Edward Said’s Humanism and Democratic Criticism: Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and the Public Sphere in the Post-9/11 World
Edward Said’s revolutionary vision for the humanities proposes at once a radical and traditional role for the humanist, inspired by Vico’s notion of self-knowledge and supplemented by unrelenting self-criticism, underscoring in particular the role literary criticism and hermeneutics as a foundation for a broader role of critical inquiry extending into the public sphere. The capacity for self-criticism is not, in his view, necessarily disconnected from the whole of human experience, including the political and topical realms and those associated with the social sciences, especially when humanists open their own culture to criticism by studying cultures foreign to our own. Thus Said posits not only the usefulness, but indeed the indispensability of philology (exemplified by Eric Auerbach’s 'Mimesis' among other works) in the formation of the intellectual, who has a unique ability to analyze structures of power and discourse in a meaningful way, and who is in a position to act, not alone but in concert with like scholars, as an effective critic of other dominant narratives.
This paper will explore the implications of Said’s recovery of humanities for the academy in terms of interdisciplinarity and the framing of discourse in the public sphere, while reconsidering the relationship between the state and the university and how this relationship has evolved historically in the US.
Keywords: Humanism, Multiculturalism, Philology, Academy, Public Sphere, Democratic Criticism
Dr. Jonathan Walsh
Associate Professor of French, French Department, Wheaton College, Massachusetts
Montesquieu, Graffigny, Denon as well as Proust. Of particular interest to me are questions of interpretation and reception of early French fiction, and the role of international newsletters in the creation of the Republic of Letters and representations of national character. I teach courses on the Enlightenment, Francophone authors, and French cinema.