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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High point in the history of the Reith Lectures
Edward Said's definition of the intellectual as someone who "speaks the truth to power" is hardly an original notion. As any literate person will know, it recalls and derives from the Greek concept of the "parrhesiastes", the truth-teller. Crucially, not anyone who speaks the truth is a "parrhesiastes". A grammar teacher, for example, may...
Published on May 20, 2002

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Cautious Appraisal of the Twentieth-Century Intellectual
"Representations of the Intellectual" is a compilation of the six Reith Lectures that Edward Said delivered over BBC Radio in 1993. The title is somewhat misleading: Said doesn't really examine representations of intellectuals so much as offers a prescriptive way he thinks they should function within a society. His particular interest is the intellectual in the late...
Published on April 17, 2012 by A Certain Bibliophile


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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High point in the history of the Reith Lectures, May 20, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
Edward Said's definition of the intellectual as someone who "speaks the truth to power" is hardly an original notion. As any literate person will know, it recalls and derives from the Greek concept of the "parrhesiastes", the truth-teller. Crucially, not anyone who speaks the truth is a "parrhesiastes". A grammar teacher, for example, may tell the truth to the children he teaches, but he is not thereby a "parrhesiastes". However, when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant and tells him that his tyranny is wrong, the philosopher not only voices the truth but also takes a risk. It is this element of risk and what we might call disinterested courage that defines a figure like Socrates but also a contemporary like Noam Chomsky. Of course, both the Greek notion and Said's concept, equally, exclude those who serve the status quo. Henry Kissinger is neither a "parrhesiastes" nor an intellectual. A merchant banker may utilise or produce "ideas" but he is too bound to the dominant system to be capable of truly critical thought. What this book addresses, though, is not so much the intellectuals themselves as the way they are perceived in different historical and social situations. What value does this figure of the truth teller, the risk taker, hold in different polities? In totalitarian societies he is paid the grotesque homage of censorship and state violence. In the U.S.A. and many Western democracies, by contrast, he is usually treated with contempt or barely concealed irritation. I have seldom seen "intellectual" used favourably in the British press. It is, all too frequently, prefixed with "pseudo-" or "trendy". What Said's book demonstrates is that the idea of the intellectual has an ancient and venerable history, and that power and truth are seldom comfortable bedfellows.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Intellectual's Role as Critic, August 1, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
In this slim, yet thought-proking volume, Edward said attempts to provide an outline of the function and duty of the intellectual in modern society. Implicitly, Edward Said goes about the task of challenging the increasingly cozy relationship between the so-called intellectual, i.e., academia, and the political/military power structure that has developed in the wake of McCarthyism and the subsequent paranoia of the Cold War. Case in point, do you know where Napalm was "invented", not in the bowls of the Pentagon, but at Harvard University, by scientists (intellectuals) with a duty to expand human understanding and knowledge, not to be used as a means to power and destruction. That, Said would contend, is precisely the problem with the role of the intelelctual today. Au Courant the climate of the "expert" reighns supreme and almost completely in the cause of war--in whatever manifestation it is found. Unfortunately, this is a problem that has been ignored for far too long, obscured with baseless, yet effective, claims of a leftist domination of academia to which Said's subtle analysis provides a vitally important counter.
Using the example of intellectuals such as James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Viginia Woolf and Noam Chomsky as a model of intellectual vigor and concern for social justice, both in words and in action. In this vein Said offers a critically important meditation on the vital influence that such can have on public opinion and, more importantly, government policy. Thus, the intellectual in today's society, in Said's mind, has a duty and an obligation to be an agent of social and political justice--a radically dissident voice if need be--against the dictates of blind power.
For those who admire critical thinking, moral courage and a helthy respect for honest debate Representations of the Intellectual is for you. There awill always be those who seem to believe that ad hominem attacks and smear campaigns can replace critical thinking and objective analysis, both of which are only a substitute for intellectual vigor. Yet, many of his critics seem to be perfectly content with a system in which the main function of an intellectual is as a petty propagandist of pragmatic ideology, providing justification for the continued imperial wars of aggression, right-wing insurgency, political assasination and even genocide, carried out by Western powers since WWII. Those who ignore these facts are either grossly naive or recklessly misguided by their own historico delusions.
