Freud and the Non-European Hardcover – 3 Apr 2003
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"An intriguing critique of Freud's work that is complemented by Rose's commentary."--"Multicultural Review""His reading of Freud's reading of the history of the Jewish people is undeniably brilliant, and persuades the reader yet further that the attempts by the Likudniks and fundamentalist Zionists to harden Judaism into one particular model of Zionism tied to one particular plot of land is both intellectually flawed and a betrayal of Judaism's pluralist history."--"Times Literary Supplement""I heard ... Edward Said give Freud and the Non-European as a lecture at the Freud Museum in London ... now it stands in gried and memory of that dear, good and great man as my pre-eminent book of the year."--Tom Paulin, "Guardian, Books of the Year 2003""The kind of moral and intellectual subtlety that Said calls for is quickly trampled upon as nations are made and remade. But if it doesn't shape momentous events, it does help record them more scrupulously. Said's influence grows more fruitfully (if slowly) on fellow academics and writers, who can no longer hope to explain the contemporary world by putting the adjective 'ancient' before the noun 'hatred'; they have to work towards a better sense of the ever-changing historical conditions under which identities appear so eternal."--"Guardian""The voice of the late Edward Said can still be heard in all its trenchant vitality."--Marina Warner, "Irish Times, Books of the Year 2003"
About the Author
Edward W. Said is University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. A member of, among others, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Literature and Kings College Cambridge, his celebrated works include Orientalism, The End of the Peace Process, Power, Politics, and Culture and the memoir Out of Place.
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However, I believe that those who seek out this book expecting to find salient points addressing their areas of interest will need to know the general thrust of Dr. Said's message beforehand - to my mind that thrust is nearly impossible to infer from its title alone. When I think of Freud, I think of psychoanalysis. When I think of Edward Said, I think of the founder of Post-Colonial criticism, and of the advocate for the Palestinian people. With a title like 'Freud and the Non-European', I expected a critique of Freud's psychoanalytic approach to the people and cultures outside of Europe, perhaps focusing on the Middle East. Instead I found an engaging book of scattered material linked together with such hazy conjunctions that I almost missed that his arguments are tenuous at best and logically incoherent at worst.
Dr. Said, also a noted music critic, has borrowed a term from that field and applied it to literary theory - a theory of contrapuntal reading. The idea is that some works from history, no matter how embarrassingly Eurocentric academics might consider them today, are relevant not only because their peculiar insights still point us in interesting directions, but because in response to their powerful imagery an entire body of literature has grown up around them - literature that refutes, confirms, elaborates and even redirects us back to the primary source to see, in light of future events, still deeper meanings within the text that the author's skill has allowed for. In this way, Dr. Said's example - 'Heart of Darkness' - is akin to a living thing - already powerful, spawning other powerful works, and reinventing itself as time reveals new relevance instead of burying it. In other words, effective literature is effective literature - accept the prejudices of the author's time as a constant, and absorb the insights that are useful. I may be wrong, but I think most people not involved in the politics of academia naturally do this. Dr. Said, arguably one of the founding fathers of the culture wars with the book 'Orientalism', seems to recognize how askew post-colonial theory has gone, and is now telling us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So far, so good, but having established the merits of contrapuntal reading, Dr. Said then applies this to Freud, specifically to his last major work, 'Moses and Monotheism'. While I think most people would agree with the worth of studying Conrad's classic (both to refute or confirm), by illustrating his contrapuntal theory with 'Heart of Darkness' and then moving immediately on to 'Moses', Dr. Said intimates that they share the same status. To further prop up 'Moses', Dr. Said then places Freud and Beethoven side by side to examine each man's 'late works' - the idea that, reputations firmly established, neither man had anyone left to please other than themselves and were free to pursue absolute truths. I have not read 'Moses and Monotheism', so I cannot comment on the worth of that book other than to say it seems far-reaching to compare this relatively obscure work, which even Freud's biographer called 'peculiar', equally with 'Darkness' and the Choral Symphony. It seems like an elaborate shell game designed to blur the relevance of 'Moses', yet I'm willing to suspend belief in order to see what's next.
If 'Moses' is as worthy as Conrad for contrapuntal reading, and if the virtue of 'late works' does lend it an aura of difficult truth, then it should offer new ways of looking at our present world. But frankly, I found Freud's assumptions in 'Moses' very odd and surprising, as I'd never heard of them before - especially strange if this work is as important as Dr. Said makes it out to be. First is that Moses was an Egyptian instead of one of the Children of Israel, and that when he left Egypt, he only took a small band of followers with him, who then murdered him in the desert. Another assumption is that Moses took the idea of Monotheism from the Egyptian Akhenaton - together, what these ideas point to is a troubling origin of Jewish Identity.
