When the Facts Change: Essays 1995 - 2010

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9780099593430: When the Facts Change: Essays 1995 - 2010

In an age in which the lack of independent public intellectuals has often been sorely lamented, the historian Tony Judt played a rare and valuable role, bringing together history and current events, Europe and America, what was and what is with what should be. In When the Facts Change, Tony Judt’s widow and fellow historian Jennifer Homans has assembled an essential collection of the most important and influential pieces written in the last fifteen years of Judt’s life, the years in which he found his voice in the public sphere. Included are seminal essays on the full range of Judt’s concerns, including Europe as an idea and in reality, before 1989 and thereafter; Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews; American hyperpower and the world after 9/11; and issues of social inclusion and social justice in an age of increasing inequality. 

Judt was at once most at home and in a state of what he called internal exile from his native England, from Europe, and from America, and he finally settled in New York—between them all. He was a historian of the twentieth century acutely aware of the dangers of ethnic exceptionalism, and if he was shaped by anything, it was the Jewish past and his own secularism. His essays on Israel ignited a firestorm debate for their forthright criticisms of Israeli government polices relating to the Palestinians and the occupied territories. Those crucial pieces are published here in book form for the first time, including an essay, never previously published, called “What Is to Be Done?”  These pieces are suffused with a deep compassion for the Israeli dilemma, a compassion that instilled in Judt a sense of responsibility to speak out and try to find a better path, away from what he saw as a road to ruin.

When the Facts Change also contains Judt’s homages to the culture heroes who were some of his greatest inspirations: Amos Elon, François Furet, Leszek Kolakowski, and perhaps above all Albert Camus, who never accepted the complacent view that the problem of evil couldn't lie within us as well as outside us. Included here too is a magnificent two-part essay on the social and political importance of railway travel to our modern conception of a good society; as well as the urgent text of “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy,” the final public speech of his life, delivered from a wheelchair after he had been stricken with a terrible illness; and a tender and wise dialogue with his then-teenage son, Daniel, about the different outlooks and burdens of their two generations.

To read When the Facts Change is to miss Tony Judt’s voice terribly, but to cherish it for what it was, and still is: a wise, human, deeply informed view on our most pressing concerns, delivered in good faith.

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About the Author:

Tony Judt was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, and l’École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and Berkeley. He was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University and the director of the Remarque Institute, which he founded in 1995. Professor Judt was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary SupplementThe New RepublicThe New York Times, and many other journals. Judt is the author of Thinking the Twentieth CenturyThe Memory ChaletIll Fares the LandReappraisals, and Postwar, which was one of The New York Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2005 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died in August 2010 at the age of sixty-two.

Jennifer Homans is the author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. She is the founder and director of The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University and the dance critic for The New Republic. She holds a Ph.D. in modern European history from New York University. Before becoming a writer and scholar, Homans was a professional dancer. She is currently working on a biography of George Balanchine.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: IN GOOD FAITH

The only way for me to write this introduction is to separate the man from the ideas. Otherwise, I get pulled back into the man, who I loved and was married to from 1993 until his death in 2010, rather than forward into the ideas. As you read these essays, I hope that you, too, will focus on the ideas, because they are good ideas, and they were written in good faith. “In good faith” may have been Tony’s favorite phrase and highest standard, and he held himself to it in everything he wrote. What he meant by it, I think, was writing that is free of calculation and maneuver, intellectual or otherwise. A clean, clear, honest account.

This is a book about our age. The arc is down: from the heights of hope and possibility, with the revolutions of 1989, into the confusion, devastation, and loss of 9/11, the Iraq war, the deepening crisis in the Middle East, and—as Tony saw it—the self-defeating decline of the American republic. As the facts changed and events unfolded, Tony found himself turned increasingly and unhappily against the current, fighting with all of his intellectual might to turn the ship of ideas, however slightly, in a different direction. The story ends abruptly, with his untimely death.

This book is also, for me, a very personal book, since “our age” was also “my age” with Tony: the early essays date to the first years of our marriage and the birth of our son Daniel, and follow through our time together in Vienna, Paris, New York, the birth of Nicholas, and the growing up of our family. Our life together began, not coincidentally, with the fall of Communism in 1989: I was a graduate student at New York University, where Tony taught. In the summer of 1991, I traveled across Central Europe, and when I got back I wanted to know more. I was advised to take an independent study with Tony Judt.

I did, and our romance began, over books and conversations about European politics, war, revolution, justice, art. It wasn’t the usual dating arrangement: our second “course meeting” took place in a restaurant over dinner. Tony pushed the books aside, ordered wine, and told me of his time in Prague under Communism, and then in 1989, walking through silent snow-covered squares and streets deep into the night soon after the Velvet Revolution, clearly in awe at the turn of historical fate—and the feelings that were already apparent between us. We watched movies, went to art exhibitions, ate Chinese food, he even cooked (badly). Finally—the key to our courtship—he invited me on a trip to Europe: Paris, Vienna, Budapest, a hair-raising drive over the Simplon Pass in a storm (I drove—he had migraines). We took trains, and I watched him pouring over timetables, clocking departures and arrivals like a kid in a candy store: Zermatt, Brig, Florence, Venice.

