in his meditation on beginnings. In a recurrent passage in his earliest writings, Said refers to Nietzsche’s description of truth as a mobile army of metaphors (1978, 203–204). While Nietzsche makes clear that all truth is embodied in language, Said too stresses that all Orientalist discoveries or knowledge—textual editions, translations, grammars, dictionaries, archeological studies, histories—are delivered by language. Nietzsche’s writings on truth and language, Said argues in Beginnings, illustrate that while language is usually confused with ‘objective truth’ and ‘objectivity’, even in its highest flights and in its most rational forms it nevertheless remains an earthbound activity, a necessary contingency allied with power (1975a, 39). Likewise, in Orientalism, discoveries are often taken for objective truths. In reality, they are ultimately instances of an earthbound army of metaphors, which, as Said goes on to show, was supported by a real army. Indeed, the production of Orientalist knowledge—especially since the late eighteenth century and Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria—was to a considerable extent precisely made possible because of the grossly uneven balance of power between Occident and Orient, in which the direction of power, learning, and representation became increasingly unidirectional. Western armies, consular corps, merchants, scientific expeditions, archeological missions, pilgrims, tourists, journalists, poets, and travel writers were almost exclusively going East, where the absence of an equivalent to



Orientalist scholarship attests only further to the Occident’s cultural, political, intellectual, and moral strength over the Orient (Said 1978, 204).2 The inclusion of writers in this list serves to illustrate that Western literary production did not only reflect, but contributed to and even perpetuated this uneven balance of power. Indeed, the travel writings of Chateaubriand and Nerval with which Orientalism opens, Flaubert’s descriptions of courtesans and harems, Scott’s depictions of Saracens, or Disraeli’s remark that the East is a career—relegating millions of peoples to the background for a single individual’s professional accomplishment (see Robbins 1993, 152)—all exemplify how in Western literature about the Orient, the Occident generally speaks for the Orient, usurps the Orient’s right to speak for its own, dehumanizes and essentializes ‘Orientals’ without giving them the chance to speak back and represent themselves. Said’s analyses of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century imaginative and travel writings demonstrate how they “strengthened the divisions established by Orientalists” and made “a significant contribution to building the Orientalist discourse” (1978, 99). These writings should consequently be seen as important parts of that unbroken arch of knowledge and power that connects Western politics, learning, and literature. The Orient that appears in Orientalism—in its political, academic, or imaginative variant—“is not the Orient as it is, but the Orient as it has been Orientalized” (Said 1978, 104). This image is the result of a whole system of morally-loaded representations—an army of conventional and binding metaphors, metonyms and imageries—created and policed by a master discourse that spans literary, academic, economic, historical, philological, legal, and political texts and that is framed by a set of forces and activities “that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire” (Said 1978, 203). What Nietzsche’s reflections on language and truth teach us is that the ‘Orient’ as word may have once been a meaningful ‘illusion’ that was grounded in a perceptual experience correspondent to a reality, but over 2  The imbalance of power is a condition of possibility not just for the production of Orientalist knowledge, but of knowledge in general. As Sara Mills makes clear in her introduction to the works of Foucault, the institutionalized imbalance between men and women in Western societies results in more studies about women; similarly, the economical imbalance between the working class and the middle class, results in more studies about the former than the latter; more about homosexuality than heterosexuality; and more about ethnic minorities than majorities (2003, 69). It is therefore fair to say “that the academic study within the human sciences has focused on those who are marginalised” (Mills 2003, 69).



time has lost such correspondence. Generation upon generation of creative repetition has accrued to the word “a wide field of meanings, associations, and connotations” that do “not necessarily refer to the real Orient but to the field surrounding the word” (Said 1978, 203). In Orientalism, the will to truth and the will to power are inextricably entwined. The nexus of knowledge and power articulated in Orientalist discourse not only created or ‘Orientalized’ the Orient, but held it in place. The phenomenon of Orientalism should therefore be seen as “a system of truths … in Nietzsche’s sense of the word … willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the Orient’s difference with its weakness” (Said 1978, 204).

3   The Will to Change: Strategic Location Foucault’s concepts of ‘discourse’ and ‘power/knowledge’ are important parts of Said’s method. Orientalism works as a discourse in Foucault’s sense of the word which forces individual writing to conform to its authority. Because it articulates a nexus of power/knowledge, this discourse is not innocent but an ideological product, producer, and reproducer of imperial power. And even though Said also engages with the works of Bachelard, Nietzsche, Williams, and Gramsci, the influence of Foucault in and on the method of Orientalism is crucial to understanding the book’s overall argument. This is why from the outset, Said explicitly indicates that throughout his book he will be employing Foucault’s notion of discourse. He finds it inevitable to do so, because without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-­ Enlightenment period. (Said 1978, 3)

This particular passage has done Said’s book more harm than good.3 When I referred to the quintessential rite de passage in postcolonial studies 3  An earlier version of this argument which also discusses the influence of Gramsci on Orientalism will be published as “Resisting Orientalism: Foucault and Gramsci in Counterpoint” in Revisiting Gramsci’s Laboratory: History, Politics and Philosophy in the ‘Prison Notebooks’, eds. Franscesca Antonini, Aaron Bernstein, Lorenzo Fusaro and Robert Jackson (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming).



of criticizing Said’s text in the introduction to this book, I had precisely these opening lines in mind, as many of Said’s critics and commentators have used it as the starting point of their analysis (Young 2016, 384). Just as Beginnings has been reduced to a predominantly Foucaultian work of criticism ever since the first reviews in that special issue of Diacritics devoted to it, so too was Orientalism. By identifying Foucault as the book’s single most important theoretical influence, most of these critics are either blind to or downplay the formative influence of other thinkers on this seminal work (Clifford 1988; Kennedy 2000, 25; Loomba 2005, 42–53; Niyogi 2006, 135; Racevskis 2005; Young 2016, 387). This reductive, one-sided Foucaultian reading made Foucault’s insights on the nexus between the production of knowledge and the claim for power, the workings of discourse, and the operations of power become part of the central methodological toolbox in the emerging field of postcolonial theory and colonial discourse analysis of the 1980s and 1990s (Brennan 2006, 103; Loomba 2005, 49; Nichols 2010, 120; O’Hanlon and Washbrook 1992; Young 1990, 10–11). But Said’s explicit formulation of Orientalism as a discourse and his use of that notion throughout the work have also generated intense critical activity (Young 2016, 186). Most of Said’s critics note a variety of faults, ambivalences, tensions, and self-contradictions in Orientalism, which they believe can be traced back to Said’s alleged problematic application of Foucault’s approach to discourse analysis (see Hussein 2002, 227; Veeser 2010, 62–63). Generally speaking, those who have noted the self-­ contradictory attitude of Orientalism commonly seem to take for granted that because of its explicit indebtedness to Foucault’s notion of discourse, its conceptualization and analysis of power must be equally Foucaultian (Ahmad 1992, 165; Bhatnagar 1986; Clifford 1988, 255–274; Emig 2012; Gandhi 1998, 74–75; Loomba 2005, 42–53; Ochoa 2006; Teti 2014; Young 2016, 387). The problem with Orientalism, then, is said to be a consequence of the work’s adoption of a Foucaultian stance on power—which, as we have seen in the previous chapter, entails dismissing the individual human subject and its intentions as motors of historical change and transferring agency to the impersonal and determining forces of the épistèmè, the archive, and discourse. And yet Foucault has always stressed, and explicitly repeats in L’Histoire de la sexualité (1976), that his conceptual focus on the determining workings of power does not mean that he considers power merely to be a repressive force in society (1976, 121–135). To understand Foucault’s



conceptualization of power, it is important to fully grasp what he means by the constitution of an individual in the ideological order at a certain time and place. Assujettissement, as Foucault calls this, must be interpreted in a twofold way—as both the constitution of the individual as ‘the subjected’ and ‘the subject’ of ideology (1976, p. 30). In the first case, the individual is the direct object of this ideological act of constitution: the individual is constituted. In the second case, the individual itself is the subject of its own constitution. This highlights that discourse is both inscribed on the body as direct object and interiorized by the individual, and that power sets out the conditions of possibility for action and works through that very body of the individual as subject (Foucault 1976, 81–82). This is why Foucault believes we must let go of this so-called repressive hypothesis and consider power as a productive force in society which works from the bottom-up, enabling the creation and proliferation of different and new sexualities (1976, 67). However, many critics, including Said, do not share Foucault’s feeling of optimism (Baudrillard 1977, 45–55; Mills 2003, 123–125; Said 1975a, 1992, 239–240, 2000a, 247). Foucault conceptualization of power is frequently interpreted as an utterly grim view in which power is seen as tyrannical and unstoppable in the growth of its domination—down to what many consider the very last place of resistance, the body—and ultimately irresistible because it exhausts all human activity, dismisses the possibility of individual human agency, and empties out the production of counter-­ discursive knowledge. The problem with Orientalism, at least according to those who take for granted that it conceptualizes power in this Foucaultian way, is that its method is trapped within the framework of Orientalism and the pacifying workings of a discourse that controls and dominates individuals. Moreover, in employing Foucault’s notion of discourse, some have even charged Said for perpetuating that very framework by denying the possibility of agency and resistance on the part of the colonized (Vaughan 1994, 3; Young 1990, 127–128). Critics consider Said’s method to rob human subjects of agency because it allegedly considers their role as individuals in the production of (counter-discursive) knowledge to be negligible, extending precisely those defining characteristics of a discourse which mutes its ‘Orientalized’ objects. As such, Orientalism itself is said to contribute to ‘Orientalizing’. To corroborate this argument, critics have rightly pointed out that Said nowhere cites ‘Orientals’ speaking and representing themselves, but then wrongly go on to assume that this is because



Said himself thinks they simply cannot represent themselves (Varisco 2007, 141–143). The common opinion seems to be that in Orientalism the subaltern cannot speak because the work allegedly lacks a theory of resistance—in the same way, that Foucault is allegedly unable to think resistance (Ahmad 1992, 159–219; Clifford 1988, 263). To be clear, I disagree with this. In their claim that on the pages of Orientalism, there is not one ‘Oriental’ speaking for himself or herself, they are precisely deaf to that single voice which is speaking forcefully to us: indeed, Said’s very own as the subject in and author of the work. What I have precisely attempted to show in the introduction to this chapter is not only the fact that there is a theory of resistance in Orientalism, but that the book itself already embodies that theory. Said’s most famous book is a discursive act of writing, an insurrectionary act to challenge the muteness caused by Orientalism. Orientalism, as I read it, presents that coming-­ to-­consciousness of an ‘Oriental’ who reclaims his right as an individual human subject to speak back to the very discourse that constitutes him as object of knowledge, and dehumanizes him. The problem with the commentary of these critics is first of all that, as Abdirahman Hussein too makes clear, most of them do not pay enough attention to Said’s own methodological infrastructure nor to his own theoretical elaborations in Orientalism (Hussein 2002, 229). Second, the overwhelming majority discusses Orientalism in relation to Said’s overtly political works produced after the book’s publication. Hardly any attention is paid to the relationship between Orientalism and the works that precede it. Because Said in his post-1978 writings more self-consciously turns away from Foucault to such critics as Gramsci, Lukács, Williams, and Fanon, readings that predominantly focus on the relation between Orientalism and these later writings often fall into the trap of ­interpretation in hindsight, attributing too much theoretical weight to these Marxist critics in the process.4 What I propose to do here is to precisely look at the building blocks of Said’s own methodological infrastructure and the way in which he develops his own critical consciousness, doing so in a chronological order while 4  The work of Timothy Brennan is exemplary of this. Though he is one of the few critics to read Orientalism in relation to separate works both before and after its publication, producing some of the most poignant and thought-provoking criticism of Said’s Marxist affinities, his argument that “Orientalism is not Foucauldian” (Brennan 2006, 102) and that all of the book’s methodological weight should be attributed to such Marxist thinkers, rests too much on reading Said against the grain.



keeping ahistorical interpretations to a bare minimum. The question whether the subaltern can speak in Orientalism can be answered positively—at least if it is approached from Said’s earlier writings on perception and critical thinking in Conrad’s oeuvre, and his theory of beginnings which combines a humanistic focus on subjectivity with anonymous discursive formation. To clarify my argument, let’s begin by looking at one of the most influential commentaries on Orientalism, which is also one of the few to actually discuss its methodology. In a commentary on Orientalism, anthropologist James Clifford admires the book for its pioneering attempt to apply a Foucaultian paradigm to the study of imperialism, but he ultimately finds its use of discourse analysis flawed and theoretically inconsistent (Clifford 1988, 255–274). The problem with Orientalism, he believes, is that Said’s attempt to carry out an antihumanistic discourse analysis of Orientalism with the matching determining vision on human agency is marred by an incompatible humanistic credo in the powers of individual authors (Clifford 1988, 262–264).5 Clifford identifies the credo in an introductory passage in which Said clearly avows his indebtedness to Foucault while at the same time distancing himself from the French thinker: I do believe in the determining imprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body of texts constituting a discursive formation like Orientalism…. Foucault believes that in general the individual text or author counts for very little; empirically, in the case of Orientalism (and perhaps nowhere else) I find this not to be so. Accordingly, my analyses employ close textual readings whose goal is to reveal the dialectic between individual text or writer and the complex collective formation to which his work is a contribution. (Said 1978, 23–24)

It is precisely this humanistic belief in individual human intention and the imprint of individual authors which Clifford finds incompatible with Said’s use of discourse analysis derived from Foucault, who was, of course, a radical critic of humanism and developed the notion of discourse in the first place to get away from a philosophy of knowledge based on the human

5  Clifford’s criticism boils down to this: Said’s analyses undermine themselves because they are too humanist and hence not Foucaultian enough—a critique which has often been voiced by other critics (see Hart 2000, 74).



subject (Foucault 1969, 22–23).6 Such a philosophy presupposes a priori unifying anthropological and psychological categories, usually foregrounding books, oeuvres, and authorial subjects in cultural analyses (Foucault 1969, 31–43). In Les mots et les choses (1966) and L’Archéologie du savoir (1969), for instance, Foucault does not focus on individual thinkers developing certain theories or ideas, but explores the way in which more impersonal institutional processes establish something as fact or as knowledge (Mills 2003, 67). Foucault’s elaboration of discourse analysis desubjectifies and removes the whole realm of psychology. It no longer regards authors as individuals with particular experiences but considers them to be functions attached to discursive statements (Foucault 1994b). When discussing Foucault’s discourse theory, I believe it cannot be overemphasized that this does not mean the notion of the author is banished altogether; it does, however, entail thinking of authors transcendentally as a purely ontological principle of a text, as functions without taking recourse to personalized, psycho-­ biographical terms to explain any form of textuality (Burke 1998, 107). As such, Foucault does not employ any close readings of particular statements but focuses on the conglomerate formation of discursive statements. Said has adopted a contrapuntal approach to cultural analysis, which in line with Foucault sees texts not merely as the expressions of ideas but as worldly and material, in ways that vary according to genres and historical periods (1978, 23). Yet unlike Foucault who argues that authority is always a product of discourse and not of individuals (Mills 2003, 118–119), Said’s theory of beginnings is committed to a humanistic project which does not dismiss, does not want to dismiss, the authority of individual writers and, consequently, pays attention to both discursive and personal statements. Said’s intention to study Orientalism as a discourse is to study it historically and anthropologically “to describe both the historical authority in and the personal authorities of Orientalism” (1978, 20). His analyses “consequently try to show the field’s shape and internal organization, its pioneers, patriarchal authorities, canonical texts, doxological ideas, exemplary figures, its flowers, elaborators, and new authorities” (Said 1978, 22). 6  Four years later, Aijaz Ahmad made the same remark about Said’s ambivalences about antihumanism and, hence, humanism in Orientalism. Most of it comes down to what Ahmad considers to be an “impossible reconciliation between that humanism and Foucault’s discourse theory” (1992, 164).



Clearly, this is a departure from Foucault’s antihumanistic method of reading—a departure that is reflected in the methodological devices Said uses to study authority. On the one hand, Said uses the term ‘strategic formation’ to describe the ensemble of relationships of an individual text with other texts and the way in which these analyzable textual formations acquire unity, mass, strength, and thus authority in the culture at large. Said analyzes both the (discursive) relations of such textual formations to other textual formations and the (non-discursive) relations to audiences, institutions and the Orient itself (1978, 20). On the other hand, he employs the term ‘strategic location’ to denote the way in which a particular author in a text locates himself or herself in regard to the Oriental material he or she describes. Said is interested in the previous knowledge an author relies on and refers to, the motifs he or she uses, the images he or she conjures up and the voice he or she adopts (1978, 20). Said’s use of the term ‘strategic formation’ incites him to read literature not as an isolated cultural practice but as a medium of representation connected to political texts, journalism, travel books, religious treatises, philosophical studies, linguistic analyses, archeological descriptions, and all other kinds of Orientalist writings. It is his way of stressing how writings of different genres are knitted together by unidentified impersonal forces into a homogenous discursive formation: Orientalism as a discourse. This conceptually mirrors Foucault’s description of the regularities of discourse and the formation of concepts and strategies in L’Archéologie du savoir (1969, 87–91; Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982, 69–73). There, Foucault makes it clear how discourse analysis as a method has a threefold focus: first, it studies the internal formative relations between statements; next, the relations between different groups of statements thus established (discursive formations); and finally the relations between these groups of statements and events of a different kind (technical, economic, social, and political) (1969, 41). This is precisely what Said does when he analyzes Orientalism as a discourse. Yet the term ‘strategic location’ indicates that Said departs from Foucault by showing a continued interest in authors not as passive authorial labels attached to discursive statements but as active subjects with a psychophysical existence, individual intentions and experiences, who actively locate themselves in relation to an anonymous collective formation. To analyze this strategic location in a text the literary critic has to apply a humanistic and historical approach to textuality that studies the author’s choice of certain formal and stylistic characteristics in relation



both to other formal and stylistic qualities circulating in discourse and to the existential actualities of the author’s human life. These are the “close textual readings” (Said 1978, 23) that Clifford finds so problematic about Said’s discourse analysis. Whereas Clifford believes that these close textual readings weaken Said’s overall Foucaultian method (1988, 269) Said is precisely at his best in them. Indeed, the strength of Orientalism lies precisely in Said’s deviation from Foucault and his combination of close readings, which allow us to see in detail how Orientalism has so destructively divided human reality in essential categories, with those larger discursive readings, which stress the sheer cultural weight of Orientalism as a discourse. A careful analysis shows how both types of reading are not mutually exclusive but, indeed, compatible.7 For, though Said believes that texts convey individual human experiences, his primary goal is not to produce the kind of close readings that focus on these experiences. “The things to look at”, he specifies his intention, “are style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (Said 1978, 21; his emphasis). His primary analytical concern is not the interiority of Orientalism—what lies hidden in the Orientalist text seen as a unique experience that cannot be paraphrased—but rather the exteriority of Orientalism—the paraphrasable surface of the text and what it describes (Said 1978, 20–21). It demonstrates that Said focuses on Orientalism as a system of representations, rather than on what it precisely represents. Said’s choice of words to designate the process in which authors strategically locate themselves to the existing discourse is crucial. ‘Strategic location’, he writes, is “the author’s position in a text with regard to the Oriental material he writes about” (Said 1978, 20; my emphasis). Compare this to the way in which in Beginnings he approaches the problem of beginnings as the problem of discursivity, rephrasing it “as a position taken by any writer” (Said 1975a, 13; my emphasis). Said does not revise his position 7  Ahmad rightly points out that Said has difficulties trying to fit these complex close readings in the unidirectional ‘Orientalist’ mode (1992, 185–186). While this leads him to conclude that this is an inadvertent failure of Said’s method, my analysis demonstrates that this is precisely the point of such reading. What they emphasize is not only the complexity and variety of Orientalism as a discourse consisting of an innumerable collection of texts, but also the manner in which the individual field of play or direction of such texts does not always converge with the general sense of direction of Orientalism as a discourse. This divergence precisely makes resistance to Orientalism possible.



on authority in Orientalism, but continues to disagree with Foucault on the question of whether individuals hold the authority over their texts. For him, they still clearly do. Which is why, in both books, writing is an ethical act that comes with the burden of responsibility. When beginning to write, the author must choose how to position himself or herself with regard to the existing discourse: does the author strategically locate his or her writing in a continued line of descent, such as the overwhelming majority of Western writers about the Orient have done? Or does the author locate it alongside or in opposition to this Orientalist writing, by using, for instance, a different style or figures of speech? I am raising these questions not to argue that the choice to locate oneself in a dynastic line of descent and to conform one’s writing to the discursive authority of Orientalism is always done reflectively. Many of Orientalism’s successes precisely come down to authors irreflectively reproducing its dominant representations. What I am trying to demonstrate is that by considering ‘strategic location’ as an author’s position, Said considers the reproduction of Orientalist representations as an ethical choice, regardless of whether this choice is decided on irreflectively or reflectively. The term ‘strategic location’ illustrates how individual writers cannot simply hide behind the façade of an anonymous discourse. They are always responsible for the authorial choices they make and must be held accountable for the (perhaps unintended) socio-political uses to which their writing is put. Given the devastating effects of Orientalism, there is no time or place for bad faith. What I am trying to make clear is that the main difference on a methodological level between Said’s application of discourse analysis and Foucault’s own discourse theory is that Said persistently holds on to individual intentionality as an explanatory category of the mechanisms of power articulated in discourse. In this way, Orientalism is clearly in line with the theory of reading elaborated in Beginnings that thinks through discursive formation with the category of subjectivity. And although I hope to have shown how Said shares Foucault’s interest in the circulatory network of power producing knowledge and knowledge imposing power on the Oriental, he seems to approach these networks from a different perspective. Whereas Foucault argues that power is intentional and has certain goals, it does not mean it is the result of an individual’s choice or decision (1976, 125). An explanation of the effects of power cannot be found at the level of individual intentionality, as all human volition is constituted by structures of discourse. Foucault is ultimately not interested in



the statements of individuals but solely focusses on the relations of statements in a field and the underlying ‘archive’—the enabling rules of discourse and its underpinning interests (1976, 16). For Said, on the other hand, power is something someone or some group possesses and intentionally uses to exploit or abuse these power relations (Racevskis 2005, 92). According to Foucault, whose project is French-oriented and does not deal with the kind of geopolitical topics of Orientalism, such located or embodied power is impossible because power is everywhere, comes from everywhere, and is therefore highly multidirectional and unstable (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982, 117; Foucault 1976, 122). In Orientalism as a historical phenomenon power emanates from the West, where it is also located (Brennan 2006, 112; Kennedy 2000, 25). One of the three laws of Orientalism’s discursive formation, we recall, is that its statements express “a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world” (Said 1978, 12). While I have labeled this to be Said’s translation of Foucault’s anonymous will to truth and power, the translation is not literal. As Said makes clear in the essay “Criticism Between Culture and System”, the difference between his analyses and Foucault’s, is that he wants to take into account the forces driving individuals in history such as “profit, ambition, ideas, the sheer love of power” (1983a, 222). His analysis of Orientalism therefore takes into account personal and impersonal forces, and considers the phenomenon that it treats as “a dynamic exchange between individual authors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great empires—British, French, American—in whose intellectual and imaginative territory the writing was produced” (Said 1978, 14–15). By labeling Orientalism as a dynamic exchange between personal and impersonal forces, Said effectively combines a Marxist, dialectic approach to history with Foucault’s archeological one (see Hussein 2002, 6). Though the effects of Orientalism may be inhuman, Said’s double approach allows him to treat Orientalism itself as “a kind of willed human work” (1978, 15). While in the remainder of this chapter it will become clear how these remarks are related to Said’s affiliation with the historical materialism of Gramsci, they should equally be understood from his long elaboration on intentionality in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and in Beginnings, both works in which authorial intention and the category of the human will are central to their respective arguments.



