2017 Edward Said Memorial Lecture: “Literature, Empathy, and Rights”


Dr. David Palumbo-Liu
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University, where he is also Professor of Comparative Literature and English

*A light lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. Talk begins promptly at 1:00 p.m.

Edward Said was, among many things, a scholar of comparative literature. My talk focuses on three key concerns Said addressed via his study of literature. First and foremost was the issue of being in the world—literature was a social, as well as an aesthetic, phenomenon. Second, literature could draw people together in a cosmopolitan spirit, drawing on the human capacity for empathy. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, any idealization of that cosmopolitan spirit had to grapple with the realities of injustice and prejudice, which divert and stifle empathy. In terms of literature, the blocking, distortion, and erasure of stories was tantamount to the erasure of lives. My lecture will discuss how our commitments to empathy and ethics can only be met if we acknowledge the ways the realities of Palestine have been obscured and distorted. I end by putting forward a vision of comparative literature that I hope might conjoin with the model of literary studies Edward Said embodied. At the core of my lecture is the issue of rights.  – David Palumbo-Liu


Speaker Biography

Professor Palumbo-Liu’s fields of interest include social and cultural criticism, literary theory and criticism, and critical human rights. He has published numerous book chapters and scholarly articles. Many of these have been translated into Chinese, German, French, and Portuguese. His most recent book (The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age, Duke UP) addresses the role of contemporary literature with regard to transnational ethical thinking. He has written articles that have appeared in such magazines as Salon, Truthout, The Nation, The Guardian, AlterNet, and Al Jazeera. He also founded and directs the Teaching Human Rights Collaboratory, an international website for human rights teachers, activists, and students. 


Bookings are no longer available for this event.