There are four books on one of my shelves written or co-authored by Zygmunt Bauman, an internationally significant sociologist who died at the age of ninety-one on January 9th. As his obituary in today’s Guardian makes very clear, Bauman was a man with a passionate concern to promote the ethics and values necessary to “a socially progressive Europe”. This was, no doubt, in part the fruit of his own experience as someone who, at different times, had been victimised by both the Nazis and the Communists. All these books continue to be valuable to me (if that was not the case, they wouldn’t have survived the rigorous culling of my books that’s necessary each time we move house). But it’s perhaps the Introduction to Intimations of Postmodernity (1992), and its first essay – ‘Legislators and Interpreters: Culture as the ideology of intellectuals” – that I’ve returned to most often. The other three texts Postmodern Ethics (1993), On Education, written with Riccardo Mazzeo (2012), and Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity, written with Leonidas Donskis (2013), have all been valuable, but less central to forming my thinking.
There is a second, far less direct, reason why Zygmunt Bauman has been important to me. One of his three daughters, Lydia, is a landscape painter and, in 1997, the feminist art historian Griselda Pollock wrote: ‘The Poetic Image in the Field of the Uncanny’ about her work, the preface to an exhibition catalogue of Landscapes at the National Gallery of Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland. A version of this was later published in the catalogue to the first LAND2 exhibition and reproduced on the LAND2 web site. In addition to the valuable insights into aspects of landscape painting this essay offers, Pollock closes by citing a “revealing insight” from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, (1958/1964 p. 4):
The poetic image is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes, reverberates, and it is hard to know at what depth these echoes will reverberate and die away.
The resonances of this essay’s conclusion stayed with me, and were later to encourage me to follow a line of thinking that would finally become clear only when I read the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney on ‘testimonial imagination’, which I now understand to be the central animating force for ‘open’ deep mapping. So, both directly and indirectly, I owe Zygmunt Bauman a profound debt of gratitude.