You are on page 1of 5


McCarthy, Conor. 2010. The Cambridge Introduction to Edward

Said. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. $79.00 hc. $19.99
sc. $16.00 e-book. i-ix +158 pp.
Furman \niversity
Conor McCarthy presents a lucid and highly readable overview of the oeuvre of
one oI the major intellectuals oI our time. For readers who think oI Ldward Said
primarily as a postcolonial critic whose chief work was Orientalism, this introduc
tion should prove to be a compelling corrective that shows the eclectic trajectory
not only oI Said himselI, but also oI the neld oI postcolonial theory. Chapter one
provides a helpful overview of Saids life and work that goes on to explore their
imbrication, while chapter two oBers an excellent account oI intellectual inBu
ences on Said. Chapter three discusses nve oI Said's key works: Beginnings: Inten
tion and Method (j;,), Orientalism (j;8), The Question of Palestine (j;j), The World,
the Text, and the Critic (j8), and Culture and Imperialism (jj). Finally, chapter
Iour sketches out the crucial and representative reactions" to Said's work (z).
The opening chapters seek to explain why Said was not just the most widely
known intellectual in the world" () at the time oI his death, but also one whose
reputation and work polarized and polarizes opinion" (). \ithin the academy,
McCarthy notes, Said was controversial because his work crossed disciplinary
boundaries," and outside it, because |he] was active in the cause oI Palestine" ().
Print ISS oojj LISS ,zz86
\est Chester \niversity zoz
j. Fall zoz
The study lists phenomenology (represented chieBy by the critics oI conscious
ness, or the Ceneva School), philology (Ciambattista Vico and Lric Auerbach),
Marxism (Ceorg Lukcs, Antonio Cramsci, Theodor Adorno, Frantz Fanon,
and Raymond \illiams), and poststructuralism (chieBy Michel Foucault)
among the various intellectual currents and traditions" that contributed to
the catholicity of Saids oeuvre (). McCarthy argues that what some oI his
detractors saw as Said's interIering . . . in areas outside . . . his proIessional
expertise" was in Iact a kind oI methodological principle" (). By pursuing the
project oI bringing disparate knowledges and epistemologies into unexpected
conjunction," Said's writing was concerned . . . not only with the production oI
knowledge, but with the conditions of possibility oI the production oI knowledge"
(, , emphasis original).
In discussing these diverse strands of thought, McCarthy provides a succinct
overview oI the key ideas in each neld as applicable to an understanding oI the
development of Saids own work. So, we learn that Saids early interest in phe
nomenology is carried further not only in his second book, Beginnings, with its
sustained meditation on intention, but also in The World, the Text, and the Critic,
with its insistence, Ior instance, on the worldly selIsituating" act oI T.S. Lliot's
wellknown essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent" (zo). \hile the inBu
ence of philology could be seen as an indirect one, emerging out of Saids training
in comparative literature and intersecting with the inBuence oI phenomenology
and other abiding themes in his work, Said learned from Auerbach, a German
]ewish intellectual exiled in Turkey, about the relationship between distance,
exile, and alienation, on the one hand, and proIound knowledge, on the other"
(zz). This insight becomes axiomatic in later work as the Iorm oI an exemplary
relationship oI distance necessary to criticism. The dialectic between distance
and closeness, home and exile, rootedness and alienation," the subject oI recur
rent rumination by Said, is rearticulated, McCarthy reminds us, in Culture and
Imperialism: exile is not a matter oI utter disconnection Irom a home or culture,
rather it is a matter of proximity to a native place of which one is fully aware but
to which one may not return" (z).
Said learned much from several Marxist thinkers without ever being a fully
committed Marxist. He assimilated many oI Lukcs's insights about the novel
Iormas the genre oI alienation, disillusionment, and 'transcendental home
lessness'"to his own idea oI criticism: as an antidynastic," nonlinear |and]
decentred process" that is modern and modernist" in its being homeless in
the world of language and writing, restless, perpetually reinventing itself, . . .
perpetually reexamining and reinstating its own conditions oI possibility" (o).
More broadly pertinent to Saids humanistic ideal of criticism as a form of agency
and social responsibility was Lukcs's theory oI reincation, which suggests that
under conditions oI monopoly capitalism" we come to see both ideas and social
relationships as 'things.' But Ior both Lukcs and Ior Said, that is not to say that
subjectivity cannot escape this condition, even iI partially or sporadically. At
certain crucial moments," as McCarthy explicates, even the reined mind has

