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Posts Tagged ‘modernity’

Someone over on Crooked Timber asked if I could outline the debates about the nature of the ancient economy and its historiography, in the context of discussions about the contribution of Ellen Meiksins Wood; I was thinking of posting my response here anyway, just to keep the blog ticking over and to avoid these thoughts languishing at the bottom of a thread that no one’s following any more, but it’s taken me so long to get round to writing this that the thread has closed to comments, and this is the only outlet I have. Of course, if you’ve read much of my academic work these ideas will be pretty familiar, but for everyone else…

What Are We Talking About When We Talk About The Ancient Economy?
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The next episode of the User’s Guide to Thucydides will be posted by the end of the week, I promise – not least because there may then be a pause as I flee the country for a bit of rest and relaxation before the Classical Association Conference in Bristol after Easter. However, I wanted quickly to jot down a few comments arising from the lecture by Brooke Holmes of Princeton yesterday evening (yes, we’re having a really rich period of intellectual stimulation at the moment, with Liz Irwin a week ago, and coming up on Tuesday is Josephine Crawley Quinn on Carthaginian infant sacrifice).

Brooke’s paper was on the French theorist of the history of science Michel Serres, and his reading of Lucretius’ place in scientific development. In brief, as I understand it, Serres presents Lucretius as having had genuine insights into the true nature of the universe, in a way that we can recognise only today as a result of more recent scientific developments – and at the same time being thoroughly non-modern. (more…)

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It seems that Thucydides is starting to infiltrate China: back in November (I heard about this only in the last couple of weeks, courtesy of @JakeNabel), President Xi Jinping participated in a session at the Berggruen Institute for Governance’s conference on ‘Understanding China’. His opening address can be read at http://berggruen.org/topics/a-conversation-with-president-xi-at-big-s-understanding-china-conference, and after a hilarious put-down of the idea that a bunch of world leaders could possibly ‘understand’ China as the result of a brief conference – “As we Chinese say, one needs to read ten thousand books and journey ten thousand miles to gain understanding” (yay, world figure recommends reading!) – we find the following gem within his broad overview of China’s prospects:

We all to need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers, or between established powers themselves.

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I actually have several ideas for posts lined up – my thoughts on the Thucydides adaptation, some musings on the reception of Thucydides outside the Western tradition – and absolutely no time to spare to write them at the moment, as I have to finish marking several different piles of student essays in time to get some sort of a paper scribbled for the conference on Monday. Normal service will be resumed at some point; meanwhile, I’ve been meaning for ages to post a copy of my old paper on ideas of the past in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; one of my favourites of everything I’ve ever written, as it happens. Never managed to get it published, for various reasons; it did reside on my personal webpage at the university for a while, but that has long since stopped working properly…

History as Nightmare

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There are plenty of people out there who are far better qualified to offer appreciations of Marshall Berman, who died yesterday, and really this post is just an attempt at directing people who might not otherwise come across them towards such heartfelt tributes as this one by Corey Robin (with helpful links to others, and YouTube clips of Berman in action). I don’t know how many classicists or ancient historians read Berman; his brilliant work on the idea of modernity, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, is one of the major influences on my own Antiquity and Modernity, and I’d be delighted if that had encouraged anyone to investigate it further. However, since the main point of my argument was that Berman’s account of the contradictions of modernity needed to take account of the importance of history and ideas about the past, especially the classical past, I suppose one might get the impression that it’s a book which speaks only to modern history, and hence irrelevant to anyone who’s mainly interested in antiquity. On the contrary: it’s a book about the condition of the present, and hence about the ideas that inevitably shape our perspective on the past, that has far-reaching implications for every attempt we make at making some sense of the past. Besides, of course, offering brilliant readings of various key modern writers, not just Marx but also Goethe, who have shaped our conceptions of the world.

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