The man who hoped

The edition of fragments written by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman offers an insight into his life in exile, in which he attempts to make sense of the Holocaust and modernity, while maintaining hope.

In September 1998, the winner of the prestigious Theodor W. Adorno Prize, Zygmunt Bauman, requested that the Frankfurt prize ceremony not begin with a national anthem, but with the Ode to Joy, Europe's hopeful anthem. In May 2016, during a demonstration demanding Poland's exit from the European Union, far-right Polish nationalists burned a large photograph of Bauman, which they covered with smears while it caught fire.

The memoirs of Bauman, Polish Jew, prolific sociologist, protagonist and interpreter of the convulsions of the XXe century, published posthumously, are a colorful patchwork of autobiographical texts written over thirty years, skillfully brought together by Bauman's biographer, Izabela Wagner. This chronicle of a soul at odds with society offers a fascinating insight into the depth with which his personal experiences influenced his ideas and the controversies they still arouse today.

My life in fragments begins with the story of a childhood in interwar Poland, choked by open hostility towards the Jews. Despite his good grades, Bauman was told by a teacher: You can't be first in class. This place is reserved for a Polish child.

Childhood ended the day after Germany invaded Poland. On September 2, 1939, Bauman, aged 14, fled with his family on the last train leaving Pozna heading east. They first settled in a town in present-day Belarus, then, with the German invasion ofUSSR in June 1941, penetrated into the interior of the Soviet Union. Although they narrowly escaped experiencing life in Poland under Nazi occupation, years of fear and hunger followed. Even today, says Bauman, I can't fall asleep if there is no bread in the house.

At the age of 18, he fought in the Fourth Division of the Polish Army in exile, placed under the command of the Red Army. During the summer of 1944, his light infantry unit participated in the liberation of the Majdanek extermination camp, near Lublin. The corpses still lay in piles, he would later tell a friend. Wounded by a shrapnel in March 1945, he received the Cross of Military Valor.

At the end of the Second World War, Bauman's division was integrated into Polish military intelligence services. He ends up in the propaganda department of the Internal Security Corps (KBWaccording to the Polish acronym), where he remained until the end of 1952. My life in fragments presents what Bauman calls the story of my anti-romance with the security forces. Although he cooperated with counterintelligence agents, as an office worker, he says, he mostly wrote pamphlets. I was kept away from the most “responsible” tasks, which required people with stronger nerves than mine and less scrupulous. This did not prevent unscrupulous right-wing Polish historians, more than fifty years later, from using this affiliation to slander Bauman by accusing him of having been complicit in the political purge of opponents of the communist regime. In his book Legislators and Interpreters (1987, French translation: The decadence of intellectuals. From legislators to interpretersArles, Jacqueline Chambon/Actes Sud, 2007), Bauman dwells on the way in which intellectuals, despite their claims to rise above personal interest, become submissive servants of power.

THE KBW Major Bauman abruptly dismissed in 1953, after his father contacted the Israeli embassy in Warsaw and expressed a wish to emigrate to the new Jewish state. A dissatisfied accountant and academic, fell in love with Judaismthe father had adopted a Zionism which, according to his son, was sincere, sustainable and at the heart of its vision of the world.

Eager to play a role in the post-war reconstruction of Poland, Bauman then turned to sociology. Sociology whispered about an alternative to official history and thus became an element, certainly minimal and highly marginalized, of plurality in a forcefully homogenized society.. From the beginning, his own experiences of poverty and persecution led him to campaign for a sociology woven with moral considerations, with sensitivity to the weakest members of society.

At the time, seduced by the promised disappearance of divisions between classes, building socialism was high on my list of desires, he shouts. But after spending several years among the Soviets, he admitted: I should have known: their promises did not pave the way to action, and the path to action was bloody. Even after the revelation of Stalin's crimes, he adds, I still believed that the Polish road (…) would not follow the trajectory of the Soviet version and would not go astray. It was only late that he came to detest totalitarianism in which any free choice is considered a crime against the state precisely because it is free.

Exile sketch

Disillusionment precedes Bauman's second exile. The Polish People's Republic came to suspect its Jews, whatever their degree of patriotism, of being Zionists and enemies from within. Speaking of Polish anti-Semitism in the absence of Jews, Bauman writes: The dull memory of a mass murder poisons the conscience of the nation that witnessed it. When Bauman was appointed professor in Warsaw in 1964, he underwent years of surveillance by the secret police.

