An intellectual portrait of Edward Said's humanism, criticism, and politics: interview with R. Radhakrishnan.
Radhakrishnan (for R. Radhakrishnan): Good morning, Lingyan.
Yang: Thank you very much for giving the stimulating talk yesterday on "Edward Said's Politics of Humanism" to the faculty and students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Today I have more questions for you on Edward Said's humanism, criticism, and politics. So hopefully our conversations will go on. First of all, Edward Said has been regarded as one of the greatest, most prominent, and most formidable Public Humanist Intellectuals of Decolonization, as I would call him, in the past a few decades. Do you agree with my characterizations of his intellectual work? And what are the characteristics of him as a Public Humanist Intellectual of Decolonization?
Radhakrishnan: First of all, Lingyan, thank you so much for your hospitality. I had a great time with the talk and the questions raised. I very much appreciate it. The pleasure is all mine. Let me see. The question is a good one. I would say that the decolonization is much prior to Said's interventions ...
Radhakrishnan: In the context of the late 1940s onward, started with some of the debates in Africa, and Fanon's work. So I would say that the postcolonial and the decolonization started much earlier than that. Decolonization started in the 1940s. But Said became important in the ways in which he made certain connections between the West and the non-West. With the publication of Orientalism in 1978, a new beginning was announced in the relationship between the West and the rest. And Orientalism makes room for the institutional emergence of the academic formation known as postcoloniality. And as you and I are aware, there used to be debates that people think of him as one of the originators of something called postcoloniality. And before that, of course, you know there were commonwealth, Third World, Anglophone, and Frankaphone literatures. So people were already looking at the aftermath of colonialism and what might be happening in these newly decolonized cultures. But I think the location shifts. You and I are also aware that there was and there still is great resistance. Some people even resisted the term postcoloniality itself. There is the perception that the post in postcoloniality is premature, and that so much of global realities is still neocolonial. The simple reason may be to resist neocolonialism. Or postcoloniality was seen as something that was happening primarily in the Western academy. So it is in that context that the new formation happens. And I think Said's work contributes to a certain way of playing "double consciousness."
So people ask: where is postcoloniality happening? Is it happening in Asia? What does it mean for some phenomenon to take place anywhere? Is such a location geographic, virtual, or epistemic? Is it happening in Africa? So in that context it seems that Said's work gave the term a new twist. But I also think that other part of it is that it focuses even more strongly on issues of epistemology and knowledge production: but epistemology and knowledge production by whom and at whose expense? The interesting question it seems to me is this: in what specific ways does the publication of Orientalism condition and determine what is expressible under the rubric "postcoloniality?" And here we must remember, as Paul Bove and Tim Brennan and others have argued, that Said, despite having been identified as the Father of Postcoloniality, is very much an American critic. I am stressing this just to make the point that Said's work in general is symptomatic of a very different relationship between any location and what that location can be about. In other words, there need be no exemplary way to, and I apologize for this clumsy term, "locationalize" postcoloniality. So it's not just on epistemology people always see the relationship between postcoloniality and the Oriental, different forms of domination by the West.
So I think what Orientalism does is of course makes it more explicit at the levels of theory and epistemology. The thing that is always fought in the form of political domination, the way in which colonialism is a particular way of domination, not just a matter of defeating another person in battle, but colonizing in different contexts. Ngugi wa Thiong'o talks about Decolonizing the Mind, the effect of the culture bomb that messes with the mind, the brain, and the psyche of the colonized. It functions as epistemological domination. And I think the effect of what Said does is also to expose part of the West to itself in the way to expose democracy to itself. So that's why I say he certainly joins an already started debate, which begins with Fanon and Ngugi on decolonization, but opens a new chapter.
So the question is: whose concern is postcoloniality? Postcoloniality, thanks to Said, and I don't know if this is good or bad, postcoloniality does become part of the metropolitan and the cosmopolitan consciousness. In the adjacencies that develop, does metropolitanism take over and depoliticize postcoloniality, or does postcoloniality make such a dent on the metropolis so that it can never be the same again? All I am trying to say is that the location of knowledge production does matter in Said's case. The strength, and to many, the weakness, of Said's critical agency is that it is ambassadorial in nature. I would also argue with those people that postcoloniality certainly is nothing totally new, but is not quite the same thing as Third World literature, not the same thing as Anglophone because of the shift in emphasis, because the knowledge is also about dealing with the asymmetry between the West and the non-West. And I think Said was interested in these issues; he never was a separatist ever. Always double conscious, and always contrapuntal in his mode of attention and address, Said had no problem in being part of the West.
And the second question is the extent to which why it is also part of the West, why it is also part of poststructuralism. The prefix post would seem to create a strong affiliative relationship between postcoloniality and the other postal academic formations. What is interesting is that Said himself isn't at all invested in the discourses of "postality," unlike Bhabha and Spivak who are active practitioners of one form of post-al theory or other. The epistemological underpinning changes a little bit. So that's where I would roughly locate it. And there is no question in the academic context as well. There used to be debates about where postcoloniality is happening. Is it happening out on the streets? Is it happening as an academic formation? I think these are the larger questions that concern all larger movements. Ethnicity is a movement that happens out on the streets. Ethnic Studies is also a department. Women's movements, first of all, happened as a reality. And as a response to that, the academy had something called feminist studies. There is certain autonomy to the academic dimension itself. So in some sense Orientalism is part of what is happening in the field of knowledge production and what models it implies, etc.
Yang: All right. I am so very glad that we start with the first question and your brilliant answers and analyses on historicizing and contextualizing the whole body of Said's intellectual productions within the whole history, social contexts, and cultural politics of decolonization, what he called "the Third World literature of resistance and decolonization." And also the whole tradition of the anti-colonial artistic, cultural, and historical knowledge productions. So it is vital to characterize his work and his presence as part of, probably a central part of, such double consciousness. All right. You mentioned the issues of epistemology, knowledge, theory, and politics. Let me just follow up with another question. You examined extensively comparisons and contrasts between Foucault's and Said's critiques of the modes and forms of knowledge productions. What do you think of Said's connection, particularly to Foucault, regarding the key issues of knowledge and power, regarding his Orientalism work and four decades of his career? This issue of power did not particularly come up in yesterday's conversations and talk. But even in Orientalism the genealogy of power, knowledge and power are very central to the very inception of Orientalism. So?
Radhakrishnan: Absolutely. That is a wonderful lead question. Thank you very much for bringing together questions in such close coherence. Back up a little bit. Before I get to Foucault and the question of power. What Orientalism enabled in the academy, particularly in the United States, I think it seems to me that in Said's own development Orientalism constitutes a significant break. Until then he certainly had a brilliant career as a literary critic, who is certainly interested in the issues of origins, beginnings, breaks, etc., etc. But Orientalism becomes a project that takes on a very demonstrable political shape. So the question then becomes: can one as a literary critic raise certain issues in the academy? Those become the questions of disciplinarity as well as questions of worldliness. So as a literary critic, what are your appropriate bounds? What can you talk about? What are the texts? As (in) a literary text, you can raise the issues of knowledge productions. You can raise the issues of power and representation. So this is significant. So I think the reason why he deservedly is called in the boundaries of postcolonial studies, certainly not decolonization, not in the sense of larger people's movement. That has been going on ...
