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Edward W. Said, Umanesimo e critica democratica, (Humanism and Democratic Criticism)

Edward W. Said, Humanism and democratic criticism, Il Saggiatore, Milan, 2007

Edward Said’s first posthumous book is a sort of spiritual testimony. Said takes on the responsibility for re-launching the figure of the intellectual humanist, by identifying the scope, the purpose and the role that the latter should have in the current day and age.


According to Said, two key beliefs form the essence of humanism: firstly, the historical world is made by men and women and not by God and secondly, it can be rationally understood according to the principles formulated by Vico. The humanist is called upon to use philology as a rigorous instrument with which he contributes to the only form of knowledge available, namely, knowledge which is knowing how something is made.


Said presents us with an intellectual who opposes the one remaining economic, political, military and media superpower. “The intellectual's role generally is to uncover and elucidate the contest”, to reveal the ruling economic power for what it actually is, “to challenge and defeat […] an imposed silence and the normalised quiet of an unseen power” . It also requires him “ to present alternative narratives and other perspectives on history than those provided by the combatants on behalf of official memory and national identity”.


Browsing through the pages of his book, however, the impression is that Said is aware of the tragic, and as such, sterile nature of the intellectual’s actions. He opposes, yet is unable to propose an alternative. With regard to the Palestinian cause, which he held dear, he admits that “No matter how I have searched for a resolution to this impasse, I cannot find one”. It would appear that philology alone, does not favour forgiveness and reconciliation.