Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carbon map

The Guardian's reports on a cool (well, hot) site called The Carbon Map which show where carbon comes from and who is most affected by climate change. Geography. Population. Emissions. Who's at risk.
On the website they morph into each other as you choose different criteria. You can also break it down by nations rather than continents, and factor in CO2 per capita (combined with the carbon footprint of all goods and services consumed, below), % change in emissions over the last two decades (combined with areas with the largest numbers of people at risk of climate-change related disasters, below that), etc.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The treetops out my office window are festooned with new seed, and a dried out raspberry branch has come to life in my Brooklyn sun room.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Figuring out

Today's New School Century was the first of two sessions examining the city and its challenges, and, more generally, the fate of The New School in the 1950s and early 1960s. Our frame was provided by Anatole Broyard, whose Kafka was the rage: A Greenwich Village memoir contains a somewhat devastating description of The New School in the immediate postwar period. Broyard writes of a place where embittered German emigrés strove with nearly incomprehensible accents and jagged teutonisms to make stylish American students feel like outsiders in their own land; every class declared something wrong - the crisis in the family, in politics, in education, you name it. In Broyard's memoir The New School represents the Ernst des Lebens, which postwar Greenwich Village dutifully pursued, along with sex, intellectual conversation and books.

As you know Max Wertheimer (whom you've also met) makes a guest appearance in a class on Gestalt Psychology - something which almost certainly didn't happen as Broyard describes it: Wertheimer died three years before. Did Broyard hear about it, did the class watch a film? Maybe it wasn't Wertheimer at all. It doesn't seem impossible that some wires got crossed over 45 years. But Wertheimer's appearing in a class on Gestalt Psychology makes a kind of Gestalt sense, just as imagining Hannah Arendt in the hallways decades before her arrival in 1967 does. What becomes memory, individual and collective, is only contingently related to Ranke's wie es eigentlich gewesen. It finds its way into memory because it fits, historical accuracy be damned.

Our larger theme for the day was alienation, a good postwar topic, and here too Broyard is very helpful. Kafka was the rage is a portrait of "alienated" people. And, we learned after his death, Broyard knew alienation, as a light-skinned creole who successfully "passed for white." (I discussed some mutely signifying passages a few years ago.) We'd also assigned an essay by University in Exile sociologist Julie Mayer, "The Stranger and the City," which built on work of another University in Exile sociologist, Alfred Schütz, along with Hannah Arendt's anti-pragmatist screed, "The crisis in education."

My co-teacher J laid out these sociological understandings of strangers and of what it is in cities that makes them conglomerations of strangers - not, as is often said, of villages. Strangers and city people never feel the comfort of knowing that those around them share their basic assumptions, but respond to this not only by seeking to be part of groups but by cultivating anonymity, too. As Georg Simmel argued in foundational essays in this field, cities invite and force new kinds of individuation. All these thinkers were as suspicious of those people who are "rooted" in rural towns as could be. The future is and should be urban and cosmopolitan, a humanism beyond alienation - if we can find ways of avoiding the pitfalls of "mass society."

My main topic of the day was political psychophilosopher Erich Fromm, who offered courses at The New School (Adult Division, not Graduate Faculty) from 1941 to 1959, but whose contributions here have been forgotten. When a grand old lady who teaches at the Institute of Retired Professionals saw me pre-screening a 1966 interview with Fromm earlier this afternoon she reminisced about the ubiquity of Fromm's The Art of Loving, whose formula - care, responsibility, respect, knowledge - was still at her fingertips... but she didn't know he'd taught here. In fact, Fromm has all but vanished not only from New School history (except a fascinatingly ambivalent description in Broyard) but from history more generally. How can this be?

