Friday, June 3, 2016

Saïd. Transcript. Columbia. 16 Apr 2003, 10 days before his Death.

  Preface to a collection of Shakespeare, William Carlos Williams has a phrase, a statement with which he begins this introduction, to the effect that, William Carlos Williams says, I’m always surprised when somebody says Shakespeare is my favourite poet. Shakespeare cannot be anyone’s favourite poet. Shakespeare is an University. Sound of laughter. Now, in the course of years, when I happen to be giving a talk in a Conference, in a Festival, etc., outside New York and People will come to know that I teach at Columbia, they invariably come to me and say, Oh, you teach at Columbia, you teach with Edward Said, or Oh you teach with Edward Said at Columbia. Now, over the years, this has mutated to the point of, Oh, you teach at Edward Said with Columbia. Sound of applaud. Edward Saïd is an University. Now here at Columbia, of course we are delighted and we feel wonderful that the best scholar and the most noble public intellectuals from four corners of the World appropriate Edward Saïd, but I must confess in Public that we have a secret joy to claim him sometimes exclusively for us here at Columbia. Please join me and my Colleagues across Columbia University in welcoming the author of Orientalism, Edward Saïd.

  Saïd: I want to say that it’s impossible for me to express my feelings of Gratitude and Enlightenment and sort of overwhelming Embarrassment at this day’s proceedings, which has really been marked by extraordinarily interesting and, to me especially, critically sharp interventions by everyone who spoke. As I said earlier in responding to this last panel, it was very hard for me to keep still, because I wanted to keep jumping up and saying things to everybody about points that were made. I really think at the very end here, you’re all tired, don’t want to hear my thoughts about everything that’s transpired. I’ll limit myself first of all to thanking very profoundly my friend and colleague, Hamid Dabashi, who organised this panel this day, rather several panels, and to my friend and comrade and long-time supporter at the University, Jonathan Cole, who describes exactly the atmosphere of Stanford in the middle 70s when we were together with our Children and our Worries and trying to get Work done during that year, and has really been marvelously a Force in the Life of Columbia for Free Thinking and Free Speech & Ideas, which are really quite superb and unusual, I think. I also want to say to the various friends, former Students, Colleagues and associates, many of whom came enormously long distances for this day. I want to say profoundly how much I appreciate it. I mean, there’s no possible way I can do Justice to your efforts, but believe me every one of you, the presenters, the commentators, the People who gave talks, every one of them I thought was wonderful and has been, as Hamlet says, etched in the tablets of my heart.
  Having said so much about Orientalism, it seems kind of dumb to say more, but I’m going to try. Sound of laughter. Nine years ago in the Spring of 1994, I wrote in afterwards for Orientalism, which in trying to clarify what I believed I had and had not said. I stress not only the many discussions that it opened up since the book appeared in 1978, but the ways in which a book about representations of the Orient lent themselves to increasing misrepresentation and misinterpretation that I find myself feeling more ironic than irritated about that very same thing today is a sign of how much my age has crept up on me, along with the necessary diminutions in Expectations and pedagogic Zeal, which usually heads in the road, as I call it the road to seniority.
  The recent Death of my two main intellectual, [] Eqbal Ahmad and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, who is one of the dedicatees of Orientalism has brought Sadness and Loss as well as resignation and a certain stubborn Will to go on. It isn’t at all a matter of being optimistic, but rather of continuing to have Faith in the ongoing and literally unending process of Emancipation and Enlightenment that in my opinion frames and gives direction to the intellectual vocation. Nevertheless, it is still a source of Amazement to me that Orientalism continues to be discussed and translated all over the World, now in 36 Languages. Thanks to the efforts of my dear Friend and Colleague, Professor Gabi Piterberg, now of UCLA, formerly of Ben-Gurion University in Israel, there is a Hebrew version of the book available, which has stimulated considerable Discussion and Debate among Israeli readers and Students. In addition, a Vietnamese translation has appeared under Australian auspices. I hope it’s not immodest to say that an Indochinese intellectual Space seems to have opened up for the propositions of this book. In any case, it gives me great pleasure to note as an author who had never dreamed of any such happy fate for his Work that interest in what I tried to do in my book hasn’t completely died down, particularly in the many different lands of the Orient itself. In part, of course that is because the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam have continued to fuel enormous Change, Struggle, Controversy, and as I speak to you now, War.
