Edward Said’s Out of Place: An Anthropological Quest for Identity by Noha Khalaf PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Noha Khalaf   
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 04:40


Introduction  1

The Dilemma  of  Edward Said’s  Identity  2

‘Place’ versus ‘Non Place’ 5

Two Concepts of Culture: alienation versus identity  8

Past and Present : Memory and Identity  10

Dis-inventiong and Re-inventing the self : 12

Edward Said as the Exiled  Intellectual 12

Autobiography : A Universal and Didactic function An Anthropological Quest 14

A Contribution to the Universality of Palestinian Identity  15

Edward Said’s passage  as ‘flowing currents’ 16





The analysis  of Edward Said’s quest for identity,  through his book ‘Out of Place[1] has in fact stretched the intellectual  boundaries of  Palestinian Identity beyond its  geographical contours  towards some new kind of Palestinian humanist universalism,  a reflection of  the  all inclusive cosmopolitan ancient Levant,  hopefully generating new approaches to identity.


The importance I am giving to  Edward Said’s ‘passage’, both in its physical and philosophical connotation , is linked to my prolonged  interest in the question  of the role of individuals , their stories; the singular lonely voices, whose itinerary   cannot be stereotyped as  a typical case. These particular stories can be those of a worker, a peasant, a feudal lord,  a priest, a sheikh, a journalist, a housewife, through which one can reconstruct the history of a whole period. Such singular voices and fates , while appearing at first in opposition  with common trends, end up contributing to a better understanding of what is ‘common’ through emphasising the ‘exceptional’.


In fact, Edward Said’s upbringing, his life as a child and adolescent in Egypt, while appearing as unique and  singular at first sight, is typical of a large group of Palestinians, spread out in the major Arab cities during the first half of the 20th century, partially integrated in the life of these cities ,  and belonging, as was the case  in Egypt to  a larger circle coming from the Levant known as ‘Shawam’. These were mainly composed of merchants and professionals circulating within the confines of the Ottoman Empire trading or offering their services and  knowhow, as well as contributing in the founding of  more modern  institutions in Cairo and sometimes Beirut.  Concurrently, many Lebanese and various other Arab and Mediterranean communities had established themselves in the major northern cities of Palestine especially in the portal cities of  Haifa and Akka , which  had been part of the Beirut Sanjak at one time..

In Cairo, the larger community of Shawam composed of Syrians , Lebanese and Palestinians of both Muslim and Christian descent , compelled  some Palestinians into some kind of amnesia as to their cities of origin. Many had left their birth places due to poverty, family feuds, ottoman repression or simply because of greater work opportunities in these major cities.

If  Zionist apologists  attempt  to use these cases to show that Palestinians can be integrated in other countries; as further proof for their perpetual attempt at getting rid of the main  ‘refugee’ problem by denying them the right of return, then, the task of raking one’s memories as far back as one can go, and  the reconstruction of family ties between the different members of extended Palestinian families in the Diaspora with the vestiges of  those who remained in Palestine, and even going further back, whenever sources allow, to reconstruct the ‘whole’ past, is  a  necessary  burden to be undertaken  by  intellectuals , to disprove the Zionist myth  ‘From Time Immemorial’[2] by filling in all the blanks,  even if it implies revealing the flaws in their own history. 


                 The Dilemma  of  Edward Said’s  Identity


 I have retained this unsettled sense of many identities-mostly in conflict with each other –all of my life, together with an acute memory of the despairing  feeling that I wish we  could have been all Arab, or all European and American , or all Orthodox Christian, or all Muslim, or all Egyptian, and so on.

 I found  I had two alternatives with which to counter  what in effect was the process of challenge , recognition, and exposure, questions and remarks like « What are you ? » « But Said is an Arab name »; « You’re American » ; « you’re American without an American name ? and you’ve never been to America ? » ; « You don’t look American » ; «  How come you were born in Jerusalem and you live here ? » ;  « you’re Arab after all, but what kind are you ?  A Protestant ? ».. I do not remember that any of the answers I gave out loud to such probing  were  satisfactory or even memorable. My alternatives were  hatched entirely on my own : one might work say at school, but not in church  or on the street with friends.

