Humanism and Democratic Criticism / Edition 1

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Overview

In the radically changed and highly charged political atmosphere that has overtaken the United States -- and to varying degrees the rest of the world -- since September 11, 2001, the notion that cultures can harmoniously and productively coexist has come to seem like little more than a quaint fiction. In this time of heightened animosity and aggression, have humanistic values and democratic principles become irrelevant? Are they merely utopian fantasies? Or are they now more urgent and necessary than ever before?

Ever since the ascendancy of critical theory and multicultural studies in the 1960s and 1970s, traditional humanistic education has been under assault. Often condemned as the intolerant voice of the masculine establishment and regularly associated with Eurocentrism and even imperialism, the once-sacred literary canon is now more likely to be ridiculed than revered. While this seismic shift -- brought on by advances in technological communication, intellectual specialization, and cultural sensitivity -- has eroded the former primacy of the humanities, Edward Said argues that a more democratic form of humanism -- one that aims to incorporate, emancipate, and enlighten -- is still possible. A lifelong humanist, Said believed that self-knowledge is the highest form of human achievement and the true goal of humanistic education. But he also believed that self-knowledge is unattainable without an equal degree of self-criticism, or the awareness that comes from studying and experiencing other peoples, traditions, and ideas.

Proposing a return to philology and a more expansive literary canon as strategies for revitalizing the humanities, Said contends that words are not merely passive figures but vital agents in historical and political change. Intellectuals must reclaim an active role in public life, but at the same time, insularity and parochialism, as well as the academic trend toward needless jargon and obscurantism, must be combated. The "humanities crisis," according to Said, is based on the misperception that there is an inexorable conflict between established traditions and our increasingly complex and diversified world. Yet this position fails to recognize that the canonized thinkers of today were the revolutionaries of yesterday and that the nature of human progress is to question, upset, and reform. By considering the emerging social responsibilities of writers and intellectuals in an ever more interdependent world and exploring the enduring influence of Eric Auerbach's critical masterpiece, Mimesis, Said not only makes a persuasive case for humanistic education but provides his own captivating and deeply personal perspective on our shared intellectual heritage.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Said writes an impassioned apologia for a cosmopolitan, playful and rigorously inquisitive brand of humanist practice.

— Laura Ciolkowski

The Nation
Illuminating.... A poignant reminder that reasonableness and partisanship are not always the enemies that some leftists seem to think they are.

— Terry Eagleton

Bookforum
[This] noble volume shows Said taking stock of the ideals and principles that sustained him as professor, activist, and critic.... [His] reasoned advocacy is a reminder why literature and criticism are equipment for living.

— Matthew Price

Financial Times
Said was the model of an engaged critic. His writings are marked out by a palpable vitality, an infectious curiosity in everything human and a set of particular concerns with exile, east and west, intellectual independence and truth telling.... These lectures, given in New York in 2000, are vintage Said. They begin with an argument for an expansive, unaligned and above all releveant version of literary criticism, aimed at tackling prejudice, exposing oppression and interrogating simplified ideas of identity.

— Ben Rogers

International Herald Tribune
As the widely acknowledged father of post-colonial studies, Said has inspired a wave of interest in the study of cultural difference.

— Laura Ciolkowski

Al-Ahram Weekly

If one can only read one of Said's twenty books, then I would recommend this one. In it, Said pulls together threads and metaphors from his different works -- literary, political, academic, activist, musical -- to weave a humanist landscape in a style that is between that of an academic speaking to peers and that of an activist addressing an audience. It combines passion with rigour -- the hallmark of Edward Said.

Critical Inquiry
A distillation of what Said called his late style, informal, freely ruminative, personal, and tirelessly reexamining his thinking.

— W. J. T. Mitchell

Rain Taxi
In his final book, Said leaves with head held high, penning his last testament as a fire-and-brimstone humanist.

— Len Edgerly

Journal of Palestine Studies
Said's book walks a tightrope, in other words, between the latest rages in academic criticism and the conservative reactions to them... Death will not silence his voice, and humanism of the sort he espoused will never die.

— W. J. T. Mitchell

New York Times Book Review - Laura Ciolkowski

As the widely acknowledged father of post-colonial studies, Said has inspired a wave of interest in the study of cultural difference.

The Nation - Terry Eagleton

Illuminating.... A poignant reminder that reasonableness and partisanship are not always the enemies that some leftists seem to think they are.

Bookforum - Matthew Price

[This] noble volume shows Said taking stock of the ideals and principles that sustained him as professor, activist, and critic.... [His] reasoned advocacy is a reminder why literature and criticism are equipment for living.

Financial Times - Ben Rogers

Said was the model of an engaged critic. His writings are marked out by a palpable vitality, an infectious curiosity in everything human and a set of particular concerns with exile, east and west, intellectual independence and truth telling.... These lectures, given in New York in 2000, are vintage Said. They begin with an argument for an expansive, unaligned and above all releveant version of literary criticism, aimed at tackling prejudice, exposing oppression and interrogating simplified ideas of identity.

Critical Inquiry - W.J.T. Mitchell
Said's book walks a tightrope, in other words, between the latest rages in academic criticism and the conservative reactions to them... Death will not silence his voice, and humanism of the sort he espoused will never die.
Rain Taxi - Len Edgerly

In his final book, Said leaves with head held high, penning his last testament as a fire-and-brimstone humanist.

Critical Inquiry - W. J. T. Mitchell

Said's book walks a tightrope, in other words, between the latest rages in academic criticism and the conservative reactions to them... Death will not silence his voice, and humanism of the sort he espoused will never die.

Laura Ciolkowski
In Humanism and Democratic Criticism, Edward Said writes an impassioned apologia for a cosmopolitan, playful and rigorously inquisitive brand of humanist practice. Along the way, he wrestles with the shadows of T. S. Eliot and Allan Bloom, among others, whose elitist humanism is a slap in the face to the secular democratic criticism Said champions. If Said, who died last year, also fights off the philosophical incursions of Claude LŽvi-Strauss and Michel Foucault -- thinkers who provided the vital building blocks for his groundbreaking book, Orientalism (1978) -- it is because he rejects their apparent scorn for the humanist faith in the power of men and women to effect change.
The New York Times
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231122641
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 4/21/2004
  • Series: Columbia Themes in Philosophy Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 955,501
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Jerusalem in 1935, Edward W. Said was one of the world's most celebrated, outspoken, and influential public intellectuals until his death on September 24, 2003. He is the author of more than twenty books that have been translated into thirty-six languages, including Beginnings (1975); The Question of Palestine (1979); the internationally acclaimed Orientalism (1979); Covering Islam (1980); The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983); After the Last Sky (1986); Musical Elaborations (1991); Culture and Imperialism (1993); Out of Place: A Memoir (1999); Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (2001); Power, Politics, and Culture (2001); and Freud and the Non-European (2003). He began teaching at Columbia University in 1963 and became University Professor of English and Comparative Literature there in 1992. He was a past president of the Modern Language Association and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Literature, and the American Philosophical Society. Said was the recipient of numerous prizes and distinctions -- including twenty honorary doctorates -- and he was first U.S. citizen to receive the prestigious Sultan Owais Prize.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Humanism's SphereThe Changing Bases of Humanistic Study and PracticeThe Return to PhilologyIntroduction to Erich Auerbach's MimesisThe Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals

Columbia University Press

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