Meditations on Exile and Home   /   Fall 2005   /    Articles

Intellectuals and the Lure of Exile

Home and Exile in the Autobiographies of Edward Said and George Steiner

Alon Confino

At the Garden of Exile (Jewish Museum Berlin). Photo by Mark Ahsmann (2008). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since the noun “intellectual” originated during the Dreyfus Affair, intellectu- als have been adept at creating historical narratives, invented and real, to justify different causes and collectivities: the nation, the race, the proletariat, liberty, God. ey have also been adept at narrating their own histories, representing their self-images, and therefore, necessarily, creating their own fables. Exile—the state of being forcedly removed from one’s native country or of self-imposed absence from one’s country—has become one of the key words to identify the intellectual, as well as a harsh reality to some. What are (some of) the relations between exile and the intellectual’s self-representation? I am not interested so much in how intellectuals represent exile per se, but in how they link the state of being in exile to their own self-images—personal, political, and intellectual. I have chosen to focus on two intellectuals who view exile as the source of their creativity, but with very different consequences: Edward Said and George Steiner.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).