Edwars Said was born a Palestinian Arab in Jerusalem in 1935, and was American through his father, Wadie Saïd, who was a U.S. Citizen. Wadie Saïd, his father moved to Cairo, before the birth of his son . He spent much of his childhood travelling back and forth from Cairo to Jerusalem, visiting relatives. Saïd said that in his childhood he lived “between worlds” — like Cairo (Egypt) and in Jerusalem (Palestine).
Here are some of his words from this period of life: “I was an uncomfortably anomalous student all through my early years: a Palestinian going to school in Egypt, with an English first name, an American passport, and no certain identity at all. To make matters worse, Arabic, my native language, and English, my school language, were inextricably mixed: I have never known which was my first language, and have felt fully at home in neither, although I dream in both. Every time I speak an English sentence, I find myself echoing it in Arabic, and vice versa”
In 1951, Saïd was expelled from Victoria College for being a troublemaker, and was sent from Egypt to the United States, where he had a miserable year of feeling out of place; yet he excelled academically, achieving the rank of either first or second in a class of one hundred sixty students. He matured into an intellectual young man, fluent in the English, French, and Arabic languages. (he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University (1957), then a Master of Arts degree (1960) and a Doctoral Degree in English Literature (1964) from Harvard University.)
Reflections on Exile and Other Essays brings together forty-six essays. The title essay, originally published in 1984 deals with Said’s own condition of exile, and with the implications of exile for those who experience it. While Said sees separation from a homeland as a difficult fate, he believes that the state of detachment gives exiles a unique vision. Being in exile means feeling in estrangement and even if there are romantic and happy episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of being in pain.
Said come to nationalism and its essential association with exile. Nationalism is belonging to a place, people and certain heritage. Nationalism fends off exile and fights to prevent its ravages. The interplay between them is like servant and master, opposites informing and constituting each other. All nationalism in their early stages develop from a condition of estrangement. In time, successful nationalism consign (ad) truth exclusively to themselves and relegate (elűldöz) all outsiders.
While nationalism is about groups, exile is solitude experienced outside the group: the deprivations felt at not being with others in the communal habitation. Exiles are cut off from their roots, their land, their past. Exiles don’t have armies or states, therefore they always feel the urge to create one. Exile is a jealous state. You don’t want to share what you have archieved, you have passionate hostility to outsiders, even to those who, in fact, are in the same position as you.
Although it is true that anyone prevented from returning home is an exile, some distinctions can be made between exiles, refugees, expatriates and emigres. Exile originated in the age-old practice of banishment. Once banished, the exile lives a miserable life with the stigma of being an outsider. Refugees, on the other hand, are a creation of the 20th century state. The word “refugee” has become a political one, suggesting innocent and bewildered people requiring urgent international assistance. Expatriates voluntarily live in an alien country, usually for personal or social reasons. They may share in the solitude and estrangement of exile, but they do not suffer under its rigid proscription. Emigres enjoy an ambiguous status. Technically, emigre is anyone who emigrates to a new country.
Much of the exile’s life is taken up with compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule. It is not surprising that so many exiles seem to be novelists, chess players, political activists, and intellectuals. Each of these occupations requires a minimal investment in objects and places a great premium on mobility and skill. The exile’s new world is unnatural and resembles fiction. George Lukacs, in Theory of the Novel, says that novel is a literary form created out of the unreality of ambition and fantasy, it is the form of “transcendental homelessness”.
No matter how well they feel, exiles are always eccentric who feel their difference as a kind of orphanhood. The exile jealously insists on his or her right to refuse to belong. Wilfulness, exaggeration and overstatement are the characteristics styles of being an exile. You compel the world to accept your vision which you make more unacceptable because you are, in fact, unwilling to have it accepted. Artists in exile are decidedly unpleasant and their stubbornness insinuates itself into even their exalted works.
Dante’s vision in The Divine Commedy is tremendously powerful in its universality and detail, but even the beatific peace archieved in the Paradiso bears traces of vindictiveness.(bosszuallas) James Joyce chose to be in exile to give force to his artistic vocation. He picked up a quarrel with Ireland and kept it alive so as to sustain the strict opposition to what was familiar.
The exile knows that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional (átmeneti). Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason and necessity. Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience. According to Hugo of St. Victor, a 12th century-monk,a strong and perfect man archieves independence and detachment by working through attachments, not by rejecting them.
Speaking of the pleasures of exile, there are some positive things to be said too. Seeing “the entire world as a foreign land” makes possible originality of vision. Most people are aware of one culture, one setting, one home, exiles are aware of at least 2. Both environments are vivid, actual and occuring together contrapuntally. There is a unique pleasure in this sort of apprehension, especially if the exile diminish judgement and elevate appreciative sympathy.
Edward Saïd was an advocate for the political and human rights of the Palestinian people. As a public intellectual, he discussed contemporary politics, music, culture, and literature, in lectures, newspaper and magazine articles, and books. Drawing from his family experiences, as Palestinian Christians in the Middle East, at the time of the establishment of Israel (1948), Saïd argued for the establishment of a Palestinian state, for equal political and human rights for the Palestinians in Israel. His decade-long membership in the Palestinian National Council, and his pro–Palestinian political activism, made him a controversial public intellectual. He was intellectually active until the last months of his life, and died of leukemia in 2003.