This was the 15th Documenta, and the most controversial. It was marred by charges of antisemitism which were returned with accusations of racism. I am not an artist and had never been to a Documenta. But I was particularly interested because I would be participating in Documenta 15 as part of the final installation by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera and her Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR). The Arendt Center sponsored three talks throughout the week.
Sarah Schulman’s book Conflict Is Not Abuse is one of the better arguments, from a progressive perspective, against de-platforming and in favor of having difficult conversations. Schulman makes an essential argument, that we too often confuse the feeling of conflict or being uncomfortable with the experience of abuse or serious medical trauma.
I was in Ljubljana in early June to speak at a conference, “What Kind of Government?” You can watch recordings of the talks including my own talk “Revitalising Democracy: Citizen Juries as a Response to the Failure of Expert Rule.”
When I was in law school in the 1990s, Critical Race Theory was emerging from the legal academy. In my own personal history, it began with Patricia Williams’ book The Alchemy of Race and Rights: A Diary of a Law Professor. Later in law school I encountered Critical Race Theory through the works of Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Critical Race Theory was radical and exciting.
John Douglas Macready considers the importance of Arendt’s analysis of loneliness as the fertile ground for totalitarian and ideological politics. The widespread anxiety over the global eruption of right-wing populism, which was exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and the succeeding four years of his presidency, produced a renewed interest in the political theory of Hannah Arendt,
Foucault was the most influential critical thinker and philosopher when I was in college in the 1980s. In the 1990s at Berkeley, the ghost of Foucalt loomed large at the cafes he was rumored to have frequented in the 1960s. For nearly half a century, Foucault’s thinking has been at the forefront of academic life in the humanities and social sciences. But that may be changing.
Philip Roth and Hannah Arendt are buried but two meters from each other in the Bard College Cemetery. Two of the greatest Jewish intellectuals and writers of the 20th century, Arendt fled Nazi Germany. Roth, as Corey Robin writes, “fled his parents and kept going home.” In an essay on Roth and Arendt, Robin begins on their shared propensity to challenge the Jewish consensus, to bring a critical eye to bear on their own people.
There is a new journal dedicated to difficult topics, The Journal of Controversial Ideas. But the most provocative and well-researched essay of the week was published independently on Medium. Nearly three million people have died from the Covid 19 novel Coronavirus, and yet we still know remarkably little about how the virus emerged. The origin-story of the novel Coronavirus became a political hot potato under the Trump administration.
In response to news that Howard University is disbanding its Classics Department, Cornell West reminds us that Frederick Douglas and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. were inspired and nurtured by the classics. West argues that the attack on the classics is an attack on the soul and symptom the moral and spiritual rot of American culture.