Friday, March 5, 2010

Between Hope and History: When Disaster Strikes (Symposium, 3/13)

The New York Institute for the Humanities and
The Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU present

When Disaster Strikes

An All-Day Symposium

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Cantor Film Center
36 E. 8th Street, NYC

Free and Open to the Public

Recent and continuing calamities, man-made and natural, continue to provoke
profound and disturbing questions. At their root, almost all the issues are
bound up in the vexing and complicated relationship of history to hope. On
Saturday March 13, 2010 the all-day symposium BETWEEN HOPE & HISTORY: WHEN
DISASTER STRIKES will bring together a dozen writers, thinkers, and
activists who have reflected deeply about the strange dialectic between
suffering and solidarity.


11 am
Philip Gourevitch
Lori Grinker
Jonathan Schell


Ruth Franklin
Lewis H. Lapham
Francine Prose
Peter Trachtenberg

Kevin Rozario
Laura Secor
Richard Walden


Leon Botstein is the President of Bard College, and Music Director and
Conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra.

Ruth Franklin is a literary critic and Senior Editor at the New Republic.
She is finishing a book of essays about literature and the Holocaust.

Philip Gourevitch, staff writer at the New Yorker and Editor of the Paris
Review, is the author of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib and We Wish To Inform You
That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

Lori Grinker is an award-winning photojournalist whose work ranges from the
world of child boxing to the Iraq War. She is the author of two books The
Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women and Afterwar: Veterans
from a World in Conflict.

Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly, and formerly the longtime
Editor of Harper's magazine. He is the author of, among other books,
Waiting for the Barbarians, Theater of War, and Pretensions to Empire; and
editor of The End of the World, an illustrated anthology of first-person
accounts of disaster from Thucydides to the end of the 20th Century.

Francine Prose is the author, most recently, of Anne Frank: The Book, the
Life, The Afterlife. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic
Monthly, and the Paris Review. She is a former president of PEN America
Center and a contributing editor at Harper's magazine.

David Rieff, author and policy analyst, is a contributing writer to the New
York Times Magazine and the author of eight books, including
Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West and A Bed for the Night:
Humanitarianism in Crisis.

Kevin Rozario is Associate Professor of American Studies at Smith College,
and the author of The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern
America (Univ. of Chicago, 2007).

Jonathan Schell, journalist and author of The Fate of the Earth, The Village
of Ben Suc, and The Unconquerable World, among other books, is the Peace and
Disarmament Correspondent at the Nation magazine and a Fellow at The Nation

Laura Secor, an independent journalist who covered the conflicts in Serbia
and Kosovo, is currently working on a book about Iran. Her articles have
appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and the Nation
among other publications.

Peter Trachtenberg, author of The Book of Calamities: Five Questions on
Suffering and Its Meaning, is a writer and journalist whose work has
appeared in the New Yorker, Harpers, Bomb and A Public Space.

Richard Walden is President, CEO, and Founder of Operation USA, a Los
Angeles-based nongovernmental organization specializing in disaster relief
as well as international health and economic development projects.

The symposium Between Hope and History: When Disaster Strikes is conceived
as part of a continuing conversation. It is inspired by three quotes from
the works of Anton Chekhov, Heinrich von Kleist, and Seamus Heaney:

"We do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and what is terrible
in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. . . .Everything is quiet and
peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out
of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from
malnutrition. . . .And this order of things is evidently necessary;
evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their
burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible.
It's a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every
happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding
him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be,
life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for
him - disease, poverty, losses, and no one will hear or see, just as now he
neither hears nor sees others."

-- "Gooseberries," Anton Chekhov

"And amidst these awful moments that had brought about the destruction
of all of humanity's worldly possessions, and during which all of nature
threatened to be engulfed, it did indeed seem that the human spirit itself
blossomed like a lovely flower. In the fields all around, as far as the eye
could see, there were people of all social classes lying together, nobles
and beggars, matrons of once stately households and peasant women, civil
servants and day laborers, o and nuns: all commiserating with each other,
helping each other, cheerfully sharing the little of life's necessities
they'd been able to salvage, as though the common calamity had joined all
those who'd managed to survive it into a single harmonious family of man.

"Instead of the meaningless chatter for which the world ordinarily
furnished material aplenty at teatime, people now recounted cases of
inconceivable heroism; they spoke of individuals who in the past had been
but little respected in society who rose to the grandeur of ancient Romans;
countless examples were given of fearlessness, of cheerful recklessness in
the face of danger, of self-denial and godly self-sacrifice, of the
unflinching abandonment of life as though it were the most worthless
possession, which one was likely to find again round the next bend. Indeed,
seeing as there was not a soul to whom something stirring had not happened
on that day or who had not himself performed some magnanimous deed, the
bitter pain in every human heart was mixed with the sweetest sense of
gratification, so much so that it was impossible to assess whether the sum
total of general well-being had not increased just as much as it had

--"The Earthquake in Chile," Heinrich von Kleist

"History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal-wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history can rhyme."
-- "The Cure at Troy," Seamus Heaney

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