Let me begin with Beginnings. Said’s theory of beginnings affords a crucially important role to the human will in the intentional act of consciousness that is beginning to write. In Orientalism, Said describes what happens when individual writing is introduced to the discursive field of Orientalism, or, in Foucaultian terms, when a new statement is added to the existing discourse, making it clear that his answer on the authority of a text in Beginnings is of continued relevance to our understanding of Orientalism. The passage begins at the beginning, that is, the question of strategic location in the discursive field of Orientalism which is already heavily saturated, and then moves on to discuss the impact of the introduced writing on the whole field. [W]e must … view representations … as inhabiting a common field of play defined for them, not by some inherent common subject matter alone, but by some common history, tradition, universe of discourse. Within this field which no single scholar can create but which each scholar receives and in which he then finds a place for himself, the individual researcher makes his contribution. Such contributions, even for the exceptional genius, are strategies of redisposing material within the field; even the scholar who unearths a once-lost manuscript produces the ‘found’ text in a context already prepared for it, for that is the real meaning of finding a new text. Thus each individual contribution first causes changes within the field and then promotes a new stability, in the way that on a surface covered with twenty compasses the introduction of a twenty-first will cause all the others to quiver, then to settle into a new accommodating configuration. (Said 1978, 273)

What is described here is the way in which an individual act of human will, a strategic location or position taken up by an author vis-à-vis the existing discourse of Orientalism, gives to the newly produced work an intention which determines the work’s method, its direction or field of play. In this case, the strategic location is the redisposing of existing materials. As the metaphor of the compass suggests, the work’s introduction to the discursive field will momentarily produce change in the existing discursive field, causing all compass needles to quiver shortly. But eventually all needles resume their stable position, which makes it clear that its introduction does not produce a radical change of direction but a new discursive stability is found and the work is accommodated in the discursive field of Orientalism. That discursive field should, according to this metaphor, be thought of as a common field of play that is governed by the magnetic force of the archive which attracts all individual compass needles and



decides the direction in which its discursive statements point. What Said describes here is that the authority of the discourse, itself governed by the archive, and not the authority of the individual author decides the direction of the writing. The individual writing has conformed to the rule of discursive formation. Interestingly, as Bové notes, Said’s description makes use of T.S. Eliot’s notion of tradition in his 1920 “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1920) and I.A. Richards’s metaphor of the “balanced compass” from the 1926 Science and Poetry (1926, 15–16), two humanistic literary critics whose works were of paramount importance for the evolution of the prewar New Criticism (see Bové 1986, 29). It is no coincidence that these humanistic intertexts emerge at precisely this crucial location. Clifford would draw our attention to this passage to argue that it is one of the many passages in Orientalism where Said misreads Foucault by conflating ‘discourse’ with the humanistic notion of ‘tradition’ (Clifford 1988, 286). In Clifford’s view, the passage would be evidence for the manner in which Said’s humanistic perspectives are incompatible with his use of Foucault’s discourse analysis. It might even serve to corroborate the argument that Said’s interpretation of discourse analysis is the result of a rather careless and unmeditated reading of Foucault (Ahmad 1992, 165; Chuaqui 2005, 99–100; Clifford 1988, 271–272; Emig 2012, 140). To me, however, this passage is a sign of how Orientalism brings to a high point the harmonizing of methodological conflicts that I trace throughout Said’s career and how it presents a well-thought critical reaction to Foucault. The compass metaphor is symptomatic of Said’s own strategic location vis-à-vis the discourse of the crisis of man in U.S. literary criticism that, as a result of the increasing institutional influence of structuralist and poststructuralist theories of reading, was becoming increasingly antihumanistic in tone (see Greif 2015, 281–315). It is a reactionary riposte to the so-called dissolution of man in the American debate that had proclaimed the death of the mid-century discourse of man and subjectivist humanism (see Greif 2015, 303). For, by willfully affiliating his criticism with these originary figures of Anglo-American literary criticism, Said strategically locates himself as an Anglo-American humanistic literary scholar who approaches theories as the man-made works of individual thinkers with flaws and inconsistencies rather than as complete, orthodox packages. He accordingly analyzes Orientalism as a discourse without taking over all of Foucault’s antihumanistic concepts and tools, but by carefully selecting the concepts that best fit his approach to critical humanism.



As Bové argues, Said “deals with the problem of the individual’s relation to the existing discourse in Anglo-American terms, in part, to offer an alternative to … Foucault’s quietistic sense that individual authors can have little effect on power and have little responsibility for confronting it” (1986, 30). Said’s humanistic description of the introduction of new writing to the existing discursive field of Orientalism has two goals: first, to legitimate and empower the figure of the critical humanist as authoritative within the academy (Bové 1986, 31) and, second, to demonstrate the determining imprint of individual writers on an anonymous discourse like Orientalism. Even though the imprint described here is short-lived and little, it is there when the writing is introduced to the discursive field. With a strong enough magnet, an author can leave an individual imprint powerful enough to change the direction of a discursive formation (or part thereof), to attract other needles and have them face south, east, or west— in the same way that the presence of a strong magnet overrides the natural attraction of the Magnetic Pole. This implies that with strong enough authorial willpower, or individual talent, as Eliot would say, Orientalism can be changed. And so this metaphor is another important empowering theoretical gesture that opens up the possibility of resistance and the production of counter-discursive knowledge. The metaphor is useful to understand Said’s analyses of Orientalism as a discourse. His close textual readings illustrate how such determining imprint of individual writers can be found. Scholars such as Jones, Anquetil, de Sacy, Renan, and Lane created a vocabulary and ideas to be used by anyone wishing to become an Orientalist. In so doing, they left a decisive impact on Orientalism, solidified its official discourse, systematized its insights, and established its intellectual and worldly institutions, giving Orientalism a much greater visibility in the culture at large (Said 1978, 130). But because their individual interests were in line with the underlying impersonal, discursive interests of Orientalism—the texts of Sacy and Renan, for instance, were rooted in the philological process by which the Orient took on an inferior discursive identity to the West—these scholars did not change the direction of the discourse (Said 1978, 122, 156). To change the direction of an authoritative discursive field as Orientalism requires well-thought and well-planned writing. To illustrate this point, Said singles out the writings of the early-twentieth-century French Oriental scholar, Louis Massignon. A devout Catholic, Massignon nevertheless showed a great openness for Islam and explicitly wanted to



avoid analyzing it in the essentializing and deeply hostile way of his contemporaries and predecessors such as the Belgian medieval historian Henri Pirenne (Said 1978, 70–71). “In reading Massignon”, Said writes sympathetically, one is struck by his repeated insistence on the need for complex reading— injunctions whose absolute sincerity it is impossible to doubt … Put into practice in the reading of an Arabic or Islamic text, this kind of Orientalism produced interpretations of an almost overwhelming intelligence; one would be foolish not to respect the sheer genius and novelty of Massignon’s mind. (1978, 269)

In his typically humanistic style of writing, Said goes on to describe how Massignon produced refined works that were a constant challenge to his colleagues and made an intellectual impression upon them (1978, 264– 266). His writings, so it seems, were so magnetic that they could have changed the direction of Orientalism as a discourse. ‘Could’, indeed, for in spite of the author’s intentions, Said’s close textual reading unveils the persistent Orientalist way in which Massignon assigns the Islamic Orient to an essentially ancient time and the West to modernity. “No scholar, not even a Massignon”, Said concludes, can resist the pressures on him of his nation or of the scholarly tradition in which he works. In a great deal of what he said of the Orient and its relationship with the Occident, Massignon seemed to refine and yet to repeat the ideas of other French Orientalists. We must allow, however, that the refinements, the personal style, the individual genius, may finally supersede the political restraints operating impersonally through tradition and through the national ambience. Even so, in Massignon’s case we must also recognize that in one direction his ideas about the Orient remained thoroughly traditional and Orientalist. (1978, 271)

Massignon’s strategic location to the existing discourse provided his works with a strong counter-discursive direction that impacted Orientalism as a discourse. However, the reality of working in a scholarly tradition meant that the archival rules of Orientalism pulled his works to the dominant discursive direction. And so, while not causing the radical change of direction he may have well intended, Massignon left a determining imprint on Orientalism. His writings caused a slight change of direction, the compass’s needles slightly shifting to face more to the east.



In spite of Massignon’s Orientalist views, Said is deeply sympathetic to the French scholar of Islam because he recognizes in his writings the principles of Auerbach’s Weltphilologie, which, as we have seen, is foundational for Said’s own project of ‘critical’ humanism. The invocation of Auerbach in Orientalism constitutes one of the book’s many resounding affirmations of humanistic value (see 1978, 45, 46, 246, 266–267, 328). Paradoxically, Said invokes an idealized version of Auerbach’s humanism to criticize Orientalism, which, as he makes clear throughout his analyses, is itself a product of Europe’s high-humanistic culture (Veeser 2010, 62). Or, as Aijaz Ahmad writes, “humanism-as-ideality is invoked precisely at the time when humanism-as-history has been rejected so unequivocally” (Ahmad 1992, 163). For Said, Auerbach’s philology presents a challenge to Orientalism because it embodies all of humanism’s ideals, making it not only one of the best examples of humanistic scholarship of the period but also the standard by which to judge all other humanistic works (1978, 258). According to Said, Auerbach succeeds where Orientalists fail: Mimesis is written in the tradition of involvement in a national culture or literature not of one’s own, working from a minute textual detail to reach an understanding of “culture as a whole, antipositivistically, intuitively, sympathetically” (1978, 258). Orientalism, ex negativo, is positivistic, premediated, and unsympathetic toward its object of study. Said’s idealization of and reverence for the German philologist in Orientalism rests on an unfair comparison in which the work of merely one critic is compared with an entire discipline. After all, Mimesis provides a synthesis of Western culture produced by a German-émigré scholar, with some of its chapters even treating German literature. It seems unfair to compare this with a scholarly field concerned with non-Western literatures and cultures. Be that as it may, Said champions Auerbach’s Mimesis because he believes it to present a vision of human reality in all its worldliness and detail, advocating “an enlargement of the scholar’s awareness, of his sense of the brotherhood of man, of the universality of certain principles of human behavior” (1978, 261). According to Said, Orientalists, on the other hand, never saw their confrontations with a culture so vastly different to lead to a better understanding of their own (1978, 260). Islamic Orientalism, for instance, never led to an understanding of the Islamic world that went beyond the Orientalist stereotypes nor to a more nuanced view of the West, but “to a sharpened sense of difference between Orient and Occident as reflected in Islam” (Said 1978, 261).



From the way in which Said idealizes and champions Auerbach’s Weltphilologie as a challenge to Orientalism, it is hard to refrain from concluding that Auerbach produces ‘authentic’ humanistic scholarship, whereas the latter is deeply antihumanistic (Said 1978, 266). This is, of course, a simplification of both. Said’s invocation of Auerbach as the embodiment of an idealized humanism is nothing short of bad faith. For Said, humanism is a game in which he chooses to believe, an idea by which to live. In Orientalism, Auerbach functions as a straw man for Said himself, a humanistic literary critic who affiliates himself with Auerbach against Orientalism and thereby hopes to purify his own humanistic method from humanism-as-history and the dehumanizing works of the scholarly field he is analyzing. Invoking Auerbach, then, should be understood as an act of critical self-fashioning, the result of what can be described as a reduction of cognitive dissonance in the consciousness of a humanistic scholar analyzing his own method’s failings. But let us go back to Auerbach’s French colleague, Massignon. In the passage about Massignon and the metaphor of the compass, Said explicitly chooses to leave open the possibility of an individual author successfully superseding the determining constraints of a discourse and radically changing its direction. In theory, resistance to Orientalism is possible. But when we take into account Massignon’s historical failure to do so, as well as Said’s overall insistence on the relentless workings of discourse and all its academic institutions; links to ministries, states, and intellectual traditions; and his idea of Orientalism as a system of thought that in time gains ever more momentum, then the question of challenging Orientalism in practice becomes all the more pressing. Is it even possible at all? The answer to all these questions may be found in the presence and influence of Said’s book on Conrad and of this book’s elaboration of the existential-­ phenomenological inheritance on and in the method of Orientalism—in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, Sartre’s theory of the emotions, in Conrad’s notion of the ‘knitting machine’, and, especially, in the cycle of criticism that can stop it.

4   Humanism and the Cycle of Criticism In Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Said came to understand Conrad’s lived experience in terms of Schopenhauer’s principle of differentiation, a process that in Conrad’s writings is described as the formation of individuality through the assertion of human will in an existen-



tial balancing act between either a surrender to frightful chaos or to an equally frightful order of a system of thought. Conrad often depicts this system of thought as a ‘knitting machine’ which seeks perpetuation and provides the basis for thought, perception, and activity. This ‘knitting machine’, Conrad believes, can and should be resisted by examining its ideas in a constantly to be renewed, necessarily unfinished cycle of critical thinking. In his exploration of Conrad’s consciousness Said then rephrased these ideas about individuation, will, and representation in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and Sartre’s theory of the emotions—which I in turn connected to the theory of cognitive dissonance. This is, in a nutshell, the outline of what I have labeled ‘the cycle of criticism’ in Said’s book on Conrad. As much as Orientalism should be understood as a discourse with an imprint of individual writers, reading Said’s analyses from the phenomenological perspective I have just outlined allows us to see how it is a phenomenon of perception that works similarly to the machinations of Conrad’s ‘knitting machine’ or the process outlined by Sartre. Orientalism as a discourse exerts pressures on individual writing to conform to the rules of discursive formation. It regularizes potentially dissonant, heterogeneous, and multidirectional writing into consonant, homogenous, and unidirectional writing in which pre-approved representations of the Orient are creatively repeated. As such, Orientalism works just like imperialism in Conrad’s writings—this is at least the suggestion of Said’s use of metaphors and vocabulary of criticism. Orientalism, he writes, is “a great embracing machine” (Said 1978, 44) of power/knowledge that knits texts in and out, producing a sheer mass of “knitted-together … Orientalist discourse” (Said 1978, 6). “What the machine’s branches feed into it in the East—human material, material wealth, knowledge, what have you—is processed by the machine, then converted into more power” (Said 1978, 44). The almost mechanical way in which representations are processed is the reason why they are less true to an external, objective reality than to a textual reality, which is why we should approach Orientalism as a “textual attitude to the Orient” (Said 1978, 95). This seems to me to be the ground rule of the theory of cognitive dissonance, that “there is pressure to produce consonant relations among cognitions and to avoid and reduce dissonance” (Festinger 1957, 9). The regularizing authority of the archive of Orientalism pressures statements into consonant relations with other statements, so that when an author like Massignon comes to develop counter-discursive views about the



Orient—based on his or her treatment of materials—he or she experiences archival pressure to bring these views in a consonant relation with the pre-­ existing Orientalist views, and thus in a dissonant relation with the objective reality. Indeed, Said’s often-criticized introductory remarks that there is a lack of correspondence between Orientalism and a ‘real’ Orient suggest that Orientalist representations stand in such a dissonant relation to an objective reality (1978, 5). Cognitive dissonance is an everyday condition of our being-in-the-­ world. All experiences have a manner of dissonance in them, small amounts of which are not problematic per se (Festinger 1957, 4–5). Applied to Orientalism, this means that small deviations to the overall discursive direction—a few degrees east or west on the compass, if you will—can exist in the same discursive formation. But what makes it so difficult for even a scholar like Massignon to introduce opposing views to the discursive field that would challenge the overall discursive direction is that such counter-discursive knowledge causes too much cognitive dissonance in his individual consciousness-in-the-world, between his initial views and those views supported by the cultural authority of Orientalism. Indeed, over time Orientalist representations have been given the label of ‘objectivity’ and purport to contain ‘truthful’ knowledge about the Orient. They are, in other words, ‘veridic’ maps of reality that are so important to the individual’s mind and sense of self that it is considerably more difficult to dismiss these cognitive elements and adjust them to new information, than it is to alter one’s dissonant perceptual experience and bring it into a consonant relation with these cognitive elements (see Festinger 1957, 3, 10–11). This allows us to understand that an Orientalist text is not easily dismissed. Expertise is attributed to it. The authority of academics, institutions, and governments can accrue to it, surrounding it with still greater prestige than its practical successes warrant. Most important, such texts can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe. In time such knowledge and reality produce a tradition, or what Michel Foucault calls a discourse, whose material presence or weight, not the originality of a given author, is really responsible for the texts produced out of it. (Said 1978, 94)

Anyone who is familiar with the work of Foucault will see that Said is describing the discursive feedback loop in which the overwhelming majority of Orientalist texts conforms to the rules of the pre-existing discourse.