Yang: or nationalism ...
Radhakrishnan: or nationalist movements. But it's more like how things are mediated in the fields called the Department of English or the Department of Comparative Literature. You can be that, and employ tools, analyses, exegesis, etc., and raise, at the same time, questions that become extra-literary. So I think it is in that particular sense that the academic formation is totally transformed. As for Foucault, clearly I think one of the interesting questions for Said is that he has always either been recognized or mis-recognized for multiple fronts. And part of it has to do with, which is a problem Foucault shares in a comparable way, so first, who is Said's addressee? And second, which is a related question, when Said speaks, who is he speaking for? I mean, I am talking about in terms of representative valences. You can say, well, I am an ethnic scholar. I speak for a certain group. And you say this is a complete organic connection. The connection is very tight. And there are no fissures, no contradictions Or you say I am very clear I am talking to a particular group.
But I suppose in Said's case, that is never the case because he is, as Abdul JanMohamed pointed out in an essay a few years ago, he is a "border intellectual." So he certainly is speaking increasingly, as his position in PNC began, as an ambassadorial figure, a person living in the West, who brings to bear on the West the ethico-political legitimacy of the non-West, who certainly has many connections within the East, and who doesn't see all of that as totally useless or as completely culpable or criminal. But at the same time, there is another constituency outside. So for him home and belonging were never a matter of fixity. To be at home in the world, to use Brennan's phrase, also means not having a determinate home. We need to keep that in mind. So when he speaks, of course some claims are being made. But these are not the claims of what some would call the total representational truth. And the addressee is not just one constituency because even as he is here, he is speaking about there. Even as he is there, he is speaking about here. So I think Orientalism becomes an interesting issue, methodologically profoundly indebted to Foucault, which he himself acknowledges even in that book and even in subsequent debates, you know.
A whole bunch of debates occurred after Orientalism, from high praise to being vilified positions and in-between, and some were, you know, very subtly done criticisms of his positions. So methodologically here he was in some sense using modes of Foucauldian analysis, but taking it to a different direction. So the idea was, you know, in some sense part of a deconstruction tradition. Here is a Said as much a product of the West as is Foucault in terms of his academic interpellation and in terms of his scholarship, etc., of the West, but using and turning the West, deconstructing it against itself, and pointing out the ways in which knowledge has always been complicit with power. And Foucault, of course, as one of the early profound anti-humanist and posthumanist thinkers, who said that the relationship between knowledge and power is much more complicated than the humanist's. He started questioning that power is humanized by knowledge. But knowledge itself, for instance, is a production of power. And the question is: what do you do with such a realization? And then he goes on to see what the imbalances are.
And of course Foucault's thesis is that power, on the one hand, when he used it in the political model, hey, I don't have power. You have power. I want to have the power that you have. While that is true, Foucault is maintaining that beyond the issues of emancipation and decolonization, the question of power has to be raised as a question as such. That power is all around, you know the micro-physics of power, that every moment of human life, including the most intimate moments, is characterized by power, which is moving and floating, etc., etc. And of course, colonialism becomes a particular instance of power embodied with certain kinds of knowledge when somebody speaks and some others do not speak. So to that extent, clearly methodologically he (Said) is using something Western. But in the process something opens up, which is the voice of the Other, which so far has been silent. But the real question is could Said be construed, therefore, as becoming the spokesperson of the Orient? Or is he even saying that there is truth beyond the position of representation? No, he is not. I think what he is doing is something in-between, which is why the book got the kind of mixed reception from people from the so-called Arab nations. You know he is not speaking for us. That's where he stands.
So on the one hand, there is the methodology which identifies him as, in some sense, Western or you know in some way, Foucauldian. But what he does with it is of course something that Foucault himself would not do, which is to take it to the area of certain forms of colonization, and take it beyond the West, and see the West as a negative image of itself in the very thing that it has created somewhere else. So there is always this relationship of what you may call extraterritoriality. It is very difficult to fix. This is why people have difficulty with Orientalism. How do we take this work into account? From what position can we critique it? Can we critique it in terms of adequacy of scholarship? How do we homogenize the West? Even though he makes the distinction between the French and British modes of colonialism, he talks about the West and the East in large terms. So is that a kind of polemical over-exaggeration? And from the other side, where are the voices from the non-West we should be speaking? So it is somewhere between a deconstruction and an affirmation. And that has to do with questions of representation and the question of who the addressee is. And it's always neither one nor the other. He is operating always in-between.
Radhakrishnan: Absolutely. It is always contrapuntal, though I must insist that the betweenness and the contrapuntal are not mutually reducible. Betweenness signifies a certain macro-political location that resists mono-valent identification. Also, there is a connection between exilic positionality and betweenness that is not always clear in Said. Contrapuntal, on the other hand for Said, is an aesthetic/musical compulsion, a way of bearing witness to the integrity of a musical text. And this aesthetic response begins to characterize his macro-political perspective. What to me is even more intriguing, and I talk about it elsewhere, is the relationship between the point and the counterpoint. Are they oppositional, or is it a staged oppositionality to be eventually recovered within the larger integrity of the musical text that feeds off of the contrapuntal arrangement? In seeing life's narratives as contrapuntal Said is in fact exercising his specific intellectuality to influence his organic intellectuality.
Yang: Dialectical and dialogical always, intellectually and politically. Radhakrishnan: Yeah.
Yang: All right. The third question is a follow-up to yesterday's talk, "Edward Said and the Politics of Humanism." So this question is all about humanism itself. What is new to the Saidian humanism? What are the specific differences and similarities between what I call the Saidian Humanism of Decolonization and the intellectual tradition of Western humanism in large? And lastly, what exactly are the multi-facets of the politics of the Saidian Humanism?
Radhakrishnan. Thank you again, yet another lovely question nicely worded. And again, I don't want to forget to tell you, any time please feel free to interrupt me with your own thoughts and questions. You know this is a free wheeling dialogue. I don't think that Said's articulation of humanism in itself is all that original. What makes it interesting at one point is why he returns to humanism. So it's more a polemical question. There have been earlier forms of humanism within European history and there have been other people rethinking humanism in other parts of the world. There are other forms of humanism, Arab humanism, and so forth. So as a concept, as a producer, or as a theoretician of humanism, I don't think Said is all that original. But what is important is why he does, at a particular moment in life, choose to come back to it. So it's more as a polemical moment in the life of a distinguished intellectual, who has gone through various phases in his own life, and then decides, despite the fact that there is a tremendously rich body of work that has pretty much trashed humanism from a variety of perspectives. And he is well aware of all of that. And he's been through that as well. Whether it is Heidegger on humanism, Sartre on humanism, Althusser on humanism, Foucault or Fanon on humanism. A whole range of deconstructive Euro-origin, but anti-Eurocentric thinkers have really submitted humanism you know. They have taken it to the doghouse. They have taken it to the cleaner's literally, and have done it in systematic way, and found it untenable theoretically. And in spite of it, you know, why is it that for his particularly project, he wants to salvage it? So it is in that sense I think making his humanism interesting. I don't think his formations of humanism in general in any way path-breaking. It is in the name of humanism that Said makes a choice that is itself based on a worldly intentionality.