I'd found an amusing and illuminating sociology of knowledge article on just this topic, and used it as a way to raise questions about the way the history of ideas really works - it's not (or not just) the power of ideas, or of personalities, but depends on institutions, schools, advocates, etc. McLaughlin (Sociological Forum 13/2 [1998]: 215-46) argues that in the years after 1965, Fromm faded from view for some of the same reasons he'd originally come to prominence. Fromm was an interdisciplinary thinker who distanced himself from classical Marxist and Freudian schools and never nested in a major university where he could found a school and train graduate student disciples. Nobody had an investment in maintaining his reputation (and some like Herbert Marcuse scored points by attacking him). While his main works continue to be in and out of print, his academic sun long ago set. (It didn't help that Fromm wrote in accessible non-technical language, either.)

In a way Fromm's fortunes parallel those of the Adult Division, which slips between the stools of academic historiography. Fromm's wikipedia bio (unless I feel inspired to change it) doesn't even mention his time at The New School, citing only the (brief) gigs as a faculty member in other universities. His books, from the incisive 1941 Escape from freedom (called Fear of freedom in the British edition I was floored by at Oxford) through The Art of Loving, which sold an incredible 25 million copies, influenced many outside the academy. That's what Adult Education aims to do, too. It's not the striving to be another brick in the wall of disciplinary knowledge Max Weber praises in Wissenschaft als Beruf. While Weber's Wissenschaftler aims to be forgotten (taken for granted then superseded), the adult educator actually is - at least as long as our history focuses only on academic production.

These melancholy reflections were only passing thoughts - my main object was to lay out the argument of Escape from freedom and trace its development into the critique of conformist consumerist society Fromm develops in the film interview and an article we read from the Saturday Evening Post - but their pathos managed to resonate with our other discussions about alienation, strangers seeking anonymity and recognition, etc.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Other than the sum of its parts

Here's an interesting demonstration of Gestalt psychology, from Anatole Broyard's Kafka was the rage: A Greenwich Village memoir (NY: Vintage, 1993, page 17). This is from Broyard's description of taking courses at The New School on the GI Bill in 1946, after serving in the Pacific.

The Gestalt view is actually that the whole is other than the sum of its parts, but the fun part is this: Max Wertheimer died in 1943.

[1/4: A friend who took a New School course with Broyard c. 1960 retorts: "Max Wertheimer died in l943" is irrelevant. Anatole Broyard was a brilliant, beautiful self-invention. Yes, he dealt with facts but, to a certain degree, they were beneath him.]

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Three cheers

I think we just put on a very successful conference. I mean very, very.
We had excellent turnout for both yesterday's panels (student/alum and clergy) and a good sixty-odd people stayed through the whole of today's exhilarating but exhausting 7.5-hour marathon of keynote, nine papers and respondent. That was, frankly, our biggest worry: would anyone come? But now I can say: I don't know why you came (not complaining, I'm very glad you did!) but I know why you stayed. The presentations were all of them excellent, and different enough, on their own and in combination, that it was constantly stimulating and yet had a real coherence to it. And as we hoped, we hit a nerve: by all accounts this was a conversation that was waiting to happen, needing to.
Thank you everyone who was involved! We done New School proud!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Balmy summer-like temperatures are upon us suddenly, 

and the Japanese maples on 12th Street are happening!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tomorrow's the day!

This includes details about the very exciting student and alum panel. More information about Saturday's many wonders on the official flyer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Half empty

At a time when the shade of the Scopes Trial is being revived in Tennessee (just one of many monstrosities committed by Republican State Houses across the land as we reap the whirlwind of 2010 Tea Party movements), these undated words of Alvin Johnson ring as true as ever:

I maintain that the supplementing of half education is the more imperative challenge to the nation. It is not the working farmer nor the factory hand of the Middle West who keeps up an embarrassing propaganda for American isolationism in an era of worker solidarity or world downfall. That is the activity of the half educated. It was not the mass of the uneducated who espoused the Nordic myth or swallowed whole that preposterous forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Listen to the half educated in Congress, and you will agree, the half educated are our real problem.
“The Future of Adult Education,” n. d. (New School Archive), 2;
qtd. in Steven Mark Ehrlich, “Transformative Adult Education, Institutional
Paradox and the New School for Social Research” (PhD Boston College, 1995), 68-69

