Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For Norm

Norman Geras's blog Normblog is, believe it or not, coming up to its tenth birthday. I was heart-broken to read this post, talking about his illness. Norm has been a huge inspiration to me, as well as to the whole world of blogging and to that part of the political world that is genuinely decent, in the real sense of the term. Although never having met him, I have come to think of him as something of a friend too, although I know I am among thousands who would say the same. What made reading the post even more poignant was that the night before I had been reading a book by Adèle Geras, Norm's other half, to my five year old, and I had meant to get in touch with her to tell her how much we loved it.

David Hirsh at Engage has posted a list of favourite Normblog links, all of which bear re-reading. The Soupy One posted a list of his favroutes on Twitter, which I reproduce below. I'm sure others are doing the same.

Back in 2010, I nominated Norm as a "good influence" on the left:
Norman Geras - a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.
At the end of the year, I returned to the theme, with a post on influential left-wing ideas, to which Norm responded, so I'll nominate that post as my special Normblog post, and reproduce it here:
Bob from Brockley has tagged me, among others, for the exercise of suggesting five ideas for the left that are a good influence, five that are a bad influence, and five that aren't influential enough. I plead the season and the need to do some late Christmas shopping this afternoon as my reason for chickening out. As a token of goodwill towards the project, however, I comment below on one each of Bob's own suggestions
National sovereignty Bob has down as a bad influence, and he has no trouble alluding to bad usages of that concept, such as the notion of a 'clerical-fascist's right to use his country as a personal fiefdom'. However, I disagree with Bob that the idea of sovereignty is a bad influence. Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have. Maybe one day they will be replaced by a more effective global community, but that doesn't look like happening any time soon. Maybe some different institutions than the state will in due course take over its functions. Meanwhile statelessness threatens those afflicted by it with a nightmare. Bob's opening implication that the idea of sovereignty presupposes some metaphysical national 'self' doesn't have to be accepted. All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory. 
Class analysis, Bob says, from once having been too all-encompassing on the left, at the expense of other types of identity, is now not influential enough. Without it the notion of social justice 'goes adrift'. I agree. 
The one-state solution... Bob gives it the thumbs-up. But, to my mind, he does so on the basis of a misplaced premise; which is (as I read him between the lines) that the idea could come to be accepted voluntarily by Israelis and Palestinians and thereby become consensual. If so, then well and good. But the two-state solution rests on the assumption that this consensus does not obtain, or obtain yet. While it doesn't, a one-state solution can only be coercive and therefore violate the right to self-determination of one or both peoples. We need influential ideas for different possible states of affairs and not only for ones that look out of reach at the moment.
Norm always makes me think again.

Get well soon Norm. Here's a song for you, Emmylou Harris singing Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again", from your favourite Emmylou album.






1 comment:

Brian Goldfarb said...

Late in the day on this one. In the 1990s, Norm ran a once-a-term seminar on the Holocaust for any post-grads or lecturers who wanted to attend, including those unpublished on the topic like me (then at De Montfort University). I attended for about two or three years (until I became unwell: when I'd recovered - not long after - pressure of work kept me away).

It was there that I met Eve Garrard, with whom I still occasionally correspond, and David Hirsh (among others), who was then writing his PhD and yet to become the Founder of Engage, but I formed enough of a friendship to become an early and persistent commenter on the site.

Norm was a great facilitator and lent immense gravitas to the proceedings, as well as keeping us all on our intellectual toes. It inspired me to present a paper, triggered by a passing comment by Bob Brecher (then - and still? - of Sussex Uni) musing whether the Holocaust was perhaps not inevitable but unforseeable: no-one at the time and place beieved it could actually happen. In turn this led to a further conference paper at the BSA. So I'm grateful to Norm for that.

Sadly, Bob Brecher appears to have gone over to the dark side on the question of BDS re Israel.

I learnt of Norm's illness after I retired and started volunteering at the Wiener Library from a Manchester post-grad who came to the Library's talks, and I got in touch with him. I have, like so many others, followed his blog since soon after it started, as well as caught up with some of his writings, as well as still occasionally meeting him in Cambridge (we have a mutual friend there), and now and then offering thoughts on certain postings of his.

Like everyone else, I wish him well and look forward to his being able to maintain his blog.

As Bob says, Norm always makes you think again!