Thanks to the British schools that the eminent Columbia University literary and cultural critic Said attended as a boy in Cairo, he learned more about 18th-century British property law than he did about the Islamic equivalent in his own part of the world. As an adult, he re-educated himself with a fierce intensity, although, as these 46 essays make clear, he now retains a certain affection for canonical figures and institutions, even as he celebrates an astounding range of learning. Said (Culture and Imperialism; Orientalism; Out of Place: A Memoir) views all of culture through the lens of "historical experience," emphasizing how feminism, ethnic and minority experience, and nationalism have broken tradition's grip on literature. Rather than put aside the canonical writers he was raised on, however, he "re-situates" them instead within their own histories. Given his keenly penetrating and original cast of mind, it is not surprising that Said's personal pantheon of heroes includes those who blur the line between criticism and creation, among them Foucault, Nietzsche, Gramsci, Barthes, Adorno and John Berger, not to mention pianist Glenn Gould, composer and conductor Pierre Boulez and filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo. But his greatest hero is Joseph Conrad, for Conrad found trouble everywhere; if there is savagery in Africa and Asia and Latin America, there is just as much in the great capitals of Europe. This wide-ranging and brilliant collection is a fitting tribute to one of our leading scholars, who has changed the way we look at Western culture.
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xile is Edward W. Said's political condition. A Palestinian who grew up in Egypt and the United States, and who has taught for the past 38 years at Columbia University, he has been a leading figure in the Palestinian struggle for nationhood. But of course there is no such nation as yet. Even when nationhood happens, Said is too resolutely opposed to all forms of national identity politics to be ever fully at home there. Exile is, then, more deeply, a condition of his mind, one that can be shared by all who resist the comfort of parochial loyalties, even when they live in the nation of their birth. For Said, exile means a critical distance from all cultural identities, a restless opposition to all orthodoxies -- both those of the colonizer and those of the colonized. Understood in this way, Said believes, exile, though painful, is also a morally valuable condition. In his new book, he twice quotes with approval Theodor Adorno's claim that ''it is part of morality not to be at home in one's home.''
Said is known primarily as a literary critic and theorist. The essays in ''Reflections on Exile,'' written between 1967 and the present, frequently deal with his familiar literary themes: the self-deceiving fictions promulgated by colonizers about the people they oppress; the resistance of the colonized; the social role of university education in literature and the humanities. But Said has all along been an immersed political thinker, for whom Palestine is a central intellectual theme as well as a focus for action. Although this collection does not include Said's directly political writings, his concern with Palestine is a thread running through many of the pieces, shaping their vision of culture and education. Said is also a serious pianist who writes insightfully about composers and other pianists; this interest, too, is amply represented, contributing to a sense of the author's complex personality.
For above all, the collection, much more than the sum of its parts, is the portrait of an exemplary intellectual life, in which rigor and clarity join with courage and commitment, and both with a rare kind of unswerving joy at the complex face of reality. The book has the characteristic flaws of such volumes: there is too much repetition, and one often gets the sense of skimming rapidly over the surface of an idea when one would prefer a more systematic development. Nonetheless, this is surely a major work, among the most provocative and cogent accounts of culture and the humanities that America has produced in recent years.
Said's essays have a remarkable unity of position, given their temporal range. They contain no major swervings, no apologias -- only a gradual maturing of his best insights, as they are applied to changing circumstances in politics and the academy. Central to all of them is Said's vision of cultures. Real cultures, he argues, are plural, diverse and dynamic. They contain movement and opposition. They also contain ample bases for communication across national and group boundary lines. Too often, however, these facts are obscured by political definitions of cultures as monolithic and static.