The second of my alternatives was even less successful  than the first : .It was to open myself to the deeply disorganised state of my real history and origins as I gleaned them in bits, and then to try to construct them  into order.[3]


The sincerity of Edward Said’s revelations and confessions  in his memoirs about his sensing of ‘conflicting identities’ which he fails to reconcile due to his incapacity to deal with, what seems to be, inherently ‘unreconciliable’ elements,  stands out  in striking contrast with the way he tackles the  question of identity and culture throughout his scholarly achievements.

It is this apparent contradiction between two different approaches to the question of ‘identity’ and  consequently of ‘culture’, which is one of the main components of identity, that constitute the central hypothesis of  this paper, namely: that Edward Said, through his autobiography Out of Place, has produced a major contribution to the thorny anthropological question of ‘identity’ in general and of ‘palestinian identity’ in particular.

Despite the ‘semblant’ of a naïve attempt on the part of the author to simply reminisce about his early years as he puts it: “partly  because I wanted my  children to know about them, partly because  I thought that that life in those days was so different from today and far too little known”, what Edward Said has in fact achieved, through  his “memoirs”, whether consciously or unconsciously,  is a symbolic completion , a sort of wrapping up, of all his major  scholarly contributions, in one final   draw.

What therefore appears at first as an atypical contribution to  his intellectual parcours, a book that does not fit, or that is not really in line with his major scholarly achievements such as ‘Orientalism’,   reveals itself as relevant material   for further analysis and interpretation  since as Umberto Eco puts it , it is a text with many blank spaces that need to be filled:


A  text is  therefore a tissue of blank spaces , of interstices to be filled , and the one who wrote it foresaw that they shall be filled and has left them blank for two reasons . First because a text is a lazy or (economic) mechanism which lives on the extra value of meaning introduced by the  receiver(..) also because a text needs someone to make it function.[4]


That is the role which an author designs(foresees) for his  often unknown

‘ destinataire’ i.e: the reader to whom the message was destined.


A text is a product, the interpretive fate of which, is part and parcel of its own

 generative mechanism : to generate a text signifies  putting in action a strategy  which includes the previsions of the movements of others , as in all strategies.[5]


So the question raised by the author of an autobiography is dual : added to the interrogation ‘what did I want to do with this text’, is the question  ‘What are they going to do with the text that I have written ?

The first question that comes to mind, on reading “Out of Place” is : How come that an intellectual who has achieved so much fame and renown , who has contributed so much to the concept of culture, who has fulfilled his role as an intellectual and a literary critic,   should be interested in recounting the boring details of his early life in Egypt’s early 20th century aristocratic suburbs and high schools?

 In fact, Said was allowing himself to do what he had never done before , in a manner resembling the one adopted by Jean Jacques  Rousseau and expressed in his introduction to the  “Manuscrit de Neufchatel’, which is referred to as a model of the ‘genre autobiographique’:


It is my portrait that is concerned here and not some book….

I shall  therefore resign myself  to the inevitability of  style, of  things, I shall not limit myself to render them uniform ; I shall  always take   whatever comes to me, I shall change depending on my humour  without any scruples, I shall say things exactly as I feel them, as I see them, without research, without discomfort, without being embarassed  by the  mixture of colours…My style, uneven and natural, sometimes rapid and diffused, sometimes wise , sometimes mad, sometimes happy, and sometimes sad shall be a part of  my story.[6]


In fact , the parallel with Rousseau’s confessions, is not coincidental, since Said does mention  later in his article on ‘The Hazards of Publishing a Memoir’,

 that memoirs in the Arabic tradition  tend either to be political, educational or religious:

‘such as  Al Ghazali’s, Al Munqith min al Dalal”;As such they are less revelatory than private, they tell stories to protect reputations and sacred institutions like parents , teachers, schools and religion. The kind of often disturbing confessions one finds, say in Rousseau or John Stuart Mill- to name  two of the famous memorialists in the  West is never encountered in the Arabic tradition to my knowledge. By contrast my memoir was  exremely open about matters that are usually left unspoken….One of my favourite books  Taha Hussein’s al Ayyam, for example,   is a wonderful instance of growing  up intellectually and through education. The family is treated with reverence if not piety, and schools are places of real education. In my case all the schools I went to were dreadful colonial establishments, I learned very little and my own career there was short of distasteful.’


