Conversations With Outstanding Americans: Edward Said
A Christian Palestinian born in Jerusalem, Professor Said is a passionate and influential voice in literary, musical, and political worlds. A prolific writer, he is known also for his courageous expression of unpopular views on the Middle East
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Said, who was diagnosed several years ago with leukemia, has had to limit his activities. Still, he continues to give lectures, and to live partly in what he calls a "Palestine of the mind" - a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians can live productive and safe lives. One must live in that idea of Palestine, he says, whether one ever returns home or not. One must live "as if."Skip to next paragraph
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"If justice, or any kind of real lasting solution is to be imagined, it can't be done by separating the two populations. Arabs and Israelis are intertwined. That's the reality. There are 900,000 Palestinians inside Israel right now who are treated only as non-Jews, with no status, treated as subhuman, aliens on their own land. That won't work. You can't have rights for some and not others.
"In the long run, the two-state solution of Oslo is premised on a vast disparity in power and privilege. That won't last forever. I think the Israeli experience will gradually turn back towards the world they really live in, the Islamic Arab world. And that can only come through the Palestinians. It might be in a cantonal system, like Switzerland. It could be a federated system, many states. But we can't live forever in separation.
"Yes, this seems hopelessly unrealistic. Of course. But it is more realistic than what we have now. The situation is so full of dramatic contradictions you can't think on the basis of the way things look now."
On literature ...
'My generation of literary studies was confined by national boundaries. Literature then meant European literature. No Japanese, Chinese. Today it's very exciting. Students are interested in class and gender. I'm not sure the relation they draw between those issues and literature is always the best. But it is refreshing. I've been very conservative in teaching. The vogue of replacing one canon with another I'm against. What you teach students in literature is how to read. I'm still interested in Homer and Virgil. That doesn't stop me from reading Latin American, Chinese, and Arabic literature. But, and this is where I'm conservative, I do think some works of art are better than others.'
On Israeli-Palestinian relations ...
'I believe it is possible for us [Palestinians] to have a reconciliation with the Jews of Israel. But not unless we recognize their complex history. And they recognize ours. I don't think that has happened. And that is why there is no reconciliation.'
On the beauty of opera ...
'Opera is an extravagant form. An enormous amount of information is coming across. There's nothing like it! It is the last refuge of the high style.... The vitality and beauty of opera is such that people can enjoy it. But on closer examination, certain operas draw you in further and further until you discover they are not what they seem to be at all.'
On America ...
'I have a complicated relationship with America. The kind of career I've had, writing and speaking, the children I've had, could only happen here. For me, the American university is central. I've spoken at universities all over the world. But the modern American university seems the last utopian place, a liberal ideal that has helped the Middle East, in its manifestations in Cairo and Beirut. We have a great stake in preserving it, in enhancing that space. New York is also very important. It is a kind of exilic city. A lot of writers. Strange people. And the music. Insofar as that is America, I couldn't be anywhere else.'
On the Oslo peace process ...
'The whole idea of trying to produce two states is probably at an end. The Oslo peace process is really in tatters.... The lives of Israelis and Palestinians are hopelessly intertwined. There is no way to separate them. You can have fantasy and denial. Or put people in ghettos. But in reality there is a common history. So we have to find a way to live together. It may take 50 years. But ... the Israeli experience will gradually turn back towards the world they really live in, the Islamic Arab world. And that can only come through the Palestinians.'
Excerpts from Lectures