‘Theory’ is a product of displacement,
comparison, a certain distance. To theorize,
one leaves home. But like any act of travel,
theory begins and ends somewhere.
James Clifford (1989: para. 2)
The notion of traveling theory, as originally outlined by
Edward W. Said in
The World, the Text, and the Critic
raises a number of questions about the ontological function and
status of theory. For instance, what happens to theory once it
travels to another place or context? How does this temporal and
spatial shift alter its form and content? And what determines the
material conditions in which theory and theorists travel in the first
One case worth considering is Said’s own appropriation of
Michel Foucault’s concept of “discourse” in
and the various methodological problems it poses, including
whether or not it is possible to critique the West and its intellectual
tradition by incorporating another aspect of the same. In other
words, can Western thought be used to critique itself? Indeed, this
question has troubled many of Said’s critics, not to mention
admirers, who feel that his critique of Western civilization and its
misrepresentation of the Orient relies too heavily on the work of
Foucault and other Continental theorists.
In this paper, I would like to address these concerns by
looking at the work of two critics, James Clifford and Robert J. C.
Young, who take issue with Said’s methodology in
raise serious questions that transcend mere political or ideological
I will attempt to critique their critique by way of a
Witness Tariq Ali in a piece published shortly after Said’s death in which he
remarks that “Foucault was, alas, an important influence” (2003: 61).
The range of ad hominem attacks against
include claims that Said was