The phrase "half-educated" seems to have come from Nicholas Murray Butler, at least it is so credited in Johnson's autobiography:

The New School was operating on the theory that the continued education of the educated is a vital national interest. Nicholas Murray Butler, with a true poet's sublime arrogance, had called America the "best haf-educated people in the world."The illiterate South Atlantic mountaineers are no menace to America. The somewhat literate McCarthys are a desperat menace. If we can't set up a scheme for educating the half-educated we shall have to fall back on illiteracy or semi-illiteracy for our salvation. 
Alvin Johnson, Pioneer's Progress: An Autobiography 
(University of Nebraska Press, 1960 [originally published 1952], 339

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I think we did the three-ring circus of The New School proud today. With the help of one of our teaching assistants, we brilliantly conveyed the school at its early 40s apogee. The show began with these two images -
the familiar modernist auditorium repurposed as a theater by Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop and the familiar Benton room playing host to a seminar (doubtless in French) by the École Libre des Hautes Études' Henri Bonnet. The point was not that earlier things had been displaced but precisely the opposite. The Dramatic Workshop and École Libre joined an already vigorous set of overlapping institutions. Alvin Johnson insisted that all the faculty of University in Exile (Graduate Faculty) teach a course in the Adult Education program each year. Piscator required all his theater students to take night courses there, too.

The École and the Dramatic Workshop are lesser known parts of New School history, as they did not last. The École, founded as a French/Belgian university in exile in 1942, severed connections with The New School in 1947 and helped build up the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. (A remnant remained in New York, too, at least through 1967.) And the Dramatic Workshop, established in 1940, was shut down after a decade, ostensibly for economic reasons. Piscator returned to Europe when called to testify before HUAC.

The many splendored New School of the early 1940s can be a bit hard to get a handle on. Had the place lost focus? Indeed, there were more entities than just the Adult Division, Graduate Faculty, École and Dramatic Workshop. The Graduate Faculty had spawned an autonomous Institute of World Affairs. And the Adult Division had created a Senior College in anticipation of the BAs it would offer starting in 1944 to returning GIs, itself divided into a School of Politics (dean Hans Simons) and a School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts (dean Clara Mayer - yes!). People at the time must have wondered if The New School had exploded, too, as Alvin Johnson in a December 1943 Bulletin wrote:
I had a theory about what Johnson meant by "true American" here - more than obligatory profession of patriotic commitment required for a group of emigrés during wartime (though there was that, too). The key was Horace Kallen's ideas of pluralism, as Johnson explained in 1946:
The New School was flourishing and, far from being diluted or disturbed by new divisions, it was living out its key idea - the "acceptancc with eager interest" of "multiplicity" of approaches and genres. If this hadn't been the central idea of the founders, so much the worse for them. Over the course of its first quarter-century, The New School had demonstrated that an institution might be stronger for being truly pluralistic in structure. How else would the "creative process" learn to outgrow received views?

Our teaching assistant R provided a lovely illustration of the fruits of such pluralism from within the École Libre. It involves these gentlemen,
the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and the structural linguist Roman Jakobson - both rather younger during their École Libre years. Lévi-Strauss (who died in 2009; imagine if, like Marc Bloch, he had not escaped the Nazis but died in 1944?) did not know Jakobson but attended his lectures at the École and realized he was an unwitting structuralist. Jakobson returned the favor, attending Lévi-Strauss' lectures on kinship, confirming the affinity - then recommended Lévi-Strauss write a book about it. Elementary Forms of Kinship was written in his studio on 11th Street off Sixth Avenue, and the discipline of anthropology was changed. Would this have happened without the École Libre and the interdisciplinary example of its Kallenist host The New School?

The cavalcade continued with my colleague J's account of the arts, social research and politics at The New School before and during the years Piscator spent here. The Group Theater (above) taught in the mid-1930s. The  communist-inspired First American Artists Congress Against War and Fascism also took place there. Arts as social research has been one of our central themes in the class thus far, but J took it up a notch by contrasting it with political art ("art as politics") like Piscator's agitprop of the 1920s, and with the applied art of the school led by Frank Parsons (which joined The New School family in 1970).