Stating that analogy between his memoirs and that of other writers, shows that Said was consciously promoting Out of Place as an invaluable contribution to the literary genre known as ‘literature of the self’ or ‘to the history of confessions’.


Writing his memoirs was therefore, in my’ opinion , above all an anthropological quest into  that thorny concept of ‘identity’, and as Miraux puts it:


What the autobiographical author is looking for when he decides to write, is the origin of the self, that essential little moment which has programmed  his personality and put to play his becoming. Above all, the writer of an autobiography is the author of origins.  [7]                              


Undertaking the writing of the story of his life , his own ‘microstoria’ was for Edward Said a way of taking some distance away from the “world of knowledge” the world that Said had built for himself as an intellectual, by  plunging back and drowning himself in the ‘world of life’.

According to the French philosopher Leca, “we belong as individuals to two worlds” and  the problem in the ‘world of life’ is to ‘justify one’s self in  a particular position, in one’s culture and its particularities’ , while in the other world , ‘the world of theory’, the problem lies in ‘explaining a mechanism’.

Leca further adds:


In order to subject the concept of identity to a pertinent analysis, it is first necessary to break it down into two of its  main constitutive concepts: ‘Place’and ‘Culture’


                                 Place’ versus ‘Non Place’


In fact the central idea of Said’s autobiography rests on  a typical anthropological concept ; that of ‘place’(lieu) and its opposite which is referred to in French Anthropology as ‘non place’ (non lieu)

Marc Augé,  a famous French anthropologist consecrated two of his main works on these concepts.

For him ‘anthropological places’ (lieux anthropologiques) have at least three common characteristics. They are attributes of identity (identitaire), they are relational, and historical..They are first constitutive of identity, since to be born means  to be born somewhere, and to be assigned residence there, which is constitutive of individual identity . Second , they are relational, since two elements cannot occupy the same space at the same time, but can rather be next to each other, and in relation with each other, third they are historical, since they are places to be remembered and spaces of stability and continuity.

The anthropological space is therefore spatial and social, spatial because it is geometric and is constituted of itineraries, intersections and centers, whereas the ‘non place’ according to Augé, is a product of modernity,  a place of exile and exclusion and is neither identity forming, nor is it relational, or historical.[8]


Out of Place reveals somehow the anthropology of displacement and alienation which has devastated Palestinian society and fragmented  communities  which  were previously cohesive,  transferring them into ‘non places’ and therefore transforming them into uprooted senseless dispersed entities. This existential fragmentation, alienation and loneliness has also hit the bourgeois members of the Palestinian Diaspora, who tried to hide their refugee status in order to integrate the lifestyle of  the established Arab bourgeoisie of major Arab cities and who even vied to compete with them and supersede them, in commerce, professions, and education. .

The silence about  what happened is further proof of the magnitude of dislocation which compelled members of Said’s family, as well as  a great number of bourgeois families to amnesic reactions, according to Edward Said:


What overcomes me now is the scale of dislocation  our family and friends experienced  and of which I was a scarcely conscious, essentially unknowing witness in 1948. As a boy of twelve and a half in Cairo, I often saw the sadness and destitution the faces and lives of people, I had formerly known as ordinary middle-class people in Palestine , but I could’nt really  comprehend the tragedy that had befallen them nor could I piece together all the different  narrative fragments to  understand what had really happened in Palestine………..

 All of us seemed to have given up on Palestine as a place , never to be returned to, barely mentioned, missed silently and pathetically. [9]


 ‘Exile’ is the term use by Edward Said to express the state of being Out of Place.
For him, exile is not only the fate of whole communities , but almost  a permanent state for a large category of intellectuals :


Exile is one of the saddest fates .In pre-modern times , banishment as punishment was ever so more severe , not only because  it meant years of ‘ errance’ wandering” far from family and familiar places, but also a sort of permanent exclusion  that condemned the exiled, wherever he went, to feel  a stranger, always at fault, unconsolable about his past, sour about his present and future.


