Illustration of Hannah Arendt "Hannah-Arendt3" ©  Ben Northern | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionTheory & Practice

Hannah and Me: Understanding Politics in Dark Times

Contrary to the suggestion of my informal title, I did not study with Hannah Arendt, nor were we ever colleagues, although I missed both experiences only by a bit. I was a graduate student in the early 1970s in one of the universities where she last taught, the University of Chicago, and my first and only long term position, at the New School for Social Research, was her primary American academic home.

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Book cover of An Uncanny Era: Conversations between Václav Havel and Adam Michnik edited, translated and with forward by Elzbieta Matynia Yale University Press © Yale University Press | Amazon
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

An Uncanny Era of Post-revolution (1989-2014)

Today’s post comes to us via the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies blog. -J.G.

On November 10, 2014, TCDS, partnering with the Polish Cultural Institute, hosted An Uncanny Era of Post-revolution (1989-2014) at The New School. Second in the series of events marking the 25th anniversary of the dismantling of Communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, An Uncanny Era was the launch of two books and a three-way discussion between Elzbieta Matynia, Professor of Sociology and Liberal Studies at NSSR, who presented her new book An Uncanny Era: Conversations between Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik; Irena Grudzinska-Gross of Princeton University, editor of a recent collection of Michnik’s essays on the era, The Trouble with History; and Adam Michnik…

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Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 1989. © Erazm Ciołek | Polska: sierpień 1980–sierpień 1989
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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Georg Simmel, circa 1901 © Julius Cornelius Schaarwächter | sammlungen.hu-berlin.de
EssaysTheory & Practice

Simmel and the Social Condition

Georg Simmel (1858 – 1918) had a very precise and original conception of the subject matter of sociology: the forms, but not the contents, of human interaction. Sociology as a distinct discipline of human inquiry, he maintained, is directly comparable to geometry. As geometry, by studying the forms of “physicochemical” contents “determines what the spatiality of things in space really is,” sociology studies the forms of human interaction of all sorts, what he called “sociation.” The study of sociation, Simmel maintained, is the specific subject matter of sociology, the way to understand what society really is.

Following this path he studied a diverse range of formal subjects: domination, conflict, exchange and “sociability” (sociation as an end in itself, as in a cocktail party) built around considerations of the spacing and timing of social relations. Yet his most extraordinary work combined this formal sociology with the study of the forms and contents of culture: …

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Golden City, 1984 © Jan Sawka
Arts & DesignEssays

Jan Sawka: The Power of the Not So Powerless

The following lecture was prepared for delivery at the symposium “Jan Sawka: The Artist’s Role in Changing the World” presented by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Gallery Aferro and the Newark Arts Council, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition at the Gallery Aferro, “Reflections on Everyman: the work of Jan Sawka.”

I have crossed paths with Jan Sawka three times, although only one of these times did we meet.

It was at a low moment in Polish history, the early 80s. It was in his small apartment on 58th street in Manhattan, in very cramped living quarters, with Sawka, constantly working, drawing and painting, even while the family entertained guests. In the midst of the domestic, he created his own world, responding to life’s public and private absurdities, and tragedies, with his imagination and craft. The intensity of the moment, during the weeks after the declaration of martial law in Poland, the repression of the first nationwide popular social movement in the former Soviet bloc, a labor movement of workers moving against the workers’ state, …

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