Sunday, January 31, 2010

Beautiful Ground

The week started inauspiciously with a few calls for papers (for the RPA and De Philosophia, the latter being the graduate student journal at the University of Ottawa), and Devin's review of Peter Hallward's Damming the Flood (which appears to be the final post in our Haiti series), and ended with the deaths of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger, eulogized by Devin in "Howard Zinn, 1922-2010" (forgive the title; he wrote it before his 10am class on Thursday) and by Sean Moreland's "Some Thoughts on the Salinger Legend."

So it became a week of reassessing the contributions of two important American authors. Let us then add to those the death of the French militant Daniel Bensaïd in mid-January (I knew his work best through his debates with Alain Badiou). Tariq Ali writes, in the Guardian UK,
Bensaïd, who has died aged 63 of cancer, was one of the most gifted Marxist intellectuals of his generation. In 1968, together with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, he helped to form the Mouvement du 22 Mars (the 22 March Movement), the organisation that helped to detonate the uprising that shook France in May and June of that year. Bensaïd was at his best explaining ideas to large crowds of students and workers. He could hold an audience spellbound, as I witnessed in his native Toulouse in 1969, when we shared a platform at a rally of 10,000 people to support Alain Krivine, one of the leaders of the uprising, in his presidential campaign, standing for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).

Bensaïd's penetrating analysis was never presented in a patronising way, whatever the composition of the audience. His ideas derived from classical Marxism – Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, as was typical in those days – but his way of looking at and presenting them was his own. His philosophical and political writings have a lyrical ring – at particularly tedious central committee meetings, he could often be seen immersed in Proust – and resist easy translation into English.
  • On a more personal note, I've heard through the grapevine that the Winter Semester at CSU Stanislaus might soon be ended. It's too bad: the short, four week January semester allows you to get a class over with in a short time (and redistribute a yearly course load to make it more manageable), or, if you are so inclined, to take nearly two months off between the Fall and Spring semester.
  • Finally, to lighten the mood, watch "Jed's Other Poem." The video has an interesting story: originally an unauthorized production, V2 retroactively hired its creator, which made it an official video. Grandaddy comes from my hometown (a place of which most of us have mixed feelings), and this song has always had the uncanny effect of calling forth memories and images of the place, some mentioned in the song ("staring at the Tiki floor"), others only tangentially associated. Enjoy:

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