There has always been some kind of rapport between the menace of exile and being a leper,  as a sort of moral and social pariah status. Starting as a kind of refined sometimes exclusive punishment, inflicted on exceptional individuals -such as the great Latin poet Ovide,  expulsed from home  towards a far away city of the Black sea-

Exile became in the twentieth century a cruel test for whole communities and peoples, often as an unvoluntary result of situations such as wars, famine and epidemics.[10]



 Edward Said’s lamentations on his conflicting identities in real life, the deep sorrow and wounds that he experienced due to his ‘incapacity’ to deal with his ambiguous identity during childhood and throughout ‘the world of life’, are later extended to his status of the exiled intellectual.

It seems therefore possible to say  that the solitude, alienation and later on, exile that he had to put up with throughout his life have been  paradoxically the driving force behind his major contributions on the question of identity.

After explaining the dire and painful effects of real ‘geographical exile’, Edward Said then attempts to add  his own metaphysical meaning to exile:


To start, with exile is not only a real condition , it is also  in my own  propos , metaphoric. I mean by that  if my diagnosis of  the individual in exile is  well founded  in  a social and political history of dislocation and migration, it is not however limited to that. Even intellectuals  who are full fledged members of  a society, can in a certain way be divided into two groups “those who are “ and “those who are not”: on one hand those who belong  fully to the society as it is, who can thrive in it,  without suffering from any kind of antagonistic or discordant feeling and whom we can call the Beni oui-oui, the yes men; and on the other hand,  those who say no, individuals in opposition with their society, outsiders and exiled when it comes to privileges, power and honors. The condition of exile is exemplary of the status of the intellectual as ‘outsider’, to never be in harmony (en phase)to feel always exterior to the secure world and familiar world of indigens, in brief to  force himself to  avoid and even loathe the traps of  adaptation and national well being. Metaphysically speaking, exile is for the intellectual a state of anxiety, a movement whereby constantly destabilised, he destabilises others.

Just as returning back  and regaining the stability of his ‘home’ is  an impossibility, he cannot, unfortunately, recognise himself in his new country.


What is extremely revealing here is Edward’s admitting   unconsciously, by some slip of the tongue (or the pen), that an exiled intellectual might start to take pleasure in his pain, that is in ‘lamenting’ himself:


It happens,  however, - and I am  surprised to find myself making this remark-  that the exiled intellectual starts to take pleasure in his pain, in such away that a feeling of frustration  to the extent of pathology,  a kind of unremediable (untreatable) malaise transforms itself not only in a style of thinking  but also in a full-fledged place of existence, even if provisional. A kind of  angry Thersite.[11]


            Two Concepts of Culture: alienation versus identity


Since it is the aim of this paper to analyse the importance of Edward Said’s  Out of Place in as far as it  contributes to an understanding of the multifaceted nature and  complexities  inherent in the concept of ‘Identity’ and its corollary ‘culture’, both in their universal and theoretical dimensions, as well as in their  ‘specificities’, it is therefore necessary to examine Saiid’s conception of ‘culture’ without which it would be impossible to reach  a  comprehensive understanding of the dilemma inherent in the study of  Palestinian identity.  .

In the ‘world of knowledge’, Said sees the necessity of cultures as  being all inclusive of ‘otherness’.  In Culture and Imperialism, he notes: the necessity of cultures to include ‘otherness’(alterities):


Each culture defined as national, carries with it, I am sure, an aspiration to sovereignty and domination.

At the same time and paradoxically, we have never better witnessed how much historical and cultural realities  are so well strangely mixed, and how they participate from a multiplicity of often contradictory experiences and domains, which cross over national frontiers, and defy the police logic(logique policière) of simplistic dogmatism and patriotic vociferation.

Far from being nomadic entities, monolithic and autonomous, cultures in fact integrate more foreign elements , alterities, and differences than those it consciously rejects.[12]


 Despite Said’s  intellectual conviction in “the world of knowledge” that hybrid cultures which are not exclusive  of  others, are the solution to ongoing conflicts, yet, he  felt that ‘in the world of life’ things would have been simpler had he been ‘all arab’ or ‘all american’, avoiding the difficult harsh task of reconciling between conflicting identities….

The gap between both worlds could only be bridged through writing an autobiography

which would not   function  simply as a bridge between both worlds, but also as a link between past, present and future.


Moreover, the originality and  pertinence of Edward Said’s  contribution  emerges from the fact that he has managed by some kind of ‘practical wisdom’  to put  both the ‘world of life’ and ‘the world of knowledge’  to optimal use  for our understanding of the concept of identity, while not allowing one to infringe upon the other.

