Edward Said’s Worldliness, Amateurism and Heterotopia: Negotiating the Interdisciplinarity of Literary Theory, Canonicity, and Paradigm

Ayman Abu-Shomar


Literary criticism nowadays is essentially crossing the boundaries of disciplinarity and canonicity where literary theory has increasingly been shaped by overlapping concepts and branching out of theories as well as whipping out the limitations imposed by theory itself. The post-conditions of contemporaneity have imposed a view of reading and analysing the literary text that is dynamic, proliferated and in flux as well as resistant to monolithic critique and confined disciplines and professionalization. This outlook has increasingly made the notions of literary criticism, theoretical paradigms and canons not only artificial and irrelevant to our materialistic world, but, in many cases, ‘violent’ to those whose life concerns exist in the margins of these paradigmatic notions. In this essay, I argue that those of us who aspire to an interdisciplinary and a metacritical analyses would be well served by importing inspirations from Edward Said’s work, scholarship and life, particularly drawing on his ‘Worldliness’, ‘Amateurism’ and ‘Heteroglossia’ (or heterotopia) as well as drawing examples from his negotiation with intellectual paradoxes and tensions informed by his positionality as a border crosser intellectual (or his exilic consciousness). Specifically, this article engages with Said as an author of a radically secular body of work marked by as comportment towards being, and as an example of an “amateur” critic who “speak[s] truth to power”. It argues that Said instates a critically-interrogative scholarship as antidote to essentialist, politicised, determinist and hegemonic literary canons (whether those of texts or theory) which are paradigmatically informed by relations of power in academia. The paper argues that through the investment of his scholarship and personal life, Said rejects academic institutions and affiliations with their tendency towards doctrinaire assumptions of critical work. Further to this, Said’s fascination of diversity, heterogeneity and his advocacy of the intellectual’s detachment from the institution of specialised criticism mount up as a radical critique of specialisation and professionalism and denouncing them as being allied with ideological and cultural dogma.

Keywords: Edward Said, worldliness, amateurism, heterotopia, inter/post-disciplinary literary theory  

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