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Humanism and democratic criticism /

Main Author: Said, Edward W.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Columbia University Press, 2004
Series: Columbia themes in philosophy
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Review by Choice Review

The late Palestinian American Edward Said (1935-2003) helped to create postcolonial studies and motivated scholars of literature (among others) to think about the political effects art and criticism can and should have. His achievements in the "political" realm, broadly understood, have sometimes obscured his own commitment to the idea of "humanism." This compact book comprises revised texts of three major lectures he gave at Columbia and two additional chapters that extend his claims. Said argues that humanism is "the secular notion that the historical world is made by men and women, and not by God, and that it can be understood rationally" through historical understanding. But this idea must be made whole by linking it to two others. The first of these is the philological conviction that "we invent ourselves in language," as Richard Poirier (to whom the book is dedicated) argued, and so humanist understanding requires scrupulous attention to the language of the literary and other texts in which we have come to represent and understand ourselves. Second, Said ascribes special power to the aesthetic form of great texts, which he distinguishes from other forms of representation. Complex yet accessible. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. K. Tololyan Wesleyan University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Devoted equally to the causes of Palestinian freedom and literary criticism, Said?s life was a testament to how conflicted the relationship between scholarly pursuits and immediate reality can be. This book, prepared just before his death, collects five lectures that consider, first, the place of humanism in the larger world, and second, its particular decline in American academia. Said (Orientalism; Out of Place; etc.) represents authentic humanistic activity as a difficult but necessary way of participating in contemporary political history, and argues against the tendency to dress up obscure (and largely meaningless) academic specializations in the fashionable garb of political justification. In the wake of 9/11, Said reiterates with new urgency the need for ?resistance to the great reductive and vulgarizing us-versus-them thought patterns of our time.? Genuine humanist commitment to coexistence, he warns, cannot be advanced by ?lazy or laissez-faire feel-good multiculturalism?; to read ?in a worldly and integrative [?] mode? requires hard and rigorous work. The extraordinary breadth of Said?s own learning is palpable behind all these lectures, and authorizes his otherwise rather nostalgic call for ?The Return to Philology.? And in his homage to Eric Auerbach (whose great Mimesis was written in exile during a war waged both against and in the name of his own people) lurks a moving reflection of Said?s own predicament. It reminds us that to keep serious thinking involved with life takes not just effort and courage but also generosity. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.


Review by Library Journal Review

The late Said (English & comparative literature, Columbia Univ.), who has authored many books, including Culture and Imperialism and Orientalism, here provides a powerful defense of humanistic disciplines and democratic ideals in a global civilization. Said finds the critical study of literature important in developing the human capacity for self-criticism, and he affirms from his own experience in political and social activism the global appeal of ideals of fairness and justice. Sensitive to the fact that humanism is grounded in European masculinity, he calls for an expanded humanism that is multicultural, seeking to be liberating, inclusive, and enlightening-that is, a truly democratic humanism, which is neither ethnocentric nor self-congratulatory and which includes not only literary and linguistic ideals but also political ones. In many ways different from the works cited above, this final work seeks to rescue the humanistic pursuit from the criticisms Said had previously voiced. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.