The Rebirth of American Literary Theory and Criticism

Scholars Discuss Intellectual Origins and Turning Points.


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This is a book of interviews with these literary and cultural critics:

Intro: Harold Aram Veeser
Chapter 1: Stanley Fish
Chapter 2: Richard Macksey
Chapter 3: Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
Chapter 4: Vincent Leitch
Chapter 5: Walter Benn Michaels
Chapter 6: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Chapter 7: Jane Gallop
Chapter 8: Homi Bhabha
Chapter 9: W.J.T. Mitchell
Chapter 10: William Germano
Chapter 11: Steven Mailloux
Chapter 12: Wai Chee Dimock
Chapter 13: Rita Felski
Chapter 14: Kenneth W. Warren
Chapter 15: Cary Wolfe
Chapter 16: Martin Puchner
Chapter 17: Michael Bérubé
Chapter 18: Jeffrey Nealon
Afterword: Heather Love

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H. Aram Veeser has long been telling a compelling and essential story of academic charisma and the drama of ideas. In this landmark work, he goes further, talking to the theorists and letting us listen. It is a familiar question to ask, what is, or was, theory? This book goes further and asks, who created it, and where will they take it? No history of literary criticism will be complete without it.

— David Yaffe, Syracuse University, author of Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

The interviews at the heart of this book amount to a group portrait of an exceptional generation of literary theorists who collectively challenged and enriched how we read and teach. In the tradition of his groundbreaking work on the New Historicism and on Edward Said, H. Aram Veeser, a deft interviewer, takes us behind the scenes, illuminating the personalities and myriad forces that led these gifted critics to challenge the status quo. An invaluable contribution to scholarship as well as a fascinating series of brief intellectual biographies, it’s also a book that captures a vital moment in our culture.

— James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

Edward Said - The Charisma of Criticism


“At last, a critic has come along with the cunning, candor, and brilliance to pluck out the heart of the mystery of Edward Said.  A mesmerizing read—and unlikely to be surpassed.”

- James Shapiro, Columbia University


This insightful critical biography shows us an Edward Said we did not know. H. Aram Veeser brings forth not the Said of tabloid culture, or Said the remote philosopher, but the actual man, embedded in the politics of the Middle East but soaked in the values of the West and struggling to advance the best European ideas. Veeser shows the organic ties connecting his life, politics, and criticism.

Drawing on what he learned over 35 years as Said’s student and skeptical admirer, Veeser uses never-before-published interviews, debate transcripts, and photographs to discover a Said who had few inhibitions and loathed conventional routine. He stood for originality, loved unique ideas, wore marvelous clothes, and fought with molten fury. For twenty years he embraced and rejected, at the same time, not only the West, but also literary theory and the PLO. At last, his disgust with business-as-usual politics and criticism marooned him on the sidelines of both.

The candid tale of Said’s rise from elite academic precincts to the world stage transforms not only our understanding of Said—the man and the myth—but also our perception of how intellectuals can make their way in the world.

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"The late Edward Said is often pictured as a passionate fighter for radical causes. But in this provocative and eminently readable book, H. Aram Veeser reveals a Said who was far more divided than anyone thought."

— Gerald Graff, author of Clueless in Academe

"This is a brave book, written with gusto—a student from Edward Said’s early days at Columbia cuts through the myth and puts together the ‘real maestro,’ with respect, sympathy and meticulous attention to detail."

— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University

"Veeser has written an absolutely splendid hybrid of a book: part intellectual biography, part personal reminiscence, part homage, and part scholarly critique. As insouciant in its observations as Edward Said was in his person, Veeser’s book treats Said’s Princetonian polish as a central element of his thought and not simply as elegant haberdashery. Said’s outsized scholarly ambition and rhetorical cleverness are more than matched in Veeser’s pithy account by his unpredictability and penchant for self-contradiction, all of them hallmarks of the charismatic hero who refuses to play by the rules that govern common mortals. We desperately need just this sort of informed, critical, and yet balanced approach to our intellectual stars, rather than the hagiography so often demanded and supplied. Said, oppositional critic to the bitter end, deserves no less."

— Vincent P. Pecora, University of Utah

"Part biography, part memoir, part analysis and even part critique, Veeser's book is a fitting medium for addressing the life and work of a man whose achievements and aspirations far exceeded what could be contained in any one category or even series of categories. No one who knew Said will doubt the attribution of charisma—and those who didn't will get a good sense of it from this book. "

— David Simpson, University of California, Davis