Edward Said in a partial Places of Mind : A Life of Edward Said by Timothy Brennan.

Professor Brennan teaches humanities at the University of Minnesota and writes often about comparative literature and cultural theory. His most recent book before this was ''Borrowed Light : Vico Hegel, and the Colonies'' [2014]

The subtitle of timothy Brennan's new book, ''Places of Mind'' : A Life of Edward Said,'' is somewhat misleading. ''A Life'' implies an honest attempt at portraiture - a stab at wrestling a blood presence onto the page. In other words, a proper biography.

In his preface Brennan refers instead to his book as an ''intellectual biography,'' which is a subtly different animal. In this case, the result is a dry, dispiriting volume, one that frequently reads like doctoral dissertation.

It's an uninspired parsing of academic texts and agendas. What the large print giveth, the small print hath taketh away.

While at Harvard, Said tried to write a novel. He did complete a short story, but The New Yorker rejected it in 1965 and he didn't write fiction again for the next 25 years.

At Columbia, where he began teaching in 1963, Said was the best teacher many had ever seen. He was a walking liberal education. Woe to these, however, who were ill prepared.

In Columbia's student paper, a reporter wrote that Said commanded ''the telekinetic powers necessary to eject unwanted from his seminar rooms by sheer force of facial expression.''

He didn't believe in politicizing his classrooms, he said. He taught courses on Literature; Joseph Conrad, especially, was an endless fascination to him. Exile was the central knot of his being, yet he never taught on the Middle East.

Born in Jerusalem and educated in the United States at Ivy League schools, he was a debonair polymath, among our last true public intellectuals. The book that put him on the map ''Orientalism'' [1978], is a foundational work of post-colonial studies.

Veterans of the 1980s and '90s will recall that Said was omnipresent. An urbane spokesman for the Palestinian cause, he appeared on ''Nightline,'' Charlie Rose,'' the BBC and anywhere else he found a perch.

Said taught literature in Colombia. His lectures were forceful; so much so that attendees would approach afterward wanting to touch him. He wrote for elite and mass publications. He was a gifted pianist who sometimes played publicly, and he wrote music criticism for The nation.

He served as president of the Modern Language Association and played a vital role in the translation and publication in America of the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz's books, before Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988.

The flow of Said's personality helped make him who he was. He was seductive, ineluctably charming, impeccably dressed. ''Can you imagine a man,'' he was heard to say, ''too busy to go to his tailor?''

A gifted mimic, he seemed to have memorized the entirety of ''Monty Python.''. When he laughed, Christopher Hitchens wrote of him, ''it was if he was surrendering unconditionally to some guilty pleasure.''

Said was a member, from 1977 to 1991, of the Palestine National Council, a parliament in exile. He was heckled for being in the P.L.O. camp, for being close to Yasir Arafat until the two men fell out after the Oslo peace accord.

Said was threatened with assassination. His office was firebombed. ''Apart from the president of the Columbia,'' Brennan writes, ''only Said's office had bulletproof windows and a buzzer that would send a signal directly to campus security.

There has been so much good writing about Said's thinking and about his way in the world - in Christopher Hitchens ''Hitch-22,'' in essays.by friends and colleagues such as Tony Judt, Michael Wood and Tariq Ali, among others. -that perhaps my hopes for '' Places of mind'' were simply too high.

The World Students Society thanks review author Dwight Garner.


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