Wednesday September 27, 2023, 7 pm Palestine time (7 pm Israel, 6 pm CET, 5 pm UK, 12 noon US Eastern)

Prof. Timothy Brennan (University of Minnesota)

Title: Criticism and Corporate Myth: Edward Said and the Media

Abstract: Said’s maneuvering within the media was the most skillful and least recognized of his accomplishments. There his literary training came most to the fore and the methods of the humanities showed their unique political powers. He took very seriously studies of corporate mind-management, media indoctrination, and the information industries, often citing the work of Herbert Schiller (“mind managers”), the Austrian economist Fritz Machlup (“information society”), Regis Debray (“mediocracy”) and the propaganda model put forth by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. If Covering Islam is usually considered his only sustained critique of the media, in fact he focused on digital fabulation throughout his career in essays, for example, on Walter Lippman, George Orwell, C. Wright Mills and Sean McBride, whose UNESCO report on the “new world information order” was particularly influential. His unifying idea was that U.S. intellectuals no longer commanded the public erudition, metaphysical authority, or aesthetic arbitration they enjoyed everywhere else in the world. By contrast, they had assumed the guise of anonymous technicians in the sciences or of soft news entertainers (Jon Stewart and Laura Ingram rather than Jurgen Habermas or Martha Nussbaum). He was not only a media theorist, of course, but a media celebrity; and he achieved this by creating a persona – that of the unaffiliated conscience, the defiant generalist who spoke not from faction or material interests but in pursuit of “the case.” Knowing a great deal about many unrelated things allowed him to make connections others missed, and the prejudice that the humanities, although high-minded, have no teeth played into his hands. He fashioned a new kind of authority by obliterating the credibility of “specialists.”

Biographical Sketch

Timothy Brennan’s essays on literature, cultural politics, intellectuals, and imperial culture have appeared in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Times Literary Supplement, New Left Review, Critical Inquiry, and the London Review of Books. He teaches humanities at the University of Minnesota, and is the author most recently of Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021) and Borrowed Light, Vol I: Vico, Hegel and the Colonies (Stanford, 2014). He is currently at work on the second volume of Borrowed Light: Imperial Form.