Yang: When I ask for differences, I am thinking in terms of epistemic breaks between his humanism of decolonization and the traditional one. However, when I talk of similarities, I am thinking of common grounds that his had as a partial continuum of a great but also problematic Western intellectual tradition that was inaugurated in the Renaissance when Man was established as the center of history, art, and all forms of human knowledge. Please continue.
Radhakrishnan: I think Said in general, even during what one might call his poststructuralist period, never was gung-ho onto the notion of a break. I remember when I was writing my dissertation, people talked about the epistemological break. The real question is: where is the break happening? Is the break happening in theory? Is the break happening in practice? But for Said, evidence of the break is vastly exaggerated, all in the name of theory. Theoretical breaks tend to be tout court and for that very reason not credible to Said. Tout court possibilities are the products of theory and not historical verities, to Said. So one, for example, is decolonization. And we know from Ngugi's work, you know, the famous scene in particular in A Grain of Wheat when the morning after becomes the mourning after. You know the day after. So of course decolonization becomes a kind of flag waving. And the question is, is this a break or not? Or has the new independent nation, even though it is independent, still trapped in neo-colonialism, or still trapped in its parliamentary practice or education that still remains captive to the European Enlightenment? The real question is to call something a break, I mean that's a big deal. You don't call anything a break unless it's almost a cue name for revolution, a paradigmatic shift. The question is: where does the break take place? There was a whole generation of intellectuals in France who were identifying that the break had taken place in theory, but it had not been fleshed out into the appropriate historical form. So there is a kind of lag, a time lag, put into the temporarity of theory. It is almost as if you are saying that in my mind I have made a break with my father or my mother or whatever. But the way in which I live my life I am still doing the same thing that they are doing. But of course Said after a point becomes suspicious, I think for the right reason that many of the so-called breaks are exaggerated. For example, we say postnationalism. That is so unbashfully false because of all the nations, the rogue nation is the United States. And the United States as a super power still does protectionism on behalf of its citizens. Of all the nations it is still functioning as a very powerful nation-state. So this is history.
Yang: An empire.
Radhakrishnan: Even though you call it an empire, it is still an empire motored by a nation-state, a dominant nation state. But still we can talk about postnationalism. The real question to ask is, so if we talk about postnationalism literally, what the hell do we mean? So I have seen that when you talk to the political economists and cultural theorists, talk about dissemination and the postnation, the question is, hello, what are you talking about? This is true in theory. You are looking at Saskia Sassen, Stiglitz, and some other powerful theorists of global. But has there been an actual break? If you say there is a break, you need to be able to demonstrate it. So the question is: is the break in theory or is it in practice? If the break is in theory, the real question is from what point of view and how you could account for it the way things are on the ground?
Yang: So Said's humanism seems to me as there is something extraordinarily new, ground-breaking, and significant, something original and different from the traditional one. For example, his critique of Orientalism seems to be very new in his humanism although the problems of Orientalism seem to be old in the traditional humanism. His sense of Palestinian activism seems to be very new to the Western humanist tradition, as is his sense of "the politics of the dispossessed" of all that in the Third World, who are colonized, exiled, dominated, and decolonized. So other thoughts?
Radhakrishnan: Thank you for that differentiation because I was getting a little lost myself in what I was saying. When people said the human condition, the question is humanism in the name of which human being? It becomes a tautology. That "the humanism is for the humanists" is like saying Lingyan is Lingyan, and Radha is Radha. That's a tautology. But the question is how was humanism achieved as an ideological reality in history rather than held up as a promise? It is part of yesterday's talk that any moment when there is a manifesto that says all men are equal, intended as a statement of egalitarianism, it is men, not women.
Yang: That question on gender will follow.
Radhakrishnan: In the slave trading society, people do say that because of the blindness of historical moment. Even if you think of some people as 50% human, 25% human, the real thing is how come in a moment like that, somebody is saying we are free?! So in that sense, humanism is an ideology.
Yang: Not an ideal?
Radhakrishnan: No, because it is also produced. Perhaps it is an ideal as well. But as Ashis Nandy points out poignantly in his essay on Third World utopias, all idealizations are necessarily marked by the flaws of the moment. Fanon's humanism, for example, to me is theoretically much more provocative than Said's. So what Said is attempting to do is to speak of humanism from the point of view of the Subaltern.
Radhakrishnan: From the point of view perspectival, turning the tables on. But he still wants the term. Humanism can still get critiqued in the name of humanism because somebody can ask Said, is it conceivable that Orientalism itself could have been a form of humanism? If that is the case, then it's a different kind of question. I mean this is why I mentioned it even in yesterday's talk. People used to say, is Existentialism a form of humanism? And if you read Althusser, is Marxism a form of humanism? Or has Marx transcended the human into a different humanism? It is not essentially; it is an ideology. If somebody is saying, OK, if humanism is a long duration, good and bad, good chapter and bad chapter, etc., then you might be in a position to say, well, Orientalism is also a form of humanism. But maybe it is a form of bad humanism, which is why I think Said makes it very clear. I find this, from the practical point of view, very laudable, but very shaky from a theoretical point of view. Yeah, I realize there you know as Heidegger is saying that humanism is connected to the primordial metaphysical Being. If that is the case, what gives Said anything different in that matter to choose humanism in a certain way? So it's a question about choice. For my purposes, yeah, I am aware of all of that. He is not even saying, he is not dismissing, the relevance of Heidegger's critique. But on what grounds can you dismiss a valid critique and continue acting and performing as though the critique did not exist? There is a confidence in Said that he can delimit and make some pragmatic choices. To be pragmatic is to take some risks and chances and to step out of the safe haven of theory. Of course there is another reason why Heidegger"s critique does not resonate for Said. Heidegger is interested in the kind of ontological and anti-anthropocentric thinking that has never been part of Said's intellectual itinerary. Once Said decides and intends what interests him and what does not, what is to be done and what is not relevant, he just goes ahead in the name of individual intentionality and critical consciousness. His theoretical understanding is that humanism is a lot more complicated than his program of action would allow it to be and does not give him pause. Even as I am aware of that, he clearly says I am not here to theorize humanism tout court. But I am going to make it suitable. So in some sense he is doing a pragmatist's thinking. Of course, like many people have said, when you start talking about the system and structure, human intentionality gets completely either eliminated or demoralized. So he is picking and choosing, which is interesting. What does it mean to pick and choose? By what guarantee or by what mandate can any one person or any group decide and say here is a mixed bag of rotten apples and good apples. But then I am going to pick and choose. One can see why he wants to do that. But the justification I am not so sure fixes it because is seems to me that much is happening in particular in Althusserian, Foucauldian critiques of humanism, which I think are potentially useful for the Saidian project. But which of course by an act of will, almost by an act of intentionality, he decides that isn't where he wants to go. That's a problem that finds him not all that persuasive.
