I’m about to begin the second reading of a text that I read during the first year of graduate school, Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual, 1993 Reith Lecture series.
I re-read the introduction and was immediately persuaded (again) to Said’s perspective on a kind moral office of the intellectual. It is expansive and generous. I need to think about my own process of becoming an intellect. If that sounds pretentious, then it might very well be so. I admit to all and nothing.
I found this statement from Said in “On Defiance and Taking Positions” from Reflections on Exile and Other Essays:
So the role of the intellectual is not to consolidate authority, but to understand, interpret, and question it…I think it is very difficult, once you venture outside of the academy, not to be affected by what seems to me the main issue for the intellectual today, which is the panorama with all the dislocations and displacements and distortions of our society, not to be affected by human suffering. And I think, therefore, the intellectual vocation essentially is somehow to alleviate human suffering and not to celebrate what in effect does not need celebrating, whether that’s the state or the patria or any of these basically triumphalist agents in our society.
To enter into the public sphere means, therefore, not to be afraid of controversy or taking positions. There’s nothing more maddening, it seems to me, in our own time than people who say, “Oh no, no, that’s controversial; I don’t want to do it“; or the habitual trimming refrain, “No, no, I can’t sign that because I mean, you know, I may disturb matters and people may think the wrong thing about me.“ But it seems to me that the entrance into the public sphere means, as the French writer Genet said, the moment you write something, you are necessarily in the public sphere; you can’t pretend that you’re writing for yourself anymore.