Conversations With Outstanding Americans: Edward Said
A Christian Palestinian born in Jerusalem, Professor Said is a passionate and influential voice in literary, musical, and political worlds. A prolific writer, he is known also for his courageous expression of unpopular views on the Middle East
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EXILE is one of the saddest fates. In premodern times, banishment was a particularly dreadful punishment since it not only meant years of aimless wandering away from family and familiar places, but also meant being a sort of permanent outcast.... During the 20th century, exile has been transformed from the exquisite, and sometimes exclusive, punishment of special individuals ... into a cruel punishment of whole communities and peoples, often the inadvertent result of impersonal forces such as war, famine, and disease....Skip to next paragraph
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There is a popular but wholly mistaken assumption that being exiled is to be totally cut off, isolated, hopelessly separated from your place of origin.... The fact is that, for most exiles, the difficulty consists ... in living with the many reminders that ... your home is not in fact so far away, and that the normal traffic of everyday contemporary life keeps you in constant but tantalizing and unfulfilled touch with the old place. The exile therefore exists in a median state, neither completely at one of the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old....
ONE task of the intellectual is the effort to break down the stereotypes and reductive categories that are so limiting to human thought and communication....
The construction of fictions like "East" and "West," to say nothing of racialist essences like subject races, Orientals, Aryans, Negroes, and the like, were what my books attempted to combat. Far from encouraging a sense of aggrieved primal innocence in countries which had suffered the ravages of colonialism, I stated repeatedly that mythical abstractions such as these were lies, as were the various rhetorics of blame they gave rise to; cultures are too intermingled, their contents and histories too interdependent and hybrid, for surgical separation into large and mostly ideological oppositions like Orient and Occident.
From the 1993 BBC Reith Lectures.
Reprinted as 'Representations of the Intellectual,' Vintage Press.
Edward Said Chronology
1935-1947: Born in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbiya to a prominent and wealthy Palestinian family. Father becomes US citizen after escaping Ottoman Turkish draft in Palestine in 1911; mother is half-Lebanese, born in Nazareth. Edward's early schooling is in Cairo and at St. Georges, an Anglican academy in Jerusalem. Saids leave for Cairo when Jewish forces take Talbiya, losing family home and business.
1948-51: Attends British-run Victoria College in Cairo during last years of King Farouk's reign. Summers in Lebanon. After "rowdy" spell, father sends him to Mount Hermon Academy in Massachusetts.
1952-57: Graduates from PrincetonUniversity. Phi Beta Kappa. Spends a year in Cairo giving piano recitals and concerts, but opts to study literature at Harvard.
1957-63: Focuses on new field of comparative literature; receives doctorate from Harvard where he wins Bowdoin Prize for work on Joseph Conrad; offered post at Columbia.
1963-70: Establishes himself as leading professor. Gains tenure. Begins writing on Middle East after Six-Day war in 1967. Visiting scholar at Harvard.
1970-76: Marries (second) wife, Mariam, starts a family that includes son, Wadie, and daughter, Najla. Wins the Lionel Trilling Award for his book, "Beginnings." Year as scholar in Beirut and fellowship at Stanford bring intellectual breakthrough leading to "Orientalism," his main theoretical work.
1977-82: Elected to board of Palestinian National Council. Acts briefly as Carter White House "back-channel" to Yasser Arafat. Achieves popular acclaim with "The Question of Palestine," and "Covering Islam."
1983-88: Becomes visiting professor at Yale and Johns Hopkins. Four books, one film, eight endowed lectures, including Cornell and Chicago. Seminal support of "two-state solution" for Palestine-Israel.
1988-92: Breaks with Yassar Arafat who backs Saddam Hussein in Gulf war. Writes book on classical music. Eight lectures, including Oxford, Stanford, Princeton. Made University Professor at Columbia. Calls Oslo peace accord a "sell out." Visits Jerusalem after 45-year "exile."
1993 to present: Eleven endowed lectures; seven books, including "Culture and Imperialism." Renounces "two-state" solution in favor of paradoxical "single state" with equal human, civil, political rights for all.