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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

SECULAR CLOSURE Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Faber) £15.00, £6.95 pb.

Literary criticism in the twentieth century has too often assumed a quasi-religious tone. In his Introduction to The World, the Text, and the Critic - a collection of essays first drafted between 1969 and 1981 - Edward Said proposes a secular criticism, open to politics and history, rejecting mystifying appeals to the authority of tradition and the canon, using theories but refusing theoretical closure. Said distinguishes between 'filiation' - the sense of a natural continuity between one generation and the next - and 'affiliation', the attempt, when natural continuity seems to have broken down, to attach oneself to a compensatory order or system: a party, institution, culture, set of beliefs, or world vision. Criticism should operate in the free space between 'filiation' and 'affiliation', refusing the false securities of either.

The essay, Said contends, is especially pertinent to his purpose. Since

secular criticism deals with local and worldly situations, and . . . is constitutively opposed to the production of massive, hermetic systems . . . the essay - a comparatively short, investigative, radically skeptical form - is the principal way in which to write criticism.

Said is correct in his characterization of the essay's importance, but he is not, himself, a distinguished essayist. These pieces are unjustifiably long, their prose unnecessarily awkward. But they range widely - over, for example, Swift, Conrad, American 'Left' Literary Criticism, Foucault, Derrida, Schwab, Renan, Massignon - and they offer, once we have ...

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