The result is that the individual Orientalist text comes to derive part of its authority from the texts with which it is affiliated and in its turn increases the strength and authority of Orientalism as a discourse. But Said’s remarks that Orientalism can create the reality which it appears to describe, should be read as a description of a perceptual alteration of reality in accordance with one’s pre-held beliefs in order to suffuse one’s actions “with meaning, intelligibility, and reality” (1978, 95). The last two sentences echo Said’s interpretation of Conrad’s ‘knitting machine’ as a process in which individuals impose an imperialist idea on the world, take this idea for reality, and perpetuate and strengthen the authority of imperialism. Analogously to Said’s treatment of imperialism as a coping mechanism to deal with cognitive dissonance, Orientalism had such a strong cultural authority that it, too, can be said to be responsible for the way in which individuals apprehend the world—although Said never goes as far as to actually dismiss or disclaim their own involvement as individuals in this process, neither in Orientalism nor in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Orientalism works on and by individuals, for, in the process of perception Orientalism as a discourse exerts pressures on individuals to irreflectively bring their perception in a consonant relation with their pre-­ held Orientalist beliefs. My comparison of Orientalism to the existential-phenomenological project of Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography serves to illustrate that Orientalism as Said studies it must equally be understood as a phenomenon of perception or a response to cognitive dissonance that ‘magically’—in Sartre’s sense of the word—alters reality so that this reality is not only perceived differently but that this perception is experienced as ‘truth’. According to this interpretation, individuals project Orientalist stereotypes onto reality as a way of coping with cognitive dissonance. This phenomenological perspective allows us to understand Said’s remarks that in order to understand the workings of Orientalism we must begin to think of it not simply as a discourse but also in distinctly more perceptual terms “as a Western projection onto and a will to govern over the Orient” (Said 1978, 95; my emphasis) or even “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study” (1978, 202; my emphasis). To date, scholars that have noted the presence of phenomenology in Orientalism have considered it from the anthropological perspective of ‘othering’ (Leistle 2010) or described it as a distracting residue from Said’s earlier works, a mere footnote to the book’s overall argument (Hart 2000, 75). However, what I am trying to show by paying granular



attention to Said’s vocabulary is that phenomenology is not accidental but integral to the theoretical framework of Orientalism. This is important. For, not only does seeing Orientalism as a phenomenon of perception allow us to better understand its workings on and by individuals, but also to grasp how it can be resisted through proper critical thinking. Let us begin with its workings. A good point of departure is Said’s discussion of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria in 1797 and 1801, which lies at the basis for the monumental Description de l’Égypte, a comprehensive catalogue of all known aspects of ancient and modern Egypt published between 1809–1829 written by scholars accompanying the French army, and Ferdinand de Lesseps’s construction of the Suez Canal in 1859–1869. These two events signal not only important landmarks in Europe’s domination of the Middle East but illustrate the manner in which Orientalism was more than just a Western style of thought about the Orient and effectively crystalized into military interventions, scholarly expeditions, material projects, and colonial rule—and became a contemporary problem in the postcolonial world (Said 1978, 44, 89–90). Said emphasizes that all of Napoleon’s preparations for the French invasion of Egypt and Syria were “schematic” and “textual”, based on “experiences that belong to the realm of ideas and myths culled from texts, not empirical reality” (1978, 80). Napoleon’s textual attitude to the Orient meant that “he saw the Orient only as it had been encoded first by classical texts and then by Orientalist experts, whose vision, based on classical texts, seemed a useful substitute for any actual encounter with the real Orient” (Said 1978, 80; my emphasis). What Said describes here is the way in which Napoleon’s perception of the Orient is based on persistent schemata circulating in the discourse of Orientalism which are imposed on that objective reality by his own consciousness-in-the-world and decidedly not based on his actual encounter with that reality. This does not mean that Napoleon did not interact with reality. He did, but in the same way in which Sartre’s would-be grape-picker interacts with the bunch of grapes by ‘magically’ or irreflectively conferring a new quality on the bunch that does not change its objective structure. The grapes are green. The Orient is ‘Orientalized’. The consequence of Napoleon’s self-deception in the process of perception is that the Orient that he perceives is not the ‘real’ Orient but an ‘Orientalized’ fiction of his own consciousness-in-the-­ world, which may be ultimately textual but therefore not felt to be less true. Said’s description of Napoleon and de Lesseps’s textual attitude to the Orient clearly illustrates how the phenomenon of Orientalism should be



understood in existential-phenomenological terms as a form of perception which forms the basis for all meaning-giving activity and truth. “Everything they knew, more or less, about the Orient came from books written in the tradition of Orientalism”, Said writes, …; for them the Orient … was something to be encountered and dealt with to a certain extent because the texts made that Orient possible. Such an Orient was silent, available to Europe for the realization of projects that involved but were never directly responsible to the native inhabitants, and unable to resist the projects, images, or mere descriptions devised for it…. The perspective rarely drawn on Napoleon and de Lesseps is the one that sees them carrying on in the dimensionless silence of the Orient mainly because the discourse of Orientalism, over and above the Orient’s powerlessness to do anything about them, suffused their activity with meaning, intelligibility, and reality. (1978, 94–95)

In this lengthy passage, Said describes the manner in which Orientalism as a discourse forms the basis for activity in the Orient that effectively comes to create the very reality Orientalists texts appear to describe. Orientalism allows Napoleon and de Lesseps to invest their lived reality in the process of perception with meanings and values that essentially refer to them as conquering and active Westerners. To make sense of their reality, they constantly reinterpret it in relation to ‘the familiar’, persistent stereotypes and dehumanizing views of Orientalism. For Napoleon, Orientalist ideas that the West is militarily far more superior allowed him to actually embark and conquer Egypt and Syria, ‘proving’ their truth in the process. Moreover, the full-scale academy of scholars accompanying the conquering Grande Armée in order to make sense of the place is very much an aspect of that same textual attitude that, again, proves that inextricable bound of power/knowledge (Said 1978, 83). Similarly, for de Lesseps, the so-called stable ‘truth’ that Western powers can dispose of any territory in the world and its population as they see fit, allowed him to quite literally cut across an entire continent, again ‘proving’ the veracity of this idea. What cannot be overemphasized is that the Orient of Napoleon and de Lesseps is an ‘Orientalized’ fiction which is fundamentally dissonant with the objective reality but consonant with their pre-existing textual attitude. The impinging reality of an Orient which is infinitely more complex than its textual variant in Orientalist texts causes an immediate sensation of an unbearable tension, which is the result of dissonant relations between the perceptual experience of that reality and the appropriate cognitive



elements—Orientalist knowledge or beliefs considered to be truthful (see Festinger 1957, 3). Because of the sheer cultural strength of Orientalism as a master discourse and the persistent claims of objectivity that have accrued to it, it is easier to bring these Orientalist cognitive elements into a consonant relationship with the individual’s perceptual experience than to revise them. And so, by the path of least resistance, to reduce or eliminate the experience of cognitive dissonance, Western subjects irreflectively choose to either act upon themselves, bringing their belief about reality in consonance with the Orientalist ideas and thus ‘Orientalizing’ their perceptual experience; or to act upon the situation, altering the physical environment itself in consonance with Orientalism but leaving their preconceived Orientalist ideas unchanged (see Festinger 1957, 19–20). It is important to note that this former activity happens irreflectively, causing the feeling that seemingly without the perceiving subject’s intervention—by ‘magic’, Sartre would say—the world described by Orientalist texts actually exists, hence proving the ‘truth’-value of these texts and augmenting their authority. What matters not is that this Orient is a fiction, because all perceptual experiences are in a way fictions of a reality that is ungraspable as it is, but that this Orient is experienced, felt, and perceived to be more real than others, as Merleau-Ponty’s equation of ‘truth’ to ‘perception’ suggests. It is equally important to note that the latter activity is only possible if the perceiving subject has sufficient control over the environment (Festinger 1957, 20). What is impossible for Sartre’s would­be grape-picker who is unable to reach the high-hanging grapes, is a distinct possibility for Western writers producing imaginative and academic texts about the Orient (because of the uneven balance of power of Western writing and Oriental silence) and Western ‘agents’ in the Orient (because of Western activity and Oriental passivity, which is supported by a whole series of connected interests). The existential-phenomenological perspective I have drawn on Orientalism is the key to fully understanding a whole series of examples of how Orientalism works, starting with the very beginning of Orientalism, which plunges us straight into the problematic of the book. For what happens with the French journalist on a visit to Beirut in 1975–1976 is similar to Said’s description of what happened with his countrymen Napoleon and de Lesseps on their visit to the region well over a century earlier. Faced with a brute reality, the journalist experiences a sensation of cognitive dissonance between his perception of this reality and his preconceived textual attitude to the Orient. The journalist’s irreflective choice to reduce



the dissonance makes him unable to perceive anything not supported by his ‘Orientalized vision’. This collectively regularized vision of Orientalism blocks the journalist’s earlier, individual, irregular vision. As a result, the journalist is sensitive only to his Orientalist experience of a disappearing Orient and tries to bring what he sees in the gutted downtown area of Beirut in relation to a textual attitude that is informed by the writings of Chateaubriand and Nerval. He consequently has no actual contact with the people whose city he is reporting on; their suffering is invisible to him. The failure of human thinking exemplified by Napoleon, de Lesseps, and their unnamed countryman is that they prefer, what Said calls, “the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human” (1978, 93). A defeat of rational thinking, the preference is a painful victory of emotional behavior. So rather than risk the increase of cognitive dissonance caused by truly disorienting encounters with the human and risk the tottering of Orientalist doctrine they choose to avoid it altogether, preferring to take recourse to a textual attitude, and the soothing experience of consonance that comes with it. The best example of how Orientalism works as a discourse and as a phenomenon of perception is to be found in Said’s reading of Marx’s 1853 analyses of British rule in India (1978, 153–156). What Said finds striking about Marx’s writings is that they suggest that their author appeared to be on the brink of reframing one of the most obstinate stereotypes in Orientalist discourse: the idea that in Asia, only vast anonymous collectivity mattered or even existed (1978, 154–155). Instead, Marx encountered in India “existential human identities” (Said 1978, 155) for whose misery he felt sympathy. The author’s engaged style indicates that he considered Indians as fellow humans who were suffering under the economic system of Britain’s colonial rule, which was transforming their society and thereby also paving the way for a real social revolution (Said 1978, 153–154). In the end, Marx’s Orientalist conceptions of Asia as a lifeless place that is regenerated by Europe win out over his engaged socio-­ economic views in which he shows human sympathy for the Indian people. That Marx was still able to sense some fellow feeling, to identify even a little with poor Asia, suggests that something happened before the labels took over …. It is as if the individual mind (Marx’s, in this case) could find a precollective, preofficial individuality in Asia—find and give in to its pressures upon his emotions, feelings, senses—only to give it up when he confronted a more formidable censor in the very vocabulary he found himself



forced to employ. What the censor did was to stop and then chase away the sympathy: Those people, it said, don’t suffer—they are Orientals and hence have to be treated in other ways than the ones you’ve just been using. (Said 1978, 155)

Here we see the restraining workings of Orientalism as a discourse on individual writing. The formidable censor that Said talks about is Orientalism as a discourse that authorizes the use of a certain vocabulary to describe the Orient and its people. It forces authors to say things in a certain way and censor what cannot be said, and hence, to produce knowledge in a discursively authorized manner. But such a Foucaultian reading does not explain why Said thinks Marx could momentarily envision an alternative to Orientalism and feel sympathy with the Indian people, only to give up this sentiment and submit to the pressures of a discourse that persuaded (or forced) him to take up the discursively-approved lexicography. The reason is that Foucault’s model does not allow an individual like Marx to think, even for a very brief moment, outside the outer limits set by the épistèmè (Marrouchi 2004, 91). And yet that is precisely what this passage suggests, while at the same time suggesting: that it is ultimately Marx himself who, at a certain moment “before the labels took over”, is responsible for choosing to give in to pressures and consequently to take up a vocabulary that dissipates the sympathy he felt earlier. Moreover, these pressures are not simply working upon his writing but “upon his emotions, feelings, senses”, which suggests the continued importance of Sartre’s phenomenological theory of the emotions for our understanding of Orientalism. Clearly, this is the kind of underlying process of force which Said describes in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, in which an immediate sensation overwhelms and takes the place of any previous reflection; a process in which an individual chooses to change his or her belief about reality in order to resolve or reduce the unbearable sensation of cognitive dissonance. So, Marx’s choice to submit to the pressures of Orientalism reduced that sensation but the outcome is that “the human sympathy has gone … while the Orientalist vision takes its place” (Said 1978, 154). Said’s analysis of Marx’s writings on India illustrate that reading Orientalism from an all-too strictly Foucaultian perspective obscures the workings of Orientalism as a phenomenon that is inextricably tied to perception. Said’s simultaneous conceptualization of Orientalism as a discourse and as a phenomenon of perception is an important theoretical



gesture which affirms the centrality of the individual human subject in thinking about literature and culture. It illustrates how in Said’s model of criticism, the perpetuation of imperialism and Orientalism is a choice— admittedly, a choice that is often taken irreflectively and bordering on a choice that is forced upon the individual subject by cultural determinants, but a choice nonetheless. In fact, Said’s argument seems to echo Sartre’s famous words on the absurdity of freedom in L’Être et le néant that “la liberté est liberté de choisir, mais non la liberté de ne pas choisir. Ne pas choisir, en effet, c’est choisir de ne pas choisir” (1943, 561). Therefore, individuals like Marx who reproduce the dominant Orientalist images have chosen to submit to the pressures of Orientalism as a discourse on thought and action, and can and should be held accountable for perpetuating its dehumanizing views. Importantly, when it comes to viewing Orientalism as an individual’s responsibility, Said distances himself from Foucault’s position on ethics in such works as Surveiller et Punir (1975) and the first volume of L’Histoire de la sexualité (1976) and invokes such existentialist Marxist thinkers—the label is, indeed, ironic in this situation—as Sartre and Fanon, who, in writing about racism, stress that racism is not an opinion but a choice (see Bernasconi 2012, 348). Both writers focus on the individual and the system, and while they argue that an understanding of racism calls for the analysis of the structures of thought that make racism possible, they consider these structures not as insurmountable obstacles to individual freedom, which is based on the idea that the individual is always free to choose (Bernasconi 2012, 343–349; Sartre 1943, 561–562). The political goal of their work is deeply connected to the humanistic commitment of reaching a multiracial postcolonial project, nowhere better expressed than in Fanon’s final plea in Les damnés de la terre, which asks its readers to develop a new skin, neither black nor white, a new critical consciousness through which a new humanity can be born (Fanon 2002, 305; Gordon 2015, 140). Likewise, the ultimate goal of Orientalism is to develop a liberating new critical consciousness that challenges the workings of Orientalism and actively tries to change worldly situations in such a way that Orientalism should no longer be a choice on offer in the future. Said’s stress on individual responsibility and the ethical obligation to choose is decidedly a turn away from what he believes to be the prison house of the épistèmè and an important theoretical step to think resistance. But it takes a lot more to actually offer resistance, the possibility of which, as I argue by discussing two final examples, seems to be connected to



Said’s conceptualization of literature in Orientalism. In a subchapter devoted to nineteenth-century travel writing, Said compares Alexander William Kinglake’s Eothen and Richard Francis Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, two travel narratives that are based on their author’s personal lived experience of traveling in the East. Published in 1844, Kinglake’s Eothen recounts the author’s journey in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt about 10 years earlier. The whole travel narrative, Said concludes, is nothing but “a pathetic catalogue of pompous ethnocentrisms and tiringly nondescript accounts of the Englishman’s East” (1978, 193). Kinglake’s sweeping generalizations about the Orient, its culture, mentality, and people simply repeat many of the canonical attitudes found in Orientalism. But the main reason Said singles out Eothen is not just to illustrate the book’s blatantly Orientalist representations of the East, but to point out that these representations are rooted in Kinglake’s actual travels to the region; he has allegedly seen those very places he depicts. When we take this biographical information into consideration the Orientalist stereotypes are even more baffling and “it is interesting how little the experience of actually seeing the Orient affected his opinions. Like many other travelers, he is more interested in remaking himself and the Orient (dead and dry—a mental mummy) than he is in seeing what there is to be seen” (Said 1978, 193; my emphasis). Kinglake’s ‘Orientalist vision’ merely asserts the ‘Orientalness’ of the Orient and the ‘Westerness’ of himself. This regularized vision blocks all understanding and sympathy with the people he meets; he looks at monuments, customs, and daily life but does not in the least comprehend what he sees, nor is he capable of identifying with the human experience of the people he meets. Kinglake’s blatant Orientalism starkly contrasts with Burton’s representations. In his Personal Narrative, a travel narrative published in 1855–1856 that is also based on the author’s actual travels in the region, Burton takes up a very different strategic location to the Orientalist discourse. The reason, according to Said, is that during his travels Burton self-consciously and successfully tried to identify with and share “the life of the people in whose lands he lived” (1978, 195). Burton did what Marx ultimately could not, meeting Arabs as existential individuals rather than as ‘Orientalized’ fictions. The result, Said writes, is that he “was able to become an Oriental; he not only spoke the language flawlessly, he was able to penetrate to the heart of Islam, and … accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca” (1978, 195). Unlike Kinglake’s, Burton’s strategic location in



opposition to the existing discourse was strong. What sets him apart from the author of Eothen is not that he was completely free of Orientalism—at times he still falls prey to reducing “the complexities of Oriental life” and making “generalizations of the Oriental”—but that these generalizations “are the result of knowledge acquired about the Orient by living there, actually seeing it first-hand, truly trying to see Oriental life from the viewpoint of a person immersed in it” (Said 1978, 196; my emphasis). We should consider Burton’s immersion in the object of his representations as a reflective choice to seek out those disorienting encounters with the human which we have seen others, like Kinglake, evade. In his way of life, Burton embodies that constantly renewed act of living that is the cycle of criticism in Conrad’s writings. These encounters forced him to reformulate his pre-existing ideas and regularized distinctions for viewing the region he was living in and the people he was meeting there, in order to make his perception of reality (and his representations of that reality in his writings) as consonant with the objective reality as possible—and not with the authoritative version of that reality in Orientalist discourse, which, as Said makes clear, he saw as a sign of Victorian moral authority to be openly rebelled against (1978, 195). The consciousness that emerges from Burton’s writings is that of an author who understands “that to be an Oriental or a Muslim was to know certain things in a certain way and that these were of course subject to history, geography, and the development of society in circumstances specific to it” (Said 1978, 195). From the way in which Said describes Burton’s insight into the workings of culture, Burton seems to embody some of the insights of Orientalism itself, thereby obtaining a position of unique freedom within his cultural moment—a position remarkably similar to the one Conrad embodies in Said’s 1966 monograph. Burton’s prose, Said writes, “is the history of a consciousness negotiating its way through an alien culture by virtue of having successfully absorbed its systems of information and behavior” (1978, 196), the result of which is that the author was able to achieve a position of what Said calls “Burton’s freedom” (1978, 196). This freedom, Said immediately goes on to elaborate, is not absolute. Rather, it results from the author’s ability to have shaken “himself loose of his European origins enough to be able to live as an Oriental” (Said 1978, 196; my emphasis). Said’s use of the word ‘origins’ to describe Burton’s freedom is highly significant. In Said’s theory of beginnings, it connotes ‘passivity’ and refers to the circumstantial existence of determining conditions. It is therefore



contrasted with the more active ‘beginnings’ which expresses the intentional beginning act of an individual (see 1975a, 32). The whole point about beginnings, as distinct from origins, is that they are chosen. And so, what Said’s vocabulary suggests is that Burton’s freedom is a freedom of choice: to detach himself enough from his Western cultural ambience to live as an Oriental. In so doing, the author reaches a self-conscious position of subjectivity in-between two cultures, but outside neither. Moreover, even though Burton is unable to dispose of all the Orientalist generalizations in his thought—he is still a creature of his time—he is the very first author we encounter in Orientalism to actually treat people like people, thereby choosing to take up a position against the dominant Orientalist discourse and system of knowledge. The kind of knowledge Burton produces is based on lived experience, on actual encounters with the human, and should, according to Said, therefore be read as “a testimony to his victory over the sometimes scandalous system of Oriental knowledge” (1978, 196). Indeed, Said lauds Burton for taking “the assertion of personal, authentic, sympathetic, and humanistic knowledge about the Orient as far as it would go in its struggle with the archive of official European knowledge about the Orient” (1978, 197). Just like Auerbach is invoked to serve Said’s own metacritical purposes, so too is Burton. In his deep commitment to what Said considers to be ‘authentic’ humanism, Burton functions as a metaphor for Said’s own critical practice as a humanist. Said describes Burton in such a way that the author comes to assume a counter-discursive position to European culture and its Orientalist system of knowledge. This is, not coincidentally, the position that Said urges all critics to take up in the essay “Criticism Between Culture and System” (1983a). The essay is a call on critics to stand “[b]etween the power of the dominant culture, on the one hand, and the impersonal system of disciplines and methods (savoir), on the other” (1983a, 220). Said thinks it imperative that criticism stands between culture and system, detached enough from both but outside neither—for the critical consciousness is always embedded in a worldly context. Burton’s is the freedom that results from locating himself in that critical in-between position from where he can successfully begin to resist Orientalism. Burton’s freedom is the same kind of freedom as Conrad’s. We have seen how the Polish-born, French-speaking, and not quite fully acculturated Englishman still to an extent falls prey to the monopolizing imperialist system of representation of his time. Nonetheless, on account of his critical in-between position and his lived experience of imperialism,



he succeeds in beginning to resist the knitting machine of imperialism (see also Said 1993, 25). Burton’s freedom is also the same kind of freedom Said fashions for himself in his autobiographical and metacritical writings. Orientalism in a way resembles Burton’s Personal Narrative. It is the book of someone who, as the title of his memoir suggests, is fundamentally Out of Place (1999). Palestinian by birth, ‘Oriental’ by culture, Arab by ethnicity, French-German-English-American by methodology, humanist by belief, English by language, American by location, and a critic by choice, through a series of empowering theoretical gestures he fashions for himself a kind of critical agency and freedom in the interstitial place between culture and system—a place from which he is able not only to criticize the dominant culture and its system of knowledge but also to combat it by producing what he considers to be personal, authentic, properly humanistic knowledge. From what we have seen so far, Orientalism seems to present only an argument against something and not sufficiently develop an alternative to the particular system of ideas it attacks. “My project”, Said readily admits, “has been to describe a particular system of ideas, not by any means to displace the system with a new one” (1978, 325). And yet, in the course of the book, he sketches an alternative system to Orientalism, which seems to lead us to Said’s own blend of humanistic literary theories with Foucault’s antihumanistic insights. To be more precise, the alternative to Orientalism to a great extent seems to lie in the very power we have seen Said ascribe to literature. In the final subchapter of Orientalism which reworks and extends parts of “The Arab Portrayed” (1970), Said discusses a wide variety of contemporary Orientalist stereotypes and images in American popular culture and social sciences. The representation of Arabs that circulates is ­one-­dimensional and demeaning: the Arab is represented as a shadow that dogs the Jew, a lecherous, bloodthirsty marauder and jihadist fanatical that threatens the stability in the region (Said 1978, 286–287). In journalism, newsreels, and news photos “the Arab is always shown in large numbers. No individuality, no personal characteristics or experiences” (Said 1978, 287). Indeed, the dominant representation of Arabs in the United States is uniquely negative, essentialized, and dehumanized and does not correspond to a lived experience, or any form of individuality or concrete human life whatsoever.



