Out of Place is, of course, the inescapable foil against which the first 100 or so pages of Places of Mind will be read – and found wanting. Said’s memoir is a forensic excavation of his young self and the circumstances that led to that permanent condition of “outsider”. He was pretty severe with that young self, so it feels somewhat de trop to have someone else piling in on it. I wonder, though, if Brennan’s harshness with the younger Edward was out of impatience to be once again in the company of the Said he knew – and loved.
“Over three unpromising decades,” Brennan writes, “Said kept the critical spirit alive… and gave it its warmest, kindest, angriest and most honest shape.” This, he suggests is part of what will keep literary and social criticism alive and relevant. This critical, generous and heartfelt biography will be a serious ally in the enterprise. The conversations continue.
The most compelling aspect of this biography is the account of Said’s childhood in Jerusalem and Cairo in the 1930s and 1940s, school and university in America, and ever deepening engagement in the Palestinian struggle after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Said wrote eloquently about this period in his autobiography Out of Place. Much of that book revolved around Said’s relationship with his austere, authoritarian father and his adoring, yet ambivalent, mother. Brennan completes the picture by showing how this formative period, and especially the first-hand experience of British colonialism and American imperialism, influenced Said’s later work