On Late Criticism

Several people sent me a link to William Grimes’s review of Robert Irwin’s Dangerous Knowledge, a new book that appears to be a rebuttal of Edward Said’s Orientalism. I was dismayed by the review: Its first line calls Said’s book “a polemic” without offering much of a reason why that label should be applied to such a careful, well-sourced work. (And I say this as someone who very much enjoyed Orientalism, even if I didn’t agree with everything in it.) And I’m sorry to say that Grimes doesn’t appear to have understood Said’s work. For example he states that “orientalism is conceptually imperialist”–but this is a misreading of the book. Said himself acknowledged the contribution of classical orientalists like Maxime Rodinson.

In addition, Grimes freely admits that the historical background crucial to understanding Irwin’s rebuttal is “occasionally tough going for anyone not familiar with the field,” a category Grimes seems to place himself in, and yet, despite his unfamiliarity with the academic background, he delights in Irwin’s criticism: “The payoff is Mr. Irwin’s all-out assault on Mr. Said, which makes for bracing reading.” I think Edward Said, and his work, deserve better.