What Said finds striking about U.S. studies of the Middle East is not so much that they repeat and reinforce these crude ideas circulating in the culture at large. After all, at the end of a book-length discussion of Orientalist representations from Aeschylus and Lewis, to Marx, Kinglake, and even well-intending writers such as Burton and Massignon, the presence of Orientalist dogmas in American social science of the postwar period can hardly come as a surprise. Rather, what surprises him is that the American pendant and successor of traditional French and British Orientalism has completely severed its ties with the long tradition of philology and literary humanism that had informed the discipline from its moment of inauguration in 1312. The outcome is an academic discipline that is marked by “[t]he absence of literature and the relatively weak position of philology” (Said 1978, 291). To be more precise, literature is not only absent but avoided even: One of the striking aspects of the new American social-science attention to the Orient is its singular avoidance of literature. You can read through reams of expert writing on the modern Near East and never encounter a single reference to literature. What seem to matter far more to the regional expert are ‘facts,’ of which a literary text is perhaps a disturber. The net effect of this remarkable omission in modern American awareness of the Arab or Islamic Orient is to keep the region and its people conceptually emasculated, reduced to ‘attitudes,’ ‘trends,’ statistics: in short, dehumanized. (Said 1978, 291)

The passage above is highly revealing of Said’s conceptualization of literature and its role in combating Orientalism. Though literary texts are equally guilty of perpetuating Orientalist dogmas, Said’s discussion of Burton, for instance, suggests that they are able to function somewhat more autonomously in relation to the Orientalist discourse than other genres of writing. According to Said, this is not merely because authors such as Nerval or Flaubert, on account of their craft as writers, construct the world they depict with “artistic dignity” (1978, 188) and “verve and style” rather than “according to impersonal academic rules of procedure” (1978, 189); nor because the scope of artistic work is aesthetic and exceeds the strict academic limitations of Orientalism as a discipline (1978, 181–182); and, lastly, not because of the habitual insight into the mechanisms of existence that the craft of writing allowed writers such as Burton or Conrad to develop. The reason for literature’s relative autonomy is to



be found in Said’s description of a literary text as a ‘disturber’ of ‘facts’— the modern equivalent of what Nietzsche would call ‘truth’. What Said is arguing is that there is something inherent in literature which fundamentally resists being paraphrased or translated into positivistic knowledge, attitudes, trends, or statistics. He is arguing that reading literature causes a disturbance of such positivistic knowledge; a feeling of cognitive dissonance between such positivistic knowledge and the perception of that which can only be described as the antipositivistic knowledge communicated by the literary work. Lastly, if the net effect of omitting literature in the study of a region results in that region’s emasculation and dehumanization, Said is ex negativo saying that what is intrinsic to literature is something empowering and humanizing. All of this is in line with the reason Said himself gives for seeing literature as a disturber: Since an Arab poet or novelist … writes of his experiences, of his values, of his humanity (however strange that may be), he effectively disrupts the various patterns (images, clichés, abstractions) by which the Orient is represented. A literary text speaks more or less directly of a living reality. Its force is not that it is Arab, or French, or English; its force is in the power and vitality of words that … tip the idols out of the Orientalists’ arms and make them drop those great paralytic children—which are the ideas of the Orient—that attempt to pass for the Orient. (1978, 291)

This relatively short passage contains references to nearly all of the theoretical intertexts that inform Said’s view of literature. In the first sentence, we read that literature is a man-made product which expresses the lived experience of an author, his or her values and humanity. This is clearly a reference to the idea that literature is the embodiment of an authorial consciousness, a voice engaged in a dialogue with us, a ‘palace of crystal’ with a moral view, psyche, character, and intentions of its own. In the second sentence, we read that the power of literature is that it not only speaks of humanity, which is, of course, the single underlying theme that unites all of the intertexts informing Said’s view of literature, but that it speaks of a lived experience, a vécu which resists being paraphrased and can only directly be comprehended or experienced in the act of reading. The third sentence, then, suggests that literature possesses a certain life force which produces a kind of unparaphrasable, non-conceptual knowledge that utterly resists logic, as the prewar New Critics would stress, or an existen-



tial knowledge that resists being reduced to essences, as critics such as Poulet, Merleau-Ponty, or Sartre would argue. Moreover, this knowledge is expressed in a powerful, what Blackmur would call ‘gestural’ language, that is, an expression which is directly apprehended by readers; the semantic thickness or worldliness of literature which make readers feel that they are reading a complex human expression. Lastly, literature is temporal, singular, and complex, which causes it to disrupt atemporal and generalizing representations of Orientalism. In fact, Said’s suggestion is that literature is the most complex linguistic expression and that any literary text is ungraspable as it is. As a result of this, all attempts at literary interpretation in one aspect or another fall short; all interpretative acts have their blindness and insight. Whether it is the product of a French, English, or Arab author, every literary work expresses a lived experience. The reading of Arab literature can contribute to the unlearning of Orientalist doctrines and dehumanized ways of seeing ‘Orientals’. Not because the lived experience of an Arab author is by definition out of sync with Orientalism; on the contrary, his or her subjectivity is also to a considerable extent shaped by Orientalism (Said 1978, 325). Literature is a powerful adversary to Orientalism, because it precisely expresses the humanity of its author, as a singularly unique individual. The force of literature is characterized by what Said elsewhere calls “narrative” (1978, 240), a term to describe the way in which a literary work is a totality that expresses the complex dynamics of human life. A literary work progresses in time to form a dramatic unity— or what the prewar New Critics would call a verbal icon, artifact, or Gestalt. As a result, it challenges the synchronic essentialism of a consistent, regularized, and “static” Orientalist “vision” (Said 1978, 239). When narrative triumphs over vision, we can begin to imagine an alternative to Orientalism. It is important to note that Said draws a parallel between this Orientalist vision and the disciplinary vision that Foucault analyzes in the punitive discourse in Surveiller et punir (1975). In a manner similar to the disciplinary vision, or what Foucault labels the panopticon (1975, 201–206), the Orientalist vision orders, reorders, synchronizes, categorizes, makes intelligible, and essentializes because “it presumes that the whole Orient can be seen panoptically” (Said 1978, 240). “The defeat of narrative by vision”, Said writes, repeatedly takes place in the discourse of Orientalism because the



Orientalist surveys the Orient from above, with the aim of getting hold of the whole sprawling panorama before him—culture, religion, mind, history, society. To do this he must see every detail through the device of a set of reductive categories … Since these categories are primarily schematic and efficient ones, and since it is more or less assumed that no Oriental can know himself the way an Orientalist can, any vision of the Orient ultimately comes to rely for its coherence and force on the person, institution, or discourse whose property it is. (1978, 239)

Narrative disputes such vision. It stresses that those schematic categories necessarily fall short when confronted with the infinitely complex reality of a literary text. The reading of literature constitutes an act of resistance to Orientalism, because narrative asserts that the domination of reality by vision is no more than a will to power, a will to truth and interpretation, and not an objective condition of history. Narrative, in short, introduces an opposing point of view, perspective, consciousness to the unitary web of vision; it violates the serene Apollonian fictions asserted by vision. (Said 1978, 240)

Such is the power of literature and its interventionist potential to combat not just Orientalism but any ideology, dogma, or orthodoxy. Said’s conceptualization of literature reveals how it is something ungraspable as it is, resists paraphrase and, I would like to add, often induces cognitive dissonance. If we read Said’s remarks about the absence and avoidance even of literature in American Orientalism from the perspective of the theory of cognitive dissonance, it is hard to refrain from considering literature as something confronting the Orientalist with an inconvenient, dissonant experience that is wholly different not just from any representation—for all representation is in one way or another a misrepresentation— but from Orientalist representation in particular. Similar to the avoidance of an existential human contact with ‘Orientals’, lest such an encounter cause or increase cognitive dissonance, so too can the avoidance of Arab literature be explained. Said’s plea, then, for reading Arab literature is a plea to willfully seek out such dissonance, to apply his method of humanism as a technique of trouble and perform the so-called cycle of criticism. It is a plea to seek out that unfathomable heart of darkness pulsating in literature which complicates and subverts the false light of Orientalism. It is, in short, a plea for not less but more humanism to combat Orientalism’s devastating workings on humanity.



To conclude, I would like to recapitulate the implications of seeing Orientalism as a discourse and as a phenomenon of perception for our understanding of how it works and how it can be resisted. In the West, Orientalism is an all-pervasive discourse that polices writing, thought, and action. It provides the basis for individual thought and meaning-given activity and acts as a referential framework of culturally established linguistic meanings that surround each speaking subject, whose consciousness-­in-­ the-world finds itself in the center of its lifeworld. The difference between Said and Foucault is the order within which existence and essence precede one another. For Foucault, the a priori of human existence is the épistèmè, an impersonal system of thought that needs to be recovered. While Said does not deny the existence of such a pervasive system of thought, for him an épistèmè is the product of human existence. It is, in phenomenological terms, the intentional product of a consciousness-in-the-world. Every consciousness-in-the-world intentionally—in the phenomenological sense of the word—irreflectively and spontaneously constructs for itself a subjectivity, an identity, or what Sartre calls an Ego (see 1978). While subjectivity appears to be such an important factor of human existence that many people consider it to be an integral part inside of their consciousness, because of the principle of intentionality of consciousness, subjectivity is always an object of consciousness and should therefore be located outside of consciousness, which remains fundamentally nonobjective. To paraphrase Sartre, subjectivity is not the owner of consciousness but its object (1978, 77). Subjectivity is a dialectical Gestalt, a Sartrean fiction that is as dynamic and singular as the encounter between a consciousness-­in-the-world and the chaotic lifeworld that produced it. By this, I mean that one’s subjectivity is never fixed and can be changed by that very consciousness-in-the-world in other such dynamic encounters with the world. Throughout Orientalism Said painstakingly makes clear that the discourse of Orientalism is worldly. It is, in other words, a part of the lifeworld and one of the existential realities that influences the creation of a subjectivity by an individual consciousness-in-the-world. This means that subjectivity and discourse are to be thought on the same worldly level, without one or the other preceding each other. Discourse might surround speaking subjects, but it does not precede them. What precedes both is an individual consciousness-in-the-world, which, in an infinite series of dynamic encounters with the world, can define its subjectivity in strict terms defined by the discourse of Orientalism. In this case, one’s subjectivity is so determined by



Orientalism that we could talk about it in terms of the first meaning of Foucault’s assujettissement, that is, of subjectivity as the ‘subjected’ of Orientalism. However, this submission need not necessarily be the outcome of every encounter, as Said’s model does not exclude the possibility of defining one’s subjectivity in strict opposition to Orientalism as a discourse, and all gradations in between. Because discourse does not precede consciousness, it can be changed through many such dynamic encounters. Just like subjectivity, discourse is a fiction which is produced and consequently can be changed by consciousnesses-­in-the-world in dialectical interactions with the world. During the process of perception, when an unfamiliar objective reality—a text, a monument, a landscape, an entire city or a unique human being— which is infinitely complex and therefore ungraspable as it is, impinges upon an intentional consciousness, preconceived knowledge about the world serves as the first point of reference from which the initial perception of reality is judged and perceived to be ‘truthful’. But because an objective reality is always in one way or another ungraspable, it will always produce a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in the mind of the perceiver. The problem of Orientalism is that it amassed such an authoritative cultural weight that an individual speaking subject will most likely feel pressure to irreflectively bring his or her perception in a consonant relation to those cognitive elements constituted by Orientalism. This is how the Orient is ‘Orientalized’—but also how it can be de-Orientalized. Taking stock of Said’s reflections on the cyclical process of critical thinking, at such moments of crisis criticism becomes possible. Whether these moments are moments of ‘cognitive dissonance’ (Festinger), ‘unbearable tension’ (Sartre) or ‘crisis’ (Lukács), they are moments of opportunity for choice, for beginning anew, to reflectively change one’s pre-held beliefs, adjust them in consonance with the perceptual experience of reality, and thus gradually, in a constantly to be renewed act of criticism, escape the determination of Orientalism as a discourse. This is how, in Said’s model, individuals can challenge and resist Orientalism. But given the sheer cultural weight of Orientalism, the power of one individual is limited. So in order to succeed, the individual must attempt to universalize the crisis that lead to the formation of his or her individual critical consciousness and contribute to a collective crisis in the system of Orientalism that could give rise to a collective critical consciousness. The critic, according to Said’s theory of resistance, must continue to unmask and oppose the machinations of power. He or she must speak truth to power.



5   Speaking Truth to Power: Hegemony and the Oppositional Intellectual Committed to the pursuits of emancipation and justice, Orientalism does not content itself with describing and criticizing the dehumanizing doctrines of an academic discipline that is humanistic in name only. Rejecting the historical insights and theses of Orientalism is but the first step to shed light on the conditions of possibility for justice. The next step is to challenge and oppose its discourse with counter-discursive knowledge. In this light, I have identified a series of crucial, empowering theoretical gestures through which Said fashions for himself a certain amount of agency which prepares for such an insurrectionary act: most notably, the liberation of the individual consciousness from the prison house of the épistèmè, the willful and strategic location of individual authors versus a discourse, and the formation of an insurrectionary critical self-consciousness through an inventory of traces. This latter gesture, as we have seen, is motivated by Gramsci’s writings on hegemony. It allows Said to reclaim his silenced voice as ‘object’ of Orientalism and speak back—and is therefore perhaps the most empowering of all. I am of course not the first to draw attention to this Gramscian intertext in Orientalism (see Brennan 2006; Hussein 2002; Marrouchi 2004). It is by now even a commonly held view that the influence of Gramsci on postcolonial studies is precisely due to Orientalism and the Subaltern Studies Group associated with Ranajit Guha in the early 1980s (Bhattacharya 2012, 83). Brennan is perhaps the staunchest advocate for stressing the importance of this Gramscian intertext in Orientalism. In fact, he has argued many times that although Foucault’s theories are important for Said’s early writings—Beginnings most notably—they have hardly anything to do with the argument in Orientalism (1992, 2000, 2001). Orientalism, Brennan feels, should therefore not be understood as Foucaultian but as Gramscian, and the central concept of the book to him is not the Foucaultian concept of ‘discourse’ but the Gramscian or Chomskyan notion of ‘institution’ (2006, 123). Although Brennan provides a more than necessary counterweight in the debate about Orientalism’s theoretical underpinnings and rightly asks attention to the Gramscian and Chomskyan line of thought in that work, from my discussion of Orientalism as a discourse it is clear that he bends the stick too far, obscuring and downplaying the book’s important Foucaultian underpinnings. Neil Lazarus does not bend the stick as far, arguing in line with



Brennan that although Said speaks Foucaultian he clearly does not think Foucaultian and we should understand Said’s notion of discourse as resembling the notion of hegemony which Raymond Williams, in the vein of Gramsci, elaborates in his 1977 Marxism and Literature (2011, 192–193). Though Lazarus counterpoises Orientalism’s one-sided Foucaultian reading without, unlike Brennan, resolutely dismissing the Foucaultian underpinnings of the work, I think both wrongfully construct a one-sided, Gramscian Said. As we search for the final piece of the puzzle that is the question of resistance in Orientalism, we will see how Said’s theory of resistance does not only draw upon Foucault’s notion of discourse but also upon Gramsci’s writings on power, agency, and culture. I therefore argue for a contrapuntal reading of Orientalism’s theory of resistance in a combined Foucaultian and Gramscian light that does not take these intertexts to be conflicting, irreconcilable, or undermining each other—as the majority of Said’s critics has done—but regards them as complementary. My reading draws upon Said’s very own conceptualization of the crucial notion of counterpoint in Culture and Imperialism (1993, 51–52). Though the term ‘counter’ in ‘counterpoint’ is, of course, a term of opposition, contrapuntal criticism’s goal is not the separation and exclusion of ultimately polarized lines of thought but rather their inclusion into a hybrid form of thinking (Said 1993, 15). A contrapuntal reading, as Jonathan Arac has stressed, is therefore not aggressive and dichotomous but loving and joining (1998, 57). This is crucial, because conceptualizing Orientalism as a discourse and as the product of hegemony in counterpoint allows us to reevaluate the possibility of resistance to Orientalism by highlighting the agency of intellectuals. As we have seen, in the pivotal essay “Criticism Between Culture and System” (1983a) Said lauds Foucault’s textuality for its ability to show the worldly connections of texts—moving critics in and out of them. Yet despite its worldliness, he finds it ultimately unable to deal with historical change precisely because it does not pay attention to individual statements: Foucault’s thesis is that individual statements, or the chances that individual authors can make individual statements, are not really likely. Over and above every opportunity for saying something, there stands a regularizing collectivity that Foucault has called a discourse, itself governed by the archive…. Though obviously anxious to avoid vulgar determinism in explaining the workings of the social order, he pretty much ignores the whole category of intention. (Said 1983a, 186)



According to Said, Foucault’s conceptualization of discourse is accompanied by a very grim vision of determinism, as it allows for discourse to dominate and even completely constrain individual intention (see Foucault 1970, xiv). This is why although Said clearly emulates Foucault’s method in Orientalism, he nevertheless takes great pains not to close the theoretical space that he had opened up in Beginnings. After all, Said’s conceptualization of beginnings and his allocation of authority to individual writers should be read as a humanistic liberation of individual human intention from what he calls its enslavement by Foucault’s concept of discourse (see 1975a, 319–320). Orientalism is a continued plea to treat texts as culturally embedded intentional constructs produced by individual writers with individual experiences, and whose individual imprint on the discourse of Orientalism is analyzable and has to be taken into account. Having introduced the possibility of a certain distance between discourse and individual articulations in Beginnings by claiming for individual writing a position of “exile from the communal sea of linguicity” (1975a, 338), Said’s argument in Orientalism is that because individual writers strategically locate themselves vis-à-vis an existing discourse, they can make individual statements and contribute to a collective discursive formation, but they can equally proclaim a self-exilic position for their writing, and oppose that discursive formation. Now, Said’s argument in the essay about Foucault is basically a reiteration of what he had said in Beginnings: Foucault’s work does not allow for historical change because it does not show why structure structures (1975a, 337). “Structure is nonrational”, Said wrote in 1975 about ­structuralism in general, “it is not thought thinking about anything, but thought itself as the merest possibility of activity. It can offer no rationale for its presence, once discovered, other than its primitive thereness” (1975a, 327). This statement can equally be applied to the work of Foucault, whose focus on discontinuities provides insight into how certain thoughts and statements are permitted to be thought and stated at a certain period in a certain place by a particular set of archival rules, but inevitably at the cost of a certain blindness as to why a particular text takes on this particular form. To be clear, my claim is not that Foucault does not study form, only that he does not study the intention underlying form. This is how we should interpret Said’s critique “that the moving force of life and behavior, the forma informans, intention, has been … totally domesticated by system” (1975a, 319). And though Said admits that since he formulated



these remarks in 1975, Foucault’s approach to criticism in Surveiller et punir (1975) and L’Histoire de la séxualité: la volonté de savoir (1976) has moved on to address intentional processes of history such as the will to truth and power, Said nevertheless still feels these forces to be “blindly anonymous” and to “overwhelm the individual subject or will and replace it instead with minutely responsive rules of discursive formation, rules that no one individual can either alter or circumvent” (1983a, 187). So even though Said applies the concepts of will to truth and power to analyze Orientalism as a discourse, he nevertheless finds Foucault’s textuality to be too little contextualized and ultimately ahistorical because it ignores what he believes to be the prime motor of human life and behavior: intention. According to Said, Foucault’s study of the workings of texts can only achieve fullness in its historically contextual mode, which means broadening the historical context to include amongst all other worldly affiliations the human intentionality that produces these texts (Bhattacharya et  al. 2004; Brennan 2005; Christopher 2005, 118). Said’s approach to discourse analysis in Orientalism brings to a high point a critical engagement with Foucault that began in 1972. But when it comes to discussing intentionality, the book marks an even clearer departure from the French thinker than Beginnings. Said believes that, by disregarding human intentionality, Foucault imagines power as too sterile, perhaps even irresistible and, Said would say in 1992, therefore “ultimately becomes the scribe of domination” (1992, 239). His personal involvement with Orientalism and political commitment to the struggle for Palestine make Said feel uneasy about Foucault’s rather disinterested approach to the operations of power. Said criticizes him for leaving out oppositional forces, thereby lapsing into passivity and political quietism—a critique that in France was also often voiced by Sartre, de Beauvoir and other critics of the left (Eribon 2011, 276–280).8 The argument that underpins both Beginnings and Orientalism is that individual writing is always the product of an interplay between an active individual and an impassive system (see Said 1975a, 52–56). Nowhere does this become more clear than in that pivotal passage in Orientalism in which Said describes the individual imprint of writers on an otherwise 8  Sartre polemically called Foucault’s air of neutrality and his precedence of structures over existence the final bulwark of the bourgeoisie against Marxism (1966). Though distinctly less sympathetic toward Marxism as a movement, Said seems to share Sartre’s argument of passivity.



