Problematizing the Exilic: Temporality and Historical Specificity

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

Several of Said's comments in Representations of the Intellectual portray the secular critic's liminal, exilic space as, for the most part, historically unsituated against specific moments of anti-imperialist struggle -- struggles whose contexts would seem to me distinct, non-interchangeable, and fundamentally discontinuous. In the following passage from Representations of the Intellectual, for example, Said seems to suggest that "exile" extends beyond the level of material, historical specificity:

While it is an actual condition, exile is also for my purposes a metaphorical condition. By that I mean that my diagnosis of the intellectual in exile derives from the social and political history of dislocation and migration with which I began this lecture, but is not limited to it (52)

Although "exile" surely involves more than geographic displacement (in After The Last Sky, for example, Said refers to "internal exile" (80)), doesn't removing its meaning from the "social and political history of dislocation and migration" somewhat overlook or discount the "actual condition" of exiled diaspora Palestinians? Shouldn't we be wary of a liminal category that, rather than engaging the material conditions of exile, instead portrays the exilic as a series of discursive, textual liminalities? My point is that any "metaphorical" (perhaps superstructural) notion of "exile" must be returned eventually to the material nexus of productive forces/relations of production that shape the exiled critic's place of origin. And yet at other points in Representations, and certainly in Politics of Dispossession, Said does in fact provide answers for these liabilities by illustrating how the secular intellectual emerges from differentiated historical moments. "Intellectuals are of their time," he argues in the opening Reith lecture (21). More convincing in my mind is the connection of the secular and the "temporal" that shapes Said's discussions of Zionism and the contemporary terrain of Egypt, Lebanon, and Beirut in Politics of Dispossession. In these "secular worlds," the contemporary, temporal transactions of everyday life belie the "universal" sedimentation of age-old religions.

Material adapted from a paper written for Neil Lazarus' Postcolonial Studies: CLR James and Edward W. Said, Brown University, 1997.

Postcolonial OV discourseov Edward Said