Said on the Train

I finished, on the train this week, reading Freud and the Non-European by Edward Said (on the recommendation of zmagg and it was, one of the better reading experiences I've had in a while.

Said is brilliant, and clear and says really complex important hard things in a really clear and approachable style. He's also frustratingly correct, which isn't really a problem, but as an engaged and independent reader, I occasionally realize that the internal monologue of my response is an unintelligent "yep yep" chorus, and I feel like I've fallen down on the job of being a good reader.

I might have a bit of a complex.

The thing is, that he actually is very right, and does an amazing job of meeting Freud in his historical context, respecting in that context for the audacity of his mission and the power of his insights to encourage us to think about culture, its impact on human motivation, and how personal and cultural histories combine to produce identity, and inspire behavior. Or, more simply, that self-hood and experience are a product of history and context.

Without, of course, in anyway excusing the flaws in Freud's methods, biases, basis in fact (or lack there of), or utility (or lack there of) in the care of the mentally ill.

Moreso, Said uses Frued, and his ideas about Jewish identity, and himself as an example of late a certain phenotype of 19th century Jewishness, to help contextualize (roughly) contemporary thinking about jewish identity and Israeli culture and statehood.

It's roughly brilliant.


I've long struggled with any kind of theory that engages seriously with Freud or his intellectual successors: there's so much crap around Freud, and it sort of feels like good energy after bad to try and justify or resuscitate the tradition. And hurts when Freudian are used to support what are otherwise really interesting intellectual projects.

If nothing else Said gives a good example of a successful intellectual interaction with Freud can occur, and what kinds of parameters and context promote that kind of successful and productive interaction.

Maybe someday, I'll learn how to be a quarter the reader that Said was. If I'm lucky.

In the mean time, I'm just going to keep reading things on the train.

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