Faculty Writing: On Pessimism and Politics

Anjuli Raza Kolb published “Pessoptimisim of the Will: On the Absurd Fictions of Emile Habiby” in the Boston Review. In this piece dedicated to the work of the Arab Israeli author Emile Habiby, Anjuli reflects on the author’s most famous book The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessopitimist (1974) and what it can teach us about surviving impossible political conditions.

“Pessoptimist is Saeed’s surname, but it is also his ethos. Saeed never hopes for too much, or forecasts too far in the future, but he goes to work, searches for his true love, and tries in vain to make his way back home. He considers rebellion, but finds he has no ground from which to rebel beyond a constant movement and tireless observation. Pessoptimism refers, in this way, to the inseparability of hope and despair, of desire and knowledge under untenable historical conditions. For Habiby, to even be able to name historical conditions as untenable is a performance of pessoptimism’s contradiction—a condensed or crystalline version of Beckett’s famous lament, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

Suzanne Schneider wrote an op-ed for The Forward in which she picks apart and contextualizes the disturbing alliance between antisemitism and right-wing Zionism in contemporary American politics.

“Yet, for many centrists and liberals, the idea of Kushner and Bannon working together causes endless confusion: How could the descendent of Holocaust survivors find common cause with the ideological leader of the “alt-right”?”
Ajay Singh Chaudhary penned a short article for Quartz on what’s really at stake in the debate over who will be the next chairman of the Democratic Party.

“The more important loss that the Democratic Party must reckon with is the one that Americans see every day. Americans are watching life expectancy decrease for the first time in US history. They see a sharply increasing life expectancy gap that falls upon expected racial and economic lines and a maternal death rate that is increasing. Americans live with income and wealth inequality returning to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.”
Samantha Hill wrote a short piece of the Hannah Arendt Center blog in which she reflects on Loneliness, Imagination, and the Specter of Totalitarianism from an Arendtian perspective.

“If our power to act comes from “acting in concert,” that is with one another, then isolated individuals are powerless by definition. Totalitarian government rules by terror, isolating people from one another, while turning each individual in his lonely isolation against all others. The world becomes a wilderness, as Arendt describes it, where neither experience nor thought are possible. One way totalitarianism turns us into isolated, lonely individuals is through the systematic blurring of reality and fiction. And this blurring relies upon our inability to see or think discerningly when we are confronted with ideologies that rely upon spreading fear.”

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