tony-judt

I love trains, and they have always loved me back.

“What does it mean to be loved by a train? Love, it seems to me, is that condition in which one is most contentedly oneself. If this sounds paradoxical, remember Rilke’s admonition: love consists in leaving the loved one space to be themselves while providing the security within which that self may flourish. As a child, I always felt uneasy and a little constrained around people, my family in particular. Solitude was bliss, but not easily obtained. Being always felt stressful—wherever I was there was something to do, someone to please, a duty to be completed, a role inadequately fulfilled: something amiss. Becoming, on the other hand, was relief. I was never so happy as when I was going somewhere on my own, and the longer it took to get there, the better. Walking was pleasurable, cycling enjoyable, bus journeys fun. But the train was very heaven.
—  Tony Judt, “In Love With Trains,” The New York Review of Books March 11, 2010.

Last night I re-listened to the “Memory of Europe” episode of Welcome to Night Vale. This is (for those of you who haven’t been swept up in the show’s recent explosion in popularity) a humor podcast, but the conclusion to that episode, about nostalgia and the people we didn’t become, hits me surprisingly hard. I think part of the reason is that it reminds me of this essay. It’s a dizzyingly specific evocation of a lonely childhood in the English trains and depots of the 1950’s, all of it precisely, perfectly, achingly sad.

What a timely read as we enter into the “ Age of Austerity” …


The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears ‘natural’ today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

~ Tony Judt, ILL FARES THE LAND, Introductory Chapter, where he questions the conventional wisdom that dominates the political discourse of today


 

As anyone who has traveled or lived in post-Communist eastern Europe will know, the transition from repressive egalitarianism to unconstrained greed is not attractive…why should the sight of a handful of greedy businessmen doing well out of the collapse of an authoritarian state be so much more pleasing to our eyes than authoritarianism itself?… if it leads to inequality, poverty and cynicism, then we should say so rather than sweep its shortcomings under the rug in the name of liberty over oppression.
—  ‘Ill Fares The Land’-Tony Judt
EXCITED....just pre-ordered the next book in the Inheritance Cycle

On a less exciting note I’ve just ordered 

Lot’s of academic reading to do….

    Ok, this has been bugging me for a while...

    As much as I appreciate an organization such as Rappler and what it is attempting to achieve, its focus on breaking stories down according to ‘mood meters’ is kind of misguided. It actually also acts as another pointed commentary on public discourse in the Philippines.

    This 'crowd-sourcing’ of emotional responses does little to further discussion, it has the unfortunate by-product of reducing discourse to almost unimportant binary considerations. Is everyone happy? Is everyone saaaad? How many are happy? How many are saaaaad? How are we feeling today?

    Look, how people feel should be far less important than what they think about an issue, or a story. Yet it is the emotions that our media loves to exploit, it is their baser feelings on which they thrive. Feelings drive clicks, reblogs, comments, views, and subscriptions. Tony Judt, in his book Ill Fares the Land, commented on this global degeneration of public discourse: “Demagogues tell the crowd what to think; when their phrases are echoed back to them, they boldly announce that they are merely relaying popular sentiment…professional politicians now claim to listen to vox populi in the form of instant phone-in votes and popularity polls on everything from immigration policy to pedophilia. Twittering back to their audiences its own fears and prejudices, they are relieved of the burden of leadership or initiative.”  

    The fact that we can draw a comparison between journalists and crowd-leveraging politicians is not necessarily a good thing (ok, it’s never a good thing). Journalism is as much a socially and culturally important calling as government service. It is an awesome responsibility, this vast trust that is imbued in the words of a journalist, that should not be abused. Nor reduced for purposes of segregation and emotion-mongering.

    Again, I like Rappler. I like what they are doing. I like the fact that they are owned by journalists who are attempting to hold themselves to the highest standards of journalistic ethics and integrity. I am just uncomfortable with this focus on the feelings of people. Primarily because the corollary is the attempt to elicit emotional responses as opposed to focusing on the stories themselves. Like Tony Judt, I worry that media is becoming more focused on reflecting the feelings and attitudes of the people as opposed to being leaders in crafting and challenging us to look at the issues of the day in new ways.

    The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation the cult of privatization and the private sector the growing disparities of rich and poor.
    —  Tony Judt
    3

    What are your Rumblr editors reading this week? Well…

    Molly: I am still reading Postwar by Tony Judt and I find it so engrossing and somehow also calming / soothing? Tell me about Soviet environmental policy. Tell me about Basque separatists. Tell me about the Maastricht Eurozone criteria.

    Claire: I’ve been reading The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck on park benches all over New York. Springtime!! It’s so good. 

    Jen: I just started reading Selfish Shallow and Self-absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum on the subway this morning.

