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
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
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 ), the more important
question is how to define its legacy.
Thanks to Chih-ming Wang for calling my attention to this point.