Disconnecting Acts: An Interview with Zygmunt Bauman Part II

By Efrain Kristal, Arne De BoeverNovember 12, 2014

Disconnecting Acts: An Interview with Zygmunt Bauman Part II

THE FOLLOWING IS PART II of the Efrain Kristal / Arne De Boever talk with renowned Polish social theorist Zygmunt Bauman about his entire work. The interview was conducted by email. Click here to read Part I.


ARNE DE BOEVER / EFRAIN KRISTAL: In the year 2000, when Liquid Modernity first appeared, you wonder if the shift from a solid modernity to a liquid modernity might augur a momentous turning point in human cultural history. In your more recent books, you take an unambiguous, critical stance towards the liquid modern society, as an individualized society of consumers with corrosive effects, as an undesirable consequence of the earlier kind of modernity with which it maintains a dialectical rapport, as pride of place shifts from production to consumption in global markets, especially when consumers themselves become sellable commodities. You now speculate that the liquid modern world may be an undesirable era of "interregnum," and you call for an "exit" from the undesirable aspects of this condition, which can undermine cooperation, healthy personal relationships, and solidarity among individuals and communities. In short, you underscore the extreme dangers of the liquid modern world and seem to be investigating the conditions for what you call "resolidification." How can "resolidification" take place without falling into the perils of the kind of solid modernity you diagnosed in your earlier work, in its capitalist, fascist, and communist expressions?

ZYGMUNT BAUMAN: The era of “interregnum” is a mixture of a curse and a blessing. As old ways of doing things no longer work properly, whereas the new and more effective ones are at best on the drawing desks or at a stage of experimentation, the curse is the state of ignorance (we don't know what is going to happen) and the humiliating feeling of impotence (even if we knew a disaster was approaching, we would be able to do very little to prevent it) — combining into the harrowing and deeply discomforting ambiance of uncertainty. That curse, however, has a blessing for its inalienable companion: climbing a very steep and treacherous slope as we do now, we know or at least feel that we can't stop; we must go on searching for alternative paths through a string of impassable stretches. What we know is that to stay put while doing nothing is a non-option — things can't go on as they are now. Interregnum is a time fertile for self-criticism, insights, and inventions: in interregnum, it seems, everything may happen, even if nothing can be undertaken with certainty of success. Examples abound of the search for alternatives acquiring momentum; I have however to limit myself here to but a few, provisional and scattered illustrations picked at random.

I will start with Jeremy Rifkin, who in his latest oeuvre under an unduly baffling title The Zero Marginal Cost Society and a subtitle The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014) confronts point blank the question of the possibility/chances of an alternative society. Rifkin challenges the prevailing creed of our times, expressed and embraced from the top to bottom of society — from the philosophy of the learned classes down to the common sense of hoi polloi. What Rifkin argues is that an alternative to capitalist markets wrongly proclaimed and believed as an indelible mark of human nature, is not just feasible and plausible, but already present even if as yet in an inchoate form; but it is fast gaining ground — with all the chances of gaining dominance not in the course of centuries, but of a few decades.

Capitalism, so Rifkin suggests, is in the course of being replaced by “collaborative commons”: it is the commons rather than capitalism that are deeply rooted in the historical mode of human cohabitation. The difference between the two modes of human coexistence is in Rifkin’s opinion all but fundamental: “While the capitalist market is based on self-interest and driven by material gain, the social Commons is motivated by collaborative interests and driven by a deep desire to connect with others and share. If the former promotes property rights, caveat emptor, and the search for autonomy, the latter advances open-source innovation, transparency, and the search for community.” Once fully mature, collaborative commons will “break the monopoly hold of giant, vertically integrated companies operating in capitalist markets by enabling peer production in laterally scaled continental and global networks at near zero marginal cost.”

Rifkin argues throughout his study that just as the steam engine enabled/ prompted/ necessitated the first industrial revolution, and as the internal combustion engine together with the telephone network set in motion the second industrial revolution, the currently emerging global “Internet of Things,” integrating the communication internet with the energy internet and logistics (mobility) internet, will supply the infrastructure for the third industrial revolution. They are composed by “billions of people” who "engage in the deeply social aspects of life.” They are “made up of literally millions of self-managed, mostly democratically run organizations, including charities, religious bodies, arts and cultural groups, educational foundations, amateur sports clubs, producer and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, health-care organizations, advocacy groups, condominium associations, and a near endless list of other formal and informal institutions that generate the social capital of society.” Social capital is there and growing, waiting to be harvested, garnered, set to work …