 In Out of Place, Edward Said relinquishes his roles of scholar, critic and intellectual, the roles that he has been accustomed to play, and places ‘Edward’, the character and the man, as an invaluable anthropological object of study.


 It is therefore the contention of this research that the  process of finalising his contribution  to the thorny question of  identity could not have been completed  had  Edward Said  not ventured to  write Out of Place, since it is only through a series of perhaps unconscious though logically consecutive steps, that Edward Said like a master archeologist, managed to uproot out one by one the thick layers of his compound  ‘invented’ self ,  till he reached the bottom of the dig, where he found lying there waiting , the invented ‘Edward’ of his formative years.


And thus I became “Edward”, a creation of my parents whose daily travails a quite different but quite dormant inner self was able to observe , though most of the time was powerless to help. “Edward”was principally the son, then the brother, then finally the boy who went to school and unsuccessfully tried to follow(or ignore and circumvent) all the rules “.

 His creation was made necessary by the fact that his parents were  themselves self creations :

“Two Palestinians with dramatically different backgrounds  and temperaments living in colonial  Cairo as members of a Christian minority within a large pond of minorities, with only each other for support, without any precedent  for what they were doing except an odd combination of prewar Palestinian habit; American lore picked up  at random in books and magazines  and from my father’s decade in the United States(my mother did not even visit the States until 1948); the missionaries influence, incomplete and hence eccentric schooling ; British colonial attitudes that represented both the lords  and the general kind of “humankind” they ruled; and finally , the style of life my parents perceived  around them in Egypt and which they tried to adapt to their social circumstances. Could Edward’s position ever be anything but out of place?”[13]      

 Through a harsh process of what I would call ‘dis-inventing’ himself, Edward Said started off by demystifying the ideological superstructure of his ‘invented self’. Through his major scholarly work ‘Orientalism,
[14] he managed to uproot the essence of colonial hegemonic ideology, which had obviously been the cause of his as well as his parents’ cultural ‘alienation’  and later stretched it out to demystify the hegemonic role of imperialism over culture in Culture and Imperialism,[15] thereby detecting  the concept of ‘culture’ as the essence of the problem.

Through his major intellectual achievements such as Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, he managed therefore to  replace the ‘Edward’ of his parent’s creation, a hybrid  of ‘colonial type’ culture  by ‘Edward’, the exiled intellectual, freed of the chains of  a constant place  and of a monolithic culture.

Once the essence of the problem was detected, then the search for the solution started and could only be found  in the potential  historical role  that intellectuals are to play, and so Edward Said proceeded  with his writings on the representations of the intellectual. But what happens then when the intellectuals themselves are either co-opted, exiled or  marginalised ??


It is, I believe, only after  achieving Out of Place, by reaching out for the origins of himself and putting the bits and pieces together, that Edward Said was  able  to get rid of the burden of the past,


                 Past and Present : Memory and Identity


In his book on Culture and Imperialism , Edward Said  of the ‘world of knowledge’

speaks of  his conception of  the relation between past and present:


One of the most current strategies to interpret the present is by invoking the past , not only because we are in disagreement with what happened then, with what was the past , but because we ask ourselves whether the past was really past, dead and buried, or whether it is continuing, under a different form perhaps, : that is of the resort of multiple debates –about the influences, the judgements, and the blames, the present realities and the future.[16]


Later, in  Out of Place , he expresses his indignation at his parents silence about the past:


It seems inexplicable to me now that having dominated our lives for generations , the problem of Palestine and its tragic loss , which affected virtually everyone we knew , deeply changing our world,  should have been so relatively repressed, undiscussed or even remarked on by my parents. Palestine was where they were born and grew up , even though their life in Egypt(and more frequently in Lebanon) provided a new setting for them.[17]



Was Edward unconsciously , while revealing his mute past, trying to say something about the present?

