Abraham Flexner from 1939

Is it not a curious fact that in a world steeped in irrational hatreds which threaten civilization itself, men and women – old and young – detach themselves wholly or partly from the angry current of daily life to devote themselves to the cultivation of beauty, to the extension of knowledge, to the cure of disease, to the amelioration of suffering, just as though fanatics were not simultaneously engaged in spreading pain, ugliness, and suffering? The world has always been a sorry and confused sort of place – yet poets and artists and scientists have ignored the factors that would, if attended to, paralyze them.
— Abraham Flexner, “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge,” Harpers, June/November 1939

Autumn Reading

So now that summer has come and gone, I still have a pile of books that I meant to read but didn’t get around to. I fear I will not get to this pile until next summer, and by then it will have grown even bigger. But yesterday I decided to dive into this little book (very short) by Louis Menand from 2010. It’s a must read for anyone considering a Ph.D. in the humanities or social sciences, and I think it helps outsiders understand the weird culture of academia.

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It is the academic’s job in a free society to serve the public culture by asking questions the public doesn’t want to ask, investigating subjects it cannot or will not investigate, and accommodating voices it fails or refuses to accommodate.
— Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas, 2010, page 156
Source: https://books.google.de/books/about/The_Ma...

Kirkus Review

From paid maternity leave to employment assurances, an argument for the benefits of socialism for women.

Ghodsee (Russian and East European Studies/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism, 2017, etc.) sums up her thesis in the introduction: “Unregulated capitalism is bad for women, and if we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives.” And if you disagree with the author, she clearly doesn’t care. “If you don’t give a whit about women’s lives because you’re a gynophobic right-wing internet troll,” she writes, “save your money and get back to your parents’ basement right now; this isn’t the book for you.” Ghodsee’s in-your-face tone sets the stage for a book that takes readers on a pointed examination of the Soviet experiment. Using her years living in Bulgaria as fodder for the narrative, along with decades of research, she makes the case that there are lessons capitalist countries can and should learn from socialism—e.g., how socialists pushed for equity between men and women and the benefits of collective forms of support for child-rearing. At the same time, the author isn’t blind to the failures of socialist regimes. “Hungarians never managed to redefine traditional gender roles,” she writes, “and domestic patriarchy was strengthened by pro-natalist family policies.” Still, she points to examples of Scandinavian countries where socialist ideas are working to improve women’s lives: “A wider social safety net,” she writes, “like those in the contemporary Northern European countries, will increase rather than decrease personal freedom…no one should have to stay in a job she hates for health insurance, or stick with a partner who beats her because she’s not sure how she’ll feed the kids, or have sex with some sugar elder because she can’t afford textbooks.” Ghodsee makes a convincing case, though she fails to investigate how socialism addresses LGBTQ and people of color. Perhaps she’s saving that for another book.

While the title is the literary version of click-bait, the book is chock-full of hard-hitting real talk.
— Kirkus

An early trade review from Publisher's Weekly

Eastern European studies professor Ghodsee (Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism) expands her viral New York Times op-ed into a passionate but reasoned feminist socialist manifesto for the 21st century. Drawing lessons from the history of women’s experiences under mid-20th-century state socialism and then under the capitalism that followed its collapse, she argues that “unregulated capitalism is bad for women, and if we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives.” Ghodsee devotes the most space to sexuality, arguing that in societies that have economic equality by gender, reproductive freedom, and social safety nets, women are freer to pursue their own desires. She also posits that the depression caused by living in a sexist society can squash heterosexual couples’ libido and male-female emotional connection, supporting this idea with data from studies of women in East and West Germany, Hungary, and Poland. And she delves into the benefits of full participation of women in the work force, especially in the public sector, supported by childcare and freedom from “statistical discrimination”; visible presence of women at top levels of government and business; and women’s participation in the political sphere. Pointing to successes not only in Communist countries but also in Scandinavian social democracies, Ghodsee’s treatise will be of interest to women becoming disillusioned with the capitalism under which they were raised.
— Publisher's Weekly

A lovely blurb from the journalist Kate Arnoff

A quietly damning indictment of the Lean In approach to women’s empowerment through the corporate boardroom. Ghodsee makes a compelling case for a more expansive understanding of feminism, where remaking the economy is central. A necessary reminder that today’s socialism should be as much about pleasure as it is about power and production.
— Kate Aronoff (https://twitter.com/katearonoff)

Summer reading: The Sum of Small Things

Read a review of this book and decided to check it out for myself. Overall, it is a fascinating read about the rise of inconspicuous consumption among the so-called aspirational class. There is a lot of interesting information in the book, and it reflects on the social consequences of growing inequality in the United States and how it is becoming more and more difficult to reverse its long term effects. Forget about the Rolex and the Benz, health, wellness, education, and security in old age are the new status markers.

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A lovely blurb from Yanis Varoufakis

I am thrilled that Yanis Varoufakis agreed to read and blurb my forthcoming book. I am a huge fan of his work and his activism in Diem25; it is a real honor to have him endorse Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence.

Reliant on the commodification of everything, capitalism’s triumph is a calamity for most women. Their hard slog as mothers and carers can never be remunerated within market societies which, by design, are compelled to commodify their sexuality, robbing them in the process of their autonomy, even of the opportunity to enjoy sex for-themselves. Without romanticizing formerly communist regimes, Ghodsee’s new book retrieves brilliantly the plight of hundreds of millions of women in those countries as they were being stripped of state support and thrust into brutal, unfettered markets. Employing personal anecdotes, forays into the history of the women’s movement and an incisive mind, Ghodsee is enabling us to overcome the unnecessary tension between identity and class politics on the road towards the inclusive, progressive movement for societal change we so desperately need.
— Yanis Varoufakis

Arrived in Neubeuern

I have arrived in Neubeuern in the foothills of the Alps near the Austrian-German border.  I have volunteered to teach a two-week seminar for the Studienstiftung on the cultures and societies of Eastern Europe. This is the castle where the class will be held starting Monday morning.

In Trier

I'm in Trier where the whole city is trying to cash in on the 200th birthday of Karl Marx (born here in 1818). Near the Karl Marx Haus the town has changed the Ampelmänchen to be little Marxes and there are scattered images of him everywhere. The tourist shops are filled with Marx-themed souvenirs, and even the local retailers are using his face to lure would-be shoppers into their stores.  I'm not so sure Marx would have appreciated this.

Back in Germany

I landed in Germany just in time to catch the last day of the annual summer Kollnauer Fescht.  I lived in this little village in the German Black Forest for a year between 2014 and 2015, and I haven't been back in over two and a half years.  It's nice to see that nothing much has changed. I drank a glass of the local wine, Müller Thurgau, and enjoyed the general frivolity of the street festival. What is so wonderful about these German local events is the intergenerational aspect of the sociality, and the simple merriment of sitting outside and drinking cold beer.