A Tribute to the Life of Marshall Berman
Marshall Berman was a humanist, political theorist, public intellectual, father, and so much more. Although he was known all over the world, he will be particularly remembered at City College, where – despite receiving numerous offers from elite universities – he remained for his entire forty-six year academic career.
As anyone who knew or read him knows, Marshall was a man of irrepressible and teeming life. The life of the street, which he immortalized in his magnum opus, All That’s Solid Melts Into Air; the life of sex and liberation, which he talked about in The Politics of Authenticity; and the life of high art and popular culture, whether it was the Sex Pistols or hip-hop. Marshall took in everything; his portion was the world. The only thing he couldn’t abide, couldn’t take in, was ugliness and cruelty. Marshall’s vision of life bursting was inextricably linked to his awareness of death and destruction. All That’s Solid Melts Into Air is a paean to the divided experience that is modernity: the loss of the old world paired with the creation of the new, decay as the condition of construction. “We come from ruins,” he said in Ric Burns’s documentary on New York, “but we’re not ruined.”
Marshall liked to sign off his emails with “Shalom.” Some thought he meant simply “Peace.” But shalom, of course, also means “hello” and “goodbye.” That too was Marshall: every hello was a goodbye, every arrival a departure.
Even those who were not close, felt like they knew him, not only from his work but from the legions of students who loved him, who came to the Graduate Center just to work with him, and regaled us with stories of his kibitzing genius. He was one of those rare advisers who tossed off a sentence from which an entire dissertation grew.
Marshall was our Manhattan Socrates, not the arch dialectician but the philosopher in and of the street; not the aggressive asker of questions but the ambler in the boulevard, the man who seeks wisdom in the agora, in the conversation of Times Square, the walker in the city, the man who died among friends.
"We come from ruins, but we're not ruined."
Friday, November 22
The Great Hall, Shepard Hall
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue
New York City
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