Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad, and Salman Rushdie: Resisting the Ambivalence of Postcolonial Theory

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad, and Salman Rushdie: Resisting the Ambivalence of Postcolonial Theory

Article excerpt

This article examines Edward Said's personal, intellectual, and political affinities with Eqbal Ahmad and Salman Rushdie. Furthermore, it contrasts their common perspective with views held by two other notable South Asian intellectuals, V. S. Naipaul and Homi Bhabha. The author proposes that the noteworthy arguments of anti-imperialist theory, which translates most often in the struggle of Palestinians for self-determination, connect Said, Ahmad, and Rushdie. Said's views on Naipaul and Bhabha, shared by both Rushdie and Ahmad, are critically elaborated and contextualized within the major debates on the politics of postcolonial theory.

**********

The strength of Said's personal and intellectual relationship to Eqbal Abroad and Salman Rushdie, two highly visible South Asian intellectuals, rests in a shared notion that history, narrative, and politics are inextricably intertwined. This view can be traced back to the anti-imperialist discourse shaped by Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, and C. L. R. James. These formative thinkers foregrounded ways of articulating the materialities and violences of colonialism. They were involved in the fundamental obligation that Said understood later to be assigned to intellectuals: to speak against power, to question structures of coercion, injustice, and silencing. The task of the intellectual would be to create alternative readings of history and culture.

The intellectual's work should be adversarial. Eqbal Ahmad has occupied this position for a long time along side Said. He has played a major role in changing the American perception of Palestinians and their history. Ahmad relentlessly formed the meanings of revolutionary struggle against colonial power. His understanding of revolutionary thinking would always be based on a fundamental realization that opposition to ignorance, prejudice, and oppression will be more relevant after the alleged exuberance of territorial independence. The process of decolonizing especially the mind is desperately incomplete and dynamic. The depth and long-term orientation of Ahmad's theory of anti-imperialism has always impelled Said's indefatigable watchfulness of new forms of Orientalism. Both have insistently identified emerging foundationalist images of American media--in "perfect synchrony," as Said would say, with the administration. Between Said and Rushdie the experience of "paradoxical identity" offers new imagined homelands and new intellectual frontiers to cross.

I propose that the influential arguments of anti-imperialism, which translates most often in the struggle of Palestinians for self-determination, connect Said, Ahmad, and Rushdie. Said and Rushdie's friendship is glued more by a shared condition of exile and cultural hybridity. I argue that despite vigorous advances made by other prominent South Asian intellectuals especially Homi Bhabha, and V. S. Naipaul (of Indian ancestry, born in Trinidad) to depoliticise the edifice of colonialism, Said, Ahmad, and Rushdie have cooperatively (and as far as Palestine is concerned) maintained that imperialism is structurally monolithic and historically intransigent. On this account, I shall discuss in my last section the major limitations of Bhabha's theories of ambivalence, mimicry, and translation. For Said a number of non-Western intellectuals have seriously reduced imperialism to dubious notions of Western charity and cultural relativism. They have emptied the very experience of colonialism from its materially raw realities of discrimination, stereotyping, and segregation. Homi Bhabha in particular was more seduced by academic professionalism and specialization. Said, Ahmad, and Rushdie have found V. S. Naipaul and Homi Bhabha's critical consensus on the ambivalence of imperial rule particularly unsettling. The theory of ambivalence has depended largely on ideological constructions of division and exclusion of the other.

I. Sharing the Realms of Empire

Said dedicated one of his most important works on colonial history, Culture and Imperialism (1993), to Ahmad. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.