Tomorrow — August 13, 2019 — is publication day for Dominique Eddé’s Edward Said: His Thoughts as a Novel, tr. Trista Selous and Ros Schwartz:
The title is surely a nod to Said’s own Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography; as Conrad was a long-time intellectual companion for Said, so Said was for Eddé. The book, or the chapters I’ve thus far read, is not particularly novelistic in form; it is part intellectual excavation, part memoir. Although it is mostly a portrait of the man and scholar, it does not shy from depicting his affair with the author.
I first met Edward in 1979. Our relationship – unfolding in two periods – is not the subject of this book. Nor will I leave it out. I shall refer to those of our exchanges and my memories that shed some kind of light on his life and work. There are many reasons why my attempts to write a book about him have failed in the last ten years. The most decisive of these reasons relates to the difficulty I felt – and still feel, but less so – in adjusting my voice. I do not want to betray us by offering up things that belong to us alone nor to hamper myself by censoring more than necessary the happiness and pain, extreme in both cases, that I owe to our relationship.
The narrative veers between a portrait of her relationship with Said, of Said, and of his work. She is often interesting and illuminating when she writes about the “island chain” of his writing, “in which Orientalism is the largest and most central. It is the one best known and developed, the most dense and inhabited. Innovative in its thinking and the most consequential. However, it does not necessarily contain the most subtle places, the most attractive corners of his thought.”
She was 18 years the younger, and mocks herself and how Said assessed her intelligence. Yet she also embraces his declarations that find her lesser. Structurally, the book is built less as a narrative and more around the idea of each individual chapter, as a series of essays.
There is something almost frighteningly intimate about Eddé’s critiques of Said’s work, by someone who intimately knew a non-public side of him, who is now talking about it in a way that isn’t veiled, as it was in her novel Kite. It is clear she is looking at him through her own particular experiences, and this makes her critique of his work simultaneously blurry and compelling.
There is not, that I could find, an excerpt available online. But you can read from Kite, Eddé’s novel (tr. Ros Schwartz), where Mali is herself, and Farid is Edward Said. According to this new book, Said had just read the proofs of Kite in the weeks before his death. “‘I was very moved’, came his voice down the line. ‘But you’re not cruel enough to me D. You’ve protected me. Your novel suffers from that. And you don’t understand, you haven’t written how much I loved you. Mali loves Farid more than he loves her. Farid isn’t me.’”
This was a book i wasn’t sure about when it came out..my first impression was that it was a little tacky to publish given their relationship- i’m not sure i could write a factual book and not a roman à clef (like she already did tho) about someone i was intimate with. But a really good friend was insistent that it was worth a shot and so i picked it up.
I’m really glad i read it (I read the French version and in fact recently re-read it)- her emotional/intellectual proximity to Said really has its own unique place. I felt like this book connected a lot of dots between his varied interests and where they all collide, it’s a really special kind of book.
I don’t think anyone else could have written it in Eddé’s way and in her style. My initial misgivings about it being tacky were totally unfounded. This book is really a gift for people interested in Said’s work.
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