Sunday, July 17, 2005

Aijaz Ahmad, Edward Said

Aijaz Ahmad contrasts reactions to terrorism in London and New York, capturing some of the reasons why I prefer public political culture in Britain to that in the US (there, I’ve said it in print). [Note his very truncated usage of Left (so that even those on the dissident left of Labour such as Robin Cook don’t really count as ‘left’) – Aijaz moves with such a select band of fellow-travellers?] Very sobering conclusions – British policy likely to continue being tied to American policy thanks to the ‘special relationship’, no prospect of quick American withdrawal from Iraq: ‘If corporate U.S.A. could give 50,000 lives for ideology in Vietnam, how many more might it be willing to give for a few trillion dollars?’ Current indications are that Aijaz is right, with Tony Blair warning that it would be 'catastrophic' to believe that terrorism could be ended by changing British foreign policy. Nevertheless, the debate seems to be on: 'Until now the anti-war left has refrained from raising Iraq out of respect for the dead. But with ministers now discussing the radicalisation of young Muslims, the gloves are off.'

I'm currently reading 1984, mostly because I have been using the word 'Orwellian' without having read any of the work that gives it its adjectival force. 28 pages into my copy, a newsflash from Big Brother:
Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am
authorised to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war
within measurable distance of its end. Here is the newsflash.
Much of 1984 was written in 1948 - a year in which Communists in India were engaged in insurgencies in Tripura, Telangana and - as Orwell would have known - Kerala. Orwell may have seen these as the opening of new fronts in a supposed global Communist surge. (Orwell was born in India in 1903, and served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922-27.) This might be an instance of the sort of contrapuntal reading of texts that Edward Said performs in Culture and Imperialism.

By the way, if you are ever in danger of lionising Said, you can do no better than to read Aijaz on Said: 'Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Metropolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said', in In Theory (London: Verso, 2000). Here's my favourite paragraph (Aijaz on why people like me have lapped up Said's Orientalism):
...its most passionate following in the metropolitan countries is within those
sectors of the university intelligentsia which either originate in the ethnic
minorities or affiliate themselves ideologically with the academic sections of
those minorities...Those who came as graduate students and then joined the
faculties, especially in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, tended to come
from upper classes in their home countries. In the process of relocating
themselves in the metropolitan countries, they needed documents of their
assertion, proof that they had always been oppressed. Books that connected
oppression with class were not very useful, because they neither came
from the working class nor were intending to join that class in their new
country. Those who said that majority of the populations in Africa and Asia
certainly suffered from colonialism, but that there were also those who
benefited from it, were useless, because many of the new professionals who were part of this immigration themselves came from those other families, those other classes, which had been the beneficiaries (pp. 195-196).
Ouch!

Watch this space for a reply to that. One day.

Comments:
Aijaz Ahmad's work seems to be gaining currency these days. I know nothing about it, tho'.

I was searching his name -- and came upon your site.

And howzabout those naxalites, & nepali maoists eh?
 
Aijaz Ahmad's critique of Said has never been answered.Jameson and Ahmad engaged in a discussion but Said never said any thing in response to Ahmad's valid criticism.Caste/class which are lived raelities in India do not find place in musch of postcolonial theory
 
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