Yang: What about some similarities, or his indebtedness to, or his continuum of this formidable humanist tradition? For example, one of his most favorite critics is Auerbach.
Yang: The author of Mimesis. And also his erudition, formidable and extraordinary erudition as a humanist scholar. And his extraordinary comparative vision, not even between area studies, but between the classical, some of the central, foundational disciplines in the studies of humanities, i.e., between the studies of literature, philosophy, and history. So in that sense are there other features of his continuum of this humanist tradition?
Radhakrishnan: You are absolutely right when you keep stressing this notion of continuity. That is exactly what he is looking for. Yeah, there is continuity both spatially and temporarily that they need to connect within, whether it is humanism, there is the need for an umbrella term, underneath which you can unify different people's experiences and what you call discrepant histories. In one of the chapters and I forget where he says it, I think it is in Culture and Imperialism maybe, I am not sure, he says exactly at that point when generalization seems impossible, we need to make that generalization. So that is the inclusiveness of the division. Even in the heat of antagonism, he would not make it a polar. That is what makes it a moving vision. The thing he would not tolerate is the kind of the theoretical purity that will say that you've made a break.
Yang: Theoretical games?
Radhakrishnan: Games. Theorists used to say unless the ground is completely clear, I would not even jump into fray. You jump into the fray in a kind of contaminated way. You go back to the earlier texts within the European tradition and reclaim those texts. It also becomes a matter of culpability. Two things I want to say. Since you brought up Auerbach, some figure he always goes back to. Certainly Auerbach's Spitzer, certainly Auerbach's Woolf. What Said likes about Auerbach is the fact that Auerbach wrote his book when he was in an exilic position writing about Europe in Constantinople (Istanbul) in Turkey. So that is crucial, which in some ways I think that aspect of his thinking will be interesting to both you and me, I am sure, both as intellectuals and as people who deal with being Asian Americans or any kind of hyphenation, inside and outside, the mobile movement. You think you are inside, you are outside looking at Europe, but from a position. European, but not what you would call a mainstream way. American, but looking at it in exile. So the combination of retaining the same object as an object of study. So you don't say, O my God, the West is horrible. I don't want to talk about it. No, no, but I am looking at it a certain way, the way in which The Invisible Matt, for example you know, looks different from a certain point of view. So he isn't one who would say, my God, if you are a postcolonial, a Palestinian, an Arab, you must hate the West. Because it is a humanly horrible way to do. Because the West is both good and bad, as many people have shown. But Auerbach views Europe from a certain position. That is the exilic position, the perspective that makes the vision, you know, complicated, subtle, and historically heterogeneous, rather than someone speaking of Europe from within the heart of Europe and being provincial and being a gung-ho European. So the positionality matters. The other point I wanted to make, which I am forgetting right now (laughs).
Yang: The multi-facets of the politics of his humanism. Because sometimes the colleagues and students in various disciplines of the humanities often have difficulties or suspicions or questions about the direct connections between democracy, politics, justice, academics, or theory, or the critical work that we do. But Said connects all these remarkably well in very situated, engaged and passionate ways. Because the multi-facets of his politics of the Saidian humanism seem to me very new and different from the conventional one. Palestinian activism, Palestine as a nation in exile, the critique of all kinds of Islamic foundationalism and essentialist positions, the dogmatism of nationalism, of course, in addition to his critique of the colonial intellectual tradition of Orientalism, the variety of the subtle displays of the imperialist ideologies in all kinds of artifacts and processes of arts, texts, etc. So?
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, I think that's why you move from how you deploy using the basic public intellectual. You know that Said functioned in multiple contexts. I remember his telling me and a bunch of other people, saying Radha, great, but write in more than one context. It's not enough just to write these academic books or whatever. But you also write for maybe The Nation. And he was a music critic. And he was a constant columnist. So the whole idea of not just ...
Yang: And he returns to Palestine.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, he writes in multiple contexts. The question is how do you find continuity? So when he talked about worldliness, I mean on the one hand is that ...
Yang: I am about to get to that.
Radhakrishnan: In whatever task that you do, there is this world and the objectivity of the world comes before a particular specialization. So there is nothing wrong writing a finely tuned essay on Flaubert, or on a symphony of Mozart. He never was apologetic for that. He never said that just because of his political activism, he should stop appreciating the Western fine arts or literature. He enjoyed his books. He was a high culture man. We even teased him. He would never talk about jazz or rap. For him as a person, by temperament, music meant a certain kind of music: opera, classical music, and so forth. He was almost a concert level pianist himself. Unlike other people, he never felt guilty about it. So he would say that when it comes to academia, there are standards. There is rigor. The question is how do you do the reading? And how would you connect the reading with the world? So the reading had to be nifty. It had to be careful. It could never be shoddy. There is no question of compromising. Yeah, I am reading Flaubert in a certain way. But how does that connect to the issue of power or the issues of Orientalism? You just don't read the text in a kind of completely solecistic hermetic way. You can do that. But the same person also takes positions. So the whole idea of never using your literary scholarship or your particular--ism is a way to close the world off. Or to simplify your scholarship in purely methodological terms. So what does it mean to be a new-historicist? That's fine. But as a new-historicist, how are you a public intellectual? As a certain kind of a feminist, how are you also a public intellectual? But the accountability to him is not to a particular what he calls a fiefdom, but to the world in large. Here he found the word secular interesting. But the word is constantly in a state of becoming. It's not a word which has already been spoken for and signed off in the name of one super power. So it's always in the making. He is always interested in things making and unmaking. Even in his Beginnings, what is the beginning? How does the beginning change? Even though you made a certain beginning, which meant you made a certain promise, it is not a Beginning with a capital B. It is still the beginning within the world, secular, in a world of multiple beginnings. So what can be begun can be rethought. You can do some recursive thinking and change the beginning. And he finds that certain kinds of theories foreclose that, either in the name of a single frame or single picture, and reality is characterized by much more heterogeneity. So the whole idea of writing for a large audience, and being able to occupy multiple languages and not compartmentalize it. That's the most important thing. You don't say, I am wearing this hat. I am going to speak at the public rally here. I am going to the union over here. And then I am going to give a talk on Foucault and these three parts don't connect. That is completely unnatural.
Yang: I'll come back to the crucial issue of compartmentalization, particularism, and the universality of knowledge production in a minute. But then right now I want to raise the urgent question of feminism and humanism.
Radhakrishnan: An excellent question.
Yang: This was the question I asked you yesterday. But I hope that we extend the period of time to elaborate and discuss some of this. Despite Professor Said's extraordinary scholarship in a variety of disciplines, areas, and schools of thoughts, he has never been known as a feminist of any kind although he never minded it. What is the complex and sometimes unsettling relationship between feminism and the Saidian Humanism of Decolonization in particular and between feminist epistemology, philosophy, theory, and sexual politics AND humanism in large? Because that is a crucial question. Often times I get the impression that he never minded feminism because he always subsumes women, especially the Third World women in the decolonized world, or migrant women into the First World, as part of the politics of the dispossessed, or as the people of the colonized or decolonized. But then in Orientalism not even any of the erudite, but heavily prejudiced and horribly biased Euro-American Orientalist is a woman!
