Posts Tagged ‘Debates’

Zygmunt Bauman’s Bequest to the CCCB

January 18th, 2017 No Comments

Recalling anecdotes and moments shared with the sociologist-philosopher

Zygmunt Bauman en el ciclo Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

Zygmunt Bauman in the cycle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

If there is one name that will remain forever linked with the history of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona, it is that of the sociologist-philosopher Zygmunt Bauman who died in Leeds on 9 January 2017 at the age of ninety-one. A few weeks before his death, the Centre for Documentation and Debates had contacted him to ask him to open the next Barcelona Debate, “Old Europe, New Utopias” . In his affable response, he did not decline the invitation but regretted that his state of health was delicate so, given the risk, said he would leave the final decision to the CCCB team.

The period from this recent contact and going back to 2004, which was the first time Bauman (who was then relatively unknown, at least in Barcelona) set foot in the CCCB, covers thirteen years and fourteen lectures, more than a decade of working together and relationship. We mourn our loss because Bauman was pleasant, friendly and loveable, but we also look back with pride because we have worked with one of the most lucid thinkers of our times and we have conserved a good part of his ideas in our archive.

We have published six books of lectures he has given at the CCCB in the series BREUS CCCB (published in Catalan and English): Noves fronteres i valors universals (New Frontiers and Universal Values), Arxipèlag d’excepcions (Archipelago of Exceptions), La felicitat es fa, no es compra (Joys of Life Made, Not Bought), and El destí de la desigualtat social en la fase líquida de la modernitat (The Fate of Social Inequality in Liquid-Modern Times) and, in the DIXIT series (in Spanish), Archipiélago de excepciones (Archipelago of Exceptions) and Múltiples culturas, una sola humanidad (Many Cultures, One Humanity) as well as two articles in the publications Fronteres and Europe City.

On our website it is also possible to consult videos of his lectures, an interview and a chronicle of the last debate in which he appeared. This, in 2013, was followed by more than 700 people in the CCCB hall, which made him not just one of the oldest speakers at the CCCB but also one of the most popular with the public. He was our very own rock star (and we were his fans!), so we would like to remember him from a more personal standpoint. We have asked several members of the CCCB team who had more direct dealings with him—the former director of the CCCB Josep Ramoneda; the head of the Centre for Documentation and Debates, Judit Carrera; the head of press, Mònica Muñoz; and the debates coordinator Susana Arias—to share their memories of Zygmunt Bauman with us.

“Bauman’s words were totally in tune with the spirit of the CCCB” Josep Ramoneda, former director of the CCCB

On 22 March 2004, Zygmunt Bauman gave his first lecture at the CCCB. Small, full of energy, accompanying his words with gesticulating arms and hands which made him fill the stage more and more, he gave a true lesson in a genre which is antiquated, or so it is fashionable to believe. Yet I have found few forms of presentation and discussion of ideas that can improve upon a good lecture. Bauman’s was precisely that. PowerPoint and panel discussions have wrecked a genre that is highly exigent. In order to give a good lecture, it is not enough to think about it and write it up. You have to deliver it. And delivering it is very difficult. PowerPoint is a great enemy of the good lecture. A lecture is an act of creation which, as such, is submitted for the interpretation and consideration of the audience.

Zygmunt Bauman i Josep Ramoneda al cicle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

Zygmunt Bauman and Josep Ramoneda in the cycle Fronteres, CCCB, 2004

That day, Bauman explained to us how, in the city, general and abstract statements about conflicts between civilisations and cultures are translated into the experience of relationships with specific individuals, for example the people next door or from the neighbourhood. To paraphrase, he said that you don’t know these people as walking embodiments of an imminent clash of civilisations but as shopkeepers, waiters, workers, people who work in the same factory as you do, neighbours, parents of your children’s classmates and, little by little but unfailingly, they keep shifting from the abstract category of “alien civilisation” to that of individual human beings. Hence, slowly, and not without moments of conflict, fear of the great unknown begins to dissipate and the terrifying foreigners are no more than ordinary human beings with the same desires and wishes as you.