Rifkin is right when calling us to rip off the curtain hung by the market-run consumerist society over alternatives to itself. As J.M. Coetzee noted in the already quoted Diary of a Bad Year, “the question of why life must be likened to a race, or of why the national economies must race against one another rather than going for a comradely jog together, for the sake of the health, is not raised.” And as he added: “But surely God did not make the market — God or the Spirit of History. And if we human beings made it, can we not unmake it and remake it in a kindlier form? Why does the world have to be a kill-or-be-killed gladiatorial amphitheatre rather than, say, a busily cooperative beehive or anthill?” Simple words, simple questions, no less weighty and convincing for the absence of a sophisticated argument spiked with academic jargon and concerned more with taking a leaf from the spirit of markets and scoring a point, rather than appealing to good sense and spurring human reason out of its somnolence and into action. Indeed, why?

One thing though is to call us — rightly — to desist the temptation of dismissing the sprouts of commons-style social settings on the ground of their relative marginality and smallness and quite another is to suggest that the final outcome of its duel with the market-capitalist mode of existence is by all practical intents and purposes predetermined. While technology determines the set of options open to humans, it does not determine which one of the options will be eventually taken and which suppressed. Collaborative commons are not the sole scenario, the certainty of its implementation having been already determined by the logic of technological development. As I pointed out in a dialogue with Rein Raud, scheduled to be published by the Polity Books in 2015 under the title Practices of Self: “What humans can do is perhaps a question that could be addressed to technology. What humans will do, however, is a question that needs be addressed to politics, sociology, psychology — with the ultimate answers unlikely to be given otherwise than with the benefit of hindsight.”

The “craftsman,” a type napping perhaps while waiting to be awakened in each of us, has been recently described by Richard Sennett (in the study under the same name) as guided and moved by what Thorstein Veblen a hundred years earlier dubbed the “instinct of workmanship." In his follow-up study of cooperation, titled Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (2012), Sennett (following Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum) points out however that “human beings are capable of doing more than schools, workplaces, civil organizations and political regimes allow for […] People's capacities for cooperation are far greater and more complex than institutions allow them to be […]” Cooperation is the natural habitat of the craftsmanship or instinct of workmanship, that “obsessive pursuit of quality for its own sake.” Disallowing cooperation means depriving craftsmanship from the soil it needs to thrive. Once exiled from its natural ecotype and transplanted onto foreign and inhospitable ground of the machine-run, impersonal routine, a slow yet relentless wilting and fading of cooperative predispositions and skills tends to be fast followed by the dissipation of craftsmen ambitions … Corporate management does the job of choking the cooperative flame with the toxic smoke of competition and preventing the cooperative embers from bursting in flame through rendering interpersonal bonds shallow, short-term, prospect-less, frail, and unreliable (what has been destroyed in that process was “the aura of permanence and practice of long-term employment,” employees staying in one company through the whole of their working life, and industrial workers tending “to stay put, rather than move to look for better work elsewhere”). Cooperation and instinct of workmanship are born and grow together — and together they die (or rather fall flat or into coma; they never really die). As Joke Brouwer and Sjoerd van Tuinen aver in the preface to the book they co-edited, titled Giving and Taking: Antidotes to a Culture of Greed (2014), even if with a somewhat excessive sanguinity, “[u]nder a thin layer of consumerism lies an ocean of generosity.”

True, cooperation of craftsmen gives vent to another human inclination: that of rivalry. But the kind of rivalry it promotes it puts into the service of excellence and the gratifying sense of being needed and useful to others, not of personal appropriation or enrichment. Seen from the perspective of the aggregate, its members’ rivalry is in giving or adding to the collaborative commons, not in taking and detracting from it. And as Peter Sloterdijk, referring to Marcel Mauss's classic study of gift, insists in one of the interviews included in the Brouver/Tuinen book, the giving in question is not just a spontaneous outburst of generosity; it is also experienced by the giver as an obligation — though an obligation free from grudge and resentment, its fulfilment is hardly ever experienced or thought of as an act of self-deprivation or self-sacrifice. In the case of a gift true to its nature, the common opposition between egoism and altruism is cancelled. That opposition is dissolved, we may say, in the state/condition/mentality/ambiance of companionship and solidarity … To give means to do good, but also in one’s feeling good the two satisfactions merge into one and are no longer distinguishable from each other — let alone at loggerheads. The first wouldn't happen without the second, and if the second comes to be, it is thanks to the first happening. Unalloyed, untainted joy derived from the giving is what the editors of the book and most its contributors consider, as the book's subtitle implies, an antidote to a culture of greed. And that joy, let me add, is what craftsmanship as well as cooperation can rely and need to rely to be propelled by.