anonymous collective formation in terms of Richards’s metaphor of the compass; and willfully conflates Foucault’s notion of discourse with Eliot’s notion of tradition (1978, 273). The passage vividly illustrates how individual writing is the dialectical product of an exchange between impersonal archival rules which restrain the eccentricity of the individual speaking subject’s statement, and that speaking subject’s individual creativity to circumvent these constraints, to not passively submit to them but to use them productively. By conjuring up the works of Richards and Eliot, Said adds their implied positions to his treatment of Orientalism. If we read the passage from the perspective of Practical Criticism (1930), then the imprint of an individual author, the quivering of the 20 compasses, seems to be caused by the author’s addition of what Richards calls a ‘tone’. Accordingly, the imprint of an individual writer lies in the intentional act of beginning in which the writer is aware of his or her relation to a set of discursive conventions and consequently chooses not to let these conventions dictate his or her relation to an audience or constituency, to arrange words as he or she pleases, and to intentionally produce a form (see Richards 1930, 179–188; Said 1975a, 338). In this case, the author does not allow the authority of Orientalism as a discourse to dissipate his or her own individual authority. This reading is congruent with a reading from the other implied perspective of Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1920): the passage makes clear how individual writing is always the product of an interplay between tradition and the individual talent. While such rephrasing might at first sight cause Said’s argument to look hopelessly outdated and nostalgic, it is actually quite close to Noam Chomsky’s simultaneous intervention in the field of linguistics and the philosophy of mind. Though I do not wish to discuss Chomsky’s intervention in great detail, it is nevertheless important to dwell on the contribution of his theory of Universal Grammar to the study of language acquisition and the implications of that theory for our conceptualization of human agency. Having observed that children are able to understand the meaning of new individual statements they have never heard before and are capable of forming an infinite amount of linguistically correct and complex statements, Chomsky based his theory of Universal Grammar on this so-called poverty of the stimulus (1965, 3–62). Because of the limited linguistic data available to children learning a natural language, each speaking subject or child must be born with a creative capacity to compensate or supplement that



lack (Chomsky 1966, 1980). A defense of rationalism, even perhaps Cartesianism (see Greif 2015, 313), this is, in effect, a way to emphasize the agency of individual speaking subjects, because everyone who has acquired language has already proven to be a genius on account of learning something as difficult as an entire language from simplified baby talk. According to Chomsky, every human being is born with an innate universal ‘deep grammar’, which transforms on the surface level through a combination and recombination of given elements into the world’s different languages. While Said does not follow Chomsky in positing a universal structure of consciousness, he does find his view on human nature appealing, because it shows that all human behavior is an “interplay between these ‘deeper’ laws and individual creativity” (1975a, 56). Chomsky’s work on linguistics informs his analyses of the connection between the Vietnam War and the notion of objective scholarship which is used as pretext to cover state-sponsored military research. To corroborate his claim about the affiliations of Orientalist scholarship with imperial power, Said refers to Chomsky’s anti-Vietnam writings (1978, 11). In American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Chomsky considers American intellectuals to be responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by the United States during the war. Clearly, Chomsky shares Said’s views on agency and determination, in conceding that while state institutions and the institutions of knowledge put severe constraints on individual creativity, it is nonetheless the intellectual’s moral obligation to resist such determining institutions—an argument clearly based on his view of human nature and agency, according to which everyone is a ‘genius’ and always has the ability to rebel. Chomsky’s stance on human nature puts him at odds with Foucault, who in that same period, in such works as Les mots et les choses (1966) and L’Archéologie du savoir (1969), explicitly dismisses such humanistic notions of ‘geniality’ and other forms of heroization and anthropomorphization in the history of thought. For Foucault, as we have seen, human existence is always preceded by a system, which means that a history of human thought should not focus on distracting surface phenomena of seemingly great thinkers with great ideas, but on discontinuous moments when radical changes in the direction of those preceding épistèmès took place (Foucault 1969, 22–23; Mills 2003, 27). Foucault’s project is as political as Chomsky’s and Said’s and serves an equally demystifying and liberating goal; but unlike theirs, his goal is an antihumanistic one that attempts to free itself from all forms of humanism. And so Foucault’s argument basically boils down to this: no one in the history of



thought, not even a person like Newton, Bohr, or Einstein, is a genius, but merely someone who happens to occupy an epistemically pre-approved position in a discursive field. My schematic comparison of Chomsky’s work with Foucault’s (and Said’s), serves to highlight that the differences between Chomsky’s studies of politics and Foucault’s analyses of power are more symbolic than actual—an observation that also became clear during Chomsky’s famous exchange with Foucault on the subject of human nature, broadcast on the Dutch television in November 1971 (see Chomsky and Foucault 2006). It is, after all, debatable whether a position according to which no one is a genius is truly all that different from one that inflates the notion of geniality to the extent that no one eventually really is. Both thinkers are therefore not all that different (2015, 314–315). Both share a common focus on determining systems: Foucault attempts primarily to offer a critique of the operations of power by revealing the determining and coercive constraints of a system of thought that sustains a ruling class, without declaring himself on any justifications of that struggle. Chomsky’s project is rooted in a tradition of social justice and adherence to a standard of moral order, according to which good people always defend justice against the normative powers of the state and a better justice for all must always be the critic’s goal (Greif 2015, 315). And though Chomsky and Foucault could not find much common philosophical and political ground during their exchange, the stances they embody are not mutually exclusive—so that Chomsky can even be regarded as “the ideal counterpart to Foucault on the Anglo-American side” (Greif 2015, 313). Greif’s remarks on Chomsky could easily be extended to Said. The difference between Said and Foucault is that Said writes and performs his criticism from the same position of social justice as Chomsky. In his analyses of Orientalism, Said identifies with justice rather than with order, with freedom rather than against it.9 This is also why, even though the numer9  Again, the similarities between Said and Sartre are striking. In the second chapter of Qu’est-ce que la littérature? Sartre holds a sweeping plea for engaged literature, arguing that “[o]n n’écrit pas pour des esclaves. L’art de la prose est solidaire du seul régime où la prose garde un sens: la démocratie” (1948, 71–72). According to Sartre, one cannot write a good novel about antisemitism, fascism, or colonialism that purposefully thinks with the oppressing class, against the oppressed (1948, 70). I will not comment on whether this is true, but Sartre’s argument as an existential Marxist is that every author, every reader, every individual has the ethical duty to identify with the freedom of others while doing everything in their power to combat oppressing injustice.



ous examples where Orientalism has reinforced its power relations could strike us as pessimistic, his rhetoric emphasizes the possibility of individual human agency to combat and topple such normative orders as Orientalism. The difference between critique and justice makes it clear why Foucault in such works as Surveiller et punir (1975) and the first volume of L’Histoire de la sexualité (1976) focuses on power’s actualization, while Said in Orientalism approaches the whole problematic from the standpoint of its opposition. And while one would argue that the difference is but a mere conceptual choice of focus, for the fighter of social justice it is a choice of ethics—and a highly important one at that. Said’s approach to power seems to embody Gramsci’s famous aphorism, penned down in a letter from prison to his brother Carlo on December 19, 1929, that “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will” (1994, 299). “What one misses in Foucault”, Said goes on to write in the essay on the French thinker’s textuality, “is something resembling Gramsci’s analyses of hegemony, historical blocks, ensembles of relationships done from the perspective of an engaged political worker for whom the fascinated description of exercised power is never a substitute for trying to change power relationships within society” (1983a, 221–222). To supplement Foucault’s conceptualization of the workings of texts and in lieu of what he considers to be flawed ideas on power and agency—both of authors and the critic—Said favors Gramsci and his ideas on hegemony to conceptualize culture, agency, and power relations, both in the essay and in Orientalism: ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied. To believe that the Orient was created—or, as I call it, “Orientalized”—and to believe that such things happen simply as a necessity of the imagination, is to be disingenuous. The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony. (1978, 5; my emphasis)

Besides restating that Orientalist discourse is driven by an intention—both on the level of the anonymous will to truth and power and on the individual level of writers (Hussein 2002, 240)—Said argues that the relationship of power that informs Orientalism and is perpetuated by Orientalist discourse should be seen as a form of cultural leadership or what Gramsci has identified as ‘hegemony’. “Culture, of course”, Said goes on to specify,



is to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by what Gramsci calls consent…. It is hegemony, or rather the result of cultural hegemony at work, that gives Orientalism the durability and strength I have been speaking about so far. (1978, 7)

To be clear about my own interpretation of Gramsci, in my discussion of the Gramscian notion of ‘hegemony’ I align myself with Peter Thomas’s understanding of it. Contrary to Perry Anderson’s widespread antinomian view in which hegemony (consent) and domination (coercion) are seen as qualitatively distinct and oppositional forms of power (Anderson 1976, 20–25), Thomas argues that one should see them “as strategically differentiated forms of a unitary political power: hegemony is the form of political power exercised over those classes in close proximity to the leading group, while domination is exerted over those opposing it” (2009, 163). The unfolding of power happens through the winning of consent of included classes and coercion against excluded others (Thomas 2009, 162–163). In a dialectical integrated process, hegemony both prepares for future domination and secures that achieved dominance: consent always appears in tandem with a certain degree of coercion (Thomas 2009, 163–164). Not only do I consider Thomas’s understanding to be closer to Gramsci’s conceptualization of power relations, it also closely fits Said’s description of how Orientalism helped first to unfold and later maintain European-Atlantic dominance over the Orient. Historically speaking, Said finds it remarkable that in the Orient “very little consent is to be found” (1978, 6). Orientalism’s relationship of power is unitary in that non-­ Orientals hold on to power and speak for Orientals, who are excluded from the right of self-representation and held in check through a series of colonial institutions. The relative strength of the Occident allowed it to dominate the Orient and brought into being the formation of Orientalism as a Western discourse, which enabled the support of that dominance in the culture at home and preparation for colonial interference abroad (Said 1978, 6). Subsequently, from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 to the present, one is able to see the manufacturing of consent of the Oriental population by both Western and Eastern intellectuals alike, which is why Said remarks that “the modern Orient … participates in its own Orientalizing” (1978, 325). Orientalism, to put it in Gramsci’s words, can thus be seen as a power relation of “hegemony protected by the armour of coercion” (1971, 263).



The conceptualization of Orientalism as a discourse and as the product of hegemony at the same time is crucial in two ways. First, Gramsci’s term ‘hegemony’ allows Said to not only think of culture in terms of determining yet productive constraints—an idea that, it has to be reiterated, one can also find in Foucault’s cultural analyses (1976, 123–124)—but to do so without dismissing the individual agency of subjects. After all, Gramsci argues that although there are forces of dominance and subordination at work in history that are independent of human will—refractory social forces such as a city’s population or the number of firms (1971, 180–181)— these forces serve as the conditions on which a society can transform and certainly do not rule out human intention or overwhelm willed human work. ‘Hegemony’ is a sensitive analytical term which takes into account the constraints working on subjects and at the same time does not fail to acknowledge the active role of these subordinate subjects in the operations of power (Jones 2006, 41). An analysis of power must therefore study both the historical conditions in which humans live and which shape their subjectivity and study the will and initiative of these humans reacting to these conditions (Gramsci 1971, 244). From the writings of Gramsci it is clear that meaningful and willful actions of humans are after all the prime motors of history (Daldal 2014, 151). Gramsci’s theory of hegemony enables Said to pay attention to both personal statements and discursive statements, to conceptualize Orientalism as a dynamic exchange between general concerns and particular contributions, between an impersonal system of knowledge and individual authors, but most importantly “to recognize individuality and to reconcile it with its intelligent, and by no means passive or merely dictatorial, general and hegemonic context” (1978, 9). The second important consequence of Said’s use of the term ‘hegemony’ is that it tackles the criticism of allowing no alternative to Orientalism. Although Said avows that he has paid insufficient attention to developing such an alternative (1978, 325), in a hegemonic analysis change is always possible simply because a hegemonic social form can never exhaust all human behavior, energy, or intention (Williams 1977, 125). There are always significant forms of human practice which happen against or outside the dominating hegemonic social order and, Said was to write later balancing Gramsci’s insights with Foucault’s, “this is obviously what makes change possible, limits power in Foucault’s sense, and hobbles the theory of that power” (1983d, 247). Every social form has the possibility to further develop into a new or alternative form, however marginal



that development may be (Gramsci 1971, 222). In effect, a social form can only be partially and temporarily fixed, never fully. For if such absolute fixity existed in the social world, there would be nothing to hegemonize and we would simply speak of domination (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, 134). This insight guarantees the possible emergence of new forces becoming hegemonic and formed the basis for Williams’s elaboration of historical change in terms of dynamic interrelations between residual, dominant, and emergent forces, in which these emergent forces are representative to areas of human behavior which are neglected, repressed, or even unrecognized by the dominant hegemonic order (1977, 122–123). Gramsci attributes an important role to intellectuals in the dissemination of hegemony and the manufacturing of consent, but also in the production of a counter-hegemony (Holub 1992, 6; Mouffe 1979, 187). They are responsible for the elaboration of ideology through culture and are ultimately capable of realizing moral and intellectual reform at the level of civil society (Gramsci 1971, 12, 60–61). Said, too, stresses the importance of intellectuals as agents in the practice of Orientalism, albeit mostly in a negative way. He specifically describes Orientalism as a form of “intellectual authority over the Orient within Western culture” (Said 1978, 19; my emphasis) in which he distinguishes both “the historical authority”—Orientalism as an anonymous discursive formation weighing heavily on individual writing—and “the personal authorities” (Said 1978, 20) of individual writers. Intellectuals are in no way free-floating individuals and have to be considered in relation to the structures in which they function as intellectuals (Jones 2006, 82). But within these structures, they are still producers of objects, ideas, texts, and, particularly in the case of Orientalism, representations posing as ‘truth’. This raises some critical questions: How do ideas acquire authority, “normality,” and even the status of “natural” truth? What is the role of the intellectual? Is he there to validate the culture and state of which he is a part? What importance must he give to an independent critical consciousness, an oppositional critical consciousness? (Said 1978, 325–326)

Despite Orientalism functioning as a discourse, Said’s term ‘strategic location’, as I have already indicated, implies that individuals must locate themselves in relation to the existing discourse of Orientalism. Ultimately, however, they are the ones who hold on to authority—which is why they



can be held accountable for their statements and actions when they contribute to the Orientalist discourse, solidify its insights and perpetuate its structures (1978, 130).10 In that respect, Said condemns modern Oriental scholars such as Lewis for upholding that ahistorical textual attitude toward the Oriental material they describe, an attitude that subdues the infinite variety of the Middle East to an essentialized representation which then serves as a validation for the imperial subordination of its peoples (1978, 315–321). Although they would consider their scholarly work to be impartial and detached from the political concerns of their time, it is actually saturated, Said believes, by political significance and ultimately validates the operations of imperial power (1978, 9–11). As a result, Orientalists such as Lewis cease to function as critical intellectuals and instead become “experts of legitimation” (Said 1983c, 172) of the hegemonic discourse of Orientalism. In order to remain critical, intellectuals need to be aware of their worldly circumstances and their political function in civil society and remain oppositional to the workings of power in political society (Ashcroft and Said 2004, 100). The critical intellectual must not only analyze and describe the workings of power as Foucault does, but combat these workings in the name of social justice. Hence, Said remarks that the intellectual must think with freedom and see himself or herself “as exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak the truth to power” (1994, xiv). His critical position in Orientalism, he makes clear in a long passage written a few years later, is that I take criticism so seriously as to believe that, even in the very midst of a battle in which one is unmistakably on one side against another, there should be criticism, because there must be critical consciousness if there are to be issues, values, even lives to be fought for … Were I to use one word consistently along with ‘criticism’ (not as a modification but as an emphatic) it would be ‘oppositional’. If criticism is reducible neither to a doctrine nor to a political position on a particular question, and if it is to be in the world and self-aware simultaneously, then its identity is its difference from other cultural activities and from systems of thought or of method. In its suspicion of totalizing concepts, in its discontent with reified objects, in its impatience 10  Brennan has recently argued that Said’s use of discourse differs from Foucault’s in that the former’s “does not preclude the idea of guilty agents of power, people with agendas and privileged interests, constituencies of active belief and policy, or the basic injustice of the operation that we should oppose on the grounds of human dignity” (2013, 18–19).



with guilds, special interests, imperialized fiefdoms, and orthodox habits of mind, criticism is most itself and, if the paradox can be tolerated, most unlike itself at the moment it starts turning into organized dogma. ‘Ironic’ is not a bad word to use along with ‘oppositional’. For in the main - and here I shall be explicit - criticism must think of itself as life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form of tyranny, domination, and abuse; its social goals are noncoercive knowledge produced in the interests of human freedom. (Said 1983b, 28–29)

Criticism must always be performed from the standpoint of opposition. Apart from having a clear affiliation with such critics as Sartre and Fanon, the passage echoes Blackmur’s idea of literary criticism as amateurism, as a constant battle against doctrinal thinking such as Orientalism—an idea that makes Blackmur, in Said’s eyes, “much more of an intellectual, in the Sartrean or Gramscian sense of the term, than any of the New Critics” (2000b, 254). Moreover, in this explicit opposition to ideological professionalism and specialization Said affiliates himself with Chomsky, who charged intellectuals of being complicit with state power and responsible for the atrocities of the Vietnam War (Said 1975a, 379). In spite of Said’s willful affiliations with an eclectic number of thinkers, the theoretical argument that informs his indictment of Orientalists is Gramsci’s distinction of traditional and organic intellectuals. Whereas an organic intellectual is connected to an emergent social group and is aware of his or her everyday function in the economic, social, and political fields (Gramsci 1971, 5), a traditional intellectual misrecognizes himself or herself as being severed from their social group and does not consider his or her workings to be of everyday political relevance (Jones 2006, 87–88). Said’s critical intellectual is an organic intellectual who pays careful attention to his or her own worldliness as well as the worldliness of the study object. He or she is actively involved in society and constantly struggles to change minds (Said 1994, 4). Such an intellectual is needed in the service of proper humanistic scholarship and emancipatory democracy to combat the hegemonic discourse of Orientalism perpetuated by traditional intellectuals such as Jones and Lewis, who rely so much on idées reçues that they have become blind to the differentialities of the Middle East and its peoples (see Said 1978, 94, 1994, 89). Said’s Orientalism, on the other hand, does not perpetuate the hegemonic framework it analyzes, but actively tries to combat that hegemonic discourse by analyzing its past and present in order to undermine its



powerful consent. The loss of active consent causes what Gramsci calls a crisis of authority in which the dominant class has lost its cultural leadership and exercises coercive force alone. This means that the subaltern classes “have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously” (Gramsci 1971, 276). Coercion without accompanying consent cannot ultimately prevent emergent ideologies from mobilizing people and eventually becoming dominant (Gramsci 1971, 275–276). To further this end, Said invokes Gramsci’s idea of self-consciousness as the starting point of every critical analysis in the introduction to Orientalism. After all, acquiring consciousness of the complex relations of which a subject is the hub already modifies these relations. “In this sense”, Gramsci continues, “knowledge is power” (1971, 353).11 That powerful agency stems from Said’s analysis of Orientalism as a discourse, his subsequent rejection of humanism-as-history by exposing the excrescences of humanism, and the insight that the production of knowledge and the operations of power can only be studied together in their full context (1978, 27). But although Gramsci believes in the agency of individual intellectuals to change society, a lone intellectual is limited in his or her strength. Though we have seen the way in which Said thinks resistance possible— through that laborious and constantly to be renewed cycle of criticism—it takes a lot more to actually change Orientalism. A willful action becomes meaningful only when it is the organic will of a class or a group of people and through strength in numbers acquires the potential to be truly radical (Gramsci 1971, 353). In order to successfully combat a hegemony it is vital to link one’s own concerns, sufferings, and experiences to the socio-­ political concerns of others (Gramsci 1971, 221). This is precisely what Said sees as his intellectual vocation: 11  Gramsci employs this aphorism to argue that even the slightest knowledge of the ensemble of relations—both genetically in the movement of their formation and synchronically at a given period as a system—leads to a better understanding of one’s own environment and subjectivity. This understanding is a source of agency for individuals because it is the basis to modify this ensemble of relations and thus one’s subjectivity. In this way an individual is able to shape power (Gramsci 1971, 352–353). Gramsci’s notions of knowledge and power differ from Foucault’s in that Gramsci believes man to be the subject of knowledge and thus an agent or locus of power. Foucault, on the other hand, dispenses with these ideas and considers man to be the object of knowledge that is produced by impersonal, diffuse, and abstract relations of power (1975, 32). Being conscious of one’s subjectivity and the relations of power that produce this subjectivity—insofar as this would be even possible according to Foucault—is never enough to change them and does not generate agency for individuals (see Daldal 2014, 166–167).



