“States,” by Edward Said is an excerpt that is from a book that he wrote; After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. In a world where both political analyses, as well as philosophical theory, are normally isolated by means of institutional forces, Saids’ book regarding Palestine presents a breath of fresh and precise air. The extent to which one understands “the other” in Edward Said’s “States” in the Palestinian identity through photographic representations is significant, as well as the struggles that he (Said) experienced in defining what it is to be Palestinian and why it is very difficult in representing the Palestinian identity.
Said uses written and photographic representations to help the reader understand Palestinian identity in a moving way that most people can’t. But the reader can only comprehend up to the extent what it is like to live in a Palestinian’s shoes. “Let us use photographs and a text, we said to each other, to say something that hasn’t been said about Palestinians. The problem of writing about and representing – in all senses of the word – Palestinians in some fresh way is part of a much larger problem” (Said 538). One cannot explain the feeling or an experience. One may only comprehend it if one has been personally affected by the incident. Everyone reacts in different ways, which makes not one person alike. Therefore, the emotional outcomes will vary.
“States” is a story concerning Palestine, which was once a country, but is currently spread out into millions of pieces of the people who once referred it as home. These pieces are memories of the period when Palestinians may have been who they are, and not a spread out as well as a forgotten people. They (Palestinians) all face a fresh struggle, which of finding out what their identity is.
"Identity- who we are, where we come from, what we are- is difficult to maintain in exile. Most other people take their identity for granted. Not the Palestinian, who is required to show proofs of identity more or less constantly" (546).
According to Said, Palestinians represents a people who have no country, and as well who lack an identity. The identity of Palestinians had been taken away from them, and until now they have still made an effort to linger in their lost identity, regardless of losing their land. During the time of the invasion of Palestinian land, the industrial revolution had been successful in altering the identity of an individual from one’s family and job to one’s country. Following the conclusion of the industrial revolution, an individual became an Australian, an American, or a Palestinian. This identity system by means of the country at first worked and brought people together. However, in Palestine, as Said asserts, this union was a hard attachment to break, and still following the fall of the nation, its inhabitants still lined up as Palestinians.
Said embarks on the story by means of describing the circumstances of the Palestinians, through pictures. Said's depiction of his third photograph sums up his view,
“All at once it is our transience and impermanence that our visibility expresses, for we can be seen as figures forced to push on to another house, village, or region. Just as we once were taken from one "habitat" to a new one, we can be moved again" (Said, 573).
He depicts them (Palestinians) as people who do not have an identity. The Palestine nation was conquered which compelled its’ people to escape into exile from Israel.
The maxim that states “a picture is worth a thousand words” in fact proves to be accurate in the pictures that Edward Said takes in the essay “States”. Said artfully merges prose with pictures, up to a point where the two are not distinct any longer and coalesce to form a shared existence. The convincing argument that he puts up in his work, “States,” could not serve the same purpose if it did not consist of the pictures. These pictures offer substance as well as reality to the readers in relation to the difficulties that many Palestinians face in their everyday life. To most readers of “States,” it is easy to be detached from the problems that are depicted in writing since the people in the story are far and very different from the ones in the Western culture. However, when pictures of real people are incorporated into the argument, the readers are highly likely to stumble on some association to the people.
The dreadfulness that Said present in relation to Palestine have the capacity of hitting hard the emotions of the readers, not only through the use of photographs to facilitate in supporting his argument, but as well since Said had firsthand experience with the problems faced by the Palestinians because of his Palestinian background. He is precisely aware of what his people are going through and can communicate them faultlessly in his writing. Said makes each emotion tangible and gives exceptional examples that are relevant to a greater part of the Western culture. He addresses ordinary stereotypes in the Middle East and after that counteract them with the realism that most people whom he knows face on a daily basis. In general, Said does an exceptional job of creating a candid image of his society that offers an opposition to a stereotype that is portrayed in the entire world.
Said writes about personal experiences and uses detailed descriptions for his photographs. A photograph may give you a setting to envision, but a photograph is worth a thousand words. Said is a talented writer and excellent with providing details, but others could find something to say about a photo that hasn’t been already said. “At this point, no one writing about Palestine – and indeed, no one going to Palestine: We have all been there before, whether by reading about it, experiencing its millennial presence and power, or actually living there for periods of time” (Said 539). In the contemporary society, we are lucky to have books and cameras. It is amazing how we can glance into other’s experiences and lives without being there.
Although words and images can be a great tool to represent the meaning of “the other”, it is going to be a struggle. There is no exact recipe to define what it is to be Palestinian. Palestinian Identity is too complex to be defined through photos and text. In States you might find yourself transported through the text. Almost as if you were there and for a short while make you forget where you are and have empathy for those less fortunate than us. Even if we put ourselves in their position, we know in actuality that we are not them. We know that we live privileged lives and that we will never know what they have gone through. We can learn their history, but we can’t feel their pain, their suffering.
Exclusion, therefore, forms the negative characteristic of the Palestinian identity: Palestinians are the people who have been expelled from a land, stripped off their rights, prohibited from anti-racist considerations, as well as excluded from the media’s coverage. These exclusions were conceivably more drastic when Said penned down this book in 1979, but it is outstanding how excluded the Palestinian point of view is from arguments on the Middle East in a typical middle-class discourse.
According to Said (557), the actual concern of the Palestinians is that they do not have a country to unite with. They are simply a scattered people who have no country. Said discusses many examples where the Palestinians made an effort to unite under neighboring nations like Syria, but all of these efforts bore no fruits as the administrations of these nations turned against them.
The question that Said’s excerpt deals with, and which is by far very hard is who “the Palestinians” are as well as what “Palestine” is. A central constituent of the answer to this question is basically that Palestinians are a people inhabiting a land, and a people who have been dislocated from a land, not being acknowledged as rightfully tied to that land. In this sense, Palestinians are component of a history of dislocation of native peoples by the settlers.
It is difficult to represent Palestinian identity because there is so much information to learn about them. “While there is much to learn about the Palestinians, the people and their history, the opening moment in the collaborative project is to learn to look and to read in the service of a complex and nuanced act of understanding” (Said 539). Said struggles to define their identity because it is not possible to explain who someone is. An identity isn’t something that can be described. It is who you are, your being. All Palestinians can’t be categorized under the one term, Palestinian identity. Each Palestinian is different from another in their way. That is like saying, “What is the meaning of Caucasian identity?” No two identities are identical.
In conclusion, Said, in “the other” helps the readers in understanding the Palestinian identity by means of photographs. This is because pictures have a great influence in comparison to writing, but Edward Said incorporates the two in making a story that is exceptional. However, even though the blend of photographs and writing in the story is significant in facilitating the reader’s understanding of this excerpt, Said still struggles in defining what it is to be Palestinian. This is because of issues such as lack of a country to unite the Palestinians and the fact that they are scattered. Nevertheless, he is successful in making the reader in understanding the life that the Palestinians experience in this modern society.