Rosen and Said

The excellent (but poorly advertised, on the Internet anyway) Boston Review is currently running “a review by Lawrence Rosen”: of Robert Irwin’s book on Said. I’ve “discussed the Said-Irwin thang before”: as something that pretty much all anthropologists should keep up on, given the way that Said has become so central to the canon. Lawrence Rosen — a student of Geertz from the Morocco phase — has had a distinguished career (although not very similar to his contemporary Paul Rabinow) worrying out the interpretive end of law and anthropology and the Middle East.

The thing that I like about Rosen’s review is that it charts a middle course between Said and Irwin. It is tempting to diss and dismiss both of thee authors since there seems to be so little middle ground between not only their arguments, but their more general sensibilities. I like Rosen’s willingness to point out the way that Said’s shortcomings can be understood as part of a larger ‘unfinished’ project rather than as errors that doom the enterprise from the start. Above all, it ends by shifting the discussion away from the narcissistic examination of the careers of Western scholars and back to the issue at hand — what must be done for Standard Average European scholars to understand the Standard Average Muslim?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

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