Edward Said

Edward Said

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ian role of diagnostician- though (at the risk of truism)

ian role of diagnostician- though (at the risk of truism) it is hard to see
what Baudrillard’s account ol the demise of Western universalism is il
not diagnostic. See Paroxysm: Interviews with Philippe Petit (London: Verso,
1998), pp. 7-25 (esp. pp. 12-15).
24 Pierre Bourdieu, “The Corporatism of the Universal: The Role of Intellectuals
in the Modern World,” Telos, 8 I (I 989): I 08. For a fuller account
see Jeremy Jennings’s essay in this volume, and Lane, Pierre Bourdieu, pp.
I 99-200.
25 Lane, Pierre Bourdieu, p. 201.
26 See Stefan Collini’s essay in this volume.
The Public Role of Writers
and Intellectuals
Ed W. Said
Almost exactly 20 years ago, The Nation magazine convened a congress
of writers in New York by putting out notices for the event and, as I
understood the tactic, leaving open the question of who was a writer
and why he or she qualified to attend. The result was that literally hundreds
of people showed up, crowding the main ballroom of a midtown
Manhattan hotel almost to the ceiling. The occasion itself was intended
as a response by the intellectual and artistic communities to the immediate
onset of the Reagan era. As I recall the proceedings, a debate raged
for a long time over the definition of a writer in the hope that some of
the people there would be selected out or, in plain English, forced to
leave. The reason for that was twofold: first of all, to decide who had a
vote and who didn’t, and second, to form a writer’s union. Not much
occurred in the way of reduced and manageable numbers; the hearteningly
large mass of people simply remained immense and unwieldy
since it was quite clear that everyone who came as a writer who
opposed Reaganism stayed on as a writer who opposed Reaganism. I
remember clearly that at one point someone sensibly suggested that
we should adopt what was said to be the Soviet position on defining a
writer, that is, a writer is someone who says that he or she is a writer.
And, I think that is where matters seem to have rested, even though a
National Writer’s Union was formed but restricted its functions to technical
professional matters like fairer standardized contracts between
publishers and writers. An American Writers’ Congress to deal with
expressly political issues was also formed, but was derailed by people
who in effect wanted it for one or another specific political agenda that
could not get a consensus.
Since that time, an immense amount of change has taken place in
the world of writers and intellectuals and, if anything, the definition

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