In Culture and Imperialism Said does write a textual analysis of imperialism and Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. But such in-depth critical engagement with a woman writer's text or any woman writer's or woman critic's text is extremely rare in his scholarship in large. Usually he would just mention briefly a few feminist scholars or women writers--very small in number--such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Sara Suleri, Nadine Gordimer, and so forth, in passing without engaging with their thoughts substantively. And in his decades-long extensive elaboration of the representations of the intellectual, particularly the roles and positions of the postcolonial and Third World oppositional intellectuals of decolonization, very few oppositional intellectuals of decolonization seem to be woman intellectuals. That seems to be a blind spot, a limitation, a huge limitation in his work. So would you like to comment on that?
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, I am glad that you raised it. And you raised it well in yesterday's talk as well. Has to be expected from you (laughed). Yet another lovely, thought-provoking, and deeply articulated question. Yes, for a long long time, I would say, as a male myself who has been profoundly influenced by feminism, you know I would call myself a male feminist or a feminized male. Said's feminism is never a specific constituency of his. You know, the question is, he would say by extension. So this becomes an interesting question. People have debated in the last twenty or thirty years, people especially in feminist thought, they talked about the intersectionality of race, class, and gender.
Yang: Yeah, I am yet to get to the issue of race.
Radhakrishnan: Well, you know, if you talk about the dispossessed, which is exactly where in some sense I think Said's cavalier dismissal of these categories came to haunt him again. Because if you just say the dispossessed, and the dispossessed by definition includes A, B, C, and D, then there is a problem. So there is a need to name it, just like the term Subaltern has now been used. What does it mean? And clearly Gramsci uses the Subaltern to mean the proletariat. But the Subaltern has become a larger category.
Yang: The very class agency.
Radhakrishnan: Very specifically that. So this is exactly the kind of the humanist hyperbole when you are a humanist and you think the categories are not important, you see. Yean, I am dispossessed. But how about me? Somebody may say, yeah, you also. You also by extension. So that becomes a question. But is it intentional that Said's Orientalism excluded women? And what are the intentions here? You know, since Orientalism, a number of critics have taken Said and critiqued him for that. And many people, particularly Inscriptions, "Beyond Orientalism," Meyda Yegenoglu's Colonial Fantasies: Toward a Feminist Reading of Orientalism, which considers in particular debates of the harem, and Lisa's Lowe's earlier work itself. If you remember Critical Terrains, Lisa talks about, you know, the encounters between the informant males and how you get inside ...
Yang: And Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's extraordinary intellectual productions of "Can the Subaltern Speak?," In Other Worlds, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a_History of the Vanishing Present, Chandra Talpade Mohanty's edited Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, and Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest.
Radhakrishnan: Absolutely, absolutely. So Said said that for example, there are two ways of raising questions. One way is to say, of course, there are limits to what a person could say. And you can always say the thing that the person did not talk about. For example, a feminist could have given a feminist talk. And within a talk maybe she did not focus enough on, for example, class. The question is an important question where there is an omission. How do you read the omission? In spite of the omission, do you give the benefit of the doubt to the person? Yeah, so it's a question of when the omission is. Is the omission intentional? Here I say I would have a double answer.
Yang: But many of the Western Orientalist artists, or statesmen, or historians, or sociologists, or anthropologists that Said critiqued are never intentionally racists, or colonialists, or Orientalists. However, can't we use the same logic that he critiques in Orientalism that they are not intentional does not excuse them from participating consciously or unconsciously in the colonial ideology of Orientalism in the Western Empires? And similarly at the center of Western humanism is human, and particularly Man, as the ONLY primary and dominant agency of all knowledge productions in all faculty of humanities. Then the exclusion of women as an active subjectivity of humanist epistemology and all faculty of knowledge production becomes problematic. And also we are not talking about just women's identity, politics, or personal experiences of individuals or groups of women alone. We are talking here about the legitimate and vital and formidable scholarships in feminist philosophy, epistemology, and politics. Why should it be that decolonization becomes yet another totalizing masculinist political and intellectual horizon for revolutionary men to subsume women of all colors, particularly the Third World and minority women intellectuals? It does not sound very revolutionary to me.
Radhakrishnan: I think it's a very well worded question. I think to that extent Said is vulnerable to that critique. Though one would say in terms of intentionality since he envisions non-coercive ways of producing truth and emancipation, it could potentially, you know, be part of the vision. But he never made it a part of it. In terms of how much the engagement is, as you very nicely put it, not just women's experiences or history, but bodies of scholarships, concepts, categories produced by women, and he really did not engage with them in any kind of serious way. You can see those resonating in his work. So to that extent, as a piece of scholarship, he is vulnerable. But on the other hand, in terms of his vision, which he often would say he would include in a pair of parentheses and include that. That is symptomatic of a vision that is too generally human. And there is the problem because the very thing that he chooses to become political has the opposite effect here for the lack of differentiation. You just don't say that the dispossessed includes a whole range of A, B, C, and D. It becomes a gesture of things. But you need to name. You need to say that there are different positions, that there are different productions, even antagonistic programs.
Yang: Yes, so he is indeed vulnerable to be critiqued as a bit complicitous with, at least not active enough to denounce or critique, the very patriarchal naturalization of the Man as Human in humanism, in Western humanism, and in the Saidian Humanism of Decolonization in general as totalizing the human knowledge production and excluding the legitimate feminist epistemologies in various studies. Let us not forget Third World women's or American minority women's legitimate knowledge productions, cultural politics, sexual politics, and textual politics in contesting multiple hegemonic meta-narratives.
All right. The next question is slightly edgy. What is the relationship between the Saidian humanism and race? Perhaps we can historicize his lack of acknowledgement of feminist humanism in his days in the 1950s when he was trained, in the 1960s when he started, and in the 1970s when Orientalism and his other important works were being produced. And maybe we can also historicize the fact that back in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and even in the 1980s, critical race theory or the critique of race was not yet acknowledged as one of the central parts of the criticism's engagement with Western humanism in particular. But the Orientalist discourse, as we all know, is by all means a racialized, gendered, sexualized, and worlded colonial intellectual legacy. But why didn't he just come out and say that this is a racialized discourse? And what is the relationship between his Saidian humanism and the larger critique of race?
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, it's kind of interesting because especially in Said's later posthumously published books, again we come back to the old question. Is it possible that racism also could have been part of humanism?
Yang: I see. That which we critique or that which we need to critique even more?
Radhakrishnan: So partly I mean his later humanism is an attempted kind of vision of what is best in you know across time, etc., to put it all together, to give it a collective momentum. So that question he doesn't, you know, satisfactorily answer because the question still comes up. You know racism clearly, I think, was a part of humanism.
Yang: Just like colonialism, Empire, capitalism, and patriarchy. Radhakrishnan: Yeah, clearly!