Political art used the arts to convey political messages. Applied arts took classical and European forms and adapted them to the demands of modern American life. But New School artists we've seen, from Cowell to Humphrey to Benton to Abbott, start with modern urban life and its problems, developing art forms to express its energy and its challenges.

Should I perhaps not describe this period, when artists and scholars of many disciplines and ideologies taught and wrote in many languages, as The New School's apogee? Does not that imply that it was all downhill from there? Perhaps. I can hear our new historians Robinson and Beard warning against nostalgia!

It's not clear that the rest of the New School's 20th century was just a routinization of the charisma of the first quarter-century. Exciting new ventures came and went, and the school institutionalized, managing in our own time to look enough like a conventional university to attract thousands of full-time students and employ hundreds of full-time faculty. It may still contain the Kallenist spark (which may itself have been less than entirely deliberate), but not if we think that it has all this while been trying to "become a university." At a time when "the university" is under fire as archaic and unaffordable, our gamble is that understanding the ongoing experiment of The New School will make us all more creative social researchers, thinking pluralistically outside the boxes of disciplines and monolithic academic institutions.

We all laughed when our past president paid some Mad Men to rebrand us and they came up with "The New School: A University." What else should we be, we scoffed, a bar and lounge? a pita bread? a scent? But they may have been onto something, if unwittingly. Long may the experiment go on! "For a time it even resembled a university," one imagines someone in the future saying; "Even Homer nods!"

Wish us luck telling the rest of this story!

Monday, March 19, 2012

One of those moments

I got the last seat for today's Bach at One, in Trinity Wall Street's St. Paul's Chapel. While the old pews, their white paint scratched by exhausted first responders, have been moved, it is still a memorial to 9/11. A banner declaring TO NEW YORK CITY AND ALL THE RESCUERS KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP... OKLAHOMA LOVES YOU! still hangs from the organ loft. But for the Mondays of Lent, the Trinity Choir and Baroque Orchestra are presenting musical liturgies, drawing mainly from Bach, which strive valiantly to make a concert and liturgical space in a public museum. My seat was near the entrances, and I was acutely aware of waves of tourists making their way through images and relics of 9/11. Tourist whispers efface baroque violas, but in the end the gentle chaos surging around it gave the music a new pathos.

The main piece today (after the 6th Brandenburg Concerto, for two violas) was Bach's early funeral cantata "Gottes Zeit is allerbeste Zeit," BWV 106. I mused on the necessary repetition of the words sung in a bass aria Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben / und nicht lebendig bleiben! (Put your house in order; for you will die / and not remain alive!), which put me in mind of Heidegger. A few minutes later, however, the same bass began singing a glorious arioso Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein (Today you will be with Me in Paradise), as the women's voices moved slowly through a chorale Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin In Gottes Willen (With peace and joy I depart in God's will) in the background...

Then... a huge flood of visitors flowed in, an elementary school class with chaperones. My heart sank, but needn't have. The children were gestured to sit on the floor and they did, rapt. I imagined their wonder, walking in off the bright busy street to find this earnest, sublime music. Maybe, years from now, some great classical musician would tell of having first encountered music here...

And then a siren tore by outside.

Somehow it didn't disrupt the moment, but completed it.

It's coming

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Justice in a messy world

In my last year at Oxford, I shared a college house with a law student. (We didn't know each other; the college assigned.) I had a lot of fun hearing about his law classes, especially where his subjects overlapped with those I was studying in moral and political philosophy, but I think he got the narrow end of the stick. I did well on my Political Philosophy exam, but he did poorly on the relevant exam in Law. We concluded it was because philosophers think they're getting somewhere when they take a question apart, show its obscurities and multiple possible interpretations, but in the law someone has to come to a judgment. Incomplete information means more jobs for scholars, but drawing conclusions from incomplete information is the jurist's daily bread.

