WHEN SOCRATES BECAME PERICLES: Vaclav Havel's "Great History," 1936-2011
Michnik, A., Marczyk, A.
This essay is a memorial tribute from one member of the Common Knowledge editorial board to another. Adam Michnik, a cofounder of the first dissident organization in East-Central Europe, writes about the details and the symbolic importance of his first meeting, in 1978 on Mt. Snezka, with Václav Havel, coorganizer of Charter 77. From his insider’s perspective, the author retells the history of dissent in communist Europe from that time until the Velvet Revolution and Havel’s election as president of Czechoslovakia in 1989. He also assesses the impact of Havel’s work as a playwright and antipolitical essayist, but the emphasis of the essay falls on how Havel the man dealt with the disappointments he endured in political office, including the passage of "lustration" laws and the election of Václav Klaus as prime minister. The organizing principle of this essay is the distinction made by the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka between "great history" and "small history." In periods of greatness, the Czechs led European civilization toward the path it would subsequently take; at other times, they withdrew into the "banality of provincialism." This tribute to Havel ultimately argues that, after many decades of provincial Stalinism, Havel brought Czech history back to the path of greatness on which T. G. Masaryk had set it in the first part of the twentieth century.
Perl, J. M.
In this introduction to part three of the Common Knowledge symposium "Fuzzy Studies: On the Consequence of Blur," the journal’s editor argues that blur is not a medium of concealment, confusion, or evasion. Making distinctions between kinds of relative unclarity (for instance, haze, wool, and fudge), he reserves the word blur for the kind that results from de-differentiating objects or qualities or states of affairs whose differences have been overstated. To refine what blur is and is not, he compares kinds of unclarity found in images by Giotto, Rubens, Hokusai, Kunitora, Manet, Zeshin, and Richter. With reference to art criticism by Hubert Damisch, Wayne Andersen, Anthony Hughes, Robert Storr, Julian Bell, Christopher Prendergast, and especially T. J. Clark, he agrees that choosing between focus and blur can be a moral decision, though not in the sense for which Clark arraigns the Impressionists. Characterizing the way of seeing that Clark encourages in The Painting of Modern Life as a form of staring, this essay argues that "lean and hungry looking" is indecent, whereas unfocused receptivity is irenic. What Bell calls the "aestheticized halfheartedness" of Manet is redescribed here as a genre of moral heroism, and the essay concludes that it is differentiation (rather than de-differentiation and lack of moral focus) that is on morally shaky ground.
INTERIOR SWELLING: On the Expansive Effects of Ancestral Interventions in Maputo, Mozambique
This article opens with the questions, What is on the inside of a relation? Might we imagine the inner workings of a relational form detached from the elements that it connects? Then, through an ethnographic examination of ancestral interventions among residents in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Maputo, the article challenges conventional understandings of relational forms as the connective "glue" holding together exterior and, to a certain extent, autonomous elements. In southern Mozambique, ancestral spirits intervene in the lives of t