How does a country disappear? How can a country disappear? In 1983 the UN prohibited any writing from accompanying an exhibition of Jean Mohr’s photographs of Palestine that had been commissioned by Edward Said. Said’s After the Last Sky (1986) formed a response to that injunction against a scriptory Palestine, and developed into his first autobiographical account that sought to retrieve in writing a living actuality in the cultural memory of Palestine. How to represent a country that had been there since Roman times but had never been a country as such in the modern sense, and which in the twentieth century became another country altogether? How to represent what was once there, is still there and is no longer there? In 1975 Said characterised the representational relation between words and things with the unexpected word “molestation”. Said’s lifelong preoccupation with the question and problems of representation and its conceptual limits can be considered and rethought from the perspective of the complex intertwining of memory with the trauma of loss and the oblivion of a people. In this talk Robert Young analyses the ways in which representation always proved more than a theoretical or philosophical problem for Said, and in particular the extent to which it was animated by “the problem of writing about and representing—in all senses of the word—Palestinians”.
This lecture was given at the Edward Said Memorial Conference, which focused on Edward Said’s legacy and paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of his passing. Each day of the conference featured renowned speakers and established academics on Edward Said’s work. Major attention was paid to cultural activities that resounded with Said’s vision in combining scholarship with the Arts so as to support the quest for justice, self-determination and equality.