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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Edward Said: a Critical Introduction
Valerie Kennedy

Oxford: Polity Press, 2000
192pp. Biblio. Index. Pb.: 14:99; ISBN 0-7456-2019-1.

Kennedy explores the impact of Edward Said's contribution to academia primarily through "Orientalism" and "Culture and Imperialism". His upbringing as a Christian Palestinian through to his education at Princeton and Harvard has given him a unique insight through his field of literary studies into the cultural heritage of the Western world. His public defence of Palestinian rights and his contribution to the debate on the role and responsibilities of academics has made him a controversial figure. These aspects of his work are discussed in Kennedy's overview of his work to date. Perhaps more relevant to this review though is her discussion of his contribution to the field of culture. As a professor of literature Edward Said published his groundbreaking book "Orientalism" (1978) which highlighted the imperialist roots of Western culture and its enduring influence in Western perceptions of itself and its attitude towards non-western cultures. By exposing links in our own cultural heritage, he forced Western academics to analyse and redefine how issues of race, culture and ethnicity are approached. "Culture and Imperialism" (1993) went on to build upon his earlier work by further emphasising the link between politics and literature through the commentaries of nineteenth and twentieth century writers. His emphasis lay in the resistance found to imperial and postcolonial power with contradictions and dual loyalties of many of the writers lying at the heart of these texts. His ability to connect the disciplines of literature, history and politics offers a radical engagement to narratives of British, French and American colonial experience. Said's work continues to be influential, primarily in the field of postcolonial studies. His vision and engagement on these issues has done much to shape the discipline and further Western cultures recognition of its roots more broadly. For Kennedy, Said's work goes far beyond even this. She considers his influence to be "a major factor which has forced the West to recognize the place of the non-Western world in its creation and its image of itself and, perhaps, to begin to do justice to it, however belatedly" (p148). Kennedy does highlight and address two important criticisms levelled at Said's writings, firstly that he does not address the issue of gender and secondly that his position as a Western academic compromises his authority to comment on issues on non-western culture. A valuable introduction to the vision and ability of an individual and influential thinker.

Susan Godfrey

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