Friday, June 12, 2009

brief passage from Edward Said

I have been reading a lot of Edward Said since I got back from Gaza.

This is a particularly notable passage I read today (from 'Secular Criticism'):

"The degree to which the cultural realm and its expertise are institutionally divorced from their real connections with power was wonderfully illustrated for me by an exchange with an old college friend who worked in the Department of Defense for a period during the Vietnam War. The bombings were in full course then, and I was naively trying to understand the kind of person who could order daily B-52 strikes over a distant Asian country in the name of the American interest in defending freedom and stopping communism. 'You know,' my friend said, 'the Secretary is a complex human being: he doesn't fit the picture you may have formed of the cold-blooded imperialist murderer. The last time I was in his office I noticed Durrell's Alexandria Quartet on his desk.' He paused meaningfully, as if to let Durrell's presence on that desk work its awful power alone. The further implication of my friend's story was that no one who read and presumably appreciated a novel could be the cold-blooded butcher one might suppose him to have been. Many years later this whole implausible anecdote (I do not remember my response to the complex conjunction of Durrell with the ordering of bombing in the sixties) strikes me as typical of what actually obtains: humanists and intellectuals accept the idea that you can read classy fiction as well as kill and maim because the cultural world is available for that particular sort of camouflaging, and because cultural types are not supposed to interfere in matters for which the social system has not certified them."

...I'm thinking about what this means for me as a "writer"...
But I'm also thinking about Edward Said as trying to "naively understand" something. It's weird. I think of him as this incredibly wise, brilliant man who couldn't possibly have ever been "naive" about anything -
But he too once wondered what could possibly bring a person to order daily bombings.
He probably came closer than anyone to actually figuring it out- by turning away from the psychological question, of course, and towards a systemic, political one...

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