Tag Archives: literature


Katy Evans-Bush

[first published on Katy’s blog Baroque in Hackney]

Norman Geras

It’s a commonplace, on hearing of the death of someone, to say we’re ‘shocked’ or ‘saddened’. The news that Norman Geras has died is prompting these words more than most I can recall. A shock. A sad, sad shock. And it makes me sad to see his picture and his name like that at the top of this post.

Back in the day, I started a blog, and called it Baroque in Hackney. Then, wondered what on earth I was doing, and in the course of working it out I got interested in what other blogs were doing. So I read blogs, and read and read them. For months I did little else: all sorts of blogs. Book blogs, personal blogs, silly blogs and arty blogs, and lots and lots of political blogs. And among those political blogs was one unlike all the others: a sane, intellectually rigorous, carefully reasoned, often amusing, and usually madly prolific blog, with the says-on-the-tin title of Normblog. It was the blog of Norman Geras, a Marxist academic and writer, cricket fan, reader, movie buff, and country music enthusiast, who would blog several times a day—just quickly—about whatever had come up in the news, or what he was reading, and wanted to untangle his thoughts on. It was a politics blog the way this is a poetry blog: politics, plus everything else, a daily intellectual life filtered through a cast of mind. Gentle but razor-sharp paragraphs, using persistent (never bullying or unkind) logic to get to the crux of an argument or a position. Norm was a philosopher. You trusted implicitly what he said, and you trusted in his decency, even if you didn’t yourself agree with the position he arrived at. (I’m more of a pacifist, to put it mildly, for example.)

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Tom Deveson

So many people have said it and will say it: Norm made me try to think better and more honestly. I’ve been wondering why I always felt he was rather older than me, although he was born only five years earlier. I realised just now, it’s because he was wise. Gifts like his are rare and precious.

His private kindnesses don’t need to be shared in public, but it’s right and true to say that he was a lovely man as well as a clever man and an upright man. I’m grateful that he invited me onto normblog to write about a book I love and a Test match I remember. His generosity overflowed into so many areas.

As I thought about Norm, two earlier writers came into my mind.

One is Dr Johnson talking to Boswell:

“My dear friend, clear your mind of cant…You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society: but don’t think foolishly.”

The other is George Orwell writing about Dickens:

“He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry—in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.”

An eighteenth-century Tory, a nineteenth-century liberal, a twentieth-century socialist—we remember them because of their humanity, because of their integrity and because they wrote so well. Now Norm has joined them.

CHARLES G. HILL: A difference made

Charles G. Hill

[first published on Charles’s blog]

We’ve all seen these before: a list of 100 books. But this one is different:

Now, in all my experience of such book lists, this one has a unique feature. Which is that I’ve read all the books on it. Yup, every single one — 100%. That’s because I compiled the list from … the books I’ve read (choosing titles, as well, that I liked enough that I’m happy to recommend them). Why should I let other people make lists to browbeat me with? If I make the list myself, I get to have read everything on it. Enough bullying is what I say. You, too, can make your own list and rebel against the tyranny of the book-dictators. I suggest you do it.

That paragraph speaks volumes about blogospheric mainstay Norm Geras, who passed away this morning at 70. A recognized expert on Marx, he’d written a dozen books on political theory and practice, and was a signatory to the 2006 Euston Manifesto.

In the online community, however, he may be best remembered for the normblog profile, in which he sent four dozen or so questions to leading bloggers and asked them to answer any thirty of their choice. (The definition of “leading” is occasionally flexible.)

James Joyner remembers this aspect of Norm Geras:

The vagaries of life have lately decreased both my blogging and my reading of blogs, and so I missed Norm’s announcement this past May that the prostate cancer that he’d first been diagnosed with in 2003 was spreading and taking a toll. He was characteristically stoic about the matter, which he posted about only by way of apology for an anticipated decline in posting.

The book list quoted above, incidentally, was his last post, which came out on the 9th of October.