One should never speak ill of the dead, but I admit that I experienced a bit of Schadenfreude when Edward Said, the controversial "scholar," died some years back. In a comparative-ethics class, I had to read Said's now-classic Orientalism, a one-sided tirade against Western influence and hegemony that laid the groundwork for so much of the politically correct language in operation today—notions of "othering" and objectification, of cultural rape and "rape culture": the seeds for these concepts can all be found in Said's work.
Over at Gypsy Scholar, my friend Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges has just written a post titled "President Obama and the Failure of Area Studies?" It's not so much a post as a long, long blockquote from an article by Michael Rubin about how the concepts learned in area-studies courses, when acted out in the geopolitical arena, turn out to be abject failures. Rubin specifically points the finger at the toxic influence of Edward Said, so at the risk of sounding too "meta," I'm going to quote from Jeff's blockquote:
[On] paper, Obama might be expected to be the most international president, . . . [but in] the Middle East, he had little practical background. His introduction to the region appears to have occurred in American universities, . . . [perhaps] directly in Middle East Studies courses, . . . [or] through his friendship and close association with Middle East Studies luminaries like Rashid Khalidi and perhaps Edward Said . . . [If only he had known the scholarly work of] Martin Kramer, . . . [who published] in 2001 one of the best researched, [most] careful, and [most] damning assessments of Middle Eastern Studies, in which he traced the inverse relationship between its polemics and [its] relevance. Much of this [irrelevance] can be traced back to Edward Said. Said, is of course, famous for penning Orientalism, perhaps the most influential book in Middle East Studies in the last half century. Few people who cite Orientalism . . . have ever read it. If they had, they would readily see the emperor had no clothes, for Said's essay is so full of errors of both fact and logic as to suggest scholarly incompetence if not academic fraud. Quite simply, the reason why Said is so popular on campus today is because his argument became a blessing to prioritize polemic and politics above fact and scholarly rigor. For Said, . . . power was original sin.
That's as accurate a read of Said as any I've seen. It was after grad school that I finally got around to reading Bernard Lewis's Islam and the West, which contains a must-read chapter in which Lewis, long an opponent of Said's thinking, flays Said for his numerous inaccuracies, misconceptions, and unjustified grievances. That chapter was one of the most refreshingly brain-cleansing reads I've ever experienced, and I wish it had happened while I was in grad school, getting hypnotized by the PoMo priesthood. (To Catholic University's credit, many profs in the Religion and Religious Education Department were quite anti-PoMo. But many weren't, including my otherwise-nice hermeneutics professor.)