Tony Judt

I really shouldn’t be doing this right now, as I have other more pressing tasks at hand. But after a long day at work, I’d rather do something closer to my heart. A little self-indulgence–just like yesterday I got myself a Tiramisu after lunch. Although unfortunately there is way too much cream and not nearly enough rum in that dessert.:-)

First read this piece by Tony Judt on my way to work, thought it was such nice combination of scholarly reflection and literary writing. I share his views on global cities, both the analytical and the emotional parts. Talking about globalization vs. consmopolitanization, which is something I often discuss with students in class, Judt’s beautiful essay illuminates the latter notion rather well. Not all metropolis qualify as global cities, but the few truly global ones invite us to think beyond the national framework and contemplate how cities could serve as great sites for examining global interconnections, especially when it comes to tensions between the global, the local, the diaspora.

London has a distinctive identity of its own, and it’s not about being English or British. New York too, by remaining a world city. “It is not the great American city — that will always be Chicago”. My Finnish colleague who recently became a naturalized British citizen once said to me: I am not proud to be British, but I am proud to be a Londoner. Judt obviously shares the same sentiment. Maybe, only people who live in global cities can afford such sense of euphoria. As much as I adore the vibrancy and diversity of London, I agree with Judt that the city is too balkanized, partly due to bad urban planning. Canary Wharf is one jarring example—Richard Sennett once talked about it as well when comparing modern day London with ancient Rome. This also helps me understand why some of the most interesting work done in the last two decades about globalization were by human geographers.

Later I became rather intrigued by who Tony Judt is and ended up spending last night reading many of his essays on the New York Review of Books, including this heroic piece on how he coped with his tragic illness, which is an uncommon case of motor neuron disorders that results in the loss of motion but not sensation. “In contrast to almost every other serious or deadly disease, one is thus left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one’s own deterioration.” I don’t think I would be brave enough to write something like this, let alone sleeping through those absolutely motionless dark nights with the sole company of one’s own thoughts.

This one on Austerity is typical of what one would expect from a prominent public intellectual. It depresses me though, to think that in the current age of austerity, no politicians (at least those aristocrats in the coalition government of UK) are even capable of comprehending what “moral seriousness” is, not to mention carrying it out. Oh, well, “the intellectual gangs of New York have folded their knives and gone home to the suburbs — or else they fight it out in academic departments to the utter indifference of the rest of humanity”. This is certainly not just happening in New York.

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One Response to Tony Judt

  1. Jean says:

    You too, huh? After you sent me the link to that latest article, I blogged about him yesterday too! I think it’s rather wonderful that he reached so many new readers during his terrible last illness and even more wonderful that he continues to reach us from beyond the grave. We needs such humane public intellectuals so much, I hope his voice hangs around as long as possible.

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