James Panero, art critic and associate editor of The New Criterion, recently reviewed Edward Said’s Humanism and Democratic Criticism. He now makes this comparison between Said and Columbia assistant professor Joseph Massad, who stands accused of browbeating his students. (Venue: Armavirumque, weblog of The New Criterion.)
The difference between Professor Massad and Edward Said is one of intelligence. Said was brilliant at constructing political causes out of “humanistic practice.” His personality was informed by a sort of demotic form of nineteenth-century Romanticism. He relied on the claims of “otherness” in order to slide over the shallowness of his arguments. Joseph Massad, however, is rather more dimwitted than all that, but he does an (unintentional) service in exposing the underlying thuggishness of Saidian logic. The meandering rhetoric–let alone madness–of Massad’s personal manifesto, published on Columbia’s computers, should be cause alone for questioning his employment at a top university. His arguments are not meant to foster debate but crush debate by abnegating a student’s rights to a fair discussion. How can you debate a madman, or at least mad arguments? Professor Massad has taken away not just the freedom of speech but the freedom of discussion from students, all the while claiming that he (a tenure-track professor) is the beleaguered agent facing down intimidation (from powerless students).