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Humanism in the Autobiographies of Edward Said and Nelson Mandela: Memory as Action

Jihan Zakarriya


This paper focuses on the concept of memory as a form of humanist activism in the autobiographies of Nelson Mandela and Edward Said, namely The Long Walk to Freedom (1994) and After the Last Sky (1999), respectively. I have chosen Mandela and Said because they dedicated their lives and efforts to the service of the cause of freedom in South Africa and Palestine. Their engagement with the political causes of their countries turns into a concern with worldwide struggles for human rights and racial equality. While Mandela emerged as a vital force against apartheid in South Africa, Said was a well-known and influential Palestinian critic and intellectual whose writings tackle the Palestinian struggle for justice within the worldwide experience of imperialism and its binary oppositions of white/black, male/female, superior /inferior. I argue that their autobiographies bear witness to the plight of Black South Africans and Palestinians as both a shared memory resistant to erasure and as a call for justice. Mandela and Said use their personal memories and life stories to construct a public reading of the meanings of the events that shaped them. Both are concerned with the ways their people have been represented by others, and how they struggle to represent themselves.


memory; action; humanism; representation; stereotypes

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