Bauman’s skilfulness with metaphors, the secret of his publishing success—and how much sociological soup has been cooked up from his liquid society!—has meant that he is also sometimes pigeonholed. But, that day, his words were totally in tune with the spirit of the CCCB.

Another memory I have is the day we opened a seminar with a discussion between him and Giorgio Agamben. I was impressed by the compelling power of the maestro’s presence. Everyone expected a certain theoretical confrontation and yet Agamben behaved like a young man intimidated by authority. He simply let Bauman lead the way.

Bauman has many potent expressions, but one will always be with me. To paraphrase again, he pointed out that one of the great catchwords of the twentieth century was liquidate: liquidate the Jew, liquidate the class enemy. We must make sure that the main programme of the twenty-first century does not turn out to be that of liquidating mankind. These words sum up an intellectual life that was very typical of the last century: a Polish Jew who escapes the Holocaust, who grows up and is trained under the post-war communist regime in which he comes to occupy a position of responsibility in the military, and who goes into exile in 1968 at a time of a certain anti-Semitic crusade, first to Israel and then to Leeds where he forges his intellectual career. His vigour emanated life and his cordiality was warming.

A Most Surprising Interview. Mònica Muñoz-Castanyer, head of press at the CCCB

I remember most especially Lluís Amiguet’s interview with Bauman in November 2005. In order to ensure a good interview, it is necessary to give both interviewee and interviewer sufficient time and a comfortable setting. Neither of these was provided on the occasion of this interview for La Contra (the back page) of the daily La Vanguardia. Having prepared a lot of interviews for Bauman, which he resignedly and gracefully accepted, we led him to different parts of the CCCB, always in the company of his wife. First, there were photos in the courtyard, the Pati de les Dones, then a meeting with journalists in the Mirador space and, next, a recorded interview for the CCCB Archive. Bauman was showing signs of impatience and his wife was nodding her approval. But the main interview was yet to come: one hour with Amiguet!

We had already crossed the passageway on the first floor, heading for a meeting room in the CCCB office space where we had planned to hold the interview, when Zygmunt Bauman raised his arms, opened his left hand (in the right hand he was holding his inseparable pipe) and, in the middle of the chill-out area (a break space for workers on the office floor on the CCCB with coffee and snacks machines), said, “We’ll do the interview right here.” Before I could convince him to change his mind, he and his wife were sitting in the chairs of the chill-out space. I broke out in a sweat. The journalist sat down beside him, turned on his recorder and started the interview. It was a total disaster. Added to the infernal racket of the old escalators, were the rumbling of the dispensing machines, footsteps, voices of the Centre’s workers moving from here to there, and sounds of visitors wandering around the CCCB at the time. It was one hour of utter torment which, nonetheless, turned into this Contra in La Vanguardia. We have never again held an interview in the chill-out space and, thanks to Zygmunt Bauman, I will always be well-equipped to tell people where one should never hold an interview.

Visiting Bauman in Leeds. Judit Carrera, head of the Centre for Documentation and Debates

I visited Zygmunt Bauman at his home in Leeds in the winter of 2008. The father of the theory of liquid modernity had been living in that house for thirty-seven years, sharing it with his wife Janina in a marriage that lasted 62 years until she died in 2009. They both welcomed me with their usual friendliness and, displaying an excellent sense of humour, assured me that their long marriage was the exception that confirmed the rule of a liquid world. Their mutual deep understanding was evident. They spoke Polish together and, at times, rather stiff English. They worked in different parts of the house and met twice a day to smoke together. They said that smoking was a routine, a way of thinking. And they smoked non-stop

Their house was a typical two-storey English home in a narrow street near a big avenue which cut them off from the centre of Leeds. Cosy and with a Central European feel, it was austere but full of books. Their messy library had not diminished even though they had ceded 2,500 volumes to Prague University to express their gratitude to a city which had taken them in after they were expelled from Poland when the communist regime embarked on an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968. Three years later, in 1971, they arrived in Leeds, invited by the university there. After that Zygmunt Bauman never moved from Leeds or its university. It was surprising that a man with such solid pillars in his life should have been so able to interpret the uncertainty and fluidity of today’s world.