Yang: Excellent. Excellent.
Radhakrishnan: Because you know racism precisely in one sense was Western humanism. I think that's why for his own reasons what he would not name because naming creates ghettoes and compartments. Partly it is right. But there is a need to name. That's why I was quoting yesterday Leo Spitzer when he said that all humans were partly coming or emerging from a Euro-centric moment. So it is kind of interesting to see at what point Said is happy to excuse somebody and when he is not. It becomes more idiosyncratic. So why is someone culpable and someone not culpable? I know inclusiveness is partly what makes him wonderful, which is why he says, yeah, we need to get beyond the politics of blame and guilt. So once you realize that your particular culture has done something wrong, you know, you do something about it. Don't just keep saying, O my God, I am drowning in guilt, and you are the one. And he didn't want those kinds of separation, which is a good thing. On the other hand, when you do not name, then you end up under-differentiating. How can you answer if racism was a form of humanism? It certainly was. But at some point, you know ...
Yang: Or a problematic of humanism.
Radhakrishnan: Or a problematic of humanism. Of course, there are different versions of humanism: Arab, Chinese, Indian. And then people are talking about non-Western, which is why I think Said doesn't ...
Yang: He doesn't do that.
Radhakrishnan: He doesn't really because that is not his. So for example, which is why I was mentioning even yesterday the kind of critiques that secularism itself has submitted to, you know, by a whole range of non-Western thinkers, so even more recently William Connelly from within the West. Now for him, it's not part of his ball park literally because to him secularism means certain things: secularism vs. theodosy, secularism vs. trans-historical, etc. Once you define it that way, secularism by itself becomes unexceptionable, almost a pure account. So well as that is an under-reading. Take Rustum Bharucha, for example. These are people talking about secularism in slightly existentialized deoccidentalized concepts. And Said just used it in a certain way and makes it open to the kind of critiques made by people like Aijaz Ahmed in In Theory. He chooses what he likes and then uses that in a certain way. But the question is the part that was not chosen by him is still there. So when he instrumentalizes it, there is selectivity. The selectivity can never be complete. But secularism would also mean this, this, this, and that. And once he said that I am only talking about this, he almost immediately, you know. He says, O yeah, that's what I am talking about. But the question is that there is a relationship between the part excluded and that. So that is a problem where he does become vulnerable.
And race, of course you know, is a huge debate in the contexts of Africa, South Africa, and so forth. Can race speak for color? Can race speak for nationality? And one operates as the Other you know. Gendering of race and racializing of gender. And you have to do historically specific readings. At a particular moment, even though all of the things are for present in a hegemonic bloc, which of these categories become a dominant one in terms of the others? For example, Chantal Mouffe's and Ernest LaClau's work on hegemony and social strategy is important. All of these things I think Said wants to practice, but he doesn't take the theoretical productions seriously.
Yang: Theoretical productions of race?
Radhakrishnan: Or each one of these things doing its own particular production. But I think it is a double-edge sword because once you participate in that game, there is a possibility of Othering happening. Once you create these categories,
Yang: Institutionally, intellectually, and epistemologically as well, I see.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah. So if you say that this is a gay person suffering, this is a woman. You need to say that. But of course the ultimate point, which Marxism thought of a long time ago, is to go beyond the categories. You want to be able to say, as Nadine Gordimer would say, and you know I've written extensively in my book. You want to identify a suffering. It doesn't really matter, as you don't want us to compete to see if my suffering is bloodier than yours. So it is a dangerous game. You want to be able to say, please don't generalize because, hey, I am suffering in a particular way. And that particularity is what makes my suffering. But the question is how do you play that particularism? When does the particularism come in the way of emphasizing it? It's almost like, man, Lingyan, if you did not suffer the Radha way, I would not understand your suffering. So in a strange way, the generality, the empathic or empathetic possibility is pre-empted by the categories becoming more rigid.
The question is: how do you play the categories? Because you want to say, the suffering is that I am a woman. Don't generalize. Not just a woman, but a Nigerian woman, or a Chinese gay woman, or a lesbian woman. At some point, the purpose is not to get stuck with the categories, but to use them as gateways to understand someone else's suffering even though that suffering has a different ideology, has a different historical narrative to it. That's why I think Said occupies between categories. How seriously do you take the categories? Spivak, to the opposite, will call herself Outside in the Teaching Machine.
Radhakrishnan: I am an activist, but I want to wear the labels.
Yang: All labels!
Radhakrishnan: I am a Third World. I am a subaltern. I am a poststructuralist. I am a Marxist. And her strategy, you know, is a different kind even though they are in solidarity.
Yang: And it fits her perfectly. It fits her style of criticism and politics perfectly. But at least we can say that Professor Edward Said's remarkable activism, the kind of humanist vision, conviction, and critical practice of decolonization for decades, and his erudite scholarship in these areas have indeed PAVED the way for a great many other past, or present, or future particularized scholarships of gender, race, class, critiques of Empire, colonialism, imperialism, and so forth, to materialize within the platform of the mainstream American critical circle. So in that way probably he is extremely instrumental. All right Maybe we have two or three more questions just to wrap up. This is going well and fun.
Yang: Could you comment on the ways that Professor Edward Said's criticism and critical consciousness intersect rather smoothly and masterfully between multiple mainstream discourses of humanities and various area studies? This is a huge issue for faculty and students committed to the well being of the interdisciplinary area studies in Women's Studies, in Gay & Lesbian Studies, Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Latino/a American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, and so forth. But then apart from his humanist visions and critiques of the worldly tropes, traditions, and histories of Orientalism, imperialism, etc., he also advocates for Middle Eastern Studies and postcolonial studies. But then how does one activist humanist intellectual and scholar, female and male alike, mediate between what we call mainstream and margin, mainstream and area studies, without getting us stuck in compartmentalized and ghettoized ways? Or without being assimilated or whitened into forgetting or erasing our particular constituencies and politics?
Radhakrishnan: Great! I mean there is a lot of stuff in one question. And by the way, I am enjoying this immensely as well. Clearly Said would say that there is a need to operate always between different spaces. Most times, I don't know how you feel, but I think we get caught in the situations when we are talking to the already converted. The whole idea of the public intellectual is that we got to talk to people who need to be persuaded. For example, the whole notion of media. One of the first people, Said has been interviewed for God knows how many times in the media. He was aware of that. In other words there is a need to go beyond that kind of talk in which we talk amongst ourselves. If you constantly talk to people who talk like us and walk like us, in some sense you are not doing what a public intellectual does, which is opening herself or himself up to contestation, to talk to the right wing, the left wing, the extreme right, and take risks and be shouted at.
The question is how do you do that without becoming complicitous? Because most of the debates then have to do with in whose language it is being debated. Already you are being staged in a certain way. You just cannot say, and Said would have agreed, you just don't say that O my God, I cannot go there because going there already makes me complicit. That, I think, is baloney. Because you need to go there and talk because you need to talk to people who don't think the way you do. And that may mean countering all kinds of racists, bigots, or homophobics. Once you are in that platform, how do you pose your question?