I was reminded of this today as a friend of mine, who works in the legal system, and I got into an almost-spat over the case of Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers freshman whose spy-cam harassment of his gay roommate Tyler Clementi led to Clementi's suicide last year. Yesterday, Ravi was found guilty on all fifteen charges raised against him in a court in New Jersey (not including responsibility for Clementi's death). It's a painful case, but as serious as can be. What Ravi intended was a central question, but nobody thinks he intended for Clementi to die. As my friend said, it's two tragedies. But we weren't able to agree in our reactions, as they were expressed not just in different idioms but in terms of different structures. I was doing the moral philosopher thing, she the lawyer thing. We expressed our awareness (and pain) at the difficulty of the case in different ways.

We agreed, I think, that on the substance of the charges, given regnant legal definitions, Ravi is guilty. But when I tried to abstract from those definitions and the verdict to register concern that the situation may have been charged with issues around race as well as sexuality (by many accounts, being an Asian American man is an uphill battle in this country), my friend thought I was challenging the verdict. I'm not, I said, I just think there's more to the story than we know. If we knew it it might well strengthen, not mitigate, the judgment.

But there's more to every story than we know, and lawyers and juries have to live with that. Her way of dealing with unhappiness at the prospect of a foolish, imperfect, perhaps cruel young man's life being ruined took a different form. Were she the judge, she said, she'd be lenient in sentencing. 18 months in prison and 36 on probation, with some sort of education or community service - and zero tolerance if he were to try to skip town, zero.

In the hot-cold-hot of her imagined sentence - lenient but no tolerance beyond that - I heard a similar discomfort with the verdict and the predicted 10+ years (or deportation), but there's a big difference, and that's probably why my questions seemed to her to be challenging the jury's verdict. In the legal system there is a place for a determination of justice: the jury, doing the best it can with what the evidence it is presented. And there is a place for mercy: in the judge's sentencing. In my thinking about cases I don't have to distinguish these, indeed, I assume that there should be some way to combine them, that that's what justice is. Perhaps it is, or would be in a perfect world with perfect knowledge. (I'd say "God's justice," but that God's justice, too, somehow transcends and incorporates a tension between human understandings of justice and mercy.)

In this messy world, higher justice may be better served by separating the narrowly and precisely defined question of law from the broader concerns a judge takes into account in sentencing. ... But you need us impractical types, too, keeping alive the dream of a fuller justice.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Went today to see the National September 11th Memorial, the closest I've been to the footprints of the World Trade Center since, well, since they were still standing. Even on a grey March weekday it was full of tourists, so it took me a while to appreciate the intelligence of the design, and to put my finger on what disturbed me about it.
As you may know, the basements of the twin towers have been hollowed out. You see nothing as you approach them at first, and then, as you are stunned at the size of the footprints, you see water falling over the edge, cascading down their sides, and then into a deeper, smaller hole. Around the top are carved names of the lost. The falling water flows from what seems a calm still pool around the top, through little channels gently reminiscent of the World Trade Center, the cataract below as unexpected and disproportionate as were the attacks of 2001.

But what took me aback was the sound. Memorials are usually quiet, even silent. Architects' drawings and newspaper photographs are too. I was expecting at most a gentle sussing sound. This is more like the rush of Niagara Falls. There is no resignation here, no hopeful return to tranquility, to quiet mourning, at least not straightforwardly. The thing that immediately came to my shocked mind as I looked at the billowing sheets of water crashing down, was the collapse of the Towers. And in the smaller darker hole, into which the water disappeared invisibly 
except for occasional skeins of foam, I was reminded of falling bodies! What were they thinking? Surely conjuring up these memories wasn't what anyone wanted to do here. Or is that just what they were thinking. Even when the trees are in leaf this won't be a calm place. It will revive traumatic memories and fears - the entrance to the visitor's center looks from afar like a piece of broken building and up close reflects the nearby skyscrapers at scary angles as if they were falling behind you - not putting memories to rest but making them shared, public.