Solidarity, whose spirit is best conveyed by the phrase un pour tous, tous pour un (one for all, all for one), a principle/slogan ascribed by Alexander Dumas to a foursome of musketeer heroes, is an attitude assuming, as well as manifesting in thoughts and deeds, that fusion of personal and shared welfare. That spirit was also an indispensable (even if silent) premise of John Rawls' theory of justice, aimed at a reconciliation of freedom and equality, becoming workable. The notorious difficulty with recasting Rawls’s theory into social practice illustrates the arduousness of the task to compose a social setting likely to switch the balance of probabilities firmly in solidarity's favor. Among the recorded attempts to build, purposefully, such a setting, Sennett dissects the experience of Saul Alinsky and Jane Addams in Chicago, concluding that “ordinary experience, not policy formulas, is what counts,” that “the test of joint action should be its concrete effect on daily life, not an eventual effect such a policy promises.” Both experiments “emphasized loose rather than rigid exchanges, and made a virtue of informality.” All that was but a first step; the experiments in question set the stage for “sociality,” an attitude that stops short of active cooperation, even though it also conditions it. Sociality “is not an active reaching out to others; it is mutual awareness instead of action together.” In its original meaning suggested by Simmel, sociality “asks you to accept the stranger as a valued presence in your midst.” We may say that “sociality” is an attitude and a practice of curiosity and keeping the gate open to the risks of the unknown — and attitude toning down, possibly suppressing the impulse of withdrawal from communication, separation, fencing off and locking the doors. What sociality enables is Hans Georg Gadamer's “fusion of horizons” — but more is needed to pave the way to “joining forces” — that is, to solidarity, a Siamese twin of cooperation […] Somewhere on the road leading from sociality to solidarity intertwined with cooperation, acquisition of new skills must happen: skills without which the overcoming of the fear of the “stranger” and for that reason baffling, obscure, inscrutable, and impermeable and therefore pregnant with disabling, paralysing uncertainty, is utterly unlikely. In my terms: skills of that sort are needed to rise above instinctual mixophobia and up to laboriously groomed and honed mixophilia.

The trouble is, though, that modern society tends to bar acquisition of such skills. It does it in subtle or crude ways, openly (through “appealing-to-reason” recommendations explicitly given) or surreptitiously (through manipulating the settings of interaction and the tools of acting). I'll name but two of them.

The first is the changing nature of labor relation, already mentioned before. The prevailing social setting of today’s workplace, marked by its explicit frailty and impermanence and transitoriness boarding on ephemerality, prompts and encourages mutual suspicion, competitiveness and one-upmanship: keeping one's distance, avoiding fixing of bonds, eschewing oaths of loyalty, or long-term, let alone interminate, obligations tends to turn into commonsensical savoir-vivre. In the result, today's coalitions tend to be therefore on the whole ad hoc and invariably supplied with a “till-further-notice” clause. Instability of one's own employment as well as that of others reduces the likelihood of digging beneath the perfunctory and one-issue, formal encounters — most contacts being (to use Martin Buber's terminology) of a Vergegnung (superficial mis-meetings) than a Begegnung (meetings in-depth, triggering and initiating the acquisition of mutual knowledge and understanding) character. That setting either strips the actors of the interacting skills they’ve already acquired and mastered, or cuts down substantially the opportunities of their appropriation and development.

The second is the “online” sector of our lives; a sector whose impact on the popular (indeed increasingly common) world-view and savoir-faire is expanding and deepening day in, day out. The online half of the dual universe we inhabit offers the possibility of sweeping under the carpet the challenges of cohabitation with diversity; the kind of possibility almost inconceivable in the offline world — in a school, workplace, neighborhood, city street. Instead of facing up to such challenges point blank and embarking on the long, bumpy and tortuous road leading from sociality to cooperation and solidarity, it tempts its visitors with an elsewhere unattainable luxury of fencing them off, rendering them irrelevant and ignoring. Facebook’s “networks of friends” are digital equivalents of massively material gated communities; though unlike their offline replicas, they don’t need CCTV and armed guards at the entry: fingers of the network’s composer/manager/consumer armed with a mouse and the magic “delete” key would suffice. The endemic sociality of humans is thereby cleansed of the risk of sidestepping onto the treacherous practice of collaboration and the “fusion of horizons” with which such practice is pregnant — and morphing, eventually, in solidarity. Without accepting that risk, alas, social skills falls into disuse and oblivion — and as they do, the presence of the stranger grows yet more awesome, off-putting, repellent, and frightening, while the hardships involved in an attempt to elaborate a satisfactory modus vivendi with that presence seem all the more overwhelming and insurmountable.

