Specialization

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“Specialization is the first of these pressures. The higher one goes in the educational system today, the more one is limited to a relatively narrow area of knowledge. Now no one can have anything against competence as such, but when it involves losing sight of anything outside of one’s immediate field– say, early Victorian love poetry–and the sacrifice of one’s general culture to a set of authorities and canonical ideas, then competence of that sort is not worth the price paid for it.

In the study of literature, for example, which is my particular interest, specialization has meant an increasing technical formalism, and less and less of a historical sense of what real experiences actually went into the making of a work of literature. Specialization means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art or knowledge; as a result you cannot view knowledge and art as choices and decisions, commitments and alignments, but only in terms of impersonal theories or methodologies. To be a specialist in literature too often means shutting out history or music, or politics. In the end as a full specialized literary intellectual you become tame and accepting of whatever the so-called leaders in a field will allow. Specialization also kills your sense of excitement and discovery, both of which are irreducibly present in the intellectual’s makeup. In the final analysis, giving up to specialization is, I have always felt, laziness, so you end up doing what others tell you, because that is your specialty after all.”

Representations of the Intellectual, The 1993 Reith Lectures, Edward W. Said, Vintage Books, 1996.

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