The Jamia Outreach Programme organized a talk by Prof. Gauri Viswanathan, professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York, who spoke on the topic “Edward Said, Dissent and Post-colonialism” at the Dayar-I-Mir–Taqi-Mir building on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.
Prof. Viswanathan has published widely on topics such as education, religion, and culture; nineteenth-century British and colonial cultural studies; and the history of modern disciplines. She is the author of “Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India” and “Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief,” which won the Harry Levin Prize awarded by the American Comparative Literature Association.
Prof. Viswanathan talked about the works of Edward W. Said, who was a Palestinian American literary theorist, an influential cultural critic and an author best known for his book “Orientalism.” He was professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and a founding intellectual figure in the critical field of post-colonialism. According to Wikipedia, he was also a member of the Palestinian National Council for over a decade and his pro-Palestinian activism made him a figure of considerable controversy. He passed away in 2003, at the age of 67.
Prof. Viswanathan did her Ph.D. under the guidance of Edward Said at Columbia University.
Describing Said, she said: he was a “complex and sensitive human being,” who was not only an academic intellectual but also a public intellectual. She added, that according to Said “the intellectual must be accessible” and that he disliked jargon filled language that most academicians tend to use. She spoke of how his book “Orientalism” opened doors for people like “us” and wasn’t surprised that students today took advantage of words like ‘Orientalism’ and ‘the Other.’
Interestingly, during her talk, she mentioned that this was not her first time at Jamia, but the second. She had earlier visited Jamia around 15 years ago along with Said when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Jamia. She said that it was Said’s first time in India and he felt honored to be at Jamia as he thought that both India and Palestine were in search of a free society and that “things were coming full circle.”