At this point, it seems as though Dr. Said has found what he went looking for. It is his contention that the rock solid veracity of the Jewish Identity has often been an excuse for aggressive Zionism and oppression of the Palestinians - but since Freud's reading of biblical texts (which even Freud admits he plays fast and loose with) refutes the dynastic view of Jewish history and identity, it should no longer be used as a propaganda tool to further sanctify Israel's comportment. To alter an old hymn I used to sing as a boy, it is if Dr. Said is saying, 'Freud said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me'. Moses as Egyptian also cracks Jewish exclusivity, and would provide a basis for approaching Israeli/ Palestinian relations with a different mindset, one that might open doors for assimilation rather than separation. Without question, this is an admirable goal - unfortunately, the particular route Dr. Said has chosen to get there is just not credible.
There is more still to this story than what is contained in this little volume, but this is not the venue to explore it. A quick Google search of Edward Said Freud Museum will turn up some background information that may be of interest to some - I wonder if the back-story didn't influence Dr. Said into forcing his original ideas for the lecture into ill-fitting conclusions. That, to me, might explain some of the harried logic and pointedly bitter remarks about Israeli propaganda, but no matter - I'm ranging too far afield. Although Dr. Said's short essay certainly provides grist for the mill, ultimately his argument is unconvincing, even if his hopes for the region were always positive.
We can only wonder which of the two is a greater bombshell to Western Civilization--academic and cultural. Both are routinely ignored in the disciplines they impact virtually as if they have never been written.
With FREUD AND THE NON-EUROPEAN, the Master Edward Said does not reopen the can of worms Freud opened with his reminder that the foundation of Judaism is in ancient Egyptian monotheism (in polytheistic disguise), and as such ancient Egyptian culture. He reveals the fact that it has never been closed, as he goes down but one road of the book's unrefuted implications to courageously confront the possibilities of embracing it for the political future of the Semitic people of the Middle East--Israeli and Palestinian. If the Israeli and the Palestinian are one people after all, why exactly are the fighting? How does this color the meaning of an Israeli sate that excludes them? And what does it do to the soul of both sides in the process, when Cain is essentially fighting Abel, writ large?
MOSES AND MONOTHEISM only begins to upset the foundations of Western political thought here, as Said only hints at but does not go into deeply, away from his central thesis. The fact is, Freud, with this work, opened the floodgates that separate religious and cultural history from anthropology; Judaism/Jewish history from Egyptology; and traditional anthropology from its more heterodox twin and the heretical historians of science. There are innumerable volumes of work from unsung scientists and historians, linguists and anthropologists, proving Freud's thesis in a hundred different ways both more succinctly and more academically than he did, decades and centuries before he ever seriously thought of the social implications of the subject matter. The 19th century Godfrey Higgins' ANACALYPSIS; Gerald Massey's ANCIENT EGYPT THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD and A BOOK OF THE BEGINNINGS; dozens of others in and out of the four hundred year old scientific/historical discipline known as Metrology.... These works flow not from Freud, but into the world for many, inronically, through him. They flow through the intellectual heart of Freud's Achilles-like dip into the true river of intellectual invulnerability on this topic into the work of the often maligned but essentially unrefuted C.A. Diop, like THE AFRICAN ORIGIN OF CIVILIZATION; the maverick genius anthropologist from London Chris Knight, author of the amazing BLOOD RELATIONS, MENSTRUATION AND THE ORIGINS OF CULTURE; and every unearthing of sacred texts and their actual implications and contextual significance, from E.A. Wallis Budge's translation of the misnamed Egyptian BOOK OF THE DEAD and the PYRAMID TEXTS (see DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGION AND THOUGHT IN ANCIENT EGYPT, James Henry Breasted). Straight through to the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY's refutation of the overwhelming majority of orthodox Christian tradition and historical perspective. Indeed, with the re-establishment of Ancient Egypt being essentially an African society in modern cultural thought (which is, lest we forget, in northeast Africa; not unlike the Ancient Sudan [with even older pyramids], the Dogon or ancient Ethiopia), the very concepts of *race* when referring to Semitic people becomes such a firestorm that politics as it currently exists in the region can only inevitably be understood when taking it into PSYCHOLOGICAL if not socio-economic context.
The natives had been restless on the other side of the intellectual/cultural fence long before Freud acknowledged their existence. Freud simply made the avoidance of such such an issue of integrity for the modern Western intellectual that it cannot be ignored, without the selling of the Western soul.
Edward Said was never known for ignoring anything of substance in modern culture or intellectual life. And with friends like Noam Chomsky, who excoriates the hypocrisy of modern intelligentsia with reckless abandon before eating breakfast in the morning, he does not let you down here. Whether or not you hold on to preconceived notions about the current conflict in the Middle East among Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world, this book, and Freud's MOSES AND MONOTHEISM will wash away your rationalizations for doing so like moss on a dry rock on the beach hit by high tide. Said tells us unquestionably, as he had done all his life, that there are some things that must be discussed and debated, if language is to have any vaule at all, and our way of life is to make any sense. And he does so, as is his nature, with elegance, lucidity and unparalleled brilliance. This is Said's intellectual Satyagraha; he is a Gandhi for our modern minds.
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