Edward Said invented the notion of a contrapuntal reading of history, meaning that the story of history is told by many different voices , all of which are distinct and at the same time, part of the whole. He criticized the way history is now told, wherein the stories are always written and passed down by the "winners," the elite, imperialistic powers. The experiences and histories of the privileged must be read against the histories of the dispossessed and marginalized, Said tells us.
The type of history which Said criticizes is the kind of history that has been written down since pre-civilization. The entire Bible, for example, is made up of stories about Israelite men, written down by Israelite men. What happened to the women The rules made up by the men are taken for granted to be naturally just the way things are. there is no contrapuntal telling of history in the case of the Bible. So Hagar was given by Sarah to Abraham to create a son for him. There is no indication of any kind of questioning on Sarah’s part about the correctness of giving away another woman’s body for the sake of her husband being able to pass down his wealth. It was, indeed, Abraham’s wealth, not Sarah’s, because women owned nothing. The story of Abraham and Sarah, however, never indicates even a hint of resentment on Sarah’s part. History has always been written by its victors. Said is trying to change what is, apparently, an innate and natural way for humans to do things.
Said wants a history to be told that includes diverse voices: the voices of the imperialized and well as the voices of the imperialists, of the slave as well as the slave masters, of women, of all the oppressed. That is what he says. In the meanwhile, he is staunchly anti-Israel and complains that Palestinian voices are not heard. Jews, who are a people who were the oppressed for thousands of years in Europe, are now caste in the role of oppressors, and the Palestinians and those who support them are the heroes. Maybe he is correct, but then he fails to draw the obvious lesson: as soon as those voices which were silenced become loud, as soon as any formerly beaten down people take power, they then turn around and silence others and beat them down in the same way they were beaten. Nobody is pure. The Israelis are not pure, but neither is the rest of the world, and neither are the Palestinians. Give anyone power, and they become greedy for more. The so-called heroes who escape from oppression don’t maintain their ideals for long.
Look at the Puritans who came to the American colonies to escape religious persecution in England. Right away, they enslaved Africans. They forbade non-property owners to vote. They forbade women to vote. Some of the colonies forbade Catholics and Jews to vote. How heroic were they
Said is beating a drum of inclusion and democracy. As a top rate academic, it is unlikely that he is really ignorant. Therefore, he is not really about liberty, equality, fraternity. He is a Palestinian who is about trying to get power in the world not to be distributed equally, but to change the monopolistic hands into which it falls.
Some questions to explore might be: Who would decide how this contrapuntal writing of history he wants would be organized Who would decide what gets included, what gets excluded, which writing gets the biggest space right up front and what is squeezed into a little column in the back of the book Regarding Said’s stated belief that academics should be political and not objectively silent about politics, what would become of those academics who continue to want to teach pure theory and not engage in any flag waving Would they still keep their jobs Would they have any chance to get promoted in their departments, or would only the loud, politically correct flag wavers get to sit in the department chairperson’s seats