Judit Carrera entrevista Zygmunt Bauman l’última vegada que el sociòleg va visitar el CCCB, Jordi Gomez, 2013

Judit Carrera entrevista Zygmunt Bauman l’última vegada que el sociòleg va visitar el CCCB, Jordi Gomez, 2013

Despite their advanced age, they were lucid, very well informed and up-to-date. They asked me about the CCCB, about the newly inaugurated high-speed train between Barcelona and Madrid, and the Law of Historical Memory. Owing to Janina’s delicate health, they were no longer travelling but were still writing because writing, they said, was their way of life. Their manners were exquisite and their happiness contagious. Yet there was also a hint of a certain tension between their vivacious curiosity and the slowness imposed by age.

After some hours, Bauman walked with me to the taxi and authorised me to publish one of his texts in the “BREUS” collection. Saying goodbye, he added that, as long as he lived, we could always count on him.

Bauman’s Last Email. Susana Arias, debates coordinator

Our last correspondence with Bauman was just a few weeks ago when we invited him to open this year’s Barcelona Debate. With his usual loyalty to the CCCB, he thought about the invitation to return to “my beloved Barcelona” but warned us that his fragile health all but ruled out travel. He ended his email saying, “Think about whether it’s worth running the risk,” and closing with “Love – Z”.

In his memory and to farewell him in the company of the audience that so greatly admired him, we shall dedicate the Barcelona Debate 2017, “Old Europe, New Utopias”, to Zygmunt Bauman. The Debate opens on 6 February.

We have opened a space in the CCCB Archive where members of the public can consult a collection of Zygmunt Bauman’s work.

 

(Català) Tornar al món (o per una nova relació amb la naturalesa)

August 31st, 2016 No Comments

Peter Wagner: “The mechanism of domination and resistance to domination is what brought about progress”

March 3rd, 2015 No Comments

Barcelona Debate 2015 is about to end with the lecture that will be given by the sociologist Peter Wagner, who will situate the concepts of “progress” and “modernity” within the framework of today’s political vocabulary and propose new readings and perspectives in order to update their meanings.

In your lecture on 9 March you will be revising the political concepts of “progress” and “modernity”.

I’ll be talking about the notion of “progress” in relation with that of “modernity” by starting to look at how western societies have grown considerably with the progress they’ve made over the past two centuries, when progress was understood not only as a possibility but as something that was really happening: it was believed that society would keep improving. Things went on like that until thirty or forty years ago but, between 1979 and 1989, something happened which made us lose our faith in progress. In my lecture I’ll discuss the reasons for this loss of faith and explain that, as a society, we have too many things that need improving so we can’t give up and abandon the idea of “progress”. We must try to recover it and, probably, give it new meaning.

LLEGIR MÉS-LEER MÁS-READ MORE

Interview with Bo Stråth

February 16th, 2015 No Comments

After very well-attended lectures by Axel Honneth and Saskia Sassen and a panel discussion on the work of the philosopher Byung-Chul Han, The Barcelona Debate 2015 now continues, this time reconsidering the present-day sense of the main political concepts we habitually use. Bo Stråth, Emeritus Professor of Nordic, European and World History at the University of Helsinki, will take the floor to rethink, revise and discuss the concepts of “capitalism” and “welfare”. We have interviewed him, asking him to tell us in advance some of the key themes of his lecture next Monday 16 February.

Are capitalism and welfare compatible?
I shall illustrate the relationship between capitalism and welfare, and whether they are compatible, and whether they can be mutually supportive, starting by analysing how the concept of “reform” has changed. This notion first appeared 150 years ago as a counter to the idea of revolution, shortly after which it became a concept that was “in favour of something”: for a better future, for a more just society, et cetera. After that, reforms were always associated with social reform. Now I wonder: how did it happen that, nowadays, “reforms” no longer have any social dimension? All reforms today are economic and the less social the better. This transformation, or the 180o turnaround in the meaning of the word, began in the 1970s with sweeping changes in the job market.

