“Out of Place: A Memoir” by Edward W. Said— Memoir of a Modern Thinker

Said, Edward W. “Out of Place: A Memoir”, Vintage, 2000.

Memoir of a Modern Thinker

Amos Lassen

Edward W. Said was one of the most important intellectuals of our time. His story of exile is a celebration of an irrecoverable past.  In 1991, Said received a fatal medical diagnosis in 1991 that convinced him that he should leave a record of where he was born and spent his childhood, and in this memoir he rediscovers and shares with us the lost Arab world of his early years in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. 

Said writes about his family and his friends from his birthplace in Jerusalem, schools in Cairo, and summers in the mountains above Beirut, to boarding school and college in the United States, introducing us to a world of characters and eastern landscapes. He tells us of the confusion of identity that he experienced when he was young and his coming to terms with dissonance of being an American citizen, a Christian and a Palestinian, and, an outsider. He was a perennial outsider.

Said brings is his own complex ideas and as he does, we understand them clearly.  He takes us through  some of the key events of his life that affected him the most. What really stands out is the compression with which his father enforced upon him and once that the effect  of that ended, ideas emerged in his university and early years. For a long time didn’t show that many hints of being a genius.

While the memoir is a bit self-indulgent , I realized that in it he reexamines himself. He lived in a tumultuous time as an Arab in America during the 50’s and 60’s. Intellectually he has made tremendous contributions to the world of thought but there will be those who wonder why his contributions to Palestine are not impressive. ,

Said’s mother was impetuous and his father was emotionally distant. He loved in constant fear of not living up to parental expectations, always out of place in the family and the institutions of society. His parents instituted a strict disciplinary regimen that stunted his growth as an independent and fulfilled man. He longed to escape his family life and then, his home disappeared as Egypt and Lebanon became increasingly xenophobic and sectarian, and Palestine was taken over.  War changed everything as did politics. For those of us who have taken our homes and identities for granted, this is the story of a homeless man who speaks a strange and foreign language. He moved  from one place to another as if there was no coming back.

Said writes very frankly about many personal things in his life, taking us to a different time despite all the taboos imposed by traditions and religion.

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