Biography and the 20th Century Tony Judt’s Project of a Political Death
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University of Warsaw
Publication date: 2014-07-07
Polish Sociological Review 2014;186(2):195-212
The aim of this article is to analyse the political and mnemonic programme to be found in the last books of the British historian and thinker Tony Judt. The author of this article assumes that the final period of Judt’s writing, in which he produced Ill Fares the Land, TheMemory Chalet, and the posthumously published discussion with Timothy Snyder entitled Thinking the Twentieth Century, is dependent on a kind of ‘art of memory’. For Judt, being terminally ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and thus condemned to immobility, this method became not so much—as in the case of its classic varieties—a technology of remembering, as a manner of recognizing and analyzing the contemporary world by turning to his own biography. The purpose was to construct a ’political testament’ for the Western world in a time of crisis whose roots, according to Judt, can be found in the supremacy that ‘economic’ thinking has achieved over traditional political thought. In a gesture reminiscent of the Stoic ‘techniques of the self’ described by Michel Foucault, Judt, by exploiting his own no less complicated biography and identity, tries to throw light on the complicated history of the 20th century, containing the sources of ‘our contemporary ills’. Biography and history thus meet here in a ’work of memory’ whose horizon and catalyzer is the perspective of death, and whose stake is the idea of a political community experiencing, according to Judt, a period of inertia.
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