Was he trying to liberate himself from the past by waking up what Lucien Febvre calls “the sleeping princess”:


“History must stop appearing like a sleeping nécropole, where only shadows devoid of substance pass.  You must enter the old silent palace where it remains dormant, you must penetrate animated by the srtuggle , covered by the dust of combat, and the coagulated blood of the vanquished monster, and opening wide the  windows, reanimating the lights, remembering the sounds, wake  from your own life, your young and warm life, the sleeping princess.”[18]


Waking up the sleeping princess, can however be hazardous and that is what Edward himself realised in his article written four years after the publication of ‘Out of Place’,  entitled“ The Hazards of Publishing a Memoir” , where he  attempts  to situate  the proceedings of his own life in parallel with the development of major events in the Middle East:


My early life was spent between Palestine before 1947, Cairo before the 1952 Free Officer’s revolution, and Lebanon before the civil war of 1975-1990 . It had always been in my mind  at some point to try to set down my memories of those now lost or forgotten worlds, partly because I wanted my children to know about them , partly because I thought that life in those days was so different from today and far too little

Known .I speak here of everyday life among everyday people, not the lives of great leaders, or prominent writers and intellectuals.[19]


      He then reveals clearly how the past is a necessary link to the present:

Speaking therefore of the past he says:


“(it) would be a welcome relief, as well as a discipline to prop me up, during the unpleasantness of the present”, he further reiterates “Writing about that distant past, therefore, was like a defence against the  depradations of the present”



           Dis-inventiong and Re-inventing the self :

           Edward Said as the Exiled  Intellectual


Edward Said, through some form of ‘practical wisdom’ arrived to the conclusion that human experience(the world of life) can be interpreted  and consecutively freed from ‘doctrinal or national lines of thought’, and this by subjecting them to the world of knowledge, the latter being reached only through the ‘intellectual profession’ :

Let us start by admitting that if human experience has an irreductible subjective core,  it is also of a historically earthly(non divine) order, susceptible of being analysed, and interpreted, and most importantly it is neither consumed, nor limited by doctrinal or national lines of thought, nor emprisoned once and for all in theoretical constructions .  If we believe with Gramsci that an intellectual profession  is socially possible and desirable , it is an inadmissible contradiction to build analyses of history around exclusions. The problem with theories of essentialism, of exclusiveness , with encampments and walls , is that it engenders polarisations better equipped to absolve ignorance and demagogy than to further the possibility of knowledge.[20]


In his  work ‘The Representation of the Intellectual’, Edward’s ‘ lamentations’ about himself  assume another shape: they are related to his fate as the exiled intellectual and not simply as the little Edward who felt that:


 “there was always something wrong with how I was invented  and meant to fit in the world of my parents and four sisters .Whether it was because I constantly misread my part or because of some deep flow in my being I could not tell,  for most of my early life. Sometimes I was intransigent and proud of it. At other times I seemed to myself  to be nearly  devoid of any character at all, timid, uncertain, without will.[21]



Later in his work about intellectuals Edward Said provides his own interesting definition of the intellectual:


An intellectual resembles a drowning man  who in  a way learns to live with a country not over a country.  Not as a Robinson Crusoe whose aim is to colonise the little island, but as a Marco Polo, guided by  a sense of the marvellous: not as a conqueror or plunderer  but rather as an eternal traveller and provisional visitor.


Edward Said’s contributions to ‘ the world of knowledge’ , his constant role as critic, as  polemist and as someone who transgresses all frontiers makes of him the ideal intellectual  traveller between different cultures and identities, and  he seems to fit almost perfectly with the definition that Etienne Balibar, a renowned French philosopher, has given of  the role of the model intellectual.


Balibar, attempting to anlyse  the role of intellectuals in the actual world crisis which opposes cultures and civilisations, denounces the temptation of intellectuals to remain apolitical and considers a modern  ideal intellectual  as that of the “travelling intellectual”.

Balibar in fact pleads “in favour of the right  and duty of  intellectuals to debate publicly of  the urgencies of politics, with their own arms, while rejecting all temptation to ‘apolitism’.


He considers that one of the added causes  to the temptation  to be apolitical is:


 “the malaise that they  (the intellectuels) feel with regard to their own cultural identity,  and the difficulty they find in  defining  a “place’’ for themselves and therefore a “position” from which they can speak and write and which could permit them in the final analysis to cooperate. My conviction  now, more than ever, is that this place  is that of the ‘people of travel”, those who displace themselves as much in body as well as in spirit,  taking into account  primarily the trans-nationalisation of culture which is assuredly the contrary of uniformity”


After criticising some of  Foucault’s conceptions of the role of  intellectuals, he adds:


“Our singularity, as well as our universality are called upon to adopt more complex figures: intermediary, dialogic and even transferential forms.