After the Six Day War in 1967, Polish leader Wadysaw Gomuka compared supporters of Israel to fifth column who collaborated with the Nazis. In a public speech in March 1968, Gomuka referred to Zygmunt Bauman by name. During the anti-Semitic purge of 1968, 13,000 Polish Jews, including Bauman, his wife Janina (a Warsaw ghetto survivor) and their three daughters, were deprived of their jobs and their nationality and expelled from the country with only $5 in their pockets. . In the crowd, the authorities confiscated the manuscript of his book, Sketches in the Theory of Culture (Outlines of the theory of culture). (In 2014, when Bauman was 88 years old, the manuscript he thought was never lost was found on a shelf at the University of Warsaw).

However, the most precious goods could not be confiscated. I smuggled my Polishness out of the country, he wrote, by deceiving the secret police disguised as customs officers.

Now stateless, the sociologist found refuge in Israel, where he accepted invitations to teach in Tel Aviv and Hafa. With astonishing speed, he mastered Hebrew sufficiently to give lessons in this language. According to an article in an Israeli newspaper, the students took their places in the lecture hall hours before each of his lectures. Despite this popularity, Bauman feels absolutely incapable of anchoring in an Israeli reality. On the one hand, he insists, I will never part with my justice, my belonging to a tradition which gave the world its moral sense, its conscience, its search for perfection, its age-old dream. He attributes this creativity to the fact that the Jews were the first to experience heartbreaking dilemmas, ineradicable ambivalence and the aporous norms of modernity. On the other hand, the new immigrant resisted certain claims regarding his justice.

The State of Israel is now this destiny to which Jewish identity has given itself (or been given) hostage. Like all destiny, he cares little about the feelings of his hostages.

In 1971, after three years in Israel, Bauman moved to Great Britain, where he taught at the University of Leeds and decided to end my life as a displaced person, exterritorial and loyal subject of the Crown. (His daughter Anna stayed in Israel and taught at Hafa University. His grandson, Michael Sfard, is now a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer.) Despite his displacements, the emigrant resisted the pressures placed on him to play the role of a dissident. I didn't intend to live the second half of my life like the first half.Bauman writes.

Mallable modernity

Bauman is the author of around sixty works, published in more than thirty languages. The best known is perhaps Modernity and the Holocaust (1989; French translation: Modernity and the Holocaust, Paris, Complexe, 2008, first French edition: La Fabrique, 2002), which insists that the final solution was neither a single culmination of ethnic and religious hatred, nor a continuation of anti-Semitism by other means. He instead followed Hannah Arendt's thesis: anti-Semitism can explain the choice of victims, but not the nature of the crime. As anti-Semitism is perpetual and omnipresent, writes Bauman, it alone cannot explain the unique character of the Holocaust.. Above all, the Shoah did not represent a rupture in modernity, an atavistic return to irrational barbarism, or an exception to process of civilization, according to the name that Norbert Elias attributed to the progressive elimination of violence from our daily lives. The Shoah, says Bauman, was on the contrary a legitimate resident in the house of modernity. This house is furnished by ethically blind bureaucratic control, pseudo-scientific theories such as eugenics and social engineering aimed at the efficiency of mass industrialization and a modern, specialized division of labor that distances the actions of perpetrators from the suffering of victims. It was the rational world of modern civilization that made the Holocaust thinkablesays Bauman.

His own field, he lamented, had not yet assimilated its origins in the same rational culture. Phrases such as the sanctity of human life or moral duty seem as foreign in a sociology seminar as they do in the sanitized, non-smoking rooms of a bureaucracy.he declared.

Between his retirement in 1991 and his death in 2017, at the age of 91, Bauman examined other deeply troubling aspects of current civilization. In his groundbreaking book Liquid Modernity (2000), he describes how the strong structures and institutions that once ordered modern societies are rapidly losing their shape. Our new order, he says, saturated with fluidity, uncertainty and a multitude of meanings, has melted the old fragile anchors of identity. Job security is evaporating (skills are constantly devalued and replaced by new and improved skills). Emotional and family ties become more and more fleeting, contingent and revocable (the subtitle of its 2003 sequel, Liquid Love (Liquid love) East On the Frailty of Human Bonds On the fragility of bonds between men (French translation Rodez, editions du Rouergue / Jacqueline Chambon, 2004). Civic-minded citizens become satisfied consumers themselves. Global power is increasingly freeing itself from geographic constraints and national policies; market forces who run the world are ex-territorial. (It has been said that while political scientist Francis Fukuyama announced the end of the Cold War as the end of the storyBauman just as prematurely announced the end of geography).

Although his life was marked by the endemic evils of nationalist hatreds, Bauman declared at the end of his life: I consider myself a man who hopes. Ultimately, this hopeful book is both a beautiful story and a reflection on memory.