Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Snyder and Orr Suckerpunch the Arts in Michigan

In a nifty move right out of the Reagan Revolution playbook, the governor of Michigan and his hand picked bankruptcy fixer finally revealed their plan for monetizing the art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The plan is brilliant in its simplicity and in its political nuance.

After months of hinting that the art in the museum was “on the table” for a liquidation that would generate cash to offset Detroit’s many debt obligations, the lords of the bankruptcy relented and “saved” the museum. Their idea basically runs like this: Art is worth money (they got an appraisal to prove it). People who like art have money. Thus, why not present the museum with a bill that would equate to the appraised value of its precious art and let the museum tap its rich friends across America for contributions that would pay the tab and keep the paintings on the Institute’s walls.

How perfect! How painless! How noble! This is the ideal “public/private partnership” we are always hearing about! …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

The Booing of Zuma

The booing of South African President Jacob Zuma at the Mandela memorial gathering – this before a resplendent cast of visiting global dignitaries, around 60,000 audience members and millions of international television viewers – resonated through first the stadium that hosted the 2010 soccer world cup and then the country beyond. The resonance consists in another bout of national self-interrogation (what does this say about us?) and political punditry (what does this say about the ANC’s prospects in next year’s general elections?). So what can be sensibly said at this point?

First, South Africans showed that they have enough democracy to get away with humiliating their President in front of the world. Zuma, who has built himself an entire village at state expense in his native Nkandla, does not take his status lightly. It is not impossible that ruling circles will buzz again with talk of the need for an insult law to protect the President. But what the crowd did broke no laws and is quite typical of the style in which ANC factional battles have been waged since 2005…

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Lenin’s Lost his Head: What’s Going On in Kyiv?

On Sunday, for the second time in two weeks, a half-million people gathered to protest against the government in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in an action dubbed on Twitter #ЕвроМайдан (EuroMaidan). Meanwhile, a short distance away, a smaller group of people toppled an eleven-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin, quickly removing its head and breaking the body up with a sledgehammer. The images of the latest Ukrainian protests are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution. The Maidan is again the site of a makeshift opposition camp complete with field-kitchen, portable toilets, hundreds of tents, a stage, and barricades all decorated with Ukrainian flags. Viktor Yanukovich and Russia have also reprised their roles as the main villains and targets of popular protest. While there is value in comparing the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan, there are also important differences that make the solution to the present situation much more complicated and uncertain.

One common thread between the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan is the contestation of Ukrainian identity…


The Case for Thoughtful Educational Assessment

A long-ago mathematics colleague at another university told a story about his first semester in the classroom. He threw a bunch of proofs on the blackboard and then, in the last five minutes, asked if there were any questions. There were no questions. He was unnerved. These students were good. The second class, he did more problems, more proofs, faster. Any questions? No questions. These students were geniuses. He had to ratchet up his game. He prepared mightily for the third class. When he showed up for the third class, there were no students. They’d all dropped.

There are a lot of reasons to love this story, and one of them is the assumption that teaching and learning are the same thing.  Yet as Kathleen Blake Yancey has written, there are three curricula in every classroom: the one students bring with them, the one we teach, and the one they learn. Students always learn. They just don’t always learn what we want. Thoughtful assessment aims to close the gap between teaching and learning. …

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, …

EssaysTheory & Practice

Hobsbawm’s 20th Century: Closing Comments

Plus remembrances of former New School students of Eric Hobsbawm

I am honored to have been asked to offer closing words for this memorial event celebrating the life and work of Eric Hobsbawm. This is a New School event, and not by coincidence. As Dean of The New School for Social Research, I want first to thank Ira Katznelson, for bringing Eric Hobsbawm to us when Ira was Dean here years ago. Eric’s legacy will always be part of ours. He was our own too.

I want now to speak about the legacy of Eric Hobsbawm at the NSSR, both about how his presence in these halls strengthened us at the time, and how today it challenges us as our unique graduate faculty of social sciences moves ahead in this strange 21st century.

I was lucky to sit on a few dissertation committees with Eric, so I had a chance to watch his great mind at work and to observe up close his supervisory style. Perhaps not surprisingly, he liked supervising students in economics, my own discipline. My recollection is of someone who showed great joy in helping young scholars and mentoring in the best sense of the word — that is, not dictating answers and methods, but by taking the students’ work very seriously, posing detailed questions, and listening carefully to the answers. Students felt respected and challenged at the same time – just the right combination needed to nurture serious and engaged scholarship from an advanced graduate student preparing to enter the world of ideas as a professional…

EssaysTheory & Practice

From Sartre to the Social Condition

The social dimension of the existential

In “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre concisely attempted to make his existentialism clear. The authentic human condition is a marked by choices, and by the realization that these choices are man’s, his/hers alone. In one of the most memorable parts of the treatise, Sartre tells of a student he had, confronted with a dilemma that had no easy solution:

“He lived alone with his mother, his father having gone off as a collaborator and his brother killed in 1940. He had a choice – to go and fight with the Free French to avenge his brother and protect his nation, or to stay and be his mother’s only consolation. So he was confronted by two modes of action; one concrete and immediate but directed only towards one single individual; the other addressed to an infinitely greater end but very ambiguous. What would help him choose? Christian doctrine? Accepted morals? Kant?”…

CapitalismEssaysMedia & Publics

Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

When I was a kid in the 1960s one of the big questions I remember being tossed about was what to do with all of the free time that modern society would afford us. That there would be a virtually unlimited horizon of material abundance and thus leisure, and how best to use it, was a topic of talk in the media and at dinner. Year after year, union contracts (back when there were such things) negotiated increasingly generous benefits, including substantial time off from work. John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1958 classic The Affluent Society set the terms of the conversation early on by challenging Americans to muster the country’s broadly experienced largesse, made possible by the productive capacity of modern mass manufacturing, to serve the larger social good. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was subsequently founded on the notion that widespread wealth, and along with it leisure, were faits accompli…


Thanksgiving, Kugel, and Cornbread Stuffing

A secular celebration in our diversity

Thanksgiving is a special holiday, the great American secular celebration: a common ritual, eating of a turkey dinner, almost universally practiced, in all the nooks and crannies of the social landscape. Indians may not be very enthusiastic. The return on their historic hospitality was not very good. And those who are concerned about the Native American place in the national story may have their critical doubts, but still just about everyone takes part, or at least is expected to take part, including me. A conversation I had with a good friend earlier in the week reveals what it’s all about.

My pool at the Theodore Young Community Center will be closed from Thursday through Sunday. Knowing the pool would be closed, I made sure I went today and earlier in the week. I chatted with Beverly McCoy, the receptionist and social center of gravity there, about the upcoming holiday. She explained her preparations…

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

We Are America: Guantánamo, The Aamer Appeal, and the Passion of Andrés Thomas Conteris

“President Obama, stop the tortuuurrre,” bellowed Andrés Thomas Conteris, as a plastic tube snaked through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach to deliver a bottle of Ensure nutrients to his starved body. Conteris, months into a grueling fast, voluntarily submitted to the nasogastric feeding in front of the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. on October 18, 2013 to underscore the brutality of the continued forced-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay. Throughout the feeding, which simulated what some in Guantánamo endure twice daily, Conteris gagged and wailed. Cameras snapped. Observers winced.

The spectacle inside the courthouse, concluded minutes before, had been in its own way grave. There, the Circuit Court of Appeals had considered oral arguments in a lawsuit contending that forced-feeding at Guantánamo was a violation of human rights and therefore should be stopped. Known as the Aamer Appeal, the case was brought on behalf of Shaker Aamer and others of his Guantánamo brethren…