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Title: The significance of Edward Said's notion of 'secular' criticism in his work on Islam and the problematic of Palestine-Israel
Author: Keyes, Colleen Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 5602
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2014
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Abstract:
The present study argues that the central notion and practice unifying Edward Said’s oeuvre is that of “secular” criticism, which he conceives of as the defining activity and tool of the humanistic intellectual. We also argue that Said sees the intellectual’s moral mission of “secular” criticism as based in Said’s understanding of “humanism” as intellectual production aimed at concrete change in the real world of human struggles for universal justice and human emancipation from oppression of all types. Related to Said’s particular and perennial upholding of a particular understanding of humanism, Said wields a religious-secular rhetoric as a weapon to expose and question the ironic fact of the “religiosity” of those persons, movements, and ideologies claiming their basis in the unswervingly “secular.” Within the overall body of Said commentary, Said’s effort to recover humanism as a useable praxis of human emancipation from oppressive systems has been largely neglected. This is largely due to the misrecognition of Orientalism as Said’s defining project and the consequent sublation of equally if not more significant, defining elements in the Saidian oeuvre than Orientalism , e.g. “secular” criticism. This study finds that the religious-secular trope conveys Said’s notion of what criticism is and does in a re-constructed humanism, a “humanism of liberation,” as Saree Makdisi has aptly called it, and not, as some commentators have seen it, an expression of a self-contradictory disdain for religion with a concomitant defensive posture toward Islam. In this thesis, Said’s religious-secular rhetoric is analyzed for its meaning, for its role in Said’s idea of criticism, and for its significance in Said’s effort to re-construct humanism as an emancipatory practice. Finally, this study argues that Said’s writing to and on the Arab-Islamic world, and particularly his writing on Palestine-Israel, exemplifies what Said means by the term “secular” criticism. In this sense, Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is a synechdoche of his entire critical project. This interpretation is unique in that it challenges the idea that Said’s work on Palestine-Israel is an endeavor outside his professional vocation as a humanist and is motivated merely by Said’s passionate attachment to his homeland. This thesis aims to show how Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is not only a model of what Said means by the term “secular criticism,” but avers further that, coupled with Said’s writing to and on the Arab Islamic world, his work on Palestine-Israel represents the most significant labor of his “non-humanist” humanism, or the “humanism of liberation” as a still valid practice, and as an intellectual, ethical framework, and a means of concretely furthering the struggle for universal human emancipation—which Said defines as completely in line with his work as a humanist. In other words, Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is not a political side-line apart from his work as a man of letters but is a body of quintessentially humanistic production at the heart of the concept of “secular criticism.” The present study argues that the central notion and practice unifying Edward Said’s oeuvre is that of “secular” criticism, which he conceives of as the defining activity and tool of the humanistic intellectual. We also argue that Said sees the intellectual’s moral mission of “secular” criticism as based in Said’s understanding of “humanism” as intellectual production aimed at concrete change in the real world of human struggles for universal justice and human emancipation from oppression of all types. Related to Said’s particular and perennial upholding of a particular understanding of humanism, Said wields a religious-secular rhetoric as a weapon to expose and question the ironic fact of the “religiosity” of those persons, movements, and ideologies claiming their basis in the unswervingly “secular.” Within the overall body of Said commentary, Said’s effort to recover humanism as a useable praxis of human emancipation from oppressive systems has been largely neglected. This is largely due to the misrecognition of Orientalism as Said’s defining project and the consequent sublation of equally if not more significant, defining elements in the Saidian oeuvre than Orientalism , e.g. “secular” criticism. This study finds that the religious-secular trope conveys Said’s notion of what criticism is and does in a re-constructed humanism, a “humanism of liberation,” as Saree Makdisi has aptly called it, and not, as some commentators have seen it, an expression of a self-contradictory disdain for religion with a concomitant defensive posture toward Islam. In this thesis, Said’s religious-secular rhetoric is analyzed for its meaning, for its role in Said’s idea of criticism, and for its significance in Said’s effort to re-construct humanism as an emancipatory practice. Finally, this study argues that Said’s writing to and on the Arab-Islamic world, and particularly his writing on Palestine-Israel, exemplifies what Said means by the term “secular” criticism. In this sense, Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is a synechdoche of his entire critical project. This interpretation is unique in that it challenges the idea that Said’s work on Palestine-Israel is an endeavor outside his professional vocation as a humanist and is motivated merely by Said’s passionate attachment to his homeland. This thesis aims to show how Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is not only a model of what Said means by the term “secular criticism,” but avers further that, coupled with Said’s writing to and on the Arab Islamic world, his work on Palestine-Israel represents the most significant labor of his “non-humanist” humanism, or the “humanism of liberation” as a still valid practice, and as an intellectual, ethical framework, and a means of concretely furthering the struggle for universal human emancipation—which Said defines as completely in line with his work as a humanist. In other words, Said’s work on the problematic of Palestine-Israel is not a political side-line apart from his work as a man of letters but is a body of quintessentially humanistic production at the heart of the concept of “secular criticism.” The present study argues that the central notion and practice unifying Edward Said’s oeuvre is that of “secular” criticism, which he conceives of as the defining activity and tool of the humanistic intellectual. We also argue that Said sees the intellectual’s moral mission of “secular” criticism as based in Said’s understanding of “humanism” as intellectual production aimed at concrete change in the real world of human struggles for universal justice and human emancipation from oppression of all types. Related to Said’s particular and perennial upholding of a particular understanding of humanism, Said wields a religious-secular rhetoric as a weapon to expose and question the ironic fact of the “religiosity” of those persons, movements, and ideologies claiming their basis in the unswervingly “secular.” Within the overall body of Said commentary, Said’s effort to recover humanism as a useable praxis of human emancipation from oppressive systems has been largely neglected. This is largely due to the misrecognition of Orientalism as Said’s defining project and the consequent sublation of equally if not more significant, defining elements in the Saidian oeuvre than Orientalism , e.g. “secular” criticism. This study finds that the religious-secular trope conveys Said’s notion of what criticism is and does in a re-constructed humanism, a “humanism of liberation,” as Saree Makdisi has aptly called it, and not, as some commentators have seen it, an expression of a self-contradictory disdain for religion with a concomitant defensive posture toward Islam.
Supervisor: Netton, Ian; Ayoub, Mahmoud Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.630918  DOI: Not available
Keywords: criticism ; critical consciousness ; critical humanism ; Edward Said ; humanism ; Palestine-Israel ; post-structuralism ; non-humanist humanism ; anti-humanism ; exile ; exilic consciousness ; religion ; theology of liberation
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