Edward Said on the Marginality of the Intellectual

As I read one of Edward Said’s Reith Lectures (“Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals”) delivered on BBC in June, 1993, on the theme of the representation of the intellectual (later published in a volume, Representations of the Intellectual), I can’t but quote a part of it, where he talks of the marginality of the intellectual or how a marginal position can be a very productive space to occupy for critical thinking. In this lecture, Theodor W. Adorno is Said’s model exiled intellectual both in the actual and the metaphorical sense as Adorno was critical of both European bourgeois culture and American mass culture. These lines have remained one of my favorites:

“Here I want to focus on its opposite, the intellectual who because of exile cannot, or, more to the point, will not make the adjustment, preferring instead to remain outside the mainstream, unaccommodated, uncoopted, resistant: but first I need to make some preliminary points.

One is that 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. Even intellectuals who are lifelong members of a society can, in a manner of speaking, be divided into insiders and outsiders: those on the one hand who belong fully to the society as it is, who flourish in it without an overwhelming sense of dissonance or dissent, those who can be called yea-sayers; and on the other hand, the nay-sayers, the individuals at odds with their society and therefore outsiders and exiles so far as privileges, power, and honors are concerned. The pattern that sets the course for the intellectual as outsider is best exemplified by the condition of exile, the state of never being fully adjusted, always feeling outside the chatty, familiar world inhabited by natives, so to speak, tending to avoid and even dislike the trappings of accommodation and national well-being. Exile for the intellectual in this metaphysical sense is restlessness, movement, constantly being unsettled, and unsettling others.”

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