The intellectual’s representations—what he or she represents and how those ideas are represented to an audience—are always tied to and ought to remain an organic part of an ongoing experience in society: of the poor, the disadvantaged, the voiceless, the unrepresented, the powerless. (1994, 84)

Recognition of human suffering is a crucial step, but insufficient in itself. Individual suffering must be universalized and linked to other peoples’ sufferings (Said 1994, 33). Said therefore takes great pains to stress that Orientalism is not just an isolated problem but representative of a significant problem in all human experience, identity formation and the representation of other cultures (1978, 325–326; see also 1979, 1981). Orientalism’s failure is an intellectual as much as a human one, because in its opposition to a world region which it considered irreconcilably alien Orientalism dehumanized that region and its inhabitants and thus, Said writes, “failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience” (1978, 328). Intellectuals in the postcolonial world must learn from Orientalism’s fatal mistakes and realize that though every experience has an irreducible subjective core, it is at the same time historical and secular and can thus be understood through proper historical, secular, and humanistic scholarship (Said 1986, 55–56). In the conclusion to Orientalism, Said links the challenge of his work to the various worldwide decolonization movements, expressing their common goals: The worldwide hegemony of Orientalism and all it stands for can now be challenged, if we can benefit properly from the general twentieth-century rise to political and historical awareness of so many of the earth’s peoples. If this book has any future use, it will be as a modest contribution to that challenge. (1978, 328)

Orientalism is organically tied to the struggle for the political, historical, and imaginative emancipation of (formerly) colonized peoples. As such it is an act of resistance to the very framework it describes and contributes to the formation of a counter-hegemonic discourse. It is Said’s proper beginning anew.

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1   Literature: Human Experience I began my journey into Said’s critical practice with two interrelated questions, ‘what is literature?’ and ‘what is agency?’, which I set out to answer by analyzing the theoretical framework that informs his writings in the period 1966–1978. In the process, I identified five methodological forces that underpin his concepts of literature and agency: the American New Criticism, existential phenomenology, Auerbach’s Weltphilologie, Foucault’s epistemic history, and historical materialism. As this book draws to a conclusion, I would like to outline the evolution of these concepts that accrue literary criticism with the authority to intervene in all matters of human life. Deeply committed to critical humanism, Said’s critical practice constitutes an elaborate, necessarily unfinished and constantly to be renewed attempt to define more precisely the humanity of literature in all its aspects—as a source of pleasure, joy, love, life, sadness, anger, violence, and death. At times, this commitment pushes his thinking to engender, but never to embrace, its own opposite and approach its method and object of study from an antihumanistic perspective. The resultant conceptualization of literature considers literature to be the expression of human experience, including the belief that it expresses a living reality and that authorial intentions matter. This is, in short, Said’s concept of literature. Though Said’s view on literature is characterized by a degree of stability throughout his three major books, it is dependent on the precise t­ heoretical © The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4_6




constellation of those works, evolving from an individual view in Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) to a distinctly transindividual one in Orientalism (1978). Said’s methodological focus shifts accordingly: from the interiority of literature as the embodiment of an authorial consciousness, to literature’s exteriority and its affiliations and disaffiliations with other writing. This evolution is testament to the intellectual development of a critic who gradually comes to emphasize literature’s repressive influence on thought and action, without, however, renouncing the humanistic faith in its allegedly liberating powers. Said’s approach to Conrad in his first book is the result of a balancing act between formalism and contextualism, between the creative energies of the (prewar) New Criticism and existential phenomenology. It harmonizes a critique of literary form with an empathetic exploration of consciousness, which reinterprets the New Critical notion that the literary text is unified by a structural intention thought of as an impersonal textual consciousness into an existential-phenomenological notion of intentionality that considers this unifying principle to be a personalized, authorial consciousness. In so doing, Said transforms the impersonal, abstract critic of the postwar New Criticism tasked to perform a technical and positivistic reading of an impersonal, textual consciousness into a personal, concrete critic whose task is to empathetically identify with an authorial consciousness. Said’s model of reading pushed American literary criticism beyond formalism by challenging the institutionalized New Critical orthodoxy, whose overly technical and positivistic method reified and dehumanized literature. Instead, it grasps literature as an intentional, man-made product, as a Gestalt or a whole that is different from the sum of its parts and that speaks of a total living reality or life force in a unique language directly apprehended or felt by its readers. The literary work is the unified expression of its author’s lived experience. It provides access to an authorial consciousness, itself the product of the dynamic encounter between a uniquely singular individual consciousness-in-the-world and the chaotic lifeworld within which it is embedded. The work is temporal, dramatic, ambiguous, paradoxical, and unfathomable as it is. It offers a precise—yet intuitive—non-conceptual kind of knowledge that resists paraphrase and logic, appeals to comprehension, and hence disrupts atemporal, static, universal, positivistic, or ‘factual’ knowledge. This concept of literature turns literary criticism into an activity with considerable political potential. Indeed, already in his first book, Said



advocates an ethical approach to literature that takes into account that literature is a means of aesthetic communication between an author and a reader, both of whom have a responsibility of their own. The literary work is a linguistic and hence intersubjective product that depends both on the intentionality of the author at the moment of production and on the reader’s at the moment of reception, whose consciousness reanimates but does not wholly duplicate the author’s originating acts of consciousness. As a result, there is always a way—and an ethical imperative, even—to critically respond to a literary work and oppose any determining and impassive systems of thought it might express. Beginnings (1975) turns this ethics of reading into an elaborated politics of reading. As a result of his intellectual engagement with philology and poststructuralism, Said adapts his earlier view on literature so as to better account for the ambiguity of literature and more forcefully emphasize that the literary work is not simply the expression of an individual human consciousness in the process of living and coming to terms with reality—not as it is, but as it is experienced, judged, or perceived—but also of the worldview connected to the author’s language and of the framing history, politics, and power relations. Literature is a place amongst others where the epistemic pressures and discursive constraints are expressed that shape human life, often do violence to human experience, and determine the manner in which individuals see and articulate reality. The notion of ‘beginnings’ stresses that the production of literature always entails an authorial choice to set in motion the worldly activity of writing that takes place within the constraints of other writing. Literature should always be understood within a discursive field in which every writing is itself a form of power and violence to other writing because it can attempt to exclude and dehumanize the experiences of others, or precisely to rehumanize and reinclude them. While Said’s approach to Conrad seemed to emphasize that literature is the product of an individual intention, he now clearly defines it as the product of an intention that is individual and collective. Consequently, the literary work has a meaning in excess of the individual author’s intention which it derives from the existential realities to which the author may have been blind. Beginnings also reframes the empathetic dialogue between author and critic that characterizes his approach to Conrad as a conversation between the critic, the author, and the culture to which he or she belongs. This effectively turns a humanistic dialogue and criticism of form into a cultural politics and critical analysis of the literary work, whose



l­anguage is a gateway not just to the author’s consciousness and his or her lived experience but to the world. Said’s examination of the archive of Orientalism and his critique of imperialism in Orientalism (1978) lead him to methodically engage with historical materialism, the result of which is an increased emphasis on the historical density and material conditions of literature, its connection to real events and real politics. Though the political potential and interventionist character of Said’s method of reading has been clear from its very beginning, his analyses of Orientalism as a discourse clearly reveal how his approach to literature has evolved from foregrounding the aesthetics of literature to considering those aesthetics as implicated in relations of power. Indeed, Orientalism makes it clear that every individual writing is the product of an existential writer’s authority constrained by worldly circumstances, such as the role of society, traditions, institutions, and other writing. Despite pressuring writers to produce writing that conforms to the rules of discursive formation, such impersonal circumstances are not exonerating. Authors are still ultimately responsible for the images, ideas, values, and viewpoints expressed in their writing, as well as to the uses to which their writing is put. Said’s view on literature is defined by a politics of responsibility, which in Orientalism gives rise to a self-conscious method of humanistic discourse analysis that sees individual texts as personal and eponymous contributions to an impersonal and anonymous discourse, as identifiable statements for which their author can and should be held accountable. In all this, it should be noted that Said’s concept of literature is normative. A product of its time, Said’s theory of reading derives its general pronouncements from the eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-­ century novel as genre and what has now been firmly established as the canonical literature in the West without paying much attention to poetry, or non-mimetic or experimental forms of literature. This is not unimportant. For the novel as genre arguably shows its affiliations with power more plainly than poetry and better suits a method of immersive reading derived from existential phenomenology. In the postwar cultural discourse of the crisis of man the novel is directly linked to human freedom. Though this view already informs Said’s conceptualization of literature in his book on Conrad and his meditation on beginnings, it is more thematized in his writings from Orientalism onward and becomes part of his method to read canonical works of great literature as celebrated expressions of humanity and freedom, on the one hand, which nonetheless offered very



little resistance to and even consolidated the practices of imperialism and Orientalism, on the other. While Said continues to emphasize the humanity of literature and its ability to change the world for the better by showing the diversity and beauty of human life, his own work serves as a reminder that at the same time it can be the product, producer, and reproducer of humanity’s darkest ideologies. Literature, Said teaches us, can be a means of violence or justice.

2   Agency: Human Will By taking Said’s concept of literature as a critical locus to investigate the concept of agency, my intention was to show how both concepts mutually reinforce each other and are informed by what I have called ‘a problematic’ of Said’s earliest writings, the formative tension between humanism and antihumanism. The brief answer to my preliminary question ‘what is agency?’ is human will. The elaborate answer is that while the human subject and its will are central to Said’s thinking in the period studied here, his theory of agency evolves in reciprocal interchange with his view on literature. Just as Said’s concept of literature is the result of an attempt to come to terms with the humanity of literature and defend it against reifying and dehumanizing methods of reading, so too is his view on agency the product of an intellectual campaign to defend the human will against indifferent passivity. Whether passivity is the outcome of the dissociation of the historical author from the literary text, the denial of one’s own role in the production of human meaning, irreflectively imposed upon oneself in an act of bad faith, the result of applying an antihumanistic method of reading, or the uniquely punishing destiny of a discourse like Orientalism, all forms of passivity can and must be countered through deliberate and sustained acts of will. In so doing, Said’s critical practice fuses the concept of agency to ‘resistance’. Indeed, the implications of Said’s view on agency take us well beyond the realm of literary theory and into the heart of what it means to be human. A clear example of the reciprocal relationship which the concepts of literature and agency take up, the notion of ‘worldliness’ illustrates how Said’s is an empowering model of reading in which agency is attributed to the concrete individual located within an equally concrete, worldly situation. Over time, and influenced by a number of worldly events himself,



Said’s method becomes increasingly more attentive to those worldly constraints on agency, without however renouncing the secular humanistic idea that existence precedes essence. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966) marks the start of a secular humanistic project to safeguard the authority, choice, and freedom of individuals. In response to the absolute, universal, unsituated, and hence meaningless conceptualization of agency propagated by the postwar New Criticism, Said elaborates an existential-phenomenological model in which agency is meaningfully situated in a concrete, individual human consciousness-in-the-world. To counterpoise Poulet’s model of reading that robs the reader of agency in the process of meaning-giving, he defends the reader’s equal right to meaning. His approach to Conrad demonstrates how it is often easier, less exhausting, and psychologically less discomforting to bring our perception of reality in line with preconceived opinions or received beliefs and act in accordance with the dominant worldview rather than to constantly rethink and revise our perceptions and actions. Said’s model of agency in Beginnings (1975) is decidedly more attentive to the epistemic pressures and discursive constraints on human freedom. As a counterpoint to Foucault’s antihumanistic notion of discourse, Said advocates the impact of individual writers on a discursive formation by defining the notion of beginnings in terms of an authorial position. By turning nomadism into a metaphor for authority, Said emphasizes that the authority of a text is dependent on the precise and uniquely singular outcome of an author’s positioning, understood as a balancing act between either a powerful assertion of will to authorize his or her own writing or a total submission to the pressures of discourse. This is a crucial, powerful theoretical gesture that revalues the authority of individual writers and opens up the possibility of resistance to a discourse. Even more so than the ethical imperative to resist determining systems of thought tied to the conceptualization of agency in his first book, this gesture highlights the existentialist underpinnings of Said’s concept of agency: to act is to choose. At first sight, Said’s most famous work Orientalism (1978) also seems to be his most pessimistic. The book’s focus on authors whose writings time and again conform to the authority of a discourse causes Orientalism to loom as seemingly unopposable. And yet, Orientalism is marked by a remarkable optimism of the will. As the notion of ‘strategic location’ illustrates, Orientalism’s theory of agency is based on the humanizing approach to discourse analysis in Beginnings, which now attributes considerable agency to intellectuals who are responsible for organizing resistance. The



job of the intellectual is to deliberately seek out the complexities of human life in a laborious, necessarily unfinished cycle of criticism that questions the origins of one’s own actions and beliefs so as to provoke a crisis in the system of Orientalism that reveals its determining workings and the false simplicity of its worldview. These moments of crisis lead to the formation of a critical self-consciousness that results in a position of more agency; they are opportunities for choice, for carefully planned strategic locations vis-à-vis the existing discursive formation of Orientalism. Via a series of empowering theoretical gestures Said inhabits the position of the oppositional humanistic intellectual who combats the muteness imposed upon himself as ‘Oriental’ and reclaims his usurped right to speak. A number of important conclusions could be drawn from this evolution. One of which is that Said’s concept of agency is normative, just like his concept of literature. His criticism is performed from the perspective of social justice to combat persistent structures of intellectual differentiation, epistemic determination, and hegemonic coercion and domination. For the fighter of social justice it is imperative to counterpoise these forces of domination by attributing equal force or agency to the ‘dominated’ (in the broadest possible sense). The metaphysical assumption of Said’s critical practice is that in spite of the many determining forces at work at any given moment in time and pace, through a laborious, constantly to be renewed process of criticism, these constraints are identifiable, knowable, and hence changeable. Furthermore, these constraints do not precede human existence and should not be seen as absolute limits to individual human agency but rather as conditions of possibility that give meaning to an individual’s freedom. Though discourse surrounds the speaking subject, both discourse and subjectivity are preceded by consciousness. As a result, every individual is fully responsible for his or her situation. Acquiescence in one’s situation of domination, in the status quo of hegemonic systems of thought, or in the consensus that supports a discourse, is a choice as much as the perpetuation of or resistance to these constraints are. Indeed, Said’s theory of agency is not blind to difference but proclaims the universality of responsibility. In other words, regardless of how imposing cultural constraints might seem, change is always a distinct possibility. It is hard to refrain from dismissing Said’s view on individual human agency as paternalistic or perhaps even elitist. For as postcolonial studies has shown, the geopolitical, military, economic, cultural, and psychological constraints that shape the lives of those living in the Global South make



it less evident for them to resist the status quo, without risking hardship, punishment, or death. While Said, writing from the heart of academia, is aware of this, his position is that the intellectual’s vocation is to universalize his or her own crisis that lead to the formation of a critical self-­ consciousness, empower, and take on the organic humanist’s responsibility to represent these people in the name of social justice for as long as it takes them to find their own voice and represent themselves. And yet the painful reality today is that in spite of Said’s call to challenge the hegemony of Orientalism, Orientalism still persists as an authoritative discourse. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed in the wake of 9/11, as well as Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza, direct our attention to the transformation and continuing presence of Orientalism in the form of a global war on terror. Maintained by economic means and supplemented by military force if necessary, the dependency relations in the contemporary globalized world are, in many ways, more subtle and indirect versions of the old (Young 2016, 45–46). This might indicate that, in spite of its double focus on individual creativity and determination, Said’s model of agency and the politics of responsibility connected to it overemphasize the role of individuals in historical change and downplay the determining role of impersonal historical forces, such as globalization, capitalism, cultural imperialism, and the effects of global warming. To some, Said’s model might present too idealistic an idea about human subjectivity and is ultimately not suited to deal with the complexity of the postcolonial world. A related observation is that Said’s model of agency does not really distinguish between the nature or degree of agency of the writer, the reader, and the critic—a distinction which Said, who as a humanistic intellectual embodies all three categories, might be personally inattentive to. The only distinction his model makes is in the degree of awareness (or lack thereof) of one’s own agency as an individual—where, as a rule of thumb, self-consciousness or self-awareness leads to more agency. The writer’s realization of the constraints on his or her authority is the condition of possibility for a carefully planned and intentional strategic location. The reader’s astonishment that he or she is temporarily giving way to the consciousness of an author leads to the right amount of intimacy and distance that results in a balanced, critical reading. The critic’s awareness of his or her own involvement as a human subject in civil and political society leads to properly critical scholarship. In all three cases, the realization of the ‘traces’ working upon oneself gives rise to a moment of crisis that is the



moment of opportunity for criticism. It leads to the formation of a critical consciousness from which one is able to fashion a position of greater agency for oneself and from which one can successfully begin to combat coercive forms of knowledge.

3   Edward Said, ‘Apostle’ of Humanism The authority of literary criticism is grounded in Said’s conceptualization of literature as the expression of human experience and agency as human will. By examining these shifting concepts in relation to the critical debates, the institutional discourses, and worldly events of the period, I have attempted to reconstruct Said’s developing literary criticism as a form of political intervention. The image of Said that has gradually emerged in the process is that of a secular literary critic, who out of a programmatic commitment to worldliness, change, and humanism as a critical ethics assigns an important oppositional function to literary criticism. Neither reducible to a particular doctrine nor to a political party, criticism must remain conscious of its own position in the world and serve as an independent watchdog of the operations of power to which it speaks the ‘truth’. As an interventionist activity, its goal is to produce noncoercive knowledge in the interests of social justice and human freedom. It therefore sets itself up as a humanistic bulwark against the forces of domination, determination, and reification, as well as against all forms of doctrinaire thinking, organized dogma, or totalizing systems of thought, both inside and outside the academy. By adopting or, to be more precise, fashioning for himself a critical persona of the oppositional humanistic intellectual with a mandate and ethical imperative to ‘speak truth to power’, Said accrued literary criticism with the authoritative force to intervene in politics. In short, the authority of literary criticism is its humanism. The task of literary criticism is to reveal and illuminate the human content of literature, its ambiguities, complexities, beauty, and the unique human experience it is said to convey. Because literature speaks of a human existence which is ungraspable as it is, literary criticism then must refrain from trying to find some essence in the literary work, but rather draw our attention to the complex human reality the work expresses. In all that it does, literary criticism must be wary not to simplify that reality but offer insights into it, help readers comprehend it, and show how ‘humanity’ is a universality marked by an infinite amount of different, often ambiguous and complex experiences that can nevertheless all be understood through



a profound existential commitment and labor on behalf of the other. It must be wary not to silence literature, but reinforce it by entering in a dialogue with it, its author, and his or her culture. Its task is to reveal the worldliness of literature, to expose the operations of power and their connection with the production of knowledge; to make the dialectic between the individual text and the complex discursive formation to which it is a contribution visible again and disclose what the text purposefully obscures or does not disclose itself. Said frequently uses a rhetoric of disclosure. His vocabulary of criticism suggests that literary works have meanings which are indirect, ambiguous, repressed, and in need of disclosure by the critic who is able to reveal that which is not always plainly visible to the average reader. Despite celebrating ‘amateurism’ and forbidding specialization, Said’s approach to literary criticism takes meanings to be hidden and in need of detection, effectively turning the literary critic into someone who comes to resemble a humanistic genius. His is a view of literary criticism that ascribes a considerable amount of power to the act of interpretation and, through a whole series of theoretical gestures, invests the literary critic with the authority to read literature against the grain, if necessary, contradict a writer’s explicitly made remarks about his or her own writings, and transcend not only the disciplinary boundaries of his or her field of specialization but those of literary criticism itself in order to speak truth to power. Said’s critical practice transforms literary criticism into a paradoxically self-imposed and willfully chosen intellectual vocation, a laborious and unfinished mode of living, a technique of trouble which deliberately seeks out the complexity and seeming inconsistencies of human reality in order to subvert, complicate, or disturb all things taken for granted, all the while stressing that so-called stable ‘truths’ are nothing but conventionally agreed upon meaningful ‘illusions’ susceptible to criticism, readjustment, and change. Literary criticism accepts only one set of truths: that the value and humanity of literature mutually reinforce each other, are able to combat dehumanizing and orthodox ways of thinking, and should therefore be fiercely defended by the critic. Literary criticism advocates the taking up responsibility for one’s writing and interpretations. Rather than settling issues once and for all or offering clear-cut answers, its job is to constantly raise even more questions, rethink, and revise its results. The authority of literary criticism is its destabilizing power to evoke a crisis of consciousness, the ideal outcome of which is the negation and alteration of coercive forms of knowledge. In Said’s view, criticism is the



midwife to human freedom. For in its programmatic opposition to tyranny, domination, and passivity, it raises awareness of the impassive workings of coercive systems of thought. Committed to the pursuits of emancipation and justice at home and in the world, it seeks to empower the oppressed, the subaltern, the wretched of the earth to reconnect with their experience and assert their will so as to define their identity on their own terms. The thread that runs through all of Said’s writings and informs his views of literature, agency, and criticism, is hence a profound commitment to humanism. Said approaches all his topics from a humanistic framework that is subjected to critical reflection but whose foundations ultimately remain unquestioned. This leads to situation in which the individual authority of Said as a literary critic is dependent on the authoritative discourse of humanism, which, I mean to argue in these final pages, is the a priori of his critical practice, his orthodoxy, his secular religion. In response to the New Critical isolation of literature from its worldly human context, which served the humanistic goal of reading literature as literature but resulted in the reification of the literary experience and the celebration of a universal, unsituated, and hence inflated concept of agency, Said posits a model of reading that is based on the secular humanism associated with the movement’s prewar phase and existential phenomenology. The model allows him to reconnect literature with its human context, resituate agency in the world, and, in so doing, advocate a politics of responsibility. Harmonizing formalist and contextualist energies, it reinvigorates an exhausted formalism in order to fulfill its lost humanistic potential. To combat the first stirrings of Foucault’s antihumanism, Said invokes ‘secular criticism’, an authoritative humanism that combines the forces of the New Criticism, existential phenomenology, philology, and historical materialism. Contrary to what he believes to be Foucault’s reification of writers into discursive functions, denial of human agency, decentering of the subject, and reduction of human consciousness from the a priori of human existence to an accidental residue of a preceding system of thought, Said puts the subject firmly in the center of its lifeworld, attributes it with the authority to initiate writing and the production of knowledge, and burdens it with the responsibility to change society for the better. He then goes on to reclaim Foucault’s antihumanistic discourse analysis for humanism by infusing it with these humanistic perspectives, the result of which is his often-criticized humanistic method of discourse analysis.



