Said feels that being an intellectual is fundamentally about knowledge and freedom which acquire meaning not as abstractions but as experiences. He describes the intellectual as a shipwrecked person who learns to live, not on the land, but with it; someone who is a traveler, not a freeloader; a provisional guest, not a raider or conqueror and someone whose sense of the marvelous never fails him.
An intellectual in exile not only sees things as they are but as they have come to be that way and therefore situations will not be inevitable but contingent as the result of a series of historical choices, as facts of society made by human beings.
The intellectual in exile, says Said, is necessarily ironic, skeptical, even playful – but not cynical. A condition of marginality frees him from having always to proceed with caution and “what exuberance and unending self-discovery it contains.” Being an exile is a unique pleasure. As Said describes it, “this condition of being on the margins is so tantalizing that I cannot imagine anyone who would not want to think like an exile, act like an exile or be an exile.”