Yang: And to whom?
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, exactly. Don't let that platform either dominate you or depoliticize you, or come out completely whitewashed as you put it very correctly.
Yang: It was easy to do so.
Radhakrishnan: There are two issues. One is to maintain, if you want to call it that, I don't think Said particularly cares for the term of radicality, but maintain the oppositionality. It's always the oppositional intellectual. You can never envision Said becoming the administer of culture. So that was not his motif. Always the critical negativity.
Yang: Or Asian Americans.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, Asian American, or Arab, whatever. You never saw him in that clear cut way as being administer of.
Yang: The scope of his criticism is stunningly broad and worldly. And in that sense the scope of his vision, commitment, politics, and humanism, does exceed all of the ghettoizing and particularized area studies because they are not broad enough to contain the vastness of his thought. On the other hand, it is precisely because of such a vast scope of his decolonizing oppositional humanist thought that has enabled him to counter what he called the equally worldly scope of Orientalism, or colonialism, or Empire themselves. So in the sense perhaps we need scholarship of a variety of scopes.
Radhakrishnan: I would say that when you are on the platform like that, you need to be oppositional and not sort of be deluded. But there is also the matter of intelligibility that you should be able to say it in the language, which is not jargon laden, which is kind of interesting. When you think of Adorno, you think of these unrelenting critics, who would never compromise. But the question is: what is it that they don't compromise? There is a vision. But when you try to speak to undergraduates, people who are not in your field, there is also this question of intelligibility. So that is why this insistence, please write for as many people.
The other thing is of course we know that when it comes to area studies, it's true that many area studies have been under surveillance by the State Department. And people say that those area studies that have been influenced by Edward Said's work will not get funding. So it's kind of interesting to see how these effects have been so real. So on the one hand, people say my God, the highly celebrated intellectual, and all of that stuff. But in the field of academia, when I went to India, for example, and talked about postcoloniality, there was this sense that postcoloniality means the diasporic intellectual from the privileged, etc., etc. But that is only partly true. Right now funding is being denied to area studies. That's how powerful the effect of Orientalism has been. Postcolonial scholars are often attracted to the integrity of area studies, which were created after World War II as ways of controlling. On the one hand, even though I remembered the time when I asked Said for a letter of reference. He said, are you sure you want a letter from me because a letter from me might have the opposite effect. Some one might say, wow, Said wrote for so and so. Or they might say, O my God, "the Professor of Terror." So there is contestation going on even within the academy that to be an ally of Edward Said could be a red herring. Fifty years down the line as a famous figure, what parts of him would be prominent? There is the literary critic. There is the activist. There is the Palestinian advocate. There is the person who wrote on music, the multiple talents.
Yang: And a scholar of the English novel from the 18th century to the 20th century modernism.
Radhakrishnan: Of all these different things, different people talked about their particular Edward Said. I was in India when Said passed away. I was moved by the number of meetings in India to commemorate Said's death. Some of the meetings are very technical meetings, you know, organized by the people who know his work intimately. Some were done by people who know him in a very limited sense. But he meant so many things for so many people. In a sense he achieved what he wanted to. There must have been many misrecognitions. So people might have read one thing about his politics of the dispossessed, or have just read his Nation_columns. Somebody might have just read his Orientalism. They might have not known the other stuff. But still there was something that they could identify with despite the fact that he wasn't poor, he was very privileged, you know, he is extremely celebrated. Given all of that, there was something of his that reached everybody.
Yang: Humanism. Humanist compassion in every reader, scholar, and student.
Radhakrishnan: Humanism exactly. Even though his didn't speak of me in particular, but still there is something in the generality.
Yang: And even if they agree with and admire portions of his work, and disagree with a few other of his positions, but our admiration of the formidability and erudition of his scholarship, of his humanist thought, and of his political commitment, would prevail.
Yang: All right. The last two questions. I hope that you enjoy them. And we can be a little brief. The second to the last question. What do you think of the importance of English language to Edward Said's criticism, humanism, and politics? And also the unique repertoire of the postcolonial critical vocabulary he himself inaugurated despite the fact that he pronounced his dislike toward theoretical jargons and terminology? I used the word "repertoire" because it sounds more artistic. I was inclined to use the "empire" of critical vocabulary. But I opt not to (both laugh). But he does sound majestic in the vast body of his work. So English language and the repertoire of his unique and original critical vocabulary, concepts, and terminology that he himself inaugurated. What do you think of these contradictions?
Radhakrishnan: He knew clearly many languages. And English, of course you know as far as I can tell, is his primary. Certainly English, French, and possibly German and Arabic. And you would find in his later works, after Orientalism, you see him kind of introducing vocabulary from the non-Western cultures in particular.
Yang: More often?
Radhakrishnan: More often. But in some sense he was certainly Western. And within the West English was certainly the dominant language of expression. But I don't think he quarrels with it in the way in which, for example, Ngugi wa Thiong'o did.
Yang: No. He never had any problem with it.
Radhakrishnan: At some point what is interesting in Said is that something became given in a certain way. So clearly if people ask him, was he really English or Western because he wrote in English, I'm sure he wrote in more than one language and he had published in other languages as well. But the issue is if you are multi-lingual, if you write in two or three languages, how does it interrupt the unity of your personality? If the reality is Western, is it Western because it is English and French? Or is being Western a primarily linguistic thing? Or is it extra-linguistic? What else goes on into the ethos of calling it the West? Those are the questions that he did not go into in his specifically scholarly works. So I would just say yeah, I think that so far English meant a point of entry into the Western culture, which immediately connects you with the German, French, etc.
Yang: And it connects you with the critical discourse.
Radhakrishnan: So to that extent, yeah, I would say it was very much part of that.
Yang: It could be very enabling.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah. And of course increasingly after Orientalism, you do see him talking other forms of scholarship, non-Western. You see references and terms from other bodies of erudition more regularly than before. And it seems to make sense.
Yang: In contrast, Professor Gayatri Spivak would do just the opposite. In Imagery Maps, "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography," etc., all those indigenous Third World stories, terms, language, female bodies, have been penetrating and punctuating the rest of her theories and criticism from the very beginning in the highly performative and provocative ways. But it works the best for her.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah. And I think after a point, it is also a matter of sensibility. It's a matter of doing what you do well. I mean not everybody does everything. You can achieve the effect by doing what you do best. Given even the range of his erudition and everything else, there is the question of why I write about this and not that. It is a distinction that I have been and others have been making. For example, there is an article by Veena Das called "Subaltern as Perspective," not as content. So it doesn't matter whether you talk about Flaubert, or Hugo, or Maxine Hong Kingston ...
Yang: As long as there is a critical perspective.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, why didn't you talk about that? And that question could either be very useful, or could just be pointless because if you did talk about something else, there should be other questions. So the whole question is if I am talking about that, how am I making the difference by talking about it? So clearly he loves music. Some people like rap. Some people like jazz. Some people like the 18th century. Some people like the 20th century. And you can't like everything and write about everything. The question is once you have chosen your point of entry, which is a matter of you know adequacy of scholarship, you are a scholar as well. You don't want to sound shabby, writing about the field that you know very little. The question is having gotten into the field, whatever the text may be, how am I looking at it? What kind of questions am I asking?