It was a great romance, and it was a European romance, part of a larger romance with Europe that defined Tony’s life, and his life’s work. At times, I think he even thought of himself as European. But he wasn’t really. Sure, he spoke French, German, Italian, Hebrew, Czech, some Spanish, but he was never “at home” in any of these places. He was more Central European, but not exactly that either—he didn’t quite have that history, except by professional engagement and family roots (Russian, Polish, Romanian, and Lithuanian Jews). He was very English, too, by habit and upbringing (he could move effortlessly between his childhood cockney and confident Oxbridge prose), but he wasn’t really that either—too Jewish, too Central European. It’s not that he was alienated from any of these places, although in some cases he was; it was more that he was attached to bits of all of them, which is why he couldn’t let go of any of them.

So perhaps it is not surprising that although we settled in New York from the start, we spent much of our life together planning to live—or living—somewhere else. We were expert packers and often joked that we would write a book together called something like “At Home in Europe: Everything You Need to Know about Schools and Real Estate.” By far the best gift I ever gave to Tony was a subscription to Thomas Cooks Railway Timetable.

It was only after 2001 that he really settled. This was partly because of his health: that year he was diagnosed with a serious cancer and underwent major surgery, radiation, and other draining therapies. Partly, too, because of the WTC attack. It became increasingly difficult to travel, and the horror of the event itself, combined with his illness, had a homing effect; he wanted to be here with me and the boys. Whatever the reasons, in the years that followed he slowly became more and more, though never quite, American—ironically at the very moment when he found greatest reasons to be critical of its politics. He acquired citizenship: “Quiz me,” he would say to the kids in the weeks before the test, and they would gleefully take him through the paces, no matter that he had taught American politics for years at Oxford. Around 2003 I noticed a shift in his thinking, and in his writing, from “them” to “us”: “The Way We Live Now.”

These were also the years of the Remarque Institute, which Tony founded in 1995 and directed until his death. It was built along the same two axes that preoccupied him in his writing: bringing together Europe and America, history and contemporary politics. At the same time, he was writing Postwar (2005), a mammoth undertaking, which tested daily his physical and intellectual strength and discipline, especially as he recovered from cancer. I remember well his exhaustion and determination as he insisted on writing the essays in this volume, too, even as he was (as he put it) “in the coal mines” of a major book about Europe. I worried at how hard he pushed himself, but in retrospect I see that he couldn’t help it. As he immersed himself in Postwar, he was hearing canaries in the mines of our own time: these essays, which beg us—and especially “us” Americans—to look back on the twentieth century as we make our way in the twenty-first, were one result.

 · · · 

SO THIS IS A COLLECTION of essays, but it is also a collection of obsessions. Tony’s obsessions. They are all here: Europe and America, Israel and the Middle East, justice, the public sphere, the state, international relations, memory and forgetting, and above all history. His caution, which reappears across these essays, that we were witnessing an “economic age” collapse into an “era of fear”* and entering “a new age of insecurity”* was a sign of just how depressed and worried he was at the direction politics was taking. He expected a lot and was a keen observer. You will find in these essays, I think, both a clear-eyed realist—who believed in facts, events, data—and an idealist who aimed at nothing less than the well-lived life; not just for himself, but for society.

I have presented the essays chronologically as well as thematically because chronology was one of his greatest obsessions. He was, after all, a historian, and he had little patience for postmodern fashions of textual fragmentation or narrative disruption, especially in historical writing. He wasn’t really interested in the idea that there is no single truth (wasn’t that obvious?), or the deconstruction of this or that text. The real job, he believed, was not to say what wasn’t but what was—to tell a convincing and clearly written story from the available evidence, and to do it with an eye to what is right and just. Chronology was not merely a professional or literary convention, it was a prerequisite—even, when it came to history, a moral responsibility.

A word about facts: I have never met anyone as committed to facts as Tony, something his children learned from the start: it is to Daniel, now nineteen, that we owe the title of this volume, which comes from a (probably apocryphal) quote from Keynes that was one of Tony’s favorite mantras: “when the facts change, I change my mind—what do you do, sir?” I learned this early on about Tony, in one of those domestic situations that does so much to illuminate a man. When we were first married we bought a house in Princeton, New Jersey (his idea)—but it was more of a house in theory than in practice. In theory, Tony wanted to live there, but in practice we were living in New York, or traveling to Europe, or on our way somewhere else. Eventually, I wanted to sell the house—it was draining us financially and frankly I had a horror of ever living there. There ensued a long and difficult discussion about what to do with the house, which turned into a debate and finally a silent and angry standoff about the emotional, historical, geographical meaning of houses and home, and why this particular one was or wasn’t right for us.

