Sunday, March 09, 2008

On thinking Contrapuntally

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are no more than starting points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white or black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their own cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connection between things; in Eliot's phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the "other echoes that inhabit the garden". It is more rewarding....and more think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about "us". But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how "our" culture or country is number one( or not number one, for that matter). For the intellectual there is quite enough of value to do without that.

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

1 comment:

Marta said...

how beautiful; this was the part I most liked of the book, this opening of perspectives. Maybe now we are even culturally over this understanding, maybe some of us are, but it is still this the major point, and the making space for the echoes, that deserves a daily work through. Thanks for putting it up.