Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
  Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière  DEUTSCH | ENGLISH | FRANCAIS

Reflections on Exile

Edward Saïd (in memoriam)


[...] I do not want to be understood as suggesting that you have to be a member of a formerly colonized or disadvantaged minority group in order to do interesting and historically grounded literary scholarship. When such notions of insider privilege are advanced they have to be rejected out of hand as perpetuations of the exclusions one should always oppose, a sort of racism or nationalism by imitation, which [...] I have criticized both in supposedly privileged or "objective" observers like Naipaul and Orwell, both of them renowned for the transparency and "honesty" of their style, and in social insiders like Walter Lippmann. Like all style, "good" or transparent writing has to be demystified for its complicity with the power that allows it to be there, whether at the center or not.

Moreover, the study of literature is not abstract but is set irrecusably and unarguably within a culture whose historical situation influences, if it does not determine, a great deal of what we say and do. I have been using the phrase "historical experience" throughout because the words are neither technical nor esoteric but suggest an opening away from the formal and technical towards the lived, the contested, and the immediate, which in these essays I keep returning to again and again. Yes I am as aware as anyone that the dangers of an empty humanism are quite real, that simply asserting the virtues of classical or humanistic norms in the study of literature is to feed an agenda that is determined to weed out and possibly eliminate any mention of transnational experiences such as war, slavery, imperialism, poverty, and ignorance that have disfigured human history - and discredited the humanism that left responsibility for those evils to politicians and others. In a forthcoming book on humanism in America I hope to develop this idea and to affirm the continued relevance of humanism for our time. The point here, however, is that at present the study of literature has gone in two opposed and in my opinion ridiculously tendentious directions: one, into a professionalized and technologized jargon that bristles with strategies, techniques, privileges, and valorizations, many of them simply verbal or "postmodern" and hence lacking in engagement with the world, or two, into a lackluster, ostrich-like, and unreflective pseudo-healthiness that calls itself "traditional" scholarship. Historical experience, and in particular the experience of dislocation, exile, migration, and empire, therefore opens both of these approaches to the invigorating presence of a banished or forgotten reality which in the past two hundred years has dominated human existence in an enormous variety of ways. It is this general and particular experience that my own kind of criticism and scholarship [...] are trying to reclaim, understand, and situate.

Reproduced with the permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Ltd on behalf of Edward W. Said. Copyright (c) 2000 by Edward W. Said

Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu

For quotation purposes:
Edward Saïd (in memoriam): Reflections on Exile. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 20.11.2003     INST