He finally adds “It is in order to look for these figures that we must expose ourselves  without reserve, to the hazards and the risks of conjuncture, which excludes by definition all pre-established certainties.[22]


Exile, seems to have  inspired Edward’s continuous rage for writing at first, thereby substituting the “world of intellect” for the “world of a lost home”:

 Adorno, whose ideas Edward quotes as exemplifying  the perfect significance of   exile,says:                                    


“the home belongs to the past, (…) the best conduct facing all that, seems to adopt  an attitude of non-engagement, in suspense… this is part of the morality of not feeling at home even in his own home” ...             for a man who has no more  homeland,  writing becomes a place for   living”.


Adorno, however while inciting an intellectual who feels out of home to make of writing his own home, ends up prohibiting the intellectual  from any form of relaxation away from rigorous writing. Edward quotes him as saying:


The necessity where we are to harden up against the indulgence towards oneself implies  the technical obligation  to counter any relaxation of  intellectual tension    

with the utmost vigilance, and to eliminate all that has burdened work (or writing) and invaded it,  vainly all  such chatter has maybe contributed at an earlier stage , to create an atmosphere that has warmed our growing up ,but at present it is a stale residue without relief. In the final analysis the author has no right to inhibit his own writing.[23]


Edward Said seems to have finally decided to ignore and counter Adorno’s advice on that point, and to let himself indulge towards his own self, by setting his soul free to inhibit his own writing through ‘ Out of Place ‘, making of it the only place where he really belonged.                                                     



Autobiography : A Universal and Didactic function                                                                                    An Anthropological Quest




The  relevance of Said’s autobiography Out of Place, fulfils a double purpose : not only does it reveal the originality of the history of the man himself, but it also contributes to our understanding of the « universal and didactic » function of autobiographies as an anthropological and historical quest.


Finally, Edward , shall remain as the hero of his own autobiography, not only as a literary critic, a thinker and a writer but as a multifaceted  character popping out of some novel or play, since autobiographies and novels have common characteristics,  and this is what Edward Said the intellectual and literary critic , probably knew all along, since  according to Northrop Frye :


 The autobiography joins the novel through a series of transitions., since most autobiographies are inspired by a creative impulse and therefore leave scope to the imagination which lead the author to  to retain the events and experiences that fit in a structured model..This model could be something which surpasses the individual and which he was led to identify himself with, or simply a coherent image of  his personality and his attitudes.[24]



 In fact there seems to have been throughout his life more than one “Edward”: The first in his childhood, the one fabricated by his parents versus  his inner impotent self when facing the invented “Edward”. Throughout his later years; these two versions of himself persevered  functioning both simultaneously although paradoxically  in profound disharmony, until they managed to be superseded by a third one : “Edward”  the brilliant literary critic, an ‘Edward’ of his own making but still one who  unconsciously  followed his father’s advice of ‘never letting go’, one who managed in the world of knowledge to counter the ideas of that  same colonial mentality which had  inspired his parents to invent  him.


  Edward Said had expected that his memoirs should be published after his death due to his devastating illness, since it is during one of his long painful periods of treatment that he decided to  write about his early years  hoping to bridge the gap between past and present.

 Though painful to the author himself, the fact that he unexpectedly outlived his own memoirs which he would have preferred  to be something like Montesquieu’s  ‘Mémoires  D’Outretombe’,led him to react to the  critiques and reactions expressed about  his own  autobiography  comparing himself  to the legendary  figure of Don Quixote :


In the second part of Cervante’s  great novel ‘ Don Quixote’, which was published well after the first part had appeared in Spain, the main character is frequently surprised  at how often he is recognised  when he enters in a house or a tavern . having been an obscure,  aged knight from dusty little La Mancha, Don Quixote cannot get over the fact that he has become a sort of celebrity  just because people have read about his exploits  and know something about him . Seventeenth century Spain was not endowed with any sort of mass media , so word of mouth  and reading were the main  sources for diffusing printed information. Imagine Don Quixote’s horror  today were he  to have experienced the effect of newspapers, radio and television on his private life, after having been a celebrity  of sorts, he would have turned  into a subject of chat shows  and gossip columns that were neither “[25]




A Contribution to the Universality of Palestinian Identity



A combination  of sources  are necessary for the elaboration of a narrative that can lay the basis for the historical construction of  ‘national identity’.
Wars, conflicts, strikes, massacres, revolts might function as ‘over-significant’ events ‘in the construction of collective as well as individual identities, and therefore lead to the development of  the general history of groups, segments, classes which is often called serial history, and is often based on archives and statistics.

