[Benjamin Graves's multipart web-essay on Edward Said was adapted for Postcolonial Literature and Culture, which began as a sister site to the Victorian Web, from a paper written for Neil Lazarus' 1997 Brown University seminar “Postcolonial Studies: CLR James and Edward W. Said.” It moved to the Victorian Web in April 2014 to accompany discussions of nineteenth-century British orientalism. — George P. Landow.]
lthough in many ways secularism is a useful organizing term for the radical intellectual's liminal mediation of social formations, Said's emphasis of an exilic, liminal category poses a number of potentially serious problems in its translation into the complicated process of collective social transformation. In the contexts of ongoing imperialism and anti-imperial attempts at decolonization, secularism points toward a number of difficulties or limitations in the intellectual's capacity to incite and sustain substantive insurrectionary resistance to imperialism from a position of exile, skepticism, and non-alignment. My specific concerns, many of which I shall argue that Said is careful to answer, are:
1) that the exilic, liminal space ( the "median state" or "secular world") Said describes runs the risk of becoming a fetishized, ahistorical space that fails to engage the historically situated, temporal, material workings of dispossessed peoples.
2) whether the distinction between secular/nonsecular is itself a totalizing Western narrative construction.
3) the recurrent problem of elitism and classism -- specifically the problem of whether or not the term "exile" is meaningful to people in the Third World, and whether the privileging of a secular figure situates the intellectual atop a hierarchy of resistance.
4) the absence of a nuanced explanation describing the "countervailing authority" (in Robbins' phrase) that would support the secular critic in lieu of national backing.
5) my perhaps intuitive worry that, while Said's "voyage in" narrative may well re-distribute cultural capital and re-structure Metropolitan power structures, these resources are inevitably routed towards the metropolitan west and away from the Third World that needs them!
The sections of this web essay
- Edward W. Said's "Politics of Secular Interpretation"--an introduction
- Erich Auerbach: the Critic in Exile
- Said's "Liminal Intellectual"
- Bruce Robbins on Said's "Voyage In"
- Problematizing Said's Exilic Category
- Problematizing the Exilic: Temporality and Historical Specificity
- Problematizing the Exilic: Eurocentrism and Elitism
- The Ambiguity of Counter-Authority in the Liminal Intellectual's Struggle for Decolonization
- Said on "Contrapuntalism" and Exile
Last modified 23 October 2007