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Edward Said, Salman Rushdie and spectres of humanism

Mishra, V. (2014) Edward Said, Salman Rushdie and spectres of humanism. Critical Race & Whiteness Studies, 10 (1). pp. 1-17.

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Edward Said's last published work, which went to press weeks before his death in September 2003, was Humanism and Democratic Criticism (2004). I want to read this book not as the summation of Said's fifty years of engagement with literary and cultural studies and with the plight of the Palestinians but as an engagement with a problematic that has been at the centre of his writings, and by extension at the centre of Salman Rushdie's creative output. Said refers to the book (which began as lectures at Columbia and Cambridge) as his re-engagement with the 'relevance of humanism' at a time when the 'setting' of humanism is being dramatically transformed, especially in the wake of 9/11 since when, in one view, 'Islamist' extremism has confirmed the location of humanism only in the enlightened West where the practitioners of humanism feel that true humanism has been violated by unruly intruders with their 'disreputable modishness ... uncanonised learning'. This narrow affirmation of an exclusivist humanism is what Said sets out to challenge as he did in his 1978 masterpiece Orientalism. After examining an ambivalence, an 'increasingly global predicament' as James Clifford termed it, in that book between Said's commitment to humanism and the subject matter's antihumanism (Orientalism as discursive representation without agencies), something that Said himself has subsequently acknowledged, this paper looks at Salman Rushdie's engagement with Islam in the context of Said's own redefinition of humanism as a universal critical practice.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Publisher: Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association
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