But, for those who want to get beyond the simplistic dualisms and vacuous black/white oppositions by all means, read Said's book--your view of the intellectual in Western society will never be the same.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent essay on the role of the thorns in society's side, September 27, 2003
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
My personal favorite of Said's books.
For those who feel ambivalent about Said's specific political views, this book touches on them minimally. (Though, obviously, his thinking is informed by those views throughout.)
The general question is: What is the role of a true thinker in our times? If you believe the "authorities" (i.e., the New York Times, or Charlie Rose, etc.) they are just scholars or thoughtful observers with a public voice. The upshot is that the intellectual is nothing more than an ambassador -- a mouthpiece -- for received opinion (that is, the orthodoxy). Intellectuals are nothing more, in this popular view, than a kind of secular clergy.
Representations of the Intellectual skewers this notion, and beautifully. Said had a singular breadth of mind. In Representations, he draws on a expansive knowledge of disparate fields to offer a convincing picture of the intellectual as a reasoned, passionate dissenter.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Representations of the Intellectual, December 8, 1999
By 
karl b. (Fraser Valley, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
Edward Said is a distinguished professor of Literature at Columbia University. These are the Reith Lectures he delivered in 1993. He is a Palestinian Christian who has long been involved with issues of human rights there and around the world. Said deplores, here, the pressures and seductions of 'professionalism' on the intellectual in today's society. He describes these as coming from specialization, from of the cult of the certified expert as he calls it, from coopting by social, educational or political agendas, and, from commercialization, which sees all ideas as a product in a market, held to standards of economic viability rather than truth. The intellectual, he argues, must rigorously maintain objectivity and espouse activism. An attitude of being outside the conforming principles of associations, even those by which the individual is defining himself, is the impulse to conscience which is the key message of this thesis. The obligation of advocating for what is 'true' or 'just' is implicit with this. Authenticity and spontaneity in assessing these issues are instilled first by developing that moral sense, secular and flexible, and applying it in the context of broad learning. Those are compelling and challenging standards, which anyone who aspires to the intellectual, in character or understanding (and that should include all of us) must aspire. One can then differentiate this from the burgeoning 'intellectual industry' of today, traders in credibility, mercenaries for whatever paradigm happens to be ascendent and expedient. Said's own life attests to the influence one can have if honest to the concepts of universality, humility and integrity he discusses in these fine essays.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A succinct examination of what constitutes an intellectual., January 24, 2000
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This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
Said succinctly examines what constitutes an intellectual and what role he or she has in society. He represents the intellectual as someone who is an amateur, independent of special interests, and an activist willing to take on personal risk to speak the truth. But perhaps more important is the intellectual's reliance on reason and honesty as opposed to the constraints of dogma or ideology. This book is an important read for anyone whose work puts them in a position to affect policy or public opinion.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable., March 3, 2001
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
The 1993 Reith Lectures, compiled and adapted for print in this publication, are as close as Edward Said has ever gotten to writing a manifesto of his personal beliefs. 'Representations of the Intellectual' is a superbly incisive analysis of the social importance which intellectuals occupy. It culminates in an impassioned arugment for intellectuals to challenge common societal assumptions of what constitutes the norm by broadening their individual fields of interest and taking a greater interest in cultural and political history.
The Annales School historian Marc Bloch once described the task of social historians as entailing 'years of analysis for a day of synthesis'. This might well describe the extraordinary erudition of Said, who has always synthesised his encyclopaedic knowledge of politics and aesthetics - whether it be literature, classical music or the visual arts - into highly original works distinguished by their breathtaking interpretive ingenuity.
Said's critics, including the folks at 'Commentary', demur at the all-encompassing nature of his mind, to which the sheer quantity of his publications bears explicit witness. But as 'Representations of the Intellectual' demonstrates, Said views the role of the intellectual as being both public and professional; for him, it's a role which naturally occasions shared knowledge in a public domain.
