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University pays tribute to champion of Palestine

* 19 April 2004 *

University pays tribute to champion of Palestine

A conference organised by graduate students and faculty at the University of Sussex will celebrate the life and work of author, critic, academic and political activist Edward Said, arguably the Palestinian cause's greatest champion in the West, who died last year.

The one-day conference - Edward Said, Contexts and Consequences, to be held on May 14 at the University's Falmer campus - will pay tribute, by way of speakers and cultural events, to his intellectual legacy and his political involvement as well as addressing the growing importance of postcolonial thought on academic life.

Edward Said, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York, was the author of groundbreaking text Orientalism (published 1978). He inspired successive generations of students all over the world to investigate the relationship between knowledge and politics.

The idea for the conference arose after Said spoke at last year's Brighton Festival and following the Social and Political Thought (SPT) graduate conference held at Sussex in the same month. One of the conference organisers, Gurminder K. Bhambra, says: "Said's works rests on the crossing of boundaries and, as such, Sussex's commitment to progressive, cross-cultural academic engagement makes it an ideal location for the examination of his thought and politics."

The conference is sponsored by the University of Sussex Schools of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, and Humanities. Guest speakers will include, among many others, Ato Quayson, lecturer in English, Director of the African Studies Centre and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, who says: "Said brought a political edge to his best writings that provided illumination not just about the texts he explored, but about the world itself and how to live in it."

Said was also a great champion of culture, primarily classical music. A Palestinian, he was co-founder, together with the renowned Jewish pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim, of the West-East Divan orchestra, made up of Arab and Israeli musicians.

To celebrate this aspect of Said's life, the conference will include a performance by Samadana, a five-piece band that plays a fusion of Arabic/ Israeli/Western music and is part of an initiative called Hafla, comprising Arab, Israeli, British and other people committed to peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. There will also be a photo exhibition documenting projects that promote co-existence in the Middle East.

Benita Parry, honorary Professor in English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, and a participant in the conference, says: "Although in interviews Said spoke of a regret at being unable to reconcile his two lives as a literary scholar and a polemicist, his writings time and again make visible 'the actual affiliations that exist between the world of ideas and scholarship on the one hand, and the world of brute politics, corporate and state power, and military force on the other'."

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