Monday, 18 November 2013

Norman Geras (1943-2013)

I recently learned of the death of Norman Geras, whose obituary is here.

Norman was a pivotal influence on me, intellectually and politically. In the book (pp. 11-12) I mention how as an undergraduate at Manchester University in the 1980s I switched from studying Economics to studying Political Philosophy. Norman taught me 'Modern Political Philosophy' and introduced me to the works of Marx and Weber amongst other authors. He subsequently encouraged me to do a PhD and at that time we had many conversations and arguments.

He was a big man in all senses of the word: physically imposing, intellectually forceful. But he was incredibly generous to me - generous with his time, generous in relation to my naivety - and he taught me, both in classes and outside, both in content and approach, much that I still live with. It is no exaggeration to say that, had it not been for him, I would never have become an academic; there would have been no book for this blog; and so no blog of this book.

I am sure that for him the encounters we had were entirely ephemeral, but for me they were formative. These kind of things are the invisible part of academic careers and of teaching, but they are so important. Unmeasured by quality assurance systems, unknown in performance evaluations, these are the invisible 'gift relationships' of teaching.

When I knew him, Norman was one of the most important and original thinkers about Marx and Marxists. His books on Marx and Human Nature and on Rosa Luxemburg remain classics. In more recent years he became associated with the Euston Manifesto group with which I vehemently disagreed. But I will never forget or cease to be grateful for what he taught and gave me - freely but preciously - when I was his student, why, over 25 years ago now.

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