On Lost Causes: Zbigniew Herbert and J.M. Coetzee
In his essay “On Lost Causes” Edward Said emphasises the crucial role of the individual in deciding whether a lost cause is to become an abandoned cause as well. He notes that in practice a lost cause is associated with a hopeless cause, or something that cannot be achieved. Although the feeling that a cause is lost may derive from an objective situation, ultimately it is a matter of individual judgement, which results either from “a loss of conviction” or “a feeling that the time for it is not right, has passed, is over” (Said 2002: 528). In the face of defeat, it is natural for the collective and the individual to act in unison in accepting the finality of the loss; narratives are constructed which in retrospect explain and justify the failure. Nevertheless, the consciousness of defeat need not entail “the abjections of capitulation and the dishonor of grinning or bowing survivors who opportunistically fawn on their conquerors and seek to ingratiate themselves with the new dispensation”; nor need it result in “the broken will and demoralized pessimism of the defeated” (ibid. 552). Said argues that there is an alternative, albeit a very difficult and precarious one, and that this alternative resides in the individual thinker who refuses to submit to the collective tendency to accept what appears expedient. Said cites Adorno’s observation that for the individual true resignation comes when he chooses the security of sharing the predestination of the collective, at the cost of abrogating...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.