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Sunday, December 4, 2022

A Study of Edward Said, One of the Most Interesting Men of His Time

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He didn’t believe in politicizing his classrooms, he said. He taught courses on literature; Joseph Conrad, especially, was an endless fascination to him. Exile was the central knot of his being, yet he never taught on the Middle East.

Said was a member, from 1977 to 1991, of the Palestine National Council, a parliament in exile. He was heckled for being in the P.L.O. camp, for being close to Yasir Arafat until the two men fell out after the Oslo peace accords.

Said was threatened with assassination. His office was firebombed. “Apart from the president of the Columbia,” Brennan writes, “only Said’s office had bulletproof windows and a buzzer that would send a signal directly to campus security.”

He was married twice, and had two children. Women were said to find him irresistible. Brennan writes about Said’s brief affair in 1979 with the Lebanese novelist Dominique Eddé. If Said had other affairs they are unexplored here, though about his many female friends the writer Marina Warner remarks, “there were waves of them.”

Salman Rushdie, in his memoir, “Joseph Anton” (2012), spoke of Said’s hypochondria, writing that “if Edward had a cough he feared the onset of serious bronchitis, and if he felt a twinge he was certain his appendix was about to collapse.”

In 1991, Said learned he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which would kill him 12 years later. He lived long enough to rail against the Patriot Act after Sept. 11;, he called the legislation “the Israelization of U.S. policy.”

There has been so much good writing about Said’s thinking and about his way in the world — in Rushdie’s memoir, in Christopher Hitchens’s “Hitch-22,” in essays by friends and colleagues such as Tony Judt, Michael Wood and Tariq Ali, among others — that perhaps my hopes for “Places of Mind” were simply too high.

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