In a brilliant essay on Samuel Huntington's ''Clash of Civilizations,'' Said dissects Huntington's vision of a unitary ''Western civilization'' at odds with non-Western monoliths like ''Islamic civilization'' and ''Hindu civilization.'' He says this picture of the world is, first of all, false: each of the named entities contains tremendous internal diversity, the voices of many groups and individuals pursuing a wide range of goals. In addition to its falsity, the Huntington view is also, Said argues, pernicious. It tends to perpetuate a cold war mentality of Us Against Them, in which fixed differences of ideology constitute impenetrable barriers to generous imagination and sympathetic understanding. Say ''Us Against Them'' long enough, Said suggests, and it can quite well become true. Imagination and generosity are always in short supply anyway, and if you tell people that they can never hope to have friendly relations with that Other over there, efforts at friendship will very likely give way to defensive actions calculated to shore up ''our own'' values against the feared onslaught.
Said's work has long focused on formerly colonized people's struggles for justice and voice. And yet he is extremely critical of the politics of national identity even when put forward by the formerly oppressed. At first, he argues, identity politics may be a healthy type of resistance, a way of saying that we are here too, and we share a world with you that you have all too conveniently ignored. But after a struggle is successful, the identity can all too easily rigidify and become an excuse for discrimination and exclusion. Such a politics stands in the way of the ''benign globalism'' that Said finds ''in the environmental movement, in scientific cooperation, in the universal concern for human rights, in concepts of global thought that stress community and sharing over racial, gender or class dominance.''
Said is equally unhappy with the deterministic view that progress is impossible, and that power suffuses all our dealings in such a way that there is no room for generous recognition or free ethical choice. Among his persistent antagonists, therefore, is the philosopher of power Michel Foucault, in whose writings he finds the vision of ''terminal solitude'' enforced by an inexorable discipline. Said confesses puzzlement not only about how someone as brilliant as Foucault could have arrived at so ''impoverished'' a view of life but also about why so many of his readers have ''accepted it as anything more than an intensely private, deeply eccentric and insular version of history.''
In Said's view of culture, universities play a central role. That role, as he sees it, is basically Socratic: to unsettle and oppose, to test all orthodoxies, to offer routes by which young minds may travel from one culture to another and learn a valuable type of estrangement from their own. This role requires that the university itself should not be organized around ethnic or racial identity politics, but should seek to open the entire realm of culture to all. Thus Said, often linked with those who press for identity-based departments and courses in ethnic studies and women's studies, argues cogently that such programs, valuable in principle, go off the track when they become exclusionary in their turn, discouraging students from exploring cultures other than their own.
Said has consistently criticized deconstruction as effete, jargon-laden, unengaged with history. Good literary scholarship, he insists, should exhibit ''worldliness'' -- a knowing and unafraid attitude toward exploring the world we live in.'' Feminist criticism and the type of ''postcolonial'' criticism he inaugurated have promise; and yet, Said judges in some recent essays, they are all too frequently practiced in a nonworldly way, using a hermetic and ugly jargon and exhibiting a quietistic detachment from events that in effect capitulates to existing structures of power. Some will find this critique new and surprising; but it is utterly consistent with Said's vision of what scholarship can offer society, and with the lucidity and elegance of style his writings have always displayed.
IF there is a change in Said's thinking, it is perhaps a subtle shift toward greater hopefulness. In some of the earlier essays, Said describes the exile's life in ways reminiscent of the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius: it requires detaching oneself from all belonging and love of place, and adopting what Wallace Stevens called ''a mind of winter.'' The later essays find him stressing, with a very un-Stoic kind of exuberance, possibilities of ''generosity, and vision, and overcoming barriers,'' even suggesting that universal normative principles of justice can link human beings across divisions of nation and group. Said defines himself, ultimately, as a humanist, and announces that he is working on a book that will ''affirm the continued relevance of humanism for our time.'' I think this is a difference of emphasis more than a profound change, but it is exciting to see him affirm the idea that universal principles grounded in an understanding of common human capacities and problems have a radical potential as yet unrealized, spurring us to uphold justice and the bases of a flourishing life for all people.
Twice Said refers to a serious illness with possibly fatal consequences that has prompted him to think systematically about the course of his life. The diagnosis is first mentioned in an essay published in 1998. Since then, Said not only has produced this volume but has also completed an admired memoir and is at work on the forthcoming volume on humanism. I hope such productivity means that he has recovered his health. This collection is much too good to be a final statement.
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