Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Allen Dunn

Committee Members

Amy J. Elias, Urmila Seshagiri, Stephen Blackwell


In this dissertation, I argue that Edward Said‘s theory of exile offers a stronger version of human agency than do other postcolonial theories of identity which rely on poststructural theory, and therefore, his theory of exile provides a useful model for postcolonial criticism. His theory of exile animates almost all of his work from his earliest literary criticism to his later theoretical texts. By ―exile,‖ Said refers to the experience of peoples displaced from their homes for political reasons and to the experience of intellectual homelessness that a critic must have in order to be free of the constraints of cultural, ideological, and professional entanglements. However, he insists that exile is a traumatic experience that does not lead to transcendence but to a greater awareness of the contingency of human experience.

In my first chapter, I establish how Said‘s theory of exile allows him to appropriate some of the lessons of poststructuralism without relinquishing the strong sense of human agency which drives his political commitments. In the following three chapters, I examine Said‘s relationship to three novelists – Joseph Conrad, V.S. Naipaul, and Salman Rushdie – to consider how his theory of exile is developed in relation to their work. In Joseph Conrad, Said found a fellow-traveler whose extreme depictions of the predicament of exile, especially the depiction of language‘s inability to ameliorate the isolation of exile through the production of new affiliations, remind Said that exile is an experience of trauma. Said had a publicly contentious relationship with V.S. Naipaul, but their works bear strikingly similar descriptions of the relationship between exile and writing. They both insist that exilic writing can lead to valuable self-knowledge. v However, Said insists that writing is an act of engagement which leads to new affiliations, but Naipaul‘s writing offers a place of solace which he can reconsider his life with clearer vision. Said very publicly defended Salman Rushdie and wrote admirably of his project. Rushdie‘s theory of migrancy mirrors Said‘s theory of exile by attempting to construct a complex relationship to the metropolitan center without surrendering strategic opposition to various forms of oppression.

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