Several years after his death in the autumn of 2003, Edward Said, who had attained the rank of ‘University Professor’ at Columbia University, continues to elicit an equal measure of adulation and vitriolic criticism. Though university professors are a dime a dozen, the designation accorded to Said was unusual, reserved for about a dozen to twenty faculty who are deemed to have attained distinction without comparison; similarly, it is not often remembered that ‘Columbia University in the City of New York’ is the full title by which one of the most distinguished institutions of higher education in the United States wishes to be known. However controversial Said may have been, whether on account of his thesis on ‘Orientalism’, which is commonly believed to have given rise to both postcolonial studies and ‘colonial discourse analysis’, or as a consequence of his unflinching advocacy of the rights of Palestinians and his equally trenchant critique of the place of Zionism in American political and intellectual life, he was never anything less than Columbia University’s star attraction. Said, on his part, could never tear himself away from the university, or the city of New York; though he accepted visiting professorships at universities such as Harvard, or Johns Hopkins, where as a freshman in 1978 I first heard of him in hushed whispers, it is at ‘Columbia University in the City of New York’ that he put down roots. An urban intellectual to the core, Said was drawn to the liberal cosmopolitanism of New York, a city immortalised by Woody Allen among others as the cultural if angst-ridden home of American Jews. It is here that a Palestinian would display the imagination and daring to think of himself as the last German Jewish intellectual in the world.

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