Secular criticism is offered as an inclusive, open-ended, worldly, democratic, oppositional, life-enhancing, empowering, and liberating mode of thinking, and should hence be distinguished from what Said calls ‘religious criticism’—a term which he uses to designate the kind of critical orthodoxy based on the creative repetition of idées reçues and the conformity of individual writing to the rules of discursive formation. As a form of doctrinal thinking, religious criticism gives rise to the production of impassive, tyrannical, and coercive knowledge and the formation of institutionalized schools of thought. Its workings fit Foucault’s description of discourse, because, Said argues, in religious criticism individual writing often affiliates itself with the writings of ‘founding fathers’, beginners of a dynasty of thought, or inaugural deities to constitute a collective body of texts, an affiliative or discursive system of thought no less orthodox and dominant than culture itself (1983, 20). The paradox of Said’s own conceptualization of literature and agency, and the concomitant heroization of the humanistic intellectual in his critical practice, is that they precisely presuppose such strong authoritative figures whose works can give rise to imitation and idolatry. Indeed, Said’s reception in the field of postcolonial studies painfully makes clear that his own secular criticism contributes to that kind of religious criticism itself. In his sustained campaign to defend the humanity of literature and reassert the value of the human will, Said willfully affiliates his own practice with the writings of such humanistic thinkers as Blackmur, Sartre, Auerbach, and Gramsci whom he often invokes as paragons of critical thinking, freedom, humanity, and liberation. In so doing, Said’s approach to criticism paradoxically derives its authority from its discursive affiliations with these ‘authoritative’ figures who embody the longest circulating idées reçues in the humanities: humanism. As a result, Said’s practice paradoxically falls prey to precisely that which it criticizes: because of its discursive affiliations, his own writing conforms to these humanistic writings and, as a result of the rule of discursive formation, derives authority from them. The authority of Said’s literary criticism is dependent on the hegemonic discourse of humanism. It comes to promote the seemingly exceptional value and importance of the writings of these authoritative figures in critical thinking. Moreover, its affiliative bonds imbue it with the authoritative aura of being properly critical thinking—and contribute to the institutionalization of a Saidian strand of postcolonial studies itself. Humanism is the master discourse of Said’s critical practice—his religion, if you will. Humanism, Akeel Bilgrami points out, is based on two



fundamental principles or doctrines which we have frequently encountered in Said’s writings. First, the humanist aspires to find some feature or a set of features that distinguishes the ‘human’, the object of humanistic studies, from the ‘natural’, studied by the natural sciences, and the ‘supernatural’, studied by theology (Bilgrami 2004, x). This doctrine was first expressed by the eighteenth-century Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico, who claimed that humans know best what humans have made. In an oration delivered in 1710 at the University of Naples, the first university in Europe dedicated to training secular administrators for the royal government (Astarita 2013, 2), Vico coined what has become known as the verum-factum principle—the idea that ‘truthful’ knowledge (verum) cannot be founded on certainty and facts but on reconstructive imagination and comprehension of intentional, man-made products (factum) such as history or literature (Berlin 1969, 375–376). The underlying idea is that knowledge of the phenomenal chaos of our lifeworld or culture is a form of secular self-knowledge which is the most difficult and therefore highest form of knowledge attainable, greatly surpassing knowledge of the fixed order of the natural world which Vico designated as certum, ‘certain’ (Auerbach 2014, 49). Self-knowledge is never fixed or certain and always needs to be renewed by the constitutive act of self-criticism, the unique human capacity to be critical of one’s own situation (Berlin 1991, 60). Second, the humanist yearns to comprehend and show sympathy for all that is human, wherever it may be found and however remote it may be from our own homes (Bilgrami 2004, x). Nowhere better formulated than in the famous dictum “I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me” commonly attributed to the Latin playwright Terence, this doctrine expresses a belief in the supreme authority of the human mind to investigate the human mind (Spitzer 2015, 24). The humanist believes that humanistic knowledge is boundless, that everything which pertains to human life can be known through reconstructive imagination, and that one can and must show sympathy for all that is human in this world. This doctrine ascribes a moral supremacy to the humanist, which is founded on the ethical imperative that one cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of people under the yoke of tyrannical systems of thought like racism, fascism, communism—or in Said’s case, Orientalism, colonialism, and imperialism. The humanist cannot stand idly by in the face of oppression and abuse. He or she must combat inhuman practices and the indifference that supports them.



Said fuses these two doctrines into a coherent critical practice that is characterized by the method of secular imagination, the capacity of humanity to think about its own existence in the absence of a transcendental authority (see Gourgouris 2004, 55). Secular criticism combines the Vichian ideal of self-criticism and the Terentian ideal of sympathy into the ideal that an existential human contact with the Other’s humanity leads to what is in many ways truly an eye-opening and dissonant experience that sets in motion a never-ending cycle of criticism in which one’s understanding of the Other and the Self are enhanced. It is important to note that Said’s strand of criticism degenerates neither into a fetishism of multiculturalism and diversity nor into a form of cultural relativism. It claims that though every experience is highly subjective, experience is at the same time historical and secular and can thus be understood and judged through properly historical, secular, and humanistic scholarship. Though Said is critical of humanism, he is critical in the name of humanism and therefore does not fundamentally question its doctrines. Even when he appears to be at his most antihumanistic in his intellectual engagement with Foucault, he is still working in line with, or even perhaps in obedience to those fundamental humanistic doctrines of self-criticism and sympathy. In pushing the method of self-criticism to obtain self-­knowledge as far as it allows him to go, Said develops a sympathy for humanism’s opposite in Foucault’s epistemic history, but as a staunch humanist it remains unfathomable for him to think through Foucault’s insights and deny the human subject and agency, those universal ‘truths’ of humanism. Instead of renouncing these humanistic ideals, Said reclaims Foucault’s antihumanism for humanism by infusing it with the perspectives which I have outlined in this book. The humanistic a priori of Said’s critical practice explains why he does not radically question the intellectual, moral, and political supremacy of the humanistic intellectual as the voice of universal justice, truth, and resistance to tyranny, a position of superiority that is supported by humanism’s cultural authority in the West. Though the secular humanist is by definition in and of this world, through the laborious act of criticism he or she is able to fathom all of human life. Nothing that is in and of this world can escape the critical gaze and ethical judgment of the humanist. The result is that Said himself reproduces and reinforces humanism’s will to power which Foucault, if not in practice then at least in theory, attempted to get rid of (1994, 109). This is the painful, but perhaps inevitable paradox of an empowering approach to criticism that is precisely built on the ­disclosure



of power relations and the dismissal of all forms of doctrinal thinking. By claiming an oppositional position in society that allows the critic to ‘speak truth to power’, Said disregards the worldliness of that position and the fact that no truth is ever outside or without power but always the product of ideologies held in place by a discourse. In so doing, he is blind to his own method’s will to power. “All humanisms, until now, have been imperial” (Davies 2008, 131). These words also hold true for Said’s. For despite having disclosed the sanguinary aspects of its past, Said does not unequivocally reject humanism. By reclaiming antihumanism for humanism, he is able to devise a method that in one analytical totality is able to comprehend, respect, and criticize and do justice to historical human experiences and to disclose, criticize, and oppose the machinations of power. In raising itself as a paragon for human freedom, Said’s secular criticism appeals to an idealized, authoritative version of humanism as a universal moral standard to judge all other writing, challenge social injustice, and think of a better and more just future. If such a form of imperialism is the price to pay to reach these emancipatory goals, then Said pays it gladly. And so these words designate the paradox that is the authority of literary criticism.

References Astarita, Tommaso. 2013. Introduction: ‘Naples Is the Whole World’. In A Companion to Early Modern Naples, ed. Tommaso Astarita, 1–10. Leiden: Brill. Auerbach, Erich. 2014. Vico and the National Spirit. In Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach, ed. James I.  Porter, 46–55. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Berlin, Isaiah. 1969. A Note on Vico’s Concept of Knowledge. In Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo, Hayden White, Isaiah Berlin, Max Harold Fisch, and Elio Gianturco, 371–378. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press. ———. 1991. Giambattista Vico and Cultural History. In The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy, 49–69. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Bilgrami, Akeel. 2004. Foreword. In Humanism and Democratic Criticism, ed. Edward W. Said, ix–xiii. New York: Columbia University Press. Davies, Tony. 2008. Humanism. Second edition. London & New York: Routledge. Foucault, Michel. 1994. La fonction politique de l’intellectuel. In Dits et écrits 1954-1988, ed. Michel Foucault, Daniel Defert, and François Ewald, 109–114. Paris: Gallimard.



Gourgouris, Stathis. 2004. Transformation, Not Transcendence. Boundary 2 31 (2): 55–79. Said, Edward W. 1966. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 1975. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New  York: Columbia University Press. ———. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books. ———. 1983. Introduction: Secular Criticism. In The World, the Text, and the Critic, ed. Edward W. Said, 1–30. London: Vintage Books. Spitzer, Leo. 2015. Linguistics and Literary History. In Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics, ed. Leo Spitzer, 1–40. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Young, Robert J.C. 2016. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Anniversary ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.


A Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim, 186, 187 Achebe, Chinua, 80, 82, 83, 171 Adorno, Theodor, 80 Aeschylus, 265, 297 Affective fallacy, 35, 47–50, 52, 62, 63, 65, 84–89, 93, 99, 101, 138, 158n25 Ahmad, Aijaz, 4, 273n6, 275, 275n7, 282 Ahmad, Eqbal, 186 Ali, Tariq, 183, 189 Althusser, Louis, 12, 201 Amateurism, 220n10 Amateurism, 10, 58, 89, 90, 220, 259, 315, 334 Ansatzpunkt, 203–205, 208, 209, 211, 212 and agency, 209 definition of, 205 and reality, 207 synthesizing power of, 206 See also Beginnings

Antihumanism, 3, 4, 8–10, 16, 17, 19, 96, 201–203, 214, 219, 222, 225, 226, 234, 236, 240, 272, 279, 296, 308, 325, 329, 330, 335, 338 Said’s sympathy for, 338 Apter, Emily, 202n4, 204 “The Arab Portrayed,” 203, 252, 296 Arabs demonization of, 187–188, 249, 296 lived experience of, 299 Arafat, Yasser, 186, 249 Archive, 224, 225, 228, 231, 235, 269, 277, 278, 284, 295, 304, 328 pressure of, 285 Auerbach, Erich, 13, 38n5, 55, 56, 112, 193, 202–209, 202n4, 203n5, 204n6, 207n8, 211–214, 240, 282, 283, 295, 325, 336 on Homer’s Odyssey, 206–209 as humanist, 203, 207, 208, 283 influence on Said, 202, 203 Mimesis, 55, 202–209, 203n5, 204n6–204n7, 208n8, 211, 282 Said on, 205–206, 282–283

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2019 N. Vandeviver, Edward Said and the Authority of Literary Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27351-4




Austen, Jane, 80, 190 Author-function, 5, 223, 228 as dismissal of the subject, 273 Said’s critique of, 229, 236 Authority, 2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 11n3, 22, 35, 48, 90–92, 91n25, 128, 128n12, 154, 170, 190, 193, 194, 213, 216–220, 222, 226–232, 226n12, 234, 235, 239, 254, 257, 262–264, 268, 274, 276, 278, 284, 285, 289, 290, 305, 313, 325, 328, 330, 332–337 crisis of, 316 cultural, 81, 232, 285, 286, 338 definition of, 230 of discourse, 228, 273, 279, 291, 294 of humanism, 280, 335, 338 individual, 266, 276, 307 of literary criticism, 20, 333–334, 339 nomadism as metaphor for, 229–230, 330 of Said, 1–2, 335, 336 See also Molestation B Bachelard, Gaston, 253, 253n1, 268 Bad faith, 8, 162, 200, 276, 283, 329 See also Responsibility Balfour, Arthur James, 264 Balfour Declaration, 264 Baudelaire, Charles, 55, 123n8 Beardsley, Monroe, 30, 33, 35, 47–54, 51n12, 62–65, 69, 70, 72, 76, 77, 87–89, 92, 93, 99, 101, 101n27, 119, 129 See also Affective fallacy; Intentional fallacy Beginnings, 1, 2n1, 11, 36, 190–195, 195n3, 198, 200, 201, 203, 205, 213–219, 223, 227, 228, 233, 254, 266, 272, 273, 275, 278, 294, 305, 328

as authorial position, 229, 239, 275, 276, 330 and the cycle of criticism, 210 definition of, 214–215 as ethical choice, 220, 222, 327 as intention and method, 199 vs. origins, 215, 216, 294 as a problem of discursivity, 228 and responsibility, 191 Beginnings, 7, 11, 14, 19, 36, 56, 72n19, 130, 168, 175, 188, 190–196, 198–205, 202n4, 204n7, 210, 211, 213–218, 220n9, 222, 226, 227, 233, 235–237, 239, 240, 252, 254, 255, 261, 266, 269, 275–278, 303, 305, 306, 327, 330 and agency, 200, 212 as political intervention, 193, 201, 212, 216 reception of, 191–192, 213–214 as a work of literary criticism, 201–204 Bhabha, Homi K., 3, 6n2 Blackmur, Richard Palmer, 13, 30, 36, 38, 39, 54–56, 58, 86, 89–97, 91n25, 95n26, 99, 100, 129, 133, 134, 147, 194–196, 198, 205, 210–214, 226, 240, 259, 266, 299, 315, 336 critique of New Criticism, 54, 55, 93 influence on Said, 90, 194, 195, 198 Said on, 56, 91–92 Bloom, Harold, 111n2, 113 Bonaparte, Napoleon, 266, 287–290, 311 Bové, Paul A., 92, 220n9, 226n12, 227, 279, 280 Brennan, Timothy, 4–6, 10, 11, 22n5, 175, 202, 202n4, 207, 208n8, 271n4, 303, 304, 314n10


Brooks, Cleanth, 30, 33, 38, 41–48, 41n7, 51n12, 53, 61, 62, 65n17, 66, 98, 99, 111n2, 113, 114, 144 heresy of paraphrase, 43, 45, 62 language of paradox, 39–41, 60, 85, 94, 144 Burke, Kenneth, 30, 33, 39, 53, 93 Burton, Richard Francis, 293–297 Burton’s freedom, 294–296 C Camus, Albert, 17, 57, 190 Chateaubriand, François-René de, 251, 267, 290 Chomsky, Noam, 17, 186, 307–309, 315 and agency, 41–43 as fighter for social justice, 17, 309 Civilizing mission, 78–79 Class consciousness, 175, 256–257 Clifford, James, 4, 272, 272n5, 275, 279 critique of Orientalism, 78–80 Close reading, 18, 22, 42, 50, 51, 55, 59–62, 66, 72, 115, 206–208, 273, 275, 275n7 definition of, 41 Cognitive dissonance, 163–165, 170, 173, 283–286, 288–291, 298, 300, 302 and Orientalism, 285–286, 288–290 See also Sartre, Jean-Paul; Theory of the emotions Colonialism, 10, 78, 80, 162, 171, 185, 229, 309n9, 337 Columbia University, 17, 19, 39, 44n10, 57, 110, 183, 186, 249, 251, 261 Conrad, Joseph, 7, 11, 13, 14, 18–20, 22, 29, 34–36, 57, 57n15, 65, 72–75, 72n19–72n20, 77–80, 82–89, 83n21, 85n22, 88n24, 95,


96, 99, 101, 110, 116–119, 123n8, 126, 127, 127n11, 130, 131, 134, 136–147, 142n17, 151–163, 158n25, 166, 167, 169–175, 183, 188–195, 198–200, 209–212, 215, 218, 223, 224, 227, 229, 232, 233, 236–238, 252–254, 256, 258, 266, 272, 277, 283, 284, 286, 291, 294, 295, 297, 326–328, 330 as anti-imperialist, 14, 78–80 Heart of Darkness, 78–80, 82–84, 83n21, 137, 141, 155, 156, 158, 161, 166, 167, 169, 170, 223, 229, 232, 233, 236 imperialism of nations, 258 as imperialist, 14, 80, 82, 171 “knitting machine,” 170, 233, 254, 283, 284 on language, 154–156, 166–167, 169 letters, 74–75, 84, 86, 89, 131 lived experience, 83, 139, 153, 229 Lord Jim, 155, 156 narrative method, 156–159, 161, 233 and Nietzsche, 169 Said’s holistic approach to, 74–76, 78, 87–88, 99–101 self-assertion, 77, 143 The Shadow Line, 143 writing style, 73, 82, 101, 130 See also Principle of individuation; Schopenhauer, Arthur Consciousness, 96 authorial, 101, 127–131, 133, 139 consciousness-in-the-world, 125, 126, 139, 143, 144, 147, 160, 176, 215, 285, 287, 301, 326, 330 critical, 135, 175, 198, 254, 292, 313, 314, 333 intentional, 129, 158, 165, 302 transcendental, 124, 125, 127, 128, 139, 144, 301



Contrapuntal reading, 273, 304 of Orientalism, 304 Covering Islam, 190, 252 “Criticism Between Culture and System,” 261, 277, 295, 304 Criticism of consciousness, 13, 88n24, 116, 124, 131–135, 132n14, 141, 144, 144n18, 156, 194, 212, 239 definition of, 131, 132 and worldliness, 143 See also Phenomenology Culler, Jonathan, 32, 42n8, 196 Culture and Imperialism, 10, 14, 52, 190, 192, 203, 304 Cunninghame Graham, Robert Bontine, 78, 79, 83, 141 Curle, Richard, 73 Currie, Mark, 112–114, 112n3 Curtius, Ernst Robert, 55, 56 Cycle of criticism, 173, 174, 198, 210, 283, 284, 294, 300, 316, 331, 338 Burton as embodiment of, 294 See also Perception; Responsibility D Dante, 207n8, 208, 265 de Beauvoir, Simone, 16, 57, 109n1, 121, 123n8, 306 Deconstruction, 64, 111, 112, 114, 128n12 in America, 112 de Lesseps, Ferdinand, 287–290 Deleuze, Gilles, 112n3, 201 de Man, Paul, 20, 53, 56, 63, 64, 68, 69, 69n18, 71, 76, 110–114, 111n2, 116, 137, 138, 199 on blindness and insight, 20–21 on the New Criticism, 63–64, 67, 111–113 Derrida, Jacques, 3, 20, 109–111, 111n2, 112n3, 113, 114, 116, 128, 128n12, 199, 201, 261

de Sacy, Silvestre, 260, 265, 280 Dickens, Charles, 80, 123n8, 132n14, 230 Discourse, 1, 4–6, 6n2, 8, 16–19, 35, 40, 44, 57, 80, 81, 85, 89, 144, 148, 154, 163, 171, 186, 187, 187n2, 201, 210, 211, 215, 220, 222–225, 226n12, 227–230, 234–237, 239, 253, 254, 257, 259–265, 267–270, 272, 273, 273n6, 275, 275n7, 276, 278–281, 283–288, 291, 293, 295, 297, 299–306, 310–313, 314n10, 315, 317, 328–332, 335, 336, 339 and agency, 237 of the crisis of man, 80 dissolution of the subject in, 236 domestication of intention, 266 Said vs. Foucault on, 276–277 vs. tradition, 279, 307 Discursive field, 5, 8, 22, 24, 218, 219, 221, 228, 229, 235, 239, 264, 278, 280, 285, 309, 327 Discursivity, 5, 6, 222, 227, 229, 257, 275 and subjectivity, 229, 276 Dosse, François, 223n11 Durkheim, Émile, 1, 5 E Egypt, 183, 184, 251, 257, 264, 266, 287, 288, 293, 311 Eliot, T.S., 60, 80, 82, 87, 142n17, 279, 280, 307 Ellison, Ralph, 16, 17 Empson, William, 93, 144 Engel, Monroe, 29 Environing world, see Lifeworld Épistèmè, 224, 225, 228, 235, 238, 269, 291, 301 prison house of, 292, 303