This is where the perspective becomes important. And it is not a thing of an essence, you know. The postcolonial perspective could be a mentality. You could be reading Jane Austin. You don't have to be reading a postcolonial text. I think that is validated as a perspective rather than a kind of essence or substance. I think the perspective is where you know solidarities can be generated. In spite of the fact that you are talking about one text, and I am talking about another text, it doesn't matter as long as we ask the same questions because both of our questions are informed by feminist scholarship, informed by Subaltern scholarship. You talk about Chaucer, and I talk about somebody else. No big deal.
Yang: And also the repertoire of the critical vocabulary that he himself inaugurated, like Orientalism, politics of the dispossession, affiliation and filiation, worldliness, critical consciousness, humanism rethought, etc. At the same time he pronounced he detests ...
Radhakrishnan: Contrapuntalism is another significant term added to the repertoire.
Yang: Contrapuntalism and exile, the critique of geography and Empire, culture and imperialism, Third World resistance culture of decolonization, which I love, Yeats and decolonization, and so forth. These have become classical critical vocabulary in theory and criticism now and in humanism.
Radhakrishnan: I don't think he would have been particularly invested in these as these are Said's concepts.
Yang: I see.
Radhakrishnan: But I think he is always interested in the way these things travel around. He is interested in mobility. How does one thing move from one to another? So ultimately his last work what he enjoys Beethoven and Freud is that restlessness as energy. So on the one hand, there is a need for certain kind of resistance. But it doesn't make it a kind of dead end thing you know. Yeah, in contrapuntal work something has to work in another context. But I think it's more than a repertoire, which you get solidified as kind of master canon of someone's work. It's more how they work in a different context and how they move from one situation to another. That kind of mobility matters more to him.
Yang: In contrapuntal ways.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah. And of course here again is an example of using music for other purposes.
Yang: Opera, novel ...
Radhakrishnan: Yeah. So that goes into something else. And that's how I think the literary experience as a reader of texts made him, I think, in one of his essays in The World, the Text, and the Critic, begin with the text, but again constantly go out of the text into the context and back.
Yang: And into the world.
Radhakrishnan: Into the world. And ultimately it is how the world is worded in different ways. It's a kind of ongoing narrative of constant becoming. And of course in the ultimate analysis Said does privilege literature as a particular way of knowing.
Yang: Which I agree.
Radhakrishnan: There are different ways of knowing. And the literary texts are illuminating.
Yang: Literature is a prominent faculty of knowledge production. Radhakrishnan: Absolutely.
Yang: All right. And then the last question. I think we already discussed this on the surface. But I hope we wrap up this stimulating interview and conversation with this one. Where are the postcolonial theoretical, literary, cultural and historical studies in particular and theory and criticism in general going post-Said?
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, I mean postcolonial studies have of course already come under a lot of fire.
Yang: From the beginning.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, from the very beginning. I mean where are essays that ask particular questions. A Houston Baker essay talked about the very lack of definitive clarity, no clarity.
Radhakrishnan: Arif Dirlik critiqued postcoloniality from a different perspective. In so far as academically speaking, for example, jobs get advertised as being postcolonial. To that extent, I think the category matters. So somebody does a dissertation in a certain field and we all know that OK, how am I going to package myself? Am I going to call myself a theorist? A postcolonialist? So in that sense the term and rubric do matter because along with it comes the availability of certain jobs, etc. But it seems to me the more important issue is what issues are being talked about.
Yang: And questions asked.
Radhakrishnan: The overlaps. You know Subaltern Studies is not the same thing as the postcolonial. Maybe yes, maybe no. Postcolonial and subaltern. But again Subaltern itself has traveled a lot. And especially after Spivak's intervention, postcolonialism and subalternity have come together much more than they did before her. And then in response to that Guha's own work and Dipesh's work have changed. So the more important question is what are the issues? Labor, migration, different flows of people, colonization, neocolonialism, multi-lingualism, language, oppression.
Yang: Ethnicity and race.
Radhakrishnan: And obviously these are very fast moving themes. And maybe they come under transnationalism, internationalism, global studies, diasporic studies, postcoloniality, neocolonial studies. So to me at what point what kind of questions become important? Either because it affects a lot of people,
Yang: in historicized material ways.
Radhakrishnan: Or maybe something happens, which is kind of very sexy. Some theoretical formulation, this particular thing, as a result, maybe that becomes O my God. There are many reasons why a certain particular field gets charged. You know either because of the demand for it, which could be a bit really political, or it could be the intervention of a particular philosophical concept so that the field suddenly creates a kind of excitement. So you can see clearly postcolonial studies, diasporic studies, many of them are looking at many similar issues. The histories may vary. Or within the history the methodologies and whom you refer to, being Fanon or somebody else, might vary. So I think that is the larger issue of who in an increasingly global and at the same time increasingly ghettoized world, what connections are being made?
Yang: Increasingly both global and American.
Radhakrishnan: Yeah, and the resistance. So that's one. But in terms of when labors do matter, they matter for a certain kind of academic. I can think of a person finishing a dissertation getting worried: O my God. I finished a dissertation in postcoloniality. And this year at MLA there is no job in postcoloniality. So what am I supposed to do? So that's a very genuine worry.
Yang: Revise the dissertation and publish it.
Radhakrishnan: The MLA job ads will say "a person doing theory interested in," and there is a list. So that's a different taxonomy. And there is always some kind of dialectical play going on between certain academic ways of nailing a definition vs. the free flow, where the same themes are shared by multiple adjacent disciplines and discourses.
Yang: All right. Thank you so very much, Radha. This has been a stimulating and fun conversation. Hopefully our discussions will continue in other forums and platforms in years to come.
Radhakrishnan: Absolutely. Thank you so much. It was totally enjoyable. I enjoyed your questions, and always, talking with you and talking to you. It has always been a pleasure. I appreciate the colleagues and students here for their interests, wonderful questions, and great discussions. Please also thank Prof. Thomas Slater, the editor of Studies in the Humanities, for inviting us to do this interview article. And above all, let me say how much Said's work meant to me personally. It was my pleasure to have been his student the whole summer in 1982. Since then we have always been friends. And he has always been a senior colleague and mentor. He meant so much. And still there is a pan of me that refuses to believe he is literally no more. This is something that a whole generation of people shares. And like he aptly put it, these are the people who felt free to disagree with him as well. At the same time his influence has been at so many levels, so enabling. It is something very precious.
Yang: I audited one of his last graduate seminars, "Culture and History," at Columbia University in Spring 2002, when I was Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and Asian American Studies Program at Columbia. That fifteen weeks of closely working with him and studying from him is probably still the intellectually most stimulating experience in my life. We'll miss his work enormously.
Yang: So on behalf of my colleagues and students at IUP, I thank you for coming and have a safe trip home.
Radhakrishnan: My thanks to you as well.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
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|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
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