Monday, August 05, 2013

Najla Said: My father, Edward Said

August 4, 2013.

My father, Edward Said 
Edward Said (Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)
To very smart people who study a lot, Edward Said is the “father of postcolonial studies” or, as he told me once when he insisted I was wasting my college education by taking a course on postmodernism and I told him he didn’t even know what it was:

“Know what it is, Najla? I invented it!!!”

I still don’t know if he was joking or serious.

To others, he is the author of Orientalism, the book that everyone reads at some point in college, whether in history, politics, Buddhism, or literature class. He wrote it when I was four.

As he explained once, when I pressed him to put it into simple English: “The basic concept, is that . . . historically, through literature and art, the ‘East,’ as seen through a Western lens, becomes distorted and degraded so that anything ‘other’ than what we Westerners recognize as familiar is not just exotic, mysterious, and sensual but also inherently inferior.”

You know, like Aladdin.

It’s mainly because of my father that people now say “Asian American” instead of “Oriental.”

To other people, he is the symbol of Palestinian self-determination, a champion of human rights, equality, and social justice. A “humanist” who “spoke truth to power.”

And then still other people insist he was a terrorist, though anyone who knew him knows that’s kind of like calling Gandhi a terrorist.

To me, he was my daddy, a dapper man in three-piece suits tailor-made in London. A cute old guy who yelled at me passionately in his weird sometimes British, sometimes American accent and then (five minutes later) forgot he had been upset; the one who brought me presents from all over the world, talked to me about Jane Eyre—my favorite book when I was twelve—and held me when I cried. He played tennis and squash, drove a Volvo, smoked a pipe, and collected pens. He was a professor. He was my father.
Read the whole excerpt from Najla Said's book entitled "Looking for Palestine:Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family".
Comment: I look forward to reading this memoir.  Edward Said was an intellectual giant whose towering influence still stands today.

I did not thoroughly read Orientalism until I finished my doctorate in August 1997.  Since then I have re-read sections of it over and over again.

I have lost track of the number of copies of the book I have owned.  The last copy I bought in Nairobi in late 2010.

As I sit here writing on my bed there is a copy of Said's "Culture and Imperialism" on my nightstand.  I started reading it again just about a week ago.

His influence on how I shape my resistance to whiteness and to understanding how my body and being has been machined by the West (Orientalism) is perhaps only surpassed by Robert Sobukwe, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin.

I don't agree with everything Said has written but I owe him a great intellectual debt.

He continues to shape my resistance and I expect that reading Najla Said's memoir will bring me closer to understanding his genius and his humanity.

May he rest in peace until that day.


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