The odds against the species-wide journey towards collaborative commons look indeed formidable. Moreover, their overcoming does not seem likely to happen spontaneously — on its own, unassisted. Watching it happening, extolling its promises, and applauding its progress to-date, is not enough. To be happening consistently, and to reach its completion, this process would need … yes, your guess is right: management! Though probably not the kind of management we've come to know from observation and autopsy … What it needs is a novel kind of management (or self-management), made to the measure of the challenges to be faced on the road leading from competitive markets to collaborative commons, from sociality to cooperation and solidarity: the road thus far un-trodden, un-tested, and un-mapped. Designing such kind of management is likely to require colossal thinking, stupendous volume of experimentation, and prodigious amount of monitoring. What we are slowly coming to envisage and to understand is the nature of the task. Where we are however still much in the dark is the design and build of tools adequate to that task.

Benjamin Barber in his already quoted study If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities invests his hopes in the cities — and especially in the big cities, already inhabited by the majority of humans. “Why are nation states singularly unfit to tackle the challenges arising from the fact of our planet-wide interdependence?” he asks. Because they are “too inclined by their nature to rivalry and mutual exclusion,” they appear “quintessentially indisposed to cooperation and incapable of establishing global common goods.” Why are cities, especially big cities, immensely more adapted to take the lead? Because of “the unique urban potential for cooperation and egalitarianism unhindered by those obdurate forces of sovereignty and nationality, of ideology and inequality, that have historically hobbled and isolated nation-states inside fortresses celebrated as being 'independent' and 'autonomous.' Nor need the mayors tie their aspirations to cooperation to the siren song of a putative United Nations that will never be united because it is composed of rival nations whose essence lies in their sovereignty and independence.” In fact, as Barber emphatically points out, all this is already happening — unplanned, unsupervised, unmonitored; it happens spontaneously, as a natural phase in the development of cities as locations where “creativity is unleashed, community solidified, and citizenship realized.” Daily confronted by globally generated problems and the urge to resolve them, cities are already proving their ability to address “multiplying problems of an interdependent world” incomparably quicker and better than the offices of nation-states capitals. To cut a long story short: “Cities have little choice: to survive and flourish they must remain hospitable to pragmatism and problem solving, to cooperation and networking, to creativity and innovation." It remains to be hoped that they make the right choice.

In Culture in a Liquid Modern World, you offer a scathing critique of a cultural elite, and in particular of intellectuals who have abdicated their roles as educators, leaders, and teachers as they embrace their roles as experts, gurus, or media celebrities; and you underscore the cowardice of members of the cultural elite who shun responsibility for the sake of personal convenience. You suggest that the apparent tolerance of some intellectuals is a cover for abdicating responsibility, and that some expressions of multiculturalism or "political correctness" can be "cruelty under the label of benevolence." By what measure can one distinguish the courage of those intellectuals who take a responsible stance, from those who claim they are taking a responsible stance?

Indeed, I believe that the “multiculturalist” stance/program, alongside the popular dodge “let us agree to disagree” in a multicultural setting, is one more version of Pontius Pilatus’s gesture. In practice, it means refusal of dialogue, and by the same token closing the road that could've led eventually to solidarity if the vehicle of dialogue were set in motion; but it was not. “Multiculturalism” means living aside, but not with each other. It acknowledges, recognizes, and endorses the differences — but offers reasons and excuses by freezing them. Instead of using the occasion to mutual enrichment — as an encounter between different traditions, memories, worldviews, and modes of life provides, it spurs and boosts the tendency to keeping a distance and tightening the walls of mutual separation — thereby setting hotbeds of reciprocal misunderstandings, suspiciousness, aversion, and animosity leading to conflicts and hostilities.

