A Better Time and A Better Place: Global Political Consciousness and New Forms of Public Intellectualism


In 1999 Arab and Israeli musicians were brought together in the German city of Weimer to play in an orchestra as a part of cultural program that celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Organized by American Palestinian public intellectual Edward Said and his Israeli friend, musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Daniel Barenboim, the orchestra played music which celebrated Goethe’s passionate interest in Islam. The experiment was based upon Goethe’s “West-East Divan” poems which Said believed was utterly “unique in the history of Western culture” (Guzelimian 2002) because the poems celebrated other cultures during a time when Europe dominated the world.


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The Author:

Dr Helen Fordham’s research is primarily concerned with public intellectualism and the nature, circulation and privileging of ideas in the public domain of western democracies. Her doctoral work explores the emergence of the public intellectual’s political function and argues that in Australia the public intellectual is operationalised within the context of particular historical and philosophical conditions. Drawing upon the work of Michel Foucault and Edward Said Helen reconceptualised the intellectual function within the dominant and persistent discourse of a crisis. She problematised notions of the fixed and stable subject, the role of the media and the function of the intellectual. She argues that the sense of a decline is associated with the erosion of particular historical standards and ideologies, and that in a contemporary social, political and cultural context the primary intellectual function is the formation of the subjects critical consciousness of itself as an ethical self-fashioning being and its role in rethinking its relationship with the collective. Though primarily a history of cultural contexts that give rise to particular ideas, Helen’s research has implications for education, politics and the nature of civil society. She is conducting further research into how intellectualism is being variously configured by global conditions, technology and the media.