You say that the concept of “reform” underwent a radical change in the 1970s. What happened exactly?
Until the 1960s, the idea of reform referred to social reforms, but these social reforms were not opposed to economic reforms since economic efficiency and social efficiency were mutually supportive and reinforcing. Social improvements meant economic improvements and vice versa. However, this changed in the 1970s with the crisis of the dollar after the Vietnam War which had channelled economic resources into arms production. That was the context in which welfare disappeared from the concept of reform. Ever since then, the idea of “reform” has lost its social component to become a tool exclusively geared to economic efficiency, associated with restricted production, lower labour costs, and so on.

Might the concept of “reform” come to include the social component again?
This is the big question and we don’t have the answer. There is nothing in the present structure that would allow us venture an opinion as to whether things will change or stay the same. The European political leaders are the ones who have to decide what they want to do and what Europe must do. Is it necessary to let people go hungry, as in Greece? Is it possible to re-create a social Europe? These are the big questions today.

Bo Stråth, Emeritus Professor of Nordic, European and World History at the University of Helsinki will be speaking in The Barcelona Debate, “Wield the Word” on Monday 16 February with the lecture “Capitalism and Welfare: On the Changing Meaning of the Concept of Reform”.

Byung-Chul Han and the Fatigue Society

February 4th, 2015 1 Comment


In recent years, as a result of his studies of the phenomenon of fatigue in capitalist societies, together with its associated symptoms such as depression and exhaustion, Byung-Chul Han has become one of the most widely read philosophers in Europe. Byung-Chul Han, who was born in Seoul and studied in Berlin, raises the questions of how we want to live today and what we can do to counteract the pressures of goal-achieving digital societies. In this sense, the fatigue syndrome is especially pernicious in South Korea which, in a very brief period, went from being a poor agricultural country to a leading industrial nation. Byung-Chul Han’s book La sociedad del cansancio (The Fatigue Society) examines Europe and South Korea in 2010, while his critical theses on society, as detailed in La sociedad de la transparencia (The Transparency Society), La agonía de Eros (The Agony of Eros), Psicopolítica (Psychopolitics) and En el enjambre (In the Swarm), are very helpful guised to understanding society in the present-day age of self-exploitation, neoliberalism and surveillance.

Since it will not be possible to hear Byung-Chul Han speak in person since he does not make public appearances or give press interviews, we shall screen the documentary film Müdigkeitsgesellschaft (Fatigue Society – Byung-Chul Han in Seoul / Berlin) by the visual artist Isabella Gresser on Monday 9 February. Gresser, who accompanied Byung-Chul Han on his visits to Seoul between 2012 and 2014, interweaves her cinematographic, photographic and sketched observations in Korea with a text spoken by Byung-Chul Han, fragments of lectures and other materials, for example an interview with the famous Korean film director and producer Park Chan-wook and recordings of monks in a Buddhist temple. A key theme of the documentary is that of the wanderer, while the part about Berlin – where Byung-Chul Han guides the spectator through the intimacies of his neighbourhood and its local nostalgic peculiarities – is closely linked with the film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), the screenplay of which was written by Wim Wenders and Peter Handke.

Following the screening of the documentary there will be a panel discussion on the concepts of Individual and Community with Fina Birulés, lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Barcelona, Albert Lladó, cultural journalist, Manel Ollé, lecturer in History and Culture of Contemporary China at the Pompeu Fabra University, and Isabella Gresser, visual artist.

Individual and Community’ is the third event in Barcelona Debate 2015 which, titled ‘Wield the Word’, will include such speakers as Axel Honneth, Saskia Sassen, Bo Stråth, Luc Boltanski, Montserrat Guibernau, Peter Wagner and Seyla Benhabib.

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