  As I said many years ago, Orientalism is the product of circumstances that are fundamentally, indeed radically fractious. In my memoir, Out of Place, I described the strange and contradictory Worlds in which I grew up, providing for myself and my readers a detailed account of the settings that I think formed me in Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon. That was only a very personal account that stopped well short of all the years of my own political Engagement that started after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the War in whose continuing aftermath Israel after all is still in military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the Golan Height. A War whose continuing aftermath, the terms of Struggle and the Ideas at stake that were crucial for my Generation of Arabs and Americans and Jews seem to go on.
  Nevertheless, I do want to affirm yet again that this book, and for that matter my intellectual Work generally have really been enabled by my Life as a University academic. For all it’s often noted defects and problems, the American University and mine Columbia, in particular, is still I think one of the few remaining places in the United States, where Reflection and Study can take place in almost utopian fashion. While at Columbia, I’ve never taught anything - I have taught here for almost 40 yearsm - I’ve never taught anything about the Middle East, being by training and practice a Teacher of the mainly European and American Humanities and a specialist in modern Comparative Literature. The University and my pedagogic Work with two generations of first-rate Students and excellent Colleagues has made possible the kind of deliberately meditated and analysed Study that Orientalism the book contains, which for all its urgent worldly references is still a book about Culture, Ideas, History and Power, rather than about Middle Eastern Politics tout court. That was my notion from the beginning, and it’s very evident and a good deal clearer to me today. Yet, my book is very much a book tied to the tumultuous dynamics of contemporary History. I emphasise in it accordingly that neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability. Each is made up of human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the other that these supreme Fictions lend themselves easily to Manipulation and the Organisation of collective Passion has never been more evident than in our time, when the mobilisation of Fear, Hatred, Disgust and resurgent self-Pride and Arrogance, much of it having to do with Islam and the Arabs on one side, we Westerners on the other, these are very large-scale Enterprises.
  Orientalism’s first page opens with a 1975 description of the Lebanese Civil War that continued until 1990. The Violence and the ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the failure of the Oslo Peace process, the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the awful suffering of the Palestinians on the reinvaded West Bank and Gaza with Israeli F-16s and Apache Helicopters used routinely on defenseless civilians as part of their Collective Punishment. The Suicide Bombing phenomenon has appeared with all its hideous damage, none more lurid and apocalyptic of course than the events of September 11 and their aftermath in the Wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. As I write these lines - I wrote them today - the illegal and unsanctioned imperial Invasion of Iraq by Britain and the United States proceeds with an aftermath and physical Ravagement, political unrest and more Invasions that is truly awful to contemplate. This is all part of what is supposed to be a Clash of Civilisations, unending, implacable, irremediable. Nevertheless, I think not.
  I wish I could say, however, that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn’t. In fact, the hardening of Attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalisation and triumphalist cliché, the dominance of crude Power allied with simplistic Contempt of dissenters and others has found a fitting correlative in the Looting, Pillaging and Destruction of Iraq’s Libraries and Museums. What our Leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that History cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that “We” might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of Life for these lesser People to follow. It’s quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the Map of the Middle East, as if ancient Societies and myriad Peoples could be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the Orient that semi-mythical construct which, since Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt in the late 18th-century, has been made and remade countless times by Power acting through an expedient form of Knowledge to assert that this is the Orient’s Nature and we must deal with it accordingly.
