Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tme to read: Tony Judt, Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century

No doubt about it. It's a wonderful book. Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder put the 20th century again on the intellectual agenda. The title is very precise in what this century deserves and needs: thinking. Judt's personal history is rather an unique exemplar of the 20th century. As a Jew with his ancestors in Central Europe, born in London and learning and teaching in England, France, The United States, Vienna and and more Judt creates for himself an extra ordinary outlook on Europe.

The part the book what I like best, but what is also the most uneasy part, is about the American Moralist - reflextions on the contemporary intellectual. It is worth rethinking the question what an intellectual should be. On the other hand it could be that the intellectual as a key figure belongs to the 20th centure and Tony Judt is the last, great one.

I felt very close to what can be called 'the liberal turn' of Judt due to his involvement with Central European intellectuals before 1989. I share the same experience ever since I visit Lviv (Ukraine) on a regular basis the last years. Talking about and working on liberal issues as democracy and the integrity of government in a country without a liberal tradition, makes me more concious of my liberal roots as a Dutch citizen. Maybe that's what Tony Judt shows: being born as a liberal for the second time. First, litteraly being born in a liberal, constitutional, democratic society. Second, being reborn when you realize what a tremendous gift to the world this is, for people as 'citizens to come' who lack this liberal experience.

If there is one think missing in the book, it is art: abstract art, Pop Art, pop music. Art is a defining part in this great century where it, so to say, 'comes to itself'. It's Pop Art what changes the mass society before the '60's in the pop society of the second, in which one even talks of pop science. The picture of the century that Judt and Snyder scetch is largely doomed by the heavy shadow of the Holochaust. To me that's no coincidence when the Jew Tony Judt is interviewed by the Holocaust, Bloodlands, specialist Timothy Snyder. Without art the 20th Century is, to speak with T.S. Eliot, a waste land. With guys like Kandinsky, Klee, Picasso, Mondriaan, Warholl, and bands like Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd or Radiohead the 20th Century is an age of hope, and even a bit of glory.

Still: Thinking the Twentieth Century is a beautiful book. It should be read at all Ukrainian highschools and universities. And not only by historians!

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