Thursday, October 24, 2013

For Norman Geras

I'm late - again.  Like so many who followed his blog and corresponded with him, I was not surprised, yet shocked nevertheless, to hear that Norman Geras had passed away after a long illness.  Having read a number of the touching tributes to him, I'm struck by how little I could say that is in anyway original.  Not that originality is what is required at such times.  Many have talked about his writing, what it meant to them, and what they did and didn't agree with.  I recognise much in what has been said but would want to stress the way in which I found, as many others obviously did, normblog to be an invitation to have a conversation, whether you agreed with him or not.  This could, and did, take the form of reciprocal posts across the blogosphere - which were then carried on to the email circuit.

That my experience was nothing unusual is testimony to how generous Norm was with his time towards his readers.  For my own part,  I have reason to be particularly appreciative since what disagreements we had were largely a consequence of my own belligerence.  This commitment to conversation was reflected in his work and regarding this there's a point worth stressing: "It's still out there", as Max Dunbar says, and what a substantial archive the weblog of Norman Geras actually is.  Until recently, it was updated most days - often more than once.  I can't think of any columnist who could have held my attention for so long.  I don't want to do the, 'I agreed with this, but not with this', too much but I will say that his writing on contemporary antisemitism was nearer the mark than just about anyone writing today.  But I love the fact that the last post by this man of letters was not about politics but books.

I have been reflecting on the question of whether and to what extent you know someone with whom you've communicated electronically but never met?  I came to the conclusion that you don't really know them at all.  One face-to-face meeting is worth a thousand emails, which is why when Norm asked me a few years back if I "ever came down this way", I regret that it was at a time when I was too confused and disorientated even to leave the house for too long.  Then, after the trouble had gone, so much time had elapsed that I was too embarrassed to take him up on the offer.  I didn't know Norm - but I wish I had and I miss him anyway.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I think there are different layers of knowing and not-knowing. I only met Norm once, but probably corresponded with him far less than you did. Did I know him better for that one meeting? Similarly, I have contacts I have met only online, electronically and yet we have shared through electronic communications of varying forms (email, messenger, blogs, social media) far more 'conversation' than people I ostensibly know offline.

I miss him already though: Norm was such a force, a power, a key figure of encouragement. And yes, I too thought it rather lovely that his last blog post was about books and about him rather than politics. his politics was everything to him and yet everything was so much more than politics in its most simple terms...

Shuggy said...

Yeah, I'd agree that there's different layers of knowing and all that. I've just been concerned recently at the way online conversations perhaps make you think you know someone when you actually don't. I met one blogger once after reciprocal posts and emails who said he expected me to have a skinhead and tattoos. How on earth must I have been coming over online? I maintain one face-to-face meeting is worth a thousand emails. It's why, despite technology, people jet across the globe for a meeting that doesn't even last a day.

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