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immigrant communities in the North/
West, but also in the South/East. In
another instance in Out of Place, Said
discloses concealing his command of
Arabic as a pupil at the Cairo School for
American Children. Eventually, he ends
up not feeling fully at home in the Arabic
language, despite its being his mother
tongue (Al-Ahram Weekly, February
12–18, 2004).
This process also points to the centrality
of concepts such as place, time, and
travel. The importance of places, no less
than time, in Said’s view, results from the
fact that “territory is the place that you do
it,” i.e., where one does things (Boundary
2, Spring 1993). Moreover, for him,
an uncompromised mode of thinking,
especially when political, keeps one
itinerant – a traveller. Travellers suspend
the claim of customary routine in order to
experience new rhythms and rituals. The
traveller – unlike the Sultan who must
guard one place and defend its frontiers
– traverses territory and thus abandons
lxed pos|l|ors a|| lre l|re. lerce,
The Urge to Recall Edward W. Said’s Thought
By Adania Shibli
Upon hi s death i n New York on
September 25, 2003, Edward W. Said
Was pra|sed as ar |rluerl|a| lreor|sl ard
a public intellectual. During his lifetime,
he produced a body of work – from
Orientalism (1978) to On Late Style
(posthumously, 2006) – that has retained
its resonance until today, in a variety of
le|ds ard areas Wor|dW|de.
Indeed, tributes to the late Said,
conferences and symposia held by
educational and cultural institutions
to discuss and explore his work, are
all a sign of his immense, continuing
s|gr|lcarce. l|s |deas rave ellecl|ve|y
caused paradigm shifts in the humanities
and the social sciences. However,
his ideas have also trespassed the
boundaries of academic discussions.
During the political revolts and upheavals
in several Arab countries, revolutionaries
turned his concepts into their slogans,
ard r|s Words rave ererged as gralll|
writings on the walls of Tunisian streets-
in-revolt. In so doing, revolutionaries
not only thwarted a regime but also
the possibility of Said’s thought being
treated as a “status quo,” as a frozen
understanding and as institutionalised
interpretations, through which he became
assoc|aled W|lr a spec|lc, lxed sel ol
concepts, as enacted by the authority
of academia and certain intellectual
One of the underlying endeavours
which can be traced throughout Said’s
corpus of work, and which remains
particularly relevant to today’s concerns,
be they political, social or economic,
is going beyond the logic of binary,
oppositional relations. Such relations
unfortunately have come to dominate
the understanding and analysis of social
relations and interactions. Its simplest
order of an I/Us, (whoever this might be)
against an Other, is what Said repeatedly
problematised and criticised. Throughout
this effort to go beyond dichotomies,
Said investigated concepts such as
knowl edge, power, representati on,
place, time, and travel. Given that
several of Said’s ideas are already
quite well-known, such as his critique of
Orientalism, or his investigation of the
relation between culture and imperialism,
the following recalls some of the less
celebrated, often more personal, of his
treatments of the above concepts.
To start with, one may recall what
Said writes in Out of Place (1999) about
himself, being a Palestinian and an
American, as well as his being in two
languages – Arabic and English – both
acting as his mother tongue and both
informing his own language in such a
way that he was never able to grasp
or to separate. This type of being can
be found more and more nowadays, as
the West/North has large non-Western
immigrant communities in its midst for
lre lrsl l|re |r r|slory. urder lrese
c|rcurslarces, as 3a|d roles, delr|l|ors
of cultures and societies have become
highly volatile, extremely contentious
rallers. Trese delr|l|ors srou|d oe
rod|led oy |roW|edges ol Wral 3a|d
names “counter-cultures”: an ensemble
of practices associated with various
kinds of outsiders, including not only
immigrants, but also the poor, artistic
bohemians, workers, and rebels. It is
also important to note here that Said,
via Fanon, has effectively argued for
a social consciousness in place of a
national consciousness, which, according
to him, is the reactive, atavistic assertion
of a separate colonial or native identity.
This urge to seek social consciousness
over national consciousness – evident
in his call for a one-state solution to
the question of Palestine/Israel – and
a rod|led delr|l|or ol ur|versa||sr,
dissociating it from imperialism.
Ot herwi se, as repercussi ons of
exclusion, there will result a split in the
self, especially amongst members of
Edward Said.
according to Said, deviating from already
known and assigned paths is an act of
liberation. It results in “fugitive moments
of freedom” (Out of Place, p. 24).
At the same time, spaces have a
multi-layered nature resulting from being
situated out of a place or inside it, and not
having a right to it or to its opposite, which
points to Said’s experience in relation
to Palestine: “the unreconciled duality I
lee| aooul lre p|ace [.| exerp||led |r
so many distorted lives, including mine
[…] its status as an admirable country
for them (but of course not for us)” (Out
of Place, p. 142).
On this occasion, Said goes on to
describe his family’s, especially his
father’s, reaction to the loss of Palestine, a
place the family would lose the possibility
to return to after its occupation in 1948 and
its re-designation as the state of Israel.
Said’s father, with the fall of Palestine,
seems to have resorted to playing cards.
Recalling sitting beside his father, a sort
of punishment for misbehaving, Said
|derl|les r|s lalrer's card p|ay|rg as a
dispiriting blankness; an act signifying
minimal emotional investment; a way to
subliminate anxieties; an escape from a
confrontation with reality, all requiring the
least words: Silence. Said thus concluded
lral a|| ol lr|s s|gr|les rolr|rg oul rerla|
and moral subordination, increasing the
sense of another’s authority over oneself.
As he watched his father play cards, Said
dissociated himself from the situation
by imagining. The imagination, for him,
works as a release from the authority of
others in reality.
So true power structures exist with
great destructive effects, several of which
Said himself has well exposed. Yet he
also sees opportunities and possibilities
to counter and modify them. Such
opportunities can be traced in Said’s
case even in the least seeming places,
behaviours, or emotions. Fragility, pain,
fear, and loneliness are all recurring
feelings in his early life, but also later,
when physical, namely his illness,
and sometimes, emotional weakness
characterised certain periods of his being.
Facing critique through disembodiment,
|agg|rg oer|rd, |o|ler|rg, ldgel|rg, or
biting nails, all surface in his life as means
of resistance against the powerful, be it
his father or educational institutions he
attended. The very techniques associated
with weakness, such as “failing” and
“misbehaving,” up to “stone throwing”
and “playing music” (the latter being
ao|e lo rove soreore so spec|lca||y
and wordlessly), could indeed help
foster what Said describes on a different
occasion as a spirit not of conformity but
of resistance; of individual agency rather
than of collective determinism, precisely
in situations of excessive authority and
domination, where one lacks the physical
poWer lo lgrl oac|.
To Said, forcing one to accept that
beyond what is being presented as an
abyss, about which we can do nothing,
is an apparatus for putting the potentially
critical mind to sleep. However, to risk
everylr|rg |r order lo ergage |r lrd|rg
a way, building a bridge, imaginatively
and critically, is what would put a halt to
passivity, to the sense of defeat, and to
Text is based on Shibli’s research
while conceptualising and curating
the symposium “A Journey of Ideas
Across: In Dialogue with Edward Said,”
to be held in Berlin, at the House
of Worl d Cul tures, October 31 to
November 2, 2013, http://www.hkw.
konferenz/veranstal tungen_83195/
veranstaltungsdetail_93111.php. As
part of the symposium, Dialogue Café-
Ramallah, in cooperation with A.M.
Qattan Foundation and the Goethe-
Institut Ramallah, will host a panel
discussion on November 2, 2013.