This is not just a memorial to the dead but an expression of resolve. It doesn't help us look away from tragedy, or beyond it. It doesn't help us simply to make our peace with it. It looks right into the heart of tragedy and comes out more determined. We will not forget. Lives lost, while leaving voids in our lives which can never be filled, call us to go on.
It's Spring Break and I'm having a staycation. There's much to do in New York City, like Bach at One at St. Paul's Chapel on Monday, and the September 11th Memorial, which I'll visit for the first time tomorrow. Yesterday being a Wednesday, I was able to see the longest running show on Broadway, "The Fantasticks," with some visiting friends (I'd somehow never seen this oft-performed classic, an über-witty ode to poor theater, Americana, and Shakespeare too), and then the 85th anniversary gala of the Martha Graham Dance Company at City Center (tdf, of course, not $600 with black tie and Russian Tea Room), where "Chronicle" (1936), led by visitor Fang-Yi Sheu, knocked my socks off.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Class privilege

We've been hearing for a while that "elite" colleges and universities are filled with the children of the well-off. An analysis on the Times' Campaign Stops website (inspired, I suspect, by the grain of truth in Rick Santorum's charge that the president's commitment to college education for all makes him a "snob") reports: 74% of those now attending colleges that are classified as “most competitive,” a group that includes schools like Harvard, Emory, Stanford and Notre Dame, come from families with earnings in the top income quartile, while only 3% come from families in the bottom quartile. Class reproduction, once again!
But the big picture is more discouraging still, as this graph taken from Postsecondary Education Opportunity (No. 221, November 2010; link in the Campaign Stops page; graphs I'm showing on pp 1, 10, 6) shows. Even in the third quartile, the college completion rate is less than half that of the top quartile, to say nothing of the bottom half. Indeed more than half of all bachelors degrees given go to the top quartile.
This doesn't mean kids from the majority of American households don't go to college. They do, in growing numbers. But making it through college is another thing entirely. Something's not working here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ye gods!

There's a new print of Marcel Carné's "Les Enfants du Paradis," showing for two weeks at Film Forum. I felt like I was seeing for the first time. Ravissant!

Monday, March 12, 2012

New skyline from Fulton Street, downtown, and old St. Paul's Chapel.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


It's the first anniversary of the 東日本大震災 Great East Japan Earthquake. (Photo from 朝日新聞.) The scale of the disaster (string of disasters, more like) is such that it seems in some ways not yet to have ended. Where recovery is possible much has been done to rebuild building and communities, but much remains, especially in rebuilding public confidence. Some things will never return to how they were... or will they? This is an area which has suffered devastating earthquakes and tsunamis for a long time; "how things were" included some tragic sense of the persistent reality of such calamity, if not on this scale.
This drawing (which accompanied an article in the Japan Times about teenagers' chastened but hopeful views one year on) reminds me of picture books friends of mine encouraged me to look at while in Tokyo last August, which showed the famous cherry trees of many of the devastated towns - those that still stood - in full glorious bloom, surrounded by piles or tangles of debris - or, in a few case, surrounded by nothing, all having been swept away. I didn't know how to read these images (especially reiterated dozens of times over) and still don't. Does the cherry tree show the resilience of nature (and humanity as part of nature), or the hollowness and inhumanity of nature's fecundity? In complicated ways I can't pretend to understand the sakura connotes beauty and also death, and, perhaps, rebirth too.

I pray for the lost and those left behind.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sweating the details

I'm once again behind on summer planning. ERSEH is taking me to China in June - my first trip there! I was hoping to extend my stay long enough to see some more of China, and was initially thinking I'd check out Beijing, but China's too big - and when will I be so far south again? I was delighted to discover that my friends at Rough Guides have just published this... until I read: Summers (June-Aug) are stiflingly humid with torrential rains, especially in southern Guanxi, Xishuangbanna and Chongqing City (rated as one of China's "three summer furnaces"). Wet weather also causes landslides, leading to road closures in rural areas. (10) Oh dear.