    We have responsibilities for others, not just across space but across time. We have responsibilities to people who came before us. They left us a world of institutions, ideas or possibilities for which we, in turn, owe them something. One of the things we owe them is not to squander them.
    —  Tony Judt
    Denying Discourse

    There are a number of traits inherent in Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s worldview that I object to; among them her denouncing of any belief contrary to hers and her proclivity for hate-mongering and insult-laden ranting. The impeachment trial has brought her many faults into sharp-focus, at least for those who look past the inherent entertainment value of her screeds and weigh the value of the content.

    If anything Senator Santiago has fully embraced her role as the loose canon of the Senate, and the Impeachment Court; playing and pandering to the less introspective elements of society, obscuring whatever intelligent and incisive commentary she has amid a cascade of blithering, blathering, and bombastic pronouncements. She has, in fact, become a court jester, a sad figure who relies on the volume and cadence of her voice to attract attention, rather than the probity of her opinions. Sad, because she offers a valuable viewpoint to the proceedings and public discourse at large.

    One of my favorite 20th century thinkers was Tony Judt, a man who lamented the deplorable levels to which public discourse has fallen in the West. Unfortunately, we in the East (and especially the Philippines) too often adopt the less admirable qualities of Western democratic discourse. We have a discursive problem, one that Judt described as, “Our discursive disability: we simply do not know how to talk about things anymore.” While he was referring to our proclivity to reduce any discussion into economic components, the guiding idea remains the same: We are no longer capable of discussing. Our culture has become one where we are talking on differing levels, with different foundations for opinions, and with conceits that inform the idea that “I am right and everyone else is wrong.” The sense of self-righteous superiority that fills the air can become oppressive. People talk at length, but say little. We are not longer strangers passing in the night, we are strangers shouting to the side, failing to listen, learn, or explore (even respect) alternate world-views.

    Judt continued to discuss the breakdown in social imagination: “A closed circle of opinion or ideas into which discontent or opposition is never allowed - or allowed only within circumscribed and stylized limits - loses its capacity to respond energetically or imaginatively to new challenges.” The side-effect of an elected representative of the people haranguing and denouncing any opinion contrary to hers is in fact creating an atmosphere of circuitous thinking, it denies the validity of any contrary opinion. The reducing of public discourse to snide commentary, insults, and ‘cute’ names is a disservice. When a Senator, one of the highest elected officials in the land, contributes on a daily basis to that reduction it is a travesty.

    Quite frankly, I care little for the reaction of Attorney Aguirre to Santiago’s rants. He broke court decorum, he essentially kicked mud in the eye of the Senate Impeachment Court. But, between a Senator referring to other elected officials and representatives of the Filipino people as gago (in essence, attacking other members of Congress and deriding the Filipino people whom they serve) she was creating a situation where-by someone was going too react to her 'trolling’ and provocations. Let’s not pretend that there wasn’t good reason for him to act the way he did, there was. And the fact that there has been little blow back on the bully is disheartening. More to the point, the fact that the stance of the Senate has been to refuse to reel her in and attempt to add some decorum to the proceedings gives insight into how the Senate views this exercise. Or even how the Senators view the position that they hold. Between Sotto cracking jokes, Drilon playing the role of lead prosecutor, Joker Arroyo blithering on about half-baked conspiracy theories, and Santiago basically mocking the entire proceedings with her actions we have a very good idea how they view their position and responsibilities. This holds true too for the failures of the prosecution and the tactics deployed by the defense and their client throughout these proceedings. By the way, Judt commented on conspiracy theorists who go off half-cocked with nonsensical storytelling: “Those who assert the system is at fault, or who see mysterious maneuverings behind every political misstep, have little to teach us.”

    Eventually someone has to stand up to a bully, and Santiago has always been a bully. She relies on the sanctity of her elected position to bolster her opinions and shield her actions from criticism. Yet, by acting the way she has, she is inevitably (and consistently) debasing the august position that she holds. In no shape or form should it be acceptable for a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines to continually go off half-cocked hurling insults, ridiculing the intelligence and education of Filipinos who hold contrary opinions (as she has the last few days), and treating the position she holds as license to bully and deride.

    Miriam Defensor-Santiago is not the cause of our discursive issues in the Philippines. But she is a consequence, one that continues to sow the seeds for reductive and ill-formed discourse in the Philippines. Judt’s book from which I quoted is called Ill Fares the Land. I cannot think of a better description for the state of discourse in the Philippine sphere than that.

    The disposition to disagree, to reject and to dissent - however irritating it may be when taken to extremes - is the very lifeblood of an open society. We need people who make a virtue of opposing mainstream opinion. A democracy of permanent consensus will not long remain a democracy.
    —  Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (2011)
    How should we begin to make amends for raising a generation obsessed with the pursuit of material wealth and indifferent to so much else? Perhaps we might start by reminding ourselves and our children that it wasn’t always thus. Thinking “economistically”, as we have done now for thirty years, is not intrinsic to humans. There was a time when when we ordered our lives differently.
    —  Tony Judt in Ill Fares the Land (2010)