Author: Bruce Robbins

A New Story by Harry Whomersley

Chariot of the Gods Harry Whomersley   I knew what people would be looking at during the broadcast and I knew that very few of them would even think about me. I did not regard myself, at the best of times, as a particularly captivating figure so I couldn’t say I blamed them. But there I was, standing with an entourage, of sorts, very still, facing the landing ship. Despite what people often say, since I had taken office I realized that very few people seriously considered what it must be like to be President. Not, I mean, in...

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John Hay on Bob Dylan: Untangling the Tracks

Mid-1970s Bob Dylan is the best Bob Dylan. Mid-1960s Dylan may be the historically significant Dylan, the canonical Dylan now regularly appearing on college English syllabi, but for me—I was born in 1984—that Dylan requires historicization. It’s not that the songs aren’t good (they’re terrific), but the hype and hysteria are hard to understand. That whole “going electric” thing . . . I guess you had to be there. It strikes this millennial as a little naïve in retrospect—in the same way that John Updike’s elevation of suburban sex as secular miracle now seems misguided. Sixties Dylan was a...

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The Germans Come Back to Psari

Elsa said it once or twice as a joke: “The Germans are coming back to Psari! Och!” The “Och!” was supposed to express fake fear. When they had come before, in the early summer of 1944, the fear had been well grounded. The village had been occupied, a woman raped, and the occupiers chased out by the Resistance. Then the German army had come back, the village had been burned to the ground, along with all its crops, and those inhabitants who had not fled (the usual number given is 5) had been shot. Those who hid in the...

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Fuck Work: Social Necessity and Meaning

Paul Jorion asks, “what is Livingston’s argument? Does he say that work is an abomination and if we had an ounce of reason, we would never have learned to love it? Or does he say that there is no more work and that we should mourn it? These are, of course, different conclusions and their assumptions are different. In the first case, if we should never have learned to love work, then our present era doesn’t differ at all from those that preceded it, and our own stupidity – of which our love of work would be the confirmation – is a constant.” From the point of view of abstract reason, these two arguments do indeed look like logical alternatives. From the perspective of a historian, however, and in particular a historian who has taken Hegelian dialectics as seriously as James Livingston has, there is no real choice between them. Smart and stupid are historically relative, as is reason itself. History, which as Livingston argues has been slowly pushing toward the abolition of work—that is, work in the sense that Hegel himself celebrated, as a mixing of oneself with the world and therefore as a means of self-transcendence– has thereby made it possible and then increasingly likely that we will find work an abomination and will castigate ourselves for our stupidity in loving it. From a Hegelian viewpoint, the...

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Trumpism at Columbia

A year ago, at the lunch honoring awardees of the Pulitzer Prize, Columbia President Lee Bollinger remarked that “the more bleak the world becomes—the less people seem to care about what is true and what is false.” By “people” he clearly meant President Trump and those who take his diatribes against the press in stride. Bollinger could safely assume that his audience of distinguished journalists would know which side he is on. Not only is he a renowned scholar and defender of free speech, but within days of Trump’s 2017 executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, he...

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