This essay examines the living affinity between two complex and charismatic writers, Jonathan Swift and Edward Said, in order to revitalize our understandings of both. Said’s career-long engagement with Swift took the form of a passionate amateurism that has a claim upon us at a moment when the humanities are being asked to justify themselves to opponents within and beyond the university. Reading Said’s humanism through Swift’s inhumane satire, this essay both analyzes and attempts a mode of literary engagement that operates “between the world and the archive,” where Said argued that “Swift lasts.” Beginning with Said’s 1982 polemic against the church of high theory, “Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, Community,” what follows demonstrates how Swift’s libertine wit, in its daring reconciliation of the human imagination with religious devotion and perhaps even divine power itself, inspired Said’s ideal of the secular intellectual.
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Helen Deutsch; Living at This Hour: Jonathan Swift, Edward Said, and the Profession of Literature. boundary 2 1 November 2019; 46 (4): 31–62. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-7859129
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