Arguing with Tony was a real challenge because he was a master at the dialectical switchback and could turn any point you made against you. Finally I created a spreadsheet that laid out the facts—a desperate strategic move on my part: finances, commuter train schedules, fares, total hours spent at Penn Station, the works. He studied it carefully and agreed on the spot to sell the house. No regrets, no remorse, no recriminations, no further discussion necessary. He was already on to the next plan. To me, it was an astounding and admirable quality. It gave him a kind of clarity of thinking—he wasn’t wedded to his ideas or, as I later discovered, to his prose. When the facts changed—when a better, more convincing argument was made—he really did change his mind and move on.

He had great inner certainty. This was not an existential attribute, it was hard earned: he read, ingested, absorbed, memorized more facts, and knew more “real stuff,” as he liked to put it, than anyone I have ever met. For this reason, he didn’t like social events or parties: he was shy, in a way, and preferred to stay home and read—he could get more from books, he said, away from the distracting “blah blah” of the “chattering classes.” He was almost machinelike in his recall, and he arrived at his positions quickly and decisively, sifting a given problem through his extraordinary store of knowledge and sharply analytic mind. It is not that he trusted himself absolutely—like all of us, he had emotional gaps and moments when reason and good judgment deserted him, but these were mostly in his life, not in his writing. When it came to ideas, he was not a doubter; he had a kind of pure intellectual command and ability to summon ideas and arguments without complication.

He was a great writer because he was always fine-tuning his words, craftsmanlike, to this inner pitch. He had a system for writing, and the essays in this book were all written according to the same method, even those from 2008 to 2010 when he was ill and quadriplegic. First, he read everything he could on a subject, taking copious notes by hand, on lined yellow legal pads. Then came the outline, color-coded A, B, C, D, with detailed subcategories: A1 i, A1 ii, A2 iii, etc. (more legal pads). Then he sat for hours on end, monklike, at the dining room table assigning each line in his notes, each fact, date, point, or idea, to a place in the outline. Next—and this was the killer and the key—he retranscribed all of his original notes in the order of the outline. By the time he sat down to write the essay, he had copied, recopied, and memorized most of what he needed to know. Then, door closed, eight-hour days of writing back to back until the piece was done (small breaks for marmite sandwiches and strong espresso). Finally—“polishing.”

When he became ill, none of this changed, it just got harder. Someone else had to be the hands, turning the pages of books, assembling materials, searching the Web, and typing. As his body failed, he retaught himself how to think and write—the most private of events—with someone else, a tribute to the flexibility of his extraordinary mind. He worked with an assistant, but he had to do most of the work by memory, in his own mind, usually at night, composing, sorting, cataloguing, rewriting his mental notes according to his outline—A, B, C, D—to be typed in the morning by me, our boys, a nurse, or his assistant.

This was not just a method, I think, it was a map of his mind. The logic, the patience, the intense concentration and careful construction of the argument, the soldierly attention to fact and detail, the confidence of his convictions—unlike most writers, he rarely deviated from his original design. The difficulty came when he bumped into things inside himself that he didn’t fully see or know: not the “facts on the ground,” but the “facts inside”—the things that were just there, like furniture in his mind. The most obvious had to do with being Jewish.

For Tony, being Jewish was a given—the oldest piece of furniture in the place. It was the only identity that he possessed unequivocally. He was not religious, never went to synagogue, never practiced anything at home; he liked to quote Isaac Deutscher (whose books were given to him by his father, Joe, when he was a boy) on the “non-Jewish Jews.” If he talked about being Jewish, it was about the past: Friday night dinners as a child with his Yiddish-speaking grandparents in the East End of London; his father’s (very Jewish) secular humanism (“I don’t believe in race, I believe in humanity”) and his mother’s determined renunciation—she stood in her living room when the Queen of England appeared on TV and didn’t want her grandchildren circumcised lest “bad times” come again; or his grandfather Enoch, the proverbial wandering Jew, who always had his bags packed and spent as much of his life as he could on the road.

Another fact: the hat. Some years ago, we were on our way to the bat mitzvah of a close friend’s daughter at a synagogue on New York’s Upper East Side. We were late and almost there in a taxi traveling uptown, when Tony literally panicked: he had forgotten his hat. Did it really matter, I asked, we were late already and he would miss part of the service if he went back. Couldn’t he go without it? No, really he couldn’t, and I was taken aback at the heightened and inexplicable anxiety that seemed to overtake him. He went back for the hat, which was a well-appointed but old-fashioned thing I couldn’t remember having ever seen before. When he slipped into the synagogue to rejoin me, he was astonished to find that he was the only one: the other guests were all wearing black-tie. He was indignant and a bit offended, but mostly confused—and manifestly out of place. What kind of Jews were these?