In our era of massive and in all probability uncontainable migration and consequently a progressive “diasporisation,” most social settings are rendered multicultural (this is particularly so in the case of big cities, and it goes contrary to their "unique potential for cooperation and egalitarianism" noticed by Barber). Multiculturalism however is not a verdict of fate, but a matter of policy choice — by design or by default. Roughly speaking, there is a choice between reduction of contact and communication to the minimum, allowing/encouraging each cultural enclave to stew in their own juice and conserve as well as condense their conflict-prone dissimilarity and otherness, and intensification of contact and communication: engagement in a dialogue (or a polylogue for that matter). As Richard Sennett recently suggested, a dialogue with a chance of assisting mutually beneficial cohabitation while helping to evade the pitfalls of the differences' proximity needs to be informal, open, and cooperative (as opposite to contesting or combative) in disposition. Informal: entered without a pre-determined agenda and code of rules, with a hope that both will emerge in the course of the dialogue. Open: entered with a will to assume the role learners aside that of teachers, and so accept the possibility of being proved wrong. Cooperative: treating the dialogue as more-than-zero-sum game — its purpose being not dividing the participants into winners and losers, but allowing everyone to emerge enriched in knowledge and wisdom.

Sennett's formula is everything but easy in practical application; it is not insured against mishandling and its success is anything but guaranteed. But given the condition not of our choice, choosing that formula and trying earnestly to make it work is what can make in the long run all the difference between surviving together or perishing together.

Let me however conclude with a few words about the crucially important issue of intellectuals “taking a responsible stance.” In 1975-6 Elias Canetti collected a number of his essays, written within a 26-years long time-span, in a volume entitled Das Gewissen der Worte — “The conscience of words,” which closes with the speech on the profession of writer, delivered in January 1976 in Munich. In it, he confronts the question whether, in the present world situation, “there is something for which writers or people heretofore thought to be writers could be of use.” He starts from a statement made on 23 August 1939: “It’s over. Were I a real writer, I should’ve been able to prevent the war.” Its unsigned author insisted that a writer is “real” in as far as her or his words make a difference between well being and catastrophe. In Canetti’s rendition, “desire to assume responsibility for everything that can be expressed in words, and to do penance for their, the words’, failure.” Canetti concludes: “there are no writers today, but we ought to passionately desire that they be […] In a world, which one would most willingly define as the blindest of worlds, the presence of people who nevertheless insist on the possibility of its change acquires supreme importance.”

Our world seems to be anything but hospitable to the “real writers” as described by Canetti. It appears to be well protected not against catastrophes, but against their prophets — while the residents of that well-protected world, as long as the right to residence is not brusquely denied to them, are well protected against listening to the few crying in their respective wildernesses. As another great intellectual of yore, Arthur Koestler, kept reminding us: on the eve of another catastrophe, “in 1933 and during the next two or three years, the only people with an intimate understanding of what went on in the young Third Reich were a few thousand refugees,” a distinction that condemned them to the “always unpopular, shrill-voiced part of Cassandra.” Koestler's own conclusion as to the power of words and the chances of intellectuals to make them flesh was bitter and somber: “Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, were pretty good propagandists, and yet failed to shake their people and to warn them. Cassandra’s voice was said to have pierced walls, and yet the Trojan war took place.”

Does one need catastrophe to happen in order to admit its coming? A chilling thought, indeed.

One final question: Over the years you have explored different forms to express your ideas, and even to offer insights into your own intellectual process, which you link to the process of writing itself. In 44 Letters from the Liquid Modern World you summarize some of your most significant concerns in an epistolary form, and in This is Not a Diary you offer a meditation on your own life as an analyst of the contemporary situation in the form of daily annotations. In other books that do not point to their experimental form in their very titles, you also offer thoughts about their form. For instance, Liquid Love — a sustained meditation about relations under the conditions of liquid modernity — consists of what you describe as "rough fragments and sketches," as "an identity kit, a composite picture that may contain as many gaps and blank spots as filled-up section," a composition that you leave "to the readers to complete." Is there something particular about "love" that demands this kind of openendedness in writing? Or is this kind of creative and critical writing in fragments and sketches called upon by the conditions of liquid modernity? Or do you see it as a strategy for resolidification?

For more than half a century of its recent history, and because seeking to be of service to managerial reason, sociology struggled to establish itself as a science/technology of un-freedom: as a design workshop for the social settings meant to resolve in theory, but most importantly in practice, what Talcott Parsons memorably articulated as “the Hobbesian question”: how to induce/force/indoctrinate human beings blessed/cursed with the ambiguous gift of free will, to be normatively guided and to follow routinely manipulable, yet predictable courses of action; or how to reconcile free will with the willingness of submit to other people’s will, lifting thereby the tendency to “voluntary servitude,” noted/anticipated by Étienne la Boétie at the threshold of the modern era, to the rank of the supreme principle of social organization. In short: how to make people to will doing what doing they must 

In our society, individualized by the decree of fate aided and abetted by the recent change in managerial philosophy, sociology faces the exciting and exhilarating chance of turning for a change into a science/technology of freedom: of the ways and means through which the individuals-by-decree and de jure of the liquid-modern times may be lifted to the rank of individuals-by-choice and de facto. Or to take a leaf from Jeffrey Alexander’s call to arms: sociology’s future, at least its immediate future, lies in an effort to reincarnate and re-establish itself as cultural politics in the service of human freedom.

