On February 17, 2022, Platypus Affiliated Society member Soren Whited interviewed Peter E. Gordon, Amabel B. James Professor of History at Harvard University and author of Adorno and Existence (2016) and other works on modern European intellectual history. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS'S RECENT OFFERING, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, takes critical aim at two targets: what she identifies as Eurocentric models of universal history, on the one hand, and, on the other, the rejection of any notion of universality whatsoever in favor of the postmodernist "plurality of alternative models" (ix). What she proposes instead is "a universal history worthy of the name" (x), by which she means one that does not give the European Enlightenment and its direct heirs a monopoly on the historical project of freedom. It is refreshing to see the false choice of Eurocentrism vs. postmodernist pluralism identified as such, but if Buck-Morss opposes such a false choice, she fails to register and critique it as a contemporary historical symptom itself. She thus ends up with a theory that is universal in name, but which remains essentially postmodernist in content.
A prefatory statement from Retort: Having talked over your questions at length, we find that they can be answered best by grouping together several of them and trying to spell out the key issues and assumptions we see underlying them. That way, we hope, the common ground between Retort and Platypus will be clear—as well as the nature of our disagreements.
In 1871 the Paris Commune, a revolutionary body formed during the deep unrest following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, rose against the post-war provisional government of Adolphe Thiers and briefly held power in France. Two months after it took power, the Commune was brutally suppressed by the French army. In his film "La Commune," released in 2002, director Peter Watkins orchestrated and documented a theatrical re-enactment of the Commune.