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This article is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

The Last Jewish Intellectual
‘I’m the last Jewish intellectual’
David Herman
Timothy Brennan, Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (Bloomsbury) £25.00

I was taught by Edward W. Said at Columbia University for a year, 1980–81. Said was then at the height of his career. He had just published his masterpiece, Orientalism (1978), a huge influence on what became known as post-colonial criticism. He had been at Columbia since 1963. His great ambition, he told me, was to have Lionel Trilling’s office at Columbia. Trilling had died just a few years before, in 1975, and was the grand old man of literary criticism not just at Columbia but in post-war America.

Then there was Said’s political reputation. He had just published his first book on Palestinian politics, The Question of Palestine (1979), was writing a new book, Covering Islam (1981) and had been elected as an independent member of the Palestine National Council. Reagan had just been elected and Said was becoming increasingly interested in writing about networks and affiliations of power, the expert and the public role of the intellectual.

Part of an extraordinary new generation of critics and intellectuals which included Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, he was the only one who appeared regularly on British and American TV. No other literary critic wrote as often for newspapers and magazines. He was that rate thing, a media don who was also acknowledged to be a leading public intellectual.

In the early 1980s Said was immersing himself in Western Marxism. In his seminars he taught ...

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