Existentialism, 34, 57, 57n15, 71, 97, 109, 115, 125, 140, 146, 149n23, 153, 154, 174, 195n3, 220n10, 223, 223n11, 292, 330 and agency, 140, 154 in America, 16, 56–57 critique of transcendental consciousness, 125–126 and human freedom, 150, 154 Existential phenomenology, see Existentialism F Fanon, Frantz, 1n1, 15, 123n8, 257, 271, 292, 315 Les damnés de la terre, 292 Festinger, Leon, 163, 169, 302 Finkelstein, Norman, 186 First Arab-Israeli War, 184 Fitzgerald, Robert, 55, 56 Flaubert, Gustave, 55, 123n8, 267, 297 Fondateurs de discursivité, 5, 219 See also Author-function; Discourse; Discursivity Ford, Madox, 88, 88n24, 232 Foucault, Michel, 3–6, 8–10, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 92, 109n1, 112n3, 140, 193, 194, 201, 213–215, 219, 220, 220n9, 222–229, 223n11, 226n12, 234–240, 238n13, 253n1, 255, 256, 260–262, 267–277, 267n2, 268n3, 273n6, 279, 280, 285, 291, 292, 296, 299, 301–310, 306n8, 312, 314, 314n10, 316n11, 325, 330, 335, 336, 338 as antihumanist, 3–4, 8, 222, 226, 274 assujettissement, 270, 302 as critic of power, 17, 309, 310 critique of existentialism, 223 critique of humanism, 272–273, 308


decentering of the subject, 222–224, 234, 238 and determinism, 232, 234, 255, 305, 306 as humanist, 225–226 influence on Said, 227–229, 258, 268–270, 272, 285 L’Archéologie du savoir, 222, 224, 273, 274, 308 Les Mots et les choses, 109n1, 224, 260, 273, 308 L’Histoire de la séxualité, 260, 269, 292, 306, 310 L’Ordre du discours, 263 panopticon, 299 on power, 269–270, 276–277 production of knowledge, 260 “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?”, 5, 222, 223, 234 Surveiller et punir, 292, 299, 306, 310 French Theory, see Poststructuralism; Structuralism Freud, Sigmund, 1, 5, 196, 197 G Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 121, 122, 136, 136n15 fusion of horizons, 122–123, 134 Gauss Seminars in Criticism, 54–56, 58, 89, 92, 93 Said on, 56–58 Geneva school of criticism, 116, 124 See also Criticism of consciousness Gestalt, 31, 61, 61n16, 64, 75, 94, 100, 130, 143, 150–152, 205, 299, 301, 326 Gesture, 93–94, 147, 160, 299 definition of, 94 See also Gestalt G.I. Bill, 31, 31n2, 32n3



Goldmann, Lucien, 109, 196, 234, 235 Graff, Gerald, 39, 47, 53n13, 114n5 Gramsci, Antonio, 5, 13, 15, 20–22, 21n4, 24, 25, 255–257, 268, 271, 277, 303, 304, 310–312, 316, 316n11, 336 influence on Said, 303–304, 310, 313, 315 on intellectuals, 313, 315 inventory of traces, 56, 256 on power, 304 See also Class consciousness; Lukács, Georg Great Migration, 37 Greif, Mark, 16, 17, 19, 55, 57, 57n15, 80, 309 H Hartman, Geoffrey, 111, 111n2, 113–116, 127, 127n11 critique of Poulet, 128 Harvard University, 18, 22, 29, 30, 35, 39, 47, 57, 78, 90, 98, 132n14, 145, 183 Hawkes, Terence, 35, 53n13 Hegemony, 32, 34, 39, 72, 98, 111, 112, 114, 170, 171, 173, 221, 223, 226, 226n12, 255, 256, 303, 304, 310–312, 316, 317, 332 and agency, 312–313 definition of, 311 Heidegger, Martin, 117, 121, 124n9 Hermeneutics, 122 hermeneutic circle, 67, 69 rhetorical, 23–24 Historical materialism, 13, 15, 175, 261, 277, 325, 328, 335 See also Marx, Karl Holocaust, 17, 57, 186, 187n2 Homer, 196, 207–209, 265

Humanism, 56, 57, 97, 333 and agency, 227 and antihumanism, 8–9, 12, 18, 329 authentic, 295, 296 principles of, 336–337 as a technique of trouble, 198, 213, 254, 300 Hussein, Abdirahman, 137, 142n17, 192, 194, 195, 195n3, 198, 202, 271 Husserl, Edmund, 117, 119, 120, 122, 124, 124n9, 125, 128n12, 139, 146, 146n20, 147n22, 156, 195n3 I Imaginative geography, 253 Imperialism, 4, 10, 78–80, 82, 84, 91, 91n25, 100, 137, 141, 145, 154, 155, 158n25, 162, 169–173, 175, 176, 192, 199, 229, 255, 258, 272, 286, 292, 328, 329, 332, 337 of criticism, 100, 145, 158n25, 198, 210 of humanism, 339 as “knitting machine,” 170, 172, 296 Said on, 170–171 Ingarden, Roman, 120, 136 Intention, 63–65, 277, 310, 312 and agency, 312, 329 authorial, 48, 49, 52, 60, 63, 72, 73, 76, 80, 85, 101, 197, 199, 228, 277, 325 enslavement by discourse, 305 individual, 266, 272, 305 and method, 11, 197, 199, 200, 211, 214 structural, 61, 64, 67, 68, 73, 76, 111, 112, 120, 129, 215 See also Intentional fallacy


Intentional fallacy, 35, 47–48, 50, 52, 62, 63, 72, 76, 77, 83, 85, 101, 119, 129, 138, 197 Intentionality, 35, 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 71, 119–122, 124, 129, 136, 154, 154n24, 195n3, 215, 276, 277, 301, 306, 326, 327 of consciousness, 119–120, 125 Irwin, Robert, 259, 260 Israel, 10, 19, 184–186, 188, 193, 221, 250, 251, 332 J James, Henry, 80, 123n8, 232 Jancovich, Mark, 36n4 Johns Hopkins University, 109, 133 Jones, William, 265, 280, 315 Jordan, 184, 186 Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, 7, 11, 18, 22, 29, 34, 35, 57, 72, 75, 84, 85, 95, 96, 110, 116, 126, 134, 136, 139, 140, 142n17, 144, 145, 147, 152–154, 158n25, 162, 170, 172, 188, 189, 191–193, 195, 198–200, 210, 212, 215, 233, 252, 256, 277, 283, 286, 291, 326, 330 affective fallacy in, 85–101 and agency, 126, 145 intentional fallacy in, 72–85 as old-fashioned work, 14 psychology in, 88–89 Said on culture, 238 K Kinglake, Alexander William, 293, 294, 297 Korean War, 31n2, 56 Krieger, Murray, 33, 53n13


L The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, 18, 109–116, 201 as pivotal event, 110 Lazarus, Neil, 303, 304 Leavis, F.R., 73, 80–82, 97 Lebanese Civil War, 19, 249–251, 261 impact on Said, 250–251 Lebanon, 19, 183, 186, 249–251 Levin, Harry, 13, 29, 36, 78, 86, 99, 100, 129, 133, 134, 212, 213 critique of the New Criticism, 98 as humanist, 97, 99 influence on Said, 77, 96–98 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 17, 201 Lewis, Bernard, 259, 260, 262, 265, 297, 314, 315 Lifeworld, 124, 124n9, 125, 147–150, 147n22, 152, 154, 159, 161, 163, 165, 301, 326, 335, 337 Literature and agency, 209, 211 as disturber of factual knowledge, 298, 299, 326 as embodiment of an authorial consciousness, 9, 130–131, 138, 141, 143, 239, 298, 326 as human experience, 9, 45, 46, 59, 60, 63, 298 and human freedom, 97, 326 hypostasis of, 62, 66, 130 as lived experience, 208, 237, 239, 326 as narrative, 299, 300 phenomenological definition of, 120–122 and power, 190, 261, 267, 327–328 reification of, 66–67, 99, 335 Said’s concept of, 12, 67, 84–85, 240, 261, 296–300, 325–329 as verbal artifact, 30, 31, 74, 299



Lived experience, 35, 74, 83, 84, 87, 95n26, 122, 125, 137, 139, 140, 142, 143, 145, 146, 151, 152, 157, 167, 168, 174, 188, 228, 237, 255, 257, 283, 293, 295, 296, 326, 328 Lukács, Georg, 13, 162n26, 175, 176, 207, 256, 257, 271, 302 class consciousness, 175, 256–257 influence on Said, 175–176 M Man antihumanistic view of, 201 Chomsky and Foucault on, 309 crisis of, 16, 17, 55, 61, 279 dissolution in discourse, 17, 236, 279 Foucault’s concept of, 225, 235 linguacentric, 146–148, 150, 239, 301 Said’s concept of, 239, 308 Marlow, Charles, 78, 80, 82, 84, 155, 156, 161, 169, 233, 236 Marx, Karl, 1, 5, 7, 197, 277, 290–293, 297 Orientalist ideas of, 290–291 Massignon, Louis, 280–285, 297 McCarthy, Conor, 175 Mechanism of existence, see Structure of experience Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 13, 116, 117, 125, 140, 145–156, 146n20, 147n22, 158–160, 165, 168, 172, 174, 196, 198, 205, 211, 213, 218, 222, 238, 240, 283, 284, 289, 299 and agency, 148–149 on culture, 148–149 influence on Said, 145–147, 149, 152 on language, 145–147, 152 (see also Gesture) Said on, 147–152 Miller, Joseph Hillis, 111n2, 113–116, 132, 132n14, 135, 141, 214

Milton, John, 109, 114n5, 190 Molestation, 230–232, 254 See also Authority Mufti, Aamir, 7, 202 N Nerval, Gérard de, 123n8, 251, 267, 290, 297 New Criticism, 4, 13, 15, 19, 30–36, 30n1, 36n4, 38–43, 38n5, 41n6, 42n8, 43n9, 45–47, 46n11, 52–56, 53n13, 58–60, 62–67, 69–73, 78, 80, 85–87, 89–93, 95–101, 111–118, 114n4, 122, 123n8, 129–131, 132n14, 138, 144, 145, 189, 193, 197, 198, 210, 214, 217, 232, 261, 262, 279, 298, 299, 315, 325, 326, 330, 335 and agency, 67, 71, 126 as critical orthodoxy, 33–35, 47, 53, 71, 114 as cultural critique, 39, 42–45, 47, 60–61, 70 as dehumanized formalism, 18, 54, 61, 67, 69–71, 76 institutionalization of, 33, 36–71, 98 vs. ‘old’ scholarship, 39–41 organic theory, 43, 62, 65, 66, 75 pedagogy of, 31–32 and phenomenology, 45, 64, 129–130 prewar vs. postwar, 54, 58–63 as waning formalism, 18, 29–30, 33, 34, 70, 76, 114 New York Intellectuals, 34, 57 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 13, 142, 167–169, 167n27, 171, 190, 196, 198–200, 220, 220n9, 234, 240, 260, 266, 268, 298 influence on Said, 220 on language, 167–169, 266, 267


Novel and human freedom, 81–82, 328–329 passivity, 233 transition from classical to modernist, 230, 232–234 O Odysseus, 172, 206, 208 Oeuvre, 44n10 as Gestalt, 141 Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 54–56, 54n14 Orient as exotic, 251, 252 as irrational, 252 as man-made construction, 252–254 as weak, 265 Orientalism, 251–254, 257, 265, 266, 268, 275, 283, 284, 286, 291, 297, 299, 330, 337 as an academic discipline, 264–266 authority of, 264, 276, 285, 286, 307 close reading in, 272, 275, 280, 281 as a confessional work, 255–256 critique of, 259–260 as a discourse, 258, 263, 268–269, 271, 274–281, 290, 291, 300–301, 312, 313 as ethical choice, 292 and hegemony, 312 and imperialism, 260, 284, 308, 314 internal consistency of, 254, 262, 263 as a master discourse, 262–268, 289 as meaning-giving activity, 288 as a performative work, 256–257, 303 phenomenology in, 286–289 as a phenomenon of perception, 284–302 and politics, 264 problem of resistance in, 269–272, 283, 312


reception of, 269, 271 Said’s lived experience of, 255, 257 theory of resistance, 271, 280, 283, 292–296, 302, 304 uneven balance of power in, 289 war on terror, 332 See also Strategic formation; Strategic location Orientalism, book, 1–3, 5–8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 20, 22, 56, 67, 171, 192, 203, 220, 249, 250, 252–254, 257–259, 261, 262, 266, 267, 271, 275, 276, 279, 282, 286, 292, 294, 296, 301, 303, 305, 306, 310, 317, 326, 328, 330 critique of, 4 and postcolonial studies, 4 reception of, 1, 5 theory of resistance, 272, 316–317 P Palestine, 183–186, 188, 193, 212, 221, 249, 251, 257, 264, 293, 306, 332 Said on, 185–186 Palestine Liberation Organization, 186 Passivity, 200, 227, 233, 237, 251, 255, 256, 294, 329 Penn Warren, Robert, 30, 36, 38, 39, 41, 41n7, 42, 61, 65n17, 66, 90, 111n2, 113 Perception, 61, 64, 66, 69n18, 100, 120, 122, 129, 139, 146n20, 149–151, 154, 156, 158–161, 163–165, 167, 169, 170, 172, 173, 189, 198, 221, 229, 253, 254, 272, 283, 284, 286–289, 291, 294, 298, 302, 330 and the body, 148, 159 and truth, 160, 164–166, 168, 172, 173 See also Phenomenology



Phenomenology, 13, 15, 19, 34–36, 45, 46, 57n15, 64, 85, 91, 93, 95n26, 100, 110, 115–117, 118n6, 119, 120, 122, 123n8, 124, 125, 127, 129, 130n13, 131, 132, 132n14, 136–139, 136n15, 143–145, 149, 151, 153, 156, 157, 160, 170–172, 189, 193, 195, 195n3, 196, 198, 199, 210, 214, 222, 223, 225, 238, 253, 261, 283, 284, 286, 288, 291, 301, 325, 326, 328, 330, 335 American model of, 129, 143 bracketing, 124, 125, 127 phenomenalization of the sign, 138 Philology, 4, 13, 15, 19, 21, 24, 29, 34, 38n5, 39, 40, 42n8, 56, 112, 194, 202n4, 203, 207n8, 209, 214, 261, 263, 264, 267, 280, 282, 283, 297, 325, 327, 335 in America, 56 PLO, see Palestine Liberation Organization Pococke, Richard, 260, 265 Poetic structure, 42n8, 43, 48, 50, 59, 60, 64 breaking of, 65–66 Poetry, crisis of, 80–81 Politics of universality, 17, 19, 57 Postcolonial studies, 1n1, 2–8, 6n2, 14, 15, 82, 137, 259, 303, 331, 336 as Foucaultian, 4, 269 initiation rite, 6, 268 as religious criticism, 3, 6 Poststructuralism, 13–15, 17, 18, 72n19, 96, 110–112, 116, 201, 213, 216–218, 222, 223n11, 261, 279, 327 Poulet, Georges, 13, 19, 91, 92, 109, 112, 116–119, 118n6, 122–124, 127–130, 127n11, 128n12, 132–141, 132n14, 136n15,

143–145, 144n18, 145n19, 152, 210, 212, 239, 240, 299, 330 and agency, 135–136 as anti-formalist, 127, 129 “Criticism and the Experience of Interiority,” 123, 127, 128, 132, 133 critique of formalism, 118–119 influence on Said, 134, 136, 140–142, 198 on language, 128 Power/knowledge, 4, 259–261, 264, 268, 269, 284, 288 articulated in discourse, 260, 263 definition of, 260–261 Princeton University, 29, 32, 38, 39, 47, 54, 55, 57, 89, 90, 145, 183 Principle of individuation, 1427 Proust, Marcel, 123n8, 203 Q The Question of Palestine, 190, 252 Quietism, 32, 227, 306 See also Passivity R Racism, 255, 292, 337 Ransom, John Crowe, 30, 33, 36, 38–41, 41n7, 59–61, 66, 90, 100 critique of New Criticism, 32, 59 Raymond, Marcel, 15, 132n14, 255 Redfield, Marc, 112n3, 114 Religious criticism, 336 See also Secular criticism Renan, Ernest, 280 Responsibility, 17, 20, 159, 162, 173, 191, 199–201, 222, 225, 234, 276, 285, 286, 291, 292, 308, 314, 315, 327, 334 ethics of, 154, 200 politics of, 19, 57, 328, 331, 332, 335


Richards, Ivor Armstrong, 30, 31, 41n7, 71, 95, 239, 279, 307 Robbins, Bruce, 202, 202n4 Russian Formalism, 30, 66 S Said, Edward W., 152 as arrière-gardist, 213, 217 as avant-gardist, 15, 115–116, 213 centrality of the human will, 222 concept of agency, 12, 329–333 on Conrad, 152–153, 218 critical ethics, 19, 174, 296, 314–315, 327, 330, 333 (see also Cycle of criticism) critique of Foucault, 3–4, 229, 235–238, 270, 273–277, 304, 305, 310 critique of postcolonial studies, 1–8 as dialectical thinker, 174 as fighter for social justice, 309, 310, 314, 331, 335, 339 vs. Foucault, 9–10, 219, 279, 306 as Foucaultian, 213, 220 on Foucault’s textuality, 261 as Gramscian, 303–304 on human freedom, 330, 331 as humanist, 4, 144–145, 194–195, 197, 202, 213, 214, 216, 226–227, 229, 261, 272, 273, 279, 280, 282, 295, 317, 325, 335–339 imperialism of criticism, 91 on intellectuals, 313–317 on language, 145, 151–152 late style, 13 as literary critic, 10, 15 on Nietzsche, 266–267 on passivity, 162 postcolonial critique of, 137 on power, 277, 310 as public intellectual, 10, 13, 190


reception in postcolonial studies, 1–2, 336 rhetoric of disclosure, 334 solidarity before criticism, 7 strategic formation, 274 strategic location, 274–276, 278–279 Sartre, Jean-Paul critique of Husserl, 139 critique of psychoanalysis, 156, 157 Ego (see Consciousness, transcendental) vs. Foucault, 140 on human freedom, 292 influence on Said, 174–176 L’Être et le néant, 153, 154, 154n24, 174, 292 L’Existentialisme est un humanisme, 57, 125, 146 on magic, 164, 165, 210, 253, 286, 287, 289 theory of the emotions, 136, 139, 153, 154, 156–163, 165, 172, 210, 233, 283, 284, 287, 291 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 146, 152 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 13, 142, 142n17, 143, 168, 171, 199 influence on Said, 142–144, 195, 199 principle of differentiation, 142 (see also Conrad, Joseph; Self-assertion) Secular criticism, 3, 53n13, 56, 162, 335–336 and human freedom, 339 See also Religious criticism Self-assertion, 77, 143 Six Days War, 19, 183–186, 190, 193, 194, 249 impact on Said, 50 Southern Agrarianism, 36–39, 38n5, 41, 41n7, 43 Southern New Critics, see Southern Agrarianism Spitzer, Leo, 112, 202n4



Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 3, 6n2 Stanford University, 19, 249, 250 Strategic formation, 274 See also Discursivity Strategic location, 220, 274–276, 278–279, 281, 293, 303, 305, 313, 330, 332 See also Beginnings Structuralism, 14, 17–19, 91, 109, 110, 112, 116, 117, 128, 146, 194, 201, 213, 216–218, 223n11, 238, 279, 305 Structure of experience, 84, 85, 89, 131, 139, 140, 152, 153, 166, 215 definition of, 131 Syria, 184, 251, 266, 287, 288, 293 T Tate, Allen, 30, 36, 38, 39, 41, 41n7, 43n9, 65, 66, 90 Technique of trouble, 195, 254 Theory of the emotions, 136, 139, 153, 154, 156–163, 165, 172, 210, 233, 283, 284, 287, 291 Thomas, Peter, 311 Trilling, Lionel, 34, 81, 97, 192, 217 U Umwelt, see Lifeworld V Vécu, see Lived experience Veeser, Harold, 22n5, 72, 145, 162 Vico, Giambattista, 194, 207, 207n8, 337 Vietnam War, 17, 32, 186, 308, 315

W Warren, Austin, 30, 38, 38n5 Wellek, René, 38, 38n5, 52, 111n2, 113 White, Hayden, 213, 216 Williams, Raymond, 15, 255, 257, 268, 271, 304, 313 Will to power, see Power/knowledge Will to truth, see Power/knowledge Wimsatt, William K. Jr., 30, 33, 35, 38, 47–54, 51n12, 62–65, 69, 70, 72, 76, 77, 87–89, 92, 93, 98, 99, 101, 111n2, 113, 114, 119, 129 See also Affective fallacy Winters, Yvor, 30 Woloch, Alex, 204n7 Wordsworth, William, 44, 45, 121n7 Worldliness, 3, 19, 32, 56, 176, 191, 193, 209, 225, 227, 261, 282, 299, 304, 315, 329, 333, 334, 339 World War I, 40, 72n20, 153 World War II, 14, 16, 31, 47, 56, 61, 80, 81, 93, 123n8, 146n20, 153 Writing as creative repetition, 219, 234 as displacement, 218, 221, 225 as violence, 188, 219, 221, 327 Y Yale University, 38, 57, 96, 111n2, 112–114, 112n3, 132n14, 262 deconstruction at, 111, 113, 262 New Criticism at, 38, 113 Young, Robert, 1–4, 2n1, 6, 6n2 Z Zionism, 186, 192, 259, 261