Edward Said

The role of the intellectual

The Nation, September 17th 2001.



The intellectual's role is first to present alternative narratives and other perspectives on history
than those provided by the combatants on behalf of official memory and national identity--who tend
to work in terms of falsified unities, the manipulation of demonized or distorted representations of
undesirable and/or excluded populations, and the propagation of heroic anthems sung in order to sweep all before them….


Second is to construct fields of coexistence rather than fields of battle as the outcome of intellectual labor….


Third, in the various contests over justice and human rights that so many of us feel we have joined,
there needs to be a component to our engagement that stresses the need for the redistribution of
resources and that advocates the theoretical imperative against the huge accumulations of power
and capital that so distort human life. Peace cannot exist without equality: This is an intellectual
value desperately in need of reiteration, demonstration and reinforcement…

The intellectual can be perhaps a kind of countermemory, putting forth its own counterdiscourse
that will not allow conscience to look away or fall asleep. The best corrective is, as Dr. Johnson
said, to imagine the person whom you are discussing--in this case the person on whom the bombs
will fall--reading you in your presence.

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