Edward W. Said, who has taught at Columbia University since 1963, is best-known for his books Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993), cultural studies of the influence of colonialism on intellectual life in colonizing and colonized countries. Said is also a Palestinian in exile from his homeland, and an outspoken advocate of the cause of Palestinian nationhood.
Reflections on Exile and Other Essays brings together forty-five previously published essays and one new essay published for the first time in this book. Written from 1967 through the end of the twentieth century, these offer a sampling from the author’s entire academic career and display a remarkable intellectual range. The title essay, originally published in 1984 in the periodical Granta, 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.
The final, original and previously unpublished essay is a response to Samuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilizations,” which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1993. Huntington had argued that the ideological conflicts of the Cold War were being replaced by conflicts between Western and non-Western civilizations. Said maintains that this is an overly simple view of the world, which divides nations into monolithic categories, and promotes chauvinism on the part of countries, such as the United States, which may be led to confuse their own interests with the values of Western civilization.
Some readers may feel that Said himself oversimplifies culture, by reducing so many of its aspects to the heritage of colonialism. Others may object to his habit of continually tossing off long lists of names of authors. His critics and supporters alike, though, will find a monument to an impressive career in this book.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist 97 (February 1, 2001): 1035.
The Nation 273 (November 26, 2001): 24.
The New York Times Book Review 106 (February 18, 2001): 28.
Publishers Weekly 248 (January 1, 2001): 75.