Elżbieta Matynia and I are teaching a special university wide course for undergraduates this semester, inspired by our favorite political thinker, Hannah Arendt, and her illuminating collection, Men in Dark Times. The course is a response to the present political moment. We, as did she, live in “dark times.” And as she wrote chapters about women and men in her times, who provided insight and example, we are trying to do the same, by introducing the students to a series of men and women in our times, people we know personally, who we judge provide illumination.
We met the students for introductory sessions last week. Elżbieta started our presentation with a poem, and ended it with a poem and a painting. In between, we presented the fundamental ideas of the course, along with the course plans, goals and expectations. We introduced ourselves and the teaching assistants, who will be running special discussion sessions each week about the lectures and readings: Patrick Gilger, Karolina Koziura and Santiago Mandirola, as well as Zachary Sunderman, a Public Seminar editor who will be coordinating the PS dimensions of the course.
Really, I live in dark times!
Innocent words are foolish. An unfurrowed brow
Indicates apathy. He who laughs
Just hasn’t received yet
The terrible news.
“Dark Times” and “Between Past and Future” are the ideas behind the course inquiry. Arendt’s accounts were assigned for the first week.
Dark times, not a synonym for bad times, we want to emphasize, concerns the ability to see what is going on for what it is. Political lies, “fake news,” cynicism, true belief and ideological clichés make it difficult, if not impossible, to see the world and to see each other.
“Between past and future,” there is the present. But Arendt argues, pitting herself against the common sense of social science, that it is a mistake to view the temporal connections as a process. We insert ourselves between past and the future, and it is constituted as we do so, as we speak and act in each other’s presence. What we do now, anticipating the future, informed by experience, makes the future. Our women and men reveal this in their writing, speech, and action.
We introduced each of them: Jacob Dlamini, Melvin Rogers, Shireen Hassim, Leonardo Sakamoto, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Adam Michnik and Ann Snitow. Elżbieta and I know and have worked with each of these exemplary people, some for decades, some more recently. They have lived in very different circumstances and responded to very different problems. From Africa, Europe, South America and the United States, responding to the injustice and domination associated with actually existing socialism and capitalism, apartheid and totalitarianism, and their aftermaths, and the promise and perils of democracy, they illuminate, help us see more clearly, their circumstances. By example, Elżbieta and I believe, they can help us address the problems we presently face in the dark shadows of post truth authoritarianism that seems to be a spreading global virus.
Addressing students enrolled in the class in The New School syllabus, we noted: “It is our hope as professors that in this course you will appreciate the way in which our times are ‘dark times’ (rather than simply ‘bad times’), recognize particular women and men who are providing illumination in our dark times, and allow that recognition to inform the way you proceed with your own lives as students, activists, and scholars.”
A closing note about Elżbieta and me: we have known and worked with each other for many years, since before we completed our formal educations, through particularly dark and more promising times. Our first common language was Polish, when I spoke it haltingly and her second language was German, not English. Now, as my Polish is fading, her English is impeccable and through it she reveals her passionate intellectual seriousness. We have supported each other in almost all our professional endeavors and have conspired with each other against darkness in many different ways, in our writing and in our public actions, including Polish Student Theater, the Polish democratic opposition, Solidarność (open and clandestine), The New School’s Committee on Liberal Studies and Department of Sociology, The Democracy Seminar, The East Central Europe Program, The Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, The Democracy and Diversity Institutes in Krakow, Wroclaw, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Deliberately Considered and Public Seminar. I am probably missing one or two. Yet, this is the first time we are teaching a course together. For us, this is exciting prospect. An excitement, I believe we shared with the students and teaching assistants last week, and I trust will build, as we all meet and discuss the work of our guests.
Elzbieta closed our first session with the reading of “The Milkmaid” by Wislawa Szymborska, with the projected image of the eponymous Vermeer painting (the featured image of this post).
As long as the woman from Rijksmuseum
in painted silence and concentration
day after day pours milk
from the jug to the bowl,
the World hasn’t earned
the word’s end.
Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, the Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social Research, is the Publisher and founder of Public Seminar
Profs. Jeffrey C. Goldfarb and Elzbieta Matynia
Tuesdays, 4:00 – 5:15 pm
63 Fifth Ave L104
COURSE DESCRIPTION AND AIMS
This interdisciplinary course is conceived as an extension of Hannah Arendt’s lyrical collection Men in Dark Times. Our own reconstruction and revivification of this work will take the form of being introduced to, and close examination of, the lives and works of engaged current thinkers and doers as they confront major problems of the day. We will consider how several creative individuals – many of whom we will hear from in person – are sources of light in our dark times in the creative ways that they address local and global problems of social domination. Such problems include, but are not limited to: racism and sexism; social, economic, and cultural injustice; and the degradation of the natural environment. One of the primary objectives of our course will be to investigate how these individuals illuminate alternatives to barbarism and the surge of new authoritarianisms.
1. Women and Men in Dark Times (Jan. 23)
Introducing Jacob Dlamini
· Hannah Arendt – “Preface” in Men in Dark Times, pp. vii-x
· Hannah Arendt – “Preface: the Gap Between Past and Future” in Between Past and Future, pp3-15
· Jeffrey C. Goldfarb – “Hannah and Me,” on Public Seminar
· Hannah Arendt – “Truth and Politics,” ch.7 of Between Past and Future
2. The Struggle for Justice: Collaboration and Betrayal (Jan. 30)
Speaker : Jacob Dlamini
· Jacob Dlamini – “The Psychology,” and “The Past, the Present, and the Future,” pp235-60 of ASKARI: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle
3. Racism and Hope (Feb. 6)
Introducing Melvin Rogers
· Melvin Rogers – “Keeping the Faith” in Boston Review.
4. Racism and Hope (Feb. 13)
Speaker : Melvin Rogers
· John Dewey – “Philosophy and Democracy”
· James Baldwin – “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity”
5. Between Feminism & Nationalism: Women & Politics in South Africa (Feb. 20)
Introducing Shireen Hassim
· Shireen Hassim – “Contesting Ideologies: Feminism and Nationalism,” pp20-47 of Women’s Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority
6. Discontent: Gender, Nation, People (Feb. 27)
Speaker : Shireen Hassim
· Shireen Hassim – “Violent Modernity: Gender, Race and Bodies in Contemporary South African Politics” in Politikon41(2): 167-82. May 2014.
7. What We Don’t See (March 6)
Introducing Leonardo Sakamoto & Krzysztof Czyzewski
· Dom Phillips – “Fewer people will be freed: Brazil accused of easing anti-slavery rules” in The Guardian.
8. Modern Slavery (March 13)
Speaker : Leonardo Sakamoto
· Bruce Douglas – “Meat company denies backing advertisements against Brazilian activist” in The Guardian.
MARCH 20 – SPRING BREAK
9. A Master Bridge-builder (March 27)
Speaker : Krzysztof Czyzewski
- Elzbieta Matynia – “Post-scriptum on an Old Bridge,” pp166-70 of Performative Democracy, Paradigm Press: 2009
· Krzysztof Czyzewski – “A Small Center of the World”
10. Citizen Revolutionary (April 3)
Introducing Adam Michnik
· Adam Michnik – “The New Evolutionism,” pp135-48 of Letters from Prison, University of California Press: 1985
· Elzbieta Matynia – “Citizen Michnik,” pp53-79 of Performative Democracy, Paradigm Press: 2009
11. Negotiating Revolution (April 10)
Speaker : Adam Michnik
· Adam Michnik – “A Letter to General Kiszczak,” pp64-71 of Letters from Prison, University of California Press: 1985
· Adam Michnik – “Postface: Gray is Beautiful, a Letter to Ira Katznelson,” pp317-328 of Letters from Freedom, University of California Press: 1998
12. The Making of Feminism
Introducing Ann Snitow (April 17)
· Ann Snitow – “Cautionary Tales,” in Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) 93: 35-42. March 24-27, 1999.
13. Feminism, Activism and Backlash (April 24)
Speaker : Ann Snitow
· Ann Snitow – “A Gender Diary,” pp21-58 of The Feminism of Uncertainty, Duke University Press: 2015
14. Hannah Arendt and Performative Democracy (May 1)
· Elzbieta Matynia – “Invitation to Performative Democracy,” pp 1-14 of Performative Democracy, Paradigm Press: 2009
15. Hannah Arendt and The Politics of Small Things (May 8)
· Jeffrey C. Goldfarb – “Introduction: In the Shadow of Big Things” and “Theorizing the Kitchen Table and Other Small Things,” pp1-22 of Politics of Small Things