  In the process, the uncountable sediments of History that include innumerable narratives and a dizzying variety of Peoples, Languages, Experiences and Cultures, all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sand heap along with the treasures that have been ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad’s Libraries and Museums. My argument is that if History is made by men and women, it can also be unmade and rewritten, always with various silences and elisions, always with shapes imposed and disfigurements tolerated, so that “our” East, “our” Orient becomes ours to possess and direct. I should say again as I do many times in the book that I have no real Orient to argue for. I do, however, have a very high regard for the Powers and Gifts of the Peoples of that Region to struggle on for their Vision of what they are and want to be. There has been so massively and calculatedly aggressive an Attack on the contemporary Societies of the Arab and Muslim Worlds for their backwardness, lack of Democracy and abrogation of Human’s and Women’s Rights that we simply forget in the process that such notions as Modernity, Enlightenment and Democracy are by no means simple and agreed-upon Concepts that one either does or does not find, like Easter eggs in the living-room.
  The breathtaking insouciance of jejune publicists, who speak in the name of Foreign Policy and who have no live notion or any Knowledge at all of the Language of what real People actually speak, has fabricated an arid landscape ready for American Power to construct there an Ersatz model, a Free Market Democracy, without even a trace of doubt that such projects don’t exist really outside of Swift’s Academy of Lagado. What I do argue also is that there is a difference between Knowledge of other Peoples and other Times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful Study and analysis as in Arabak’s case for their own sakes. And on the other hand, there is Knowledge, if that’s what it is that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, Belligerency and outright War. There is, after all, a profound difference between the Will to understand for purposes of coexistence and humanistic enlargement of horizons and the Will to dominate for the purposes of Control an external Dominion.
  It is surely one of the intellectual catastrophes of History that an imperialist War confected by a small group of unelected US officials, they’ve been called chickenhawks since none of them ever served in the Military, was waged against a devastated Third World Dictatorship on completely Ideological grounds, having to do with Worlddominance, Securitycontrol and scarce Resources, but disguised for its true intent, hastened and reasoned for by Orientalists who betrayed their calling as scholars. The major influences on George W. Bush’s Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad - when I say men, I use the word loosely – Sound of laughter. such as Bernard Lewis or self-made up men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab. Thank you.

  Experts on the Arab and Islamic World who helped the American hawks to think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab Mind and centuries-old Islamic decline, which only American Power could reverse. Today, bookstores in the United States are filled with shabby screeds, bearing screaming headlines about Islam and Terror, Islam exposed, the Arab Threat and the Muslim Menace, all of them written by political polemicists, some of them my Students, pretending to Knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental Peoples over there who have been such a terrible thorn in our flesh. Accompanying such warmongering Expertise have been the omnipresent CNN’s and Fox’s of this World, plus myriad numbers of evangelical and right-wing Radio hosts, plus innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journalists, all of them recycling the same unverifiable Fictions and vast generalisations, so as to stir up America against the foreign Devil. Even with all its terrible failings and its appalling Dictator, who was partly created by US Policy two decades ago, were Iraq to have been the World’s largest Exporter of bananas or oranges, surely there would have been no War, no hysteria over mysteriously vanished Weapons of Mass Destruction, no Transporting of an enormous Army, Navy and Air Force 7000 miles away to destroy a Country scarcely known even to the educated Americans, all in the name of Freedom. Without a well-organised sense that those People over there were not like us and didn’t appreciate our Values, the very core of traditional Orientalist dogmas I describe its creation and circulation in this book, there would have been no War.
  From the very same directorate of paid professional scholars, enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British Armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and West Africa, the French Armies of Indochina and North Africa, came the American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House, using the same clichés, the same stereotypes, the same justifications for Power and violence. After all, runs the chorus, Power is the only Language they understand in this case, as in the earlier ones. As a Student of Empire, I can verify to you that every single Empire in its official Discourse has said that it is not like all the others, we’re different, that it’s circumstances are special, We’re not like England, we’re not like France, we’re not like the Arabs, we’re not like the Mongols. Everyone has said that it has a mission to enlighten, civilise, bring Order and Democracy, and that it uses Force only, only as a last resort. [Joyce Carol Oates & Ruth Rendell. Samantha Powers. Jane Mayers. Émy Guerrini. Bill Mahers. Timothy Snyder. Anne Applebaum.] Sadder still, there is always a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic Empires, as if, I mean as if they’re talking about unicorns. This Language of benign or altruistic Empires as if one should not trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the Destruction and the Misery and the Death brought by the latest mission civilisatrice.
