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Reflections on Exile and Other Essays by Edward W. Said…
Except for the contextual "Introduction: Criticism and Exile" and the essay about Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" (in which he blames the latter for propagating a mentality of "Us Against Them"), the chronologically organized essays in Reflections on Exile were written between 1967 and 1998. Throughout the bulky collection (whose topics include Ernest Hemingway on bullfighting, Tarzan, the Egyptian belly-dancer Tahia Carioca, Moby-Dick, the "shamelessly pro-colonial renegade" V.S. Naipaul and autobiographical memoirs), there are numerous, sometimes repetitive, references to thinkers that were critical to the development of his thought: Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Georg Lukács, Friedrich Nietzsche, Giambattista Vico and, perhaps most important, Joseph Conrad. What remains striking is the agreement and growth of Said's standpoint over the years. Yet in his writings, as he explains in relation to what probably remains the first history of the "other," his most famous Orientalism (1978), he never believed in an Archimedean point that existed outside the contexts he was describing or the possibility "to devise and deploy an inclusive interpretive methodology that could hang free of the precisely concrete historical circumstances out of which Orientalism derived and from which it drew sustenance" (p. 300). For Said, inspired by the eighteenth century humanist Vico, concrete historical circumstances, especially those of dislocation, exile, migration and empire, were critical to any understanding of the past and present. As a result, he was disappointed with "post-modern" theory because it "reduced and in many instances eliminated the messier precincts of "life" and historical experience" (p. xviii). Alternatively, the fact that historians, often rightly, criticized Said's historical method (see for example: Mackenzie 1995 and Washbrook 1999) does not make his work less significant because at least he stirred up debate in an ever-since growingly important field of study: the relationship between West and non-West (especially Islam).
In 1991, Said was diagnosed with leukaemia and afterwards he stopped giving interviews. In September 2003, nonetheless, he made a final exception and for more than three days spoke about his life and work. The Last Interview begins with a Roland Barthes quote: "The only sort of interview that one could, if forced to, defend would be where the author is asked to articulate what he cannot write." Said's topics and arguments in the documentary obviously much overlap with his writings in Reflections on Exile, yet they gain force by his passionate and eloquent speech (even in response to a seemingly pre-arranged set of questions). Speaking about his illness, he makes clear his physical repulsion against giving up. Like his father, he was a compulsive worker, who just kept going without looking backwards. He seldom relaxed nor rested and always believed that with determination and will power things simply could be done. While the essays in Reflections on Exile mostly are "in the realm of the aesthetic" (p. xxxiv) rather than political, one third of The Last Interview concerns the Palestinian struggle, especially his differences with Arafat and critique of the Oslo agreement. What kept Said going during periods of most severe illness, he states, was his anger towards a picture of Sharon in his mind. Otherwise, he praises the civil initiatives voluntarily coming from within Palestinian society and, closely related, the growing resistance against Arafat's regime. He becomes particularly involved however when he speaks about his relationship with the musician Daniel Barenboim, who was born in Buenos Aires but grew up in Israel and freely performed in Palestine. According to Said, projects like these do not have a specific political message but are immensely important for providing an example of the possibility of fruitful Israeli-Palestinian relations (see also: Barenboim and Said 2002).
Reflections on Exile and Other Essays has 336 ratings and 20 reviews
As in the title essay, the widely admired “Reflections on Exile,” the fact of his own exile and the fate of the Palestinians have given both form and the force of intimacy to the questions Said has pursued. Taken together, these essays—from the famous to those that will surprise even Said’s most assiduous followers—afford rare insight into the formation of a critic and the development of an intellectual vocation. Said’s topics are many and diverse, from the movie heroics of Tarzan to the machismo of Ernest Hemingway to the shades of difference that divide Alexandria and Cairo. He offers major reconsiderations of writers and artists such as George Orwell, Giambattista Vico, Georg Lukacs, R. P. Blackmur, E. M. Cioran, Naguib Mahfouz, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Walter Lippman, Samuel Huntington, Antonio Gramsci, and Raymond Williams. Invigorating, edifying, acutely attentive to the vying pressures of personal and historical experience, his book is a source of immeasurable intellectual delight.
What is the role of the scholar, especially the literary critic, inside and outside modern academe? What does it mean to experience exile, or displacement, or to be "between worlds"? How may the Western world adequately represent that of Islam, and vice versa? How may one resist the fashionable postmodernist notion, annexed by neoconservatives, that history is over, and how may one instead interpret and contest the continuing narratives, marked in new ways, of long-standing ideologies such as nationalism and imperialism? Readers conversant with major works by Edward Said such as Orientalism (1978), The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983), and Culture and Imperialism (1993) will find these and other familiar themes reprised throughout this collection of forty-five essays published (except the final one) in books and periodicals from 1967 to 1998. All readers may wish to explore this collection alongside Said's memoir, Out of Place (1999). For relative newcomers to Said, who died in September 2003, the collection will serve as an ideal primer in the evolution of a critical position that established his international reputation—and gained him some fierce opponents—as a leading intellectual voice in the humanities.
Reflections on exile and other essays : Said, Edward W : …
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