Intimacy in postmodern times

A friendship with Zygmunt Bauman

Author: Peter Beilharz

What kind of intellectual was Zygmunt Bauman? Peter Beilharz worked with Bauman at an antipodean distance over 30 years. This memoir uses Beilharz’s archives to revisit and reconstruct their annual encounters and work together. It begins from Legislators and Interpreters, in 1987, through to Modernity and the Holocaust, in 1989, to the postmodern and the arrival of the liquid modern in 2000 and all the little books that followed. It tracks the unfolding of these two projects, held apart and together by place and time, experience and friendship. For these two thinkers shared the modern lifeworld but carried distinct biographies and formations. Their collaboration nevertheless depended on some kind of intimacy. This book addresses this friendship and some of the controversies surrounding Bauman’s work. It argues that his identity was that of an East European critical theorist, a Polish Jew of Marxist origins who was to become, finally, a reluctant celebrity in the United Kingdom, Europe and further afield. The reach of Bauman’s influence was much broader, and his legacy will be longer than this. Settling accounts with Bauman may be one precondition of moving on, for those who puzzle over modern times, and feel compelled to contemplate the challenges faced by intellectuals today.

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