I’d suggest that sociology has little choice but to follow the track of the changing world; the alternative would be nothing less than loss of relevance. But I’d suggest as well that the particular “no-choice” quandary that we face today should be anything but a cause to despair. Quite on the contrary. In our short, yet crises-and-fateful-choices-rich history, a nobler, more elevated and morally laudable mission was never imposed on our discipline with such a force, while being simultaneously made similarly realistic — at any other of the times which, as Hegel suggested two centuries ago, it’s the prime humanities’ destination and perennial vocation to catch.

The liquid-modern setting casts the individuals (and it means all of us) in the state of acute, and in all probability incurable, under-determination and uncertainty. As the views memorized and skills acquired are poor and all too often misleading or even treacherous guides to action, and as the available knowledge transcends the individual capacity to assimilate, whereas its assimilated fraction falls as a rule far short of what the understanding of the situation (the knowledge how to go on, that is) would require — the condition of frailty, transience, and contingency have become for the duration, and perhaps for a very long time to come, the natural human habitat. And so it is with this sort of human experience that sociology needs to engage in a continuous dialogue.

To be sure, dialogue is a difficult art. It means engaging conversationalists with an intention to jointly clarify the issues, rather than to have them one’s own way; to multiply voices, rather than reducing their amount; to widen the set of possibilities, rather than aiming at a wholesale consensus (that relic of monotheistic dreams stripped of the politically incorrect coercion); to jointly pursue understanding, instead of aiming at the others’ defeat; and all in all being animated by the wish to keep the conversation going, rather than by desire to grind it to a halt. Mastering that art is terribly time-consuming, though far less time-intensive as practicing it. None of the two undertakings, neither the mastering nor the practicing together, promise to make our lives easier. But they do promise to make our lives more exciting and rewarding to us, as well as more useful to our fellow humans — and to transform our professional chores into a continuous and never ending voyage of discovery.

This is at any rate what I am trying, in my own far from perfect, experimental way, to practice.

I need to admit, however, that my view of the sociologists' vocation does not necessarily overlap with the consensus of the profession. Dennis Smith has described me as an “outsider through and through.” It would be dishonest of me to deny that denomination. Indeed, throughout my academic life I did not truly “belong” to any school, monastic order, intellectual camaraderie, political caucus, or interest clique. I did not apply for admission to any of them, let alone did much to deserve an invitation; nor would I be listed by any of them — at least unqualifiedly — as “one of us.” I guess my claustrophobia — feeling as I do ill at ease in closed rooms, tempted to find out what is on the other side of the door — is incurable; I am doomed to remain an outsider to the end, lacking as I am the indispensable qualities of an academic insider: school loyalty, conformity to the procedure, and readiness to abide by the school-endorsed criteria of cohesion and consistency. And, frankly, I don’t mind …


Efrain Kristal is professor and chair of UCLA’s Department of Comparative Literature.

Arne De Boever teaches American Studies in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts.

LARB Contributors

Efrain Kristal is professor and chair of UCLA’s Department of Comparative Literature. He is also professor in UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese and in UCLA’s Department of French and Francophone Studies. He is author of over 90 scholarly articles and prologues, as well as the author of many books. His recent publications include “Peter Sloterdijk and literature” for Sloterdijk Now (2012); “Art and Literature in the Liquid Modern Age” for The Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature (2011); and the entries on “Poetry and Fiction” and on “Peruvian poetry” for The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012). He is an associate editor of The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Novel (2010), has edited The Cambridge Companion to the Latin American Novel (2005), and co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa (2012) with John King.

Arne De Boever teaches American Studies in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where he also directs the MA Aesthetics and Politics program. He is the author of States of Exception in the Contemporary Novel (2012) and Narrative Care (2013) and editor of Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology (2012) and The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism: Vol. 1 (2013). He edits Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy and the critical theory/philosophy section of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is also a member of the boundary 2 collective and an Advisory Editor for the Oxford Literary Review.


LARB Staff Recommendations

Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!