Magazine
Latest Issue

Professor of error: Edward Said in Quincy, France Credit: Bloomsbury

Disorientated: the confusions of Edward Said

The dangers of imprisoning culture in political theories

By Sameer Rahim   June 2021

In November 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a speech at the UN in New York. The PLO leader, viewed by the US government as a terrorist, attacked “Zionist racists and colonialists” and honoured the “popular armed struggle” to free Palestine. But he ended with a (qualified) peace offering: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Those resonant lines came from the pen of nearby Columbia University’s Edward Said. Some of his older colleagues might have been surprised that Said, an expert on Joseph Conrad, was moonlighting for Arafat. When he was first hired, it was rumoured he was an Alexandrian Jew.

Such paradoxes followed Said around. His close friends nicknamed him both “Abu Wadie,” echoing a militant’s nom du guerre, and “Eduardo,” a suave Renaissance man. At his most optimistic, Said saw himself as…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk

More From Prospect