The Freud Museum

Events Archive

6 December 2001

Edward Said: Freud and the Non-European

Venue Details
Brunei Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies

Visit their website for more information.
Conference Report

It was an honour to welcome Professor Edward Said to deliver the Freud Museum Lecture in December. A former Reith Lecturer and winner of numerous academic honours, Professor Said is one of the foremost intellectuals in the world. Using an impressive array of material from literature, archaeology and social theory, and demonstrating an abiding interest in Freud's work and its influence on his own, his lecture explored the profound implications of Moses and Monotheism for middle east politics today. He proposed that Freud's assumption that Moses was an Egyptian undermines any simple ascription of a 'pure' identity, and can become the basis for new possibilities of understanding between cultural and political groups. However, in order for such understanding to grow, something of Freud's more complex, nuanced and ambiguous vision must be embodied in political reality. Said suggests that, ostracised as 'foreign' by the European countries and subject to the terrors of the Holocaust, the Jewish people nevertheless established Israel as a sort of 'European' enclave within Palestine, and proceeded to eliminate 'non-European' elements from its history. He writes:

"I very much doubt that Freud imagined that he would have non-European readers, or that in the context of the struggle over Palestine, he would have Palestinian readers. But he did and does. Let us look quickly at what becomes of his excavations - figuratively and literally - from this new set of unexpectedly turbulent, as well as startlingly relevant, perspectives. I would say, first of all, that out of the travails of specifically European anti-semitism, the establishment of Israel in a non-European territory consolidated Jewish identity politically in a state that took very specific legal and political positions to effectively seal off that identity from anything that was non-Jewish. By defining itself as a state of and for the Jewish people Israel allowed exclusive immigration and land-owning rights there for Jews only, even though there were former non-Jewish residents and present non-Jewish citizens whose rights were attenuated in the case of the latter, abrogated retrospectively in the case of the former. Palestinians who lived in pre-1948 Palestine can neither return (in the case of the refugees) nor have access to land as Jews can. Quite differently from the spirit of Freud's deliberately provocative reminders that Judaism's founder was a non-Jew, and that Judaism begins in the realm of Egyptian, non-Jewish monotheism, Israeli legislation countervenes, represses, and even cancels Freud's carefully maintained opening out of Jewish identity toward its non-Jewish background. The complex layers of the past so to speak have been eliminated by official Israel. So as I read him in the setting of Israel's ideologically conscious policies, Freud by contrast had left considerable room to accommodate Judaism's non-Jewish antecedents and contemporaries. In excavating the archeology of Jewish identity, that is, Freud insisted that it did not begin with itself, but rather with other identities (Egyptian and Arabian) which his demonstration in Moses and Monotheism goes a great distance to discover and thus restore to scrutiny. This other non-Jewish, non-European history has now been erased, no longer to be found insofar as an official Jewish identity is concerned."

The talk was held on Thursday 6 December 2001 in the Brunei Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Christopher Bollas of the British Psychoanalytical Society chaired the proceedings and Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English at Queen Mary College, University of London, acted as discussant. The event was over-subscribed and a video-link was also set up. A book of Edward Said's lecture, along with Jacqueline Rose's response and Christopher Bollas's introduction, will be published in the coming months.

This website uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website. Find out more about our cookie policy.