Tony had had a bar mitzvah himself (“we did our duty,” his father later explained), and as a passionate (later disabused) Zionist in his youth, he spoke good Hebrew and had been a translator in Israel during the 1967 war. When our boys were young we agreed that we would like them to have at least some religious education. My background was Protestant but above all atheist, so we soon dismissed the idea of Sunday school and instead found Itay—a graduate student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who came to our apartment on Washington Square weekly to teach the boys Hebrew, biblical history, culture. There was—Tony’s decision—no bar mitzvah. To my mind, the message was clear: within th...

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. A great thinker s final testament: a characteristically wise and forthright collection of essays from the author of Postwar and Thinking the Twentieth Century, spanning a career of extraordinary intellectual engagement. Edited and introduced by Jennifer Homans. Tony Judt s first collection of essays, Reappraisals, was centred on twentieth-century Europe in history and memory. Some of Judt s most prominent and indeed controversial essays felt outside of the scope of Reappraisals, most notably his writings on the state of Israel and its relationship to Palestine. There would be time, it was thought, to fit these essays into a larger frame. Sadly, this would not be the case, at least during the author s own life. Now, in When the Facts Change, Tony Judt s widow and fellow historian, Jennifer Homans, has found the frame, gathering together important essays from the span of Judt s career that chronicle both the evolution of his thought and the remarkable consistency of his passionate engagement and intellectual elan. Whether the subject is the scholarly poverty of the new social history, the willful blindness of French collective memory about what happened to the country s Jews during World War II, or the moral challenge to Israel of the so-called Palestinian problem, the majesty of Tony Judt s work lies in his combination of unsparing honesty, intellectual brilliance, and ethical clarity. When the Facts Change exemplifies the utility, indeed the necessity, of minding our history and not letting cheerful fictions suffice in its place. An emphatic demonstration of the power of a great historian to connect us more deeply to the world as it was, as it is, and as it should be, it is a fitting capstone to an extraordinary body of work. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099593430

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Book Description Vintage, 2015. Book Condition: New. The author's first collection of essays, Reappraisals, was centred on twentieth-century Europe in history and memory. In this book, his widow and fellow historian, gathers together important essays from the span of his career that chronicle both the evolution of his thought and the consistency of his passionate engagement and intellectual elan. Num Pages: 400 pages. BIC Classification: DNF; HBG; HBLW; JPA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade); (P) Professional & Vocational; (U) Tertiary Education (US: College). Dimension: 201 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 286. . 2015. Paperback. . . . . . Bookseller Inventory # V9780099593430

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Book Description Vintage. Book Condition: New. The author's first collection of essays, Reappraisals, was centred on twentieth-century Europe in history and memory. In this book, his widow and fellow historian, gathers together important essays from the span of his career that chronicle both the evolution of his thought and the consistency of his passionate engagement and intellectual elan. Num Pages: 400 pages. BIC Classification: DNF; HBG; HBLW; JPA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade); (P) Professional & Vocational; (U) Tertiary Education (US: College). Dimension: 201 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 286. . 2015. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780099593430

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Book Description Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, When the Facts Change: Essays 1995 - 2010, Tony Judt, This is a great thinker's final testament: a characteristically wise and forthright collection of essays from the author of Postwar and Thinking the Twentieth Century, spanning a career of extraordinary intellectual engagement. Edited and introduced by Jennifer Homans. Tony Judt's first collection of essays, Reappraisals, was centred on twentieth-century Europe in history and memory. Some of Judt's most prominent and indeed controversial essays felt outside of the scope of Reappraisals, most notably his writings on the state of Israel and its relationship to Palestine. There would be time, it was thought, to fit these essays into a larger frame. Sadly, this would not be the case, at least during the author's own life. Now, in When the Facts Change, Tony Judt's widow and fellow historian, Jennifer Homans, has found the frame, gathering together important essays from the span of Judt's career that chronicle both the evolution of his thought and the remarkable consistency of his passionate engagement and intellectual elan. Whether the subject is the scholarly poverty of the new social history, the willful blindness of French collective memory about what happened to the country's Jews during World War II, or the moral challenge to Israel of the so-called Palestinian problem, the majesty of Tony Judt's work lies in his combination of unsparing honesty, intellectual brilliance, and ethical clarity. When the Facts Change exemplifies the utility, indeed the necessity, of minding our history and not letting cheerful fictions suffice in its place. An emphatic demonstration of the power of a great historian to connect us more deeply to the world as it was, as it is, and as it should be, it is a fitting capstone to an extraordinary body of work. Bookseller Inventory # B9780099593430

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