Monday, September 16, 2013

Marshall Berman and All Things

On the Dissent Magazine website there are two wonderful articles about the late scholar Marhsall Berman, who passed away last week. The first by Michael Walzer. My friend Mark Levinson writes about running into Berman and/or seeing his book in far flung places. I had a similar experience maybe five years ago in London browsing through the gift shop at the Tate Gallery (of all places) and seeing a pile of lovely new copies of All Things Solid Melts Into Air. I remembered the book and wanted to read it (a voice in my head said someone I knew loved it) but decided not to buy it then and there because I was already carrying too much on the trip (as is my norm).

A few months later visiting NY, I asked Mark about the book and he beamed and told the story that is in his remembrance, about wanting to do for economic policy what Berman did for the consideration of Marx, urban planning, literature and modernity. So after coffee I went to the St Mark's bookstore and bought their remaining copy and spent a few days lost in this remarkable work. I was struck by his reminder of the lyricism of Marx's prose, as well as the evocative description of St Petersburg . So much so that given a chance to go from London anywhere for a few days at Christmas a few years ago I went to St. Petersburg to experience his description first hand. It was a profound experience. I was wonderfully privileged to be able to view the Nevsky Prospekt through his literary eyes. His writing also helped me plug an intellectual hole in thinking about the modern, progress and rationality.

So today in Political Thought I spoke a bit about modernity, 1848 and the wonderful quote from Marx that tells us so much about the power of social science observation ...

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face . . . the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men.
One of my students is writing a paper on The Communist Manifesto so I was pleased to email him the pdf from The Nation of Berman's own review. Hopefully this work will not be lost and students will continue to read it. For me, a dog eared copy of a well read book is perhaps the greatest gift I can think to give an author.

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