Thinking about Edward Said: Pages from a Memoir

Spivak, Gayatri C.

When I had contracted with the University of Massachusetts Press—in 1967 or 1968—to translate De la grammatologie, my editor sent me a copy of Edward Said’s “Abecedarium culturae: Structuralism, Absence,Writing” that had just appeared in TriQuarterly and was later included as a chapter
in Beginnings. It must have been 1971. Well, I read the piece. I had ordered Derrida off a catalogue, on impulse, not knowing his name, or anything about the French scene. It was a sort of self-help project, to which I still subscribe, shamefacedly. I have no general education, whereas Edward’s piece seemed to be incredibly knowledgeable in just that way. I read the piece carefully, made notes in the margin, and filed it.
1971. I was to meet Derrida for the first time later that year. I am looking at my notes on Edward’s article. Remember, I didn’t know him or know of him either. I was not under his spell, as I later would be, like anyone who met him. I was only a dogged translator learning on the job, a patient and transfixed reader. I noticed this American’s (nothing in the piece gave any other clue) impatient mistranslations. (It was much later that I would come to realize that this charming impatience was part of his signature.)


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Critical Inquiry

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English and Comparative Literature
University of Chicago Press
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March 13, 2015