A Note on Tony Judt

More

Forgive me for missing his passing. From his obit:


"The historian's task is not to disrupt for the sake of it, but it is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly," he told Historically Speaking. "A well-organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves."

That really put some of the carping I've been doing about America in perspective. It's necessary carping, I guess. But it's worth remembering that the search for comfort comes natural to us. The last part of that quote displays a kind of optimism which I have tended to avoid. It's hard for me to believe that, without the influence of some great force, we will ever "know the truth about ourselves collectively." 

We blame politicians. We blame business. We blame rich people. Not that they are innocent, but the more I consume American history, the more I think that it is us, that we are not seeing some conspiracy to pervert the essential goodness of mankind, but that we are seeing who we really are. 

But I take Judt's optimism as a challenge too. It's a mistake to believe things have to be a certain way. And cynicism is pointless.

Condolences to his family and friends. My tardiness is unbecoming.
Jump to comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

From This Author