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NEWS ITEM

Randolph Bourne’s America
Monday, October 11, 2004
Lecture Hall, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Registration and refreshments: 9:00-9:45 a.m.
Welcome: Andras Szanto, 9:45-9:55 a.m.
Opening Comments: Allan Jalon, 9:55-10:05 a.m.
Opening Remarks: Michael Rosenthal, Professor of English, drawing on Nicholas Miraculous,
his just completed biography of Nicolas Murray Butler. 10:05-10:20 a.m.
Bourne at Columbia, Bourne in the World
Theatrical Interlude, scene I, 10:25-10:40 a.m.

1. “Bourne: The Historical View” 10:40-12:15 a.m.
Moderator:
Casey N. Blake, Professor of History at Columbia University, and author of Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford
Panelists:
Robert Westbrook, Professor of History at the University of Rochester and author of John Dewey and American Democracy
Leslie Vaughan, Author of “Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism.”
Jonathan M. Hansen, Author of “The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890-1920”
Chris Lehmann, Features editor at New York Magazine and former senior book editor for the Washington Post Book World
Christopher Phelps, Associate professor of history at The Ohio State University and is currently serving as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Lodz, Poland. He is the author of Young Sidney Hook and an article on Randolph Bourne entitled "Bourne Yet Again: A Genealogy of Errors" published in the journal New Politics.

A panel of historians examines the big Bourne subjects of culture, identity and power. They will look at the conflict between Bourne and John Dewey, his teacher at Columbia, and the object of his searing criticism in “Twilight of the Idols,” “A War Diary” and other essays sparked by Dewey’s argument that the pragmatic ideal of spreading democracy justified America’s entry into World War I. Dewey is not studied that much anymore, certainly not to the extent that most undergraduates at a school like Columbia would have much awareness of him. He was a giant of his age and the Bourne story cannot be told without understanding him and his generation of intellectuals. Who was Dewey? How did he affect Bourne and how does Bourne affect our memory of him? The themes explored in this panel include Bourne as an admirer and a rebel, as a passionate student of prominent teachers he respected who then became a ground-breaking definer of American youth culture. What was he saying, as an observer of culture in general? What was his place, in his generation of intellectuals wrestling with the rapidly changing nature of the country just after the turn of the century? What, exactly, is his sense of American progress? How should we look back today on “Trans-National America” and other Bourne essays on American culture and identity at the start of the 20th Century, as immigrants flooded New York and changed the idea of being American? How did Bourne, the young writer, become Bourne, the establishment-challenging public intellectual who wrote “War and the Intellectuals,” about the public intellectual’s responsibility to stand apart and question political power? What importance does Bourne have to conversations today about the make-up of American society? What is the relationship between his work on the development of national culture and his writing about war, the responsibilities of intellectuals and the fate of democracy?

Break for lunch: 12:15-1:30

Theatrical Interlude, scene II, 1:30-1:45 p.m.

2. “The Many Bournes” 1:45-3:15 p.m.
Moderator:
Allan M. Jalon,
Freelance journalist, mostly on literary and cultural topics, has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and many other newspapers and publications. A National Arts Journalism Fellow, 2002-2003.
Panelists:
Paul K. Longmore, Professor of History at San Francisco State University and author of Why I burned my book and other essays on disability.
Paul S. Miller, Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law and former Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Nicole Wallack, Associate Director of Columbia’s Undergraduate Writing Program and specialist on the history of the essay.
Barbara Probst Solomon, Author of seven books include prize-winning "Arriving Where We Started,” professor at Sarah Lawrence, and correspondent of El Pais. Solomon is also the winner (’04) of Spain's prestigious literary award "Antonio de Sancha."

One notable and essential part of Bourne’s literary identity is the wide circumference of his interests, the mobility of his curiosity as he moved from subject to subject, his almost prophetic (the word has been used) ability to grasp some sense of what will be important in the future. Yet in some areas we are just starting to understand how the different subjects that Bourne focused on affected his writing overall and how they relate. This has been true for his examination on the lifelong experience of disability in his searchingly candid yet encouraging essay “The Handicapped: By One of Them.” It has become a touchstone for many interested in understanding themselves and others, but how does it help us understand him and his work overall? What gives the essay its power for those with a wide variety of disabilities, as well as people who might not consider themselves disabled? To what degree does it provide a background for the movements toward fair employment rights and general social acceptance and improved conditions for those who are disabled? Where does it fit in the development of the essay, to the extent that it was included in an important recent anthology of the best essays of the 20th Century? And what explains the qualities of Bourne’s writing overall – from the sweeping political pieces to his book reviews? He openly talked about how social interaction affected him as a writer. His correspondence and his essays reflect the importance of his personal and literary relationships with women. How were Bourne’s ideas formed -- by conversation, by friendship, by his social difficulties as a disabled man, by his relationships with men and women, including some of the most interesting political radicals and literary figures of the early 20th-century? How do they fit into a picture of the whole writer? This panel will also consider Bourne and The Bournians. Who are these people who have taken up his memory across the decades and what was his influence? We consider one in particular, Dorothy Norman, editor of The Bournian literary journal of the 1940s, “Twice-a-Year.”

15 minute break

Theatrical Interlude, scene II, 3:30-3:45 p.m.

3. “Bourne Today” 3:45-5:15 p.m.
Moderator:
George Packer, Staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Blood of the Liberals.
Panelists:
Benj DeMott, Writer and editor for the radical newspaper First of the Month and three-time recipient of the Find for Creative Communities.
Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology at Columbia University and editorial board-member of Dissent and The American Scholar.
Michael True, Author of “An Energy Field More Intense Than War: The Nonviolent Tradition In American Literature.”
Fred Dewey, Director of Beyond Baroque, the leading literary arts center in Los Angeles, writer, and
community activist. He is also the great grand-son of John Dewey and a long-time student of
his relative’s work and his times.

Bourne re-emerges at times of crisis. Before and even during World War II, he was republished in the journal Twice-A-Year and elsewhere. During the Vietnam era, anthologists rediscovered him. Now, his words and his face are in publications from In These Times to the New York Times.

What do his reappearance and his specific insights reflect about our contemporary times? This panel looks at how Bourne’s thought and language, especially the war essays and “The State,” do (or do not) apply to today’s debates about interventionism and dissent, as seen from journalistic, literary and activist perspectives. How do Bourne’s insights frame our thinking about Iraq headlines and the other developments since 9/11? The themes of Bourne’s essay “War and the Intellectuals” seemed to have unusual resonance for many today, as writers and journalists, including “liberal hawks” and “anti-war” liberals, help to guide the debate about war and peace. What does it mean to talk about “War and the Intellectuals” now? What would Bourne have thought about how today’s intellectuals and media opinion-makers have responded to our wars? How do disagreements about war and peace today relate to the history of such debates about other wars? How do Bourne’s writings fit into the literary tradition of non-violence? What is the relationship between the aesthetic aspect of that tradition and the political discussion of specific wars and war-time policies? Finally, how, today, do we read “The State,” Bourne’s last, unfinished essay, in which his questions about the crisis he sees in democracy in war-time lead him to question the nature and future of American Democracy.

The panel will be followed by questions from the audience and discussion.

Closing Remarks: Andras Szanto, 5:15 p.m.


Reception: 5:30-6:30 p.m., World Room (opposite end of the hall from the Lecture Hall)

We extend our thanks to Clark Middleton and John Setiz for their reenactments of scenes from the life of Randolph Bourne, drawn in part from “The Body of Bourne,” a play by John Belleso.

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