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’s Discourse


begs more questions than it answers. Young views Said’s “faith” in

individual agency as a reflection of “his retrieval of the category of

the human, and his endorsement of the validity of individual

experience as affording a theoretical and political base” (1990:

173). However, without the concept of the individual,


and its central thesis would lose much of its meaning and value. For

Said, it becomes necessary to show how an individual “act” like

writing relates to the social or, in the case of Orientalism, how a

collective ensemble of Western writers who were responsible for

shaping the “imaginative meanings” of the Orient also played a role

in the actual history that took place “there” (Said, 1978: 3). The

problem for Young is that Said wants to hang on to the individual

as a willful agent while preserving the notion of system and

historical determination. He must do the latter in order to affirm

the actuality of Orientalism, and the former to retain the possibility

of critiquing and perhaps transforming it. In other words, by

maintaining that the political is both personal


structural, Said

would like to have his cake and eat it too.


Clearly, critics like Clifford and Young raise serious questions

about the faults or shortcomings of


which, according

to them, outweigh its strengths and successes. Yet, despite attracting

its fair share of detractors,


has not only become

canonized throughout the humanities and social sciences, but is

partly responsible for launching the field of postcolonial studies.

The fact that Said’s work remains controversial and that its main

points continue to be disputed (Irwin, 2006; Varisco, 2007;

Warraq, 2007). is surely a healthy, positive sign (at least, in terms of

its posterity). Yet amid the incessant quarrel and rancor that have

followed the book (including the vitriolic response of modern-day

Orientalists like Bernard Lewis [1993]), the more important

question is how to define its legacy.


Thanks to Chih-ming Wang for calling my attention to this point.