Newspapers and other sources are therefore used to reconstruct the evolution of  popular social movements, whereas memoirs are used to reveal the metaphysical  dimension of identity and to keep it in constant  creative and dynamic motion.


Edward Said , through his confessions about the pain of living through  ‘conflicting identities’ and of later transcending them by subjecting them to the ‘world of knowledge’, and by exchanging his ‘lost home’ with ‘the intellectual profession of  a constant traveller’ in perpetual exile  is an original contribution to an understanding of the complex and diversified nature of Palestinian identity.



            Edward Said’s passage  as ‘flowing currents’


Finally, it is only after achieving the monumental task of waking up the ‘sleeping princess’ and  of plunging into the anthropological quest for origins, that  Edward Said  was able to free himself from the pain inflicted by  exile, and from conflicting identities, by unleashing all the hymns and melodies of his past existence in a symphony which encompasses all conflicts and contradictions:


I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents .I prefer this to the idea of  a solid self, the identity to which many attach  so much significance. These currents like the themes of one’s life , flow along during the waking hours , and at their best, they require  no reconciling, no harmonising.  They are “off” and may be out of place , but at least they are always in motion , in time, in place ,in the form of all strange combinations moving about, not necessarily forward , sometimes against each other, contrapunctually, yet without one central theme.  A form of freedom, I’d like to think, even if I am far from being totally convinced that it is .That scepticism  too is  one of the themes I particularly want to to  hold on to. With so many dissonances in my life, I have learned actually to prefer being not quite right and out of place [26]


[1] Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir Published  by Granta Books, 2000

[2]Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, 1984, is a controversial book  which was criticized by both Edward Said and Noam Chomsky who accused  it of ‘forgery’ since it claimed that a large fraction of the Arabs of Palestine were not descendants of natives of Palestine at the time of the occupation of Palestine and the formation of  the state of Israel in 1948.


[3]   Said , Out of Place , p.6.

[4]  Umberto Eco, Le Nom de la rose, Poche, 2002.


[5] Ibid.

[6] Jean Jacques Rousseau, “Manuscrit de Neufchatel’, a text published in 1794 by Rousseau which situates his ‘confessions ‘ in relation to to those ofMontaigne, where Rousseau attempts to reveal his true self.

[7] Jean Philippe Miraux, L’autobiographie : Ecriture de soi et sincérité, Broché, 2009.

[8] Marc Augé, Non Lieux : Introduction à une Anthropologie de la Sur modernité, Paris :Seuil, 1992.

[9] Out of  Place.p. 114-115

[10] Edward said,”L’Exil Intellectuel: Expatriés et Marginaux”, in Des  Intellectuels et du Pouvoir, Paris :Editions du Seuil,1994. p.63.

[11] Said, opcit.p.68-69

[12] Edward Said. Culture et Impérialisme, Broché,2000.


[13] Said, Out of Place.

 [14]Said, Orientalism.Penguin Books, 1978.

[15] Said, Culture and Imperialism.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.p.117

[18] Lucien Febvre, Combats  pour l’Histoire, Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1992

[19]  Edward Said The Hazards of Publishing a Memoir, Al-Ahram Weekly, 2 - 8 December 1999

[20] Said C&I p.72

[21] Out of Place.p.3.

[22] Etienne Balibar, L'Europe, l'Amérique, la Guerre. Réflexions sur la médiation européenne,2003.

 [23] Ibid. p. 75

[24] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press 1957, as translated and quoted in Lejeune , op.cit.p.331.

[25] Said, ‘On the Hazards of Publishing a Mémoir’

[26] Out of  Place, p. 295.





Last Updated on Thursday, 02 October 2014 09:39

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