Said is hardly Panglossian, though he is unapologetically idealistic, insisting that universities, even today, are a 'quasi-utopian space'. The Humanities have clearly changed in the last couple of decades. Said celebrates the emergence of culturally inclusive literary theory such as feminist and queer studies, which accord with his personal understanding of intellectuals as critically engaged individuals not afraid to question populist rhetoric and speak on behalf of hitherto suppressed or unheard voices in society. Thus he rails against political correctness on both Left and Right - here, he includes zealous theorists who are infatuated with esoteric jargon and language games - so that, as the final chapter of 'Representations of the Intellectual' proudly proclaims, they might 'speak the truth to power'.
Said's politics are uncompromisingly Leftist, and his vision of a world in which the vagaries of cultural difference are not merely tolerated but actively surmounted, only seems compatible with a multicultural democracy (which, Said realises, inevitably has its own share of problems. For example, he abhors the modern role of the United States as an ostensibly humanitarian interventionist. Utopia, indeed!) Yet he doesn't actively seek to change the world. Rather, he wants to fortfy intellectuals with moral courage by encouraging them to embrace their individualism and social importance. In the end, the fact that Said has a social vision at all is just as important as its potential to be enacted.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The social role of the intellectual, March 16, 2001
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
Said paints a lonely picture of the intellectual: always on the fringe, always challenging the status quo, and always on guard against manipulative influences. It is a very personal portrait, and a (intellectually) passionate call for people to broaden their scope of knowledge and to put their ideas into action, to question what we shouldn't easily accept and to defend marginal groups that lack political power. If you think highly of the French intellectuals like Sartre and Camus, or any other modern thinkers, you may want to read this very short book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Left Benda-ism': Said's advocacy of independent, socially responsible intellectuals, July 12, 2006
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
This is a short popular introduction to the social role of intellectuals, taking off from the polarity of Julien Benda (free-floating) vs. Antonio Gramsci (organic) intellectuals. While Benda has always had a conservative flavor, his advocacy of independence and integrity (as opposed to his conservative notion of the intellectual's obligation to the eternal verities) is nonetheless important, so Said could be considered a left Benda-ite (as could Russell Jacoby). Said advocates the independence as well as the engagement of free-floating and academic intellectuals. He writes of the difficulties of negotiating the cosmopolitan and the national commitments of intellectuals, also of the experience of exile and marginalization. He also addresses the polarity of professionalism and amateurism, holding to the side of the "amateurs", without disavowing membership in academic institutions. He prefers the role of "speaking truth to power", which also means avoiding the twin temptations of self-submission to gods that inevitably fail and apostatic dogma-hopping. (See also my review of Benda's THE TREASON OF THE INTELLECTUALS.)
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Pertinent and timely for discussion today", August 31, 2004
This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
A collection of six lectures given as part of the BBC's prestigious Reith Lectures, this short book contains Said sees the intellectual's role in society as that of a valuable outsider, one who can break down the stereotypes and categories that limit thought and communication. These thinkers are the ones that he believe can question special interests, corporate thinking, blind patriotism, even class or racial privilege. Above all, the intellectual is an exile and an amateur-that is, one consigned by choice to the margins. And one who can "speak the truth to power."

No stranger to controversy while alive, one cannot help but read biographical inferences in Said's essays. He chooses figure like James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Henry Kissinger and Jonathan Swift that resisted money or power to uphold intellectual honesty and rigor of thought. They are also individuals whom social transformation was an essential goal-much like Said. Regardless of one's attitude to Said's own politics, this collection of lectures given a decade ago remain imminently pertinent and timely for discussion today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A succinct examination of what constitutes an intellectual., January 24, 2000
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This review is from: Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (Paperback)
Said succinctly examines what constitutes an intellectual and what role he or she has in society. He represents the intellectual as someone who is an amateur, independent of special interests, and an activist willing to take on personal risk to speak the truth. But perhaps more important is the intellectual's reliance on reason and honesty as opposed to the constraints of dogma or ideology. This book is an important read for anyone whose work puts them in a position to affect policy or public opinion.
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Representations of the Intellectual:  The 1993 Reith Lectures
Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures by Edward W. Said (Paperback - April 2, 1996)
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