the opportunity to see behind the apparently ineluctable portrait of society as
a mere array oI economic Iactors and inert objects . . . |and to understand] the
process by which it came to be that way." This can lead the mind to understand
its own objectined nature . . . |and] by so doing, it can . . . think past it, into a
possible Iuture." For Said, McCarthy explains, this conception oI the doubleness
oI reincation became a perIect example oI radical intellectual beginnings" (),
even as he remained alert to the Iact that putatively radical ideas can become
domesticated and institutionalized" (z). As McCarthy recounts, this latter con
cern motivates Said's interest in Adorno, whose search Ior a zone oI absolute
resistance to reincation and the alienation oI consciousness under industrial
capitalism" led him to imagine the aesthetic as the space where resistance may
be Iound" ().
At the same time, the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci was also
crucial for Saids understanding of the relationship of individuals to structures
of power and authority. McCarthy adeptly rehearses the key ideas elaborated by
Cramsci: traditional and organic intellectuals, hegemony and counterhegemony,
the separation oI civil society and political society," and the materiality oI cul
ture and ideas" (6). Cramscian ideas led Said to assert, as he did in Orientalism,
that all forms of knowledge serve the interests of the state or political society
regardless of their academic distinctions between genres and/or disciplines.
Hence, his inBuential claim that his analysis was not merely a study oI the gene
alogy oI a basic geographical distinction" between the Occident and the Orient,
but of the varying interests that aimed to perpetuate this distinction and the
disciplinary knowledges deployed in their service (;). This study observes that
Orientalism, among all oI Said's works, has drawn the greatest attention" and
erroneously, one could argue, been taken as his most dennitive statement on the
Middle Last, on cultural theory, on the academy, on literature." onetheless, it
notes that the book brings together and dramatizes many oI the most important
concerns in Said's work: the canon oI high Luropean literature and its links with
imperialism, the meanings oI humanism and historical interpretation, the pro
duction and accumulation oI cultural authority, the degradation oI knowledge
through its relationships with power and institutions, and representations oI the
Middle Last" (z).
Among poststructuralist inBuences, McCarthy Iocuses mainly on Said's het
erodox . . . absorption oI Foucault's ideas," including such notions as the construc
tion oI objects oI knowledge through discursive and nondiscursive practices, the
nonteleological series oI epistemes" that constitute the overall system oI dis
course in a given historical period," and the view that knowledge is both enabled
and constrained by an underlying mastercode" (8). But notwithstanding these
areas oI alignment, McCarthy points out that Foucault's abandonment oI the
human subject as the agent oI history separates |him Irom Vico], and lies behind
Said's later severe critique oI Foucault" (,). The primary agon of Saids work, as
McCarthy helps us understand it, seems to have been generated by a realization
oI the multiIarious ways in which human agency is restrictedderiving Irom
j. Fall zoz
an understanding oI the work oI Cramsci and Foucault, especially in the latter's
Iormulation oI vast transsubjective structures such as epistemes and discourses"
(,)and his early, and arguably inevitable, internalization oI the importance
oI consciousness and intentionality (through phenomenology) which drove his
interventionary output as an academic intellectual and a political activist in an
apparently seamless manner.
In the book as a whole, but especially in the chapter on the reception of Saids
work, McCarthys main concern seems to be to help the reader understand Said
on his own terms, rather than to elaborate the contradictions or gaps in his proj
ect. McCarthy pulls this oB very well indeed by try|ing] to retain an historical
sense oI the overall trajectory oI |Said's] writing liIe" even as he summarizes many
oI the criticisms on grounds oI method and theory" (z). McCarthy provides
insightIul summaries oI very complex debates throughout the nnal chapter,
signaling broad agreement with most oI the critiques by ]ames CliBord, Paul
Bove, and Robert Young among othersalthough he does point out that Young
completely overlooks Said's critique oI Foucault's ethnocentrism" (z). On the
whole, McCarthy juxtaposes the claims and counterclaims oI these scholars,
letting the reader do the judging, or better still prompting the reader to turn to
the works of Said and his critics. In this respect McCarthys maieutic approach
throughout the book proves to be an excellent introduction to the complex and
inBuential work oI an important thinker oI our time.
Inger H. Dalsgaard, Luc Herman, and Brian McHale, eds. 2012. The
Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. $90.00 hc. $27.99 sc. xii + 193 pp.
University of Michigan
Thomas Pynchon joins Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Lon Lelillo, and ]ohn
Updike on the list of US novelists to merit a Cambridge Companion during
their liIetime, a signincant milestone in the academic mainstreaming oI an
author who, despite his reasonable sales and attendant research Pyndustry,"
retains a cultish aura. The volume is an informative, intuitively structured intro
duction to Pynchon's work. Sharing a publication date with ]ohn . Luvall's The
Cam/ridgc Comanion to Hmcrican Fiction Hftcr I;, it constitutes an extended
claim that Pynchons career can stand for the precedence of postmodernism in
that historical period. A wider readership, however, might nnd as much interest
Copyright of College Literature is the property of College Literature and its content may not be copied or
emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission.
However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.