If there was one figure central to postcolonial studies and the intellectual force behind the Palestinian meeting with Western academia, it was undoubtedly the late Edward W Said. Although he was an American citizen –his father having fled to the US to escape Ottoman conscription in World War One – Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935 and raised in Cairo. He was very much an international and intercultural figure from his youth.
Despite his education in famed Western institutions such as Princeton and Harvard Universities, as well his academic career at Columbia University, Said was also involved intricately in the life of the “Near East”, and was all too familiar with its cultural and intellectual rhythms. Through ground-breaking writings such as his book Orientalism (1978), he delved into the West’s psyche and exposed some of its deep-seated prejudices towards the region and its people.
His unique ability to traverse both the East and West and their intellectual currents is put down to his “earlier nomadic existence [which] helped explain his shifting cultural allegiances.”
Throughout his career, Said was the figurehead of the Palestinian cause in the West as well as one of the most effective intellectuals of the 20th century whose legacy lives on. Even though he was an Anglican Christian, he was an outspoken defender of the Muslim world and Islamic culture, making him both controversial and beloved to many.
Anyone who knows anything about Edward Said knows all of this. What many do not know, though, is that mental anguish plagued him throughout his life to such an extent that he was never without therapeutic help. Nor do many know about his complex familial pressures and disputes, and how others aside from himself viewed them. Timothy Brennan’s Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said, however, is the biography which reveals all of those niche and curious details.
Drawing on never-before-published materials, including interviews with his family members, intimate friends, and colleagues, as well as his unpublished poetic and fictional works – not to mention the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) files on him – Brennan paints a detailed portrait of Said.
This book is on the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards 2021, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine book awards site.