  One specifically American contribution to the discourse of Empire is the specialised jargon of policy Expertise. You don’t need Arabic or Persian or even French to pontificate about how the Democracy dominoeffect is just what the Arab World needs. Combative and woefully ignorant policy experts, whose Worldexperience is limited to the Beltway, grind out books on Terrorism and Liberalism, or about Islamic Fundamentalism and American Foreign Policy, or about even the End of History, all of it vying for attention and influence, quite without regard for truthfulness or Reflexion or real Knowledge. What matters is how efficient and resourceful it sounds and who might go for it, as it were. The worst aspect of this essentialising stuff is that - this is to me the biggest Crimes - is that human suffering in all its density and pain is spirited away. Memory and, with it, a historical past are effaced as in the common dismissively contemptuous American phrase, You’re History.
  25 years after my book’s Publication, Orientalism once again raises the question of whether modern Imperialism ever ended or whether it has continued in the Orient since Napoleon’s entry into Egypt two centuries ago. Arabs and Muslims have been told that Victimology and dwelling on the depredations of Empire is only a way of evading Responsibility in the present. You have failed, you have gone Wrong, says the modem Orientalist, and you can’t blame the Empire, you did it. [Niall Ferguson.] This, of course, is also V. S. Naipaul’s contribution to Literature that the Victims of Empire wail on while their country goes to the dogs, but what a shallow calculation of the imperial intrusion that is, how summarily it scans the immense distortion introduced by the Empire into the Lives of lesser Peoples and subject races generation after generation, how little it wishes to face the long succession of years through which Empire continues to work its way in the Lives of Palestinians or Congolese or Algerians or Iraqis.
  We allow Justly that the Holocaust has permanently altered the consciousness of our Time. Why do we not accord the same epistemological mutation in what Imperialism has done and what Orientalism continues to do? Think of the line that starts with Napoleon, continues with the rise of Oriental Studies and the takeover of North Africa and goes on in similar undertakings in Vietnam, in Egypt, in Palestine, and during the entire 20th Century in the struggle over Oil and strategic Control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan. Then think contrapuntally of the rise of anti-colonial Nationalism through the short period of liberal Independence, then Era of Military Coup d’États, of Insurgency, Civil War, religious Fanaticism, irrational Struggle and uncompromising Brutality against the latest bunch of natives. Each of these Phases and Eras produces its own distorted Knowledge of the other, each its own reductive images, its own disputatious polemics.
  My Idea in Orientalism was to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of Struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical, thought-stopping Fury that so imprisons us in labels and antagonistic Debate whose goal is collective Passion rather than understanding an intellectual exchange. I’ve called what I try to do Humanism, a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics. By Humanism I mean first of all, attempting to dissolve Blake’s mind-forged manacles, so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure. Moreover, Humanism is sustained by a sense of Community with other interpreters and other Societies and Periods. Strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist. Second, Humanism is centered upon the agency of human individuality and subjective Intuition, rather than on received Ideas and approved Authority. Texts have to be read as texts that were produced and live on in the historical realm in all sorts of what I have called worldly ways. This by no means excludes Power, since on the contrary what I have tried to show on this book have been the insinuations, the imbrications of Power into even the most recondite of studies. Last, most important, Humanism is the only and I would go so far as saying, the final Resistance we have against the inhuman practices and Injustices that disfigure human History. We are today abetted by the enormously encouraging democratic field of Cyberspace, open to all users in ways undreamed of by earlier generations, either of Tyrants or of Orthodoxies.
  The worldwide Protests before the War began in Iraq would not have been possible, were it not for the existence of alternative Communities all across the Globe, energised by alternative Information and keenly aware of the Environmental, Human Rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny Planet. The human and humanistic desire for Enlightenment and Emancipation is not easily deferred, despite the strength of the opposition to it that comes from the Rumsfelds, the Bin Ladens, the Sharons and Bushes of this World. I would like to believe that my book, Orientalism, has had a small place in the long and often interrupted road to human Freedom. Thank you.

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