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Said’s Reflections on Exile, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 505

Essay

In Said’s essay “Reflections on Exile”, the author describes the phenomenon of exile as one of the foremost torments an individual human can endure, insofar as the very definition of exile implies the separation of the individual from their native habitat. In light of Said’s fundamental thesis, the author nevertheless examines why exile serves as a certain precondition, in various heroic narratives, for the main plot device of a story: the protagonist, exiled from his or her homeland, thereby takes part in a series of heroic acts. In this regard, to the extent that this motif serves as the jumping-off point, Said detects that the phenomenon of exile is to a certain degree glorified in Western culture. Accordingly, the true tragedy of exile is incapable of being grasped by this same culture.

Exile is something that, for Said, evinces a fundamental loss of identity. It therefore fractures the protagonist or, in the case of real human events, the individual, since a crucial aspect of his or her own self-image is destroyed. Therefore, for Said, individuals are not autonomous subjects, entirely disconnected from their environment and world, but rather every individual is always tied to this environment and world. Exile is a trauma to this very individual, since it uproots him or her from his environment. In exile, there is not a triumphant assertion of individuality, but for Said an insurmountable loss, since what makes up an individual is not only their personal self, but the relationships that surround them.

However, for Said, this does not imply that those in exile merely suffer. They can also assert their dignity, and convert the missing part of their identity into a symbol of both injustice and the individual identity that has suffered from this injustice. By realizing this aspect of exile, one can heal the wound that exile causes to a certain extent. The individual understands that they are not merely autonomous subjects, but constituted by important relationships to an environing world: the dignity of the one who is exiled is affirmed by understanding that they are nothing without these relationships, and thus a notion of community as opposed to individuality emerges through such an interpretation of exile.

In this regard, Said’s article can be considered especially important, since it gives us a new image of what being exiled means. Against some of the heroic legends of the Western tradition, exile is not indicative of the precondition for the individual to assert his or her separation from his or her homeland, but is rather an instance of profound loss. With this very message, we can overcome discourses of individuality. Said’s negative analysis of exile, in this sense, only occurs through the positive lens of community and relationships. Exile marks an interruption to these communities and relationships. Yet, by understanding exile in this manner, we can underscore the importance of these same communities and relationships. The position of the individual who is exiled becomes a position of social critique, in particular a critique of individuality in favor of the notion of community.

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