There is a video – tucked away somewhere deep in the attic of the internet – of me 15 years ago, convening an international conference on Edward Said’s book, Orientalism, at Columbia University. Said at that time was still with us. In this video, you can see me briefly introduce him (not that he needed any introduction on our campus) before he takes up the stage to share his very last thoughts on his groundbreaking masterpiece.
There is another video from just a few months ago, in September 2017, in which I was interviewed by a young colleague in Geneva offering my latest thoughts on the significance of Orientalism today. In between these two events I wrote and published my own book Post-Orientalism: Knowledge and Power in Time of Terror (2009).
These three dates – 2003, 2009, and 2017 – are very much typical of the temporal trajectory of critical thinkers of my generation and their enduring debt to Said and his magisterial text that turned an entire discipline of scholarship upside down and enabled a mode of thinking hitherto impossible to fathom in postcolonial thinking around the globe. In Orientalism, Said unleashed our tongue and unsheathed the sword of our critical thinking.
Orientalism hit the right note at the most momentous occasion when the postcolonial world at large most needed it – when the condition of coloniality needed a thematic and theoretical decoupling from the framing of capitalist modernity at large.