Remembering Edward Said


Makoto Sato’s Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said, made after the Columbia scholar’s death from leukemia in 2003, combines biography with contemporary reportage from the places Said at times called home. The once elegant Said family vacation home in the hills of Beirut, where he spent stretches of his youth, now greets Sato’s cameramen as a dilapidated postwar manse filled with rubble and Syrian workers, who yield a few dusty French-language adventure story paperbacks from its attic—traces of young Edward’s former presence. But as Sato’s crew travels between Lebanon, Manhattan, Egypt, Israel, and the Occupied Territories, a view emerges not just of the memories Said and his family have left behind, but of the ongoing struggles of the Palestinian people to whom Said devoted his political writings and advocacy. Though Out of Place uses quotations from Said’s writings to frame its chapters, the result is less a picture of Said himself than of the environments that shaped him.

Such a goal is achieved in Edward Said: The Last Interview, a film with a setup so simple it shouldn’t engage as deeply as it does. A feature-length, relatively informal interview with Said by Charles Glass, the work consists primarily of long, unbroken shots of Said talking—about his childhood education, the writing of Orientalism and its effects on Middle Eastern studies, his role as an intellectual who “explain[ed] Arabs to Americans and Americans to Arabs,” the convolutions of Palestinian politics, and teaching. Of this vocation, Said explains his methodology: “I try to trouble their minds.” Though physically weakened and near the end of his life, his discourse is sharp and incisive, creating a remarkably compelling self-portrait.

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