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November 12, 2006

ROBERT IRWIN'S NEW BOOK, Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents, gets a rather positive review in The Washington Post, a review that makes Edward Said's legacy seem dubious:

Indeed, Orientalism supported the central theoretical premise of many intellectuals at the time -- that the prejudices of dead white European males had utterly distorted and warped their scholarship, art, politics and human sympathies.

Robert Irwin, himself an Oxford-trained Arabist, doesn't buy this. He asserts in his introduction and argues in his penultimate chapter that Said's book, thinking and evidence are shoddy, unreliable and mean-spirited. The Columbia literary critic's attack on Orientalism, Irwin argues, maligns the lifework of admirable and deeply learned people, mocks a long, honorable tradition of scholarship, and plays fast and loose with the facts. Dangerous Knowledge is in part, then, Robert Irwin's riposte to Edward Said. . . .

It ends, though, with Muslim critiques of Western Orientalism and a chapter about Edward Said titled "An Enquiry into the Nature of a Certain Twentieth-Century Polemic." This is an allusion to John Carter and Graham Pollard's quietly devastating 1934 Enquiry into Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets , which exposed Thomas J. Wise, England's foremost book collector, as a forger, cheat and liar. Irwin forthrightly maintains that "Said libelled generations of scholars who were for the most part good and honourable men and he was not prepared to acknowledge that some of them at least might have written in good faith."

Sounds very interesting.