One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films — A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry —  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

4 thoughts on “One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade”

  1. I once e-mailed him about the origin of Aaron Sorkin’s “walk and talk” technique (A Few Good Men, apparently) after he had blogged about it. He was kind enough to send me – nobody special – a reply and a follow up e-mail when he blogged about it again, including my story of how it came about. That he took the time to do this meant a lot to me, and I was saddened to hear the news this morning.

  2. He may have linked to my blog once or twice – I certainly linked to his – but beyond that I never had any contact with Norm (impossible to refer to him any other way. His argumentative style annoyed me enormously, so much so that I generally avoided even reading his blog. I don’t think I ever agreed with him about anything; I disagreed with him (remotely) just the other week. But it never occurred to me that the conversation wouldn’t go on.

    I’m shocked by the news – not having known about the illness – and terribly saddened. He leaves a very big hole.

  3. I remember some email exchanges with him, fairly early on in the days of Normblog, when I was still finding it hard to believe that the writer I had admired in his New Left Review essays was being forced, by the logic of his position, into a defence of George W. Bush. He was polite enough, though he typed his last email to me in capital letters only. I understood that he was busy, and was amazed that such a prolific writer and reader would have time for such correspondences.

    I believe the principled humanism that served him well in some of the NLR debates – against deathly Althusserian-inflected Marxism – turned into a weakness in his post-2001 writing. For example, in attacking the Guardianistas, he lumped them all into one. Seamus Milne, Madelaine Bunting, Jonathan Steele, even Timothy Garton Ash – or Robert Fisk on The Independent. I don’t remember him considering the reports of Patrick Cockburn (too tough for him?). Geras made large mistakes in dismissing the real foreign correspondents like this. A journalist such as Steele, knowing Iraq from weeks spent living there and talking with people on the ground, can make a homebound-writer like Geras look just irrelevant. In those contexts, all Geras was left with was his logico-moral philosophy and no clue about what happens in the real world.

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