Friday, November 20, 2015

Maxime Rodinson: “independent Marxist” & (pre-Saidian) French Orientalist

In the words of Gilbert Achcar (see below), “Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was the last survivor of an exceptional group of French Orientalists—in the pre-Saidian non-pejorative meaning of this term, i.e. scholars of Islam and the Arab world—who lived through most of the twentieth century and rose to fame in the 1960s, a decade that saw the emergence of an impressive contingent of French thinkers whose names loom large in the social sciences of our time. The group of brilliant Orientalists to which Rodinson belonged, and which included other luminaries such as Jacque Berque and Claude Cahen reclaimed the field of Arab and Islamic studies with impeccable erudition, scientific rigour, and a critical solidarity with the peoples they studies that made their writings largely free from the deficiencies of the colonial ‘Orientalism’ of yesteryear and their own time.”

I happen to be reading Maxime Rodinson’s work afresh after many years, having first been introduced to him by Professor Juan Campo when I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara. While I still have several of his works in English from that time, I recently picked up a new edition (Zed Books, 2015) of Marxism and the Muslim World (Foreword by Gilbert Achcar), originally published in 1979 (French ed., 1972). I thought some of (the younger among) you not familiar with his work might appreciate this list of books in English by Rodinson (most of these titles were published earlier in French):
  • The Arabs (London: Croom Helm, 1988)
  •  Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (London: Saqi Books, 1991) 
  • Europe and the Mystique of Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988) 
  • Islam and Capitalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973) 
  • Israel and the Arabs (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, revised ed., 1982) 
  • Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (New York: Anchor Foundation/Pathfinder, 1973) 
  • Marxism and the Muslim world (London: Zed Books, 2015) (1979)   
  • Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980) [I realize this biography is controversial in some quarters for transparent reasons, nonetheless, it remains a sympathetic portrait from an avowed Marxist.]
The Wikipedia entry on Rodinson is here. An interview with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) conducted by Joan Mandell and Joe Stork is here (as noted there, his parents died at Auschwitz in 1943).

On the various species of “Orientalism,” pre-Saidian and otherwise (including its role in ‘postcolonial’ and ‘subaltern’ studies), please see:

  • Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992). 
  • Bilgrami, Akeel. “Reflections on Edward Said,” the final three chapters from Bilgrami’s book, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
  • Chibber, Vivek. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (London: Verso, 2013).
  • Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2006). 
  • Rodinson, Maxime. Europe and the Mystique of Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1988). 
  • Said, Edward W. Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). 
  • Varisco, Daniel Martin. Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007).


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