Exile and Memory: A Response to Edward Said’s “States” Essay

Nationalism requires a sense of identity. The necessity of such is due to its supplementation of the characteristics that enables the individual’s constitution of a self-forged from his conception of the cultural link between his group and its land. In relation to this, the most important facet of national identity is the description of a common national history that all occupants of a nation share. If such is the case, it thereby follows that national identity [and the creation of such] involves the political act of enabling the validation of a particular account of national history and hence that of national culture.

The correlation of national history and that of national identity is apparent if one considers that national identity is based upon the rhetorics of memory. Gillis (2004) notes that “identity depends on the idea of memory (p. 3). In relation to this, he notes that this is due to the dependence of identity upon “a sense of sameness over time and space” (2004, p. 3). In other words, national identity pertains to the validated account of a people’s memory of its history.

In relation to this Eric Leed notes that such a conception of identity leads to a highly simplistic account of identity since it is based on the assumption that identity is “an object bounded in time and space…with clear beginnings and endings, with its own territoriality” (Gillis, 2004, p. 3-4). However, it is important to note that as opposed to such a claim that “every identity…implies and at the same time masks a particular relationship” (Gillis, 2004, p. 4).

Each particular relationship, on the other hand, must be understood as situated within different contexts that allows the continuous construction [or in this sense reconstruction] of a national identity. If such is the case, it thereby follows that the political aspect of a national identity is not merely defined by the process of validation of historical accounts but it is also dependent upon the economic and transnational aspects involved in the continuous formation of a national identity. This is explicitly apparent in the case of exiled nations.

For the exiled individual, the necessity of both nationalism and national identity is apparent if one considers that it enables exile [the experience of exile] to have meaning. McClennen (2004) notes, “without the belief that there is a connection between an individual and a place, exile has no meaning” (p. 21). The paradox, however, is evident if one considers the experience of nations [or individuals within a nation] exiled from their land. For such nations, exile is tantamount to the loss of both “the stability of geography and the continuity of land” (Said, 2004, p. 19). The loss of both means of garnering stability necessary for the establishment and continuous recreation of national identity is further lost due the ensuing result of such situations, which is the loss of the national history. Said, in his experience, of exile [as a result of the lack of geographical stability] notes this problem as he states, “As our history is forbidden, narratives are rare… Thus Palestinian life is scattered, discontinuous, marked by artificial and imposed arrangements of interrupted or confined space” (2004, p. 620-21).

In relation to this, Said further notes that contemporary Palestinian literature has thereby depicted the Palestinian as a “Pessoptomist… a being half here, half not here, part historical creature, part mythological invention, hopeful and hopeless, everyone’s’ favorite obsession and scapegoat” (2004, p. 624). Such a description thereby presents an accurate account of the Palestinian’s position as devoid of clear foundations since his existence can only be understood within the bleak landscape of other nations’ perspectives regarding their existence as well as their histories.

Said echoes such a claim as he states, “We [the Palestinians] are [seen as the] ‘other’, and opposite, a flaw in the geometry of resettlement and exodus” (2004, p. 217). The result of such is their “mutability…from one thing to another…all because of the missing foundation of our existence, the lost ground of our origin, the broken link with our land and our past” (Said, 2004, p. 623). In relation to this, Said further notes that on another side such an experience has also led to the development of tighter ties and relations amongst fellow Palestinians.

He notes, however that these ties merely mirror “the symbols of a universal pop culture that enshroud the vulnerable” (Said, 2004, p. 622). Such a statement thereby mirrors Said’s desire to enable the development of such ties of kinship within a defined territory. As I reckon, Said’s experience of exile mirrors the manner in which the experience of exile enables the continuous development of a fluid conception of national identity. It is important to note that the experience of exile enables an individual’s [a nation’s] experience and interaction with other identities.

The experience of such thereby enables the development as well as the formation of a more pluralistic conception of national identity amongst the Palestinians. The integration of such identities, however, necessitates their recovery of their land [or the formation of a new Palestinian land] since the current politics of nation states and national identity considers geography as the main foundation for the creation of history and hence national identity.